Mental Anguish and the 21st Century

Mental Anguish and the 21st Century

.

..

….

…..

***The following is an excerpt from an upcoming short novel set in Dublin, Ireland.***

…..

….

..

.

“The pandemic of mental anguish that afflicts our time cannot be properly understood, or healed, if viewed as a private problem suffered by damaged individuals.” – Mark Fisher

***

EXHIBIT A

(Three loud thuds: fists banging on a window)

   “Open the door,” a disgruntled slur.

   (Bare-footed steps on hard-wooden floor; the flick of a lock, the twisting of a door knob)

   When I slid open the back entrance to the apartment, what was revealed to me was something I’d perhaps expect to find in a painting, or in a book about a painter. Think Kirchner if you’re aware of the man’s former existence. Think “Self-Portrait with Cat”, 1920. Jimmy Blue stood at my door looking gaunt; angular features; sunken eyes, green-faced, an emotionless expression.

  “What’s up, Jim?” I asked. His arrival was nocturnal, unexpected. I turned to look at the clock on the kitchen wall – 2:40 in the morning. Twenty to three, in Apartment 2 of the Orchestral House building on Highfield Road in Rathgar. In Dublin. In Ireland. In 2022. The 21st Century. This street was reserved for the rich, insofar as home ownership was concerned. Us folk who belonged to the renter class, however, were able to live as imposters in the wealthy suburb of Dublin 6, imagining ourselves part of a club to which we’d never be invited; reaching out to grasp a life that in the long run was well beyond our reach.

   Jim didn’t offer an immediate response; the first action he took was to brush past me and walk into the apartment, finding the couch and lying on it.

   “Jim?” I asked.

  (The door closes. An L-shaped black couch dividing kitchen and living room like a hard border. Wooden floors peppered with dust and detritus of meals. Television in corner of room stationed like an obdurate watchman. Island in the middle of the kitchen, surrounded by four stools like sentinels. An open space which leads to the back of the apartment where two bedrooms and a bathroom exist)

   “Need to sleep,” was Jim’s response, his thick midlands accent, enhanced by the drink, was like a swinging fist in the room. I leaned over the couch and looked at my 30-year-old friend: that gaunt face, those dark eyes, the suggestion of makeup that was nothing more than a mirage.

   “You need to sleep, and you come here. Now. In the middle of the night?”

(A quiet sob fills the late-night silence in the apartment)

   “Jim?”

(Man on couch has curled into the foetal position)

   “Jim? What’s up?”

   “I don’t know,” Jim said as I made my way around the other side of the couch, squatted, and placed my hand on his thick head of brown hair.

   “You don’t know what’s wrong?”

   “I don’t know what to do, D” said Jim through a sob.

   “What’s happened?” I asked.

(Man on couch looks up at man hunched next to him; his eyes narrowing as he shakes his head)

   “Nothing,” said Jim. “Nothing’s happened.”

   I didn’t reply; I didn’t know how to respond, to be perfectly honest about it all. I simply rubbed Jim’s head as he cried in near silence before he fell into a deep, drunken sleep where he lay. I think that was a good thing to do, to rub his head. I think that was the human thing to do. Tears had formed under his dark eyes like a dirty puddle on Parnell Street. I stood up. I fixed my black bathrobe that covered my otherwise naked body and went back into my room; back to bed where we can forget about it all for a few hours.

***

EXHIBIT B

(Blinding sunlight . . . pan away from window to apartment living room. Man stretched out on couch; man dressed in blue jeans, navy jacket, black boots)

   (Bedroom door opens revealing other man dressed in black bathrobe, bearded, messy-haired, squinting)

   “Jim,” I said. No reply. I took my phone from my pocket and checked the time: ten past seven. I was an early bird, always had been. I was also recently unemployed having been let go during the pandemic. How did I survive, you may be wondering? How did this thirtysomething manage to pay his exorbitant rent, his bills, his way in the land that was Ireland; the once sweet, imaginative, empathetic little girl who had grown into a fanged, materialistic, apathetic gold-digger?

   Let me present to the jury a) savings, b) the dole, and c) drug dealing.

   The former is deemed moral while the latter is often considered immoral. The one in the middle is frequently divisive: I would argue that the many years (and forms) of taxation justifies me living off my fellow taxpayer for a while; sure didn’t we used to knock next door for a glass of milk every now and then? At least, that’s what the stories passed down from generations tell us. Regarding the latter, to the jury I would also pose this question: What’s terribly immoral about providing folks with a natural plant native to Central and South Asia, allowing them to decide what they put into their bodies? Really, “drug dealing” it wasn’t.

   The selling of marijuana was a short-term fix that offered me an extra few quid while I decided what I’d do next, and where I’d do it. Everything was up in the air, which was liable to upset my internal equilibrium. But I had routine. In the past I had learned that this was key to maintaining that necessary balance within (for a functioning “without”). So even though I didn’t know where I would be in six month’s time, I knew that tomorrow I would rise at approximately 7 o’clock, go for a run, grab a shower, attend to the plants, provide my service to the paying public should I receive a phone call or two, read for approximately three hours in the afternoon (presently I was reading Resurrection by Tolstoy), watch a film (lately I had been revisiting Bela Tarr’s languid oeuvre, juxtaposed by 80s action films), cook dinner (I had purchased a few cookbooks despite the availability of myriad recipes online – anything to disconnect from technology), and spend a few hours in the evening working on the screenplay I was writing with my filmmaker friend Vinnie, whose real name was Vihlo and whose family hailed from the Ivory Coast.

   I had routine so I was okay, I guess… I guess I was okay because I had routine.

   Jim, on the other hand, clearly wasn’t okay. And while I can’t say I could identify the exact ‘why’ pertaining to his state of distress, or that he even had any hope of identifying it himself, I had a feeling it was largely due to the reality (or unreality?) of time and space and setting: The West, The 21st Century, Late-Stage Capitalism, Ireland, Dublin. As the late Mark Fisher of the Cybernetic Culture Research Unit once wrote: the pandemic of mental anguish that afflicts our time cannot be properly understood, or healed, if viewed as a private problem suffered by damaged individuals.

   This was about more than Jim and his own consciousness.

(Man on couch rises; the sunlight renders one side of his face featureless: a sheet of white paper; the other side is identifiable; the dark eye is aimed at man in bathrobe)

   “All right, Jim,” I said. I had a chirpy disposition in the mornings that was wont to irking others. Others, it seemed, didn’t possess the Tolstoian predilection for morning outings which, according to the Russian master, were “when the best thoughts were most likely to greet us”. Those “best” thoughts, however, were dependant on the person and their outlook – their situation. Was the thought of throwing himself in front of the Dart the “best’ thought for the suicidal electrician? Value being subjective, one may decide that the 7:20 train to Bray was far more alluring than ten thousand quid on that particular morning.

   “I was crying last night,” Jim said. His tone wasn’t pained, nor was it tinged with embarrassment or shame; he was quite matter of fact in that moment.

   “You were, Jim.”

   (Man in bathrobe walks towards couch and haunches in front of other man)

   “Jim, what’s the story?”

   “I don’t know. I just can’t shake it.”

   “Shake what, exactly?”

   “The Black Cloud. Every morning, it’s there. It’s like a fog that smothers your face; stuffs up your nose so you can’t enjoy the fresh air, ya know?.”

   “Have you spoken with your doctor, Jim?”

   (Man shakes his head; utters a dismissive laugh)

   “Of course,” Jim said. “That’s what they say to do: talk about it. Don’t they? Talking isn’t helping, though. I don’t think it is anyway.”

   I placed my hand on Jim’s check.

   “Bloody hell,” I said. “We’ll get you sorted, don’t worry.”

