JOHNNY BEATNIK LIVES

Just because I could, last week I designed some custom Johnny Beatnik guitar picks for no other reason than to see what they were like... and they're like this:

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That's all of them... the design is a little off kilter and the picks are a little thin for my liking but that's what I chose so it's my own fault. Next time around, I'll go heavier and squeeze the design down into the space better - working in a tiny area is always weird when you're used to working with relatively big pieces of paper with straight edges but they're OK. I have no qualms with the quality... everything I think is wrong with them is my doing.

Being as I don't use a pick, I'll distribute these among some buddies who might get around to using and losing them and the next (better) batch can be used for what I was actually going to use them for.

A little while back, I also made a couple of shirts to see what they might be like as well. Only two of these exist in the world and with a couple of tweaks here and there, these will also become a something that serve a purpose.

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Typically, as soon as I'd finished that and sent it to The Place, I had a much better idea for a shirt but those are still in the pipeline. I'll update on that next week and maybe make a batch of them available. There's that Sigue Sigue Sputnik part of me that thinks it's the greatest idea in the world to buy a shirt from a band you've never heard anything from... then again, Johnny Beatnik is also a story - yeah, you didn't know that did you because this is the first I've ever spoken about it - and one of those (maybe two) will appear in Scenes From The Coffee House which is coming to a letterbox near you in September.

Little by little, it's all coming together. 

In my head if nowhere else.

PENS AT DAWN AND SCOOBY DOO

Galley proofs of The Family Of Noise, proofed. Wading through a sea of your own inadequacies with a red pen in your hand and a green pen tucked behind your ear is a foul experience but it's got to be done - and now it is. 

I'm going to take some time out at Ant-Man and the Wasp tonight so that I'm not even in the house to mess with it, come back in a good mood because it looks like a sackful of fun and press on with getting those amendments into the InDesign file. I know a lot of people like to thrash about in the original document but for me, the final InDesign file is a no brainer because you get to see all those funky widows and orphans along the way and fix the damn things on the spot. I’ve probably said it before but if you’re doing things for yourself out there, use professional tools or you’ll be left at the side of the road like an old Fiat. 

Anyway, by my reckoning, that will be the lion's share of the dirty work done and in the next day or so, I can get down to the fun stuff. Not sure what 'fun stuff' entails anymore but so long as it doesn't involve looking at my own mistakes, that will be good enough.


That's about all I got today - things to do and all that - but I'm about to dive into some mag work, found this on one of my folders and decided it needed a good airing here:

  Tattoo by The Half Decent.

Tattoo by The Half Decent.

If you don't get copious amounts of joy from seeing a killer Scooby Doo tattoo, hang up your gloves and settle into The End Of Your Days.

HEAD UP, TAIL UP, EYES DOWN

I've spent the last two evenings going through my galley proofs of The Family Of Noise which is due to see the light of day on the last day of August - yes, this August for those of you who hung around a little long for it. 

It's hard work trying to look at your own work when you've read it at least two hundred times already and see the flaws in it, but they are there - and are being eradicated with a red pen and also a green pen for pointing out different things to yourself. A woman I used to work with who was a real old-school pro in the proof-reading stakes taught me a wonderful way to proof the written word and that was to read it backwards so that it made no sense. When you're in the flow of a story, your eyes move fast as lightning but reading in reverse, you see things you normally wouldn't.

So now, I've scoured it forwards, backwards, forwards again and now we are having a second sweep backwards one more time before I transfer the red and green to the manuscript and pump out another proof before I press the Big Green Button.

It's a very different affair to proofing a magazine that's for sure. Maybe it's because there's nothing but thousands of words over and over. No pictures, no change of style from writer to writer to jolt your brain. It's hard work and the worst part of writing a book without a shadow of a doubt.

It's not particular to publishing your own work anymore either. Unless your in the top 1% of best-selling authors in the world, I suspect, you're pretty much out on your own even if you have a publishing deal. I don't know that for a fact but it's what I hear. I once found a nasty spelling error in a first edition of a James Herbert book - either Once or Nobody True - that plagued me for most of the rest of the book as I looked for more.

Anyway - day-work and dog walking aside - that's what has been happening here since Saturday. When I'm done and I ship it off for a clean one to come back again, I'll have seven days or so that I'm going to take as a break from words and work on finishing up some songs because it's about time some of those saw the light of day too.


Talking of day-work, this image comes from the latest issue of Skin Deep. I'm always in mental debt to a lot of the artists we work with and the things they have to say about work and art. This is one of my favourites:

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Never be happy with your work. Take 30 seconds to tell yourself it was absolutely the best you could do and move on to the next project. 

HAND ME DOWN DAYS

I took a little trip to The Slaughtered Lamb to see Steve Conte do his thing with his guitar last night. That's OK... I get blank looks from most people I mention his name too, even those who know their shit. 

It's been a long time since I've been to a show in a tiny, sweaty room with a capacity of about 150 (and that was probably breaking fire regulations) but hand on heart, I enjoyed it 100x more than seeing Kiss earlier this year. Arena shows are great for some things I guess, but there's no substitute for rock n roll as it was meant to be... in your face, up close and personal. 

