Saturday, 15 December 2007

Book Launch and stuff

The book launch went well, the people that came along seemed to enjoy themselves. There was a good atmosphere and feel to the place, and I'd like to thank all those who came along. Reading extracts from the book was a bit nervy, but a good time was had by all.
The gig I played with Gary Bushell's Gonads last Friday in Mansfield was a good time, (no money though, so nothing has changed there) long time since I've played the punk drumming though.
Gary turned up at my launch, as did John King, my publisher Martin, along with other good people and my old friends. Thanks for your support, best Pete

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Book launch and playing with The Gonads

There's a launch for my book on Monday 10th Dec; sounds swanky but it will be down to earth. I rehearsed with Gary Bushell and his Gonads this Monday and we're playing in Mansfield on Friday the 7th December (at The Town Mill, or something like that). Haven't drummed for ages ; still I get a head cold and feel like I have flu everytime I drum, the immune system is rubbish - get sweaty - get a cold and feel like shit - I know how to enjoy myself; getting more neurotic by the day.

Monday, 26 November 2007

The Book: God's Lonely Men

My book, God’s Lonely Men has come out - finally. What a palaver!
Anyway, it can be ordered from almost anywhere and bought off the internet, i.e., Tesco Books online and Amazon etc; in the next week Paul Kelly who does my website will be putting something up on it about buying the book direct from Paul and me. I’ve got to say I feel embarrassed, if it was fiction I wouldn’t feel that it was so personal, but the people that I’ve spoken to about it have told me not to worry. I’d like to thank the people involved who helped put it together and the people who have contacted me about the book who have been very supportive; just to let you know that I appreciate it.
Hope the people who buy the book like it; it’s not Harry Potter so there won’t be mid-night queues of young people outside book shops wanting to be first in getting their hands on it, but all the same I hope it means something to the people who read it. Best, Pete

Sunday, 12 August 2007

'Jam' man

Jam Man.
I went to a pub recently that has a ‘jam’ night, half thinking that I might have a go on the drums, but when getting there I realised that it wasn’t as ‘open’ as I supposed an ‘open’ night to be. It is a particular culture that in a way has amused me, and others I am sure, because of there being a predominant style amongst many who attend such things to identify with Americana yet clutch onto things that they believe to be ‘very English.’ I have found them quick to compromise in their acceptance of the spoon fed diet of ‘rebel’ ‘rack n’ roll’ fantasy world and quick to condemn the voice from the margins that actually does ‘rebel’ and often holds a mirror up to the values that are commonly accepted.
The provincial mind has come of age; cover band cretins abound. The ‘X Factor’ and all the other karaoke type of television programmes have prepared a dumb culture where many have a wish to aspire to the mediocre. It’s safe, of course, it’s predictable and it’s bloody boring, and the pony tailed ‘rocker’ extols ‘the blues’ in pubs that are empty until ‘the jam’ starts. The event is often advertised on boards outside the pub doorway, an admission to the dreary depths that the barren establishment has fallen to. The ‘bar’ fills to it’s normal congregation of being quarter full, and in walks those who watch others with a resentment and competitive eye. The lined faces of the ‘hardened’ blues men show years of dissatisfaction, a guitar case propped between their knees, a cola drink on a table in front of them, ready to play and sing a wail on mourning and songs that depict a life of sour mash whiskey and wanton women.
Being a drummer in a punk group many years back to a time when the face of the ‘blues rocker’ would crease in repugnance at the word ‘punk,’ I remember very clearly how adventurous and accepting to new ideas the ‘blues rocker’ was. I found them to be more narrow minded and fearful of difference than the people that they declared their venom against, these being the people who were seen by them to be ‘pop’ fans and musicians in ‘commercial’ groups, and those liking ‘black’ dance and pop music from the reggae to funk and the other styles that were deemed ‘straight’ by people who I have found to be among the most conservative that I have come across. The ‘weekend rebel’ acting at being ‘radical’ wearing the name of the ‘band’ on the tee shirt that gets washed and ironed and put in the drawer, has in my experience always held that patronising, snobby and condescending view of others with their musical taste; and that snobbery is all to do with fear that is borne on ignorance, and it is a common condition in the provincial mind.
The new ‘punk’ fashion pushed aside and ridiculed middle class English people speaking in an American slur and took themselves too seriously as they bathed in a provincial comfort zone being idolised by a girlfriend and a bunch of incestuous types.
As I was standing in the pub that night I thought of a play that I wrote called Leachfield that deals with a lot of this stuff. I mean good luck to people who want to come out and have a play; but I have all too often found it a humourless affair with many of the participants having had an irony bypass when their personality was being engineered.
Resistant to ‘outside’ involvement the main ‘players’ congregate by the side of the stage spending an inordinate amount of time tuning up before stuttering into a lifeless rendition of an overplayed song, wearing expressions on their faces that I am sure they imagine would fit into a ‘bar’ somewhere in the ‘southern states’ where they play the Delta blues.
Nowadays there is a greater eclecticism thrown into the music mix, but the unimaginative personality continues to exist. I looked across at the chalkboard, half hoping to see names like Big Bum Griffis, Slow Hand Sam, Blind Balls Baker – or something like that. I turned and caught sight of my reflection in the mirror behind the bar, ‘what are you sneering at?’ I said to myself; music accommodates all types, but this type of thing isn’t for me. So I took a quick look at the overweight bloke who was looking at me from the mirror and I went somewhere else for a drink – with a rendering of a REM hit having just finished that reminded me of a country and western song, and as I walked across the car park I was sure that I heard strains of that bloody Mustang Sally behind me.

