Saturday, 31 December 2016

travelling notes (xv)

They warned me against Alfama. Alfama, they told me, should not be taken lightly. Pickpockets and such. However, the worst thing that could happen to you there is getting lost. Which is never a tragedy. In fact, all the best things happen to you precisely at those moments when you are lost. 

Saturday, 24 December 2016

Three Things, etc.

2016, broken down:

BEST BOOK: At the Existentialist Cafe: Freedom, Being, and Apricot Cocktails by Sarah Bakewell

BEST ALBUM: A Season in Hull by The Wave Pictures

BEST FILM: Frantz by Francois Ozon

And of course:

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, 22 December 2016

Top Ten List (of sorts)

This is going to be a top ten list. But it's not going to be the sort of top ten list where I might praise albums by Luke Haines and PJ Harvey. In fact, I'm not going to mention them at all. I'm not even going to write one word about the three best albums of the year (see here). 

Instead, I'm going to make a top ten list full of albums that I keep seeing on these end-of-year hilarities from Pitchfork and Guardian and Rolling Stone and NME who are all desperately trying to catch up with the times. I'm going to listen to these albums, too. Because fifty million people can't be wrong.


Beyonce - Lemonade

Hyped by the Guardian (and everyone else) to the point where you start thinking they could be taking the piss. And oh she's an artist all right. She also has a thousand songwriters writing songs for her. Which shouldn't really be a problem if the songs are any good, but the problem is - a thousand songwriters don't write songs. They manufacture them. Lemonade lacks substance, and "Hold Up" is all swagger and no guts. Best album of the year, etc. Rating: 3/10

The Avalanches - Wildflower

No, this was not quite as good as Since I Left You, but that's mainly because "Frankie Sinatra" is a million light years behind "Frontier Psychiatrist". Wildflower is another fantastic journey, with the kind of moody creativity I had expected. In retrospect, this was worth the wait. Rating: 8/10

The 1975 - I Like It When You Sleep... (whatever)

Christ JESUS this band is awful. Somehow, this album manages to be both obnoxious and bland at the same time. Wow. Rating: 1/10

Anohni - Hopelessness

First off, I can't look at that cover for more than 2 seconds. Secondly, these lyrics are trite, second-rate bullshit. Which leaves us with the voice, which is an acquired taste, and the melodies that are spread so thin you won't see them behind the preachy pretension. I guess this one is for people who underestimate the value of decent songwriting. Rating: 3/10

Frank Ocean - Blonde

Everyone seems to be in love with this guy, but I fail to see why he is better than George Michael. Plastic, slick, 'emotional', well-produced pop for which I have zero patience. Rating: 2/10

Radiohead - A Moon Shaped Pool   

I know I said it was a very good album back in the day, but in retrospect it was just better than The King of Limbs. A decent record, all things considered, and "Burn the Witch" was a single with some much needed urgency, but quite a few of these songs just bore me to tears. Rating: 6/10

Solange - A Seat At The Table

Pitchfork put it at number one! Yes, the publicity is that bad. I played it the other day, and it's... not bad. Rather lovely if you don't want much from life. Rating: 4/10

Bon Iver - 22, A Million

Pathetic. Rating: 0/10

Danny Brown - Atrocity Exhibition

There is something intriguing about a rapper naming his album after a Joy Division song. And I have to say - this album has something to it. I like the sound, the insane vibe, the inventive spirit. Unfortunately, the voice doesn't do it for me. Which - for a hip-hop record - is vital. I can understand the praise though. Rating: none

Angel Olsen - My Woman

Angel Olsen's My Woman is so inescapably 'not great' that I wonder how anyone would dare make it part of a credible end-of-year list. Decent music. Little charisma. Standard fare. Rating: 5/10

So in a word - flabbergasting. It's either critics losing taste or myself hopelessly lagging behind. I'm actually ready to believe it's the latter. I really am.

Saturday, 17 December 2016

Up To Me

Young bands - where is your sense of humour?

Now it's true that once in a while I get to hear young bands and their music that is supposed to be on the verge of some eternal fucking breakthrough, and invariably I'm struck with this: utter and complete lack of self-irony. Quite simply, there is no humour and there is no warmth.

Which brings me to Ian Anderson. Who may have had his wild misses (don't get me started), but at the very least you could always rely on his lyrics. Here at home I have a book I'm very fond of. It's called Jethro Tull - Complete Lyrics, and besides giving you what it says in the title (for the record, Under Wraps sounds quite all right without the music) and besides a wonderful picture of Ian Anderson on the motorcycle, with a cigarette dangling from his bearded mouth, the book includes his thoughts on this or that Jethro Tull album as well as a few paragraphs on his throat problems and his love for... wait for it... The Ramones, and then God knows what else. 

However, one thought in particular has always stuck with me. Anderson often judges his music by two - some would say arbitrary - aspects: humour and warmth. Warmth and humour. Like Stand Up had it and Minstrel In The Gallery did not. Which might be a rather easy observation to make, particularly for the musician who wrote all the songs. But equally - that's a brilliant observation as it perfectly captures the quality of the music. Stand Up is a classic and Minstrel In The Gallery is not. And that's hardly a coincidence as Ian brings up this point time and time again.