I took one shitty photograph before the show just so as I could illustrate what I'm talking about here...

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...and that was enough. A couple of people were insistent on snapping and shooting video but for the most part, it was fantastic to see that everybody else was AT THE SHOW... fully present mentally if you know what I mean.

At £12 for the ticket, I felt like I owed the man some money when it was over. I need to get out to more shows like this even though they are few and far between. This is where my heart lies... in some backstreet London basement with a leaking air conditioning unit, four feet away from the stage and four feet away from the door I walked in through - at the same time, where any merchandise is stacked on a small table that still had beer mats on it from earlier in the day.

Here's one of my favourite clips of Steve doing his thing from a while back:

His music isn't hard to find online at all. Get it on.

Note to self: Jesse Malin is back in the country soon. It's in the calendar. 

DEEPER INTO THE FOREST

On a recent research trip, I came across The Irregular Casebook of Sherlock Holmes by Ron Weighell: 

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You can grab it here at Zagava. The description doesn't give a lot away but you could always check that part out on amazon. Judging books by their covers is always a great idea when the cover looks like this - otherwise, what's the point of having a beautiful cover. There's also this version which is even more knockout:

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Available now as a pre-order, this version will be 'bound in finest Scottish tweed, manufactured by the company which created a special Sherlock Holmes tweed on the occasion of the Sherlock exhibition at the Museum of London' and a magnifying lens will also be embedded into the front cover.

What Zagava do with their books is fuelled by a total passion to publish quality - the way books perhaps used to be - with no eyes at all on the mass market, not a thought for selling thousands upon thousands but rather publishing them because they deserve to be released in such a way to a limited audience who will appreciate them and don't mind paying a little extra to be part of an elite group of other book lovers.

It took about an hour of loitering around over there to change the way I think about myself and what I'm doing with Bad Hare.

Sometimes, you can get exposed to something wonderful and it will get under your skin. 

THINGS THAT MOVE IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION

I thought it was all over but after going out and looking at some cars I didn't really like, I took a rethink on the whole car thing, talked to the garage and we looked at it again. Some days later, my Saab made it back to the land of the living. Filthy from sleeping in the street during a heatwave, just ten minutes after I took it out for some juice, the heavens opened and washed it clean of sin. 

In as much as losing it made me ridiculously sad a while back, I'm now equally over-emotive to have it back on the road - mostly though, I'm appreciative. It's tough trying to replace The One That Hardly Ever Let You Down but for now, I don't have to.


With that back on the rails, other things have begun to move forward too. Late August and Mid September will both see books released... that's all I've got for now otherwise there will be nothing to talk about over the next few weeks.

For one of these, a lot of envelopes, shopping receipts, notebooks, old proof copies - anything I find to write on when I needed to write - have been consumed, and now there will be fire. I like the fire part of my working life. I burn everything after writing - it's a good ritual to get it out into the world and off the damn table. Here's a sample...

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People may pore over Neil Gaiman's work in future generations to come, but nobody will be lovingly turning the pages over my handwritten brain drain that's for sure.

Not anymore.


And hey... want to know something about social media? Since I deleted all of my accounts, I'm not missing it at all. Not one scratch. I was not what I'd ever have called a "heavy user" but it's more than noticeable how much time I've reclaimed by steering clear. 

Want to know something even better? I'm not even interested in explaining why I left but I am a happier person for it.


Reading:

After tearing through Norwegian By Night, I did the only sensible thing available to me and moved on to the next in the series - American By Day - though strictly speaking it’s not ‘next’ in the series but stands alone with the secondary character as the main character. Derek Miller is a phenomenal writer - if you’re lost in a sea of drab, Get It On.

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Dogs, Birds And Foxes

Eleanor came back from a holiday in France today and brought me this little slice of carved wood magic back. No caption needed right? I love it.

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This last few weeks - and probably for a lot longer - two Jackdaws have been raising a chick on the roof of our house. This morning, taking to a shady place at the top of the garden to escape the sun, I saw there were three of them up there. The chick had gotten big and was waving its wings about, making a hell of a lot of noise as it got ready to take its first flight. It’s a long way down from the roof. I know because I’ve been up there.

Anyway, by the time we got to lunch, they were gone.

No fear. It’s just what you do when you’re a bird chick. You don't think about it because you have no choice... your food will have been depleted and if you want to survive, you need to fly.

That old rogue, Mr Aesop, painted the Jackdaw as a stupid bird in his fables who starved to death hoping the figs would ripen, prompting the fox to point out that ‘hope feeds illusions and not the stomach’.

I always liked that phrase. That fox always had smart things to say.

Except Jackdaws are not stupid at all. They are one of the only birds that communicate with their eyes and therefore are acutely aware that this is what we do too... so it's (relatively) easy to form a bond with a Jackdaw. If you put food out for them and look at the bird, then the food, they will follow your eyes to see what you're looking at and given time, this breeds trust... though if you break that trust, they will steal all your belongings. Fact.

I learned this a long time ago and over the last few years of feeding them occasionally and leaving good nest building materials around in the Spring (aka: Hector's haircut trimmings) they've left me small pebbles as ‘gifts’ that all look vaguely the same. There have been dozens and I've kept them all.