   (Man in bathrobe stands up and enters kitchen area. Man on couch places his head on the arm of the chair)

   “I was thinking of maybe going to Laos.”

   “Laois? What would you want to go there for? Nothing in Laois.”

   “Loas . . . it’s the least Westernized country of all of them Indochinese nations.”

   “Jesus, Jim. Indochina’s a bit far, isn’t it?”

   “I think I need to get out of it, though.”

   “What?”

   “The West. Americana. The relentless meat grinder. You know what I mean, lad.”

   “Well, it depends how you look at it, Jim. Doesn’t it?”

   (Man in bathrobe unties his robe revealing his naked body, unbeknownst to other man whose head still rests on the arm of the chair. Man in robe places feet through shorts and fixes them around his waist)

   “I just think it’s a big change that’s needed, ya know? I think that’d help me like.”

   I pulled from the washing machine an unwashed hoodie and fed my arms into it. Jim’s Offaly accent shone through just then. His accent was a beautiful thing. A warming thing; a shot of whiskey on a cold night. It was a thing that if I could bottle it, I would.

   (Man in hoodie and shorts sits on stool in the middle of kitchen area)

   “Jim, some would say it’s small things we should embrace. Small, good things. Big things are never good.”

   (Man raises head from arm of chair, reaches for remote, turns on television)

   “Ah Jim, not the tele.”

   “Sure are ye not going for your morning run?”

   “Yeah but the tele, Jim. That’s not going to make you feel better.”

   “Sure what do you know about it? Tele might help a lot. Escape, an’ all that.”

   (Man in hoodie and shorts rises from stool and approaches porch door where he narrows his feet into a pair of running shoes)

   “I’ll go for me run, Jim. You chill here. You can kip here as long as you want, yeah?”

   Jim nodded his head as the sound of the porch opening filled the silence in the room.

   “Jim,” I said, “things’ll be grand.”

   Jim turned away from the television, looked at me with his dark eyes; there was a sorrowness in them that played like a mournful symphony; it was a stare that accused me of appalling mendaciousness. Had he verbalised this accusation, I would have cowered and conceded the inauthenticity of the statement. But he didn’t, and in an astonishing act of schizoid political spin, I feebly repeated the words before exiting the apartment through the back porch and proceeding to my usual morning run.

***

EXHIBIT C

   Sensuous dreams had greeted me as of late, despite my attempts at transcending the sexual (“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh”). What did I mean by that? It was a complicated thing, but it was also uncomplicated: in recent months I had sought out some kind of religiosity; I had endeavored to wander into Palmerston Park – an idyllic little place only a stone’s throw from the Orchestral Building – and gaze at the beauty of nature and see not a Scientific or Naturalistic Realism but the Craftmanship of God. I had craved a C.S. Lewis view of the world: I wanted to see Him in everything.

   Why? Was it a mid-life crisis? Was I looking for something instead of nothing? Was I selfishly seeking redemption? Did I want to know what Truth was, and was open to all possibilities? Did I feel hopeless in this present we find ourselves in? Whatever the reason, I had turned some sort of corner. Although I had no idea where the road I was now on would lead me.

   Did it make me feel a tad pathetic? Possibly. How must a man wrestle with faith when he never had it in the first place; how must a man turn to the unscientific against his inner reason? Of course, the empiricists, the logical positivists, the Darwinist; they all do it in their own way too: they all have faith in the Primordial Soup theory, don’t they? They, too, must put their faith in something they cannot – ever – prove.

   This metaphysical run-in with theological contemplation was a welcome change that occurred rather out of the blue; a Sunday afternoon; a 30-minute browse in The Last Bookshop on Camden Street, A Confession by Tolstoy on one of the many shelves; this literary encounter prompted an ecumenical excursion on my part, the idea of which would have previously struck me as monumentally absurd. So life can seem, I suppose; a bouncing ball of endless absurdity. My Christian flirtation quelled any lust within me; it had been that way almost immediately after I considered a Christian existence; as quickly as turning a page, the valve had twisted and the carnal cravings that may have made themselves known – or demanded to make themselves known – had become ashes in the wind. Yet despite this new reality of mine, outside my wakeful hours I had descended into unadulterated eroticism, an unconscious libidinal release whose fantasies were, of course, beyond my control and thus were occasionally even more lewd than I would have consciously permitted in the past. When I would awake from these dreams – at times greeted by my uncontrollable shame – I would say aloud “what can I do?”, to which I would inwardly reply “More.”

   After I returned from my jog, I found the apartment void of Jim’s presence. No semblance of sorrow in the air; an emptiness that was, in its own way, worse. I had wanted Jim to be there. Selfishly, I wanted the company; unselfishly I wanted to help him if I could.

   As I was about to rid myself of clothes and embrace the hot rain of the shower, a knock on the back porch arrived.

   Jim, I thought.

   Jim it wasn’t. It was the woman who rented the apartment across the hall from me. Yvonne. She stood outside looking through the pane of glass that separated us. Behind her were the cars belonging to residents of the property, sitting idly like homeless people on Grafton Street; a vacant parking spot every two rows or so. Beyond that was the communal green where folks hung up their clothes to dry, and where on sunny days they would sit on blankets and enjoy a tipple or three.

   Yvonne’s arms were folded, her expression sour. What, I wondered, had I done?

   I slid open the porch door.

   “Story,” I said.

   “You going to invite me in?” Her face, I had noticed, had recently become more weathered by the storm we call life. I saw tiredness in her eyes; more lines on her face like an updated map; I saw in her that subtle numbness that creeps up on all of us as the years pass; as if as we age, we’re slowly being filled with concrete that hardens from the toes up, until finally we’re rigid and immovable.

   “You don’t look like you want to be invited in.”

   Yvonne’s expression softened, she produced a disingenuous smile –  “How about now?” – before resetting her face to automatic. Her smile, feigned as it was, did momentarily capture the beauty that was now a semi-retired actor who showed up in the odd production for a cameo appearance every so often.

   I stood aside and permitted her entry into the apartment.

   “Cuppa?” she asked.

   “Jaysus, would you like a fry-up too?”

   Yvonne made her way around to the front of the couch where Jim had slept through the night and parked herself there, folding her arms and crossing her legs.

   “Are you here for the ride again?” I asked.

   This was, I would later concede, a misguided – and admittedly gauche – question, but one that felt right in the moment.

   “No, D, I’m not here for the ride as you so charmingly put it.”

   “Only I’m on something of a sabbatical from sex.”

   “You are, are ya?”

   I filled up the kettle with water and put it on the boil.

   “I am.”

   I leaned against the counter as the water began to heat, as the noise of the elements at work began to rise and permeate the room, as Yvonne sat there staring at me, her eyes sceptically half closed.

   “Why’s that?”

   “You could say I’m in conversation with God . . . or I’m flirting with Him, if you know what I mean.”

   This prompted a guffaw from Yvonne. A single guffaw.

   “Mother Teresa here…”

   “I’m simply not allowing myself to be a prisoner of my carnal desires . . . for the moment.”

   “I’m not here to get the leg over, right? Just because . . . I know that we said it was just a physical thing anyway. . . That’s grand . . . You’re such an arsehole.”

   “Okay then . . . what has you here then?”

   “Can a neighbour not pop in for a cup a tea?”

   “Of course she can. But every time you’ve done that on a weekday morning it’s tended to end up with a pre-tea dance in the bedroom.”

   Yvonne stood up; it was a sudden movement and before I knew it, she was standing in front of me.

   “I’m not going to piss about, D: I want you,” she said as her hand gripped my manhood.

