Friday, 30 September 2016

human nothing
human is alien

Monday, 26 September 2016

Reed and Bowie - a rock and roll exegesis

One of the first albums I owned was Lou Reed's New York.  I must have been 11 or 12 at the time and didn't understand half of what he was talking about - Rudy Giuliani, Kurt Waldheim, downtown queens and lavender boozers - but I loved the way the album sounded and have listened to it regularly ever since.  Now that I am a bit older I understand most of the lyrics (and at times find them a little heavy-handed) but one detail had always slightly confused me and that was the title of the song, Strawman.  It didn't seem to have any particular relation to what the song was about.

Listening to Lou Reed led me in various directions - back to the poetry of his teacher, Delmore Schwartz, which in turn opened up the realm of American confessional poetry; The Velvet Underground introduced me to Andy Warhol and his world of weirdos and junkies and drag queens.  And somewhere in the middle of that there was David Bowie.  After Bowie's death I started listening to his music which I hadn't done for quite some time and it got me wondering… what if the Strawman isn't really a Strawman at all but rather a Starman?

If so could this song be understood as a coded message about/for a singer with whom Reed had had a famously conflicted relationship?  Bowie was an admirer of The Velvet Underground and produced Reed's early solo album, Transformer, but the two fell out in the late 70s and had an off-on relationship for the rest of their lives.  So if Strawman is a message from Lou to David what might that message mean and what is the evidence that it is a message at all?

First the evidence:

1. the way Lou says "straw" sounds a lot like "star";

2. the song talks a lot about rockets, Mars etc and evokes a wealthy rock musician who has given up on  cocaine addiction and become self-righteous and preachy;

3. the next track on the album is "Dime Store Mystery" which is about Andy Warhol and references Martin Scorsese's The Last Temptation of Christ.  Reed was a friend of Scorsese and had seen the film when it came out.   David Bowie plays Pontius Pilate in the film.

Errr, that's more or less it…

Second, the meaning of the message:

David Bowie in 1989 was living as a millionaire tax exile in Switzerland and producing lousy music.  Strawman is a call to Bowie to get real, remember the stuff he did in the 70s and move back to New York.  Look says Lou, it worked for me - by revisiting the Warhol years, hanging out on Christopher Street and getting my hands dirty I produced my best record in years.  Why don't you give it a go?

It took Bowie a while to hear this message (there were the Bowie bonds and another decade of lousy music) but eventually he got it, moved back to New York, played Warhol in the film, Basquiat, and produced Heathen, which was his best album since the 70s and a bridge to the final Indian summer of Blackstar.

The case is closed.  Bowie gave Reed's career a boost when he was in a post-Velvet hole and Reed eventually repaid the favor.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Tuesday, 13 September 2016


Friday, 9 September 2016

"Art too is only a way of living, and one can prepare for it, living somehow, without knowing it; in everything real one is closer, nearer neighbor to it than in the unreal semi-artistic professions which, while they make show of a relatedness to art, in practice deny and attack the existence of art."
R. M. Rilke
The afternoon, a clod of sperm,
a glass of heavenly Tokaj.

Thursday, 1 September 2016

Go West!

My poem, the ruins of the ruins of palmyra, has just been published in the Western Humanities Review, a long-running and prestigious literary journal housed in the English Department of the University of Utah.  You can read more about the latest issue at the link below and also order a copy (or indeed a subscription).  Worth noting too that this is probably your only chance to buy an English language poetry magazine containing work by two poets named Rufo.

Opium, a little wine,
a little sunlight on the water;
I am not scared of death.