Sense of humour may be the most overrated virtue (am I quoting The Oliver Twist Manifesto here?), but it's a sorry band that either doesn't have it or can't translate it into chords. And if you're a young band - that's no excuse really. What I mean to say is, this is pure musical genius, I think we can all agree on that:

And if I laughed a bit too fast.
Well it was up to me.

Tuesday, 13 December 2016

Любимые книжные магазины, ч.3

You just never know, do you?

Минск. Сон Гоголя напротив Художественного музея. Я собирался написать об этом месте еще до того, как нашел "Книгу непокоя" Фернандо Пессоа, и мы ходили смотреть кино с тапером (об этом ниже). Можно сказать, что я собирался написать об этом месте еще до того, как зашел туда в первый раз. Наверное, это случилось поздним вечером, когда любое окно начинает казаться теплым. А тут пианино. И книги.

Нет в мире ничего более хрупкого, более неуверенного в себе, чем новые идеи. Они ломкие, и при малейшем сопротивлении другого мнения они крошатся в ладонях. То же с новыми местами. В них не только опасно ходить (одно неловкое движение - и черт с вами), о них даже страшно писать. Во-первых, ты и сам не до конца понимаешь, о чем пишешь. Во-вторых, набегут сомнительные персонажи, и, как сказал однажды профессор Преображенский, "все, пропал дом". 

Я могу рассказать, почему полюбил это место. Причем полюбил в тот самый первый раз, когда побывал здесь. И дело не в книгах (которые явно выбраны не случайным образом, и в которых достаточно вкуса и разнообразия), и не в виниловом проигрывателе (музыка хорошая, причем они сами это прекрасно знают), и не в кофе (он есть; не белое вино, но есть), и не в пианино (которое действительно играет), и даже не в знаменитой фотографии Артюра Рембо (как можно не полюбить эту фотографию?). 

Дело вот в чем. 

В тот самый первый раз, когда я пришел в книжный магазин Сон Гоголя, я в какой-то момент обернулся, чтобы услышать вкрадчивый шепот. На кушетке сидели женщина и ребенок. Совершенно незаметно для полупустого магазина она достала с полки с детскими книгами коллекцию сказок, и теперь читала их своему сыну. Или дочери. В тот момент я подумал, наверное, о миллионе вещей, но в первую очередь я подумал о том, что именно за эту сцену готов полюбить Сон Гоголя. Нет - не за сам факт. Не за "о господи, в Минске". Я просто полюбил эту сцену, в одном книжном магазине города. Этот шепот. Склоненную спину ребенка. Этот момент. Деталь. 

Так, как в июле, в Толедо, я полюбил музей Эль Греко не за уникальные предметы быта или картины (хотя и за них, конечно), но скорее за семью из восточной Африки, которая была там в то же время, что и я. В какой-то момент мы сели на ступеньках перед экраном, где показывали документальный фильм про Эль Греко. Мать сидела на нижней ступеньке, а дочь сидела на ступеньке выше. И все время, что длился фильм (не менее получаса), девочка сплетала и расплетала эти густые светлые локоны, в которых, кажется, был весь воздух Эфиопии. Мне кажется, временами я совершенно переставал смотреть на экран, впиваясь глазами в руки девочки, которые копошились в бесконечных завитках волос матери. 

Детали создают места и воспоминания. И дело тут в том, что не каждое место позволит этим деталям выскользнуть на поверхность. Туда, где их случайно можно заметить.

Мне бы хотелось видеть там меньше Мураками. Больше белорусских книг и книг на английском языке. Но отчего-то мне кажется, что все это будет. Более того, я знаю. В конце концов, я несколько лет писал работы по Беккету. Прочитал, наверное, каждое слово, написанное им. Перевел некоторые из его новелл. Рассказывал про него на конференциях и еще бог знает где. Но именно здесь, в этом маленьком и незаметном книжном магазине, я впервые увидел его фильм 1965 года. В этом показе было что-то особенное, хотя такова судьба любого первого показа. Невидимая девушка играла что-то вдумчиво нервное. На экране - персонаж из любой книги Беккета. Последняя роль Бастера Китона.

И еще два слова. Здесь, во Сне Гоголя, хочется покупать книги. Это не так банально, как может показаться. Я был в очень многих книжных магазинах. Был в таких, где совершенно не хочется покупать книг (об одном таком книжном из города Порто я скоро напишу отдельно). Вовсе не потому, что там нет чего-то безумного, что ты всю жизнь собирался прочесть. Просто... хочется оставить все так, как есть. Во Сне Гоголя не так, и я беру наконец с полки эту проклятую "Книгу непокоя". Просто оттого, что эта книга - то самое безумное, что я всю жизнь собирался прочесть.

