Wednesday, 24 August 2016

A Wall of Quotes

I'm going to give over this post to my Wall of Quotes. These are scattered quotes that I have in front of me whilst I work. They are words of encouragement, words of wisdom, words of advice and inspiration, as well as laughter. There are words that are old, words that are new, some make me sad, some make me smile, some make me burst out laughing. There are words by the living, and words by the dead, by the famous, and the not so. You don't have to have famous quotes. You don't have to dump "I think it was --- who once said" into conversations. They can be remembered quotes from friends, those who wish you well in life, just as much as those who are famous and admired. To me, they all have equal value and equal comfort, and I treasure them, which is why they are on my wall in front of me, every day.

As to the intermittent visuals, they are also there for a reason. The Mark Rothko because it reminds me of landscapes beyond ours; William Burroughs in the jungle because I have just had the photo for decades; the David Hockney for the same reason; the Buddha head and Gary Snyder because they go so well together, and Gary is so cool; the concentric circle painting by Justin Roseveare, which I picked out of many cards just happened to be called 'Transformation', and that is exactly where my life is at the moment; the Dalai Lama because he's the Dalai Lama; the four leafed clover is my friend and life-changer Stiofan; the mosaic of David Bowie album covers because he set me on the path that finds me here; and the Brian Eno album cover 'Before and After Science' because I adore Eno, and I adore the name of that album.

So, to the quotes:

"Everything is everywhere" - Jack Kerouac

"Okay world, I'll love ya" - Jack Kerouac

"He was sweet. He was just unhappy" - Allen Ginsberg

"Question: Tell us about your dream project.
Answer: Francis Bacon and I go ballroom dancing together in heaven, or hell. Wherever he is I'm sure it's grand" - Andrew Salgado

"He let a corner of his lip turn up, just to be polite. The result was a fourth cousin to a smile" - J. Paul Drew

To "enlighten the world and wake it from its sad mistaken dream of rue and rage" - Jack Kerouac

"Our business in living is to become fluent with the life we are living, and art can help this" - John Cage

"To learn how to explore yourself, that's life" - Bradley Theodore

"All art is unstable. It's meaning is not necessarily that implied by the author. There is no authoritative voice. There are only multiple readings" - David Bowie

"Each second we live is a new and unique moment of the universe, a moment that never was before and will never be again." - Pau Casals

"As cool as the underside of the pillow" - Mr Sakninsh

"You and your wonderful hear/mind/passion writings" - Stiofan O'Ceallaigh

"I'm not painting, I'm exploring my existence" - Bradley Theodore

"One thing that you have that nobody else has, is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can" - Neil Gaiman

"Each of us is all the sums he has not counted" - Thomas Wolfe

"Why do customers say: "Bet you wish you were outside in this weather!" Like yes, obviously I do, but I'm here serving you Barbara, you cow" - The Boy Melancholy

Thursday, 18 August 2016


“So when you coming up?”


“Soon.” He repeated none too convincingly.

“Yes, soon.”

He smiled, shifted his gaze to something just off camera, something indistinct, vague, just out of vision, then looked back again.

“So when’s soon?”

I moved a little in my chair. His gaze was steady, placid, yet at the same time it had an intensity to it that, although not meant to be unsettling, had me unsettled nevertheless. I was nervous, with no reason to be, but when does your body take any notice of what should and shouldn’t be?

“I can’t say for sure. You know how it is. There’s this and there’s that…”

“…and there’s that and there’s this.” He added in a sing song voice.

“Exactly!” I said with more relief than I had meant.

“You know that’s just being evasive don’t you?”

“It’s not evasion, it’s just…”


“I’ve just got so much on, commitments, deadlines. I can’t just drop everything.”

“Yes you can.”

“I can’t. I really can’t!”

I could hear my voice rise and begin to wail ever so slightly. I was beginning to panic. I could feel the perspiration damp behind my knees. I checked my calendar on the wall to my right. What was I looking for? Dates? Free time? I looked back at the screen, he was still gazing and smiling, gazing and smiling.

I looked over to my left, checked my phone for new messages. Something, but really nothing. I looked back at the screen again. Still gazing and smiling, gazing and smiling. I smiled back timidly and then exhaled deeply.

