Authentically Inauthentic


This appeared in 3:AM Magazine on 30 July 2009

Authentically Inauthentic

Gavin James Bower interviewed by Andrew Gallix.

[Pic: Carl Wilkinson]

3:AM: In a way, you became a novelist as a result of the failure of all your other career options. You started off as an intern at Dazed & Confused, but instead of encouraging you to become a journalist, they introduced you to modelling. You were a model for the best part of 2 years and then packed it in because you hadn’t gone mega as you’d hoped (the “skinny-jeans-and-winklepickers ‘look’,” as you describe it, was no longer all the rage anyway). Then you worked for a production company — a job you enjoyed — but were made redundant. And that’s when you started writing Dazed & Aroused, right?

GJB: I like the idea of finding success through failure. There’s something bittersweet about it, as if I’d worked all my life in a factory and then, on the day I retired, won the lottery.

But, in truth, it feels more like I’ve come full circle — and all a bit by accident too. I first wanted to be a writer at uni and had some success as a journalist, but then didn’t really manage to get off the ground when I graduated. I kind of just fell into modelling as a way to get to London, which, being from a small town in the North, had this tremendous pull for me. I suppose I was going to figure it out as I went along. That was ‘the plan’ anyway.

When modelling didn’t work out, though, and after working a few media jobs for a while — and getting sucked into the whole 22 grand job thing — I ended up writing the novel I’d wanted to write since first arriving in London. I’d been working for a ‘green’ production company, but they’d spunked about eight million quid against a wall and made everyone redundant — so I had plenty of time on my hands over Christmas 2007. I’d been making notes on a novel for the two years I’d been in London, and was very clear on its premise. My writing’s very ideas-driven and not so reliant on plot, which probably makes it ‘literary fiction’ I suppose.

Anyway, that was all worked out — but I hadn’t dared to commit to the narrator’s own story. It was always going to be about alienation in the way Marx explained it in his Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts of 1844, with the narrator being the personification of the capitalist social relation — an estranged individual who exploits others for personal gain, but refuses to connect to anyone or anything — but I’d been too cowardly to commit to creating his personality, and the world he inhabited day to day. I was stuck somewhere between a cynical office worker and a trustafarian — neither of which appealed to me as a writer.

I’d been very reluctant to write what for me was a ‘serious’ novel and set in the fashion world. With me losing my job, though, I just made a decision to sit down and write it. I had so much ammunition, and it just made sense.


3:AM: I understand that writing was always your main ambition, though. Apart from Ellis (whom we’ll return to), which authors inspired you to become a writer yourself?

GJB: I’d say early Marx was a big influence, as was Jean-Paul Sartre, especially Nausea. I’d always read a lot of philosophy too, being a history graduate, and probably enjoyed that more than fiction.

When it comes to fiction, William S. Burroughs, Albert Camus, F. Scott Fitzgerald: these are all writers I admire.

One of the first people who really got me excited about being a writer myself, though, was Lee Taylor (editor of Flux magazine). My first published article was in FLUX. I emailed him to ask for some work experience with the mag, while I was still at uni. He didn’t want anyone but we ended up having a month-long email conversation, which then led to me just writing something. He published it and that was that.

3:AM: You’ve said that you like Richard Milward, Chris Killen, Joe Stretch, and Niven Govinden. Do you feel an affinity with them? I see strong parallels between your work and that of Christiana Spens and Joe Stretch in particular: do you agree?

GJB: I’m reading and loving The Wrecking Ball right now actually, and it’s incredible to see the parallels now my book’s been published. I’m not sure I’d have written it that way, though, had I read Spens beforehand — because I wouldn’t want to have felt like I was copying her. She’s a terrific writer, very talented.

Richard Milward, Joe Stretch and Chris Killen are all in their twenties, like me, and also Northern, like me. Beyond that, I don’t see that many parallels between us, as they each strike me as uniquely talented, idiosyncratic and a bit mad to be honest. It’s no bad thing, though, and is also quite flattering because I really do like their writing a lot.


