Sunday, February 26, 2012



THE GENERALIST is a lot to do with chance, coincidence and making connections which is why this post begins, on this bright crisp Sunday morning in February, with a book I suddenly remembered and fished out of my library.

‘Significant Others: Creativity and Intimate Partnership’ is a multi-author collection of 13 profiles, edited by Whitney Chadwick and Isabelle de Courtivron [Thames & Hudson. 1993] that examine artist and writer couples – partnerships in which both are active in the same field -who have shared both sexual and artistic bonds. The editors asked to the contributors to address the following question:

If the dominant belief about art and literature is that they are produced by solitary individuals, but the dominant social structures are concerned with familial, matrimonial, and heterosexual arrangements, how do two creative people escape or not the constraints of this framework and construct an alternative story.’

The book includes, amongst others: Rodin & Camille Claudel, Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, Sonia and Robert Delauney, Robert Rauschenberg & Jasper Johns, Henry Miller & Anais Nin, Frida Kahlo & Diego Rivera, Leonora Carrington and Max Ernst.


Which leads me to this well-thumbed copy of ‘Just Kids’ by Patti Smith, a loving memoir of her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe, left in my care, by chance, by Baba on her way to Hindustan. Blessings.

This is a moving and poetic tale of how two street-ado0lescents found each other in New York, bonded and survived, and lived to become significant artists in their differing fields – photography and music/poetry. Both shared a love of drawing and dressing up. They lived in bedrock sleasehouses and abandoned basements, surviving on crackers and air, transforming their surroundings with juju objects found in their constant trawls through dime stores and skips. They moved to the Chelsea Hotel before fame and fortune found them. They hung-out in CBGB’s and Max’s Kansas City with a long roll-call of famous faces. Patti travelled to Paris; Mapplethorpe explored the S&M underground scene. Mapplethorpe died of AIDS on March 9th, 1989; Patti Smith continues to perform and produce. Both continue to inspire.


Here’s my one Mapplethorpe story. I was in the foyer of a show of his photos at the ICA in London in the 1980s, standing in the foyer staring at a very large black and white self-portrait of the photographer. God he looks cool I thought. Things were not going so well for me at that time. I was jealous I guess, frustrated in the face of this hip icon. The rest of the photos were arranged in a series of three short narrow corridors leading of a main aisle, each one with framed photos on either side. The first were the more innocent shots leading gradually to Corridor 3 where the elegant hard-core portraits challenged both the sensibilities and the stomach. Returning from this journey back to the foyer, there was now a figure standing in front of the self-portrait. It was Robert Mapplethorpe – looking white and tiny and weary in front of his iconic self. That shocked me and its an incident I often think about. Draw your own conclusions.

Patti Smith’s book is suffused with the spirit of Rimbaud so it was somehow no surprise to me when, whilst reading the above, I made the chance discovery RIMBAUD064of ‘Disaster was My God: The Scandalous Outlaw Life of Arthur Rimbaud’ by Bruce Duffy on one of those little tables you find outside second-hand bookshops.

First published last year by Clerkenwell Press in London, this is an imaginative novelisation of Rimbaud’s life, studded with his poetry. It’s a triumph.

WOW! This book grabbed me by the neck and took me on a helter-skelter ride. Duffy seems to have mesmerically internalised Rimbaud’s spirit (if that makes sense), bringing him to life in extreme vividness. His prose has both raw energy and microscopic preciseness.  We’re both inside the poet’s mind and feelings and outside him, observing the shattering affect he has on those around him – including of course Paul Verlaine, his significant Other. –  with whom Rimbaud has an intense, bizarre, extreme relationship. Duffy calls that section of his book ‘Monsters Together’.


Through this book I now understand why Rimbaud is so powerful, so original, so important, so influential:

The boy…was that rarity of rarities and oddest of oddities – a prodigy of letters.

‘And by sixteen – and then writing his own poems – Arthur Rimbaud was not merely dazzling or surprising…Arthur Rimbaud had anticipated and exceeded Dada and Surrealism, had checkmated and rewritten sixty years of future poetry, had barged headlong into the twentieth century….with recklessness and bravado.’

The last words belong to Rimbaud, from a letter he wrote in 1870 when he was 16:

When the endless servitude of woman is broken, when she lives for and by herself, man – heretofore abominable – having given her her release, she too will be a poet! Woman will find some of the unknown! Will her world of ideas differ from ours? – She will find strange, unfathomable, repulsive, delicious things; we will take them, we will understand them.’

Here’s to significant others!




Guy Stevens


Following on from my Previous Post: CHECK OUT CHARLES SHAAR MURRAY I have promoted three gigs with the man himself (two with his band Crosstown Lightnin’). His great biography of John Lee Hooker has just been republished by Canongate.

His collected journalism in Shots From CSM JL HOOKER060The Hip (currently out of print but copies are available on the net) I particularly enjoyed because the pieces conjure up for me that period of the NME when I was working for the paper.

One of the stories I enjoyed most was about the legendary producer/dj Guy Stevens and Charlie was good enough to grant me permission to reprint it here. So for your reading pleasure:

Guy Stevens: 'There are only two Phil Spectors in the world and I am one of them’

NME, 22 December 1979

‘THEY rushed down the street together, digging everything in the early way they had, which later became so much sadder and perceptive and blank. But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centrelight pop and everybody goes 'Awwwwwww. . .’

Jack Kerouac - On The Road

‘He's in love with rock and roll, WOOAAHHHRLD! He's in love with getting stoned, WOOOAAAHHHRLD!’

The Clash - 'Janie Jones'

‘With Guy Stevens it was very, very special, because if it hadn't been for him seeing that glimmer of whatever that I certainly wasn't aware of, I'd still be workin' in the factory right now.’

Ian Hunter

‘Guy Stevens? Forget him. He's had it.’

