vendredi 25 mai 2018

"JERRY NOLAN'S WILD RIDE" Interview with Curt Weiss

Curt Weiss has spent over thirty-five years working in the media industry.
As “Lewis King” he was one of New York’s premier drummers in the 1980’s playing with major-label artists such as the Rockats and Beat Rodeo. 
He is currently a television producer and writer.  
He lives near Seattle, Washington.

"Stranded In The Jungle – Jerry Nolan’s Wild Ride – ATale of Drugs, Fashion, the New York Dolls and Punk Rock", Curt’s biography of Jerry Nolan, the drummer of the legendary New York Dolls, is published by Backbeat Books.

PML:  How did you get into music?

CW:  I saw the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show when I was 4 years old, and that pretty much changed my life.  The next year, after seeing HELP, I decided I wanted to play the drums.  I was lucky enough to grow up with all the great radio of the 60s, and I was also very fortunate that my parents and schools encouraged my musical education.

PML: So you had formal musical training?

CW:  I had some formal training but most of my education came from playing along to records.  The rudiments and jazz training had their benefits, but they didn’t really teach me how to play rock and roll.  That came from records.  I went to the Berklee School of Music in Boston for all of a semester and 3 weeks.  I really hated it there.  Seeing Elvis Costello and the Attractions on my 18th birthday convinced me to drop out.  I stayed in Boston through the summer of ’78 and was lucky enough to work in a restaurant that was next door to a sleazy club called the Rat, which was Boston’s CBGB.   I saw New York based bands there like the Dictators, Helen Wheels, and the Cramps.  I also saw the Nuns from San Francisco, and great local bands like La Peste, DMZ and the Atlantics.  There was a nicer club called the Paradise where I saw the original Ramones, Talking Heads, Blondie, Mink DeVille, the Dead Boys, Robert Gordon with Link Wray, and Lou Reed.  It was a great time.

PML:  When did first see Jerry Nolan play?

Jerry Nolan

CW:  Besides seeing him on TV with the Dolls, it was probably at one of the Sid Vicious shows.  I moved back to NYC in September ’78, and those shows were that month at Max's Kansas City.  But by ’80 I had met people at the Soho Weekly News who introduced me to the Rockats and the rockabilly scene.  I started to go to their shows, which is how I first got drawn to Jerry who, at the time, was their drummer.  He was fantastic.

PML:  Why did you decide to write his biography?

CW:  From seeing him perform, meeting people around him, and knowing his history, I felt his was a fascinating, untold story.  He was in two of the most influential and infamous bands of the period: The New York Dolls and The Heartbreakers.  He’d played with Johnny Thunders, Richard Hell, Sid Vicious, Jayne (Wayne) County, Bette Midler, Billy Squier and Suzi Quatro.  He’d been on the Anarchy Tour and was either at or playing CBGBs early on.  He was at the center of the punk craze as it exploded in England.  He knew people in the Ramones, Blondie, the Sex Pistols and the Clash.  His punk rock credentials were as authentic as anyone’s.  But he also didn’t have the success or longevity that some of the others I mentioned did, and that added an element of pathos to his story.  And there was nothing like seeing him play live.  I thought his story should be told.

PML: How long did Stranded take to write?

CW:  About 10 years, mostly due to not being in a hurry and not knowing anything about the business of books.  I started in 2006, spent a few years searching for people, and archival materials.  I’d take time off to live my life, and then come back to it.

PML:  How did you proceed?

CW:  Each person I’d interview would often connect me to other people or give me encouragement to keep going. 

PML: Were most people willing to speak about Jerry?

CW: A number of people didn’t want to talk, presumably because they were tired of talking about Punk Rock for 30 plus years or didn’t want to be associated with Jerry.  Plus there were people who, after realizing I wasn’t going to write the book they wanted written, pulled out. Some people seem to have a lot invested in perpetuating myths.

PML: Meaning…?

CW:  There are people who like to think of themselves as the sole experts on Punk Rock or the Dolls, or Thunders or Jerry.  They think that if they knew Jerry or Johnny for some period of time that they have the inside track on what made them tick.  It’s their own little cottage industry as well as something their whole self-worth is wrapped up in.  But Jerry was an addict, and as wonderful, talented and charming as he could be, as an addict he had one priority: meeting the needs of his addiction.  To do that, he would say or do just about anything. So he used just about everyone at one time or another.  That includes his mother, and all the women that loved him.  People often don’t want to admit that to themselves.  So the Jerry people think they knew is often not the real or complete Jerry.  That idea is very threatening to those people.  But I was writing a biography, not a hagiography.  And I also never promised to write the book that someone else wanted.  That’s why my name’s on it.  If someone else wants to tell the story differently, I say, “Have at it.”  When people say, “That can’t be true! That wasn’t the Jerry I knew!” my response is “Thank you.”  Isn’t the point of a biography to reveal things to the reader they didn’t know beforehand?