Seagulls on the other hand... I’m not certain they’re very smart at all. Those guys had been nesting on a roof a few houses up and had two chicks. At 5am, you will know all about this because of the unholy cacophony coming in through the window. 

But this morning, they could be seen with only one chick. A little detective work revealed the other one had got itself stuck behind the summerhouse (aka: studio/aka: shed) and tangled up in the bindweed that secretly grows there. 

I've no idea how long it had been there but it couldn't stay. That would mean having to deal with a dead seagull in a few days. Much easier to tend to it alive - except, it didn't want to be tended to. 

Not even a little bit.

It didn't want to be rescued so much that I had to enlist the assistance of my buddy Adrian down the street because he has Official Seagull Chick Rescuing Tools (aka: welders gloves and a blanket).

An hour or so later, the chick (actually, they're a little big to be called chicks - it's more likely called a fledgling but I can't be bothered to look it up) was safely out from behind the shed, delivered into the relative freedom of the path that runs at the back of our houses where we could see its parents and brother/sister sitting on a nearby roof for the coast to be clear.

What did it do? It ran - RAN - into the nearest bush 100 yards away like the unappreciative dumbass it is, but we decided to leave it alone at that point. If you had been pulled from bindweed with welders gloves, you would be scared too. 

As I write this, it's about 11pm so if it hasn't gone back to its family, that fox I mentioned earlier will probably have some wise words to say to it tonight - and they won't be about figs.


Nobody could be bothered releasing a good album this week, so hunt this down and take it for a spin:

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Great albums are hard to find and almost always slip under the radar. This one has been punished every day this week... never mind that it's nearly ten years old. 


Finally, reading this and it's excellent. Pretty sure this is why summer was invented.

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THE END OF AN ERA

My Saab died.

I know it's dumb to get attached to a car but I've had it for about eight, maybe nine, years and it's never let me down. Well, once it did but that was a few weeks after I got it so that's allowed. 

Which means I need a new car (not that kind of new) and that we'll have to go through that whole 'trust' thing, like when you get a new partner. How far will they take you without spoiling your day? What kind of baggage are they carrying you don't know about? But at least with a car you get a sheet of paper that says how many other people they've been with and a rough idea of how they've been treated.

I was going to make some kind of cheap gag about how it would be funny if, when you start a new relationship, you asked to see their papers so you could get a glimpse into how it all might pan out and then I thought better of it. Somewhere out there in the world, there will be people who insist on knowing this kind of thing. It probably won't come up in the first week, possibly not even in the first month, but it will come up - and to those sorts of people it will be A Very Big Deal.

If you are one of those people - buyer beware! You will be lied to. The mileage may not be quite as accurate as you had hoped. 

And so, the search begins. I have a few ideas but there's one thing I know for certain before I begin. Cars have become dull as hell - much like our phones. Once upon a time you could go into a phone shop and choose from a hundred designs and it made phone shopping quite a thing. Now, all you can do in a phone shop is choose a size of a sheet of glass. 

Cars have gotten pretty much the same... technology has driven them to be so aerodynamic and safe that vehicle design has gone out of the window. A VW saloon looks more or less like a Peugeot saloon, looks more or less like a Toyota saloon etc... if you stripped their badges off, your average Joe would be hard pushed to get excited about any of them. Your choice in 2018 (unless you have won the lottery) is A: a very small hatchback type car B: a medium sized car - usually a three door affair C: a large saloon type car for going 100mph without noticing D: an off road 4x4 type thing E: something that looks like a van but is pretending to be a car that is only acceptable if you need to do the wheelchair thing or F: a people carrier. 

A, B and C should look to the past and do something about it because ain't nobody going to look back on the new Audi A4 with the fondness they have for the 100 or the Coupe or the Quattro. It may be a technological marvel that can park itself or whatever but at heart, this too is now a slab of glass.

D: There are loads of these in our street and so far as I know, they are either used to go take kids to school and/or to transport very small dogs... a maximum of about four miles a day. Where I go to take Hector for a walk - which is very much off-road - I have never seen one of them. 

E: Unless you do have a wheelchair - in which case they're just the thing - I'm not sure why anybody would buy one. They're horrible and people who need to use wheelchairs are not totally devoid of taste. Wheelchair users of the world should unite and tell whoever makes them they too would like a useful car that looks great and not like something the Pope used to drive back in 1986.

F. The people carrier. Bah. How many people do you actually need to carry that you can't get in a regular car unless you happen to be a taxi driver? Your kids should be in school and they should get there on the bus... unless you live miles away in the country, in which case you should be doing D not F. Next time you see a people carrier that's not a taxi - check it out for how many people it's actually carrying. That number will be One. Who would buy a car called Sharan anyway? More to the point... who the hell let that through in the marketing meeting?

Tsk.

This is car design:

 The Citroen DS

The Citroen DS

And so is this:

 The Triumph GT6

The Triumph GT6

To own either of these now (in their original form) would be a Money Pit of the Highest Order, but surely it can't be that hard to put today's tech into yesterday's design. 