A Music Industry Figure


Guy Stevens back with Nigel Waymouth and Michael English, the two designers behind Hapshash and the Coloured Coat. Stevens produced their eponymous album, a cult classic

Source: The Look

Take a deep breath and you could recount the Guy Stevens story in one sentence.

Kingpin mod deejay at the Scene Club in '64, Our Man In London for Sue Records, the legendary soul label, first house producer for Island Records where he signed and produced Free and Spooky Tooth as well as inventing Mott The Hoople, discov­erer of The Clash after a long time in hibernation and now finally producer of their new album 'London Calling', the man who got Chuck Berry out of jail in 1964, the man who supplied The Who with the compilation tape that gave them most of their early pre-original material repertoire, the man who introduced Keith Reid to Procol Harum and generated 'Whiter Shade Of Pale' only to fail to get them signed up and then had to stand by and watch them sell 90,000,000 copies for someone else, the man who smashed up every piece of furniture in a recording studio to get the performance he wanted out of the group he was recording, the man who Mick Jones of The Clash still thinks is responsible for getting him fired from his first real band, the man who heard Phil Spector rant about how it was him, Phil Spector, who first discovered The Beatles, the man who . . .

Guy Stevens, with the rolling, popping, bulging eyes of a veteran form speedfreak, the boozer's lurch and slur, smashing through or falling over every obstacle between him and the perfect rock and roll record, the ultimate rock and roll record, the final rock and roll record, the next rock and roll record ... be that obstacle human or inanimate, himself or something else. Staggering, screaming, crying, flailing, laughing, Guy Stevens arouses pity, terror, admiration, revulsion, contempt.

In 1971 they wrote him off as a hopeless loser, a man too far gone into the depths of alcoholics' perdition to be of any use to himself or anyone else again.

And now, in the closing weeks of 1979, Guy Stevens is back in the charts. It is — as they say — a mighty long way down rock and roll. The inevitable corollary is that it's an even longer way back up again. Guy Stevens has been to hell and back.



'What happened was I was living in a one-room no-water flat in Leicester Square and playing records for Ronan O'Rahilly — later of Radio Caroline — down at the Scene Club. I had an R&B night every Monday, and a lot of people like The Stones and Animals used to come down ...'

Guy Stevens is ensconced in a taxi heading for a friend's flat, where our interview is scheduled to take place. He had arrived at the NME offices half an hour late and roaring drunk, his hand lacerated and bleeding following some sort of incident with a glass door. Apparently, the prospect of being interviewed — at once exhilarating and terrifying — had sent him down to the pub as soon as it opened. He is fifteen years away in time, back when Mod really was mod, back when Guy Stevens had a direct line to R&B central.

'I got all my records mail-order. You sent 'em the money and got the records back within seven days from Stan's Record Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, USA, and it's right down deep in Tennessee . . .'

Wait a second, Guy. How can it be in Tennessee if it's in Louisiana?

'Well, it's somewhere around there. It all started for me when I was eleven years old and the first record I ever heard was "Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On" by Jerry Lee Lewis and that was the end of my school career. What I did was to start this thing at school where every boy in the school had to pay me a shilling a week — that's 5p — to be a member of my rock and roll club, and I chose the records. We had "Peggy Sue", "That'll Be The Day", Larry Williams' "Bony Maronie", all the hits of the time, Jerry Lee Lewis' "Great Balls Of Fire" . . . and I got expelled for it eventually.

'So I was expelled at fourteen, and I went to work for Lloyd's, the insurance brokers. They thought I was kinda funny. By '63 I had all these records that I'd imported from Stan's Record Store in Shreveport, Louisiana, right? . . . And Peter Meaden came round one night. He was the bloke who formed The Who, and he arranged to bring them round one day with their manager, Kit Lambert.

'And they were really weird. They just stood there. My wife, who I was then living with - we're seperated now - made a cup of tea for each one of them and they still stood still. I played 'em "Rumble" by Link Wray and put it on a tape for them - because by then I'd built up this enormous collection and Steve Marriott and everybody used to come round to get material.

'So The Who were there with Kit Lambert, and he offered me a fiver to make a two-and-a-half-hour tape for them, because Townshend hadn't started writing and they had no material to play on stage. So I played 'em all James Brown stuff, "Pleeeeeeeeeease Pleeeaaase Pleeease" . . .' Hair flying, right there in the cab, Stevens becomes James Brown. 'And I played 'em "Rumble" by Link Wray, which was the classic Pete Townshend record, which he'd never heard before.'

Stevens' mouth begins to emit gigantic, grinding guitar chords and odd flecks of spittle. Demonic possession by a guitar.

'So Townshend, Daltrey, Entwistle and Moon sat there for three hours drinking tea looking like little schoolboys and my poor wife was going, "Would you like another cup of tea" and they're saying, "Uh . . . well ... um ... ah ... dunno," and I'm playing the records going, "Jesus Christl WAKE UP!" I was going through my cabinet where I had all my singles, I had every Motown single, every Stax ... I went to Stax in Memphis in 1963 and they said, "It's just a record shop." I said no, no, you've got a studio and they say, "We're just a record shop." So I went behind the shop and there was the studio where Booker T made "Green Onions". The whole lot, Rufus Thomas . . . and it was the size of this taxi we're sitting in now.'

One visualizes a younger Stevens, mod suit, hair cropped short, ranting and screaming at the bemused counter assistant at Stax, or a young, shy Who clutching cooling teacups while this maniac jumps up and down, hitting them with soul music and scream­ing ...

'And at Stax I said to them in 1963, "Don't you understand the importance of what you're doing?" I can't tell you enough . . . they were nuts! They thought the record shop was more important than the studio!'

The whole industry thinks shops are more important than studios, though.

'Well, if they think filing cabinets are gonna sell records, then they'd better start selling them now. Records sell because they are made by dedicated people who love to sing and love to play, and that's what it's about. The record companies are full of people who are either secretaries, hangers-on or people who don't know anything about music all thinking, "Well, it's better than working in a bank."'