PML: So who opted out?

CW: Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols didn’t want to be interviewed.  Richard Hell sent one short e-mail which ended with something like “don’t contact me about this anymore.”  Mick Jones of the Clash seemed to have a bout of amnesia when I asked him some questions.  John Lydon ended up threatening me with “litigation.”

PML: Why am I not surprised?

CW: As I spoke to him “between” his two books, I like to think that I may have had something to do with changing his story about Jerry in his 2nd book.

PML: You did manage to pin down Sex Pistol Glen Matlock…

CW: Yes, but Paul Cook and Paul Simenon where just unreachable.  Debbie Harry, Willy DeVille and Bette Midler wouldn’t agree to be interviewed, although I did run into Debbie at a memorial and she was actually very sweet and friendly. Sylvain ended up coming through after 5 or 6 years of trying, and he was great.  David Johansen too, although only for a few questions via e-mail. Still, his contributions were priceless.

PML:  I was wondering whether you spoke to Terry Chimes (drummer on the first Clash album) who often sat in for Jerry when he was ‘indisposed”?

CW:   He was another one I reached out to who never responded.  But I was actually more interested in finding Rob Harper, the drummer for the Clash on the Anarchy Tour.  Drummers are used to sitting, watching, and observing, particularly other drummers.  No luck.

PML:  For all that, it’s a very complete, detailed biography.  Was it difficult to organise all that material?

CW:  I had first approached it as an oral history: a series of quotes strung together to tell a story.  PLEASE KILL ME is done in that style.  Studs Terkel, Jean Stein & George Plimpton also famously wrote oral histories.  So, when I switched over to a narrative, it was all laid out from beginning to end.  It was a great guide.

PML:  The first chapters are very evocative.  You really capture the atmosphere of New York in the early 60's ‒ the gangs, a 13 year old Jerry being tutored by jazz great Gene Krupa...

CW:  It’s all background.  How Jerry became Jerry.

PML:  I was intrigued by the pages about your romantic interest in Jerry’s girlfriend, Lesley Vinson.  Given Jerry’s street gang background and that he wasn’t exactly easy going, weren't you taking a risk?

CW: People told me he was incredibly jealous.  The book has stories of his girlfriends Michelle and Esther which illustrate it.  But I never really flirted with Lesley or made a move on her.  She was about 6 or 7 years older than me, and after her relationship with Jerry ended, she always seemed to be dating someone from the Soho News.  Also, by the end of her relationship with Jerry, things had deteriorated so much he often wasn’t there.  He would disappear for long periods of time chasing drugs or money.  In fact, I was disappointed when he was out of the band and her life.  I wanted a chance to see him some more.

PML: How did you go about getting Stranded published?

CW:  It wasn’t until 2013 that I went to a writer’s conference and pitched to agents, and realized that I had to write something called a proposal.  I spent the next 6-12 months working on that, and when I had a version I was happy with, I sent it off to several of the agents who showed interest.  

PML:  How did it end up with Backbeat?

CW:  One agent was a fan of the Replacements who in turn were big fans of Johnny Thunders.  He ended up representing me.  He finally got me the deal with Backbeat in 2015, and I handed in my first manuscript in September of 2016.  Over the next 6 months or so I worked with a number of editors and the book was released about year afterwards.

PML:  Jerry’s was a sad life…  Wasn’t it harrowing spending so much time with him?

CW:  Between, the Dolls, the Heartbreakers, Sid, Johnny, and his own death, I knew Jerry’s story was a tragedy before I started working on the book.  I knew what I was getting into, so it wasn’t a surprise.  I was more concerned about getting at the truth and getting it right. 

Rockats: Jerry (left)
PML:  Is there anything to be learned from his life?

CW: The most obvious is: Don’t use heroin. If you’re an addict get help.  But Jerry had other emotional issues which probably made him more prone to addiction, in particular never knowing his real father, and being abandoned by the next two father figures he had.  He probably should have had counselling when he was a kid.  Jerry also didn’t like to admit he was wrong and found it very difficult to apologize for anything, which in turn made many of his relationships difficult.  He also had difficulty admitting when he didn’t know something, like how to tune drums well, particularly in the studio.  This affected his recordings.  So the lesson is, learn to admit when you’re wrong or don’t know something.  You can’t learn if you can’t admit you don’t know everything.