“What’s up?”


“OK.” He said matter-of-factly, knowing full well that there were geological plates of pressure tied to my “nothing.” He waited as I hoped he would.

“Soon then” he grinned.

“Yes, soon” I brightened.

Wednesday, 3 August 2016

David Bowie Low

David Bowie's Low to a lot of people is just that, low. They see it as anything from melancholic to dull, and all points in between. To me, it suits my temperament, at least in part, as it is both stripped down and bare, as well as being built up and multilayered, I am nothing if not consistently contradictory, but I am willing to admit that. This is an album made up of hard edges and soft curves, of focused sharp, short beats, and flowing electronic scapes of land and dream. It is an album of two sides of who we are and where we are.

When albums had sides, the first side of Low had lyrics and the voice of David Bowie. The songs were short, stripped down, bleak pop songs for a bleak period in cultural history. The second side was devoid of lyrics and nearly devoid of vocals. There were long tracks of rich ambient scapes, more mystical than pop. Many who bought or listened to the album took the first side and dismissed the second. Me, I fell in love with the painterly constructed ambience of side two.

I used to listen to this album while reading and rereading the stories of H P Lovecraft. To me the music seemed a perfect match to the alien and isolated landscapes, and the alien and isolated individuals that pepper Lovecraft's work. A large part of what appealed to me about the stories of Lovecraft was the bleak alien landscapes, the expanses of bleakness that rolled out and swallowed many of the characters, sometimes literally. 

The cover of Low has David Bowie in the persona of Thomas Jerome Newton, the tragic figure from the 1976 Nicholas Roeg movie The Man Who Fell To Earth, Low was released in the following year, 1977. Thomas Jerome Newton was a literal alien, an individual isolated in his alienness on a planet full of humanity. 

Although the reference to The Man Who Fell To Earth is obvious, to me the individual on the Low cover, set within an abstracted indistinct and remote landscape, could easily have been a character from the works of H P Lovecraft, and it made perfect sense to connect the two, Bowie and Lovecraft, at least in my world. 

I grew up in West Cornwall, at the end of a long rocky peninsula, one that stuck out like a crooked finger deep into the Atlantic Ocean. I lived amongst open rough moorland, often devoid of trees and comfy meadows, it was all granite and heather. It was a harsh and certainly unrelenting landscape, buffeted by near constant Atlantic winds, sheets of rain, and sea fog that would rise up and slowly creep in from the ocean, folding the landscape in muffled isolation. 

The landscape of your early years is often the landscape that you are most comfortable with, it is the one that sits in the back of your head, the one that comes out and lays itself out in your dreams, the landscape of connection. 

I am sure that the element of stripped down bleakness from Low, connects with those early landscapes of mine, just as the built up mystical ambience of Low connects with another part of me, perhaps a connection with my inner landscape. It is all part of who we are, our memories, our living landscape, and our sleeping dreamscape, all meshed together to give us the projection of who we are to ourselves, and who we are to others.

This Bowie album was probably the most brutal to his fans, many of whom had never got beyond the created Ziggy persona. It was as far removed from the glamour of Ziggy as it was possible to go, deliberately I would have guessed. There seemed nothing that Bowie loathed more than sameness, to be creatively stuck in a rut, stuck in the one project, looping and relooping. Whilst many of his fans would have been more than happy with Bowie basing his whole career on that one Ziggy project, he was obviously not going to stay there. 

A large slice of the Low project was the work of the ambient meister Brian Eno, one of the founders of modern ambient music. In some respects, you could say that this was as much an Eno project as it was a Bowie one, but Bowie the alienated alien, Bowie the searching artist, the misunderstood, and the deliberately misunderstanding, was all there, so it would be wrong, as some would have it, that Bowie was led astray from his rock/pop roots by Eno. Low was where Bowie wanted and needed to be at that moment in time, and Eno was there to facilitate that moment, but the moment was still Bowies. 

Although Low was seen by many at the time as some form of deliberate artistic and creative suicide, what they really meant was that it was commercial suicide. It didn't turn out to be so of course, but that line between the artistic and the commercial is always a difficult one for any artist to tread, particularly if you have had a commercial success. What do you do? Do you keep to the commercial formula that has worked for you, reproduce the same record, book, or artwork, over and over, with only slight variations, or do you head out for vistas new?

