This year I have been very fortunate in being able to travel a great deal. The year began in Kerry, where my son Theo and I spent Christmas with Ed Maggs and Fran Edwards, having gone there via a night in Dublin. In March I spent a wonderful week in Rome with my old friend Valerie Orpen who knew where all the Caravaggios were as well as which restaurant served the best offal. In April Theo and I went first to Barcelona where we were entertained by my friends Michael and Judy and then on to our house in the French Pyrenees to avoid being in London for the Coronation. In July I took the Eurostar to Paris and on to Perpignan and the mountains where I stayed until early September. After only two weeks I was back in Paris, enjoying the company of Catherine and Steve, visiting the market, cooking and seeing shows. And now, finally, I have just returned from Lisbon, where I stayed with my good friend Camila who teaches at the university there.
But first there was the Marina Abramovic show at the Royal Academy. I have been there three times so far – it closes January 1st – and each time my opinion changes. I have never been a great fan of performance art; the ego of the performers always irritated me, but I found Marina Abramovic’s show very moving at times, perhaps because many of the pieces were done on film, playing to the camera rather than an audience, though the viewer’s role remains the same. She works in the tradition already fully established by Dada and Fluxus, particularly Yoko Ono’s ‘Cut Piece’ (1964), as well as Carolee Schneemann, Vito Acconci and, of course, Chris Buren’s ‘Shot’ (1971). In almost every case she succeeded in being absolutely there, grounded in the human condition, with our attention fully engaged: she and Ulay slapping each other’s faces, Marina violently brushing her hair; she and Ulay taking turns to scream at each other; Marina holding a bow while Ulay points an arrow at her heart (‘Rest Energy’ 1980) for four minutes ten seconds. She said, ‘It really was a performance about complete and total trust.’
The famous performances are there: ‘The Artist Is Present’ (2010): Marina in silent eye contact with members of the public, eight hours a day for over three months: a strangely moving event with both participants filmed. Being so focussed and attentive made many of the public participants cry. ‘Rhythm 0’ (1974), the masochistic event where Marina laid out a table of implements for the public to use on her body, including a variety of knifes and choppers as well as a gun. There was a much smaller selection of more kindly items like a rose. The audience stripped her to the waist, cut her, wrote on her skin, and even held a loaded gun to her throat. The active audience was mostly men. The performance turned part of her hair grey. It certainly grounded her in the moment, but at what cost? In ‘Rhythm 5’ she lay at the centre of burning five-pointed star until she lost consciousness. The RA press release says these pieces ‘pushed the boundaries of self-discovery, both of herself and her audience. They also marked her first engagements with time, stillness, energy, pain, and the resulting heightened consciousness generated by long durational performance.’
We squeezed between naked models forming the portal to the next room; a re-enactment of her ‘Imponderabilia (1977), though many people took the easy route around the side. I went with three different friends. The first time with Camila who was a bit shaken by the very real presence of the naked bodies; Jill, a veteran documentary film-maker who took it all in her stride; and Vanessa, herself a performance artist who was much more excited by the later stage of Abramovic’s work where she explores the energy of crystals. The critics were quite upset by this piece. Time Out said: ‘The couple are too close, you push them aside to pass, their balance gets shifted, their backs get pushed against the wall. It’s so intrusive, so full of questions of intimacy, misogyny and closeness, that it’s almost stomach turning.’
The audience are understandably not permitted to take pictures of the nude performers, so I’ve used Abramovic’s original performances with Ulay. In other rooms, however, I took a lot.It’s a huge exhibition, but the audience seemed to enjoy the crystal energy room the most; sitting on polished rock seats, pressing their foreheads against rock, wearing giant crystal shoes, laying down with a crystal pillow. On my three visits I recorded Camila, Jill and Venessa trying out the same exhibits: First the rock headrest:
Then the clumpy crystal shoes:
And exit through the crystal portal. You could almost feel the weight of the light as the spots illuminating the crystals were very bright. Jill enjoyed this room and thought it was the most fun in the whole show. Vanessa loved this as she is very into crystals and she stayed in the doorway for ages, having ‘crystal shower’ as she put it while a line backed up.
I also tried some of them out and the rock chair headrest did feel very comfortable.
Overall, I feel that Abramovic does change the audience’s perceptions of life: she makes them more aware of their vulnerability, their strengths and, by shifting the focus of everyday behaviour, suggests new possibilities and hopes in the viewer.
