Brit Lit of the Post-Punk Generation

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Slates (Huw Nessbitt) published an article — “Brit Lit of the Post-Punk Generation” — about the Offbeat Generation on 6 December 2007:

In the burgeoning underground of new British literary talent the ideals of the punk DIY ethic are rampant. Shunned by the major publishing houses that determine trends based upon their potential market viability, and in reaction to the stagnant state of the contemporary literary culture, the latest generation of writers are utilising a new arena to publish their work; the internet. What began on the blogosphere through websites like 3:AM Magazine, created by editor Andrew Gallix as a small effort to raise greater awareness of new writing in 2000, has transformed into a growing cultural phenomenon.

In a recent article on Offbeat writers (a group who have formed a key part of this new wave) in Dazed and Confused, Andrew Gallix suggested that the movement was going overground and that the prospective release of a new anthology of Offbeat poetry that he is editing was akin to the Sex Pistols 1976 gig at the 100 Club. But already such comparisons are increasingly becoming obsolete. Members of its ranks are beginning to gain currency in mainstream publishing and the movement itself continues to further diversify by setting up independent presses of its own both here and internationally.

If such recognition not only in Dazed and Confused but also in the pages of the Guardian and the Independent is to be taken as an indicator of its entry into the zeitgeist, then for many this period of its preliminary development is of lessening importance as it moves away from this and into a definably ‘post-punk’ era. Whatever the case, the achievement of so few in such a short space of time is a revolution in all but name, as the relative success of associated Offbeat writers group the Brutalists illustrates.

Formed in the heatwave of summer 2006 by Adelle Stripe, Tony O’Neill and Ben Myers under the butchered punk motif of ‘Here’s a computer. Here’s a spell check. Now write a novel.’ The trio of have gone on to make big waves from their diminutive roots as a literary collective with only a MySpace page to their name. Most recently Tony O’Neill, one time keys player for Kenickie and The Brian Jonestown Massacre and a former junkie, has signed his first major publishing deal with Harper Collins to co-write the memoirs of flunked NFL star Jason Peter, detailing the sportsman’s battle with drug addiction. Elsewhere O’Neill has toured his collections of poetry at high profile readings that have featured Yoko Ono in the audience amongst other notable guests.

Yet despite their rising notoriety the Brutalists, like other Offbeat writers as they are widely known, are continuing to publish their contributions via a network of indie publishing labels and websites that work closely to support each other. In the wake of 3:AM has sprung a number of affiliated websites, such as Ready Steady Book, The Beat, and most notably Scarecrow, co-edited by Lee Rourke, author of the short story collection Everyday, released by Social Disease, a privately funded publishing project of Offbeat supporter Heidi James. Created from similar frustrations as the writers that she publishes, Social Disease’s approach to the business is reminiscent of the independent houses of Olympia Books or Grove Press that gave luminaries including Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, James Joyce and William Burroughs a home at a time in the twentieth century when their works were either considered obscene or simply substandard.

With this in mind, and in terms of their techniques for disseminating their works, the Offbeats are nothing particularly unique in the history of literature. Writers and poets have distributed their work in the form of pamphlets, zines and small runs of publications for centuries, by everyone from the Romantics to the Beats. Indeed for that matter, the narrow-minded nature of publishers is nothing new either. In an industry that is driven by profit, much like any other, publishers occupy the paradoxical position of simultaneously dictating tastes and also being driven to respond to change in sales by altering these accordingly.

What is different, however, is the way in which these groups have aligned themselves in direct opposition to this practice as a defining principle of their raison d’être. Moreover, with their expanding influence in Europe through other guerrilla bodies in the form of Blatt Magazine (Berlin), Metronome Press (Paris), and the semi-fictitious worldwide arts organisation, the International Necronautical Society chaired by Offbeat associate Tom McCarthy, it would be difficult to imagine this situation retrogressing any time soon. In which case contingency plans need to be made for the future as, if the movement truly is going to go overground, then something needs to be done to protect them from being swallowed up into the mucky realms of its major publishing foes completely when success inevitably knocks at their door.

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I’ve just noticed that Leora Skolkin-Smith has appended a really nice comment to one of my stories. It was posted on 26 September 2007:

“This was a fascinating work. So many lines alone struck out at me.
But this was central for me pulling me into a whole,

‘For a few split nanoseconds, another train pulling into the station tricks you into believing that your train is pulling out.

Adam Horton — 33, caucasian, 5’6″, underendowed, thinning on top — viewed this sensation as a perfect metaphor of his stumbling through life like a sleepwalker on a treadmill, a pet hamster on a wheel, or a commuter on the Circle Line. Hence the choice of a railway station over any other point of departure. But which one?’

I think there is a beautiful sorrow in it, mixing with gritty lust and sudden unexpected phrases like ‘At this juncture — when you are about to abandon wife and children, sail the seven seas or commit genocide because men cannot help acting on impulse —’.”

Thanks, that made my day.