The cover of a 2004 CD release by Ace Records

From deejaying, scene-making and propagandizing blues, soul and rock and roll, Stevens moved to operating Sue Records as part of the then fledgling Island label. From living off what he made from selling Scene Club tickets at Piccadilly Circus tube station, he graduated to a £15 a week salary from Island. From label administration to production was only one band away.

'What happened was that these guys came down from Carlisle in a van in '65. They were called the VIPs, later to be known as Spooky Tooth, and they were all nutters, all complete maniacs, and they ambushed Island Records at the same time as I did. I was always at total war with Chris Blackwell [then — as now — Island's headman] and ... I can't put him down in a nice way, really. He was always a millionaire dilettante: he had a million anyway so he didn't need to bother, but I never knew this. I had just started the Sue label, and I got Charlie & Inez Foxx, I got James Brown, I got a hell of a lot.

'Sue was formed by a guy called Juggy Murray in New York, and he started the label with Charlie & Inez Foxx's "Mocking­bird"; that was Sue 301. I went over to get a record called "The Love Of My Man", which nobody has covered, and I hope Elkie Brooks isn't listening. "The Love Of My Man" by Viola Kilgore. Unbelievable. Un-be-liev-able. Blitzkrieg, out the window, number one, easy. He owned the copyright. Chris went over and offered him $500. Juggy wanted half a million. It got to three in the

American charts; if you check back you'll find it. One of the greatest records I've ever heard in my life.

'I wanted it to be on Sue. The main thing was that I wanted everything good to be on Sue. I wanted Bob Dylan to be on Sue. That was why I started importing records for Island with David Betteridge [now a CBS high-up] and Chris. And it nearly bankrupted Island.'


By now we're established in a luxurious flat belonging to a friend of Guy's. We're drinking coffee and brandy, except that Kosmo Vinyl - acting as Guy's part-time minder on behalf of The Clash — is surreptitiously filching Guy's brandy glass every time it's refilled and drinking it himself. Guy doesn't appear to notice, since every so often he is allowed to take a sip.

We're in '67 now, discussing the first Traffic album 'Dear Mr Fantasy', the getting-it-together-in-a-cottage-in-the-country one with the ghost on the cover. 'I did that cover! I went down to the cottage in Berkshire with them, I did the cover, I did everything!. It sounds terrible to say all this . . . maybe I should say nothing. What do you want me to say?'

'Tell 'im the facts, Guy,' interjects Kosmo from across the room.

'Steve Winwood asked me to come down, said, "I want you to produce Traffic and live with us." So I went down there and it was a bit fairytale, a bit weird. There were some very weird things going on. They were smoking a hell of a lot, and each one of them would come out and say to me,' "Oh God, I can't go on with life" and all this. That was Jim Capaldi. Then Steve Winwood would come out with, "I can't cope! It's all gone too far! It's all too much! We've had a hit single! Oh God!" And then Chris Wood started going, "Oh God! I've had enough!"

'I said, "Hang on, I've just heard this from three people! What is this? Have you all learned it off parrot fashion or what?" I was down there with all my belongings, all my records and everything thinking "Jesus Christ, they're all going mad!” And what they were all going mad over was Steve's girlfriend, but that's definitely another story ...

'But the worst thing that happened between me and Blackwell was the "Whiter Shade Of Pale" incident. He had it on his desk for a week! What happened was this boy I knew called Keith Reid came into the office with these words he'd written. He worked in a solicitors' office for £4.50 a week, and he brought in these words which were vaguely Dylanish, and I told him the words were great and suggested that he got himself to a good songwriter.'

Reid ended up with Gary Brooker and Procol Harum. Chris Blackwell turned the result down, and when it was finally issued elsewhere, it made number one in two weeks flat, became one of the biggest records of '67 and still sells astronomical quantities whenever it's reissued. Guy Stevens had a nervous breakdown.

At the same time, Guy's massive record collection was stolen from his mother's house in 1967, and - to add insult to injury -the thief sold them all off for ninepence each (that's old money. In contemporary currency that would be 3.75p each. Weep!).

'The guy didn't know what he was selling. I had every Miracles record. Every Muddy Waters record. I had every Chess record from 001. Listen! I was at a session with Phil Chess in 1964 with Chuck Berry when he was doing "Promised Land" and "Nadine". I was at the session! I was taking photographs! I got Chuck Berry out of prison! I put tremendous pressure on Pye Records, who had Chess and Checker over here, and the head of the company at the time was Ian Ralfini.

'I put pressure on him to get "Memphis Tennessee" released as a single. It was out as a B-side, with "Let It Rock". They taped all the Chuck Berry tracks off my records! Not from master tapes but from my records! I mean, I may have spat on them or something. You never know what happens, do you? Now you'll know that if your old Chuck Berry records jump or something, it's probably me spitting on them.

'The first thing I actually produced was with Spooky Tooth. It was called "In A Dream" and it built up. All my records build up. Have you noticed that? Now, what I've done with the new Clash album is I've made 'em actually play a bit. I hope that's no offence to anyone . . . they haven't turned into Andy Williams or anything. Actually, I could do a really good Andy Williams. You wanna hear an Andy Williams impression?'

Guy lurches to his feet, something like a slow-motion film of somebody falling over projected in reverse. He approaches the white piano in the corner of the room, punches out a horribly discordant introduction to 'Moon River', saunters to the centre of the room and collapses into a paroxysm of mock sobbing. He chokes out an anguished monologue about Claudine Longet and the death of the ski instructor and then returns cautiously to the sofa.

'That's it. Ask me another question. Now the thing is that these blokes - Spooky Tooth — came down from Carlisle in a van, and they were incredibly heavy, both physically and because they were all taking about 500 blues a week. I loved them. I thought they were incredible and I took Blackwell along to see them. "Spooky Two" was the album. The mixing on that was incredible: that was my engineer Andy Johns. I don't know what happened to him. He's still alive, but he's in America.

