Heh. Just two days ago in my little rant about publishers no longer caring about literary quality
, so long as they can lure readers with promises of vicariously indulging in the more exotic aspects of the author’s purportedly exciting life, I mentioned Exile
writer John Dolan calling bullshit
on James Frey’s drug-addiction “memoir” A Million Pieces
when it was published in 2003. Dolan had recently appealed to Exile readers
to help dig up the dirt, or rather the lack of it, in Frey’s past.
Not surprisingly, Dolan is not the only reviewer who suspected that Frey was, at least, embellishing his history of drugs and prison time. Nor is it surprising that others have been more successful in finding out the truth about Frey, what with Dolan living in Moscow.
Stupid me, I didn’t search around on the web to find that on the same day I posted that item, The Smoking Gun published a lengthy examination
of Frey’s self-claimed history of criminality and mayhem, and found it all to be either highly exaggerated, or completely fabricated.
The New York Times
to get around registration) is now covering the story of Frey’s fakery, which has so far scored him millions in book sales and movie deals, largely thanks to the golden endorsement of Oprah’s Book Club (“a gut-wrenching memoir that is raw and it’s so real”). The book is the perfect vehicle for Oprah’s club: a melodramatic confection of squalid thrills, the terrible drugs (inevitably addictive), all topped off with a smug little redemption fable. A lucrative redemption fable.
Of particular interest in the Times story are the following quotes:
Mr. Frey said that he had provided extensive documentation of his account of events in “A Million Little Pieces” to lawyers at Random House Inc., the parent of Doubleday and Anchor Books, which published the paperback edition, and to lawyers at Harpo, the production company owned by Ms. Winfrey.
What? You have to have your credentials checked by a roomful of lawyers before Oprah will publicly admit to liking your book?
And, I wish I could have quoted this on Sunday to save me the trouble:
The discrepancies and Mr. Frey’s reported admissions of falsifying details of his life raise questions about the publishing industry’s increasing reliance on nonfiction memoirs as a fast track to the best-seller list.
My biggest regret over my time in London so far has been blowing two opportunities to see the Fall
play live. Apart from being pretty much my favourite band, I’ve missed the chance to watch a gig descend spectacularly into chaos, complete with equipment sabotage, onstage punch-ups and walk-offs by various band members. If you’re lucky, you might see someone get sacked from the group on the spot, or quit in disgust.
This all happens quite a lot, as the 43 former band members can testify. Recently, Dave Simpson attempted to track down every last one of them
– from the keyboard player who lasted one day, to the drummer who has been sacked nine times – to see what they’ve been up to since they fell foul of band leader (and only constant member) Mark E. Smith’s desire to “freshen up” the band from time to time.
One is dead, one’s been sent to prison: not bad going for a relatively large sampling of rock musos. Former bandmates have ranged from teenagers who happened to drink at Smith’s local, to the manager of the Chemical Brothers, who was recruited as a last-minute replacement when the Smith threw the drummer off the tour bus at a service station en route to their gig at the Reading Festival.
Dewey was led to a darkened tour bus to meet Smith, “passed out with his shirt off. The guitarist had to punch him in the face to wake him up. Then they began fighting over whether or not they should teach me the songs. Mark said no!”
Since this article was published in The Guardian
, Smith has vowed never to speak to anyone at that paper again. You can also look at a PDF scan of the original article
, complete with photies and more survivors’ tales of being abandoned in a foreign bar for eating a salad: best of all is the concluding plea “If you have been in the Fall and we failed to contact you, email email@example.com”.
As one of the current guitarists says, “I have nightmares, but it’s never boring. It’s not Coldplay.”
Long-time readers how my workplace swung into action a mere three months after the London tube bombings to make the building terrorist-proof, by sticking up signs in the lifts
. In the same spirit of tireless vigilance, I have finally gotten around to taking a photograph of the sign for your ‘enjoyment.’
As its name suggests, it is close to the British Museum: right opposite the entrance gates, in fact. This is a strange corner of town where mass tourism meets high culture, where hotdog stands and souvenir shitshacks rub shoulders with antiquarian booksellers (and the London Review of Books bookshop, monthly mecca for sesquipedalian swingers
). Surprisingly for its location, the Museum Tavern has not been turned into a horrid family-friendly tourist trap, and remains a pleasantly shabby and subdued pub that serves a nice pint of Young’s Bitter
As you might expect, this is one of those parts of London where most people you see are foreigners – mostly, the place seems to be a refuge for unnervingly quiet and knowledgeable Americans (no, not Canadians!) that you knew must have existed somewhere but could never seem to find abroad.