   It took a lot of inner strength to resist this gesture, but I managed to. I pushed Yvonne’s hand away from me and turned to pop two teabags into two cups; I focused on the setting painted on one of the mugs: Poolbeg Towers; that oddly romanticised eyesore which penetrated the Dublin skyline like a couple of STI-riddled phalluses engaged in an act of empyrean molestation. Yvonne wrapped her arm around me from behind and placed her hand inside my shorts. I withdrew her hand and turned around to face her.

   “Seriously. Sex sabbatical. Convo with God.”

   Yvonne’s expression soured once again, only this time it was accompanied by genuine anger.

   “You’re a big weirdo,” she said. “Stick your tea up your hole.”

   As she left, the click of the kettle told me it had completed its boil. I poured tea for one, enjoyed the drink, and then took an especially cold shower.

It’s a strange thing, endeavouring to connect with God, especially when it goes against your instinct. I’ve wrestled with it; I’ve wrestled with what preceded the Big Bang. When you think about it, the theory complements Genesis: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . .’ Even Einstein believed in Spinoza’s God, didn’t he? That made me feel less daft for entertaining the idea, for sure. Einstein didn’t believe in the God you could chat with in the shower, petition with prayer, and all the rest. An impersonal one is what he imagined. But still, he believed it. He was in his own way a Deist. The man most synonymous with science was of the opinion that some kind of Intelligent Design was at play when it came to our worldly existence.

   As I pondered the nature of reality while I dried off my naked body in the bathroom, my phone buzzed. I reached for it and answered the call.

   “Roman,” I said. “How are ya?”

   “Hello, D,” Russian accent, “can you top me up, friend?”

   “Roman, my friend. I absolutely can. When should I call round?”

   “10:30.”

   “Sure thing, Roman.”

   I hung up and continued to towel myself dry. I looked at myself in the mirror: my taut, sinewy body, the result of daily running; my manhood which had been generously gifted to me, which had caused me over the years to place more importance on it than was necessary, and which was now on hiatus; my face which had narrowed, likely due to all the exercise, but not in a way that produced an unhealthy visage. I looked at this being before me. I considered myself as the product of the craftmanship of another entity; I considered all the men and women I had encountered over the years in their near or wholly nude form. I considered the artistry involved in the sketching and sculpting of these figures. I considered beauty. I considered Him. I considered consciousness. I considered the senses. I breathed deeply and smelled the aftermath of a shower. I touched my chest. I looked in the mirror. I licked my lips. I listened to the gentle hum of traffic that passed every few seconds. I felt okay in that moment as I got back to drying my body.

   As if everything was as it should be.

***

EXHIBIT D

   (A leather couch: brown, cracked, worn. Torn in places, covered in rough grey patches – hideous birthmarks. A wall-mounted picture frame – photo-less – lost in a sea of garish pink wallpaper behind it. Scribbles have been made in a notepad which rests on a coffee table. Lipstick stains a bloated mug half-filled with rum. Light captures the ascending smoke of a cigarette wedged in a glass ashtray that’s home to a graveyard of cigarette butts.)

   I sat on the couch that had seen better days as Roman fixed me a cup of tea in the cottage that had also seen more glamorous times; or perhaps not. The walk to Rathmines took me approximately thirty minutes; I was a sloth-like stroller at times. But the walk gave me a chance to bask in the leafy avenues and squares from Rathgar to the town that was once a Protestant and Unionist stronghold.

   Roman the Russian, he was known as. On the surface he was a stereotype, you might say: brawny, reticent, pugnacious. But once you got to know Roman, you saw beyond the tight-lipped and pugilist façade. He was a doorman at Whelan’s pub on Wexford Street, but he was also a poet who had self-published a short collection of scribbles in his native tongue, a pacifist who had lost a brother to armed conflict, a man with a deep interest in the murky waters of history and the romantic seas of literature.

   On the wood-chipped coffee table in front of me was a notebook; the page had some words sketched on it. I leaned forward to look at it.

   “You like my new poem?” said Roman as he returned to the living room holding two cups of tea.

   “Unfortunately, despite all my best efforts, I can’t read Russian, Roman.”

   Roman sat down opposite me on the armchair – certainly in better shape than the couch on which I was seated – and handed me the cup before picking up the worn notepad.

   He began to read aloud: “The spirited wave begins an ill-fated flight; the youth of tomorrow, coals burning in the night. The shock of a slug, the cold kiss of death. Fight for your country, they cried, until your last breath.”

   I raised my cup, “Very nice, Roman,” I said, as I took a sip of what tasted like Lyon’s Tea.

   “It’s not fully formed, D. Poems… take time.”

   “Oh, I can imagine.”

   “Gogol, D,” said Roman as he flipped the pad closed and dropped it on the table before sitting back in his char. “Gogol said ‘how sad is our Russia.’”

   “A country I’d like to see, Roman.”

   “She weeps, regularly, D. Very misunderstood by The West.”

   I nodded my head. I wasn’t sure from where this conversation had stemmed, and to be truthful about it, I wasn’t sure what it was about. Seeking evacuation, I took from my pocket the small bag of weed and placed it on the coffee table.

   Roman smiled broadly.

   “I would offer you some, but you’re – what do they say – a hypocrite,” he said with a warm look in his eyes.

   “The aul lungs can’t cut it,” I said, which was true.

   Roman opened a little tin box on the coffee table and placed the bag into it before removing a few cigarette skins and beginning to lay the foundations of his impending trip.

   “I saw your friend last night at the pub.”

   “Jim?”

   “Yes.”

   “He was in Whelan’s so?”

   “He arrived late. Just before I finish my shift. He’s a little slow, yes?”

   “No, no,” I said. “No, he’s from Offaly.”

   Roman began to work tobacco and leaves into the joint.

   “He was, how you say… messy.”

   “Yeah,” I said. “Yeah, he ended up at mine pretty plastered.”

   “He sit with bad people,” said Roman.

   I sipped my tea and questioned the type of milk that Roman had added to the mix. Coconut? Maybe. Whatever it was, my tastebuds were certainly xenophobic in their response to the new folks on our land.

   “What people?”

   “Not good people,” said Roman. “They show up more often lately. Causing trouble. Your friend sat with them. Looked like he know them.”

   “We talking criminals? Paedophiles? What kind of bad people? Politicians?”

   Roman had massaged the spliff into its neatly packaged form; a marijuana missile bringing peace and tranquility to his world.

   “Gang… O’Malley gang, yes?”

   “The O’Malley’s? Jim was hanging with the O’Malley’s?”

   “That’s their name, yes?” said Roman as he sparked and sucked.

   “I don’t know how Jim would be involved with the O’Malley’s, and I don’t know what the O’Malley’s would be doing in Whelan’s; doesn’t seem like their desired drinking environment.”

   “What would be?”

   “I don’t know… It’s a good place to pick a fight, I suppose.”

   “Did I tell you; I’m going to be in a film?”

   “No!”

   “Da! I met the Irishman . . . the director . . . Philpott, with the white hair. In the bar. He said he would put me in his next film. I believed he was full of crap, but he called me last week and tells me that I need to be on set on Friday.”

   “This Friday?”

   “This Friday, D. After this I’m going to be next Bond villain; Russians always make good villains for silly Westerners, yes?”

   “You’re not wrong there, Roman,” I said. “What’s the film?”

   “I don’t know. He just said show up at Christ Church on Friday at six.”

   “In the morning?”

   “Da, da.”

   “Early start that.”

   “Will you come?”

   “Me?”

   “You come and watch. I’m sure it’s good. You have nothing else to do.”

   “Roman, little do you know the beautiful yet battered nation of Ireland is presently missing her head; I could have plenty to do for all you know. There’s plenty to be done on this land, my Russian comrade.”

   “You start a revolution, D?”

   “That or go watch a Russian poet try to act.”

   “Chucky are law, da?”