Know this. One day they will... because much like the phones we're all using, there's nowhere else to go.

Maybe I'm just sore because for the first time in about twenty years, I no longer have a car. Best get busy.

FINALLY...

I have become a real writer in my own eyes. Not with a multi million publishing deal. Not with a glut of writer friends to eat noodles with on a Tuesday afternoon. Not with a crazy writing tour schedule in which I’m able to meet and greet people who say they love my work.

No... I have begun to drink red wine alone in the evening because... well I don’t have a good reason but it seemed like a good friend to talk about writing with and so far, so good. She’s a good muse and knows her way through the fog.

I suspect if you got to know her well enough, pretty soon you could learn not to give a fuck about anything. 

Meanwhile, this afternoon, I put a bullet in the head of my twitter account. Nobody cares unless you’re Royalty Famous. I walked. What used to be a good place has become a platform of such inconsequence, even a writer of Dirty Realism can see no value in it. 

This is part of a much bigger picture in which three of my friends have also closed ALL of their social media accounts along with me.

We all have our own reasons but the common denominator for all of us is how the ‘socials’ have you performing like a circus pony without you knowing you were doing it. If you’re still in that zone, take a long hard look at how much time you spend on your feeds, how they make you feel and what they have you talking about.  

If you’re honest with yourself, it ain’t good. It may have been once upon a time, but it isn’t anymore.  

 

HOME IS WHERE YOU HAPPEN TO BE

As the years do what years are supposed to, it's a good thing to remind yourself where you came from. Where you are right now is not so important because in the next second or two, you'll have moved on from that. You're about to go into your future and that's the way it is with every passing moment. The future seems to be the place in time on everybody's lips - probably because you'll have to live in it and you're the only one who can create it, but this too will eventually become the past.

Spare a thought for the past while you're busy being the one determined to die with the most toys. It's important to remember where you came from. This picture is about as early as I can remember:

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No phone, no TV, no car, hardly any money, what we ate grew in the garden and for some reason, my mother (not in the pic here, this is my grandmother) chose to dress me in the same clothes that Mickey Mouse would wear. For me, this picture is 'home' even though nobody lives there anymore. How I came to be the person I am is a mystery - just the same as you. Most of life is one long chain of accidents, good vs bad decisions and chaotic liaisons. 

I have no reason at all for bringing this up. Maybe it was going home for a few days that brought it on. Sometimes I wonder how I could have come so far and still have got nowhere - but I know the answer to that already. 


Like a stupid person, I promised myself that I would buy no more guitars this year - that three much loved guitars was more than enough. Then the power steering on my car decided not to be power steering anymore more and I'm staring down the barrel of close on £1000 for making it right again - I've bought cars that have lasted years for less than that before now. It's currently up on a ramp for another couple of days but as I was contemplating the best part of a grand for the privilege of steering with little effort, my mind wandered to the one that got away... and how it could easily not have gotten away if steering wasn't necessary. 

Next time I put cash to one side, I think I'll make the call to The Man In Germany and bring this Hagstrom home where it belongs.

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A man could write some great songs with that.

REALITY BITES

Last week, I downed tools for a couple of days plus the weekend and headed north to see The Mother, The Brother and his family and most importantly, my two buddies - Darryl & John - who have been my buddies forever and quite honestly, I can’t imagine them not ever being my buddies. One day, Death will drive a wedge between us somehow but that’s OK. Death likes to do that to everybody. We ain’t special... but Death.. if you’re reading, we’re in no rush.

It’s always struck me peculiar as to how the years make no difference at all to any of us.

“Hey, good to see you!” 

”Damn, you too!” 

Cue manly hug. 

Relationship continues like we saw each other yesterday, even when “yesterday” collectively consists of 14 years since I last saw one of them, 6 children, a bunch of houses and some ‘other people who drift in and out of your life’.

That’s real friends for you. I would have shed a tear if boys were allowed to cry. 

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I also saw this outside a pub and realised I missed somebody way more than I thought I would. It had only been two days: 

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Meanwhile, back home, I’m approaching the week I’ve set aside for recording home demos of the songs I’ve been writing. While I wasn’t looking, four songs turned into eighteen, so my task this coming week is to figure out what I think is good and what’s possible. I’d like to get through as much of it as I can because I can feel more songs bubbling around but that’s a dumb approach. I'll never get through all of them in a week.

Patience with myself is not my best skill. 

I don’t even know what to do with them when they’re done. I have a huge stack of demo songs here by other people - Chris Cornell, Bowie... that kind of level - and some of them are super lo-fi but mine are going to be even more lo-fi than that. 

I guess I'll get that far first and figure it all out later. It is what it is - something to build a band around perhaps (or perhaps not) then find a studio to run it all out properly... or maybe I’ll base my entire repertoire around just writing and writing and writing some more and never bother recording them on an industrial scale and simply be like ye olde wandering troubadour spinning tales because they are there to spin.

That sounds good written down. I’ll do that. 


To wrap up the week - because it sounds like I've done not anyting but hang about the world and eat barbecued food - when I got back, there was also a magazine to get to print. I've pulled this out of the proof I signed off yesterday simply because it's great:

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Sometimes I forget how much I love my job and how much work is put into it... mostly because it can be a pain in the ass like any job, but once a month, when it all comes together, I get that glow that tells me it's all been worth it - this one goes on sale a week today if you happen to be keeping track.


