Burn notice

It is possible to become jaded when you have been in variations on the journalism caper for as long as I have (I conducted my first interview for the NME, with Rough Trade-signed indie poppers the Heartthrobs, in 1988, which means I have, without any formal training, been a chancer with a tape recorder or latterly a radio studio, for 23 years). However, today, on 6 Music, I meet Bill Drummond, and I am properly excited and nervous. He is coming in under the nominal guise of the promotion of his latest venture, the paperback version of $20,000 (previously published as How To Be An Artist in fancy clothbound hardback in art bookshops), the gripping and self-deprecating/aggrandising tale of his 2000-2003 project in which he attempted to sell a framed photographic print by Richard Long for $20,000 and then decided to cut it up into 20,000 pieces and sell those individually instead. He originally limited his promo rounds to 100 questions, allotting just four per publication/outlet. These 100 questions and answers are gripping in themselves, thanks to the wit and honesty of Drummond’s answers, and are available to read here. Because the 100 questions are used up, I am allowed to ask him anything. In just three chunks over half an hour – the curse/blessing of music radio – I will struggle to ask him everything I have always wanted to ask him, but it will be fun trying. Tune in from 3pm today. And I’ll extend this blog entry with an account of the adventure later on. Your thoughts on the life and works of Mr Drummond are invited.

It was an entertaining interview, covering the father-son bonding power of AC/DC, that $20,000, the 100 questions, the Brits ’92, the Wild Swans, Select, the elements, and how he’s kind of forgotten what he wrote in his book. You can hear it at about 1.08 on iPlayer, – until next Tuesday – and here’s a nice photo. Yes, he is tall.

The Peace process

An update, and I hope a pertinent one, as it seems like the country has gone David Peace crazy, on account of Red Riding (can’t wait for tomorrow night’s installment, can’t wait for tomorrow night’s, can’t wait for tomorrow, can’t wait for – can’t wait etc.) and the imminent movie adaptation of The Damned United, which I have seen and although there’s a review embargo I can say it’s as good as Peace fans will have hoped ie. rooted in the book and the author’s parallel Derby/Leeds narrative, but writer Peter Morgan has actually turned a serious book into a terrific period comedy, so odious comparisons need not be made.

Anyway, I’m over halfway through 1983 and hurtling, via a triple parallel narrative and three layers of flashback, towards the horrible conclusion of the Quartet – and thus the Trilogy. I’m now convinced that 1980 is better than 1974, and 1983 is shaping up to be even better than 1980. We’ll see. There’s certainly stuff in 1983 that will make your hair curl in terms of retrospective evidence, and I almost know whodunnit. Piggott, the solicitor who turns up in 1983 and dominates one strand (he’s played by Mark Addy in the third film, so I’m unable to picture him as anybody else – damn those films), achieves a new poetry of self-loathing and physical disintegration. You’ll love him.

The past couple of weeks have been intense, in terms of fiction consumption. Quite out of the ordinary for me. For the record, the two non-fiction books that I’ve had to forsake in favour of devouring Peace to the bitter end, are Lenin by Robert Service and Israel by Martin Gilbert, which will have to wait. Once I’ve finished 1983, which might be today, might be tomorrow (today, tomorrow, tomorrow, today), I’m afraid I’m returning to GB84, which I haven’t finished, and then, with crushing finality, it’ll be onto Tokyo Year Zero, Peace’s most recent, and first to venture outside Yorkshire, where the skies are always black and grey and it’s always starting to rain.

I love him.

Julie Myerson: the broadsheets’ Jade Goody

Posh author Julie Myerson has talked in graphic detail of her anguish about the decision to help publicise her own book. In an interview about her previous interview, Myerson says she had no regrets about giving interviews about her son’s five-year battle with cannabis which can soon be read about in her novel, The Lost Child, a book which ordinarily nobody would be writing about before its publication. She adds, in another interview: “I don’t regret helping to publicise the book …” Myerson, 48, has been accused of being “available for interview”, while others have said that she is using the forthcoming publication of her book for commercial gain.