I meant to include one of my favourite photographs of Ken Weaver in the last instalment of this blog but I forgot. Here it is now. Jimi Hendrix filming Ken and fellow Texas Janis Joplin, backstage Winterland, San Francisco 1968.
I had only been back from France for four days when on September 7 th , Ed Maggs called to say that Fran had just got in from Ireland with a large bag of chanterelles that she had gathered in the woods surrounding their farm in Kerry that very morning. He was planning on buying a lobster to go with them. Would I care to join them? I only live two or three streets away from them and was right over. It was very kind of them to offer. I might have been tempted to eat them all myself. Delicious.
I was able to reciprocate a few days later, when Camila was in town, with some squid stuffed with shrimp and a peach, mozzarella and Little Gem salad. Here are Ed, Camila and Minako tucking in. The weather was still good so I took some shadow pictures in Regent’s Park.
Luzius Martin was in town and spent the afternoon scanning collages by Terry Wilkson for a forthcoming book of his work. Terry’s reading at the Paris Cut-Ups conference was apparently a great success and they sold a lot of copies of his re-issued Dreams of Green Base (Moloko Print, 2023). Unfortunately I couldn’t be there because poor Catherine and Steve, whom I normally stay with in Paris, had Covid.
On 25 September I took the Eurostar to Paris and straightaway found myself in the middle of Paris Fashion Week as Catherine and Steve had recovered, were Covid-free, and were attending a catwalk show called No Social Media that evening for the brand Ivana Helsinki. This was Paola Suhonen’s 25th year in fashion but she also writes books, is an art photographer and makes records with her band Lone Deer Larado. https://www.ivanahelsinki.com The label was started by Paolo and her sister Pirjo as a pioneer of sustainable fashion, a sort of Slow Fashion movement, fully vegan, and with clothes that never go out of fashion. It began as an art project and they make just 50 numbered pieces of each design in a variety of different sizes to fit a very wide range of women, and once all 50 have sold that was the end of that line. To show them, she assembled 80 models, also of all different sizes who appeared in great groups of 50 and 30 at a time. In their midst, the reason for our attendance, stood Lee Ranaldo, late of Sonic Youth, who manipulated three electric guitars hung, suspended from the ceiling, that he was feeding back by swinging them in circles past a range of monitors. He also played noise-guitar and had a variety of floor pedals to further change the sounds. The models sometimes had to move smartly out of the way as a guitar came swinging toward them and Lee himself was sometimes engulfed in a stampede. It was very hot. We were in a huge half-finished warehouse-type building fashionably distressed as only the Parisiennes know how, and Lee’s frilly jacket, made by Paolo Suhonen, an old friend of his, was like wearing a fur coat.
After a long wait we finally got a long table at a highly regarded ramen restaurant. Lee’s wife Leah Singer, herself a photographer, multi-media artist and musician, was with him
and we had a good gossip about mutual friends in London and New York.
The next day Lee and Leah stopped by at lunchtime, on their way to India, and in complete contrast, we went to the Musée de la Vie Romantique on the rue Chaptal, one of my all-time favourite museums. We saw Chopin’s hand and George Sand’s watercolours. Here she is with Chopin’s cast.
For years, our friend Brunhild had maintained the recording studio of her late husband, Luc Ferrari, more or less as he left it. It was used by other musicians but no significant updates had occurred. Now she was transferring his tape archive to the National Library, so we went to see it before it was changed. Brunhild was accompanied, as usual, by her friend and carer Junya. It was a classic electronic music composer’s set-up complete with several Studer tape recorders. I used Studer recorders to make a number of the spoken word albums I produced in the late sixties and though these were slightly newer than that, it was great to see one again after so many years. We used them at Apostolic Studios in New York when I produced Allen Ginsberg singing William Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience, and I was first introduced to them by Frank Zappa who had them in the basement recording studio of his house in Los Angeles.
Steve Shepherd and I went to see the Modigliani show at L’Orangerie but when we got there we saw the marker signs telling how long a wait that part of the queue would have. The line was already past the one hour mark so we walked on,
following the Seine to the Left Bank where we had a very pleasant lunch on the rue de Buci and did some people watching.