Friday, 9 December 2016

travelling notes (xiv)

A couple of evening walks, and in the streets of Portugal you'll be offered:

Mary Jane - 5 times
Cocaine - 2 times
Hashish - 1 time
Unidentified substance - 2 times (maybe more) 

With one question looming: is it you or is it them?

Monday, 5 December 2016

Hamburg Variations

Before we get into the fact that Peter Doherty has wasted his talent (he has, to an extent) and the fact that he will never write another "What A Waster" (he won't, and I hate to admit that), let's address the elephant in the room: almost all of these songs were written ages ago. Some go as far back as The Libertines years (those Libertines years), which makes them about a hundred years old. If that doesn't make you drink your brain off, nothing else will.

Hamburg Demonstrations should be seen as a Doherty retrospective. A lovely, ragged odds and ends compilation, one desperately crying for a song-by-song analysis. Made easier by the fact that I've just drunk half a bottle of Portuguese green wine at a cheap cafe outside the Campanha train station in Porto.

"Kolly Kibber". We are off to a good start that is typical underachieving Peter Doherty. Could be a classic in the old days. A serviceable opener circa 2016. Interesting middle-eight. 8/10

"Down For The Outing". The beat is lazy but the melody retains the ramshackle charm of old. I docked a point for the Russian word. Or added one. Who cares. 7/10 

"Birdcage". The beginning is neither here nor there, but it hits the stride soon enough. I've actually grown to appreciate the female vocals even if they would have been far more effective in case of a much less capable singer. To match Doherty's sad drunk wailing. 8/10

"Hell To Pay At The Gates Of Heaven". Written in 2015, no less. A jolly old number with Doherty proving his torn and frayed songwriting chops. 8/10

"Flags From The Old Regime". One of those lovely (lazy? underwhelming? boring?) songs he's always liked to write. Pretty, if nothing else. 7/10

"I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone) V2". Christ knows why he needed two versions of this song on one album, but since I've agreed to judge this collection by what's actually on it - a good song is a good song. Decent orchestration, but a point off all the same. For confusion. 8/10

"A Spy In The House Of Love". This one's just unfocused. Has a very promising start, but suddenly veers off into tuneless mumbling and moaning. 6/10

"Oily Boker". The ending to the album is undeniably strong. No rabble-rousing classic anywhere in sight, but "Oily Boker" is the closest we get. The bridge is outstanding. 9/10

"I Don't Love Anyone (But You're Not Just Anyone)". I see why Luke Haines said he wanted to put forks into his eyeballs the moment the marching beat kicked in, but I'm not British - and besides, the lyrical hook is bloody brilliant. 9/10

"The Whole World Is Our Playground". Another near-classic that, again, was written back in the 18th century. The melody is the reason why I still consider Peter Doherty such a rare talent. 9/10 

"She Is Far". The tune is no great shakes, but what a perfect closer. 8/10

In the end, I'm more than happy to have Hamburg Demonstrations in late 2016. As a piece of nostalgia. As a reminder. As a testimony. Just get that wild spark back, Pete.

Saturday, 3 December 2016

travelling notes (xiii)

Porto with its autumnal spring... Not the strawberries you buy on the busy street. Not Livraria Lello whose staircase really is quite wonderful. Not Francesinha breaking every rule of what is irresistible and what is not. It's something else. God knows what it is, but this was the first city in my life which moved me to tears the moment I got off the train. 

Wednesday, 30 November 2016

travelling notes (xii)

Lisbon. After all the cheap wine of South Africa drunk on board the plane, first thing you notice is him. Christ the man is a character. Perhaps the character, the one who has all the heart and soul of the city you visit. Stylish blue overcoat, sports trousers in a rather horrifying state, hopelessly worn-out black shoes and this huge beige bag over his shoulder that is perhaps one of the greatest things you have ever seen. It's right there, in that seven foot tall man. All the sloppiness, all the charisma of Portugal. 

Monday, 28 November 2016

Nijinsky's pagan dance

There's a brief episode in Chronicle where young Dylan sees Ulysses on some bookshelf and wants the host to explain Joyce to him. The phrase looked odd. Explain Joyce? Excuse me? What sort of explanation would that be?

Yet part of me knows exactly what Dylan was thinking. Simply because I've always wanted someone to explain Stravinsky to me. Frank Zappa never could, and neither could millions of others swearing by The Rite of Spring. I guess a Norwegian orchestra performing Apollon Musagete at the Proms in 2015 came close ("Apotheosis" was otherworldly), but even that could hardly convince me.

From Petrushka to Symphony of Psalms, Stravinsky remained unexplained.

And then this woman changed everything. Studying the notes of Ferruccio Busoni, making a transcription of her own, she gave the most extraordinary piano performance I've ever heard. Stravinsky's Firebird was breathless yet it came alive. Over those twelve minutes (either too brief or too endless), her exquisitely slovenly fingers dragged me through every human emotion conceivable. Her facial expressions remained unmoved as Stravinsky's work was coming alive. Glorious and no less complicated and all of a sudden - explained. 

Funny how one small performance can change so much. Funny how you can still get a glimpse of Nijinsky's pagan dance, more than a century later.  