PML: That said, even without drugs, it’s difficult to imagine The New York Dolls or The Heartbreakers hitting the top of the charts…

CW: He would have been more successful if he hadn’t become an addict.  There’s a part of the book where I note all of the bands that knew Jerry and loved the Dolls, needed drummers and how none of them called him.  If he hadn’t been known as a junkie, they probably would have.

PML: How did Jerry influence your own music?

CW:  In 1980 & 81, he was probably who I emulated more than anyone except Ringo.  I wanted to look like him, move like him, and swing like him.  He was so impressive on stage. He also taught me that a drummer should drive the band and keep the band centered.  You’re the train and the track.  Everyone else needs to climb on.

PML: You took over from him when he left the Rockats…

CW:  After he left the band they tried another drummer who didn’t work out, and in March of ’81 I joined them.  I stayed with them through August of ’82.
Rockats: Curt (left)

PML:  Who else were you playing with?

CW:  Through the 80’s I played with former Rockat Tim Scott McConnel, the Vipers, Beat Rodeo, Elliott Murphy, Carmaig de Forest, and George Usher’s House of Usher.  I also played with members of the B-52s, the Violent Femmes, & the Modern Lovers.

PML:  Which other drummers do you enjoy listening to?

CW: The Beatles and Ringo were always number one.  But I also loved Ian Paice from Deep Purple and John Bonham from Led Zeppelin.  Sorry if that breaks the hearts of punk rock purists, but credit should go where credit is due.  Pete Thomas from Elvis Costello’s Attractions was also phenomenal.  His playing on This Year’s Model is really as good as it gets.  I saw him on TV with Jake Bugg 2 or 3 years ago and he’s still fantastic.  In my late teens and early twenties, I started to go backwards as far as the roots of my musical influences and discovered Panama Francis and Earl Palmer.  Francis was a top New York R&B studio drummer who played on many early Atlantic hits with Big Joe Turner, Ray Charles and Lavern Baker, after playing with people like Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington.  He’s on “Jim Dandy,” “Splish Splash,” “Smoke Gets In Your Eyes,” “Calendar Girl,” “The Wanderer,” “Big Girls Don’t Cry,” and “Prisoner of Love.”  The guy had exemplary swing, and could just do the simplest of things to lift a chorus or add drama to a song.  And Earl Palmer played on the Little Richard and Fats Domino hits out of New Orleans as well as some Eddie Cochran stuff like “Somethin’ Else” which has those explosive cymbal crashes.  Plus tons of Phil Spector hits.  Francis and Palmer both had jazz roots and applied them to R&B to really create the foundations of rock and roll drumming.  They’re the bedrock.  And it just happens to be the stuff that Jerry grew up on too.

PML:  Will you be writing another biography some time?

CW: I’m working on a book about a father who is nearing the end of his life and may not be deserving of compassion and love, and the struggles his children go through in offering it. It has nothing to do with music, but man does not live by bread alone.

PML:  Thanks very much for this, Curt.  One last question:  What do you do in television?

CW:  Make a living.  I can make you a mean spreadsheet and pivot table.

mardi 30 août 2016

Winged Victory : Interview with Erin Byrne

Erin Byrne is author of Wings - Gifts of Art, Life, and Travel in France (Travelers’ Tales, 2016), winner of the Paris Book Festival Award for travel genre, editor of Vignettes & Postcards From Paris and Vignettes & Postcards From Morocco (Reputation Books, 2016), and writer of The Storykeeper film.  
Erin’s travel essays, poetry, fiction and screenplays have won numerous awards including three Grand Prize Solas Awards for Travel Story of the Year, the Reader’s Favorite Award, Foreword Reviews Book of the Year Finalist, and an Accolade Award for film.
Erin is occasional guest instructor at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore in Paris and teaches on Deep Travel trips.  Her screenplay, Siesta, is in pre-production in Spain, and she is working on the novel, The Red Notebook.  

PML:  How did you come to writing?

EB:  I wrote my first story at four years old, it was about the circus and I posted it on my bedroom door.  I wrote a story at age six about how my first trip to the beach compared with my favorite book,  I See the Sea and that was when travel writing became my genre.  I spent hours, weeks, decades, centuries at the desk in my bedroom writing and drawing, quite near, in fact, to a painting of a little red-haired girl raising her arms in joy on a cobblestoned street under spiral balconies, which my mom had painted right on the wall.

PML:  This was a painting your mother did of you?

EB: Yes, in a perfectly Parisian set—bit prophetic perhaps.  But then I veered away from my creative self over the years; it was so easy to be less quirky and more mainstream.

PML: Was this veering away conscious?  Willed even?