   “Ah-ha! Something like that, Roman,” I said as I stood up. “Listen, if you see Jim there tonight will you keep an eye on him? I’m a little worried about him; he’s been a bit dishevelled lately.”

   Roman stood; the joint resting between two fingers. He took from his pocket a few scrunched-up notes and handed them to me.

   “Always a pleasure,” I said, and I left Roman to his pot and poetry.

***

EXHIBIT E

   (A meandering path, as if laid by a drunkard. A bushy garden; tall hedges. A woodchipped, green-coloured door. In the air the scent of burning wood, as the morning sun shines on the door, on the house, on the garden)

  I tried calling Jim, but there was no getting through to his phone; his mobile device was out for the count, much like my friend had been on my couch the previous night. When I’d called it went straight to his voicemail, where I was greeted by that sublime Offaly accent telling me to leave a message. Leaving a message, though, was not going to happen. I hung up as I walked along the short path towards the door of the small house at the top of Brighton Road, right on the corner where it met Harold’s Cross Road. Harold’s Cross where Robert Emmet once lived to be close to Sarah Green before he was executed. Harold’s Cross, near which Lizzie O’Neill (Honour Bright) could be found wandering before she was murdered in 1925. Harold’s Cross where The General had robbed the same jewellers twice, before the Provos put a bullet in his forehead. Harold’s Cross, a stone’s throw away from where Paddy now lived; where his mother had lived until she died of lung cancer aged 54; should I find myself able to speak with God, I’ll have to have a word.

   I knocked on the green door; four knuckles on wood.

   Eventually the door opened. With the backward swing of the door was revealed Paddy’s face: his bushy eyebrows, his flat nose, his small eyes full of warmth, his thick beard peppered with patches of grey.

   “Ah Jaysus.” said Paddy, “D, me aul flower. Come in, come in…”

   He turned and walked into the narrow hall, and I followed, closing the door behind me. The smell of burning firewood invaded my nostrils as I entered; a comforting smell, it was. Also present in the house were the striking strings belonging to an unfolding piece of classical music. Paddy was considerably older than me; and I watched him walk ahead of me, limping, as he had since I’d know him, on his right side (the result of polio, some said; the product of a gunshot wound, theorised others. Paddy never confirmed which was true).

   He led me into the sitting room where in the middle of it a single armchair was facing the window, underneath which were two massive speakers standing either side of a record player like two obedient guards. This was, of course, from where the classical music emanated. This was how Paddy would sometimes spend his mornings or afternoons; facing the speakers as they blasted the music of the heavens directly towards him. Paddy would sit there with his eyes closed as the orchestra sedulously played in unison. He limped over to the sound system and lowered the volume to a level that permitted conversation, before turning to me with a broad smile dissecting his thick black-grey beard.

   “Brahms, Symphony number two. Perfect for a sunny spring morning like this.”

   “I know it well,” I said.

   “Ye do in yer hole,” said Paddy, turning the armchair around and pushing it back towards the corner of the room, near the fireplace, so that he would face me instead of the record player and speakers. I sat on the single, rickety dining chair which was the only other piece of furniture in the sitting room. Paddy had come to embrace something of an ascetic existing – ascetic in these hyper-technological times at least – since his mother passed; the only other noticeable items in the room were the Irish proclamation framed on the wall, and the bookshelf on the other side of the fireplace that, I had noticed during previous perusing, was home to exclusively Irish literature – Yeats, Joyce, Behan, Beckett, O’Brien, Heaney, McGahern – and numerous works on Irish history.

   “Look at me, sitting down,” said Paddy, standing up. “Will ye have a drink or what?”

   “I’m all right, Paddy. Only had tea with the Russian there about half an hour ago. Tea’d out of it.”

   “Something harder of a Monday?” he asked as he returned to his seat.

   “Absolutely not,” I said. “But thanks.”

   Paddy sat forward, elbows on knees, hands linked between legs. His beady eyes may have sparkled just then.

   “Well, what can I do ye for?”

   “The lads have been talking. I know you haven’t been around as of late because of the business with the virus and all that.”

   “I’ll emerge from me slumber soon; just need a bit more time to readjust.”

   I reached into the pocket of my shorts and from them I took a piece of folded paper. I stood up and handed the page to Paddy, who took it without unfolding it.

   “That’s not for my eyes,” I said. “Seán asked me to give it to you. I’ve heard rumors about Friday, though.”

   Paddy’s eyebrows rose, his mouth opened; a look of surprise has rarely appeared more genuine.

   “Friday?”

   “Whispers,” I said. “But you know yourself.”

   “Well it’s apt,” he said.

   “Paddy,” I said. “Has Jim popped around at all lately?”

   “He was here a few days ago,” said Paddy, smiling. “Dropped me in a sliced pan. Then we got into it for a bit.”

   The classical music continued at a low volume; I could see the appeal in it, but I was never able to give myself over to the genre. It had always seemed too aristocratic for my tastes. For Paddy’s tastes too, I would have thought. But he adored it, and I could understand why, of course; if ever there was music that was representative of the sound of heaven, that was it.

   He sat back in the armchair, raised the bottom of the burgundy Aran geansaí that he wore and placed the folded piece of paper into the pocket of his jeans having not read it.

   “What did the pair of you get into?”

   “I reminded Jim that I have nothing against the Brits. I love all the people; black or white, Irish or English. But what I do have a problem with is when a man approaches a woman; let’s say a resplendent red head who’s minding her own businesses; when a man approaches her and batters her, and after he beats her, he holds up one hand while leaving the other one gripping her breast in a constant act of molestation while with the other hand, he offers a peace sign shaped by his two crooked fingers. That I can’t abide. That I can’t leave be as I down a pint and go about me days. I must take that man’s arm and break it so that beautiful woman can be free of his abuse, and so the man will know never to do it again.”

   “Well I’m sure Jim already knew that… C’mere, did he seem low at all?”

   “Jim? Not particularly, D, no. Why?”

   “Ah he’s seemed a bit off lately. A bit down.”

   “Sure he’s only a kid; what does he have to be down about? Fertile ground he’s on in those shoes of his; life to be grasped and drank and savoured. Jaysus, the younger generations.”

   I stood up, readying myself to leave. “Ah, let’s not go there, Paddy.”

   “Are ye off already?”

   “Errands to run, lands to free,” I said. “Tiocfaidh ár lá

   “Tiocfaidh ár lá,” he replied, raising his hand, not moving from his seat.

   As I left, I could hear him repositioning the armchair, and by the time I’d reached the end of the garden, the volume had returned to its penetrating level.

Paddy said that he loved all the people. And, after many years of wrestling with the idea, I tended to be of a similar disposition. Despite our ignorance, conceit, intolerance, arrogance, rapaciousness, cruelty… Despite all of it, I loved us. I loved people. Sweep away the dust of our flaws, wipe off the grease of our failings, and there you’ll find decency and goodness, laughter and love. Almost every time I’ve ran a dirty rag across the surface of our species, I’ve uncovered benevolence; at times there may be much soot and grime to scrub, but the goodness is there underneath, more often than not.

The Funny Thing About Research

The Funny Thing About Research

 

Ahhhh, research…

Arguably it’s the most important part of the writing process. How can you write about something if you know nothing about it? That old writing tip “write what you know” is always apt — you don’t want to look stupid, do you?!