3:AM: In your book, there’s a scene in which a copy of We Are the New Romantics, Niven Govinden’s debut novel, appears. Now, a blurb by Govinden adorns the jacket of your own first novel (“Sharper than an Alexander McQueen cut”). This, I think, is a good example of the almost disquieting relationship between reality and fiction surrounding your work. I almost get the impression that you turned yourself into a character out of a Bret Easton Ellis book before writing one yourself. Take the internship at Dazed & Confused, for instance: you could have done an internship at a daily newspaper or a literary journal. You also used to write (and model for) Flux magazine, which appeals to a similar hipster constituency as Dazed, so the choice doesn’t seem totally innocent. Then there’s the fact that you can talk authentically about inauthenticity since you’ve experienced the model lifestyle from the inside. Do you reckon there’s an element of truth in all this?

GJB: I Iove the idea of being able to talk authentically about inauthenticity — I might nick that for when I next need a blurb.

If I could’ve landed an internship at a national newspaper, I’d have snapped it up. I didn’t get past a first interview for the graduate scheme at the Daily Express. True story. Looking back, I think I took the only internship going, but it’s no coincidence that I looked to magazines reflecting my interests and ended up at an arts-cum-style mag.

When I left university, I didn’t consider myself particularly ‘literary’, whatever that means. I wanted to be a journalist and was writing 500 words about installation art and hipster musicians, or bigger pieces on Surrealism. I seemed to call everyone and everything ‘bourgeois’ for a while. I think I needed to grow up as a person, as well as a writer, before being able to write a novel. Incidentally, my first and only attempt at novel writing prior to Dazed & Aroused was during uni. I was really only flirting with the idea of writing more than a page of anything, and it ended up being just a lot of sex — and not even good sex at that.

Years later, when I sat down to write what became Dazed & Aroused, I felt ready. It was as if I was purging myself of Alex — a disconnected, almost two-dimensional individual incapable of empathising with people around him, only taking from them and never giving anything in return. I wasn’t ever really caught up in the modelling world the way Alex is in the novel, and my friends were all doing very different things. Even so, his viewpoint and estrangement is an expression of mine, and so it felt very cathartic ridding myself of that aspect of my own personality, which I think all fictional creations are in a sense, as well as turning something a bit negative — the modelling — into a positive. The funny thing is, though, now the book’s out and I’m single myself — and no longer a model — I feel more and more like him every day.

As for Niven, I read and enjoyed We Are The New Romantics before writing Dazed & Aroused. I name-dropped him because of the scene in which his book appears. The characters are trying to create a sense of romance by doing drugs and listening to Depeche Mode. I think this sense of futility when it comes to romance, to idealism, is kind of my generation’s ‘thing’ — and I certainly got that from reading Niven’s book.

After I finished mine, when I was looking for an agent, I approached him for advice on getting published. I’d found him on Facebook, as it happened, and he was really nice about it. I sent the manuscript to him when it was going to be published, to see if he could come up with anything and, being Niven, he gave me a killer line.

I like the ‘almost disquieting relationship between reality and fiction’ surrounding my work, so don’t want to say more. I wouldn’t want it any other way.


3:AM: Ok, back to Ellis. The first paragraph of Dazed, with the advertising slogan, is a nod to the opening of American Psycho. We could also mention the name-dropping, the lists of brands, Natalie’s “cool trends”, the juxtaposition of glamour and squalor (the toilets covered in diarrhoea due to the laxatives models take) and the DJ who plays Bloc Party’s “Song for Clay (Disappear Here)”. Ellis really is a major influence, isn’t he?

GJB: I have no idea what you’re talking about…

Ok seriously, yes, he’s a major influence. He’s my favourite writer and Less Than Zero my favourite novel. The Bloc Party song is the only explicit nod to him and his work in my book, but the similarities stylistically are there, certainly. I really hadn’t considered that about the first paragraph, though, and thought I was being original. Oh well.