Saturday, 19 May 2007

Standards

Saw a programme on the television the other night, a documentary about the conditions that women live under in Afghanistan; they have been let down by the so called ‘West,’ and as it is for most ordinary people had the piss taken out of them. It’s cruel, grim and all the other words we can use to try and explain the way we treat each other.And the F. A. Cup Final was today, a game where many of the real fans can’t go and see, they’ve been let down and they’re also having the piss taken out of them. I read the price of the programme is £10; the fans of the game should boycott the whole thing. If I was going to spend £10 on a programme I’d stop myself, and if I had that £10 to spare I would rather send it to the woman in Afghanistan who was featured in the documentary, if I could that is – call me naive, but it’s a disgrace.

Thursday, 10 May 2007

God's Lonely Men: the book to be released August/September

Hello, with a bit of luck my first book will be published in August/September by Headhunter Books. Everything is signed and underway so hopefully it will go to plan. I wrote to Stuart Pearce, the ex England football manager and present mnager/coach of Manchester City the other week. The reason why I did this is because Stuart is a punk rock fan and came to see The Lurkers play, a punk group that I used to be the drummer with, back in the days when Fred Flintstone took Dino for a walk. I met Stuart at a television studio eight or so years back and was surprised how he was still enthusiastic about his music.
Well, my phone rang yesterday and when I answered it there was the voice of Stuart Pearce, he told me that he had read my letter explaining that I had written a book about The Lurkers, being an 'outsider' and of my view of things around punk. Stuart told me that he would read the book and wished me the best of luck; which I told him the same. Pleasant person; it's nice when you bump into people who have a regard for people and things when they have achieved a status that many in the same position wouldn't bother with if it didn't gain them anything. Still, there you have it, best to all out there in 'blogland.'

Tuesday, 1 May 2007

First Blog: American Writing

Why I like American literature:


Why do I like American literature? I always have, I connected with the feel of it when young; at the age of sixteen I read my fourth book, it was Of Mice and Men. I had left school at fourteen years of age, just short of being fifteen, legally one could leave school then at fifteen; but I was thrown out, thank God. I was working on a building site up in the City of London, commuting on the metropolitan line from the suburbs of West London. The book is small, ninety seven pages; I didn’t want it to end. At that early age I had learned about the arrogance and spite of ‘man,’ having done labouring work as my father did, and I always looked deeper than I was told to; it was like a criticism always being aimed at me, “You think too much.” John Steinbeck told a story that touched me, I could relate to the feelings within it, I felt that I knew the characters, the shabby way some people treat other people if they can. I wasn’t aware, or had no knowledge of the power behind the forces that caused the conditions where we find the characters in the book, but I could feel it, and later educated myself so that I did have knowledge of those forces that dictate power; those who consciously design the misery of others might often be faceless, but they and the large companies with their government support do exist. To know the chain of events that exist in order for the measly portion of gruel to land on one’s plate; I was hooked.
The reasons why I like American literature is a subject that I have talked about with friends and otherwise for years, and it came up again quite recently in a pub near to where I live. Opposite to the pub is an American forces base. It is being run down now, but it has been there for years and has been an employer of local people; it has a bar that at times ‘outsiders’ are allowed to enter and where American money is used. The place is a little bit of the States, and because of this, Americans are a common feature to that area where I was brought up.
One evening, whilst in this pub, I watched a man who I later found out was six feet eight inches in height and twenty three years of age, playing darts with the locals; he was an American, I had seen him around the pubs before and someone had told me that he was a ‘preacher.’ He cast a significant presence, this giant man, taking up most of the space in the small public bar; when it was his turn he stepped up to throw, eyeing the dartboard, pitching forward in a great lurching stoop, raising a long arm and in his massive mitt pointed the dart at his target, taking aim, and then finally letting it go; I thought that he had an unfair advantage, he must have been half as close to the board as anyone else. He seemed to have a pleasant personality, conducted himself in a humble manner and had a dry sense of humour. We nodded at each other and introduced ourselves. He told me that he was based across the road, working for the military as a padre. When I told him my name he said, “Pleasure to make your acquaintance sir.”
“You’re a long way from home,” I said.
“Yes sir, from Kentucky.”
We spoke about the ‘South’ and of how it is unfairly treated in the media and films, of how people from there are misrepresented and vilified; a concept utilised to ‘otherise’ ‘the south’ from what is constructed as ‘civilised’ and ‘democratic.’ A deceitful ploy I always thought; presenting an image of prejudice and discrimination, a people plagued by ignorance, poor education and interbreeding, a cultural wilderness that is a backwater and retarded to all things reformatively progressive; and it is a lie. It is a cruel untruth, a common scheme adopted by those having the power to do so in order to serve their own purposes; and it reeks of hypocrisy.
A common criticism levelled at ‘the South’ and ‘the Southern States’ has been of them being ‘backwoods’ people with no ‘culture’ of any worth; often depicted as being culturally arid by the know alls ‘up North.’ In fact described by a New York journalist in 1917 as ‘being almost as sterile, intellectually, culturally and artistically as the Sahara Desert.’ Although the ‘South’ came through later with literary work; it was still then ‘frontier’ land, not having established ‘writing’ places; it was easy to sneer at them, and unfortunately there are those who still do, and I believe for important reasons. It isn’t denounced through class, but culture; the South has been discredited, belittled, patronised and perpetuated though political messages in film so that now it is almost comprehended as being true. But I don’t believe it for a second.
The history of the American novel is very different from here in England. The early writers were dismissed by the fawners and idle academics seeing themselves as having ownership of ‘culture’ up in the North Eastern States who looked for approval from over the ocean in England. The ‘intellectualism’ acquired by the scholarly young people in Harvard and Yale came from a passage of luxury, pontificated in ivory towers as they competed for token rewards to be bestowed upon them by an arrogant elite, and part of their purposes can be seen to control the expression of the ‘ordinary’ person.
It’s a big subject, and I hope to address just a part of it.