I am aware that a lot of the factors that go to make up a project like Low are in the personal orbit of the artist, many of the factors of course will never be known. However, interpretation is also the remit of the audience, and that is always, on one level at least, subjective, it has to be as we are all at the centre of our own perceptions. So my interpretation of Low is valid, because it is personal to me. It is part of my journey, and therefore threaded into my life pattern, to serve me and my purpose, and that can and probably should be true of all artwork, whatever the discipline.

To end with a small but significant fact, the original Low album was meant by Bowie not to have a track listing, but the record company insisted, they were struggling with the Low concept as it was. A compromise was reached whereby the track listings were put on a removeable sticker on the back of the album. If you wished, you could remove it in order to experience the full ambience of the Low experience. I of course removed it, cause I'm that kind of guy.

Wednesday, 27 July 2016

Walk on the Beach

The beach lay before him as it always did. Long, and seemingly endless, the sand golden and warm to his toes, but he felt no warmth. The sun dazzled on the ocean, and the waves crashed invitingly on the shore. Small children giggled as they ran in and out of the waves, allowing the ocean to chase them to shore. Dogs barked excitedly as the surf sparkled and sizzled, white, and clean. Lovers old and young, established and new, walked slowly along the same route as himself, wrapped in each other’s arms, holding hands, walking separately, but of still one accord, giving space, but being near.

He didn’t see any of the complexity of morning beach life, he didn’t need to, it had always been there, and probably always would be. It had been the same when he had walked the same route with another. He stopped for a moment, lifting his head he looked towards the distance, as far along the beach as he was able, as if was searching for something, someone. A smile appeared on his face, but it held no warmth, and soon dissolved, leaving him with his usual haunted lost signature. It was the face that was now natural to him, and it was the face that few ventured to change. It was the face that said ‘no trespassers’, ‘don’t go there’, ‘don’t intrude’, ‘keep your distance’, and any other ‘keep out’ sign that you could think of. This was a man who needed no one, and seriously didn’t want anyone. 

This was a man alone.

He continued with his walk.

To anyone passing by it would seem as if he was looking for something, a shell, a pebble, missing change even, but look closer and you would notice that his eyes were closed. He knew this beach, this daily route, by heart. He had walked it every morning rain or shine, summer or winter, it was a ritual, and it was a ritual of the self-condemned.

“Get back here.”

A golden blur burst into his world, unwanted, unwarranted, but it was there. A wild, boisterous golden retriever nearly knocked him over as it danced around him, dancing around itself, barking, turning on its tail.

He stopped and squatted down so that he was at the same height as the excitable dog. He held his hand out, palm up, so as not to alarm the dog. His hand was quickly covered in a warm wet tongue, but he didn’t pull back, just smiled at the dog. “Hello there. What’s got you so excited then?” He patted the dogs head and then ruffled it behind the ears. The dog in its excitement, threw its paws into his lap covering him with wet sand. He laughed and the dog ran off towards the rolling surf. He stood back up and kept the smile as long as he could. It was good to have that warm in him, it made a good change.

“I am sorry, he doesn’t mean any harm. He is just a little over enthusiastic at times.”

He was taken out of his reverie, watching the dog barking and cavorting in the surf. He turned and looked towards the voice.

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Jordan Alan Brown - Poet as Artist, Artist as Poet

It is so heartening to see and hear poetry alive and kicking in the twenty first century. Many would have assumed, and probably do, that poetry has fallen along the wayside, a victim of technology, of the hand held, and the immediate, but it isn't actually so.

Poets have taken the contemporaneousness of the modern world, and turned it to their advantage. There are now contemporary poets, both young, middling, and old, who use social media, use photography, use video, in order to say what they want to say, say what needs to be said.

Long gone are the days when poetry was largely produced in thin volumes, by obscure publishing houses, for a tiny elite. Poetry is now a vibrant, connected medium. It talks about what people know, what they feel, and what they understand. 

We live in a culture that understands mediums, that is visually sophisticated. A culture that connects with ideas and philosophies, that conceptualises thoughts and emotions, but equally understands that they are the foundations of human life, just as much now, as they have ever been. 