TATTOOED DUDE OF THE DAY WITH A GREAT VOICE TINKERING AROUND ON HIS PIANO:

(File under 'proper music')

A Week In Music

A man could get used to blogging once a week. Maybe I'll keep it up, maybe I won't but while I'm busy, it suits me fine. This week I have done NO WRITING AT ALL because I took The Mag to print (so I have written really) and for some reason, it was tricky beast, thus, my lust to string words together disappeared with the wind. This week coming is little lighter on the soul so I'll get moving.


Talking of strings - and I don't recall posting about this before, but maybe I did - David Hale (a tattooer and artist I much admire) blagged a guitar from Gretsch some weeks/months back - then set about it with his tool kit. It's finally out there up for auction and looks like this:

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AND HOLY MOTHER OF ALL GODS THAT EVER EXISTED, THAT HAS MY NAME ALL OVER IT.

I'm keeping my eye on it. If I ever post a picture of it again, it will feature me holding it. I'm so in love with the damn thing, if I can't have it NOBODY WILL... umm, except for the winner of the auction I guess. 

If you were going to have a guitar for life... that's what it would look like.

File under pending. In the spirit of raising money for the cause it was intended to and you fancy your chances at owning it yourself, here's the page.

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Meanwhile, writing songs continues. Some are great, some are good, some are in pieces all over the floor. Some never made past the lightbulb moment. One isn't for me to do anything with other than hand it on to somebody else... don't ask me how that works. Maybe songs just need bringing to life occasionally and then your job is to find a home for them. 


On which subject: 

I’m not the greatest guitarist in the world. Fact. Then again, as I keep telling myself, I don’t need to be - the guitar is the lesser of my triangle of terror. I’m a lyricist above everything, my voice is not so bad and the guitar is more of an accompaniment to those first two things... but that doesn’t mean I don’t try to get a little better every day. Some days are good on that front but some days can be horrendous. 

The mind is a peculiar thing. If I write a set of lyrics and later decide they are in fact, shitty, I’ll just throw them in the trash because some more will be along later. If I have a bad day with the guitar though, it’s like the end of the world. Makes me wish I had bought a piano. 

Anyway, a few weeks back, I ordered a capo from Thalia. They make beautiful capos and wrong though it may be, a good looking guitar is essential. Thus, the things you choose to dress them up with should be too. I figured it would be a good investment based on what people had said about them but I didn’t expect it to be quite as fine as it is. Makes me want to give all my other ones away and restock exclusively with these - which I probably will. They’re not cheap but nothing this good should be.  

It's been thought about at the engineering level, it works like a charm, it’s pretty and if there’s one better in the world I’d love to hear about it because this little baby is unbeatable. 

I've spent hours today putting it through the motions and simply from being happy in my workspace, stumbled across the bones of a new song. Maybe I should cheer up more often... but being cheered up is not as conducive to writing dark songs as I would like. 

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Finally, this is neat: the business card of Lester Bangs.

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Lester never seemed to be the kind of guy who would remember to take his cards out with him. Maybe there's a big stack somewhere with an elastic band around them. Unused and sadly, never to be used again. 

On the very same day, I saw this in the latest GQ in an article about business cards:

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So I threw all of mine in the bin next to some song lyrics that didn't make the grade.

Life is simple if you let it be that way.

THE WEEKEND IN PICTURES

The weekend looked a little naked so I went back out into the world and found Fatherhood In Pieces by Michael Chabon - he of the Hector doppelgänger - and Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine, Fine by Diane Williams, who I’ve never heard of but if Lydia Davis and Franzen are on the train, that’s good enough for me. GQ also arrived yesterday morning. Thus begins a weekend of reading underneath the umbrella.

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Talking of the umbrella, this little guy landed on it in the afternoon:

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That's shot on my phone camera - an iPhone 6S - but the detail in those wings is off the scale - good thing the sky was in the right place. In ten years, even pro-photographers will give up lugging around Canon bags and be happy with the slab of glass in their pocket.


I also decided the current capos I have for my guitars were letting the side down. A little investigation and I discovered a company called Thalia who make some seriously beautiful products, so I treated myself to one of these:

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If they're as good as people say they are, it's probably the first of quite a few. I'll report back - if nothing else, the kids will have Christmas sorted out for many years to come. We've come a long way from a Toblerone and a Doctor Who comic that's for sure.

  The Unholy Trinity

The Unholy Trinity


I also got tattooed last weekend by my friend Fiumix. Here's a small corner of what we got up to - because people like to steal things out there, this is probably all I'll ever post of it: 

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He also made/drew me a present. Here it is:

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Funny how the smallest things can make me so happy - not that it's small, it probably took hours to draw. That just about sums up my whole life and I should probably get it tattooed - it's certainly something I'm thinking about hard but no rush... I'm still getting over the hares.

I've never looked so good in my life as I do in that picture - see:

  I don't normally take pics of myself but I was messing about with an app called NOMO and took this by accident... at least it looks like me. 