EB: Yes, as I write about in my “Winged Victory” essay, I remember making the conscious choice at five years old to cast off my curious, inquisitive, relentlessly intense nature and become Well-Behaved. It was decades later when I first went to France in 2005 that this artistic self was piqued, drawn out, and nourished.  I began writing, in 2007 and was published right at the start, which was incredibly lucky.  The ghosts of Victor Hugo, George Sand, Simone de Beauvoir, and others turned up to guide me through, and I acquired what I call a “kick-ass group of mentors”, mostly in the Bay Area. 

PML:  What was it about France that inspired you?

EB:  The instantaneous sense that I fit into this place, an audible “click”: the pace matched my pulse, the wildly dramatic swings of its history mesmerized me, the outside-the-box creative vibe resonated.  In France I discovered a way of communicating that I myself had engaged in but rarely had reciprocated, a focus on savoring the simple pleasures of life, and an elevation of beauty and all forms of art.  These things that exist so freely in French culture were all inside of me but missing in my outer life, and I was inspired to change in a myriad of ways.

PML:  Do you have a writing philosophy?

EB:  My writing and travel philosophy is based on this quote by Joseph Campbell:
The passage of the mythological hero is overground incidentally.  Fundamentally it is inward, into the depths, where obscure resistances are overcome and long lost powers revivified.
I believe that if we dig deep enough we reach the universal emotion.  I use and teach a creative process based on this premise. The minute we begin to seek meaning, resistances crop up, but if we persist, the results are powerful indeed.  I believe every writer who has written anything that has touched me has done this. 

PML:  So you’re philosophically opposed to the literature of escapism?

EB:  We lose ourselves to find ourselves, no?  I can be reading the most fantastical stories that seem removed from your my life, but if I begin to ask myself why I’m so captivated , what any of this has to do with me, connections light up like a power grid.  I’ve discovered this in both reading and writing ... in film ... in all forms of art, actually.  In my writing I call it The Mystique of Art.  This process works with fiction, nonfiction, film, playwriting ... whatever genre we create in. If a writer persists, I have never seen it fail to both elicit surprise and spark a story that touches others.

PML:  How did the writing of ”Wings” come about?

EB:  As soon as I began writing these more in-depth travel essays, I had found my niche and envisioned this collection.  I remember confiding in Anna Pook years ago sitting by the window in Café Panis, and quite early on I pitched it to my agent.  Travelers’ Tales was the perfect publisher to keep the focus on travel but to also make it a bit of a memoir.

PML:  What is the book’s main theme?

EB:  The book is about how I was changed by traveling through France with the ghosts of artists and historical figures—and writers and filmmakers and friends—who shared with me their guides to living.  Essentially, Wings follows the trajectory of a bumbling traveler guided by the likes of Henri Cartier-Bresson, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Cézanne, Winged Victory, and other magical guides.  I was drawn to France and then sort of fell into its history and have never really emerged—I find this happens whenever I travel often to a place.

PML:  It’s, in fact, a collection of autobiographical essays?

EB:  My sometimes genre-bending travel essays!  15 of them have already been published, 15 of which are new, arranged in a deep-deeper-deepest arc in chapters of three stories each around themes: Tastes, Characters, Connections, Art, Transformation, Secrets, Signs, and Belonging. 

PML:  Children and adolescents play a prominent role in some of the chapters.

EB:  Yes. One chapter, Les Deux Garçons, is about my son Brendan and his friend Corbin.  There’s another based on The Storykeeper, the award-winning documentary that Rogier Van Beeck Calkoen and I made about a young boy in occupied Paris who witnessed a USAF B-17 crash in his neighborhood. 

PML:  What I like about “Wings” is that we witness your view of France evolving.

EB:  My image of France was at first blindingly glittering, but my own air of sophistication misted over the more I went there, and finally evaporated altogether.  During the editing of Wings, I chose not to make myself seem smarter or savvier, although it was tempting.  I tried to keep the essence of what we often do when we travel: arrive with preconceived notions, cling to our assumptions, pine for our prior expectations, and take pride in our vast knowledge.  I found that if I was open enough, these all got upended and that was when the discoveries began.  We feel such an affinity with a place that we over-identify (“Bastille Day on the Palouse”), we get it wrong and we fall (“Signs”), we fumble with the language and learn that une croissant is really un croissant (“f is for...”), and thus we are humbled (“The Mirror of Montmartre”).  The view is different from this vantage point.

PML:  There are a lot of lovely illustrations.  Who did them?

EB:  The artist Anna Elkins.  She contributed over 100 gorgeous sketches which illustrate the stories perfectly.  The pictures include many addresses that make Wings a guidebook of sorts.  

PML:  You’ve also made films of some of the stories?

EB: Rogier and I filmed a book trailer and made short films for two of the stories, which you can find here on YouTube.  Rogier has also made The Storykeeper available for a limited time to view. 