But how about other ways you might look in the age of the internet and having access-all-areas? If I were to go through the things I’ve looked up in the name of research it could paint a pretty messed-up picture…

For one short story I had to research the job of an embalmer, how a cadaver appears and feels, how the process of embalming works, etc. For my work-in-progress novel American. Porn Star. President. (about a porn-addicted journalist), I’ve looked up almost every genre there is on major porn sites, and what the world of the porn industry is like, from on-set slang to bloody company rivalries. (Think that’s commitment? Some writers have acted in adult film for their stories — now that’s dedication!) For a short story about a disgruntled employee of a corporate giant, I delved into self-immolation, and came across some deeply harrowing images, and incredibly tragic cases. For my screenplay Let’s Talk About Sex, I researched the most comic and weird sex-related injuries (thinking about it still makes me wince).

JG 1

One, like Jake Gyllenhaal above, could look at this and reach the conclusion that I’m a sex-addicted, cadaver-infatuated nutjob who’s about to set myself on fire in a protest against my exploitative employer (must… crush… capitalism…).

So, is all this research essential when it comes to whatever project it is that you’re working on?

Well, yes… It’s like the method actor approach, although how far an actor — or a writer — would go is another thing. If I’m writing about a murderer I’m hardly going to go out and hack someone to death. But I would likely go to our all-knowing, omnipotent friend (or, arguably, foe) the Internet, and read about individual cases and the perpetrators… What was their mindset? How did they rationalise doing something so abhorrent? Did they even rationalise it? What was their background? How were they raised? What did their day-to-day look like?

I think it’s a part of us, though — this curiosity, this need to know… We’re voyeuristic… Or, as David Fincher said: people are perverts. We’re forever curious about the private (or not-so-private) lives of others. We obsess over individuals like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy. We make celebrities out of some of the craziest people who’ve set foot on this planet. We create sensations around porn stars (Jenna Jameson, Linda Lovelace, Ron Jeremy, John Holmes, James Deen, to name a few). Not that I’m saying porn stars are monsters like Manson and Bundy, of course. To be clear, that’s not what I’m saying at all! I admire adult performers for having the balls to do what they do… pun possibly intended.

But what do they have in common? Well, they’re the outliers, right? And we’re always interested in the people who go against the grain of “normal” society, be it by doing something awful (Manson and Bundy) or something unusual/outrageous (adult performers). We’re forever fascinated by the ones who don’t do the “normal” thing, because, for the most part, we’re surrounded by normalcy; the mundanity of everyday life.

CK1

But coming back to research and writing, what does it all mean for the writer? The one who opens the doors to the often excessive, regularly fucked-up realities of this crazy world? Speaking from personal experience, my research has led me to having some odd, some adventurous, and some deeply disturbing dreams (including being pulled across the bed by a demonic spirit flashing before my eyes. And yes, I do have night terrors… I scream in my sleep sometimes. It’s ridiculous, and a little embarrassing, but it has scared my girlfriend in the middle of the night, and that’s definitely a consolation. It’s okay, she thinks it’s funny)…

Anyway, the great F. Scott Fitzgerald said this of the writer:

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.

For me, that’s a perfect — and profound — way to describe a writer. The first time I read it, it simply made sense. I’ve definitely found myself feeling not-like-myself after writing a certain scene or a specific character, and that’s sometimes difficult to shake off immediately. Haruki Murakami has made reference to this in an interview with The New Yorker:

When I’m writing a novel, I wake up around four in the morning and go to my desk and start working. That happens in a realistic world. I drink real coffee. But, once I start writing, I go somewhere else. I open the door, enter that place, and see what’s happening there. I don’t know — or I don’t care — if it’s a realistic world or an unrealistic one. I go deeper and deeper, as I concentrate on writing, into a kind of underground. While I’m there, I encounter strange things. But while I’m seeing them, to my eyes, they look natural. And if there is a darkness in there, that darkness comes to me, and maybe it has some message, you know? I’m trying to grasp the message. So I look around that world and I describe what I see, and then I come back. Coming back is important. If you cannot come back, it’s scary. But I’m a professional, so I can come back.

HM1

Coming back, even if it’s from the “real” world, is imperative. And, as Murakami alludes, it takes skill: he’s a professional, he can come back. He’s trained himself to come back. As made evident by my dreams, clearly I’m still in training.

But to end with Fitzgerald’s above quote in mind, maybe being good has been made easier today with the existence of the Internet, which allows us to do more research without having to leave the house or office. We’re not restricted to our first-hand experiences and our sometimes limited imaginations or book collections; we can delve into these worlds and mindsets instantly using the collective consciousness that is the Internet.

We can write what we know, although we might have preferred life when we didn’t know it.

 

Anyway, I hear the call for last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Header image by Becca Tapert on Unsplash

Six Morrissey B-sides

Six Morrissey B-sides

 

Football. If you had to choose only one sport to represent the working class, surely it would be the beautiful game.

I played myself. I was pretty good – not good enough to go pro, but decent enough to win a top-goalscorer award and play at the top level as a kid. A striker, I banged in plenty of goals in two seasons playing for Irish team Shamrock Rovers, and I went on to play for Home Farm F.C. before returning to Rovers again, where I spent a couple of seasons before hanging up my muck-covered boots.

How does this relate to Morrissey and B-sides, you may be wondering?

Well, most Morrissey fans will know that he was born in Manchester to a working-class Irish migrant family. Working-class life permeates Moz’s oeuvre. He was (and probably still is – I don’t happen to track his TV-watching habits) a big fan of the soap opera Coronation Street, which focuses on the daily lives of working-class Mancunians. You’ll also find many references to working-class life on the covers of Morrissey singles, such as a photograph of two boys used for the single Roy’s Keen (see below), taken by Roger Mayne, a photographer famed for his documentation of people on London’s Southam Street.

As for the football connection – there’s something about B-sides that reminds one of substitutes: back up, a suggestion of not being good enough for the starting line-up. But what about the substitute who pops up with a last-minute winner having only been on the pitch fifteen minutes? Substitutes complete the team and have an invaluable role to play. Plus, some players who regularly feature on the bench are often exceptional, even better than some in the starting eleven (think of super-subs like Manchester United’s Ole Gunnar Solskjaer and Chelsea’s Tore Andre Flo).

The same can be said for B-sides. You’ll find some gems accompanying singles, some that are arguably better than the A-side.

With that in mind, here are six Morrissey B-sides from over the years.

 

1. Have-a-Go Merchant

Moz Boxers

Have a go when the pubs all close, and have a go when they open. So begins this boisterous B-side to Boxers – Morrissey’s ode to pugilists everywhere, released in 1995. Have-a-Go Merchant would also show up on the compilation album World of Morrissey, released the same year. It’s been claimed that this song was written about Natalie Merchant of 10,000 Maniacs, in response to her cover of Everyday Is Like Sunday, which Moz utterly despised. There once existed a very charming fan-made video for this, featuring handheld footage of families from years gone by. Alas, I can’t find it, but you can still listen to the track by hitting the link below.

A-Side: Boxers (16 January 1995)
Listen to ‘Have-a-Go Merchant’ here.

 

2. Get Off the Stage

Moz PP

This biting B-side takes aim at aging rockers whose time, in Mozzer’s opinion, has come and gone: move on, ye old rockers, and make way for the youth of today. Many have opined that the song was originally aimed at The Rolling Stones, who, for better or worse, are still rocking some 29 years after this track accompanied the Piccadilly Palare single release. Of course, this very song could be aimed at Morrissey today, something he surely knew would happen someday. It wouldn’t surprise me at all if it appeared as a self-deprecating inclusion on the setlist for his next tour.

A-Side: Piccadilly Palare (8 October 1990)
Listen to ‘Get Off the Stage’ here.

 

3. The Edges Are No Longer Parallel

Moz Roy's Keen

My only mistake is I’m hoping, laments Morrissey in this guitar- and strings-driven ballad. Making its appearance on the single Roy’s Keen, the track features familiar themes of hopelessness and loneliness, before launching into a snare-pounding, upbeat outro that contradicts the lyrical content. Surprisingly, this excellent B-side has never even made it onto a compilation album. It did, however, show up on the 2009 remastered version of studio album number six, Maladjusted. In a word: magnifique!