I don't normally take pics of myself but I was messing about with an app called NOMO and took this by accident... at least it looks like me. 

Howl

The running programme came to a halt early last week when my knees decided they weren't going to be knees anymore. I strapped them up and went out anyway but they weren't very convincing about their role in the project at all. I figured I would give them a rest for a while and presto... I went out tonight and they were just fine.

I can't remember if I put up the playlist for Week Three so here it is because I've decided to go back and do that week from the beginning again. Never under-estimate the power of a great playlist to get your ass back into gear. Pretty sure I should be on something like Week Five now but I'll just keep chipping away here until I make it.


SKY NEWS called me earlier this morning. Asked me if I would be game for contributing to some live coverage on Raheem Sterling's tattoo of an M16 on his leg. Of course, the answer was yes... but I'll admit right here that until that a couple of minutes after that call, I didn't know who he was, had never heard of him and if it hadn't been for that call, that's how it would have stayed.

Having said that, the more I dug, the weirder it got. There's coverage everywhere about it online today, so I won't repeat it here, but the tattoo doesn't mean what the two newspapers (The Sun and The Daily Mail) insinuated it did (they didn't actually insinuate anything but by just pointing it out, did) and then Mothers Against Guns came out (or rather their spokesperson did) and said he should get it ..."lasered off or be dropped from the England World Cup squad".

In his own defence, Raheem's father was gunned down and from what I can gather, the guy is really just saying he shoots from the right foot - which is quite funny for a tattoo. I'm not sure I would have chosen it if my father had gone that way but Raheem was just two when that happened. I can relate to that in a kind of "don't miss what you never had" way. Sad - absolutely, but it's not a raw memory.

Anyway, I went ahead and figured I would back up his case on there. I was armed to the teeth with research by this point. Up against such a statement from Mothers Against Guns, I thought I might find myself in a strange war of words... but that's not what happened.

What really happened (I think) is that we met at the fence and more or less agreed with each other - the press have made a mountain out of a water fountain chat (and there's no way that tattoo is as new as they have made out) and left social media to do what it does best/worst... which is giving people with keyboards on their phones a reason to stab at them with sticky fingers.

News coverage and discussion sure does move fast these days and from my experiences over the years, if you can't say what you want to say in less time than it takes to brush your teeth, you're playing a losing game. There was a point where I was asked whether small children would see the tattoo, not read the backstory and think the message of it was something it wasn't - which is a great question. That could indeed happen. I remember seeing Paul Stanley wearing a Star of David pendant in a photo-shoot from the late seventies and adding it to my Christmas present list without a clue what it meant, but it's not quite the same thing at all.

My head began to formulate an alternate reality scenario in which I wanted to throw the ball back into the TV by saying "if you can honestly sit there and tell me small children went out and found Jesus after seeing David Beckham's tattoo, I'll agree 100% with you", but there wasn't time. I am built for long-form things rather than drive-by chat.

Mostly though, I was concentrating hard on not sneezing on air because The Old Hay Fever arrived with a vengeance yesterday. Here's me thinking about sneezing... and playing with my beard too much - which is better than playing the beat to Dr Feelgood on my teeth with that pencil I'm holding which is what I was doing while I waited...

  Pic by my good buddy John McMeiken... who actually has SKY

Pic by my good buddy John McMeiken... who actually has SKY

How Can May Be Nearly Over Already?

The pages are starting to stack up for Scenes From The Coffee House. I feel like a real writer again... it's a very different beast from the day job even though that involves writing too. The difference is the same as showing somebody your brain and showing somebody your heart. Anyway - it's getting somewhere fast. I'll post an update here at the end of the month because I hope I won't be far away from drawing a line under it and doing that thing known as Pressing The Button.

The songwriting is surging forwards too. My ambition is perhaps exceeding my talent but I'm working on balancing it out and some kind of 'thing' is coming together for sure. I should probably remind myself more often that I'm a lyricist not a guitarist but damn, my heart is firing on all four cylinders with the guitars and I'm even enjoying it. 

In a chain of events I didn't see coming, I've really grown to love the D'Angelico I picked up a while back and I write on it a lot more often than the Gretsch. Funny how things pan out.

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Meanwhile, behind the scenes:

The Bridge IV is fucking wonderful and if you're not watching already, why not just throw your TV out of the window because it's obviously not doing anything useful. 

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Sadly, that's just one hour a week on a Friday, so if you're floundering in the wilderness for something to fill in the gaps because you've finished Netflix from one end to the other, Tabula Rasa (Flemish) is great. You can catch it on Channel 4 app type things. 

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Currently reading: 

If Nobody Speaks of Remarkable Things - which will closely followed by Even The Dogs - by Jon McGregor. Why I haven't come across him before is a mystery - but from what I've read so far, he writes the kind of books I should be plucking from the shelf as soon as they come out. Good find Mr Smith...

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That's all I got. I just felt like being positive and emptying my head a little. There's a busy week coming up into which I'd like to stuff as much as I can before I disappear to Alexander Palace for a long weekend of hosting our Great British Tattoo Show.

I'll leave you with this:

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And back to work...