PML:  Tell us a little about your writing workshops.

EB:  I’m “anti-workshop”, so  with me, writers do not weigh in creatively on each other’s work.  Instead we wrestle with our own stories, which go from unmanageable beasts to concise stories with a clear structure and theme.  It’s a grind but it is the only way to get to the heart of what you are trying to write.

PML:  Why no group feedback?

EB:  The objective is to learn to do this for ourselves, to develop our intuition into a kind of divining rod for our own truths. “Why do you want to write this story?” “What was the most powerful emotion here?” ... and perhaps most crucial, “What is the connection between this story and you?”  This is where that resistance Campbell mentions in his quote about the inner journey comes up; we think we randomly choose our topics but I’ve found that is rarely the case. We polish and burnish our prose, and then we always have a party when we share our stories. So we also develop the skill of reading our own work as a reader would, which requires stepping back from it. 

PML:  You obviously enjoy teaching these workshops.

EB:  I adore teaching the writers at Shakespeare and Company because they’re used to this process, and they are up for anything.  I can toss out a concept like the Spanish duende or the idea of using fictional techniques in nonfiction stories, or ask them to grab a book and write the first thing that comes into your head, and everyone leaps into, shall we say, the void??  I’m so inspired by everyone every time I’m here. 

PML:  You’ve also begun hosting Literary Salons?

EB:  As well as a riveting presentation by you on Menippean Satire that led to a rousing analysis of humor, I’ve hosted salons over the past five years in Paris featuring an expert in medieval storytelling, filmmaker Gonzague Pichelin speaking of his Love Letters Project art installation and film, Jane Weston and David Vauclair, authors of De Charlie Hebdo à#Charlie: Enjeux, histoire, perspectives, Moroccan storytelling, and the varied and gifted artist Anna Elkins.  These evenings follow the patterns of literary salons established in Renaissance Italy and continued in 17th-century France, a short presentation of around 20 minutes followed by discussion that swerves all over the map.  It is a wildly fun and vibrant tradition.

PML:  What other projects have you been working on?

EB:  The beloved original anthology of stories written by writers here that Anna Pook and I put together, Vignettes & Postcards - Writings From the Evening Writing Workshop at Shakespeare and Company Bookstore, Fall, 2011 will be republished by Reputation Books and comes out in August.  The new edition, Vignettes & Postcards From Paris,  has 21 new stories and poems by Don George, Georgia Hesse, Billy Collins and others that bring the reader to Paris before ascending to the upstairs library for the original stories. 

PML:  There’s a Moroccan version too?
EB: Vignettes & Postcards From Morocco is coming out at the same time, a collection of stories and poems that seek the ancient and celebrate the exotic in Morocco by Suzanna Clarke, Phil Cousineau, Michael Chabon and many other fabulous writers (including Ann Dufaux and Claire Fallou, two of the original Paris writers).  We will launch these in the Bay Area in August and in Fez and Paris in March. Vignettes & Postcards is now a series of destination specific anthologies ... next will be either Spain or Ireland!

PML:  And you’re writing a screenplay?

EB: I’m editing my screenplay Siesta now.  It’s a short (or perhaps a full-length feature, we are in the midst of this decision) Rogier Van Beeck Calkoen and I plan to film in Spain.  It is set in a small village in southern Spain that continues to keep the tradition of the siesta, and is about one high-strung American man’s encounter with that culture and the ensuing clashes and changes, and features flamenco, a group of eccentric old men, and a close encounter with a bull. I love writing for film and it is awesome to collaborate with Rogier. 

PML:  What’s your upcoming novel The Red Notebook about?

EB: It’s loosely based on Ginette Rocher, a woman in the Parisian Résistance who hid Allies, who is part of The Storykeeper story.  The book is about the hiding of American spies, and revolves around a plot that took place in the Paris Ritz.  I’m finding writing fiction an incredible adventure.  After the grueling work of research and outlining 27 chapters, it seems to be about putting oneself in a character’s skin and just writing down what happens, which give it a thrill akin to reading.

mercredi 29 juin 2016

Thou ART Ruud (interview with Ruud Antonius)

RuudAntonius was born on the 3rd of December 1959 in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands. He lived there until the age of 13 and moved to England with his family in 1973, continued his schooling and studied art. After that, in 1979, he left England and moved to Bielefeld, Germany and 9 months later to Hameln a small town close to Hanover.
For a period of 5 years he painted and played music here. In 1984 he returned to The Netherlands. In March 2006 he moved to England until 2011 and moved to Spain for 2 years, he now resides in the UK where he writes, paints and produces music.  

PML: When did you realise that you wanted to be an artist?

