You may recall that I wrote an article on the cult American punk/alternative musician Bob Mould for the excellent Toppermost music site a couple of years ago. Now, it seems that my scribbles helped inspire my transatlantic friend Wayne Jessup to contribute too, with this fascinating article (and accompanying playlist) on the near-legendary Boston post-punk band Mission of Burma being published just this week.
It’s excellent stuff and well worth a read, especially if you’ve not encountered Mission of Burma’s music before (although 90s kids may remember that their ‘That’s When I Reach For My Revolver’ was covered by Moby on his 1996 Animal Rights album, and he certainly wasn’t the only one to cover the track. The original – and best – version is below). This is a band who may not be as well-known as perhaps they should be – but their influence has been quietly pervasive over the decades, inspiring a large proportion of the grunge and alternative rock bands who found fame in the 1990s. And you can’t really argue with that.
Time to jump in and find out more…
Today’s guest post is something a little different. For the first time in the history of Another Kind Of Mind, I’m publishing some fiction – and this is not just any old fiction: this is an exclusive and previously unpublished extract from a brand new novel by Rick Leach, who has kindly let me post it here. Rick is the author of a number of non-fiction books about music, including the Glastonbury Trilogy (you can buy them here, here, here and here), and also contributed a birthday guest post last year too. You can find Rick on Twitter, and check out his blog here.
I don’t know about you, but having read this extract, I really want to know what happens next….
I am sitting alone in the car, by the side of the river. It is night time. I look at my watch to check the time. The clock on the dashboard isn’t working. Actually it is working. It’s just that it’s set to the wrong time and has been for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if I know how to reset it. Or I can’t be bothered messing around. There is a certain comfort in knowing that it is completely wrong. It seems to jump to a different time every time I start the engine, suddenly leaping forwards ten minutes or so. I think that means that unlike a stopped watch, it’s probably not even correct twice a day. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it does give the right time twice a day. I shrug to myself. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
I look at my watch. It is a little before 11.00 o’clock. I have a lot of time to spare. There is no need to make a move yet. I stare out of the windscreen and look at the lights from the opposite side reflecting on the water. It is really calm. There is not a breath of wind in the air. The river seems to be barely moving, although I know it must be. The water is as flat as a sheet of glass, just swaying gently. It is like a black mirror. The only thing that I can see moving is a container ship slowly heading off to sea. I wonder where it’s going. Thousands of miles away. Another country.
It’s that time of the year again – the Diagram Prize is back. For readers unfamiliar with my slight obsession over this rather strange literary award, it is an annual prize given, rather wonderfully, to the book with the oddest title of the year. It began in 1978 when Trevor Bounford and Bruce Robertson of The Diagram Group were bored at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and has run ever since (apart from 1987 and 1991, when odd book titles were sadly thin on the ground).
Now administered by The Bookseller, previous seriously odd winners have included Proceedings of the Second International Workshop on Nude Mice (1978), Goblinproofing One’s Chicken Coop (2012) and the utterly fabulous Big Book of Lesbian Horse Stories (2003) (I still want to know if that’s a big book of horse stories for lesbians, or a big book of stories about lesbian horses). Can this year’s shortlist better those?
Here are this year’s odd contenders:
Divorcing a Real Witch: For Pagans and the People That Used to Love Them by Diana Rajchel
Nature’s Nether Regions by Menno Schilthuizen
The Ugly Wife is Treasured at Home by Melissa Margaret Schneider
Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte
Where do Camels Belong? by Ken Thompson
Advanced Pavement Research: Selected, Peer Reviewed Papers from the 3rd International Conference on Concrete Pavements Design, Construction, and Rehabilitation, December 2-3, 2013, Shanghai, China edited by Bo Tian
The Madwoman in the Volvo: My Year of Raging Hormones by Sandra Tsing-Loh
To find out more about each of these very odd titles, visit We Love This Book.
If you’d like to take part and vote for your favourite, you can make your choice here.
You’ve got until 00:01 on Saturday 21st March to decide which of these titles is the oddest of them all – the winner will be announced on Friday 27th March. I’ll update you with details of the winning entry as soon as I can!
UPDATE 31/03/15: And the winner is… Strangers Have the Best Candy by Margaret Meps Schulte. Not the title I expected to win, but there you go! Lots more info here.
You might not think it, but even things associated with the seemingly monolithic structure that is academia are subject to change. For example, I’ve recently been writing an essay on the twentieth century transformation of the nature of historical sources and the ways in which they can be used; a series of changes which have had a profound impact on the subject and are still ongoing.
