Sunday, April 25, 2010



Photo: Snelson

I have become fascinated by the novels of Arthur A. Cohen (1928-1986)  and increasingly intrigued about this man’s life and accomplishments.

The web holds very little. A Wikipedia entry is dominated by one large   biographical quote – taken from   a 1987 review by Morris Philipson in the New York Times, of a book of novellas by Cohen entitled ‘Artists & Enemies’ – from which we learn that he wrote five novels, nine works of nonfiction, edited five books and engaged in wide range of activities and interests. Philipson writes:

‘…his interests and activities were scattered among a number of other, seemingly unrelated, concerns. He was co-founder of the Noonday Press and founder of Meridian Books, and then editor at Holt, Rinehart & Winston, E. P. Dutton and Viking. He was also a theologian, presumably working on his contributions to the encyclopedic ''Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought'' …at the same time that he was finishing ''Artists & Enemies.'' He collected rare books, later became a rare-book dealer, and he created the catalogues of Ex Libris on the major movements of 20th-century art.’

Philipson concludes: ‘In the meanwhile, let it be said that Arthur A. Cohen was a thinker and an artist who made friends and enemies.’

The whole of ARTIST & ENEMIES is accessible at Google Books

Even more intriguing is this opening extract from the following review by Julian Levinson of ‘Arthur A. Cohen's Resplendent Vision’ , edited by  David Stern and Paul Mendes-Flohr. [Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1998 ] The book is a Reader of Selected Fiction and Writings on Judaism, Theology, Literature, and Culture. Its is partially available at Google Books.

There were perhaps five different Arthur A. Cohens, and nearly all had cult followings. In order of appearance (roughly speaking), they are: Cohen the neo-Orthodox Jewish theologian; Cohen the astonishingly successful book publisher, herald of the “paperback revolution''; Cohen the magnanimous organizer of salon gatherings and anthologies; Cohen the aggadic novelist; and Cohen the challenging and occasionally cryptic post-Holocaust theorist. A few additional selves might be teased out of his variegated life, but at least these five deserve separate mention. Their areas of accomplishment were discrete, as were, in many cases, their audiences. At the time of his death, fifteen years ago of leukemia at the age of 58, Cohen had no lack of admirers; his inclusion in Dan Cohn-Sherbok's  ‘Fifty Key Jewish Thinkers’ (of all time) is testimony to the seriousness with which he has been taken. At the present moment, however, it seems that his posthumous fate is hanging in the balance. Perhaps the very fact of his versatility has made categorization too strenuous a task…’

[In ‘Prooftexts’: A Journal of Jewish Literary History’ Volume 23, Number 2, Spring 2003, pp. 259-267. Indiana University Press]

[The full text is available through Project Muse but you have to subscribe! By the way aggadic , as far as I can work out, refers to the narrative tradition of Judaism, including history, science, folk-history, and legend.)

These are the three novels I have recently read


This book has haunted me. First published in 1980, I think I read and possibly reviewed it at that time. Recently I found it again, reread it – and it stunned me. This is one of the great books about the essence of  sculpture. Its was this second read that delivered the book to me full force.

The plot begins in Mexico with the theft of the title, organised by a sculptor who collects and deals with illegal artefacts. The book opens with the crime and then abruptly shifts focus to the earlier life of the sculptor and follows his experiences in Europe working with the sculptor Constantin Brancusi and then follows his journey to stay with the Haida peoples in remotest Canada before returning to the original story. The crime is being investigated and the trail eventually leads to the sculptor and a satisfying and meaningful conclusion. This is wonderful novel, full of deep insight into the whole creative process of sculpting and its primitive roots. But also a gripping and absorbing read.

Partially available at Google Books


Excited to read more, I found this second-hand hardback copy of another marvellous novel. This time the focus is poetry.

The book’s main character is a poet who has negotiated his path through repressive Soviet culture, keeping his head down, not making waves, and securing a job as editor of a journal of folk music.

The tone of the book carries that dark humour that characterises much of modern Russian literature. It reminds me of Bulgakov. The unfortunate character unexpectedly gets selected to form part of a cultural mission to New York, at which he must deliver a coded poem to a contact. After years of non-engagement, he finally finds his courage. This is a wonderful read, full of laugh out loud humour. Partially available on Google Books


From there I tackled what is considered Cohen’s masterpiece. This is a long deep and complex read that draws on a wealth of Jewish folklore, mysticism, and legend.

The book begins with Stern’s father as a young man, lured to the flat of a prephetess who tells him he will sire the new Messiah. The way he will know if he is truly the Messiah will be if his son is responsible for his parent’s death.

Stern’s parents leave for America, events unfold. The young Simon work his way steadily to becoming a millionaire and the the foretold tragedy ensues. On the back of this, Stern has a vision of his purpose and organises the building of a fortified sanctuary in New York City and then travels with companions to the death camps of Europe and rounds up survivors to come and live in his specially built complex. Dark events unfold.