Don't fall into the trap of sneering at contemporary means of human projection and human creativity, of technology that is both easily dismissed and easily misunderstood. How you use the technology for your human message is much more important than the technology itself. At the end of the day all are tools to the message, that is all.

I have been a follower of the poet Jordan Alan Brown for a while now. I was quickly and easily intrigued by his use of image and word, of combinations and connections. So cleverly done, making such instant associations, who wouldn't be intrigued. 

It's a clever and sophisticated idea, using image and word, both of which are carefully chosen by the artist, Jordan is both poet and photographer, and for many that could well be the limit of their interaction, a smart contemporary twist on a theme, but then you read what Jordan has written.

This is an individual who doesn't need to work at being a poet, he has the natural soul of one. His words are achingly beautiful, precious little bundles of meaning and understanding. The human condition is here in Jordan's work, he understands intrinsically what it is to be alive, what it is to be in a place of contentment, sadness, anger, distress.

No fluffy extraneous phrases, no additional wordage, all is raw, and to the point. Relationships are examined, memories sifted, each is placed within their coloured post it, and each becomes a gem of meaning, understanding, and connection with the poet.

Jordan is an artist who is also a poet, or perhaps a poet that is also an artist, it probably doesn't matter which. What is important is that Jordan continues on his creative path. He has far to go and a lifetime to explore through word, image, and whatever other medium should lend itself to his work. 

This may not look like poetry to some, but to me Jordan is a poetic figure of the highest calibre. He is sensitive to the human condition, and that sensitivity, that understanding of what it is to be alive, and to live a life in full, are the requisites for a poet, and he has them in abundance.

Jordan's work can be found on tumblr, and ello

All imagery was kindly supplied by the artist, please be aware of this before using that imagery, ask the artist.

Wednesday, 8 June 2016

The Burning by Braden Lloyd

Ah to be seventeen again. What? Oh yes, you mean to be seventeen as seen through the intervening years of misty nostalgia. Think back to what it was really like and remind yourself of that fact next time you get misty eyed about youth. You really only need to be seventeen once.

I am sure that some genuinely enjoyed being seventeen. The type that float through life enjoying each and every stage. For others like myself, things were very different. When I was seventeen, I looked fourteen, and more importantly, had the outlook of a fourteen year old dreamer, yes that was me. Asking me at the time what I wanted to do with the rest of my life usually got a blank look, or if I was really trying, a confused one.

Being seventeen is hard, not easy. There are no manuals, no guides, no words of wisdom. You can’t take short cuts and you invariably can’t ride on the crest of the waves. It isn’t that you make wrong decisions, or right decisions when you are seventeen, or at any age to be fair, it is that decisions are made, and perhaps for the first time in your life you become fully responsible for the fall out from those decisions, good or bad.

You make mistakes, you make errors of judgement, you make insane knee-jerk paths that you know you have no sane right to travel along, but you go along with them anyway. Make enough actions and reactions and life gets complicated, quickly. Basically you fuck up, often your own life, and saddest of all, others around you, particularly those you are close to. But you are young and so you can be forgiven, can’t you?

Braden Lloyd is seventeen. He wants what he wants. He involves himself in what was meant to be a casual ménage a trois. An adventure, an exploration for Braden, but anyone who has experience of these volatile triangles knows that they so often get quickly tangled up in endless loops of wants, needs, and jealousies.

So often in threesomes, whether sexual or otherwise, there is a tendency to squeeze out one in order to make a couple. But what if the third doesn’t bow out gracefully, and what if the desired is torn between loyalty and lust? Welcome to the ménage a trois.

Braden is caught in a threesome between himself, Kyle, and Ryan, three late teenagers who just want to have fun. Things begin to unravel from the start, Braden wants Kyle to himself, Ryan, the boyfriend of Kyle swings between blatant encouragement of Braden and Kyle, to wild jealousy. Kyle of course, is the element that is stuck in the middle, the individual who is pushed and pulled between the two antagonists, and seems unable or unwilling to choose, taking instead a near catatonic stance at times, allowing Braden and Ryan to swing and manoeuvre around him.