This is the place where Karl Marx would frequently spell himself between sessions across the street at the Museum’s reading room researching his Grundrisse
, but you won’t find any memorabilia lining the walls, nor any slot machines, t-shirts or mugs for sale. More of that sort of thing can be found at a smaller pub further down the block that foists draught pints of XXXX
on hapless newcomers.
Typically, the toilets have been dug into the basement. The condom machine has been vandalised in a strangely religious fervour (visiting catholics from across the channel, or do those quiet Americans have a dark side?) Best of all is the strategically-placed sign for slightly confused men weaving their way out of the gents, “Why not impress her with a…. BOTTLE OF CHAMPAGNE.” A canny example of consumer capitalism at work.
Publishers and agents have rejected two Booker prize-winning novels submitted as works by aspiring authors.
One of the books considered unworthy by the publishing industry was by V S Naipaul, one of Britain’s greatest living writers, who won the Nobel prize for literature.
The exercise by The Sunday Times draws attention to concerns that the industry has become incapable of spotting genuine literary talent.
So they sent off unsolicited manuscripts to publishers. Literary agents and publishers are illiterate blah blah blah. The thing about hoaxes and pranks is whatever lesson they purport to teach us is, at best, unclear, but The Sunday Times misses the point of their own exercise entirely.
It’s not that they can’t recognise quality, but that don’t even look for it. The Times is either naive or dishonest to imply that someone at each of these publishers actually read (or pretended to read) the chapters before rejecting them. More importantly, they leave out the most important piece of information: did they include a cover letter? Imagine a thumbnail bio for the pseudo-Naipaul: “I am a Caribbean immigrant of Indian descent.” I bet the agents would pay closer attention to that sentence than any paragraph in the opening chapter of In a Free State.
(Come to think of it, has anyone at the Times
read In a Free State
? Even the chapter that was retyped for this prank? That must have been a task for the work-experience kid, surely.)
I’m not saying you have to have an intriguing ethnic background to get published; I’m saying that the majority of today’s book-buyers (a different class from book-readers) are interested not in the book, but in the author. As Iain Sinclair in Lights Out for the Territory
described the secret of Jeffrey Archer’s literary [sic]
His books… understood what the true fucntion of a book was…. the power of the novels lay in the fact that they didn’t have to be read…. Ownership of one of the novels gave you a direct line to the author: he was incarnated in a way that his ephemeral productions never would be. Take any title from the shelf at WH Smith’s, Liverpool Street Station, and you are shaking hands with Lord Archer.
Success itself can be the reason behind an author’s charismatic allure. Race is merely one of a variety of pegs you can hang your nascent career upon: a bad childhood, a stretch in the pokey, the drugs, the terrible drugs. Agents and publishers might bother to read the books submitted to them if they knew that any of the punters who buy their wares actually read anything themselves.
If your personal life is terminally dull, you can always make something up; although these days it’s probably too risky to fake your ethnic history – that one’s pretty much played out thanks to the likes of Khuri, Menchu, Demidenko et al. Otherwise, you can be pretty free with your invention: people do check, but not very hard.
Regarding this last point: James Dolan at The Exile
, author of the most hostile review ever
, has turned into Captain Ahab pursuing the great white frat-boy author James Frey, author of A Million Pieces of Shit
(after reading his review I can never think of it by its real title.) Dolan is now seeking readers’ help
in gathering evidence that Frey lied about having been in prison to bolster his bad-boy credibility. He has become so obsessed with Frey’s lucrative dishonesty that he now suspects his confession of drug addiction to be almost entirely fabricated
(“A rich boy like him using glue? That’s just a lie.”) and cribbed from the writings of Eddie Little
If you completely lack the imagination to invent or plagiarise some skeletons for your closet, you can at least add retrospective lustre to your career by killing yourself. (How much lower would teenagershave to set their literary standards if Sylvia Plath and Hart Crane posessed more self-restraint?)