I would say, however, that the premise and point of Dazed & Aroused is, for me, very different to anything by Ellis. It puts the ‘social’ in anti-social. (Note to self: use that when asked to blurb for Stewart Home’s next book.) In all seriousness, though, I wrote it as an indictment of individualism, and think it’s very much a materialist work at heart. Also, it’s fundamentally anti-capitalist, which I don’t think Ellis is or ever has been. He’s far more of a satirist too — pointing out problems rather than proposing solutions — whereas I’ve always fancied myself as more than just a troublemaker.

3:AM: You were three years old when Less Than Zero came out. Has it achieved classic status for you? Is it part of literary history?

GJB: I’ve never been more affected by a book and so, for me, it’s a classic. In my opinion, Less Than Zero is the best book of its kind: a book about jaded youth, about the end of innocence, about embracing the abyss. What’s funny is, Less Than Zero defined a generation and yet, today, no book is more relevant to young people.

Apart from mine, of course…

3:AM: “Gen X was brought up with a sense of values that it saw collapsing, so we have a kind of nostalgia, I guess, for something a bit more solid, although we’re very suspicious of it”: what do you make of Ewan Morrison‘s take on Generation X? That tension between suspicion and nostalgia is present in Douglas Coupland‘s work but also, I think, in Ellis’s: can you identify with that although you belong to another generation?

GJB: I’m in Generation ZZZ…right?

On a bad day, I feel like we all just don’t give a shit about anything. And even the few who do — don’t really. We’re apolitical in the worst sense, because we don’t actively look for alternatives — say, to parliamentary democracy, to oil or, crucially, to capitalism. And what makes this all the more shoddy is, we all say the same things and then do nothing about it — including me.

I suppose we’re all on some level looking for something more solid, but what’s on offer is so beguiling — and the alternatives so unpalatable — that we’re stuck between one thing, the here and now, and what’s next. It’s probably Marx’s influence on me, but I’d say we’re all just waiting for the house of cards to collapse.

On a good day, though, I think there are loads of people who do care, and who are doing something about it in a million and one ways. When I feel like that I want to knock the house of cards over myself, and I don’t want to wait around for someone else to do it for me. On a good day…


3:AM: I don’t know if you remember that early Toby Litt story in which the narrator says that “All of this intellect stuff is fine as a consolation” for not being a beautiful young hipster which, he argues, “is how it developed in the first place: Socrates not being Alcibiades”? Since you don’t have to compensate for “not being Alcibiades”, what motivates you to write?

GJB: I don’t agree with Toby Litt, but I will say this: I’m not pretty enough to be a top model, and am too pretty to be a serious writer. I have no consolation.

3:AM: Could you tell us about the (non-)relationship between Alex and his father?

GJB: Alex is part of a generation of men who’ve been let down by their fathers, and he refuses to let it go. Like a lot of men my age I suppose, Alex blames everyone else for his unhappiness, refusing to see that it’s his unwillingness to connect with people, to make any real decisions about his life and future, which leaves him isolated, alone and unable to feel anything by the end of the novel. His father, like Alex, is essentially selfish and, having left his family and revealed himself as fallible — as all fathers do when they leave home, I’d say — he suffers the consequences.

3:AM: Your book also seems to follow a kind of Alfie/Billy Liar, tumescent/detumescent pattern: cocky young hero comes a cropper…

GJB: I don’t think Alex is a dark character, but he’s certainly not a hero. His is a cautionary tale and, as a narrator, Alex is a vehicle for me to say that I don’t like capitalism and think we need something better — or else we’ll all end up alienated, miserable and ultimately alone.

You’re right, though. The final line could easily be: ‘What’s it all about, Alex?’

3:AM: To what extent is Dazed autobiographical?

GJB: I reckon that all writing is autobiographical because, as a writer, you’re interpreting life and then projecting your prejudices on to the page. The key is, not to pretend otherwise.

I’ve just written a second book — about growing up in the North and wanting to escape — which I think is far more autobiographical and even personal than Dazed & Aroused. London, and modelling, is such a small part of my life.

Even so, a lot of what happens peripherally in Dazed & Aroused — aside from the central relationships, which is pure fiction — is based on something I experienced first-hand and then changed beyond recognition. I never related to anything in the book the way Alex does. I was either not there or, if I was, thinking something completely different.