I’m not going to go into specifics about the plot, it will spoil the book for you. Suffice to say it is an excellent portrayal of the wants and needs of an individual, and the consequences of putting those wants and needs into action. The fact that the consequences roll over into other books in the series, should perhaps not be a surprise. So many things have a knock-on effect in our lives, the complexity of sex, along with its hand maidens jealousy, obsession, desperation, whether short-lived or not, have an impact on the rest of our lives, whether we want them to or not.

We are always looking at the world from our own perspective, rarely if ever from that of others. Our perspective dominates our thoughts and it guides our actions. We can be at the mercy of our wants and needs, sometimes for our entire lives. But sometimes there are moments in those lives when our ego takes a backseat, when we step down from our own personal agenda, and we try to let go.

Of course, the question needs to be asked in The Burning, does Braden pursue Kyle to the ultimate end, does he let him go, or do events tangle everyone in knots? Well, you will have to read the book in order to find that out, I’m not going to tell you!

The Burning can easily be read as a standalone novel, but I would encourage you to read more about Braden in the published False Start, and Jake’s Fault, and then Paid Up which is due in summer 2017. All the books are sequential and Braden has assured me that we haven’t heard the last of Braden yet.

By the way, I leave it up to you to decide whether Braden Lloyd the protagonist, and Braden Lloyd the writer, are the same people with the same experiences, or whether The Burning is a slide between fiction and fact, not faction as such, but perhaps a form of fiction and fact that has a variable slide between the two.

The Burning, along with False Start, and Jake’s Fault can be bought from Amazon and other reputable online sites. He can also be followed on twitter.

Wednesday, 4 May 2016

Jack Kerouac and Some of the Dharma

My affection for the writing of Jack Kerouac goes back to being a late teenager. The first thing I read by him was of course On the Road, which was great, and appealed immensely to a largely naïve, but deeply frustrated nineteen year old. I got myself into a position whereby I had succeeded in pleasing everyone but myself. Here was a blue collar boy who was working in a bank, my mother was proud and made everyone know it. But I was a nineteen year old that had just embarked on a doomed career and I knew it. I felt trapped, with no options but to endure until something broke, either in the job or within me. I must admit that I wasn’t really bothered which one came first at the time, but I had a suspicion that it would be me, which it turned out to be.

On the Road was part of my salvation in the long-term, and certainly an escape in the short-term. It didn’t make me pack up a ruck sack and hitch to California, or even New York. There was some geographical logistical problems in getting from a small English cathedral town to the other side of the world, and besides the eighties had started, and to me it seemed as if the lifestyle of On the Road might well have piqued some time before I read it. Perhaps I was wrong, but it didn’t seem so at the time. The eighties turned out to be a ruthless and unrelenting convention, so maybe I was right.

So instead of following his example and hitching across the planet, I settled for falling in love with Kerouac’s words. I fell in love with the expression of language, the easy, warm slow run of it like the languorous flow of dripping treacle. I have always been a voracious reader, ever since a small child. Surprisingly however, in all that time I seemed to have been unaware that language could be as melodic, sensual, and caressing as that written by Jack Kerouac, that there could be a rhythmic guidance to words that did much, much more than just pencil in a scene, give a to and fro in conversation, section out a beginning, a middle, and an end. Most importantly of all was the way it could say so much more than the practical and the mundane necessity of language. Language could be the encompasser of all, and that to me at nineteen, was a revelation more powerful than a hitch across the globe.

Jack Kerouac got me to see that the written and voiced language of expression could be everything. It could be the beat of a butterfly wing, the soft gurgle of water falling from one small pool to another, it could be the sigh of the trees in a breeze, or the roar of the ocean as it hits the beach, and most importantly, all of these things and more were an expression of your soul, and Jack Kerouac wrote from his soul. Not from the soul of the cool, of the hip, the beat, but from the soul of the quiet spirit that is in us all.

Which leads me to Some of the Dharma. This is a book, a collection of a writers thoughts if you like. Completed in 1956, it wasn't formally published until 1997. These are Jack Kerouac’s focused thoughts of revelation, or if not revelation, then the inkling of something larger, something better. There are so many moments here, moments of life, moments of living. It is a 'dip in' book of truths and revelations.

