January 2004

The Cockettes


More proof that BBC4 is a wild and wonderful treasure chest.

Happened upon the start of this gorgeous hour-and-a-half long documentarty on this wild San Francisco Hippy-Drag collective called the Cockettes . They were unihibited, wild, beautiful, creative, mad, drug-fuelled anarchists of the nuttiest order.

Seeing this wonderful footage of these bearded guys, bejewelled and encrusted with makeup, walking the streets, draping themselves over the stage, stoned out of their trees on acid, creating their own realities was so touching.
I’ve thought in the past that – just as someone said all modern philosophy is footnotes to Plato – that all modern art is footnotes to Warhol.Now I think that all modern fashion is footnotes to the Cockettes. They did everything, every wildness, every genderbending, carefree self-creating, self-validating move that has been rehearsed every since by an increasingly corporatized fash-mag world. It makes me want to grow a beard cover it in glitter put on a Carmen Miranda fruit bowl on my head and wear a gold lame catsuit as I catch the number 18 bus to Paddington.

It’s grim that nowadays we’re so neutered and retro-recycled that those moments of paradigmatic shift, of total anarchy are just an advertising cliche or a sales technique.

That said, the drag show does remind me of the wonderful performance art they used to do at the 291 club in Hackney of a Sunday night. Right down to the heavily made up beard…Shame they decided to shut that party night down…

Tom Raworth

The internet never ceases to amaze me.
Quite by accident I stumbled across Tom Raworth’s website the other day.

tr_portaRaworth was the poet I wrote my final year dissertation on at Cambridge. No matter that it was panned by the Faculty, for me it was the chance to immerse myself into that kooky, intensely creative world of UK small-press poetry. From the late 60s till the early 90s these writers took control of the means of production by printing their own work in stunningly crafted print runs. This meant they were able to stand outside the constraints of the literary market place and do their own thing. With the Borderization of literature in the 90s that became increasingly difficult…. But back in the day they were wildly experimental and edgey – and that always got my vote. And Tom was perhaps the edgiest of the lot.

It was sad to see how much of Tom’s website is dedicated to obituaries of fellow poets who have recently died. Sad and astonishing that Tom is still around to lay the wreaths. By rights, he should have been the first to go. He’s suffered from an extraordinary heart condition for years and has endured a fairly relentless string of bad health, tragedy and economic hardship. But he’s still writing….

And I’ve always loved his work. It’s infuriatingly hard to pin down, weirdly allusive, yet brashly concrete at the same time. My favorite was Eternal Sections that he wrote in the late 80s. It’s a long sequence of 14-line stanzas, sort of mutilated sonnets with a shadowy narrative and a spiralling network of allusion to a vast array of topics. It’s a dizzying read but wonderful.

in a haze of nerve-gas
he fell backwards in pure reflex
drifted down the access tube
full of references
altered to magnify
a feeling of rightness
abstract patterns shifting
into jagged vertical tattoos
whirling the line through long arcs
learning to adjust
the way flames leapt
in all that magnificence
into flashing monochrome images
created in his wake

You can get his Collected Poems from Carcanet. (Though you should probably buy it somewhere other than the late capitalist Behemoth of amazon.com, considering Tom’s small press heritage.) It’s nice to have all his poetry to hand again. I’ve lost most of my poetry collections in a multitude of Zen housemoves. It used to be the most important thing in my life and now – I can’t remember the last book of verse I picked up. Of course, the new collections doesn’t have any of the small-press glamour of those original volumes I handled like sacred Torahs when I was writing my dissertation, but it means more people will get to read Raworth, which is great.

He’s also a wonderful artist, One of his beautiful collages still has pride of place in my picture collection.

Radical Net

Was hangin gout with my friend Carey in South Africa who’s the first filmaker from the emerging Radical Arts movement in the States to come out with something. Her film Original Child Bomb will be a massive hit at the Festivals. (It’s premiering at the Berlinnale this year). It meditates on the destruction of Hiroshima and Nagasaki at the end of the 2nd World War with some devestating colour footage showing both those bustling, urban, densely populated cities on the bright summer morning just before the Bomb fell. With animation and editing, these horrifying images are woven into the similarly bright, blue-sky morning the New Yorkers were enjoying on September 11th.
In his record breaking 2004 miliary budget, George Bush has allocated $15.5 million to the develpment of bunker-busting “mini-nukes” or RNEPs (Robust Nuclear Earth Penetrators). These have a 5 kiloton nuclear warhead in them. 3 RNEPs equal the bombs dropped on Nagasaki and Hiroshimi. Dropped in an urban space they would kill 20,000 people instantly and destroy everything within a one mile radius. It’s the first nuclear weapon developed since the end of the Cold War.
What is the Bush administration doing?
Nuclear weapons are not a hangover of the Cold War, They are a threat now.

There is a great deal of information out there. And there is a great deal of ignorance. Films like Carey’s and some of the great radical documentaries on the Net are well worth looking at and pondering.
Check them out and vote.

Bushflash.Nuke: This has the facts about the RNEFs…

Eric Blumrich is the creator of BushFlash and he has a very powerful piece about the casualties in Iraq.

Rather suprisingly, Leonardo Di Caprio is a very engaged activis t and has made a piece with Global Green USA and the Tree Media Group.

And then a grimly funny account of mutual mass destruction, The End of the World.
(This sometimes sticks… here’s the URL: http://members.cox.net/impunity/endofworld.swf)