Monday, 21 November 2016

travelling notes (xi)

There's always a great feeling when a noisy group of British youngsters barges into a bar and starts ordering red wine and tries to do it in the language of Paris and Madrid and Rome. The barman frowns and cringes and winces and tries to explain that he speaks perfect English. But they do not care. They absolutely have to impress. Oddly, they always do. 

Friday, 18 November 2016

Head Carrier

I'm a hundred years too late, but I feel compelled to say something about this new Pixies album. Because I do not even know what is more fascinating - people's reaction (no Kim Deal / Frank Black's solo record / "All I Think About Now" / they should just quit and go fuck themselves) or the fact that Head Carrier is...... whisper it...... really good.

Unclog your ears and drop your bullshit arrogance. The songs are great. Honestly, if you can't hear that they are better than 99% of what is being written these days, I feel sorry for you. 

Frank Black is a master of twisted pop music. Unlike the somewhat bland run of EPs from a couple of years back, Head Carrier is tuneful, edgy, charismatic. Granted, two last songs come and go with little to say for themselves, but stuff like "Might As Well Be Gone" or "Classic Masher" or "Tenement Song" are worthy heirs to "Here Comes Your Man".

As for the opening riff to "All I Think About Now", don't be silly. Black knew exactly what he was doing. It's not a full-blown parody and the riff quickly dissolves into a whole new song. Which brings me to my final point. Songwriting on Head Carrier. Not as good as on Trompe Le Monde. On par with Frank Black. Better than on Pod

Sunday, 13 November 2016

travelling notes (x)

There's a Dutch guy sitting next to you. He's had one too many. He is basically falling off his chair. And then he tells you, in a half-drunk whisper reminiscent of Leonard Cohen, that invariably you fall in love with the person who tells you the most simple things.

Tuesday, 8 November 2016

The Last Picture Show

New sensations. One of Lou Reed's most underrated albums as well as what Frank Zappa said when he tried to explain the Mothers' debut album. Freak Out! was supposed to give people what they had never experienced before 1966.

I have no idea how it felt back when Peter Bogdanovich released his film in early 70s, but as of 2016 - The Last Picture Show feels like a nervy bag of new sensations. Powerful, raw, utterly disturbing. There was a beautiful life beating next to me, in the dark, half-empty cinema, and I kept wondering how one could ever live it down. That kind of experience.

It is terrible, electrifying, wickedly appealing. The 'appealing' bit has little to do with the plot, which is typically non-existent in a coming-of-age story, and a lot with just how the film was made. The billiards scene? Christ Jesus those two minutes are unsettling. I can give you a million sex scenes that are much more racy and graphic and just plain direct, but this felt different. This was like a big black rat scuffling under your sofa.

Nothing is compromised and nothing is stylized about The Last Picture Show (except for its black and white surface), which is why it feels so different to the modern eye that needs to be harnessed and honed. However, this also means that when the sentiments come pouring towards the end of the film (like the beautiful revelation in the car or the inevitable death scene or the final minute), they knock you down. 

A friend of mine once told me that he no longer goes to the cinema all that much. 'Emotionally', he explained, 'I know what to expect. It just feels smooth. Because you have to understand, it's not about the gore and the guts. It's not about sex. It's about the feel of it'. 

This conversation took place a couple of days after he had seen Fritz Lang's M at some introspective screening in Newcastle. I would do that too, years later, and would be blown away by the new sensations that feel, somehow, out of this time. And possibly that time, too.

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Three Albums

This has been an interesting year, in more ways than one. Good year, too. French imagination of Mick Harvey. Luke Haines's songwriting masterclass. PJ Harvey's political classic. The mental story of “Ulgae”. A Season In Hull

Three albums, however, do stand out. Three albums you aren’t even supposed to write about, objectively or otherwise. Three albums that form some sort of surreal, ungodly trilogy. Three albums revolving around death.

First, there was that harrowing farewell, David Bowie's Blackstar, which sounds as disturbing now as it did back in January. It was not a death album, not quite. It was defiance rather than surrender. Bowie's final trick. Black magic. 

Like the rabbit from childhood years that was drenched in blood. A girl called Martha got it as a present from a friend of mine; this furry, fluffy thing with huge ears and a disarming light in the eyes. Before that, however, Martha had fallen from a bike and got a bloody nose, and was now crying, and staring at the rabbit that was meant to calm her down. It did not. Nothing could. For her, that rabbit would forever be associated with blood and tears and that most awful evening in late July. 

Likewise, Blackstar will not appease anyone. And neither will the pre-album version of “Sue (Or In A Season Of Crime)” with its unnerving story of a bitter loss. Blackstar is a death album, down to the last drop. Death by association.

Then there was Nick Cave's Skeleton Tree. Or rather - it all began with a documentary you hated to see but could not look away from. There's nothing, really, that could describe the experience of being glued to the red seat listening to Arthur Cave singing "Deep Water". 