Anyway, back to the pub. The padre had a friendly manner, he was intelligent and modest; he liked people and I felt that he wanted the best for them. Out little chat wandered across several areas and for one young in years he certainly had an insight reflecting experience as well as formal education. We spoke of Johnny Cash, ‘the man in black,’ walking at the front, because someone has to help the vulnerable, weak and old; telling of those who have fallen.
And there he was, in his way, the padre, the man in black, his voice having a tone like Johnny’s, deep and rich. We talked of writers that we liked and I told him why I liked American literature, in only a minute or so, explaining that the American writers that I had read dealt with the human condition, told through the experience and feelings of the everyday person but opening up the ‘bigger picture’ for examination. Whilst in England, it has always seemed to me that a person has to be a doctor, or some kind of professional person to be afforded emotions that are complex, and having traditional ‘roles’ performed by the ‘working class’ like cleaning ‘m’lady’s car’ and having no sensibilities; and he, the padre was interested, and it got me thinking, and that is why I have written this little piece on the matter.
My view will be told through a journey, giving a history of some of the writers. I will talk of a spirit that I believe they were conveying; coming from the early writers whose work was set against a dominant ideology emanating from the standards of the status seeking English.
I am starting with the work of James Fennimore Cooper (1789-1851), a writer who set the scene of the ‘wilderness,’ an unknown land that became the setting for the myths of ‘westerns’ that were to follow; establishing themes that are salient in American literature, of loneliness and friction with one’s environment. James Fennimore Cooper told of an environment not spoken about before and in a way not spoken before. It was ‘frontier’ life, a life of solitude and hardship, and it was within this unrefined arena that the morals and ethical standards from the ‘civilised’ world of Europe were brought in for questioning; and found wanting. Cooper wrote five books that told of frontier life; the central character was Natty Bumpo, and at times having his dog Hector with him. His work deals with the wilderness, and of man being part of the wilderness and not against it.
It deals with frontier thinking, of the needs, demands and wants of people; of less government involvement that limits the free ‘beast.’ His work involved notions that were setting a path for the rugged individual, laying the way for the pragmatic thinking that eventually dominated American ideology; this was the new Eden, here is man, man and nature, untamed by those ways of the domesticated European elite making up the establishment and having authority. And here was Natty Bumpo, raised by the American Indians, the original inhabitants of that land; the thought of it instilled horror in the minds of the English public school elite. For a white person to be brought up by American Indians was unthinkable; they were perceived as being the Godless savage, untamed, not touched by Christianity; seen as a lesser man and not human in comparison to white Europeans, especially the upper tier of society and those aspiring to be part of them, and being ‘Godless,’ gave further justification to slaughter the indigenous inhabitants of the New Land whilst retaining the moral right to do so; the human slave, animals, they are nature, without spirit and therefore not afforded feelings and emotions, having a worth only from what they can be exploited for; and there was Natty, seeing the hypocrisy of the ‘white man’ with all his theories and ethics, but seeing them as superficial and as a smokescreen concealing their real motive, which is unbridled greed, and to fulfil that greed using the weapons of firepower, media, literature, art and religion. The ‘educated’ and ‘civilised’ gloated in their state of arrogance at having dominance over all they wanted to subdue; and Natty Bumpo, the lone trapper observed that his canine companion Hector, though just a dog, had more of a sense of what is wrong and what is right than those ‘righteous’ men of learning.
Here in the wilderness are men countering the dominance of ‘civilised’ men in authority, men who are physically weaker, who wouldn’t be able to survive in that hard environment; here in the wilderness are lone men, real men, building a real relationship with nature and God, and their message was that it will be God who decides. There was a new horizon, and on that horizon is a new man, he’s an American man, having a new voice, telling of new things, existing in this different condition and wherever he roams, however deep the valley or however remote the unknown land, he will tell his story, and what he tells us affects us all, wherever we might live, bringing what he found to light, it was a different voice asking questions of ‘truths.’
The Native American Indian is talked about by Natty Bumpo as being wise, having decency; they are human beings and deserve, as all men do, to be treated equally. The Prairie was used by Cooper for us all to explore and re-establish ourselves, and he beat a trail through unknown and untamed territory, not just the physical environment and all that lived in it, but showing us a way of approaching how we look at the unknown territory that is ourselves. He ventured into that wilderness that was America, and he was followed by other writers having similar spirits.