It is truly an extraordinary book, and it is one that I have quickly come to see as of importance to me. It is a book that gets transferred around my world. So it stays on my writing desk, it sits in my rucksack when I am out walking, it travels in my messenger bag when I go into town.

This is not a book however, that I have read from cover to cover. You can of course, but to me it is a book that needs to be opened at random, to be read with no sequence, no structure, revelations and truths abound in this book, and they can jump out at you from anywhere and at any time, and that to me is the great appeal of Some of the Dharma.

Buddhism, or at least his own personal interpretation of it, was a big part of Kerouac’s life, a big part of his creative writing, his creativity revolved around the fundamentals of Buddhism, much more so than perhaps is often given credit. Some of the Dharma is full of references to all aspects of Buddhism, and beyond.

Kerouac was convinced that his own mind, his ego, his personality, were not his as such, but were “manifestations of the universal mind,” and if you take that on board, then Some of the Dharma makes even more sense. It is a book of the fundamental truth, of the greater awareness, and the all-encompassing wisdom, all speaking through the seeming bewilderment of Jack Kerouac’s words, whether through poems, prayers, conversations, stories, sketches, and more.

Some of the Dharma may appear at first to be a bewildering cacophony of randomness, continuous tangents of ideas and musings. But stay a while and you will soon realise that there is the sound of stillness here, the continual hum of stillness, like the low hum of nature, the one that lies beneath the everyday noise, the hum of wisdom itself, and that is well worth reading about I would have thought.

I can recommend Some of the Dharma, but it is really for others to find for themselves. If it is to be a marker on your path, then that is what it will be, and if it is, I hope that it serves you well.

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

David Bowie - The Legend

The first David Bowie album that I ever bought was ‘Heroes’. I was eighteen, and this, one of Bowie’s most seminal of albums, was also the first serious album that I had ever bought. From the opening sequence of the first track I knew that I was hooked, and I knew that this was a man that was going to change my life for good. David Bowie shattered my previous perspective of who I was and who I could be. This timid creature of eighteen who had never thought to question the way things are, had never questioned his role in life, was violently shifted in trajectory from blue collar background to a yearning artist with portfolio. In one wildly vivid movement I somersaulted through the air, and landed in a world that was full of Brecht, Dada, William Burroughs, Jean Genet, of sweeping art movements, intense poetry, the conceptual and the thought provoking. It was a world beyond my previous imagining, and one that was way out of my working-class background, and I loved it. My parents freaked, but I was in love, I was in love with David Bowie and the world that he had offered me. I owe him much of what I am today, and indeed, much of what I am not.

So it seems fitting for me to write a review for a book with David Bowie as its theme and as its reason for being. It is also fitting that this book be titled ‘The Legend’, for no more a creative individual perhaps deserves that title of legend than David Bowie. Throughout his fifty year career he shifted and swayed through creative and artistic movements, often either on the crest, or ahead of the crest of the wave of contemporary creativity.

David Bowie has never been clearly or solely identified with music. He was never a musical icon full-stop, he was very much a visual one as well. David Bowie was an artist writ large. He passed through his career physically metamorphosing from one intensely creative project to the next. He was a living canvas, projecting his current interests and intrigues through his style and clothing.

Always the consummate fashion icon David Bowie, posed for a set of photos in 1993 for the fashion photographer Michael Haddi, a photo set that was featured in the influential Interview magazine, an offshoot of the Andy Warhol world, for May 1993.

1993 was a great period for David Bowie, he never looked better, healthier, more dynamic. He had recovered from the nadir of his career, the 1980s, and was set for a decade which saw a new creative vigour, a decade full of new projects, new directions, a new purpose in his creative life, and who better to document this positive moment in his life than Michel Haddi.

This photo shoot sees a sharply dressed, and impeccably correct David Bowie looking like a gorgeous and iconic movie star from the Italian cinema. He is aware consciously and unconsciously of the camera, seeming to pose nonchalantly, as if he is indifferent to the lens, but intelligently aware of its purpose and of its importance to his own projection.