This was not an album about death - he did that back in mid-90s, with Murder Ballads. Skeleton Tree was an album informed and inspired by death. It was genuine to a fault, and I could not believe my eyes when I read the actual reviews. Every single one looked fake. 

The dim promise of songs like "Distant Sky" and the title cut looped into darkness, again and again, and in the end you could hardly have any doubts about who that 'she' in "Rings Of Saturn" really was. It was an otherworldly beauty, as authentic as the sadness of "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side".

And then, finally, there was Leonard Cohen's You Want It Darker. Which did not really stray too far away from his trip to the dying Marianne of his 1967 classic or the recent interview in the New Yorker in which he claimed he was ready to meet his Master.

The Master, though, had long become an impostor, a nobody, a cheap trickster who could no longer get him high. In the days of youth and innocence you may have seen "Treaty" as a broken-hearted ballad but there could be no mistake now. 

Cohen has never been as vicious as that.

Wednesday, 26 October 2016

Monday, 17 October 2016



My biggest issue with Twitter is that it has demystified the Artist. Devoid of mystery, the Artist has turned into Everyman. Deplorable. 'Please don't Twitter', as Robert Forster sang on his brilliant last album, ‘let me imagine you’. However, there's precious little to imagine when everything is on your fucking screen. 

Art, though, is bigger than the Artist, and despite years of snide one-liners and musical self-indulgence, Luke Haines still has it. Oh lots of it. You may have forgotten that sweet/sinister melodic genius after the musically unexceptional New York in the 70s (I still can't wring blood out of "Lou Reed Lou Reed"), the murky and perfunctory Adventures in Dementia and the self-consciously quirky British Nuclear Bunkers, but the truth remains – Haines is still the best living songwriter this side of Robert Forster.

Which should become obvious after the first ten seconds of "Are You Mad?" whose melody is the perfect reflection of what may well be the best description of Haines's music: “Listening to a Haines record is like being kidnapped by a masked hostile fiend only to find out they are taking you to the seaside for ice cream and tea” (as said by one John Rain).  

Are you mad like uncle Terry
Or are you mad like mum?
Flapping like a flip-flop
As your stitches come undone.

Because after all, it's the melody you hear in "Are You Mad?" that you love Luke Haines for. It's the melody you want your girlfriend to appreciate because otherwise you would not date her ever again.

And yes, this is Haines's first non-concept album since 21st Century Man. Basically, Smash the System is just a collection of songs. Or better still, Smash the System is the perfect snapshot of this man's career. Pulsating opener "Ulrike Meinhof's Brain Is Missing" harks back to his 90's album about the German terrorist group. "Bomber Jacket" is late-period Auteurs. Gorgeous breather "Cosmic Man (Intro)" could be taken from his concept record about rock'n'roll animals. I could go on.

Elsewhere, it's songwriting brilliance mixed with British whim. Lyrics deal with… everything, really, from oral sex to alphabet spaghetti. Latest reference points include Marc Bolan, Roman Polanski, Bruce Lee, Incredible String Band, Vince Taylor, and I'm just going through the song titles.

It's a diverse record, almost excessively so, and while Luke consciously sacrifices his identity in a couple of places ("Marc Bolan Blues" sounds like T. Rex., and that's both fascinating and slightly disturbing), Smash the System is a long-due triumph. Not everything works, and clearly the rather uneventful "Black Bunny" would not go down in history as a Luke Haines classic, but this is certainly his strongest set of songs in years. 

So in the end – fuck Twitter. When all is said and done, Luke Haines is just a great songwriter. And I insist a bigger compliment does not exist. Not when all you care about is Art.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

'All the clowns that you have commissioned...'

Today, I applaud the brilliant irrelevance of the Nobel committee. Murakami is an awful writer anyway.

By this point, you should have learnt not to overreact. To anything. So I hope it would not be too much of an overreaction to say I don't have a problem with Dylan getting the Nobel Prize in literature.

Not because of Winston Churchill. Not because of some playwright from Mongolia who got the Nobel prize before a million great writers now dead or living. Not because of Obama. Not even because of the president of Colombia. But simply because I think the man deserves it.

If this opens floodgates, so be it. They have been open since John Updike died anyway. And I would love to see Leonard Cohen get it, too.

Not that Cohen would ever get it. After all, this was just a bunch of old men trying to be hip and incidentally (or accidentally?) doing something wicked. But since Dylan's book of lyrics has fascinated me since I was a little boy listening to "Visions Of Johanna" for the first time, I’m delighted. 

Even that first time, the poetry was physical, real and absolutely wonderful. Now, if he is awarded for this by a group of awkward men at a disco party, who the hell cares?

Friday, 7 October 2016

travelling notes (viii)

I'm sorry, Lithuanians. So sorry. Why is that every time I see you, I experience this overwhelming sense of guilt? Honestly, I did not lock you up in Soviet Union. This had NOTHING to do with me. In fact, it happened way before I was even born. But I'm sorry, just in case.

Friday, 30 September 2016

travelling notes (vii)

Cycling is the beating heart of travelling. Basically, you have no business going to a new country if you don't find time to rent a bike and spend at least a day circling through the city streets and swishing past furious drivers who teach you a million swear words you've never heard before. 