While in Paris I naturally wanted to cook. The markets there are so fantastic in comparison to anything offered in London: eight sorts of mozzarella, half a piglet (you’d have to present it with half an apple of course). The temptation is to buy far more food than you need. I settled for quail and wrapped them in prosciutto when one of Steve’s old friends Simon, drummer from The Fall, and his wife Lulu came to dinner. It was quite a rock ‘n’ roll visit this time.
On Saturday Catherine and I took in all the big commercial galleries in the Marais – nothing struck us as particularly good – and visited Saint-Sulpice. I had just read Jean-Paul Kauffmann’s wonderful The Angel of the Left Bank, the Secrets of Delacroix’s Parisian Masterpiece, and wanted to see ‘Jacob Wrestling with the Angel’ for myself. It is wonderful.
In April, shortly after I returned from Rome, Theo and I travelled to Barcelona for a few days en route to our place in the Pyrenees. We ate with my friends Judy and Mike each evening and spent the day as flaneurs. We had lunch on Sant Miquel beach, overlooking the brilliant blue-green Med and, strolling aimlessly, came upon the Picasso Museum with no queue outside and so were able to walk straight in. Even El Quatre Gats was half empty. I love Barcelona, there is such a contrast in the architecture with every street and alley filled with buildings of interest. I’d love to spend a season there, as Allen Ginsberg used to call his sojourns of six-months to a year in a foreign country. Rosemary and I always stayed in a different hotel in different parts of the El Gotic and El Raval barrios when we visited in order to get to know all parts of the old town.
From Spain we moved on to our place in the Pyrenees where our friend Valerie came to visit. I had recently stayed with her in Rome. Valerie enjoys rustique cooking. We had talked about it many times before but I had finally realized her enthusiasm when I cooked a rabbit for her in London one time and she carefully pried the brains out of its head, declaring them the most toothsome part of the animal. Both Theo and I love escargots but those she cooked for us in France were the real thing, not the trimmed morsels in a green garlic sauce you get in Waitrose. Valerie’s snails were serious.
In June my God-daughter Sara visited from New York. As usual she had a tight schedule, visiting as many people as possible in a short time, but Theo and I managed to have her to dinner and catch up. Born in London to American parents and brought up a Brooklynite, she brought all that New York energy with her. I only wish she visited more often.
I paid several visits to the Piet Mondrian and Hima af Klint show at Tate Modern but ultimately found it unsatisfactory. The pairing of Mondrian and Klint was artificial. Its true that they were both early abstractionists, with Klint possibly the first artist to paint large abstract canvases, and they were both involved in the spiritualist movement, but they were unaware of each other’s work and the formal similarities of their work was not that great. A better pairing, if you have to have one – it seems to be a fad these days – would have been with Kandinsky whose position as the first abstract easel painter Klint has taken. They were both Spiritualists and believed that emotions and spiritual states could be expressed formally in shapes and colours. I was very impressed by Kandinsky’s Concerning the Spiritual in Art when I first read it at art school back in 1960. Ultimately the fact is that Klint is not as good as either of them so a pairing is almost invidious. Plus there were two many Klints and nowhere near enough Mondrians, presumably because insurance and shipping are so expensive. Many of my friends liked it though.
In June my friend Camila came to stay, en route to a William Blake conference in Bradford. We made the rounds of the galleries, had lunch at the Academy Club and visited St. James’s, Piccadilly, where William Blake was Christened. I remembered how emotional Allen Ginsberg had become when he gave a reading there in 1991 or ’92. Blake remained his great love. I have always loved the Grinling Gibbons’ 1694 Reredos but had never fully examined the font before. Here it is with Camila looking into it.
On June 26, Luzius Martin and his wife Sairung came to dinner alongside Terry Wilson. Both Luzius and Terry have a great interest in William Burroughs, who is our usual subject of conversation. Terry wrote Here To Go: Planet R-101 with Brion Gysin, the best exposition of Gysin’s ideas there is. Sairung runs the Thai restaurant that she and Luzius own in Basel. Anxious that my food might not be hot enough, she brought along her own fiercely hot chillies.