All the writers I am mentioning explore the essence that is us, our motives, behaviour and our considerations for others, or the ‘other.’ The wilderness on land was one stage to set a scene for examining our behaviour; the other was the great ‘watery’ wilderness. Herman Melville’s ( 1819-1891 ) book Moby Dick has been called the American Bible. It tells many tales, and one of them is of a ship of fools, an exploration of man’s (the Christian white man’s) pride and greed, of being short sighted and bloated with feelings of superiority over nature; the voyage, our voyage, is a quest that has been perverted by desires that are pursued aggressively, without heed to ‘nature,’ having no care to any sentient beings, and ultimately this path will lead to the fall of man.
The ship, that the central character Ishmael goes to sea on, is called The Pequod; Melville named it after an American Indian tribe called the Pequot who were massacred and enslaved by the early English settlers. God was their justification, and it was with the ethics of Protestantism, new technological advances and accountancy led ‘scripture’ that The Pequod, with its disparate crew under the leadership of a psychotic Captain, embarked. Lost and lonely men setting out on a vengeful assault on nature, as symbolised by the great whale; and the story tells of lost traumatised men, misled, asking questions of humanity, of our purpose and our future. The Pequod’s object is to subdue, harness and exploit; again the story, as many American writers tell it, uses ‘ordinary’ people, telling of their experience and of their situation in order to draw into view our condition for examination.
The United States of America was establishing its own voice in a body of literature; it came from a different place having a different voice. It was often rejected and guarded against by censorship and some of the work was even banned. Nevertheless, it broke through because it was meaningful, and that for me is the most important thing, whatever it might be. The work was significant and meaningful to the people who lived in the new land; and anyway, who were these Lords and Ladies and their lackeys in such a far off alien place dictating what is meaningful and what isn’t’?
From an isolated dirt floor cabin, from that solitary existence in the wilderness, the people there were now having a voice; an accent and tone that was unknown and having ideas that were bizarre. With bonds broken from a European heritage, here was an evolving nation, young, individualistic and keen, resting on an evolving philosophy that was pragmatism; pragmatic people, having to be practical in tackling the demands of this new land. With new technologies, bursting with a desire to build and own, the demands were thus that it is a functional philosophy that dominated and so became the ‘American trait;’ and so it was with their literature. The wrings were documentary in nature rather than having the English sentiments to ‘art.’ They were observations of the people and their lives in this new land, an environment not written about before with this insight, depth and understanding in order to gain what it meant to the individual. The writers wanted others to learn of his or her plight; writers having this attitude did not to curry favour with the ‘literature judges’ who knew nothing of this new land and who cared little for the feelings and experiences of those people.
These observations weren’t made by professional, anthropologist authors commissioned by a European University; these writings were often made by people trying to get businesses off the ground. They were people making a living in that world, writing from ‘the frontier.’ American literature has its foundation built by men and women who had occupations in areas of work that took them to those areas that they wrote about, or they actually lived within it. They were people who reported what they saw, journalistic in style; men who were doctors, having a business venture, usually professional people having themselves had the opportunity to be educated and were able to write, and they wrote of what they saw, of a land and it’s people, of their way of life, of their interactions with each other and of their environment, natural or otherwise. They told of their suffering, it was unknown about and probably not cared about; it was here that American ‘storytelling has its roots, stories of the situations that the people were in; and as I have said, through those experiences we gain insights into the sources that created those conditions, but told, without condescension, through the eyes of the ‘small man,’ a person having no position of power, their lives, witnessed by writers having no interests in the values or of a system that had previously dominated literature.