Sunday, 25 September 2016

You Want It Darker

Every new song by Leonard Cohen is like sex on calmatives. It’s hard to describe. You feel velvety and relaxed. You are slightly drunk, but that’s okay: you’ve just taken another sip of Chablis 1997.

“You Want It Darker” is fantastic, and yet what more can you say?

Once, in Edinburgh, we were listening to Cohen’s new album. This was 2012, and the album was Old Ideas. We were staying at this lovely house by the sea, eating Indian food, discussing Pussy Riot, having long walks by the waterline and playing a silly little game where you have to close your eyes and stand on one leg for as long as you can.   

This was bleak summer morning, typically Scottish, smelling of possible rain. We were all sitting in the big living room doing nothing at all, and I suggested listening to Old Ideas. Which is what we did.

Someone was staring out of the window. Someone was fumbling through a collection of vinyl LPs. Someone was reading a book, possibly myself. Someone was just listening. It was all very calm. And in the meantime, Leonard Cohen was singing “The Darkness” and “Lullaby”. And then, when it was all over, none of us said anything for quite some time.

Until Tom uttered, in a way that was either profound or hysterically funny, but was probably neither:

‘Well, that was… soporific’

Soporific! I go with sex on calmatives, I go with Chablis 1997. But really – is it any better?..

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Perfect Crime

We all have one perfect crime inside us. There is no telling at what point in life it will come to you, but rest assured: one morning you'll wake up with a plan that will be so gorgeous, so perfectly uptight that you will call it destiny.

The crime could be anything. Anything at all. The point is – you will either do it or you will not. Most people don't for reasons that are too dull to mention. Those who do – well, this is where it gets interesting. Those who attempt the crime actually get away with it. Some steal sweets. Some commit treason. The bigger the crime, the more they get away with. 

And there's nothing wrong with that. Remember what the barber said at the end of The Man Who Wasn't There? ‘I used to regret being the barber'. Think about it.

Sunday, 18 September 2016

travelling notes (vi)

And by all means, avoid the news. They will keep following you with their newspapers opened on Syria and Ukraine, in public transport and in crowded city streets, but you should resist. At the end of the day, they might catch you with a mute TV screen in some God-forsaken Irish pub - but even then. Guinness tastes best with your eyes closed. 

Monday, 12 September 2016

travelling notes (v)

Never trust Puerto Ricans with adding milk to your coffee. Do it yourself. 

Friday, 9 September 2016

One More Time With Feeling

There's not much that you can put into writing. If we are being entirely honest, few of us can go beyond that one percent that art has mined and milked all through its history. Nick Cave documentary, the one he agreed to do simply to avoid talking to hacks, is not something you are supposed to grasp. It's not even a film. It's a state of a fractured, pained, broken mind.

So what I'm going to say is this.

You don't really want the world to change. You wanted that once, when you were seventeen (unless you fell in love and begged the planet to stop), but with age you just want to keep it as it is. More than that - you don't want people to change. You want to hold on to them and the memories that were somehow significant. Like that first time I heard "As I Sat Sadly By Her Side". Like that concert in Moscow. Like that freak incident in Brighton when I saw Warren Ellis.

For me, the biggest thing about the documentary was that I did find it all yesterday, amid the songs that should have never been written and amid the images I should never have seen. The man I recognised, because the man persists, and shrouds himself in harrowing metaphors, and lives on, and fights against the 'elastic time' we all, somehow, try to resist. I found that man. Beneath the sorrow and the cracks in the voice, he came back. 

So for a moment you create this illusion, and the world doesn't change. That's good. And also, there's all this white colour.

Monday, 5 September 2016


If there's one thing I decry, it's the loss of the process. We don't appreciate it. We have fucking lost it. Again and again I'm reminded of the 'orgasmatron' in Woody Allen's brilliant Sleeper; you enter this box with a person of opposite sex and walk out seconds later experiencing orgasm. At some point Allen's character, a man from the past, revolts against the machinery and the lack of something that is basically the whole point. The process. Or, as he calls it, the romance.

But in a world revolving around outcome and result, people tend to stack process at the back of their mind. And hence they scream blue murder every time someone gives away the ending or the plotline. 'Spoilers!' they say, genuinely freaked out. 'Spoilers!'

Well, bloody hell.

I myself enjoy being ensconced in an Agatha Christie novel on a cozy evening in late November. Would I like to know who killed Roger Ackroyd and who set The Mousetrap? No, I wouldn't, but that's a detective story, and in a detective story the ending is all there is to it. The problem is that these days people are no longer able to watch Sidney Lumet's 12 Angry Men without lamenting the fact that they know where it all goes.

Forgetting that it's not about WHERE you get. It's about HOW you get there. 