RA:  I was 8 years old and I remember it was a sunny day on a market in Apeldoorn, the Netherlands where my mother had taken me to do some shopping.  That is where I saw a man behind an easel, working on a painting in oils.  Now to be perfectly clear, I had never touched oils before, but I’d been drawing obsessively since I could hold a pencil.  After watching this man for quite a while maybe as long as half an hour my prevailing thought at the time was that I found the work appalling.

PML: Even at that young age you possessed a critical eye.

RA:  I did find the process fascinating and intriguing.  I made up my mind that that was what I wanted to do.  Certainly not as badly as what I was witnessing, but I was definitely going to be an artist.  It seemed a good idea at the time, and I am still struggling with the thought today.

PML: Why do you say that?

RA:  I am not so sure what an artist is.  Okay, someone who paints, dances, sings, writes, composes music.  But there is more to it than that.  I don’t think we can just say, ‘hey he paints, he’s an artist’. Or even, ‘he makes a living selling his paintings’.  It may be that art is not just producing work of a certain standard.  It may be that it is the way you stand in the world, the way you live your life, all for the sake of making it possible to create your works.  There is a lot of poverty before you start making money as an artist.

PML: How do you define your art?

RA:  Why should my art be defined?  Let’s face it, the more we have defined art the more the decline in quality of the arts has overwhelmed us.

PML:  Give it a go anyway.

RA:  Listen, I have been an artist now for over forty years and I've learned  a few lessons.  We are soul searchers.  We are boundary seekers concerned with giving meaning to our existence rather than artisans trying to explain what our art is.  Artists are completely obsessed by the drug that is the process of creating.  It is the creating that gives us energy.  We are gobsmacked and in awe of what our fingers produce.  We listen in amazement to the magic of the medium we use. Our thoughts are merely there to enjoy these little miracles as they appear:  the fact we can manipulate light, dissect material, find hidden structures in what we take for granted.  We create an apparition, a view...  The creation, which has managed to crawl from our mind and soul, is the true essence of our occupation.  I don’t believe we can or should try to define art.  Not if you are an artist.

PML:  You are saying that art is, in fact, decided by the public?

RA: Yes. The initial question does not interest me anymore, but naturally as a student and youngster I followed the trend of my teachers and peers.  Yet I do realise you are fishing for that mutual language which takes years to understand.  It is a broad language that does not contain words or pictures.  It is a language of values, of artist ethics and aesthetics based on many years of exploring the small wonders of creation.  It is a language for creators to help create.  So back to the question as to how I define my art, I don’t but you may.  It is not in my job description, but if you feel it happens to be in yours than you are more than welcome.

PML: Salvador Dali seems to be an influence?

RA:  No, Surrealism has an influence. Since Dali was a huge exponent of this movement does not mean to say he influenced me.

PML:  Sorry to insist, Ruud, but surely Dali is albeit among the Surrealists important for you?

RA:  Okay, I’ll give you that one.  But the greatest influences on my work are the old masters.  I was 14 when I got my first set of oil paints sent over from my grandmother in the Netherlands.  I had moved to the UK two years earlier.  I didn't have a clue about brushes, mediums, canvasses and was very disappointed with my first attempts.  So I went to the library and borrowed some books on the old masters.  It was John Constable, the English landscape painter, who inspired me most.

PML:  Interesting that it should have been an English painter.

RA:   England had adopted me and I was adopting Mr. Constable.  I even visited the National Gallery in London to see ‘the Haywain’ in the flesh. And here I must admit to a secret I have kept for many years.  I waited until no one else was in the room and actually felt the painting.  I wanted to feel the paint, the tension of the canvass, the structures of the glazes and the highlights underneath.

PML:  What did you achieve by this?

RA:  Two major things in my life. Firstly, it may sound weird, but touching the surface of a painting tells a lot about how it has been painted.  It certainly was the best art lesson I've ever had.  And secondly, I am probably one of the very few in the world who have actually been able to touch this work.  How I got away with it I do not know.

PML: So you started by copying the old masters?

RA:  I copied many masters from the age of about 14-15 years, and suddenly I found myself selling these pieces to my teachers at school for a couple of pounds.  This enabled me to afford my materials for the next paintings.  Other people caught on, and in a short span of time, I got a few commissions.  During my school days, Turner, Rembrandt, Constable, Whistler and many others have stood on my easel.

PML: You could have made a fortune as a forger.

RA:  Not very long ago a long lost friend contacted me on Facebook and reminded me her father had bought two paintings of mine when I was 15 years old.  She sent me a photograph of Salisbury Cathedral, originally painted by John Constable.  Although I could see my mistakes, I was surprised that these attempts were not bad at all.

PML: When did the surrealism creep in?