A-Side: Roy’s Keen (6 October 1997)
Listen to ‘The Edges Are No Longer Parallel’ here.

 

4. A Swallow on My Neck

Moz Sunny

A Swallow on My Neck was the B-side of the single Sunny, released in 1995. It went on to feature on the compilation album My Early Burglary Years. For me, this track is stronger than the song to which it played second fiddle. It’s rumoured to have been written for Jake Walters, a long-time friend of Morrissey’s, and features the wonderful opening lyrics I have been smashed again with the men from the Old Valhalla Road Crematorium, and You have been telling me that I’ve been acting childish . . . foolish, ghoulish, and childish. But I don’t mind, I don’t mind. When the result is a song like this, we don’t mind either, Moz.

A-Side: Sunny (11 December 1995)
Listen to ‘A Swallow on My Neck’ here.

 

5. Munich Air Disaster 1958

Moz IB,EH

Returning to the football theme, Munich Air Disaster 1958 is a tribute to those who lost their lives on British Airways Flight 609 – including members of the Manchester United football team, nicknamed the Busby Babes. This gem was a B-side on the single Irish Blood, English Heart, before showing up on the albums Live at Earls Court and Swords. The mournful lyrics speak of keeping the memory of those players alive: We miss them, every night we kiss them. Their faces fixed in our heads. A beautiful tribute song that’s been embraced by United and City fans alike.

A-Side: Irish Blood, English Heart (4 May 2004)
Listen to ‘Munich Air Disaster 1958’ here.

 

6. Good Looking Man About Town

Moz YHKM

A B-side with a brilliant bassline, Good Looking Man About Town showed up as a support act for You Have Killed Me – the first single from Morrissey’s eighth studio album Ringleader of the Tormentors, released in 2006. This one reminds me of some of David Bowie’s jazz- and drum-and-bass-infused efforts like Little Wonder, and ‘Tis a Pity She Was a Whore, but that could just be this writer. Anyway, go forth and listen – it’s a treat that’s best served with a healthy dose of narcissism.

A-Side: You Have Killed Me (27 March 2006)
Listen to ‘Good Looking Man About Town’ here.

 

There we are – six Morrissey B-sides. Share some of your favourite Moz B-sides in the comments below if you’re bothered.

Until next time . . . I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar.

Six Morrissey Cover Songs

Six Morrissey Cover Songs

Cover albums: a waste of time, or a rare treat for fans?

Really, it can be hit and miss (arguably it’s mostly miss). But take Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds’ Kicking Against the Pricks, or Metallica’s Garage, Inc., and you’ll find that there is evidence of successful cover albums hitting the shelves of our favourite music stores.

Throughout his career, Morrissey has dropped some brilliant cover songs into our laps for infinite consumption. And with the recent announcement that he’ll be releasing an album of covers in May (charmingly titled California Son), I thought I’d list six that have found their way onto a set list or two over the years.

1. It’s Over

Morrissey California Son 1

Original artist: Roy Orbison
Listen to it here.

Morrissey has followed up his splendid cover of The Pretenders’ Back On the Chain Gang with a gorgeous rendition of Roy Orbison’s classic ballad first released in 1964. This one features sublime, goosebump-inducing backing vocals from Laura Pergolizzi, better known by her stage name LP.

2. You’ll Be Gone

Morrissey You'll Be Gone (Jacky)

Original artist: Elvis Presley
Listen to it here.

It’s Over, followed by You’ll Be Gone — this all seems a tad depressing. But it isn’t, because this cover of The King’s 1965 release from the Girl Happy soundtrack has Morrissey in top form, delivering a devastating vocal to rival the original. This live performance featured as a B-side on the single Jacky’s Only Happy When She’s Up on the Stage, taken from Moz’s most recent album, Low in High School.

3. That’s Entertainment

Morrissey That's Entertainment 1

Original artist: The Jam
Listen to it here.

This cover of Paul Weller’s love letter to London originally appeared as a B-side on the single Sing Your Life, taken from the-man-who-put-the-M-in-Manchester’s second solo album, Kill Uncle. Many of Morrissey’s covers have been very faithful to the originals, often being a tone-for-tone, word-for-word remake. For this one, Mozzer slowed the tempo, which gives the listener more time to consume the lyrics, and which arguably better complements the song’s reflective, appreciative nature.

4. Satellite of Love

Morrissey Satellite of Love 1

Original artist: Lou Reed
Listen to it here.

Lou Reed wrote Satellite of Love in 1970, while still a member of The Velvet Underground. The track would turn up on his now-legendary debut album, Transformer. Although relatively unsuccessful as a single, reaching a lowly #119 in the charts, it went on to become a regular feature on his set lists and compilation albums. Moz’s live cover of this track was released on 2nd December, 2013, as a tribute to Reed following his death less than a couple of months earlier. This writer is happy to report that he owns a copy.

5. Drive-In Saturday

Morrissey Swords 1

Original artist: David Bowie
Listen to it here.

David Bowie reportedly refused to give Morrissey permission to use an image of the pair together for the artwork on the repress of The Last of the Famous International Playboys. Was there bad blood between the two? Possibly. Possibly not. I haven’t investigated, and I don’t really care. What I do care about it Morrissey’s cover of Bowie’s 1973 track Drive-In Saturday. You’ll find it on the compilation album Swords.

6. Redondo Beach

Morrissey Redondo Beach 1

Original artist: Patti Smith
Listen to it here.

This rendition of Patti Smith’s classic was featured on Moz’s excellent album Live at Earls Court. Possibly this writer’s favourite to feature on this list, it’s similar to That’s Entertainment in that it’s slowed down and given extra room to breathe, allowing the listener to grasp and visualize the tragic story being told. A truly great cover version, this one.

There you are — six glorious Morrissey covers. Are there any songs that Moz has performed over the years which have stood out to you, or that you saw live? Add a comment and share a cover or a story if you like.

Until next time . . . I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar.

Six Morrissey Lyrics

Six Morrissey Lyrics

My first full-time job was in a toy store. I was just out of school and was yet to go to college, because I had no idea what I wanted to do. And a full-time gig with a weekly wage sounded good to a working-class boy like me, who just wanted a few quid to go out and buy CDs, DVDs, and spend time with friends.

The store was, and still is, named Smyth’s. Now, judging by the title of this blog post you might be thinking “Okay, that’s the connection: Smyth’s Toy Store / The Smiths — Morrissey’s original band. Duh, we get it.” Well, that is one quasi connection to my favourite pop musician. But it’s not why I’m mentioning the store. The actual reason is because I only discovered Morrissey while working there.

The man who played Suedehead: The Best of Morrissey on repeat and pretty much initiated an irreversible re-shaping of my personality was one Paul “Jolly” Rogers, who I’m proud to call my friend to this day.

But it wasn’t an immediate romance; it certainly wasn’t love at first sound. You see, in my opinion, Morrissey is rather like the great Irish stout Guinness: it’s an acquired taste — you’ve got to train your taste buds. When it came to Mozzer, I needed to give myself time to get used to his unique sound.

Despite us not hitting it off straight away, it quickly grew into a full-blown passionate affair, and, like so many others, I was hooked for evermore.

One of the reasons I admire Morrissey so much is his unparalleled powers as a lyricist. I could’ve listed loads, but I don’t have all day, and neither do you. So, here are six brilliant Morrissey lyrics (excluding The Smiths songs) that pack plenty of wit, a good helping of poignancy, and a healthy touch of self-deprecation.

1.

“I wish you lonely, like the last-tracked humpback whale chased by gunships from Bergen. But never giving in… Never giving in.”