Half-Hearted Confessions of a Gelignite Dolly-Bird

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I was feeling homesick for the event while it was happening
– Douglas Coupland, Generation X

Daintily, a faun-like figure stole across the cluttered room, pirouetting over the bottles and ashtrays that littered the splattered floorboards. She was the first to notice, having been awakened by a muffled squishy sound as of manifold foreskins peeled back in unison.

Fanny sat up and fumbled for her cigarettes, which she dimly recalled leaving beside a dog-eared magazine. She pouted outrageously, mimicking Nina Hagen on the glossy cover, but feeling more like Mme Pompidou gone feral. Not that anyone could see her, of course; nor she anyone. Except when she sparked up and caught a glimpse of the other partygoers who had crashed on the rugs. The expensive Persian rugs with their expansive mindfuck designs: it was all coming back now.

actuel

Guy Debord in hot pursuit of a statuesque demi-mondaine modelling a lampshade hat. That fucking twat, with his sweater knotted around his neck, whose inanities were still audible above the UK Subs. Astrid surrounded by livid creatures of indeterminate gender lapping up the dark glamour of a voluptuous runaway terrorist. The lead singer with a pretentious Parisian band reclining on a Moroccan pouffe drinking champagne from a shiny boot of leather. An amazon (with a blonde beehive and the blank expression of a blow-up doll) fellating an oversize banana in some dark (dank?) corner. Jacques Lacan doing the twist to Martha and The Muffins: rather tentatively at first, then letting rip. Some obscure artist (with an impressive pompadour and an unresolved mother fixation) showing off his collection of individually-numbered potato prints. A boy who looked like a girl almost kissing a girl who looked like a boy before recoiling in sheer horror. Astrid astride an up-and-coming Post-Structuralist who kept neighing and bucking bronco-fashion. Malcolm McLaren describing his new film project as Blake Edwards meets Russ Meyer. A statuesque demi-mondaine modelling a lampshade hat in hot pursuit of Guy Debord…

…At some point, there had been a blackout. Matches were struck, candles were lit, she could remember that distinctly.

Probing eyes, disembodied, unblinking and bloodshot, trained on her, boring through. Bleeding gashes in the cloak of night.

Writhing couples, vertical, horizontal or higgledy-piggledy, their serpentine hips suddenly illuminated like quattrocento manuscripts. A torch flashed into the deepest recess.

Astrid, bent over a Formica table, Jackie O hairdo in disarray, retro ski pants concertinaed around her ankles, emitting unmistakably teutonic grunts while a rolly-polly Pataphysician with a twirly moustache bobbed up and down behind her in slo-mo.

Wall-to-wall hip young gunslingers, no worse looking than Johnny Thunders, every one a Sex Pistol.

Pointillist ponces in pointy shoes atomised under the strobe light: lithe, lank youths, all floppy fringes and flailing arms, moonstomping to the B-52’s like there was no tomorrow, although tomorrow was today.

Today was tomorrow when Fanny’s angelic features were bathed in gold, her halo melting like fondue cheese, and sparkling fruit carved in dewdrops dangled lasciviously from chandeliers like overripe testes.

How could she ever forget what it was like?

He had pounced out of nowhere and pinned her by the arms to the soft furnishings, his breath as fresh as a lungful of menthol, his greedy fingers foraging deep and she had put up a feeble show of resistance like a heroine in some cheap novel and the only time he ever smiled was when he slapped her and it only made her wetter still and she was confused because her mum was a feminist and The Buggles were on the stereo and she closed her eyes as soul surrendered to body and the world melted all around.

“You can only take so much beauty,” he said blowing a plume of smoke at the plaster putti on the ceiling, “before you hit the bottle.” Up close, he looked even more like Paul Simonon. Same fragile strength. Same studied abandon. A panther in a tonic suit. A pugilist cherub after a few rounds.

Later on that night, Fanny pictured him whizzing by at the speed of light on his shiny Lambretta, pork-pie hat cockily at half-cock, skinny tie flailing the air, high on hormones, bent on being. He was just wind in her hair now. A dot in the distance, merging with the background, at one with the cosmos. Pure life force. …Just wind in her hair. …She closed her eyes, but the world did not melt like it had the first time.

How could she ever forget what it was like? What it was like would never be forgotten, but what it was like was not what it was.

Yet her head still pounded to yesterday’s pogobeat. Someone said: Nobody has ever been this young, whereupon Astrid and her fawning retinue repaired to a dodgy sheesha bar near Les Bains Douches. In the metro, they mingled with the vanguard of the rush hour. Overground, daylight was competing with sodium. Several other revellers had woken up to the dinky farting sound of the faun darting around. As their eyes adjusted to the semi-obscurity, it transpired that he had been dipped, stark naked, in silver greasepaint. It also dawned on them that he was stealing everything his slender frame could carry. They all looked on, entranced, as if he were a cross between Vaslav Nijinsky and Arsène Lupin. A smattering of applause accompanied his final exit while tears rolled down Fanny’s eyes. In that instant, she sensed she had lost something she had never found.

Her heart still pounds to the Burundi rhythm of yesteryear.