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. 

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Blaise Bailey Finnegan III

Does anyone remember Gihm? The Japanese guy with a hidden face? This talent was unsettling in its greatness. It guaranteed a rush of blood to your head, moving as fast as a headless chicken or an army of suicidal lemmings*.

As for the original, which is of course an astounding piece of music, and very possibly Godspeed's best, it should put an end to the rumour that the post-punk band has no sense of humour. If the inclusion of Iron Maiden's poem is not a stroke of comic genius, I don't know what is.  

*A myth, a story, but a beautiful one. 

Monday, 1 August 2016

Favourite Bookstores, p.2

There are places that become legendary before they even have time to get old. Desperate Literature is that sort of place. You take your glass of wine and you use it as a torch to see the books you've wanted to have all your life.

Like a cocktail bar called 1862 or else like Pieter Bruegel's ‘The Triumph Of Death’, it's the sort of place that will make you come back to the old city. Even if you hated the rest of it. Which, of course, you did not.

Desperate Literature can be found in Calle Compomanes, between Santo Domingo and Opera. First thing you notice – it's small. It's intimate. It's a little cranky. And it makes your head spin greedily, because every book they have is the book you absolutely have to buy. It's like the dense prose of Saul Bellow, to be savoured by the sentence, by each and every word.

Oh Christ, it's two enormous books of Nabokov's lectures you hate to see because there is no way in hell you're going to carry them all the way home. Rare stories by Brendan Behan? Fuck it, they are mine. First edition of Dubliners? Don't let me see the price. Nine Stories by Salinger? In the bag. Collected Poems by Philip Larkin moves me to tears, to say nothing of Stephen Crowe's terrific drawings of Joyce's novels. In fact, there's no way I'm going to miss out on 'So tellus tellas allabouter' illustration for Finnegans Wake.

The staff is lovely. They will go to great lengths to help you but they will not stand in your way, which is what you need in a bookstore. They are characters, too, and I would love to write them one day.

It's amazing to get lost in a place this small, but that's exactly what happens to me. I cannot think of a second-hand selection this good in a British bookstore. It's a place where one tiny detail can spark a fascinating conversation you've been meaning to have for a long long time. If you have the will, that is, to look away from your favourite pages of Patti Smith's Just Kids. Desperate Literature is a place for quiet booklovers as well as loud ones. 

There's also an old typewriter, a pre-war Continental or perhaps an Underwood, right in the middle of the bookstore, where you can type a poem of your own. And coming back to my hotel later that night, Brendan Behan all but finished, that's exactly what I do: I write my first poem in a million years.