In response to the controversy, her son Jake last week did his own interview and claimed his mother was “an author”. In an interview in The Sunday Times, Myerson admits her decision to do broadsheet interviews to help advertise the book before its publication is controversial. “If you allow your book to come out without publicising it, you will get flak,” she says. “But I don’t care what people say about me in the press, as long as they’re saying something about me in the press.”

Myerson reveals she spoke to her publicist several times last week after months of silence. “He called me to say, ‘Have you seen what you’ve done?’,” she says. “He was delighted.” Myerson adds: “Obviously I love my son. He had this plan to talk to the tabloids and get as much money as possible. I said, ‘Darling, this will backfire. The tabloids have literally no idea who I am. They don’t even watch Newsnight Review.'”

The Lost Child is being rushed out two months early by its publisher in order to cash in on the fact that Julie Myerson’s nice face has been all over the grown-up newspapers. The novel, which her publisher, Bloomsbury, had originally intended to bring out in May without anybody even noticing, is now coming out “in a few days” before the storm in a teacup dies down. “Given this week’s extensive speculation about Julie Myerson’s The Lost Child, we felt that it was right to bring forward publication to allow everyone the opportunity to buy her brilliant book and consider the complicated questions it raises,” it said in a statement. “The least complicated of these is: should the publicity department get the rest of the week off?”

2007AD

pied wagtail

Let’s just run through some of the best things of 2007, lest this potentially oppressive and wrongheaded time of year get us down. I’ve done singles and albums, but these are a few of the cultural and social equivalents of the life-affirming pied wagtail:

Books
Rumsfeld: An American Disaster by Andrew Cockburn
The Road by Cormac McCarthy – quite the most depressing novel I think I’ve ever read in my life, but compelling like no other
Fiasco by Thomas E Ricks
Al Qaeda by Jason Burke (came out in 2006 in hardback, but let’s not quibble) – I had this in my bag when I was stopped and searched last week under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. The police officer didn’t see it.
Bit Of A Blur by Alex James
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan – short but sweet
The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein – actually I’m still in the process of reading this (it’s my bedside read, which is often the slowest of my on-the-go books, as I tend to go to bed to go to sleep), but it’s proving a powerful join-the-dots exercise
Shepperton Babylon by Matthew Sweet
The Damned Utd by David Peace – another oldie, but I’m catching up with this exciting British-born, Tokyo-based writer, and enjoying GB84 at the moment
Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran – also halfway through, but considering how much other reading I’ve done on the Iraq war this year, it adds a refreshing perspective by focusing on one aspect of the fiasco
Believe In The Sign by Mark Hodkinson – he sent me a copy of it, as he’s a self-publisher, which is in itself admirable, and I get sent a lot of books on a nostalgia/memoir theme which aren’t always worth reading, but this one, about supporting Rochdale in the 70s, is
Tescopoly by Andrew Simms
The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright
Jamie At Home by Jamie Oliver – a cook book I’ve actually used

Films (because they come out on DVD so quickly now, some of these are already available on DVD, but if I start including DVDs we’ll end up with last year’s list of best films, and there will be no demarcation between one year and the next – and then where will we be?!)
The Lives Of Others – a tie for Film Of 2007 with …
Control
Tell No One
Hot Fuzz
The Bourne Ultimatum
Letters From Iwo Jima
Zodiac
Sicko
Michael Clayton
3:10 To Yuma
Knocked Up
This Is England
Half Nelson