THE PENCIL OF TRUTH

Yesterday, I read an article on writing by one of my favourite writers - Joan Didion - and I’m going to steal chunks of it here because I think it’s important. It was for me, but maybe it will resonate with you too. Here goes:

Like many writers I have only this one “subject,” this one “area”: the act of writing. I can bring you no reports from any other front. I may have other interests: I am “interested,” for example, in marine biology, but I don’t flatter myself that you would come out to hear me talk about it.

Sometime later, she hits The Nail really hard in the face with The Hammer:

In short my attention was always on the periphery on what I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus. During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any world of ideas. I knew I couldn’t think. All I knew then was what I couldn’t do. All I knew then was what I wasn’t, and it took me some years to discover what I was.

Which was a writer.

By which I mean not a “good” writer or a “bad” writer but simply a writer, a person whose most absorbed and passionate hours are spent arranging words on pieces of paper. Had my credentials been in order I would never have become a writer. Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear. Why did the oil refineries around Carquinez Straits seem sinister to me in the summer of 1956? Why have the night lights in the bevatron burned in my mind for twenty years? What is going on in these pictures in my mind?

That section in bold is the one that swung it for me:

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. 

When I had read this over and over because I was captivated by what it meant, I realised she was talking to me. 

I figured that what people respond to most is when I write about life. Anyone - (well, maybe not anyone) - can write a 'story' but only I can see through my eyes and colour it with all the filters that already exist in my head. I see no other reason to have accumulated so much junk in there and held onto it for so long. Thus, on this fine day, I have decided not to write certain types of things anymore - ie: fiction, though I do have a few scraps around here that I'll finish just because I should.  

There simply comes a time when you must decide what you're going to talk about around here - and that time is now.

It sits well. Maybe I need a photograph of myself that makes me look like the kind of writer I think I am. Here's a picture of Joan (from Vogue I think) that says more than any biography could. Once you know she's a writer, this photograph says everything else there ever was to say - in fact, you don't even have to know she's a writer for it to speak to you:

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I will more than likely steal this idea very soon. I don't think Joan will mind.

There's also a Netflix documentary about her called The Center Will Not Hold. Here's the trailer:


Later that same day, I went over to the bookstore looking for magic and found zero magic happening. No crime novels from any country at all jumped out at me, no music bios to speak of, no art books of earth shattering essentiality. I guess it could be me at fault but I'm not 100% convinced about that.

Determined not to leave empty handed, I dug deep and found this:

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Which is more or less about the lost art of finding your way around the place using your natural gyroscopes of intuition and feeling. Here's how Tristan explains it:

"A sixth sense outdoors is not something mystical or new age. It is expert intuition.

When we practice noticing certain patterns, signs and clues outdoors, there comes a moment when our brain will take a shortcut. When this happens we sense something without consciously thinking about it.

I call the signs that allow us to redevelop this ability the 'keys' as they help unlock this ancient skill.

This sense may not be mystical, but it can feel magical when we experience it for ourselves."

If nothing else, it's out of my normal scope of reading and that can only be a good thing. Maybe I'll even test it out.

The Red

The man with barely any meat on his bones walks into the coffee shop with a carrier bag from the supermarket around the corner. Perhaps not that particular supermarket but it could be. Aside from his skeletal frame, he is as inconspicuous as the next man.

He joins the queue and nobody pays more attention to him than they do anybody else, but I see him and he smells bad. I fold the corner down on the page of the book I’m reading and watch him - but nothing of particular note happens. He orders himself a frappe milkshake along with a triple chocolate muffin and bounces from foot to foot as the ice is punished in the blender.

The lady with the expensive hat who was standing in front of him in the queue collects her drink from the end of the counter and looks around for a seat. There are many to choose from. She takes one step and falls to the floor as the earth seems to disappear from beneath her feet. Her coffee flies up to the ceiling and everybody is watching now as it comes back down to earth in slow motion. It spins twice and lands next to her base down with the lid still attached - a miracle of physics. Only when it lands do we hear the splash. We did not hear it when the woman fell but we hear it now, delicate as it may be.

All eyes fall to the floor and we see the woman, her expensive hat and the cup of unspilled coffee sitting in an ever growing pool of red. The woman begins to cry but the rest of us are wondering what the red is even though we know already. What we really want to know is where it has come from.

Simple detective work leads us to the supermarket carrier bag where the red is now dripping freely through the holes that let children breathe if they happen to put it over their heads.

The man with the skeletal frame is aware that all of us are staring at him. I had never seen a look of chagrin before now. The barista asks him what he has in the bag and he tells her in a low voice. Her hands fly up to her mouth. The other barista who was standing next to her asks the same question and he replies again a little louder - loud enough for me to hear this time.

“It’s my mother.”

I look down at the bag and see it has something round inside it. Football shaped? Melon shaped? He opens the bag, reaches in and pulls a human head out by the hair which he places on the counter.

The coffee house erupts into a sea of people desperate to escape and rush for the doors. Two people linger long enough to take a photograph for social media. The barista calls the police. The man with the bag is still waiting at the counter for his frappe. He has paid for it after all.