This is a deep and complex book, full of wisdom. I am sure that, on a first read, I have only picked up on some of the aspects of its multi-level meaning. It is a stunning work.

The New Yorker had this to say (unable to access the original review:

"This stately, ambitious amalgam of Jewish myth, history, theology, and speculations on the Jewish soul is like an enormous Judaic archeological ruin—often hard for the uninitiated to interpret, but impressive. . . . Intelligent, inventive, fascinating."

These three novels are available from the University of Chicago Press



RobynHitchcockCaught Robyn Hitchcock on top form live in Brighton’s  Komedia. Saw him last time round with Venus 3 featuring two members of REM. I’m a late adopter and now think RH is the bees knees. Live he intersperses each song with a discursive ramble about protozoa, or surrealistic ramblings about some random thought. Don’t be fooled. he’s sharp as mustard. The songs are rich and quirky, highly varied, interesting instrumentation, unusual rhythms. On stage, he’s constantly on the move, flicking back his droop of silver hair, watching like a hawk. Plays guitar like a demon too. Strong distinctive voice. A true  original. New album is Propellor Time which features Johnny Marr, Nick Lowe, John Paul Jones et al.  Huge back catalogue to explore. Masses of videos on YouTube. RH just keeps on coming and his audience just keeps on growing. Get involved. Check out The Museum of Robyn Hitchcock.


Friend Barry E, is road managing Joan Armatrading’s World Tour so freebie ticket to the show. Joan rocks let me tell you and plays the blues like a demon. What a guitarist. And that voice – powerful, rich, deeply moving. Dressed in black, she holds the stage with beautiful versions of her earlier famous songs but the show is very much guitar led, supported by a first-class band, featuring tracks from her latest release This Charming Life. A beautiful real class act. Touring UK this coming month, then Europe, then US and Canada, then Far East. Catch her. See:


I’m a longtime fan of Ry Cooder’s musical adventures and collaborations. For my money this is one of his best, a wonderful album which integrates Irish and Mexican music in a way that touches your heart one moment and has you dancing round your kitchen the next. The album is lengthy and captures many moods. Captivating, inspiring and uplifting by turns. There’s a wonderful video on YouTube about the making of the whole project which is how I first came across it. My soundtrack of the moment.


Saturday, April 24, 2010


London Calling Miles482

This chunky portmanteau of a book is the latest  addition to  a whole shelf of works by one of the great chroniclers of post-1945 underground and countercultural activity.

Miles was in the right place in London of the 1960s. A close friend of Paul McCartney’s, he helped found the Indica Bookshop and International Times  and was in the thick of the action. His personal account of this period  - ‘In The Sixties’ [Jonathon Cape] – is one of his best works. He also authored ‘Hippie’ [Cassell Illustrated] one of the best picture books of the 1965-1971 period. Also recommended are his biographies of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs –  the last two of which were his personal friends- and his excellent books on Frank Zappa and Charles Bukowksi.

‘London Calling’ could well have been entitled ‘Soho Calling’ (a central London district whose name is derived from Soho! – an Anglo-French hunting call)  as much of the book focuses, quite rightly, on this fecund neighbourhood which was the hub, crucible and junction box of so much of modern bohemian, beat, rock, pop, jazz, folk, fashion, drug and crime activity. From  a network of clubs, cafes, coffee bars and pubs emerged hybrid forms and styles that shook up old black and white Britain, creating sounds and visions that resonated around the world.

The book takes us on a long and fascinating journey from the bohemians and eccentrics of Fitzrovia to the YBAs of the Groucho Club via  a multitude of individuals, scenes and locations.

The book’s massive bibliography attests to the breadth of Miles’ reading and one of this work’s great values is that it provides the general reader with a broad introductory overview of this voluminous wealth of historical and first-hand biographical accounts. In this book, Miles stays outside of the narrative but informs it with his first-hand knowledge and experiences.

As an aficionado of underground culture and a participant in many of the scenes described during my days at the underground press and the NME (I’m named in the book’s Acknowledgements)   much of the book is  familiar territory. I also spent more than a year myself researching Soho culture of the 1940s and 50s for a project that never quite got off the ground. [See PREVIOUS POST REWRITING MUSIC HISTORY] Thus I am not your average reader.

That aside, I found a great deal of fresh detail that fleshed out my existing knowledge and the book introduced me to individuals, groups, events and occurrences that I was previously unaware of. I particularly enjoyed the chapter on the making of the  movie ‘Performance’ which told me much I didn’t know about one of my favourite films.

So hats of to Miles (friend and colleague) not just for this book but also for a industrious lifetime documenting and archiving  the fast-moving tides of modern counterculture in a readable and accessible manner. We are all in his debt.