RA:  It was many years later, in my early 20’s that my work showed any signs of leaning towards surrealism.  I was very much a traditionalist, wanting to learn the trade of painting, the techniques, before wandering off into alleys of weird and wonderful ideas.  My approach to art as a young man did me a huge favour although I was not aware of it at the time.

PML:  Perhaps, nowadays, the originality of the idea is more important than technique?

RA:  Most definitely, but the problem is that an artist has a million ideas but 900.000 of them should be trashed before they are executed.  They are simply not worth it.  Then another couple of 10’s of thousands might be amusing, but on closer inspection should be recorded in a sketch book as a reference.  

PML:  You would dismiss most modern art?

RA:  I am not particularly proud of what our last decennia have brought us, the Jeffrey Koons, The Tracy Emmet’s, The Damien Hirst’s, all exponents of a derogatory hallucinating and fraudulent form of making a living from having absolutely no talent at all.  The fact that galleries have always dictated what sells and does not sell is part of our culture.  But we can now safely say that, as long as it is big and shiny and maybe interesting as a tiny idea, it will sell.  It is the story of the artist, the words, the racket rather than the joy of the conception of the work that now prevails.  

PML:  Where does this tendency come from?

RA:  Obviously the current trend of indifference and the need for bite-sized glossy and appealing results.  Also, and I know I am treading on thin ice and many will disagree with my point of view, but the first one who did this was my fellow countryman Vincent Gogh.  It wasn’t his fault.  He was not aware of it.  But he was one of the first artists whose character became a story, a book, a romantic novel of a failed artist supported by his brother.

PML:  You can't deny he was ahead of his time though?  No one painted like him.

RA:  That is a lame excuse. One could argue, and I tend to very often, that, in the latter stages of his life, Rembrandt was far ahead of his time with his technique.  I’d put forward he was the first impressionist.  In fact, nobody paints like anyone else.  Vincent van Gogh did not show any revolutionary aspect in his specific field of ‘expertise’ , nor does his work have an amazing masterly quality we can relate to.  It is the work of a maniac.  His paintings were and are awful, technically as well as intellectually.

PML:  His paintings are alive with movement and colour...

RA:  There is that, but let’s face it, there were many others in his time who did a better job.  If anyone can convince me otherwise I'd like to meet them.  I truly believe that I might be able to convince them.  I know it is a bit of a rant but hey, the injustice of this ‘industry’ is sometimes unbearable, and I feel someone has to have the guts to say things as they are.

PML:  What is your current project?

RA:  I am working on a painting with a huge Cauliflower.  The title is ‘Je n'aime pas le choufleur’ a reference to Rene Margritte’s series the most famous one being "Ceci n'est pas une pipe."

PML:  Is this a commission or do you just like cauliflowers?

RA:  I don’t do commissions.  I just make my own stuff.  Cauliflowers are quite nice until they are overcooked.  They get this nasty odour, something between rotten fruit and a urinal that hasn't been cleaned for a while. Not palatable at all.  In the UK they usually then cover it in cheese sauce to seal in the smell, and then kill it some more in the oven.  So I avoid them in that state like the plague.  But seeing a cauliflower in the sky, fresh, like a sun beaming caulirays into my landscape, seemed a lovely idea and just made me feel very good.  Of course there is more to it than that, but I will leave that to the observers.  I mustn't make it out to be bigger than it is.  It is just a cauliflower in the sky.

PML:  And when you've finished that?

RA:  I am going to paint a painting without a huge cauliflower.

dimanche 8 mai 2016

"Rock 'n' Roll Rescue": Knox (Ian M. Carnochan)

Knox (real name Ian M. Carnochan) was the frontman and main songwriter of The Vibrators, one of the very first U.K. punk bands.  His songs Baby Baby, London Girls and Automatic Lover all went top forty.

Along with The Sex Pistols, The Clash and The Damned, The Vibrators played the pivotal 100 Club Punk Festival in 1976, and the following year supported Iggy Pop (when David Bowie played keyboards). Among the musicians Knox has recorded with are Chris Spedding, Alex Chilton, Robin Hitchcock and Hanoi Rocks.

Prior to punk, Knox attended art school in Watford.  His paintings are inspired by both classical and contemporary artists such as Salvador Dali, Andy Warhol, Peter Blake, Richard Hamilton, and Andrew Garnet-Lawson.

A prolific songwriter, Knox continues to write for The Vibrators, but nowadays devotes most of his time to running Rock 'n' Roll Rescue, a music charity shop.

PML: It might seem strange to some people for a “punk rock” star to get involved in charity.  How did the shift come about?