It seems the future so grotesquely predicted by Woody Allen is coming soon. Physical pleasures not so much, but mental pleasures we no longer have time for and so the middle part has to be cut out. Enjoyment for the joy of it is longer an option. It's boring and it's time-consuming. Enjoyment seems to have acquired its hefty price tag, and it's somebody else who has to pay. All you have to do is act all hurt each time a trailer shows that a character dies. 

Well, people die, for Christ's sake. Have I now spoilt it for you?..

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

"Brilliant Mind"

There are moments when you are on such a roll that ideas come spinning. Are they always good? No. Some are terrible, and that's when you call your band Furniture. Some, however, are pure genius, and that's how you come up with this: 

Saturday, 27 August 2016

Famous Last Words of J.D. Salinger

There are few writers who can hit you with a final sentence quite as hard as J.D. Salinger. I am not just talking about the famous punch in the teeth you get at the end of "A Perfect Day For Bananafish". In fact, I'm not talking about that story at all. If anything, that ending is – although brilliant – much too dramatic, much too larger-than-life, much too O'Henry-esque.

Rather, I'm talking about something like "Uncle Wiggily In Connecticut", the second entry in Nine Stories. And not just the last sentence but the whole final paragraph where Salinger, like a masterful composer, hits just the right note that brings the whole thing into harmony yet leaves you hanging.

(and fucking please, don't get me started on 'spoilers')

"Mary Jane. Listen. Please," Eloise said, sobbing. "You remember our freshman year, and I had that brown-and-yellow dress I bought in Boise, and Miriam Ball told me nobody wore those kind of dresses in New York, and I cried all night?" Eloise shook Mary Jane's arm. "I was a nice girl," she pleaded, "wasn't I?"

The question at the end, the pleading nature of this question (and I'm not even going to delve into its meaning as that is not the point of this piece), leaves you on the very edge of fully understanding an artistic creation and the whole plan of Salinger's intricate mind. But, crucially, you are never quite there, and hence the sense of discomfort. It's not a bad sense, it's essential to great art, and musically I could compare it to what Stravinsky does in those sinister final seconds of Apollon Musagète. This date, J.D. Salinger is telling you, this date ends not with a kiss but with a wink.

Basically, what this writer does at the end of most of his stories is find a nerve, or should I say the nerve, that he has discreetly exposed throughout the story and then jump upon it. Pinch it, squeeze it, albeit not cruelly, with a pair of artistic tweezers.

Another great example would be "A Girl I Knew" from a variation on Complete Uncollected Short Stories Of J.D. Salinger that does not so much leave you hanging as stops you dead. Because you were thinking the story would go on forever (and would you mind?) or at the very least reach some sort of resolution, but in fact Salinger hits you with a seemingly unremarkable question that happens to be the last line of the story. 

And this is where the catch seems to reside. Because the knock-out power of Salinger's final sentences is not just their subtlety and elegance and faux unexpected nature – it's the fact that the ending you see is inescapable. It's the one chord missing, however chilling it is, and the sense that however unfinished a story like "A Girl I Knew" may seem, it could not go on for one more word.

Wednesday, 24 August 2016

travelling notes (iv)

Invariably, you are just happy to see French people. Wherever you are. Russians are fucking dreadful, Chinese are a goddamn nuisance and Germans are too bloody nice. But on a hot day when cold Mastiha is the only thing that can bring you to life - French speech is quietly reassuring. There's too much substance to your trip and you need a pinch of style.    

Sunday, 21 August 2016

travelling notes (iii)

There are times when you wander around a foreign city you barely know. You are not wandering aimlessly. You are looking for a place to sit. Open doors, welcoming faces - nothing seems good enough, and it's getting darker by the second. Until, hungry and exhausted, you suddenly realise that all along - you've been looking for a particular place. One that you loved all those years back and one that, quite simply, doesn't exist in a foreign city you barely know. 

Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Про солнце

Радио. Легко забыть, что в этой стране оно когда-то было. И трудно, удивительно трудно просто сидеть и слушать, как шипящим голосом ночного диктора Том Уэйтс читает прогноз погоды в джармушевском Down By Law. Радио. Сегодня его не то, чтобы нет, но... бывает небо, на котором так много облаков, что кажется, солнца не существует. 

Эта статья про солнце. 

В конце 90-х радио было возможным. Были радиостанции, которые отличались друг от друга не только названиями. Когда пишешь такие строчки, то кажется, что мир раскололся на две половины. Это не так. По крайней мере, я знаю точно, что в самом конце 90-х, кажется, в субботу после обеда, я включал одно белорусское радио и слушал хит-парад лучших песен и альбомов за неделю. Это был ритуал, который ребенком ты просто не в силах оценить.   

Я хорошо помню голос диктора, в котором был подъем и величина, когда в очередную какую-нибудь субботу он говорил, что OK Computer снова не занимает первое место. И в тысячный раз ставил "Karma Police", которая тебе нравилась (и вообще казалась чем-то средним между чумой и порнографией), но ждал ты другого. Потому что за месяцы прослушиваний радиопрограммы знал, кто будет на первом месте. 