[London Calling by Barry Miles is published by Atlantic Books (£25)


David Haslam/The Guardian

Robert Irwin/The Times Literary Supplement

Liz Thomson/The Independent

Tosh at Big Soup

Friday, April 23, 2010



new 255 

Readng the web and watching the street send-off for Malcom McLaren in Camden reminded me of the farewell given to Paul Wheeler – Sex Pistols fan – by the Bonfire Societies of Lewes, on the streets of Lewes, almost two years ago.

See Previous Posts:


MALCOLM McLAREN: Rascal In Perpetuity

Sunday, April 18, 2010


600full-dennis-hopper 600full-dennis-hopper

I’m sitting here thinking about Dennis Hopper right now. Good to find this great piece

The Middle Word in Life

What we think about when we think about Dennis Hopper on the Museum of the Moving Image site.

Its accompanied by a Photo Gallery and a brilliant video tribute.


Dennis Hopper, American dreamerBy Shawn Levy, The Oregonian

Thursday, April 15, 2010


Steve-Bell-14.04.10-005This post is inspired by this editorial cartoon in The Guardian by the great and wonderful Steve Bell on the occasion of the launch of the Conservative Party’s ‘do-it-yourself revolution’.20877648-20877651-slarge

The cartoon, I presupposed was inspired by the masterful Pink Floyd cover by Hipgnosis with the pink pig floating past Battersea Power Station.

I remembered this in particular because I wrote the story (under my Dick Tracy pen name) on what happened during the photoshoot. The pig got  away! It was published in the NME on 11th December 1976 in Thrills under the headline PIG AHOY. It was accompanied by a brilliant cartoon by the late great Edward.



‘It seemed like a good idea. The Pink Floyd, well known avant-garde electronic ensemble, were looking for a suitable cover photo to grace their latest album "Animals" which features just three tracks called "Duck," "Pig" and "Sheep." Some bright photo­grapher suggested building a large inflatable pink pig, which is where our story begins.

Dateline Thursday, December 2. On a crisp, clear morning a party of assorted photographers and film people were clustered around* the base of Battersea Power station wait­ing for the pig to be launched. Specially constructed by a German firm, Ballon Fabrik, the people responsible for building the Zeppe­lins, the hushed and expectant crowd got ready to toast the pig with pink champagne.

In the shadows lurked a hired marksman with rifle and dum-dum bullets ready to shoot down the monstrous porker should it get out of control. Alas, the party discovered they did not have enough helium to float their pink prodigy, so everyone drank up and went home.

Dateline Friday, December 3. On a crisp clear morning a party of assorted photographers and film people returned to witness the second launching attempt. Extra helium had been laid on and gradually the 40 foot pig began to rise majestically into the air. Shutters started clicking furiously and then . . . quelle horreur. . . one of the lines securing the beast broke and pink pig floated up into the blue beyond far out of reach of the frantic humans below.

First sightings came from an anxi­ous jet pilot who after touchdown at Heathrow, rushed to the control tower to report he had seen a large pink pig floating through the sky. He had to be breathalysed before anyone took his information seriously. Immediately a police helicopter was dispatched on the pig's trail. It was sighted over London and tracked to 5,000 feet before the helicopter had to give up the chase. Then the Civil Aviation Authority swung into action, warning all pilots that a flying pig was in the vicinity.

The London Evening News began receiving reports from its readers who claimed to have seen a pink UFO and one reader commented: "This large pink thing flew over my garden. It's enough to send you on the wagon." When I spoke to the press man at the CAA he told me “ it was last sighted east of Detling, near Chatham in Kent at 18,000 feet going east before we lost it on our radar." When I asked him what he thought the ultimate fate of this flying phenome­non was likely to be, he said: “it will either disappear into the upper atmos­phere and dissolve, or continue across the Channel until it reaches Germany where it was made. You could call it a homing pig." Later reports confirmed the pig had come to ground in Kent. For a while the Pink Floyd's office slapped an embargo on information regarding the pig's activities. When they finally .admitted the mishap they also confessed that they were not even sure whether or not they had enough pictures of the pig for the album. Perhaps they just don't want to know anymore.’

pig_chimney-1 The pig that was originally floated above Battersea Power Station was called Algie.

Read the Wikipedia entry on this particular incident and Pink Floyd’s ongoing use of pigs in their stage shows.

This story is also told by Roger Waters in an article in Rolling Stone magazine.

floydpig_ebay Pink Floyd inflatable pic from the 1988 tour, sold on eBay

Sunday, April 11, 2010



Poster by the excellent Beau Bo D’or. See his great site.