KNOX:  I think it’s probably a normal thing to happen when you get older.  You don’t have all the distractions like youth and a family to clutter up your vision.  You start seeing more of the ‘big picture’ and you realise also that maybe you should try and do something about the things that are not OK in the world.

PML:  You don’t think that looking after the poor should be the responsibility of the state?  Or those with money?

KNOX: Well yes, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to work too well, profit before people, that sort of thing.  So rather than try and change things through legislation, though that is what should eventually happen, you think: I’ll just get on and do what I can.  Straightaway.  Where I am.

PML: Listening to some of your songs, it seems as if “Poll Tax Blues” is the first manifestation of a concern for the vulnerable?

KNOX:  It might be.  I had another song called “Modern World” which had some concerns about people in it.  Some of my friends used to say my songs weren’t about anything, but now I can’t seem to write one that isn’t about something.  I’m probably a late developer.

PML:  Where did the idea for a charity shop come from?

KNOX:  Because my nickname is Knox, and there is an existing chain of charity shops called Oxfam, I used to make jokes about “KnOxfam. Charity begins at home!”  From there I think I got the idea of a music charity shop.  As I got more horrified at the state of the world, especially vulnerable people not being properly supported, I felt I had to go ahead and start Rock ’n’ Roll Rescue.

PML:  Was it difficult to find premises?

KNOX:  I had been looking for a few months but was always busy until a week before I started the shop.  One of my friends, who I mentioned the idea to, said the premises right next door to the Dublin Castle pub in Camden Town would be perfect.  So there we are.

PML:  But isn’t it expensive to rent in Camden?  Where did you find the initial capital?

KNOX:  I was left a little bit of money in my aunt’s will, and I thought she’d like the idea of it being used to start a charity shop.  It is expensive, but we struggle on.  I always think the shop, given the right breaks, could make a million pounds a year.  If it got supported by ‘pop stars’, it could have quite a bit of political clout.  But I’ll leave that to people who know more about that sort of thing than me.  I much prefer being invisible, and not the face of the shop.

PML: How is the shop organised?

KNOX:  I supposed it is organised, even though it always seems to be running out of control.  We’re a registered charity (No: 1162829) and the money goes to the local food bank, and the Hare Krishna van.  It goes round feeding 1,000 meals a week in the local area (Para, the guy who cooks, has been getting up at 5.00 in the morning to do this for twenty years, I think).  We bankroll that van and another to take stuff out to the migrants in Calais, also we give money to the Mayhew animal place, and a local women’s refuge, that sort of thing.  Rather sadly there’s an endless list of people and places to donate the money to.

PML:  What are the main challenges in running the shop?

KNOX:  I think it’s getting the right people to help who properly know how to do things, and finding the time to get things done, as you will start something, then get interrupted.  There are plenty of ideas that the shop could do, but getting any of them implemented is extremely hard, because of the lack of time and available people.  Everyone’s a volunteer so it’s not like they’re being paid to attend, and life gets in the way.

PML:  Do other ‘77 era musicians help out?

KNOX:  Quite a lot do.  We get stuff donated from some of these people, but I think generally they help the world in other ways, not just dropping a few things off into our shop.

PML: What sort of stock do you sell?

KNOX:  We have tons of old electrical band recording stuff, small amps, guitars, CDs, DVDs, cassettes, 8-track tapes, LPs and singles, clothes, shoes, etc.  We’re very much dictated to by what people donate, so the stock is constantly changing.

PML: You also organise concerts on the premises?

KNOX:  We have very small gigs in the middle room in the shop.  We move the clothes racks and other stuff out of the way, and it’s actually a very nice small intimate space.  Our ‘house band’ which plays once a month is Pete Parker’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Club and are a two piece a bit like the White Stripes.  They’re really good.  We’ve also had other people playing: Charlie Harper (UK Subs), John Ellis (Vibrators/Stranglers), Luke Haines (who started Brit Pop), Dead Letter (Black Metal), Lach (one of the starters of the Anti-folk NY scene), and a few others.

PML:  Is this a long term project?

KNOX:  Hopefully it’ll run and run.  It’s a lot of work so the shop always need more people to help as frequently the best volunteers will get a job, that sort of thing, so we always need more.

PML:  What about your own musical and artistic projects?

KNOX:  I’ve got a few things on at the moment, a new Urban Dogs (with Charlie Harper) album this month and, in the summer, a new Vibrators’ album.  It’s a lot of extra work because, at the moment, all my time is used up doing the shop.  Hopefully I’ll somehow survive.  I want to make lots more albums (dream on), plus I’d like to record a lot of other people, especially ones in the shop (I have managed to make a small start with that), and I’d like a quiet life, just sitting outside somewhere, doing a painting, hopefully with a little pet dog (dream on!).
Camden Town Postcard by Knox