So, to answer your question, to no extent is Dazed & Aroused autobiographical, in the sense that I am not Alex and none of it happened anyway. Apart from a lot of it.

3:AM: Apparently, you approached some 40 publishers before your manuscript was finally accepted, by Quartet Books. Did any of them give you any explanations or advice?

GJB: I think I approached 40 agents before getting one (Annabel at PFD). I don’t know how many publishers read my manuscript, but it was probably a lot. My agent only showed me the first few rejections — none of which were nasty — and then decided that this wasn’t a very good idea. I do seem to recall one of them saying that Alex reminded them of Holden Caulfield, but wasn’t as much of an ‘everyman’ character. Which was nice. In a way. I suppose.

3:AM: Things seem to have gone really fast since then: according to your blog, you signed your contract in March (2009) and the book came out in July. How long did you spend writing it? Were you writing full time, or did you have a day job? I think your novel went though 3 different drafts: was the first one very different from the finished product?

GJB: The book took around eight weeks to write, broken up by Christmas in the middle. I was writing full-time during this first draft, and then temped during the re-drafting and submission stage.

The three drafts were very similar: I really just refined it with the help of close friends and my brother. And weirdly, since being accepted by my agent last summer, it’s barely been edited. I don’t know whether that’s a ‘good thing’.


3:AM: Who is this Kim van der Pols and how did she end up being the cover girl?

GJB: My friend Carl Davis designed the cover, based on an image taken by a photographer called Rebecca Parkes. Kim Van Der Pols was the model in the original, and is a very beautiful and sweet girl. I couldn’t be happier with it. I think it looks brilliant, very seductive and alluring, and perfectly captures Alex’s infatuation with all things ephemeral.

3:AM: How did the Stewart Home blurb come about? Are you a fan?

GJB: I’m a fan, yes. I interviewed him when I was writing for Flux, back in 2003, and we kept in touch.

He didn’t read it, though, unlike the others who gave blurbs (cross my heart). He told me not to take the industry too seriously, and asked me to come up with something for him instead. All my ideas were a bit shit, to be honest, so he suggested: ‘Fashion will never be the same…’. Appropriately, given that he didn’t read it, it’s as ambiguous as you can get — but I think it’s pretty cool all the same.

3:AM: You are currently adapting Dazed into a screenplay, aren’t you?

GJB: I think Dazed & Aroused would work well as a film. I might even play Alex myself. (Um, I’m joking. I think.)

I’ll be working with a friend on it, once book two is promoted and I can forget about it, and I’ve finished book two, which is one draft away from completion. I’ve never written a screenplay but, then again, I’d never written a novel…

3:AM: Your next novel, Made in Britain, focuses on three 16-year-olds growing up in the North. From what I’ve seen, the structure seems a little reminiscent of The Informers but I get the feeling this one’s going to be more gritty and less glamorous than your debut.

GJB: Each chapter is going to comprise three viewpoints, and the book will move chronologically from there. I’d not even thought about The Informers as an influence to be honest, and I don’t think it’ll feel like that to people because that’s so loosely connected without any clear narrative, while this has a strong narrative and clear plotline, and is written in the vernacular.

The book’s about growing up in provincial Britain and what it feels like when hope turns to despair. It’s the result of my love-hate relationship with where I was born and grew up [Burnley]. I’m very ambitious as a writer so, once I’d got the modelling out of my system, I wanted to write something far more personal. I was up North last winter and thought, why haven’t I written about being working class and from the North? So that’s what I did.

Will Ashon’s Beautiful Impossibilities


Will Ashon, “Portrait of the Novelist As a Dead Butterfly,” Vernaland 3 July 2009:

I’ve been thinking of novel writing as a kind of minor utopianism. While I’m working on a book, the one in my head is always perfect, a masterpiece, a kind of personal Heaven on Earth. Then I get to the end of my draft and read through the one I’ve actually created and it’s a repressive regime. Flawed, dusty and restricted, with dog shit all over the pavements. And I polish and change and clean it and move it a little nearer to the ideal which motivated me, but it remains a disappointment. So I start again on a new novel and immediately convince myself that this time I will achieve something impossible, almost through belief alone.