A writer, who stands out for establishing the tone of the ordinary person and is commonly known for his use of the ‘American voice,’ was Mark Twain; his real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemens. (1835-1910) Mark Twain was an entrepreneur, running his own businesses, self publicising and self publishing, a pragmatic spirit like many in the new land; having an education and wit he wrote from personal experience, telling of what he saw and of how people felt, breaking completely from the cross referencing, stilted, eastern seaboard hierarchy who bowed to authoritative ‘greatness’ from England and coveting literary acceptance. Twain’s characters, as was his writing, was embedded in unknown colloquial speech and culture about people living on the banks of the river. His writing gave a confidence as a developing national voice took shape, which had an identity of its own. His famous story of Huckleberry Finn told of the ‘untamed’ boy in the eighteen hundreds, and in doing so asked questions as Huck encountered hypocrisies in the ‘civilised’ world with it’s higher education, ideals of ethics and the dictate of religion. Huck is a friend of Jim, a black man who is a slave; a particularly poignant scene is when Huck sees Jim crying, he is upset because he was nasty to his little daughter, Elisabeth. Jim was nasty to her because he thought her insolent for not answering him, but the little girl was deaf, and Jim had just found this out. Huck is touched by this and is sorry for Jim. He is concerned for the man that he liked, and this was an exceptional thing to be writing in those days, remember, this was the time of slavery, certain people weren’t given the credence of being a whole person, they were utilised as material products, and eliminated if needs be, if they stand in the way of financial profit for example; the Christian church was, and is, a place of sanctuary, and in this case very much so for those people as a defence in the treatment they dealt out; to hunt a person for ‘sport’ after mid-day church in Africa - when I learned about this I was about nineteen years of age I suppose, it shocked me, finding it so appalling, and it still does.
Huck’s story tells of people, it is story telling, for me, good story telling that, again, gives meaningful expression to the plight of an individual set against a backdrop that determines the condition in which we find that individual.
Set in opposition to the values of the English elite; the American tone and observation struggled to find acceptance, but it did – it had to.
The ‘new land’ enticed those willing to take a chance, and in doing so many would pay with their lives whilst engaged in the pursuit for profit and higher standards of living. The land, animals and people were utilised, often cruelly in the process to attain those objectives. The writer Jack London (1876-1916) told stories that came from his own experience. The ‘American dream’ is played out in the Klondike rush; a harsh experience where suffering was the price, calling for courage when fear was the understandable response in a setting that told of aspirations, greed, arrogance, alcoholism and poverty as men rushed, against the odds, to dig gold in the frozen Yukon region.
In Jack London’s famous book, Call of the Wild, the principal character is Buck, who is a dog. Buck enjoyed a life of luxury in clement weather conditions, but that was all to change; he is stolen from Buck’s owner by a resentful low paid employee of the owner and sold to desperate men who searched for powerful dogs to pull sledges in the frozen north, all with the government blessing. The veneer of civilisation is torn asunder by this critical observation that tells of the subdued beast in us all. It tells of harsh exploitation as men and animals are enslaved in a condition of vicious brutality; at the hint of making a profit we observe the process of atavism; reverting to the beast that we really are, for nothing has really changed, just the necessary conditions are needed for it to show itself. ‘Club and claw’ is the law and order; any uttering of sensitivity has no place in this grim reality where our imagination, instinct and ‘ethics’ are called in to question. Our purpose, set against the growing cartels of companies and government offices, instigated by political design to furnish those it favoured; banks having the influence, impositions of rail road companies charging what they wanted because they monopolised, an infrastructure that contradicts the most proclaimed laissez faire ideology, it tells of a situation where there exists a totalitarian state of affairs rather than individual will.
And this, set in a wilderness, but with this approach to writing it could be set in the developing urban setting, because the story is about ‘us,’ wherever we might be; it is the experience of individuals and of their interrelationship with the powers making up the big picture. It is also about ‘class,’ but expressed through the personal feelings felt by the character that the stories are told about or by.