'Andy — if you're listening — please come home.' Stevens lurches closer to the cassette microphone and raises his voice. 'You can work with anyone here at any time, but' - confidentially now - 'don't get messed up like you did before.'



imageAnd then came Mott The Hoople, and that story starts 'in Wormwood Scrubs. I was doing eight months for possession of drugs and I read this book called Mott The Hoople by Willard Manus.

I wrote to my wife and said, "Keep the title secret." She was my ex-wife, or separated wife, I don't know what they call them, and she wrote back, "Are you joking? Mott The Hoople? That's ridiculous!" Anyway, when I came out of prison Island re-employed me at £20 a week — I went up a fiver — and I've got to admit that Mr Betteridge came and picked me up from the gates of Wormwood Scrubs.

'And then I wanted to have a pee, and he said, "Fuck that, have a pee if you want one, but I'll be two miles down the road." I said, "Wait a minute, I just got out of prisonl Show some sensitivity, for fuck's sake! I don't even know what roads look like any more." So I went for a pee and he drove off, and then finally he said, "Oh, I didn't know you were following us." I only found them because my wife was waving her arms out of the window and yelling…’

Memories cascade out of Stevens, virtually unchecked. He is obviously pissed and ranting, but there is something eerie about his conversation: he appears more medium than raconteur. His voice undergoes startling changes; one moment almost precise, the next moment so alien that it seems as if he is maintaining his grip on the art of speech only by a conscious effort.

He recalls Janis Joplin telling him at the Albert Hall that she was going to overdose within a year. 'She was the kind of girl who would walk into a bar and just take over the whole bar. She'd walk up and . . . "Awwwwwl raht! A-whoooooo's gonna bah me a drank? A-whooooooo's gonna bah me 'nother drank? Whooo's gonna bah me 'nother double drank?"

'Janis Joplin I loved. I loved her music and since her death I've felt funny and tortured about it. If I'd tried . . . when I get really sad I cry at home and play that second track off "I Got Dem 01' Kozmic Blues Again Mama".'

He also remembers a pre-Yardbirds Eric Clapton, dragged up to Guy's den and finding Freddie King albums blaring out at him while Guy banged a hammer on the floor and screamed 'Play, Eric! Play!' while the young fellow tried to hide in a corner.

He moves on to chaotic Mott The Hoople sessions where studios were reduced to rubble.

'I never hit a microphone. Everything else I destroyed. Why? ANGER! I'm just a very angry person. When a group's been sitting there for two weeks without getting anything done, you've got to ... lemme tell you about Hunter. The first time ... I love the fact that he came from a wife and three kids in Archway — changing buses twice — to get to what he thought was some dodgy demo session. He didn't know what it was going to be. The guy at Regent Sound just told him that there was some bloke rambling on about Jerry Lee Lewis and Bob Dylan.

'Ian had a cold and a headache, but he came down and he played "Like A Rolling Stone" and I stopped him and said, "That's it. You're hired. Come by the office tomorrow and pick up your fifteen quid with the rest of the band." He asked what the band was called and I told him Mott The Hoople. He went, "Whaaaaat? Mott The What?"

'He came in the next morning and got his fifteen quid, and then he finally believed. I'd organized everything, set it all up. There was no embarrassment. The only thing I'd like to say on my behalf is that I think David Bowie scored most of the credit rather than me. I'd chosen the name, found the band - because they had to be right, I'd auditioned over seventy bands in a year.

'I knew they had to be right, have the right attitude. Then I saw these blokes lugging an organ up the stairs, and they were really lugging this fucking great organ up the stairs. It was enormous, a Hammond C3 the size of a piano, and I thought, "I don't care what they sound like. They've done it. They got the organ up the stairs."

'What happened was that I made five great albums for Island with Mott and luckily David Bowie picked up on them. That was great. I was really pleased. He saved their lives.

'The actual incident that happened . . . you know "Ballad Of Mott The Hoople"? Well, they disbanded in Zurich, they just said, "Well, see ya when we get off the train." Bowie had heard about this, and he'd based most of his rock thing on Mott, all his rock artistry and all his rock vision. I think if he'd been Ian Hunter, he'd have loved it.

'The real trouble with Ian, though, is that he takes himself so seriously. He takes himself much too seriously.'

Today, Guy Stevens says, 'I never really recovered from Mott The Hoople.' Ask him about the period between  'Brain Capers' (his last Mott album) and 'London Calling' and his reply is simply, 'You're asking about a very mixed-up period of my life.'

He refocuses. 'I never really got over working with Ian Hunter. You've got to realize that ... I think Chrysalis Records are doing a great job, signing him up and . . . the trouble with Ian is really . . .

'HE-E-ELLLLP!' A comic wail of distress masks the real one effectively enough for the conversation not to be derailed.

'Listen, The Clash are really great to work with. I found 'em in '76. I produced demos of the first album, "White Riot" an' all that. This character called Bernie Rhodes who owned a garage in Camden Town and happened to live opposite where they rehearsed ... I was living near there at the time and I wandered in. They were doing "White Riot".'

He launches into his own impromptu performance of the song, spittle flying, hair bouncing, eyes bulging. '"WHITE RIOT!! WANNA RIOT! WHITE RIOT! A RIOT OF MY 0WWWW-WWN!" And I just thought "Right! RIOT! RIGHT! RIOT! Let's goooooooh!"

And then Bernard got very tricky.7

The conversation then saunters into the minefield of The Clash's financial history, a topic over which a discreet veil should be drawn. Suffice it to say that anyone thinking that The Clash's popularity and influence has created a proportionate bulge in their bank accounts is suffering from severe delusions. If anyone's 'turning rebellion into money', it certainly ain't The Clash.