Michel Haddi, a fashion and celebrity photographer who has produced iconic photography featuring the likes of Johnny Depp, Uma Thurman, Debbie Harry, Cameron Diaz, Nicholas Cage, Angelina Jolie, as well as for high profile fashion magazines such as Vogue, Arena, Vanity Fair, GQ, Harper’s Bazaar, and fashion labels like Armani, Yves Saint Laurent, Givenchy and more, did such an excellent job photographing David Bowie. He produced a David Bowie that gave the impression of being leading fashion statement, contemporary artist, and avant-garde icon, all rolled into one, and with no seams showing.

This luxuriant book is a work of art in its own right, which of course is fitting for its subject matter. This is definitely a classic and collectible publication, and although it does have a price to match, coming in at £300, it is pretty gorgeous. With only 500 copies printed, all of which are numbered, it is what it is meant to be, a piece of art.  

This is Michel Haddi’s recording of an artist that made his life a multiple and on-going composition of art. That 1993 recording made by Haddi has now become another composition in book form, it is a case of art leading to art, leading to art. But then that was always part of David Bowie’s life, the projection of life as art. He will be sorely missed.

Michel Haddi’s book The Legend can be purchased from site.

Friday, 15 April 2016

The Works of John Muir

I can’t remember the first time that I came across the name John Muir. It was probably one of those long internet events, those times where you check one name on google and end up following a long line of names, John Muir was probably one of those.

Whatever the event that caused it, I do know that I devoured everything that I could find on John Muir, whether written by himself, or written by others. There is a fair amount of work out there, a number of biographies, old and new, various books and essays about the man, as well as of course the written work of John Muir himself.

There is always an element of hesitation when attempting to read books written a century or more ago. They can often appear to us today to be densely packed, cumbersome, slow. Brevity was not the strongest asset of your average Victorian writer, but to be fair, as anyone who is familiar with my own writing style will be aware, brevity and succinctness tends not to show its face much around me either, so I am probably not the best judge.

However, by the standard of the day, and indeed the standard of our own day, John Muir is a relatively easy writer. His books tend to roll out as effortlessly as do his beloved natural landscapes. Descriptions seem paramount, and the writer is always seems happiest when describing people, animals, plants, forests, mountains, rivers, all seem to catch his eye, catch his imagination, and his interest. Above all, his descriptions tend to be laced with ever present elements of curiosity, familiarity, and even fondness.

His celebration of the natural world is infectious. He saw connecting with nature as the closest that any human could come to a religious experience. He certainly imbued that connection with a spiritual dimension, one that was often pragmatic, practical, and reasonable, but one that he nevertheless insisted was still the most profound experience that any human being could have within their lifetimes.

Illustration: John Muir, age 37

To me, reading and rereading John Muir, reminds me of that constancy of connection with the natural world. We are so often, in our contemporary world, in the habit of continually disconnecting with nature. We have become absorbed with our own human world, the one that compartmentalises nature, limits it to urban gardens and parks, the one that tries to control and reorganise it to suit our artificial human environments. Our dysfunction is now lauded as our own natural, so that concrete and tarmac are seen as the measuring stick of a successful environment. Many of us are now experiencing other forms of life solely through the prism of humanity. Watching the comic antics of an animal on a smart phone is not connecting with nature, believe me.

To touch the leaf of a tree is a magical experience, to pass your hand through cool running water, is to connect with the elements that surround us. To smile at a singing bird, to swerve in order to allow a dragonfly to pass you by, to take an intake of breath when you come across the shyness of a deer, these are the things that root you in the larger world, the world of spiritual dimension, and it is the one that John Muir writes about, the one that he exclaims, and the one that he celebrates.

John Muir has stayed with me as a favourite. He is a writer that you can never really tire of. His enthusiasm is boundless, his courage inexhaustible, his wonder at the natural world around him is tireless. He may well have been dead for over a century, but that seems to matter little. His work connects us to the values that he held as of vital importance, and we live in a world now that needs to uphold those values with an even greater importance.

I have not recommended a singular book for this book review, but have recommended John Muir’s written works in general. All have merit, and all celebrate the natural world through his own inimitable perspective, and that should be good enough for anyone. 

Thursday, 24 March 2016

Veneer by P H Davies

The transition from university to the workplace is never an easy one. The heightened expectations of university life often fall flat when those expectations are nowhere near realised in the often harsh environment of the workplace. Many graduates struggle to create a space worth their while, and worth the hard work and money expended on their degree. Many in fact become disappointed and disillusioned, some even angry. Potential careers are often shifted, stuck on a tangent, or even completely dismantled.