If, by some chance, you are actually any good at writing and
score a publishing deal, you will still be reduced in the public discourse to the level of a performing seal
, trotting out predigested sob-stories of how you once watched your best friend die (it made you, it must be said, a stronger person). You can remind yourself of the second act of Coriolanus and decide between integrity and the chance of a second book hitting the shelves. People do not want literature, they want biography, preferably of the most lurid kind; and the publishers give the people what they want.
But maybe we’ve got this tale of overlooked literary worth all wrong. The whole Times
exercise begs the question as to whether anything that wins the Booker is in fact any good in the first place. Maybe the agents actually did
read the proferred chapters and exercised perfect judgement in dismissing them. How often does compromise, consensus and groupthink debase the standards of each jury member? Not to mention anticipating the reaction of the press, the Booker’s sponsors (or the Pulitzer board, who can and have vetoed jury decisions), and their future employment. Have you looked through the lists of previous prizewinners: the Bookers
, the Pulitzers
, the Nobels
? Think you could stand to read them all? How many of the most compelling and enduring books you can think of are on these lists – does it even crack 50/50?
Who wants to read Joseph Hergesheimer
, the most lauded American author of the 1920s? Can you even find one of his books? Who wants to lay bets on anyone even glancing at DBC Pierre a quarter of a century from now? Anyone? Let’s see your money.
First, thanks to everyone who has written in with prayers and messages of support following my inexplicable vodka crisis
. I have taken the scientific approach by attempting to replicate the phenomenon: the offending item has been thawed and drunk, replaced by two
bottles of vodka. The frozen bottle was a gift from a friend, so I’ve bought one of my preferred brand, plus one of the same brand as a control.
I have been passing the new year in the genteel and civilised company of the English (see photo), and enjoying the cold weather (yes, it has snowed once on the bunker). Unfortunately, I got too smug about not having to see the annual front-page photo all the Australian papers run
at this time of year showing people on the beach because, hey! Stop the Presses! a hot day in summer! Then I found out all the British papers run exactly the same photo at exactly the same time because their readers apparently can’t get their minds around the fact that it’s not winter on the other side of the world.
Right now, I’m off to share the magic of lager.
All our intentions of 1968 – access, disability awareness, multigenerational and multicultural participation – are established; now, though, they come before the art…. Overintensive risk management, child protection, alarm systems, licensing, family-friendly badges and employment laws invade with a suffocating culture of smug inertia.
Of course, he’s a theatre person so we shouldn’t expect too much self-awareness, but can he really not see the resemblance of the utopian world he worked toward, to the stifling world he inhabits now?
Continuing on from last year, let’s get 2006 rolling with another photo of this website’s patron saint:
This is the Jeremy Bentham pub
in Bloomsbury. Just behind him, further down the street, is the building that houses his notorious Auto-Icon
. On the street corner is a large plaque set into the pub wall, telling passersby the Bentham story, much of which seems to have been cribbed from for the Wikipedia article
about him, particularly the guff about his stuffed corpse being dragged out only for special university occasions. A stroll one block over will verify that the man is on permanent display
Haven’t drunk in here yet, but the pub reviews I just looked up for the above link says they sometimes stock a cask of Orkney Dark Island, one of the world’s greatest beers. Must investigate.
The new address for this blog is finally operational. Hopefully you were redirected here from the old address without much fuss. You can set your bookmarks to www.boringlikeadrill.com
– it will send you to the right place.
Told you there were a few technical upgrades going on. I think some pictures from older articles are still missing, but these will be fixed soon.
Happy new year etc – back online in a few days, with a few changes around the place… Hope yr all having a good one – more soon once I’ve sorted the technical details.
Some people seem to think that special intelligence is required to do cryptic crosswords.
This is sad, because it creates a barrier between them and one of life’s few remaining harmless pleasures. To enjoy reading a chess column, you need to have a chess mind. With bridge, you have to be good enough at mental arithmetic to be able to count up to 13 four times simultaneously (once for each suit)… But with cryptic crosswords all you need is the sort of amateur detective’s mind that does not take things at face value.
Actually, all you need is a good memory for all the stupid, arbitrary rules that have no cultural significance for anyone under 120 years old and which make the puzzles so hateful:
Buddy is the swingingest lounge singer around, in the archetypal Vegas style (although his last gig appears to have been in Palm Springs, according to his website.) It’s impossible to imagine him singing anything without a swagger: I suspect even “Strange Fruit” would yield to his persuasive powers.