Track: I Wish You Lonely
Album: Low in High School (2017)

Moz Low In High School

Let’s begin with a recent track. Can you picture a lonelier figure than that humpback whale? The last of its species, being hunted by gunships no less! Emphatic, powerful lyricism that touches on Morrissey’s bête noire: man’s “war” on animals. Overall, the song, and this line, could be interpreted as a celebration of unapologetic individualism.

2.

“When you sleep, I will creep into your thoughts like a bad debt that you can’t pay.”

Track: The More You Ignore Me, the Closer I Get
Album: Vauxhall and I (1994)

Moz The More You Ignore Me...

Who knows who this track is directed at? Could it be his old foe the NME, who’ve waged war against Morrissey for years? Could it be Mike Joyce, following the legal disputes over The Smiths royalties? It was a toss-up between the above and the line from the same track “Beware, I bear more grudges than lonely high-court judges”. So, knowing that Moz is one to hold a grudge, it could be about quite a few people. Anyway, isn’t it quite brilliant?

3.

“It’s not your birthday anymore. Do you really think we meant all those syrupy, sentimental things that we said yesterday?”

Track: It’s Not Your Birthday Anymore
Album: Years of Refusal (2009)

Moz Years of Refusal

Moz is not only one of the greatest lyricists of all time, he’s also one of the funniest. And he doesn’t like to beat around the bush, either: “Seriously, we don’t like you that much.” Pure gold.

4.

“You have never been in love until you’ve seen the dawn rise behind the home for the blind.”

Track: First of the Gang to Die
Album: You Are the Quarry (2004)

Moz First of the Gang 1

Morrissey came back with a bang in 2004 with the release of his first album in seven years. The lyrics above are from the album’s second single “First of the Gang to Die”, and I’d struggle to find a more powerful way to describe the gift of sight. Again, it’s playful, but also particularly poignant.

5.

“The woman of my dreams, she never came along. The woman of my dreams – there never was one.”

Track: I’m Not Sorry
Album: You Are the Quarry (2004)

Moz You Are The Quarry

There’s been an air of mystery around Morrissey for decades; something the man finds strange since he considers his work to be rich in autobiography. Unfortunately, in this celebrity-obsessed world we live in, people’s sexuality is often a hot topic of debate. It’s been said that Mozzer is a frustrated heterosexual, a homosexual, bisexual, asexual . . . One of the more popular and persistent rumours is that he’s celibate.

There were a few revelations in his book “Autobiography”, which was published in 2013, and you may read what you will into the lyric above. But at the end of the day, who cares? It’s no one’s business but Morrissey’s.

6.

“One fine day – let it be soon – she won’t be rich or beautiful. But she’ll be walking your streets in the clothes she went out and chose for herself.”

Track: November Spawned a Monster
Album: Bona Drag (1990)

Moz November Spawned a Monster 1

Who else in the world of pop music would write a song about the plight of the disabled? Apparently this memorable track tackles the underlying pity and discomfort that is supposedly felt by many in society towards individuals with disabilities. The hopeful lyric above — the final lines of the song — wishes for this particular individual to find her independence and be released from the shackles of such ways of thinking.

There we are. I could list many more Morrissey lyrics. But for now, it’s last orders again.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

 

Photo in header by Samuel Gehrke, borrowed from this Billboard article.

Thoughts on the Work of Book Cover Designer Chip Kidd

When I was a kid my brother would regularly draw football (soccer) kits: jersey, shorts, socks — the works. With him being older, I would usually copy whatever it was he was doing (including asking for the same Valencia CF home jersey one Christmas, which understandably infuriated him – “We’re not twins, dickhead!”). So, I picked up a variety of colouring pencils and began to draw (or to be more accurate design) my own kits. (Yes, brother, you and I were in fact practising fashion design.)

Alas, my designs weren’t up to much; there was a subtle art to designing a football kit — get too carried away and you’d wind up with something more appropriate for an LSD trip than the football pitch (although some goalkeepers jerseys over the years have definitely sparked thoughts of tripping balls).

My desire to draw didn’t end with football kits: extraterrestrial sketches, bubblified cartoons, watercolour paintings… I would attempt to tap into the creative well that existed on my mam’s side and show what I could do (for the sports genes, see the old man’s side)… which, clearly, wasn’t very much. My brother, however, certainly had a talent which he never fully pursued (although he’d tell you he wasn’t very good, which is inaccurate to say the least).

Anyway, I had tried my hand at it, and I learned early on that I definitely wasn’t going to be the next Edward Hopper, Ilya Repin, Todd McFarlane… or Vivienne Westwood.

Which leads me to the following statement: I’m hardly an authority when it comes to the visual arts.

But I do have an uneducated opinion I can share, kind of like someone on the TV who has zero understanding of basic economics talking about minimum wage and price controls — it’s an opinion we really shouldn’t take too seriously.

But if I may indulge myself, I’d like to share my unqualified thoughts on the work of someone I greatly admire, the one and only Chip Kidd.

Now, when I say share my thoughts, I mean I’m gonna share some of my favourite works by Mr. Kidd — i.e. his book cover designs I admire most — and scribble a few words underneath each design, basically something like, “I dig this because the colours are nice. Isn’t the picture he used here really impactful? Don’t I sound like I know what I’m talking about?

Chip Kidd is probably one of — if not the — best-known graphic designers around, and he’s created book covers for major names in literature including Haruki Murakami, Cormac McCarthy, Bret Easton Ellis, Michael Crichton, Jay McInerney, Donna Tartt, Michael Chabon, John Updike, and David Sedaris. His designs have also graced the covers of the perennial publications Rolling Stone and TIME.

So, let me share my most-loved works by this master designer, complete with uninformed thoughts on a subject I know nothing about…

1. Imperial BedroomsBret Easton Ellis

BEE Imperial Bedrooms

The rather disappointing sequel to Ellis’ debut novel Less Than Zero, Imperial Bedrooms was released in 2010 to mixed critical response. Apathy, narcissism, violence, and debauchery are regular features in the author’s work, and this novel doesn’t shy away from delving into hedonistic territory. Kidd’s design does a good job at capturing the superficiality and overindulgence that permeates Ellis’ oeuvre.

2. Jurassic ParkMichael Crichton

Chip Kidd - The Lost World by Michael Crichton

Every now and then Kidd takes a minimalist approach to his designs. For Michael Crichton’s sequel to his now legendary Jurassic Park (arguably thanks to Spielberg’s blockbuster adaptation), Chip’s minimal execution works quite effectively: Black, white, red. Unglamorous font. Menacing T-Rex gonna bite ya… Simples.

3. FasterJames Gleick

Chip Kidd - Faster by James Gleick

This one speaks for itself. So clever. One of my favourites beyond Kidd’s work, that’s for sure.

4. The Dark Knight ReturnsFrank Miller

Chip Kidd - The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller

Maybe it’s because I purchased Miller’s iconic graphic novel years ago and it’s been on my bookshelf since, but this cover instantly screams “You know you want to read this. You know it, you bastard. Now OPEN ME!!” Mr. Kidd has designed many graphic novel/comic book covers over the years, including Watchmen, Before Watchmen, Rough Justice, and All-Star Superman.

5. The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

I could have included this purely because The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle is my favourite Murakami novel. But there’s something mysterious, magical, and alluring about the cover, prompting the potential reader to pick up the book and become a curious cat. (Murakami fans will appreciate that last line).

6. Villain by Yoshida Shuichi

Chip Kidd - Villian by Yoshida Shuichi

Various human bones positioned to form the shape of a pistol + hot pink. I’m sold… Even the position of the text feels right.