One of the hardest transitions is in the realm of the creative arts. One of the harshest of reality lessons that I learnt was that on the Friday I was an art student, and on the following Monday I was an ex-art student standing in a long line of other ex-art students signing on at the Jobcentre.

Art School and the outside world are often not very companionable, and in many cases openly hostile towards each other. An art degree is treated with contempt by many in the workplace as being impractical, delusional, even juvenile, but Art Schools can treat the workplace with an equal contempt, as one where inferiority, low-expectations, and blind acceptance reigns supreme. Both viewpoints have merit in their own way, because both are looking at reality from different perspectives, their own, but they are also tragically myopic in their misunderstanding of each other. 

Veneer by the writer P. H. Davies is a book about the conflict between differing perspectives on reality. Between the worlds of student and post-student life, between university and work experience. It is also about the conflict between focused optimism and passive acceptance, between the worlds of hope and expectation, and fear and disillusionment.

Veneer follows the post-student journey of Kris, a young man who studied art history, and naturally wants to live, work, and breath art for the rest of his life. Too much to ask? Clearly yes, as his job in a menswear department as a sales assistant proves to be an increasingly difficult one for him to both recognise and rationalise.

Retail, with the possible exception of an art gallery, or auction house, was definitely not on Kris list of career possibilities when he was at university, but here he is. He has no enthusiasm for the ‘exciting possibilities’ thrown up by his position in menswear sales. In fact, he often mentally disengages from his day, increasingly so as university begins to fade, and his retail future begins to crowd in on him.

Veneer contains only a handful of characters, most of whom are connected to Kris involuntary workplace. They are memorable, instantly recognisable, and although an anathema to Kris yearned for life, they are still somewhat sympathetic. They have their perspective of reality and Kris has his, and you feel for both sides of that gulf, knowing in your heart that both are as unreal as the other. Realities that have been personalised through individual perspective mean nothing to anyone else, why should they? 

Veneer is many ways semi-autobiographical, P H Davies admitting that there is a hefty element of the book that draws on a difficult segment of his life in his early twenties, in retail. It was also his first published book, and is therefore seen by him as one that helped to hone his skill as a writer, but one that doesn’t necessarily define him as a writer.

However, to me it is a beautifully written book, and although the writer himself has pondered publicly as to the merit of the intensity and minuteness of descriptions, as well as the unrelenting bleakness of the narrative, I still think it is a beautiful piece of work. A scene when Kris is helping to explain some details of the works of the artist Gustav Klimt to a fellow retail colleague for example, is touching, revealing, poignant, sad, and intense, all aspects that are jumbled up within one moment in time, but so well-orchestrated, that it was a joy to read. It is a scene that stays hauntingly with you long afterward, and the book is full of so many of these minute pockets of intensity.

Anyone who has made the transition from university to workplace, that has had to struggle in transferring from one reality to another, will understand and empathise with the tragic hero of Veneer. You have to wonder sometimes why any of us put ourselves through further education only to be told that the job we trained for doesn’t actually exist, were we all in a dream?

From time to time I have wondered whether I should perhaps have not gone to university. Sometimes I wondered whether if I had chosen something more practical, something that would have fitted in with others reality, I would perhaps have struggled less. But other times I can’t imagine having done anything else, it seems that it was somehow meant to have been. Life is all about choices after all, and I made mine when I decided to apply to art school, whatever has come from that, came from that choice, and I have had to deal with the consequences.

Perhaps we should be asked when we are a young teenager, not what we want to be when we are an adult, but what is practically achievable. But to be honest, who wants to be given that narrow a definition when starting a life? Life is all about possibilities, hopes, dreams, it is what we live for, and what gives us so much of our momentum for the life journey. That Veneer centres on the slow collapse of those possibilities, hopes, and dreams for one individual, doesn’t negate them for all. We live with the positive dream of the child always before us, give in to adult disappointment and we are finished.

Veneer and other works by the writer P H Davies can be found at his Amazon page. He also has a comprehensive website, which is regularly updated with his writing on various subjects and can be found here.