Now, my question is this. Is this a necessary condition of writing novels (for me, anyway)? Or is it just immature delusion? i.e. will I only actually be able to write a truly great book (play along with me here) when I stop thinking in these terms? Part of the reason I ask is because I recently started writing something and I don’t have that usual feeling at all. So I’m wondering whether this is a Bad Sign, an indicator that I’m not truly excited enough by what I’m trying to do to pull if off in any satisfactory way. Whether what I produce will be, in fact, dowdy, worthy and safe, lacking in spark. Or whether, on the other hand, due to multiple disappointments, I’m finally able to write without becoming blinded by my own excitement and so will manage to keep control of the material instead of setting off on the kind of maniacal flights of fancy which seem to come to me when I feel the burn of “the star on the forehead” (to quote poor ol’ Raymond Roussel).


Of course the truth is that probably whichever way I write I’ll never come close to producing what I would hope to produce. In which case why do I keep on going? There are two possible answers, I guess. One is that it’s the struggle to create that ideal which is important, that it’s better to spend your life chasing after a beautiful impossibility than grinding through a grim reality. That, in fact, chasing a beautiful impossibility is maybe what a good life is about. The other is less cheering. A friend told me about research which shows that cult members become more committed to a cult after the events the cult leaders have predicted fail to come to pass. I’m either a beautiful butterfly or a one man cult. My one man jury is out. He’s staring through the window at an empty playing field when he should be trying to reach a decision. It’s cold and wet and not even butterfly season. It hasn’t, now he thinks about it, been butterfly season for years.

[Pic: Will Ashon, ICA, London, July 2009.]

Sex Pistols


From Jon Savage’s The England’s Dreaming Tapes (Faber, 2009)

Lee Black Childers on the Bill Grundy fall-out:
“Malcolm by that time was saying, ‘It doesn’t matter if we never play'” (p. 90).

Johnny Rotten on Sid Vicious as a one-man phantom band:
“Sid was out of his tree, thinking he was god, because by that time Nancy was telling him he was ‘the only star in this band’. The fact that Sid made no recorded contribution to any record didn’t occur to him to be important” (p. 230).

Jonh Ingham on how McLaren created an audience for the Pistols and then prevented that audience from seeing the band:
“Malcolm made the Pistols invisible. The kids are there, and you can’t have the Pistols. I guess it worked, but it was a dumb thing to do, making the band Olympian” (p. 495).

The Flowers of Romance


Will Parkhouse, “I Do Not Believe in Love: Viv Albertine On Life Post The Slits,” The Quietus 25 February 2010

“The first time I met Sid, we were outside a pub and even though I couldn’t play I said, “I wanna get a band together,” and he immediately said, “Oh, I’ll be in a band with you.” And I was so touched, because at that time, guys didn’t want to do what girls did. For a cool guy like Sid to want to be in a band with a girl was forward-thinking. I don’t think Johnny Rotten, Mick, or any of those other guys would’ve answered that.

We arranged to meet, went to a squat and rehearsed all through the summer of 1976 — the hottest summer on record for a long time — and emerged at the end of it absolutely white, and without one song. Nothing. [Cracks up] And we were in that basement for hours every day. I remember Sid jumping up and down, doing that pogo thing, tooting away on the sax, and Palmolive [Paloma Romero who later joined The Slits and the Raincoats] was on drums for a bit, and a girl called Sarah [Hall] on bass. I couldn’t play guitar at that stage and we were thrashing about and it’d be a bit embarrassing. And that was it, the whole summer, nothing, not one song.”

From Jon Savage‘s The England’s Dreaming Tapes (Faber, 2009)

Lee Black Childers: “Oh yeah, they would have done fine. …It was a combination of Ramones and Sex Pistols. Very much the 1-2-3-4 syndrome” (p. 96).