Paul Simonon smashing his bass on the stage of The Palladium in New York City on September 21, 1979 during "The Clash Take the Fifth" US tour. Photo by the legendary Pennie Smith

Which is why we find The Clash in a room in a West London office building winding down after a business meeting. The previ­ous day the 'London Calling' video had been shot in the Battersea drizzle, and an evening's rehearsals have just had to be cancelled because their equipment is still waterlogged and as such unfit for immediate use.

Their single is out and warmly received. Everyone who's heard the album thus far thinks it's marvellous, so everyone's telling their Guy Stevens stories.

Joe Strummer looks like a Ted on his way from a building site to an oldies shop hot on the trail of Jerry Lee Lewis out-takes. Paul Simonon looks like The King Of All The Rudies. Topper Headon looks like a punk rockaaaahhh. Mick Jones looks like Al Pacino in The Godfather.

'I well remember searching through all the pubs in Oxford Street looking for him,' Strummer recalls. 'I found a row of blokes sitting slumped over the bar staring in their beer. I looked down this row and I spotted him because of his woolly hat. I went up to him and tapped him on the shoulder, he looked round and it was like son-finding-father in one of those corny films. He looked up at me and said, "Have a drink."'

'He had a few rucks during the sessions,' Mick Jones chips in. 'He had one with Mister Oberstein [Maurice Oberstein, big boss man at CBS] where he lay in front of Mister Oberstein's Rolls Royce. He had fights with Bill [Price, engineer of That Ilk] . . . why'd he have a fight with you?' he calls over to roadie Baker Glare.

'He threw something of mine across the room,' elucidates Baker.

'We highly recommend him to anybody who wants to make a record,' announces Strummer.

'There was this big pile of chairs,' reminisces Jones, 'all stacked up on top of each other like at school and he rushed out during a take and grabbed for the top chair and they all started to come over, so he pushed them back, then went for the top one, pulled it down and smaaaassssshhl Then he says, "I'm Guy Stevens and this is what I do ... especially when I'm thinking about my mother" and then he starts behaving . . . eccentrically.'

During the sessions, Guy would periodically phone Ian Hunter in the States for pep talks. Guy was telling Hunter that he couldn't go on, and Hunter would tell him to stop pissing about and get on with it. He would hang off the hallway phone for hours while The Clash worked in the studio.

'We paid for the calls. We paid for his minicabs as well. He brought in about a year's worth of minicab slips - every minicab he'd taken since the fifties. We'd told him he could have minicabs in and out, so he brought all these other ones in. One day he hired a bodyguard . . .'

The bodyguard eventually turned out to be a cab-driver who'd come in to get paid when Guy didn't have the cash. He ended up staying at the session for eighteen hours.

The Clash received considerable opposition from CBS when they proposed to use Guy Stevens. 'They hate his guts! They said they wouldn't use him again until he was bankable. We plan to use him again, and we're going to get all of CBS's acts to use him. We're gonna make him their house producer.

'It gives me heart when Guy tells us about his business history,' continues Strummer. 'At least there's someone around who's as bad as us if not worse. All the dreadful, life-wrecking things that've happened to him . . .'

Jones: 'His presence in a studio definitely makes all the differ­ence. It's like all the mess goes to him like Dorian Gray's portrait or whatever. All the messy sound goes and it becomes him, and what's left on the tape is ... clarity.'

Strummer: 'People tend to be afraid of him because he's off the wall, to put it mildly. And they should be. There's a little bit of an act in there, but it's not entirely an act. It puts a lot of people off. They just think, "Christ, get this man home."'

Jones: 'But even when he's unconscious he can still recite his address.'

Apart from applying time-honoured Guy Stevens production techniques such as the Mott furniture-smashing standby . . .

Strummer: 'He invented some new ones for us. Like pouring beer into the piano to make it sound better . . .'

Jones: 'Like blowing the desk up. Like hitting the guitarist with a ladder. All these I could take, but not pouring beer into the piano. I nearly killed him.

Strummer: 'When he poured beer into the TV / nearly killedclip_image006[1] 'im an' all. Lucky there were no Space Invaders about or he'd 'a done them and then Paul would've killed 'im.'

Jones: 'He's obsessed with Liam Brady and Arsenal. He always wears his scarf and on the way to every session he goes and stands in the middle of Arsenal football ground and pays the cab to wait for him. And nobody in the group supports Arsenal.'

The Clash unhesitatingly recommend Guy Stevens. Strummer pronounces him 'the ultimate cure for musical constipation'. How would they react to the dictum — oft-voiced by such worthies as PiL and The Stranglers — to the effect that all record producers are parasites.

Strummer grins broadly. 'They should try him. They've never met a parasite like this one before!' And the room explodes into laughter.


It has been ten days since the first interview session with Guy Stevens. Then he had arrived at NME blind drunk and bleeding. Now, he turns up punctual and sober. The shilling-sized flakes of dandruff in his hair have been washed away. He is wearing new sneakers. Suddenly, he's a hero. Suddenly, everyone loves him. He is in ecstasy.

'I'm buying some new jeans as well! I was tremendously unpopu­lar at CBS until this record went in the charts. Now it's "Hel-lo, Guy!" They've all cooled out!

'It's been tremendously refreshing working with The Clash. They've changed a lot since I first knew them in '76. Joe is great, because he always puts you straight if you're out of order. The whole thing happened very naturally. It just worked.'

Throughout his entire involvement with rock and roll, right from that first Jerry Lee Lewis flash more than twenty years ago, Guy Stevens has been lurching and screaming after one thing, one great blinding, deafening rock and roll epiphany.