Summer was here. I picnicked on Hampstead Heath with Suzy Treister and Richard Grayson, attended a Christie’s pre-view with Egyptologist Tom Hardwick, with whom Rosemary and I stayed in Cairo, cooked more rabbit for Valerie and saw the Anselm Kiefer show at White Cube, Bermondsey, with Jill. Though called Finnegan’s Wake, it consisted of the usual piles of rubble, twisted iron and building-site detritus. Many of the collections of objects displayed on shelves I had seen before in other installations. I usually love Kiefer’s work but much of this one seemed knocked together by assistants and, despite the hundreds of James Joyce quotes slapped onto the objects, it seemed ill-thought-out and rushed, and one got the feeling that the viewers carefully examining each pile of broken concrete had looked at it more closely than Kiefer himself had ever done.
My tickets to the Yoyai Kusama show had been cancelled as the gallery closed for emergency repairs, presumably the flashing lights and spacial disorientation had freaked out a viewer enough for them to cause significant damage in trying to get out. However, a new date was provided and Camila and I went. The installations were great, though not of great significance. I think I preferred the first Tate show some years back. But it is a very popular show and everyone seemed to be enjoying it immensely.
My son Theo lives with me and in July we were joined by his girlfriend Minako, which makes for a much more lively and enjoyable household.
On July 26 I boarded Eurostar and left Britain for the South. The first guests to arrive were Yuri and Pauline. Yuri is from Dodge City, Kansas, and I first met him at the William Burroughs compound in Lawrence, Kansas, where he was organizing exhibitions of Burroughs’s artwork in various cities. He helped me enormously when I catalogued Burroughs’ archive there in 2014. In the course of his job he met Pauline in Paris. She is from the Loire Valley and also works in the art business. They got together, married, bought a small house in Paris and now have a 22 month old son, Gus. Here’s Yuri, wearing a real Stetson. And here they are in my friend Martha’s swimming pond.
Camila was next to arrive, just in time for the village Sardinade. Many of my old friends had already arrived for their summer sojourns: Martha Stevns, who build a beautiful swimming pond that is the envy of the whole valley; Roslyn and Gordon, who were so kind and supportive when Rosemary died, as well as permanent residents like Paul and Polly Timberlake, whom I’ve known for more than 30 years. Here’s Martha, Camila and Roslyn at the Sardinade, followed by a picture of the locals dancing the Macarena. They love a line dance, and have been dancing the Macarena ever since it was first released in 1995. You have to know when to jump and turn 45 degrees.
Camila’s friend Nora came to join us after a few days and the two of them practiced a few songs. It was delightful to sit out on the terrace at night under the stars and listen to them sing.
On August 13 Richard Grayson and Suzy Treister arrived, bringing with them the art critic Adrian Dannatt. We had a full house. Both Richard and Adrian were in good form, with plenty of art world gossip, flashes of wit and cynicism and Camila and Nora serenaded us. Clearly it was like this when Andre Breton’s friends visited him at Saint-Cirq-Lapopie.
Richard, Suzy and Adrian left and were replaced by Nora’s boyfriend Antoine and her sister Ella. We had a day at the beach at Canet Plage, having lunch at NBC, my favourite beach-bar. Rosemary and I loved the place, which is reconstructed in a different configuration each year. I once went to the toilet there and returned to find Rosemary surrounded by the entire Catalans Dragons Rugby Team, not that she knew anything about Rugby. That was not the point. Here I am with Camila.
I hated to see them all go, but no sooner had I replaced the sheets, than Ken Weaver and Maxine arrived. I’ve known Ken since 1967 when I first visited New York and stayed with him and Betsy in the Lower East Side. We stood on the fire escape and watched a knife fight in the street that was only broken up when a prowl car arrived, and everyone fled. Ken was the drummer with Fugs and wrote several of their greatest hits including ‘Slum Goddess’ and ‘I Couldn’t Get High’. Paul Timberlake and Polly came over for dinner with them. I’d driven with them to have lunch with Ken and Maxine a couple of days after I first arrived but trouble with the car made it into a long drive. Theo came down from London for a week, purposely overlapping with Ken who he has known since he was at primary school.