Viv Albertine: “There was me, Palmolive, a girl called Sarah. We were rehearsing in Jo Faull’s squat. That was probably how I got to know Sid, he wanted to be in a group or something, and I said to come down, he was going to be the singer. John thought up the name, The Flowers of Romance, and it was the hottest summer, ’76, we spent it all indoors in this bloody squat, every day. We did have discipline.
It was a bedroom band. We couldn’t keep time, Sid went from being a singer to also playing saxophone. I wrote my first riff which was quite good, which turned into ‘So Tough’. Even when people came in who could play, it still didn’t get going for some reason. It was a bunch of interesting-looking people, and we’d get interviewed when we’d never done anything and could hardly play. We’d go into pubs in Notting Hill and Soho, and people would come up and interview us. Jonh Ingham and others” (pp. 290-91). Sid sacked her because she “wasn’t giving enough to it” and “couldn’t really play (p. 292). Viv also mentions plans to team up with Siouxsie (p. 301).

Marco Pirroni: He was going to play bass for the band. A rehearsal was arranged but never took place because of the infamous glass-throwing incident at the 100 Club which led to Sid being locked up (p. 358).

Steve Walsh: He met Sid at The Clash’s ICA gig, who asked him to join the band as a second guitarist. “I used to go up to Davis Road to this squat, with old grannies living downstairs, and we’d rehearse till about five in the morning, taking speed”. He explains that he moved into the squat and the band also rehearsed at The Clash’s place: “Things must have gathered steam. I moved into this place in Davis Road, and through the autumn we started rehearsing more, although we never got it together at all, we never found a drummer who’d play without a hi-hat.” He talks about taking speed and “playing the same riff for hours and hours” (p. 374). He explains that everybody had been kicked out of the band by the time Sid joined the Pistols, talks about the effect drugs had on the band and says that he “didn’t feel it was going to happen”: “The group fell apart. A lot of the equipment was nicked, guitars and amps just went missing”. They only had one song (“Belsen Was a Gas”) as far as he remembers: “I think it was just an excuse for hanging about. Being in a band — or being seen to be in a band — was quite important. There was a lot going on, we used to go out every night. We’d go to Louise’s” (p. 378).

Dave Goodman: The Sex Pistols would jam a bit when they got on stage “and it turned into something they called Flowers of Romance, after Sid’s first band” (p. 421).

Punk 77 (includes scans of the interview the band did for the first issue of Skum in early 1977)

The Future is Going to Be Boring


This appeared in the summer 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 69, p. 77):

The Future is Going to Be Boring

Despite his bohemian hairdo and stripy tops, Lee Rourke is a creature of habit. Every single story in Everyday, his 2007 debut, was composed of a Saturday afternoon in the very same east London pub. And each one of these stories (or “fragments” as he prefers to call them) bears more than a passing resemblance to all the others. Time and again, the author retreads well-worn ground like a criminal constantly returning to the scene of his crime. Photocopying machines abound — underscoring this repetition compulsion — and the figure of Sisyphus looms large, from the hypnotic sway of a lady’s derrière in “Cruel Work” to the Groundhog Day pattern of “Footfalls”. If there is nothing new under the sun, all that remains is an eternity of repetition, recycling and re-enactment. That’s the gist of it.

“Our future is already boring, and we’ve not even reached it yet,” laments one of the scientists (echoing J. G. Ballard) in the piece you are about to read. Lee Rourke is rapidly becoming the poet laureate of tedium. One of his early “fragments” is called “Being Lee Rourke is Boring” — a title that exemplifies the author’s curious oscillation between self-aggrandisement and self-effacement. Should his dedication be in any doubt, Rourke is preparing a critical study in which he analyses how ennui has been “a central creative force” in literary history. He has also just completed a poetry collection that delves into the mind-numbing, soul-destroying monotony of office life: its eponymous emblem is Varroa destuctor, a bee-killing mite. “Most of my characters are either ergophobic or have major philosophical problems with the nature of work,” the author says.