'Well, the best way of explaining that would be ... there's a quote from Jack Kerouac's On the Road, quite early on — about~ page seven or so — something like "All my life I've been chasing after people who are mad, mad to talk, mad to play .. ." People who want to. And I suppose that applies to rock and roll. I was eleven when I heard"Whole Lotta Shakin'” and I was never the same again. That intensity of feeling. I've seen performances by Jerry Lee Lewis that were just unbelievable. It was when he was at his most unpopular, 200 people in a 2,000-seater, and he played his heart out, and that's always stayed with me.

'That electricity, that manic intensity. It's a kind of madness, not a "mad" madness . . . but like Dean Moriarty and Sal Paradise. Chasing, chasing. I've always felt that way about making records. Making a record is an event. Big letters: AN EVENT. It's not just "another session": I hate people with that attitude. It's electricity. It's got to be.

'It may be hard for a company like CBS to accept a concept like this, but I could quite well die while making a record. It's that important. That's why — if it came to it — I could produce anybody.'

Right now, Guy Stevens is out of the dumper with a vengeance. The plan now is to get rid of the booze problem and take advantage of his redeemed credibility to make a lot more records.

'I can't very well afford to take out a small ad in the classifieds, so ... you couldn't print my phone number so that people can get hold of me, could you? It's 699-4999. Ask for Guy.

'Record production a speciality.'

Sunday, February 19, 2012



The novel touches on nearly every sensitive political and social topic confronting China today.

This is my intention — to put as many issues into one relatively short novel so that people can have a more holistic meaning of what China is now. I need to do that within the context of a novel.

Extract from a phone interview with Chan Koochung by Dean Napolitano of the Wall Street Journal


A photo released on Dec. 31, 2011 shows Chinese President Hu Jintao delivering a New Year address, titled 'Jointly Improve World Peace and Development', to domestic and overseas audiences via state TV and radio broadcasters.

A photo released on Dec. 31, 2011 shows Chinese President Hu Jintao delivering a New Year address, titled "Jointly Improve World Peace and Development", to domestic and overseas audiences via state TV and radio broadcasters. (Xinhua/Lan Hongguang)

We are living in strange times in which the increasing dominance of China on the world stage is causing concern and unease. The papers are full of stories of crackdowns and imprisonments of dissidents, attempts to limit the freedom of the internet, industrial sweat shops, ecological disasters. China’s new regime, we are told, is a blend of socialism and capitalism in which the population accepts state dictatorship, censorship and infringements of human rights in exchange for a false paradise of consumer benefits. What does the future hold for this giant country whose star is rising as the West declines.

image This remarkable novel ‘The Fat Years’ by Chan Koonchung sets out to paint a picture of this near future. The story centres on the quest to discover why a whole month, between the collapse of the Western economies and the rise of China’s Golden Years of Ascendancy, during which the government instituted a widespread crackdown, has been effectively wiped from people’s memories and official records. A small group of outsiders who do remember, find each other and join forces to discover the disturbing truths that lie behind the impenetrable facade of the Chinese state.

Koonchung’s storytelling skills make this a real page-turner and his novel reminds me of both Murakami and Bolano. The world he depicts has a 3-D believable reality to it; his characters are lifelike and fully realised.  He cleverly  manages to incorporate many geographical locations and different  levels and aspects of Chinese life. The smart premise of the story provides intrigue and mystery and the book comes to a remarkable conclusion in which all is revealed in a satisfying manner.

Reality is rapidly verifying many of the insights and predictions in this haunting and thought-provoking book. This is brought home -  in the Preface by Julia Lovell and the Translators’ Notes by Michael S. Duke – which bookend the novel.


Chan Koonchung is a novelist, journalist, and screenwriter. Born in Shanghai and raised and educated in Hong Kong, he studied at the University of Hong Kong and Boston University. He has published more than a dozen Chinese-language books and in 1976 founded the monthly magazine City in Hong Kong, of which he was the chief editor and then publisher for twenty-three years. He has been a producer on more than thirteen films. Chan Koonchung now lives in Beijing.

Interesting piece on Koonchung here:

Good recent review of the book by David L. Ulin in the Los Angeles Times


Saturday, February 11, 2012


lee torrey 19xx-2012

Photo: Roger Perry

The e-mail from Bill

‘I am a childhood friend of Lee Torrey's from Cape Cod. Lee died several days ago in Las Vegas, Nevada. I spoke briefly with his brother Bruce who told me that Lee had recently taken up residence at the Golden Nugget hotel in Las Vegas. He died of poor health. At the time of Lee's death, all of his earthly possessions fitted into a small suitcase.’


Its a cold Saturday morning

Snow still on the ground

Bright sun and blue skies

Listening to the Incredible String Band

Thinking of Lee

And all those days and nights, nights and days

When we sat at  two desks in a small room

Behind our IBM golfball typewriters

Constructing the Index

word by word, line by line

until we, exhausted, crashed out on  the floor

we were young then



intense and passionate soul

inventor of the Torrey-Roget classification system

which brought unusual order to our magic library

each book individually labelled

in scrupulous fashion

I can hear your bark of a laugh

see your excited electric gestures

words spilling out

a challenging arguer

brisk one moment, garrulous the next

a great and valuable companion

on a journey into the infinite unknown



It was a long  journey, coast to coast

From Thoreau’s Cape Cod

To Hunter S. Thompson’s Las Vegas

Only you know what demons you had to face down

But now you’re arguing with the angels

Lee’s profile picture from his short-lived blog ‘The Curious Blogger’

Longer message from Bill Latimer

‘Lee's full name was Stanley Albert Torrey, Jr. Father of the same name lives now in East Sandwich, Mass., with Lee's stepmother. Two brothers, Bruce and Scott.

‘I moved to Sandwich, Mass., when I was seven years old and started the third grade in our tiny school in Lee's class. We were friends over the years until he left Sandwich for private school in Maine, perhaps at the beginning of high school. I lost touch with him until the 1970s when he returned to the States with his bride from Liverpool. I lived with them for a short time. Lee also snared some of us into a venture called Scorton Press (named after a nearby saltwater creek and an ancient band of Wampanoag Indians). After reading your blog about the Index years, it's clear Lee based Scorton Press on your band of merry writers, right down to the round table. We amassed a large library with the aim of compiling a book encompassing everything known about the body-mind connection. Alas, the endeavour shattered after several months due to, well, let's say interpersonal craziness.