If there is an LP I truly covet, it is this record that a friend found for $1 in an op shop in Marysville, Victoria.
That’s not someone’s scribble over the title, it’s part of the design: the word ‘sun’ is crossed out and ‘love’ written above it – see what they did there? My friend’s copy is a reissue on the Australian cheapo Summit label, which may explain why the cover photo came out so dark – all you can make out of Buddy’s face are his teeth gleaming from the gloom of his comically holey umbrella.
As a Buddy Greco fan page succinctly describes
it, “Buddy singing the songs of 1969 ultra hip, with very clever arrangements and a very good backing. The theme ‘Let the sunshine in’ repeats between each song through the whole album.” Indeed, he starts with a blazing version of the Hair
hit, and the band quietly jams on the tune to segue from one track to the next, before closing the album with a mournful, haunting reprise. Genius.
If the front cover doesn’t convince you, then the back cover goes for the hard sell with an endorsement by none other than Buddy’s good pal, Mr Jimmy “Macarthur park” Webb:
Yes, Jimmy’s comfortable enough with his genius to assert his own greatness while he’s supposed to be praising someone else.
The absolute pinnacle of this album is when Buddy tackles the song that no other ageing crooner dared to touch when the older generation attempted to prove
they were still ‘with it’ in the 1960s. Amongst the Jimmy Webb and Burt Bacharach he fearlessly launches head and heart-magic first into the Greatest Song of All Time, the Everest of the 60s counterculture that forever rendered his generation of singers irrelevant.
Even more remarkably, he doesn’t reduce it to more manageable proportions: it’s even longer than the already-epic original, adding some much-needed showbiz pizazz missing from it’s better-known incarnation. You will wonder how you could ever bear to hear this song without horn section, backing singers, and a sax solo.
Now I just have to find the recording of Buddy doing “Macarthur Park”.
I wasn’t going to post anything tonight, but while checking my mail I’ve been listening to an oldies radio station
: Vic Damone, Ricky Nelson, Doris Day, Fred Astaire, Dinah Washington, FRANKIE GOES TO HOLLYWOOD. I suddenly feel very grey and feeble.
Oh god now they’re playing Spandau Ballet – must go lie down. Time to die.
I didn’t switch off quickly enough, and heard a pre-recorded xmas greeting. From Leo Sayer
I recently mentioned how
I’ve stumbled across a few of the more idiosyncratic London landmarks by accident, in the six months that I’ve lived here (the most illustrious of these would be, of course, the enbalmed corpse of Jeremy Bentham
). Here’s another one, a short walk from the bunker in Victoria Park: a pair of statues called the Dogs of Alcibiades.
The two statues were donated to the park in 1912, and flank the main pedestrian walkway across the park’s narrowest point. I had only heard of these because they get a mention early on Lights Out for the Territory
. The author, no friend to dogs alive or artificial, is dismayed on a visit in the early 1990s to find them freshly restored:
If the live animals, the shit-machines, are bad, the divine archetypes we’re supposed to worship are worse: twin white horrors, the Dogs of Alcibiades, raised on brick plinths. When they were blessedly removed, for months, my spirits surged – but, inevitably, this was no more than a truce. The frosty albinos are back, resprayed, restored (scrawny, loose fleshed, wolf-headed, genitally deprived): the gift of Lady Regnart. Posed on their red-brick chimneys, they howl in perpetual torment: as if fires had been lit beneath them.
No doubt he was pleased that they were vandalised soon after being relocated. Appropriately, given Sinclair’s metaphysical conception of dogs, someone sprayed them black, with eyes and mouth bleeding red, ’666′ emblazoned on their sides. Barry from Bethnal Green
‘s history of the East End shows the vicissitudes of the dogs’ recent history but, unlike webmaster Barry, I prefer them in their diabolical guise. Barry also relates an urban myth about the dogs’ otherwise unexplained presence in the park, but he gets the name of the donor wrong.
A few years ago, both statues were more seriously vandalised and have not been repaired. They now sit on their strange brick plinths, discoloured and pocked with weathering and lichen, more closely resembling Sinclair’s vision of them from a decade ago, as though his criticism were a curse upon them. The nearby trees have grown out to almost engulf each dog’s head with branches, the park authorities presumably hoping to lose them forever in the foliage.
Some photos of the dogs in 2005, taken this summer, are now on Flickr, click a photo or here
for the first of them.