Lee Rourke, a 37-year-old London-based Mancunian, is already one of the leading lights of the Offbeats and a respected reviewer. His first novel (published next year by American indie Melville House) is bound to further raise his profile. The Canal revolves around the Ballardian triumvirate of boredom, violence and technology. Set against the backdrop of Regent’s Canal — “one of the myriad arteries that flood a city like London with activity” — it is a book about dwelling “in the Heidegerrian sense,” about “the toing and froing of human interaction within a mechanised society” as well as the tale of “one man’s search for understanding and companionship”.


The Clockodial


Embowered wooing of the womb: jellied ire entombed in the quagmire of desire. Icky, sticky time bomb ticking away within the womb. Already ticking away, Time within the wombomb; icky, dickory dock. The tempestuous breaking of waters, like all hell let loose, and the throbbing of the plucked umbilical cord. Let loose in Hell to the thrumming, humdrumming humbilical chord: another gurgling baby wreathed in smiles, pushing up daisies. Already pushing up daisies.

Les BonBons


Stewart Home mentions Jerry Dreva‘s phantom glam rock band in the chapter he devotes to mail art (pp. 69-73) in his book The Assault on Culture (London: Aporia Press, 1988; Edinburgh: AK Press, 1991):

“Jerry Dreva is also well known for his manipulation of the mass media. One of his earliest media escapades was “Les Petites Bonbons In Hollywood”, created in collaboration with Bob Lambert, Chuck Bitz and others. The Bonbons went to all the right places and thus became a famous rock group without needing to bother about music. The Bonbons received coverage in People, Newsweek, Photographic Record and Record World, on the basis of wearing the right clothes and knowing the right people. Dreva became ‘so fascinated with the power of the media to create and define’ that he took a job on a Wisconsin paper to ‘research the entire phenomenon'”.

– In Max Benavidez‘s Gronk (University of Minnesota Press, 2007), Les BonBons are presented as “a conceptual drag rock group” (p. 51). Dreva himself described his band as “a conceptual rock-and-roll group” when he first met Gronk in 1972 (p. 51). Benavidez writes: “Although this group didn’t really play as a band, they were included in media stories and captured in photographs. By foregrounding the construction of stardom, they intended to expose and critique the media’s superficiality” (p. 52).

– According to this site, Dreva inspired the stamps that were included in Bowie’s Ashes to Ashes single (1980):

“Released in three different covers, the first 100,000 copies containing one of a series of four sheets of nine stamps, designed by Bowie. The idea came from American mail-art specialist, Jerry Dreva, once of the Bon Bons Hollywood glam-art group. Bowie acknowledged this by marking Bon Bon on each one of the stamps on the covers.”

– More on Dreva here.

The Importance of Doing Nothing


This appeared in the summer 2009 issue of Flux magazine (issue 69, pp. 50-51):

The Importance of Doing Nothing

You know something is seriously awry when even the Tory leader claims we should be focusing on GWB as well as GDP. General Well-Being is a catch-all phrase, but in our long-hours culture it can only mean one thing: striking a better work-life balance. As Paul Lafargue — Karl Marx’s son-in-law — pointed out, God seems to have sussed it from the word go: “after six days of work, he rests for all eternity” (The Right to be Lazy, 1883). Although scripture is notoriously open to interpretation, prelapsarian Eden is patently presented as a work-free environment. It is only after the Fall — and, crucially, as a result of it — that men were condemned to earn their dough: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground” (Genesis 3:19). Women, for their pains, would bring forth children “in sorrow”. The word ‘travail’ — French for ‘work’ — also happens to refer to labour pains: it derives from the Latin tripalium which, fittingly enough, was an instrument of torture. As for ‘labour’ itself, it comes from labor meaning ‘trouble’. No wonder work is a four-letter word (to quote the 1968 Cilla Black number famously covered by the Smiths).