‘I drifted throughout North America and next came upon Lee in West Palm Beach, Florida, in the early 1980s. Lee was an editor at the National Enquirer tabloid, and I ended up living with him for several months and writing for the NE and another nearby tab (Lee taught me the ropes of this zany world). This was the period he refers to in the Hunter Thompson piece you put on your blog several years ago (I've sent the link to that and to your piece on the Index to several of Lee's old childhood friends). After Lee and I both moved on in different directions, we lost touch again for the most part.

‘Then, in the early 1990s, Lee tracked me down and I went to work with him at a small service company in Boston. It was called Air Systems Service Company, AssCo for short (our T-shirts emblazoned with AssCo were very popular for some reason). Lee was general manager and I was business manager. Lee ran the business, which mostly consisted of testing biological safety cabinets in hospitals and labs, from the third floor of a building on Charles Street where he also lived. Our collaboration lasted several months until AssCo's owner pulled the plug on the Boston office (for many understandable reasons).

‘I then lost touch with Lee completely. I did run into Bruce several years ago on Cape Cod. He told me Lee had been managing an apartment building in Brookline, Mass., for several years. I found some "entertaining" posts online about the "insane" building manager.

‘I had figured I'd go looking for him one of these years, but I missed my chance.

‘Lee was intelligent, creative, and mad. Alcohol was his poison of choice, among others to a lesser degree. News of his death was a hard kick to my gut.’

Sunday, February 05, 2012


imageSource: Patchworkspermaculture Artwork by Namaya
This is an important and timely campaign that deserves your support:
Proposal for Ecocide to be
the 5th International Crime Against Peace
Polly Higgins submitted to the United Nations in April 2010 the written proposal for Ecocide to be made the 5th Crime Against Peace, alongside Genocide. She set out a legal definition of the word ecocide and has created a provision that will impose a legal duty of care on all companies to place environmental considerations first.

A recent report for the United Nations has found that 3,000 of the world’s biggest corporations caused $2.2 trillion of ecocide in 2008.  Image: Greenpeace, Alberta Tar Sands, Canada

The Crime of Ecocide

Ecocide can arise out of human intervention: Heavy extraction, toxic dumping, mining and deforestation are all examples of mass ecocide.

The Law of Ecocide will stop damaging and destructive activity. Voluntary corporate governance, market trading and offset mechanisms have failed. By creating a Law of Ecocide we will create specific legally binding duties and responsibilities.

Ecocide is a crime of consequence. e.g where an energy company procures its energy by extracting fossil fuel, as opposed to creation from renewable energy, that would result in ecocide.

Ecocide is not a crime of intent. CEO’s do not sit in their offices plotting to destroy the Earth. It is a consequence of the pursuit of profit which arises out of destructive activity.

Ecocide creates a pre-emptive obligation. It stops the damage before it happens. A duty of reasonable care is put in place, ensuring that individual and collective (corporate, governmental and armies) responsibility is taken by those who have contractual rights over a given territory before damage or destruction of a given territory takes place.

Ecocide is preventative. It is a crime focused on preventing harm, rather than focusing on blame.  This means that standards of conduct and care will be punishable in criminal court of law if and when breached.

Ecocide protects the people’s interests. The emphasis shifts from the protection of the few (corporate) to the protection of the wider Earth community – that means both people and planet gain.

Ecocide is a tool to enforce restorative justice. Instead of paying fines, restoration becomes the name of the game.  Extensive restoration by those who have committed Ecocide will ensure that appropriate remedy is put in place, not merely the payment of a fine which is all too easily factored in as an external cost by those evading their responsibilities.

Ecocide creates responsibilities at international and national level. Primary responsibility to prevent, investigate and punish the crime of Ecocide sits first and foremost with the country where the activity takes place. Where a crime of Ecocide has taken place on a given territory, and that country is unwilling or unable to take action, then the crime will come under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.  By implementing Ecocide as a crime at international level, the pressure is immediately created for the crime to be speedily implemented at national level. It’s a very effective top-down approach.

Ecocide sends a powerful global message to the world, not just to those involved in business or during war, to take responsibility for the well being of all life.

Ecocide is a Crime Against Peace.


Polly Higgins personal website

This proposal will be voted on at the upcoming Earth Summit in Rio in June 2012                 


Kuhikugu, known to archaeologists as site X11, is the largest pre-Columbian town yet discovered in the Xingu region of the Amazon. It housed 1,000 or more people and served as the hub of a network of smaller towns. Image: Luigi Marini

Source: Lost Garden Cities/Scientific American [7th Oct 2009)

This post was triggered by seeing a recent BBC documentary called ‘Untouched Amazon’ in the series ‘Unnatural Histories.’. Here is the brief programme summary.

The Amazon rainforest is the epitome of a last great wilderness under threat from modern man. It has become an international cause celebre for environmentalists as powerful agricultural and industrial interests bent on felling trees encroach ever deeper into virgin forest. But the latest evidence suggests that the Amazon is not what it seems.

As more trees are felled, the story of a far less natural Amazon is revealed - enormous manmade structures, even cities, hidden for centuries under what was believed to be untouched forest. All the time archaeologists are discovering ancient, highly fertile soils that can only have been produced by sophisticated agriculture far and wide across the Amazon basin. This startling evidence sheds new light on long-dismissed accounts from the very first conquistadors of an Amazon teeming with people and threatens to turn our whole notion of wilderness on its head. And if even the Amazon turns out to be unnatural, what then for the future of wilderness?

A summary of some of the major findings are documented in this map below.