TV programmes
Cranford, BBC1 – thought I’d throw something homegrown in at the top, before we turn into the 51st State of Televisual America
The Mighty Boosh, BBC3 – haven’t had time to write about the third series yet, but I think it may be their best; certainly their most cohesive and together, and the episode about Howard’s birthday was almost Seinfeldian in the way the plot strands met up at the end
Ghosts Of Abu Ghraib, C4
Comics Britannia, BBC4
Heroes, Sci-Fi, then BBC2
The Sopranos, E4, C4 – the final Season was elegiac, slow, confident and magnificent; also, not in any way predictable
The Wire, FX – in my opinion, Season Four was as good as any that have gone before, right up there with Season Two
Californication, Five – I note that this is not everybody’s cup of tea and I don’t watch it for the scenes of a sexual nature, it’s Duchovny who carries it
Entourage, ITV2 – can’t believe I’m so late with this: loving Season Three, and now into Season One on DVD
Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip
The Riches, Virgin 1 – truly, an acquired taste, but one I’ve been more than prepared to acquire – unlike Dexter and 30 Rock and Ugly Betty, which failed to ring the appropriate bells and made Sky+ life a little easier to manage
Britz, C4 – not perfect, but as good as way as any to prove that C4’s still got it, drama-wise, in its 25th birthday year
Ramsey’s Kitchen Nightmares, C4 – can’t watch The F Word, but this is Gordon doing something useful
Monarchy, BBC1 – documentary series of the year
Malcolm & Barbara, ITV1 – one-off documentary of the year; its images may never leave me (what a shame it was entangled in the “fakery” rows – a piece of publicity-chasing that should have been beneath everyone involved)
Strictly Come Dancing, BBC1 – the crown prince of talent shows, it shouldn’t have worked, but it does, chiefly because it’s about ability and learning and self-improvement, and these are not bad things to find in a BBC programme at this difficult time. Unlike Big Brother, which I watched all the way through this year, witnessing some people ballroom dancing for coins and compliments does not make me feel dirty afterwards
Saxondale, BBC2 – sitcom improves in second series: not an easy trick to pull off
Jamie At Home, C4
[I’m bound to have forgotten a few TV shows, so chuck a few more into the pot]

Live events
Carter USM reunion, Brixton Academy – specifically, singing along at the tops of our lungs to The Impossible Dream
Marcus Brigstocke & Friends, Canizaro Park, Wimbledon – part of a local festival it brought together an amazing lineup of Brigstocke, Jeff Green, Rich Hall, Adam Hills and compere Shappi Khorsandi: weird layout, constant drizzle, it being the summer, but a fine crowd and a good time had by all
Aracde Fire, Brixton Academy – do I only go to gigs at Brixton Academy? It seems so; a quasi-religious occasion
Swan Lake, English National Ballet, Royal Albert Hall – My First Ballet, and a minor revelation, not least the fantastic percussion of toes on wood, which I wasn’t expecting
Porgy & Bess, Savoy Theatre – made doubly thrilling for the unexpected chance to see Clarke Peters (he plays Lester Freamon on The Wire) live
Guys & Dolls, Piccadilly Theatre
Live Earth, BBC – only joking, it was shit beyond belief; I actually preferred Concert For Diana

Highs
Winning the RTS Breakthrough award and the Rose D’Or for the unfashionable sitcom Not Going Out (plus two untelevised British Comedy Awards)
Appearing on Richard & Judy for the first – and, it seems, last – time
Becoming Mark Kermode’s regular understudy on News 24 (next slot: January 4)
Attracting goldfinches, blue tits, great tits, coal tits, robins, greenfinches, starlings and the occasional woodpecker to my bird feeders (with the odd wren pecking around on the ground)
The lost child benefit CDs and the fact that this howling error may have torpedoed Labour’s hopes of bringing in ID cards
All those pheromones I released at the gym
The Day The Music Died
Cancelling MySpace
Ignoring Facebook

Alright, just for balance:

Lows
Constant headaches from orchestrated lobbying and cowardly abuse on this blog
BT meltdown
Losing my old laptop in flooding (although I like my new one better)
The BBC phone-in “scandals” and the glee with which certain quarters of the media met the news of resultant job losses (including that of my friend Leona)
Driving through the West End of London after 1am, following stints on 6 Music, and realising just how many businesses leave their lights on all night – it really is business as usual isn’t it?
Deciding to stop taking the Guardian on grounds of its conservative views on medicine, then having to go back as the Independent was just boring – ah well! So much for the principled stand!
Having the blog described by someone called Stella on the 6 Music message boards as “lots of poorly-written TV reviews” – actually, this made me smile!
Anticlimactic publication of That’s Me In The Corner, accompanied by almost no reviews and through-the-floor sales (but thanks to those who sought it out in darkened corners of bookshops and actually enjoyed it)

High/Lows
Leaving 6 Music in March after five years. I was sad to go, but at the same time it was liberating, not having to project unbiassed BBC views any more, and as for getting my weekends back – sweet!

Happy Christmas and may your God go with you!

"I have seen this movie. It was called Vietnam."