Blah, blah, blah. The gruesome spectacle of seeing three political parties all peddling versions of the same tired messages is sickening. Let’s face it. Whoever gets in, even if the Parliament is hung, what faces Britain is severe financial cuts followed by large-scale industrial and union action. There is no vision, no imagination, no hope in their rhetoric. All parties have been besmirched by the expenses scandal. They are failing either to come to terms with the problems or to connect with people. They are running one of the most controlled states in the world, micro-managed from the centre. We live in a society in which our civil liberties have been severely eroded. Time for A Change ?


The MyDavidCameron spoof site

To find out how much your vote will count for in the upcoming election, log on to Voter Power Index

According to this site: ‘In the 2005 election, more than half of all voters voted against their winning MP. Their votes were simply thrown away.

In the UK, the only voters with any real power to choose the government are those who live in marginal constituencies. Less than 20% of constituencies can be considered marginal.

The rest of us have little or no power to influence the outcome of the election. In fact, statistical analysis by the nef (the new economics foundation) shows that one person in the UK does not have one's more like 0.25 votes. In some ultra safe constituencies the value of your vote falls to practically zero.


Source: Digital Democracy

450.2010 Calendar copy

Cover image for the Posters For Peace and Justice calendar. Found on the excellent JUSTSEEDS Artists’ Cooperative blog.

There is a crying need for a radical change in our political landscape, language, thinking and organisation. We’ll be reporting on people who are trying to help this process along.


Check out POWER 2010, one group who are leading the charge for electoral reform

image You can download the excellent report POWER TO THE PEOPLE : an independent Inquiry into Britain's democracy


Also Beyond The Ballot: 57 Democratic Innovations from around the world.



The emergence of the WikiLeaks site into public prominence – as a self-styled intelligence agency for the people, making public secret documents outside of national and legal restraints – has been applauded and criticised in equal measure. It is certainly an important new development in the history of journalism and once more demonstrates the power of the web.

The best single article I have so far read on the subject is Who watches WikiLeaks? by Chris McGreal

There is a good background history on Wikipedia.

Comment is free by Henry Porter contrasts the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative, which aims to make the country a haven for investigative journalism, with the new British legislation, the Digital Economy Bill, recently rushed through Parliament, which has been widely criticised.

Friday, April 09, 2010

MALCOLM McLAREN: Rascal In Perpetuity


Malcolm with Wild Strawberries, an all-female band of Chinese rockers. 2004

Source: Pittimmagine

“Malcolm McLaren was such a marvelous amalgam of exuberation, sensuality, culture, and literacy salted with the essential recognition of his own rascality. He was the perfect preservation against stuffiness and a lack of humanity. We are going to miss him.”

New York Dolls frontman David Johansen

Music Mix


"A truly wicked sense of humor was essential to last more than a minute with Malcolm. At times he seemed as though he was finagling to get the very shirt from your back but, if he thought you were in trouble, he would quietly give you his.

“He didn't play an instrument but he could play a musician for certain. None of the bands he was associated with would have sounded or even existed as they did without his catalytic, terror-inducing, at least for me at the time, manipulations.

“Getting you to do things that seemed impossible was his forte; once you did them you realized that most of the time you ended up better off...sometimes not, but then, that was Malcolm getting you at it just for his amusement.

“I'm sure Malcolm enjoyed watching me and my bandmates trying to dance some stupid dance, wearing his girlfriend's pirate outfits or trying to sing like an elephant.

“They did actually seem like good ideas at the time, well they would if Malcolm McLaren said they were, because he may have already somehow got you to play better than you'd ever dreamed of, bullied you into writing and recording songs that ended up on Top Of The Pops and induced within you the confidence and audacity to take on the whole world. Goodbye Malcolm.”

Leigh Gorman of Bow Wow Wow,



The former Sex Pistols manager died after uttering the words: "Free Leonard Peltier." Peltier, an American Indian, is serving life for the murder of two FBI agents in 1975. His supporters claim he is a political prisoner and his case has become a cause celebre.  [The Telegraph]

McLaren died of mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer normally associated with exposure to asbestos. Steve McQueen also died from this.        See: Malcolm McLaren 'killed by asbestos in Sex shop'

Malcolm McLaren By Those Who Knew Him

'An imp, an itch in someone's pants' by Jon Savage

Jon Savage: How punk bridged the class divide

McLaren’s death revives memories of punk era in Wales

The svengali behind pop's most controversial genre

Malcolm McLaren, my revolutionary, chaotic, brilliant, messed-up father

The legacy of Malcolm McLaren, by his son, Agent Provocateur founder Joe Corre, and Julien Temple, director of The Great Rock 'n' Roll Swindle

Malcolm McLaren: 1946-2010 by Peter Culshaw


Read my exclusive interview with Julien Temple from 1979 about the making of the first Sex Pistols film: NME: The Hills Are Alive With The Sound of Chaos

Listen to Jon Savage talk about the punk years on The Audio Generalist.