In ancient Greece, work was restricted to slaves — a set-up which provided a blueprint for the West until the Industrial Revolution. By the early nineteenth century, however, “the voice of busy common-sense” — as Keats dubbed it — had become deafening (“Ode on Indolence,” 1819). Nietzsche observed how people were beginning to feel guilty of “prolonged reflection”: “Well, formerly, it was the other way around: it was work that was afflicted with the bad conscience. A person of good family used to conceal the fact that he was working if need compelled him to work. Slaves used to work, oppressed by the feeling that they were doing something contemptible” (The Gay Science, 1882). “It is to do nothing that the elect exist,” Oscar Wilde reaffirmed defiantly in the face of a triumphant work ethic. Contemplation, he lamented, had come to be regarded as “the gravest sin of which any citizen can be guilty” rather than “the proper occupation of man”. It is this gradual erosion of the contemplative life — “the life that has for its aim not doing but being” — which writers and dreamers have always tried to resist (“The Critic as Artist,” 1891). Robert Louis Stevenson — who poured scorn on those “who are scarcely conscious of living except in the exercise of some conventional occupation” — argued that idleness “does not consist in doing nothing, but in doing a great deal not recognised in the dogmatic formulations of the ruling class” (“An Apology for Idlers,” 1881). In How to be Idle (2004), Tom Hodgkinson — co-founder of The Idler magazine (1993) — reminds us that “living is an art, not something that you fit in around your job”.

Pockets of collective anti-work resistance appeared at regular intervals throughout the 20th century, from the drop-out beatniks to the unemployed punks. The Sex Pistols’ brazen “I’m a Lazy Sod” contained the classic line: “I don’t work, I just speed; that’s all I need”. Bow Wow Wow’s second single — “W.O.R.K. (N.O. Nah No! No! My Daddy Don’t)” — turned the tables on Thatcherite austerity by celebrating the rise of the idle poor. Many like Morrissey went looking for a job and then found a job and heaven knows were miserable now. 1991 saw the release of Slackers as well as the publication of Generation X whose protagonists relocate to the Californian desert after opting out of the rat race. Douglas Coupland’s downshifting classic was subtitled “Tales for an Accelerated Culture,” mirroring the parallel rise of the Slow movement anticipated by Bertrand Russell (“In Praise of Idleness,” 1932) and chronicled by Carl Honoré (In Praise of Slow: Challenging the Cult of Speed, 2004).

“Our epoch has been called the century of work,” Lafargue wrote, back in the 1880s, “It is in fact the century of pain, misery and corruption.” “Labour is the one thing a man has had too much of,” D. H. Lawrence echoed in the 1920s (“A Sane Revolution”). Unsurprisingly, Dr. Frank Lipman’s current diagnosis is that we are all completely knackered (Spent? End Exhaustion & Feel Great Again, 2009). So what are we to do? One option is to follow the advice of New Rich guru Timothy Ferriss whose best-selling The 4-Hour Work Week (2007) is designed to teach you how to let money make itself by outsourcing your business. Alternatively, we could turn to Melville’s Bartleby who, when asked to do anything, answers: “I would prefer not to” (Bartleby, the Scrivener, 1853). We could also take our cue from Jerome K. Jerome — the forefather of Phone In Sick Day — and get our kicks from the illicit thrill of skiving: “There is no fun in doing nothing when you have nothing to do” (“On Being Idle,” 1889). Following Thierry Paquot (The Art of the Siesta, 1998), Hodgkinson prescribes hitting the snooze button where it hurts: “Edison promoted the idea of ‘more work, less sleep’. The idler’s creed is ‘less work, more sleep'”.

One man who devoted his life and, er, work (8 slim volumes in 65 years) to sleep was Egyptian émigré Albert Cossery. His was a militant form of idleness which he saw as the only way to fully enjoy “the Edenic simplicity of the world”. In an early short story, the inhabitants of an impoverished neighbourhood are prepared to kill off those who interrupt their sacred slumber before noon; in another, an Oblomov-style character refuses to leave his bed for a whole year. Cossery was convinced that those who rejected (or were deprived of) material wealth gained access to a heightened state of consciousness hence the constant association between destitution and nobility. In 1945, he checked in to a poky hotel — on the very same Parisian street where the iconic “Ne travaillez jamais” (“Never work”) graffito would soon appear — and remained there, doing precious little, until he passed away last year. Cossery chose to get a life instead of a job. Perhaps more of us should do the same — the world might be a better place.