the m john harrison blog

Month: June, 2009

shelf love, e to g

TS Eliot
Richard Ellman
Tim Etchells
AA Evans
Michel Faber
Theodora Fitzgibbon
Peter Fleming
Nick Flynn
Richard Ford
Thomas Frank
Jonathan Franzen
Jonathan Safran Foer
Alan Furst
Peter Gay
Gerard Genette
Ellen Gilchrist
James Gleick
William Golding
The Brothers Goncourt
Edward Gorey
Robert Graves
John Gray
Brian Greene
John Gribbin
Che Guevara
Pedro Juan Guitierrez

I take down one of these books, find a bookmark 32 years old, this torn browned bit of paper with “tabolites stored in fat” scribbled on it in a handwriting not mine, which I take to have read “metabolites”. After that, well, the voices start, “Buy the Pontiac”, “Avoid that shadow in the wall”, usual thing. So I douse the joint in gasoline & stand across the street drinking barrel proof bourbon & watching the flames etc etc. You try to break up with your library but it just follows you about whining til you hit it with a stick.

more ch ch ch changes

In the comments on the original Changes post, I forgot to make my argument-from-experience. I forgot the infamous Dylan concerts, 1965, 66 ?

I went to one of them–Leicester de Montfort Hall, I think–as a raw, betrayed, left wing folkie, ready to heckle as soon as that sell-out reneged on his roots, denied his past & picked up an electric guitar. My girlfriend of the time, too. Two funny, smooth, unmarked, optimistic little faces turned up at the stage ready to defend our values, ready to defend our hero against his own bad decisions. By the end of the accoustic half of the show, I couldn’t bear my own anxiety & had dissociated as a defence.

Then a minute into the first electric song, I was electrified too, & so was she. Everyone around us got up & boo’d; but we got up and cheered & danced & kissed each other’s amazed faces. It was Love Minus Zero No Limit & it went through me like a crack in a mirror, & if I play it now–what ? 40-odd years later ?–& they have been odd years–I will just cry & cry & cry.

So, actually: fuck “Play some old!” Play some old is just very bad advice, which comes from chipmunks & children already afraid of time. Go on! Go where your work takes you, & don’t be forced into yesterday’s postures–already looking strained & meaningless–by an audience scared to move along with you.

how things were

Loz Francomb having popped up in the comments to the previous post, I looked for a picture of him to link to, but could only find this very louche item courtesy the redoubtable Brian Cropper. Still, a picture’s worth 1000 words, & back then, when Green Death was still one of the gritstone nightmares du jour, the word would have been “Fuck.”

(I linked to a good pic of him here, too.)

running again

Around the end of the year I can start thinking about hills, moors, coastal paths. In a sneak preview–a little bit terrified that I would blow my adapted GET strategy & push myself back to zero–I’ve already run a couple of miles on the South Downs. I took it slow, avoiding steep ground. On the descent to the pub, I laughed a lot. Waved my arms in the air.


I’m keener as a result, but not foaming at the mouth. I study old 1:25000 maps, & write long mysterious lists that feature items like, St David’s Head & Carn Llidi ? or Burbage Horseshoe!: but I stick to the regime. I’m not going to blow it now I feel human for the first time since 1991.

ch ch ch changes

In Locus, Graham Sleight tackles a retrospective mood in sf criticism via a metaphor from the music industry. Audiences, he says, driven to distraction by performances of fresh material, often heckle a band, “Play some old!” This demand seems to be based on the automatic & circular assumption that “older is better” (and indeed, to make the argument work, Graham has to begin it carefully, “Your favourite band releases a new album, but it’s not as good as the stuff they did 3 or 5 years ago…”) But to the performer, “Play some old!” is serious entrapment. It precludes change. It acts to diminish the band’s enthusiasm for new ideas, the band’s sense of certainty in its own judgement. The most depressing demand to hear is the one hidden inside the heckle: it’s the implied, “Play some new old!” Lucky for us, then, that committed individualists like Waits or Bowie or JG Ballard simply changed anyway, without much thought to the consequences.