Footprints in the Forest

Archaeologists say they have found evidence across the Amazon of centuries-old civilizations that were much larger and more advanced than previous theories suggest.

Map shows locations where archaeologists say they have found evidence ancient civilizations in the Amazon.



These maps, accompanied by a string of great images and informative extracts from recent books on the subject can be found in this excellent post ‘Written on Land’ on the Crytoforestry website.

One of the most striking discoveries are the geoglyphs in Rondonia – huge earthworks which have been revealed through deforestation. You can see a Google Earth map of some of the discoveries up to 2010. According to a Treenhugger article of the same year some 300 of these have been discovered since the 1970s in the Brazilian Amazon. The rate of discovery has increased since scientists began using Google Earth.


Mysterious in origin, these earth carvings are thought to be around 700 years old. Photo via Apolo11


According to an article in a Nano Patents and Innovations blog (strange!) the geoglyphs:

‘…haven't been precisely dated, but could be up to 2,000 years old. Spanning a distance of 155 miles, the earthworks are the remains of roads, bridges and squares that formed the basis for a lost civilization - the vestiges of a sophisticated pre-Columbian monument-building society.
The geoglyphs represent enormous structures, with diameters ranging from 100 to 300 meters, connected by straight orthogonal roads. They are strategically located on plateaux tops above the river valleys. Their builders took advantage of the natural topography in order to construct spaces that were full of symbolic meaning. They were probably villages and ceremonial centres, indicating a society of a complex nature that allowed organization, planning, and large labor force. This suggests a substantial population was living in an area long believed to be too harsh to sustain permanent settlements.

Controversy has reigned for years about the antiquity of an early human presence in Brazil. Work under the supervision of Niéde Guidon and the Fundação Museu do Homen Americano suggests that humankind was present in Brazil as early as 50,000 years ago, tens of thousands of years before humans were thought to have migrated into the Americas.’

Check out also this excellent posting by J.G. Jacobs which includes five Brazilian videos on the topic.

Another great article on the blog Archaeology News Network

Alceu Ranzi, a geographer and paleontologist with the Federal University in the Brazilian state of Acre, has been leading the search for the geoglyphs:

‘The scientists now say they’ve tallied 300 massive shapes — circles, squares, rectangles — scattered across 3,900 square miles.

Ranzi said the size and breadth of the discovery reveals that, some 1,000 years ago, the region was home to a large, complex society. The find has expanded a rapidly growing body of archaeological evidence suggesting that the Amazon — once thought to be largely wild in antiquity — was home to civilizations that may have rivaled those of the ancient West.

“It could be something as important as an unknown Roman empire, or a Mesopotamia,” Ranzi said. “It was completely covered by the forest for six or 10 centuries and now is reappearing.”


in the 1990s, scientists began documenting sites along the southern edge of the Amazon, suggesting that area may have held ancient societies as sophisticated as those of the ancient Western world.

“In many respects they were more complex than classical Greece, or medieval Europe,” said anthropologist Michael Heckenberger, who has spent nearly two decades working near the headwaters of Brazil’s Xingu river, several hundred miles east of Acre.

His team of researchers has described communities housing at least 50,000 people, living in what he’s called garden cities — made up of small and medium residential areas built around central plazas and interconnected by elaborate road systems, aligned with the cardinal directions.

“We also found large defensive earthworks around settlements and indications of pretty complex systems of forest and wetland management,” Heckenberger said.

Most recent article I could find was this piece by Simon Romero, which was published in the New York Times in January this year.


In The Generalist Archive found this article by Charles C. Mann, which I had originally read back in 2002. It broadens the view to the whole of the Americas. Essential reading which will completely change your perspective about the New World that existed before Columbus arrived. Fortunately the piece is still available and can be read on the Atlantic Monthly website




Following on my from PREVIOUS POST: The Information Revolution

‘I believe that the progress of science – how discoveries are made – will change more in the next twenty years than it has in the past 300 years.’

Michael Nielsen, an Australian physicist turned writer, now living in Canada, is a man with a mission. He believes that the future of scientific discovery lies in open data and collaborative networked science using online tools. He is a member of the Working Group on Open Data in Science at the Open Knowledge Foundation

His book begins with an account of the 2009 Polymath Project, when mathematician Tim Gowers decided to conduct an experiment on his blog. He selected a difficult unsolved mathematical problem and announced he was going to try and solve it in an open manner, posting up his own work and inviting comments and contributions from others. Slow to start, the comments erupted and over the next 37 days, 27 people had written 800 responses containing more than 170,000 words. In the process, they not only solved the original problem but also a harder problem that included the original as a special case.

This example of scientists working together to create knowledge is just one aspect of a broader picture. A second aspect is collective databases. Nielsen writes:

Scientists in many fields are collaborating online to create enormous databases that map out the structure of the universe, the world’s climate, the world’s oceans, human languages, and even all the species of life… We are collectively mapping out the entire world. With these integrated maps anyone can use computer algorithms to discover connections that were never before suspected…We are, piece by piece, assembling all the world’s knowledge into a single giant edifice.’

A third aspect is a big shift in the relationship between science and society. Nielsen uses the example of a website Galaxy Zoo which recruited more  than 200,000 online volunteers to help astronomers classify galaxy images.

Networked Science is replete with many working examples of all three aspects but Nielsen confesses that ‘one thing that pained me while writing this book is that narrative constraints meant that I’ve had to omit nearly all the thousands of open science projects now going on.’

Nielsen is a clear and readable writer and his book does a very good job of scouting a very broad field. His list of sources and further reading is extensive and invaluable. A great starting point for exploring the new future we’re rushing into.

Reinventing Discovery’ by Michael Nielsen is published by Princeton University Press. $24.95

Nielsen recommends the following sites for keeping track of what’s going on in open science today:

Peter Suber’s Open Access Newsletter

Science In The Open: The Online home of Cameron Neylon.