And it’s not just the language we use to describe such cultural concepts that is transforming. The language we use on a day-to-day basis is changing and mutating too. While reading an article on the necessity (or otherwise) of some traditional grammar rules on The Independent’s website, I came across this quote from the journalist and author Oliver Kamm:
The English language is not static, nor are its boundaries clear. Nor is it a language tied to the British Isles. English is a river. Its content is always changing and it has many tributaries. Its characteristics include impermanence. Indeed, there can be no single definition of the English language.
Historians frequently go on about their beloved concepts of continuity and change – indeed, the one, ever continuing, fundamentally important aspect of British culture, landscape and language that tends to be overlooked or even sometimes sneered at is its non-static nature. Kamm’s words bring this innate movement and flexibility into sharp relief, reflecting the ever-changing nature of the English language.
Every generation brings new words, new phrases, new ways of using the language to the table, and this has been going on for centuries – just look, for instance, at the enormous impact of William Shakespeare’s creative vocabulary, or the beautifully influential language used by the original editors of the King James Bible. These innovations may take some time to work their way into common usage, but English is a compulsively, inherently magpie language that pinches things from a huge variety of cultures and dialects worldwide; absorbing them into a new and textured whole.
After last month’s excellent series of guest posts on Another Kind Of Mind, it was suddenly my turn to be writing something for someone else – indeed, the nice chaps over at the very excellent Toppermost interactive music website kindly asked me to put together a playlist and an article on the solo albums of Bob Mould (ex-Hüsker Dü and Sugar), one of my favourite musicians.
So, naturally, I jumped at the chance – and you can read the finished article at Toppermost here.
And as a taster, here’s one of my favourite tracks from the Bob Mould Toppermost playlist. Turn it up loud and enjoy!
The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
Yes, this silly little ditty (one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child) is apparently* by the very same Christopher Isherwood who wrote Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye To Berlin (1938) – the novels that were later adapted into the play I Am A Camera (1951) and the 1966 stage musical and cult 1972 film Cabaret. I was irresistably reminded of Isherwood’s nonsense poem when I encountered this beautiful cormorant stretching out his wings in the July sunshine as I walked by the Thames in Richmond last week. Incidentally, you might like to know that cormorants and shags (no sniggering at the back there!) are, although of the same avian family, two totally different types of bird – and there were no bears (with or without buns) to be seen anywhere, rather disappointingly…
*There is some debate over whether the poem is actually by Isherwood at all, but it is certainly widely attributed to him on most poetry websites and in pre-internet poetry collections (of the physical book kind) dating back over a number of decades that I have either personally seen or own.
Broaden your vocabulary with Another Kind Of Mind! I’m fascinated by words and where they come from – and the English language is full of some seriously weird examples of words describing and defining some incredibly random concepts you probably never knew existed. Researching this subject out of curiosity, I came across quite a few of these words which I had to share with you all.
So, every once in a while I’ll be defining a couple of these words for you – and here’s today’s…
A desire path (or desire line) is the name given to a concept you would never think actually had a name. You’ve probably seen plenty of desire paths in your own neighbourhood – they’re those shortcut tracks across grassy areas made by walkers and cyclists repeatedly cutting through from one place to another (you can see plenty of examples in this fascinating post over at the excellent Spitalfields Life).
As today would have been his 75th birthday…
Amongst all his legendarily Gonzo work, Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) is still probably most renowned for his writings on the Nixon era of American politics. He first interviewed the notorious ex-president for a magazine in 1968, meeting Tricky Dicky in a car on their way to the infamous politician’s private campaign jet.
On the airport runway once the interview was over, Hunter said farewell to Nixon and exited the car, immediately going to light a cigarette. Before he could get flame to fag, however, he was rugby tackled from the side and his lighter ripped from his hand:
I thought they had mistaken me for an assassin and they mistook the lighter for some kind of weapon… but the Secret Service agent who tackled me helped me up and began apologising very quickly. It turned out they were fueling the plane and I was standing just a few feet from the gas tank. I could have blown the fucker up and saved this nation a lot of trouble.*
Goddammit Hunter. God. Damn. It. One little cigarette could have changed history….
* ‘Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson’ – Paul Perry (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1993, p.130)
From the 2010 Discworld novel I Shall Wear Midnight, which deals extensively with this theme:
It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.
Whether you write fiction or non-fiction (or both), you’ll absolutely understand this quote from Neil Gaiman’s blog – as ever, Gaiman explains it all perfectly:
The best thing about writing fiction is that moment where the story catches fire and comes to life on the page, and suddenly it all makes sense and you know what it’s about and why you’re doing it and what these people are saying and doing, and you get to feel like both the creator and the audience. Everything is suddenly both obvious and surprising (“but of course that’s why he was doing that, and that means that…”) and it’s magic and wonderful and strange.
You don’t live there always when you write. Mostly it’s a long hard walk. Sometimes it’s a trudge through fog and you’re scared you’ve lost your way and can’t remember why you set out in the first place.
But sometimes you fly, and that pays for everything.