Fiasco
Finally finished Fiasco: The American Military Adventure In Iraq by Thomas E. Ricks, just in time to call it one of my books of the year. (It was published in hardback last year, so it’s officially one of the books of last year, but I read it in paperback this year, so fuck off. I rarely read books in hardback, so my books of the year are always books of last year. Ain’t it always the way?) Thomas E Ricks is an American journalist with a sound CV of military reporting behind him – he’s currently senior Pentagon correspondent at the Washington Post. This book, dedicated to “the war dead” is an exhaustive account of the occupation of Iraq up to mid-2006. It actually begins with George H W Bush’s decision not to remove Saddam Hussein from power in 1991, but concentrates on his idiot son’s reign after September 11, 2001, when “everything changed.” Ricks constructs his narrative from testimony of everybody from the top down in the US military, quoting emails home from disillusioned grunts and memos sent between departments at the White House and Pentagon. If there is a villain of the piece, it’s not George W Bush. He barely features, beyond unconvincingly cheerleading at press conferences and assuring the media that Iraq was going really well. This is not his war.

rummy
It’s Rumsfeld’s war – as set out in even more embarrassing details in Rumsfeld: An American Disaster by Andrew Cockburn, which I’ve also read and, hey, came out this year! Assisted by Tommy Franks, who certainly aimed to please his masters, if nothing else, it was Rumsfled who underestimated troop numbers, consistently failed to address post-invasion policy (which is why there wasn’t one), and overruled the State Department, parachuting in loyal Republicans with no direct experience in the Middle East to help run the Coalition Provisional Authority under Paul Bremer, who also comes out of all this as a prize dick. So many mistakes were made through sheer arrogance: the failure to seal the border with Syria, through which sympathetic fighters poured when the great public order vaccuum was created; the failure to stop looting after the fall of Saddam, which decimated the infrastructure in Baghdad; the break-up of the Iraqi army (something Bremer seemingly ordered without direct say-so from anyone in Washington), causing further unemployment and fuelling the insurgency; the “de-Baathification” of Baghdad, which left the occupiers with only a few surviving Iraqi ministers to play with, despite the fact that under Saddam, many civil servants joined the Baath party because they had no choice and were not necessarily pro-Saddam fanatics; it goes on. As indeed does the occupation, way beyond the end of this book.

You come out of the other end of it not hating the military. How can you, when they are doing the job that is handed down to them? Certain commanders in certain areas of Iraq did a good job of dealing sympathetically with the locals and attempting to build bridges with them, but this good work was so often undone by a new regiment (with different tactics) taking over the same patch. Although Abu Ghraib is the cornerstone own-goal of the whole sorry mess – the flashpoint at which public opinion, even in flag-waving America, turned against the occupation – the impression given is that it really was a few bad apples on the ground. It would be wrong to imagine that all US troops in Iraq were idiot, hotheaded, frankly homoerotic racists. (It still amazes me that servicewomen were involved in prisoner abuse – and have no real defence as to why they either got involved with those awful photos, or stood by while others did. Just goes to show: you shouldn’t have preconceptions, good or bad, based on gender.)

imperial life
I’m now reading Imperial Life In The Emerald City by Rajiv Chandrasekaran, the much-admired book specifically about life inside the Green Zone, where a little America was recreated for those working in the CPA’s inner sanctum. This book really brings alive what Ricks constructs through testimony. I realise I am obsessed with the Iraq war, or that must be the impression given. In a way, I am. After September 11, I really resisted the received wisdom that “the world had changed” that day. I resisted it because it seemed like a convenient, wound-licking western media concept, but as time has passed, I’ve come to realise that, sadly, the world did change. Because when American foreign policy changes, or is allowed to change, the whole world changes with it, such is that country’s imperial power. Thus, the occupation of Iraq – botched, bloody, almost humorous in its surreal uselessness – becomes the key event of our times. Global security spreads out from the Middle East, and has done since 1991, when the US struck its bases in Saudi Arabia, and the likes of Osama bin Laden found a new focus for their war against the infidel. The rest is history, as they say.