7. Reporting by David Remnick

Chip Kidd - Reportings by David Remnick

The long-time editor of The New Yorker and Pulitzer Prize-winning writer David Remnick published Reporting in 2007 — a collection of his writings from the aforementioned mag. Again, Chip’s execution is simple and, in my opinion, perfect in its simplicity.

8. The Little FriendDonna Tartt

Chip Kidd - The Little Friend by Donna Tartt

Oh dear God — Kill it! Kill it!! (Now that’s an effective book-cover design).

9. GulpMary Roach

Chip Kidd - Gulp by Mary Roach

It could be down to this cover bringing out my inner perv because it reminds me of the poster for Inside Deep Throat, or it could be that it’s simply pretty cool.

10. Seek My FaceJohn Updike

Chip Kidd - Seek My Face by John Updike

This is just one of a number of pieces Chip Kidd has designed for the late American great John Updike. This painting-style (if it isn’t actually a painting), brush-stroke cover implores us to — as the title asks — seek a face. It’s somewhat suffocating, almost haunting, certainly striking.

11. What I Talk About When I Talk About RunningHaruki Murakami

Chip Kidd - What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami

Okay, so maybe I’m a little biased towards this one for two reasons: 1) it’s Murakami, and 2) he took the title for his memoir on long-distance running from one of my favourite collections, What I Talk About When I Talk About Love, by the hugely influential short story writer Raymond Carver. But besides all that, Kidd’s once again simple design finds a way of being effortlessly striking: The formidable font towers above the minuscule figure of the Japanese author on one of his many runs, giving us an idea of the mammoth tasks he regularly faces when tackling marathons, triathlons, and ultra-marathons, even well into his sixties. Which is all the more impressive when you consider he was a heavy smoker until his early thirties. Oh, Haruki, we’re not worthy!

12. No Country for Old MenCormac McCarthy

Chip Kidd - No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The great American author Cormac McCarthy originally wrote No Country For Old Men as a screenplay (which begs the question: Did the Coen brothers read his draft before writing their own for their faithful 2007 Oscar-winning adaptation?). Anyone familiar with either the novel or the film will know the pickle Llewelyn Moss finds himself in having stumbled across the aftermath of a drug deal gone wrong — and a bagful of cash. They’ll also be familiar with the seemingly unstoppable monster who pursues Moss, the truly terrifying Anton Chigurh. For me, Kidd manages to convey the feeling of helplessness — of being hunted — as the lonely silhouetted figure traverses the red-hot, baking terrain, as the sun goes down… possibly for the last time.

There you have it — some of my favourite Chip Kidd book cover designs. And now I’m hearing the call for last orders.

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

Six Actors Who Always Die In Films

Six Actors Who Always Die In Films

Picture this . . .

You’re an actor. You’ve wrapped up your first major movie. The night of the premiere arrives. The sheer excitement is almost too much to bear. You swagger your way down the red carpet dressed in your Sunday best, with a lovely lady or macho man on your arm (or maybe your ma — it’s good to take her out for a bit of glitz and glam every now and then, right?). You take your seat; the buzz of excitement and murmurs of expectation permeate the auditorium. The lights go down, the conversation is quelled—you could hear a pin drop, damn it!

And there it is—your movie on this gigantic screen; you spot your ugly mug, a shit-eating grin defines your face as you savor the moment. You’ve made it! But you know what’s coming . . . You know that the sun is setting on this first foray into the relentless and ruthless Hollywood machine. You know the character you’re playing is about to die.

The scene arrives. You see a giant version of you up there on the silver screen as your character breathes their last breath, utters their last words; so much blood fills the scene that the person next to you looks queasy—you offer them a bucket, if that’s how your ma raised you.

For an actor like Johnny Depp, this scenario isn’t too far from the truth. Legendary horror maestro Wes Craven’s ‘A Nightmare on Elm Street’ was Depp’s first film role, and his character Glen suffers a gruesome and iconic end at the hands (or razors) of Robert Englund’s Freddy Krueger. This wouldn’t be the first time Depp would see himself perish on screen, and for some actors they’ve watched themselves kick the bucket countless times (you’re thinking of the poor bastard Sean Bean, aren’t ya?). But dying over and over again ain’t so bad, not if you’re an actor—the more you’re dying on screen the more work you’re getting. Heck, some actors would kill to die on screen ad infinitum.

Here are six who go splat a lot. . .

 

  1. Bruce Willis

 

BW SC

Bruce is the man. He’ll always be the man. And one of his greatest characters, John McClane, has thus far managed to avoid finding himself six-feet under. But the same can’t be said for many of his doomed on-screen characters; Bruce has seen himself breathe his last breath in front of a large audience no fewer than 12 times. Compared to some on this list, that’s not so many, but still . . . it’s Yippee-ki-yay, Brucie baby.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Hartigan — Sin City, 2005

 

  1. Max von Sydow

 

MvS

This writer will always love Mr. von Sydow for his role as the reclusive artist Frederick in Woody Allen’s masterpiece ‘Hannah and Her Sisters’. But the Swedish-French actor has met his maker more than most thespians; from Ghostbusters II to the recent Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this prolific actor has dined with death over twenty times.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Lankester Merrin — The Exorcist, 1973

 

  1. Mickey Rourke

 

MR TW 2

Did he or did he not die at the end of The Wrestler, Darren Aronofsky’s moving sports drama about an aging pro wrestler? Well, that one’s up for debate in the comments section below. But even if we don’t count Randy “The Ram” Robinson, Rourke still has plenty of characters who’ve turned up their toes in the movie theatre, which definitely qualifies him for this list.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Graff — The Last Outlaw, 1993

 

  1. Michael Biehn.

 

MB Al

He has the honor of starring in, arguably, two of the greatest sci-fi franchises of all time, and has met his maker in many well-known movies including Tombstone, The Abyss and Robert Rodriquez’s Planet Terror. He’ll forever be remembered for his roles in The Terminator and Aliens, and also for the amount of times he’s snuffed it on screen—a whopping 24. Hats off, Mikey.

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Kyle Reese — The Terminator, 1984

 

  1. John Hurt

 

JH MOV

Arguably the king of on-screen deaths,  the British actor saw over 40 of his characters perish. There’s one that stands out as the most gruesome, of course; Kane’s iconic end in Alien. Fun fact: many of the cast didn’t know what to expect during that scene, so those horrified expressions aren’t necessarily a result of years of training. Hurt’s characters met their end via hanging, explosions, drowning, fire and cliff-falls. In 2016, just a year before his death, the late great said, “I have died in so many spectacular ways, and I remember shooting them all, too. I imagine all those deaths will flash in front of me when I’m on my death bed, faced with the real thing.”

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Kane — Alien, 1979

 

  1. Gary Busey

 

GB LW

The outspoken and talented character actor has appeared in over 150 films, including a turn as tragic rock ‘n’ roll idol Buddy Holly, which earned him an Academy Award nomination. When he’s not giving solid life advice to Lindsey Lohan and Paris Hilton, Busey delivers some unforgettable performances, and these include some equally unforgettable death scenes, including the end of Special Agent Peter Keyes in his meaty role in Predator 2 (see what I did there?).

Best death in this writer’s humble opinion: Ty Moncrief — Drop Zone, 1994

 

So there you go—six actors who’ve seen themselves bite the dust more times than corrupt politicians have been bought out by unscrupulous lobbyists. Of course there are many who could’ve made this list, like horror masters Vincent Price and Christopher Lee, or South African actress Charlize Theron (although she’s also come back to life a few times).

Anyway, last orders . . . I’m off .

Until next time, I will be in the bar, with my head on the bar . . .

 

This is a slightly altered version of an article I wrote under the pen name Frank Carver for the wonderful folks over at MovieBabble. Check ’em out!