И как выпрыгивало сердце, на стену или куда-то в окно, всякий раз, когда начинала играть "Разьвiтаньне з Радзiмай". Музыка Огинского сочилась в кровь. Слова Сергея Соколова-Воюша казались больше, чем словами. В голосах Кругловой и Войтюшкевича был нерв, который к концу третьей минуты достигал какого-то нечеловеческого предела. И все это играло в субботу, во второй половине дня, на белорусском радио. 

Я нарадзiўся тут. 2000 год. Просыпаться утром под "Пагоню". Думать, что однажды, совсем скоро, настанет момент, когда "Магутны Божа" станет национальным гимном Беларуси. Петь вместе с Вольским (которого послезавтра я все-таки увижу) "Сонца нам дапаможа". И даже в мыслях не иметь, что через пятнадцать лет написать текст, который был написан для вечной мелодии "Pot-Pourri", будет чем-то вроде подвига. 

И я не знаю, когда случился надлом в головах. В 2001? В 2010? Когда случился момент смирения, принятия, внутренней пустоты. Когда сместился фокус. Когда принципы перестали значить хоть что-нибудь. Когда все стали "народом", с деньгами или без них. Конечно, проще представить, что у каждого был момент, когда он мог сказать "нет", но сказал "да". (Я очень хорошо помню, каких нервов мне стоило сказать это "нет". И какие это были бессонные ночи. И какой это был эмоциональный шантаж. И как просто было лишиться работы.) 

Или можно вспомнить тех людей, которые записывали белорусский альбом. Да, Вольский все еще здесь, и вообще сложно предъявить претензии человеку, написавшему "Простыя словы". Вероника Круглова в Германии. Войтюшкевич в Польше. Но только этим людям должен поклониться любой белорус. Помидоров... работает на пропагандистском радио, так что здесь в принципе не о чем говорить.  

И все-таки случился более страшный надлом, после которого на пустыню уйдет не двадцать и не тридцать лет. Это солнце. Оно перестало светить. Как написал однажды Пелевин, нам не хватает солнца. А тут оно совсем исчезло. И сокрушаться и причитать нет смысла. И заламывать руки тоже не стоит. Но вот вспомнить цвета своего флага, посмотреть вверх этими земляного цвета глазами было бы неплохо. Надо ведь с чего-то начинать. 

Monday, 15 August 2016

travelling notes (ii)

Christ they are everywhere. Even in Marseilles, although most French men would never stoop so low. Which brings me to my point. As soon as I become Minister of Decency and Good Looks, this will be my first law: no man is allowed to wear shorts unless it's 73° Celsius. No flinching.  

Saturday, 13 August 2016

travelling notes (i)

At one point you realise that the whole idea of travelling is to feel uncomfortable. It's what you do it all for - to see an Italian gentleman take 15 minutes and a million gestures to explain the short way to a concert hall, to see a pagan party in a God-forsaken Spanish province that you take a whole night to decipher. A hotel should be decent, weather tolerable, but feeling settled, feeling at home - it's the opposite of travelling.

Sunday, 7 August 2016


I've seen the future, and the future is called 1862. 

Just what exactly is so significant about that number? Well, first of all, it sounds wonderful. Admit it, walking into a bar called 1862 after a hot day of endless siestas and modern art galleries has a certain swing to it. A swing you won't get anywhere else, certainly not along the tracks laid by tourists. Also, 1862 happens to be the year that mixology began. 

Mixology, the art of making cocktails. Which, let's admit, is all you should drink if you choose to make any sort of mark in this world. (I'm taking wine out of the equation, just for the sake of the argument.)     

So it was in 1862 that an American bartender named Jerry Thomas published the first ever drink book, HOW TO MIX DRINKS OR BON-VIVANT'S COMPANION. Everything that had been oral became written, and suddenly everyone could make an Arrack Punch, or a Columbia Skin, or even a Mint Julep.

150 metres from Noviciado, in a Madrid bar called 1862, they can make those cocktails if you are sharp enough to remember those names. Or else if you don't know that the Old-Fashioned they make is worth at least seven years of your life. I'm not going to say it's the best ever, for what is the best ever, but "A Woman Of No Standing" felt like a dream.

It's a classic place, and after I try my usuals, including the delicious yet hard-hitting Dark & Stormy once suggested to me by an American student from Boston who loved Dostoyevsky, a girl comes up to me and extends an 1862 card full of specials. At which point I'm so delighted to be alive I think it was I who wrote all those unpublished Brendan Behan stories.

The faces are flowing past me at the speed of sound. There's an Englishman finishing off his third Manhattan. There's a pair of Japanese girlfriends with a dog. There's a loud group of Spanish friends who are so electrifying I can't begrudge them the noise. And I'm telling the girl it's something different I want to try, something refreshing.

It's dark, and I feel reborn. She suggests Apple #1, and I say yes, absolutely, why not. Minutes later, I drink Apple #1 like it's the future. And even if it isn't, at some point in time and space, it's the only future that matters. 

Certainly at a place called 1862. The blood, sweat & tears of Jerry Thomas. Hands down greatest cocktail bar in the world.