‘Class’ issues, meaning a socialist interpretation, has always been a risky business in the United States of America. The writer John Steinbeck (1902-1968) was attacked for having what was called, by some, ‘un American’ views. More or less alienated from the small town that he came from for this reason, John Steinbeck told stories about significant social upheavals whilst having a detailed description to the feelings of a person who is caught up in that particular social milieu. He told of people suffering under conditions that are out of their control. John Steinbeck’s moving observations are descriptive and honest. He spoke about those in poverty, he was touched by the ‘Oakies,’ the migrant workers; he studied their plight, and through his writing they gained a voice, they were never patronised as Steinbeck exposed the hypocrisy of those in the banking and political system for showing a clean pair of hands whilst consciously causing the most extreme suffering upon vulnerable people.
Accused of being a ‘red’ and sympathetic with the communists; yet, John Steinbeck, and others like him throughout history are vilified for asking questions that denounce iniquity. John Steinbeck’s work is a great example of using the small experience to explore the bigger picture; this is what attracted me to American literature – or writing. Through the humble actions of his characters he revealed our motives, and in doing so dredged up the deceit and cruelty of those that like to present an image of themselves as being the pillars of society; bringing into account the ‘American dream,’ here we find people who believed in that ‘dream,’ but find themselves lost, drifting and pathetic, their destiny shaped by means beyond their control.
John Steinbeck saw the purpose of writing as shining a light on that which resides in the darkness, to bring it forth for examination and then to measure it by principles, values used as we would like used against us.
The development of the modern city in the United States of America brought with it stories of souls embroiled in the evolving cauldron of human action. The United States really began to impose its culture across the world and had a great influence; it was a society having a level of consumerism and ownership that was demanded and sought by many people in other countries. America led the way in popular culture, it’s inhabitants, or I should say, many of them, displaying a standard of living, style and materialism that was beyond the reach of most people living in other countries . The film industry furnished windows for others outside of the States to peer through, and many of them coveted the dress, language and possibilities that were exhibited. A personality that exuded impudence became a significant feature of the American, and cultural groups that were being presented had a designed appearance and particular voice that was emulated.
Taking prominence was a pragmatic outlook of dismissing wordy idealists and respecting those who cut what they had out of the ground. Money and America became linked together in the imagination, and with the complexities of modern corporations and the often headlong actions to satisfy material demands crime also developed, as it does almost every where, but in America, at this time, crime was shown as stylish, which also influenced the culture and fashion of people living in other lands.
The ‘city’ has many sides, and the shadows of a city hide a host of life. Lurking in its shadows are the good, the bad and the rest; and for me, American literature has dealt with the subject of good verses evil so well. The dynamics of human interaction are altered as the environment changes. The writer Raymond Chandler, (1888-1959) examined some of the inhabitants in the developing mega city of Los Angeles through his character, a private detective called Philip Marlow. Raymond Chandler’s ‘private dick’ wasn’t the first literary creation of a private detective to explore and investigate those people in that particular type of environment, but his style and tone established a president that has been emulated for decades.
Philip Marlow leads us through stories of people’s lives and in doing so exploring the human condition; he is a loner having virtuous values. His investigations reveal the failings in us all; described in often beautiful prose are observations of hypocrisy and greed that is marbled through the emerging ‘high society’ in Los Angeles. With his biting wit, Philip Marlow gave an ironic telling of the people that he came across; a ‘hard bitten’ realist, his humour and personality is often said to be cynical, but I like to think of him as being a romantic idealist, and the hard covering was his shield, protecting a sensitive disposition when being confronted with the characters and lives of those he came into contact with in the murky sewer in which he was swimming.
Philip Marlow can be seen as being our conscience, that bit inside us that wants there to be ‘good.’ The stage that these scenes were being played upon wasn’t the prairie, the riverbank life, the frozen Yukon trails, the dust bowl or the hostile seas, no, although the city is familiar territory today, it wasn’t in Raymond Chandler’s childhood, it’s familiar now because he was writing about today, setting his stories in a modern urban environment, but he was saying and asking similar things and questions as the other writers that I have mentioned; it is just another wilderness, corrupt lawmakers, conceited leaders and people who are lost and caught up in it all. It is a new landscape but with the same exploration into iniquity and human nature.