Interestingly, I was stopped and searched today at the train station by police acting in accordance with our very own Prevention Of Terrorism Act. The stop was courteous and the search pretty flimsy – they looked in my bag, that’s all – but it still involved my name, address and date of birth being taken down by an officer of the law, which made me feel indignant, to say the least. They gave me a leaflet, which I read on a bench as I waited for my train. Luckily, I got to the bit that said, “If you are stopped and searched you are entitled to a copy of the form, which is completed at the time of the stop.” So I went back to the officer and asked for this. She was again courteous, and finished filling it in, so that she could give me my copy. In the reasons for stopping me, she had entered a section of the Act, mentioned that I was heading on a train into London, and that I was “also carrying a black holdall.” This makes me a terrorist suspect. Before September 11, 2001, I don’t think it would have. So well done, everybody. The other figure who barely gets a mention in Fiasco, the most complete history of the Iraq war, is Mr Tony Blair, who made anyone with a bag going to London a terrorist suspect with his puppy-dog enthusiasm for the Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld project. What a shame his legacy goes pretty much unmentioned.

Jay Garner, first “viceroy” of Baghdad, replaced by the hapless Bremer, reported back to Rumsfeld and told him what he – a man on the shop floor – felt had gone wrong. Rumsfeld couldn’t care less, saying, “Well, we are where we are, there’s no need to discuss it.” It was, by the way, retired Marine general Anthony Zinni, former chief, US Central Command, who provided the quote I have used for the headline. Try getting anyone at the Pentagon to nod sagely at that.

These faraway blunders affect us all. (Except: are they really blunders? It’s convenient to think of the Bush administration as idiots, but they’re not, are they? I just can’t see, having read this and the other books on the subject, how the current mess can benefit them? It may even lose the Republicans the 2008 election, and that’s no good, is it? Fiasco and Rumsfeld and Emerald City don’t comment on the motives of the Bush administration. That’s for raving nutters to speculate upon. But they don’t paint a pretty picture, and they’re Americans.)

Every day I read the book

Finished!

In-Cold-Blood

Worth noting, I think, that I actually finished reading a book last night. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote. It was gripping and inspiring and so evocative that when I saw Capote I felt I’d been inside the Clutter house where the col-blooded murders took place. The attention to detail is now commonplace but must have felt like a whirlwind in the early 60s when it was first published.

That leaves the following books half-read

Manhood by Australian psychologist Steve Biddulph has now moved up to be my default train read. It’s about the crisis in masculinity caused by decades of feminist progress. Biddulph rightly celebrates the reversal of patriarchal society and the emancipation of women, but asks us to spare a thought for the bloke, especially post-New Man. He is, according to this book, a worthless shell, reduced to sperm donor by the advances of female sexuality and made to feel a “creep” thanks to the low, pornographic nature of the mass media. Also, deficient fathering, caused by a crisis in confidence after the pre-war industrial model collapsed, has resulted in generations of boys with no self-respect or direction, reduced to posturing and violence. He certainly doesn’t excuse these actions, but he at least tries to mend the cracks by encouraging men to talk to their fathers, to appreciate that women are not always right, to address the thorny issues of lust and arousal and identify what’s causing them, and so on. It’s a page-turner. It was reading Oliver James’ They Fuck You Up that led me down this road. I’ve never been that big on psychology before, but I’m being sucked in.

Guns, Germs And Steel by Jared Diamond was a recommendation Steve Punt made to me at Christmas. He sold it well. It’s a thick one, but then it is a history of humankind, with particular reference to why certain societies developed at different speeds to others, putting the Europeans in a position to go and exploit South America, Africa etc.

Big Pharma by Jacky Law promised much, but isn’t delivering. It’s a fascinating area – how the pharmaceutical companies are making us all ill – and it appeals to the health conspiracy theorist in me, but this book needs such a major edit. It’s bitty and all over the place; it lacks a through-line. The sentiment and the research are there, but it’s not gripping me, and it should be, which is why it keeps getting pushed to the bottom of the pile.

Hitler by Ian Kershaw. Let’s just say I’m always reading this. I haven’t dipped in for a while, and I feel disloyal about that, as I’ve loved it so far, but I will return. (I managed Simon Sebag-Montifiore’s Stalin: The Court Of The Red Tsar in one go.)