I push my book around on the table in front of me and wonder how far away from yourself you have to get before you consider cutting your mothers head off and taking it out in public to be a good idea.

OPERATION ANTI-BEATNIK

I got a newsletter in today from the very cool Parisian bookstore Shakespeare and Company. I've only been there once and it was a long time ago too so it's high time I went back. With one eye on my last post about things not being as relevant/cool/important as they once were, I'm going to steal their first paragraph here and tell myself it's OK because if you're not on their mailing list, you can fix that by going to that link and filling in the box on the top right of the page.

It goes like this: 

For almost three years in the late 1960s, Shakespeare and Company was barred from selling books. This was due to a bureaucratic imbroglio attributed variously to CIA influence, to the Paris Préfecture’s “Operation Anti-Beatnik,” and to simple bad luck in business. Undeterred, George Whitman kept the space open as the “Free University of Paris,” hosting discussions, concerts and readings, including one with poets Langston Hughes and Ted Joans. In May ’68, when the quartier famously erupted in clashes between students and riot police, the bookshop was perfectly situated to become a refuge, intellectual as well as physical. As Molotov cocktails flew across rue Saint-Jacques, the shop sheltered people fleeing riot police, and stayed open all night to host political debates. In our history book, the poet Christopher Cook Gilmore describes hiding out in the bookshop one night, watching from the upstairs window as students unfurled a huge red flag from the top of Notre-Dame. Standing next to him, George said: “Isn’t this the greatest moment of your entire life?”

Which says a lot about the bookstore, its owner, beatniks and the French. This is why Shakespeare is still open, still highly regarded and still on my radar when hundreds of others are a distant memory of averageness. If I ever get around to making a video series like Old Weird America (see same previous post as mentioned before) this is where I'll begin... because a man needs an excuse to go to Paris like he needs an excuse to buy another Gretsch. 

Books huh. 


Meanwhile, the running continues and my knees are screaming at me to stop. They're not in a good way but they're going to have to suck it up for another six weeks because we're finishing this little challenge one way or another.

I came back from my run last night (the playlist for week three is here) and crash landed in front of Lost In Space on Netflix. The first few episodes were pretty good so I stuck with it as something that passed before my eyes while I recovered and then... episode five we hit a jackpot.

Not only were we rewarded with giant lizard/dinosaur type things but also a fist fight between them and The Robot - and that my friends, is sometimes as good as life gets. A large mug of tea and a cage fight between a lizard and a robot. Ain't nothing wrong with that.

AND GOD CRIED WOLF

When his father pulled up outside the house from the hospital, he knew something was wrong. He didn’t much like it when things were wrong in the world, so he stayed in his room finding as many reasons as he could to keep on looking out of the window and not go downstairs, but the Mountain came upstairs to find Mohammad anyway, sat down on the bed and for the first time, a new kind of silence was shared between them.

“Come and sit down. I’ve got something I need to tell you.”

The boy sat down on the other bed in the room, not wanting to be too close, wanting to keep as much control over whatever was coming as he could.

“Your mother is fine, she has to spend a few days in hospital but ought to be back by the weekend.”

Well, that was something. For a fleeting moment, he thought she might be dead but it was obvious there was more and this was only the tip of the iceberg because his father never acted like this. He didn’t even recognise this tone of voice coming out of his mouth. He had never heard it before and it sounded almost soft.

“You have a sister…”

A pause piled itself on top of the previous one signalling more to come but the words had got stuck in his father’s throat.

“You have a sister, but she has Down’s Syndrome.”

There were so many silences hanging in the air, it was hard to know which one to look at.

“Do you know what that means?”

The boy nodded and now it was his turn to choke on the questions that had formed a queue in the room. He didn’t know which was worse - the news he had been handed or that he had never before seen The Mountain so unsure of his place in the world.

“Things are going to be hard and different when they get home.”

He paused again.

“I need to get back to the hospital. I think there’s food in the cupboard but if not, we’ll get some when I come home later. I need to go into work too. You’ll be OK until then?”

He nodded but his father had already left the room because the last thing A Mountain wants anybody to see when the weather gets rough is the river bursting its banks and flooding the forest.

He heard the front door close and then the car door, and then a hundred other doors slamming shut inside his head as he tried to process the information. He sat on the bed and cried because he felt sorry for himself - and then he cried until he didn’t feel sorry anymore - and then he cried until there weren’t any more tears left to cry.

The boy took off his clothes, threw them into the corner of the room, knelt on the floor, clasped his hands in front of his face and prayed to a God he never before had cause to speak to quite so honestly. It didn’t much matter which God because surely one of them would be listening.

He told the Gods what had happened and listed some of the reasons this shouldn't have happened and in his own twelve year old way, asked the Gods to make it go away. He bargained and pleaded. Then he tried to reason with the Gods before offering to trade everything he had in his life - including anything good that might be coming down the line later - to rebalance the books.

When he felt nothing was happening, he got angry at the Gods and threatened them. He swore if they didn’t make themselves known to him and hand over a box with some hope in it, he would spend the rest of his life exposing their weaknesses.

When the prayer was over, he looked around for a sign that his words had meant something but all he could find in the room was another useless silence hanging in the air.