Raymond Chandler coined the term ‘mean streets,’ and in those streets exist a delusional world, distorted by paranoia and conspiracy; it is dark, violent and sexy, dreams are exploited as there has to be more who lose in order for the machine to survive and prosper. Raymond Chandler’s creation wanders alone, meeting other lonely people; it is a treatise on loneliness. It is the disease of modern city life, the city where a neighbour is a stranger, fear of the other pervades the minds of men and women who live alone in single rooms, and in these ‘mean streets’ nearly everyone is foreign to each other; people become alienated, sitting in the all night diner, the lonely face at the window, peering out at strangers who might harm them, this is the debris of a modern human landscape, this is where Philip Marlow walked and this is the world he showed us, and in doing so he asked questions of having only a value for money making. This was a call for humanitarian understanding to what we are doing to ourselves; it is also a sad image of the ‘free man’ in the land of ‘plenty.’
Post Second World War America society had established a strong identity of it’s own that was coveted by many in other countries. American music was explosive, experimental, defiant and new, it was in keeping with the approach towards literature in the previous century. But demands in the emerging world of ‘globalisation’ were seen by some as stifling individual creativity. The writers who held this view were in the Beat genre. ‘Frontier’ thinking and exploration in the arts, mysticism, drugs, psychology, religion and perceptions held in other cultures was a course that these people followed; their influence has been massive and their dress and style is still imitated today. A common ethos was of having a critical approach, in seeing the world that was purported as becoming whole but was really fragmented, it is a world that heralded the value of success yet was lost, it was materially great but was spiritually dead. Their views had a foresight to the concerns of today as they pondered possibilities of what we might attain beyond the immediacy of financial profit; within this process our imagination is curtailed by being forced to be a slave to the machine.
Jack Kerouac (1922-1969) was a writer known primarily for his book On The Road. He was a central character in this movement; he died in his late forties, having a drink problem and living with his mother. It is desolate and lonely, as lonely as Ishmael, as lonely as a lost migrant worker, to be lonely as Natty Bumpo; to be alone, as Buck the sledge dog and the lost souls of men like Jim the slave, and walking lonely streets like Philip Marlow – alone, like us all, to feel it, and to show it to others, of what it feels and tastes like.
This perspective continues to be a familiar approach when exploring corruption and deceit; and is shown so well in films. In the popular film Taxi Driver, we shared the feelings and saw through the eyes of Travis Bickle, a soldier returning from a war, but to a society that alienates him; the ‘American dream’ is unearthed and held up for inspection. The taxi driver is disturbed and frightened, he is a mentally ill man who now experiences loneliness and frustration at a society that he represented as a soldier, but now sees as depraved, from the top to the bottom; the same topic, good verses bad, and again a loner having little status takes us through the story to explore these huge concerns for us all. He is lost in the ‘mean streets;’ he is ‘God’s lonely man.’
So, I think back to what I have read and what I have seen and experienced. Coming from England offers many opportunities that are good, but from a literary perspective I have always felt it to be ignorant to
the feelings of those who are often culturally classified as being not important when considering significant matters. An example of this is something I saw recently on the television. A British actress was talking about a forthcoming series that she was in; the series was about people who live in a street, having stories of what is going on behind the door of a house, focusing on a particular family and aspects concerning their lives. The actress said that it is surprising to learn that even in the lives of ‘ordinary’ people things can be very interesting. I have always seen this attitude in most British writing; a person has to be a professional person, a doctor, a leading industrialist, whatever, in order to be given any credence, other than a patronising accent bestowed on those not fitting ‘high’ positions, and that accent is supposed to incorporate all emotion and worth that the character has – and that is where it is wrong.
When the ‘smallman’ isn’t respected or understood, then neither is the bigger picture; and the ‘smallman’ comes in many guises, as Hector the dog, showing us our arrogance, ignorance and greed. It might be accused of sentimentality, but it requires a sensitive observation, and having honest intentions, when drawing on the lives, the fears and hopes of ‘ordinary’ people; for it is in their experience that the large sum can be more easily understood. I believe that it does call for understanding, to genuinely respect and consider the lives of those in the situations in which a story is set, and then, hopefully, we can learn about ourselves, and maybe work towards treating each other in a better way.