In January, I had one of the most memorable dinners so far this year. Documentary film-maker Jill Nicholls invited me to dinner with three women who had worked on Spare Rib, the Feminist magazine from the early seventies. Jill herself was one of them, having worked there not too long after leaving university. She was joined by Marsha Rowe who co-founded the mag as well as co-founding Virago Publishing. I first met Marsha somewhere back in the mists of sixties’ dreamtime, but it was probably through Richard Neville or just casually in the Oz office as she worked for Oz originally in Sydney and then in London. The fourth person at the table was Marion Fudger, who now goes under a married name. I had not seen Marion since 1978 when she was the bass player with the Art Attacks and also touring with the Feminist rock band the Sadista Sisters. I attempted to manage her, in particular her songwriting side, but I was too busy writing for NME to give her the attention needed. I had toured Europe with a number of bands, but I thanks to Marion, the Sadista Sisters gave them all a run for their money as far as bad behaviour on the road goes. In Amersfoort I returned one day to find the glass front door of our hotel had been smashed to pieces. Marion had run right through it, presumably carrying her Rickenbacker which was heavy enough to use as a battering ram. Or maybe she just didn’t see it and was running at speed. Wonderful days and wonderful to see her again after 45 years.
When I mentioned the dinner to friends, some thought I might have been intimidated but, on the contrary, I was flattered to be asked and encountered no ideas that were in any way counter to my own. I have thought of myself as a Feminist ever since I got together with Ann Buchanan in 1970. She opened doors for men, stood up when they entered the room, poured their drinks and challenged every received stereotype that came up. We even alternated buying the birth control supplies. We spent a lot of time with Claudia Dreifus, who was an energetic champion of early 1970’s New York Feminism, whom I knew because we both wrote for the East Village Other, (EVO) the first New York underground newspaper.
I was contacted by Joe Daniel, the nephew of Frank Norman, to see if I would be interested in writing an introduction to a new edition Frank’s book Soho Night and Day, that had been out of print for 50 years. It is a classic of the period, more autobiography than guidebook, with photographs by the as-yet unknown Jeffrey Bernard. It captures the spirit of Soho in the Sixties, with inciteful portraits of Gaston Berlemont, Muriel Belcher and other Soho celebs no longer with us. This was an excuse to read, or re-read, all of Frank’s books: Bang To Rights; The Guntz; Stand On Me; Banana Boy and Norman’s London. I didn’t go as far as to read his novels though I think I have them all and read them at the time. Of course he is best known for Fings Ain’t Wot They Used T’Be. And, as Jeffrey took the pictures, it was also time to revisit Low Life; More Low Life; Jeffrey Bernard Is Still Unwell; Reach For The Ground and Just The One, Graham Lord’s wonderful biography of Jeff Bernard, to see if there were any references to making the book. There were. Jeffrey lost his entire advance in ten minutes at the roulette wheel. The estate is administered by Geraldine Norman, Frank’s widow, who it turns out has lived just a few streets away from me in Fitzrovia for 40 years. We now have lunch regularly and reminisce about the Colony and Soho in the old days, as well as discuss art, and her special area of expertise which is identifying fakes. She is Advisor to the State Hermitage Museum in Russia, the subject of many of her books, a position which is, of course, a bit problematic after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but art often leads the way to reconciliation so we must try and be positive.
There were several interesting art shows in February. Jill Nicholls and I attended the Women in Abstract Art show at the Whitechapel which reminded me of the big Surrealist show recently. Fascinating though it was to discover that there were Surrealist groups in countries all over the world, their obscurity was no surprise because, though they were of great academic interest, they just weren’t very good. Same with the women abstract painters. All the show did ultimately was prove that Lee Krasner, Grace Hartigan, Elaine de Kooning and the ‘Ninth Street Women’ were by far the best. The show opened with Helen Frankenthaler and closed with Joan Mitchell, the two greatest of the group. Some of the others, from across the globe were of interest, but paled against the New York giants.
The other show was ‘Spain and the Hispanic World at the Royal Academy’ that I went to twice: with Suzy Treister and Richard Grayson, then again with Vanessa Vie who is Spanish and who was delighted to find a Juan Carreno de Miranda, a 17th century painter from Asturias, where she was born. The Hispanic Society Museum and Library in New York closed for renovations and highlights from their collection were on show at the RA. Rather than just a collection of pictures, Archer M Huntington, who assembled the collection a century ago, included decorative arts, maps and other artifacts showing Spanish life and culture. One of my favourite pictures was there: Goya’s ‘Portrait of the Duchess of Alba’ (1797) pointing at Goya’s name, ‘Solo Goya’ – ‘Only Goya’, written in the sand at her (surprisingly small) feet. Was she the model for his ‘Naked Maja’? Sadly, probably not, though there is a strong resemblance, but she was the highest aristocrat in the land and he was just an honourable member of her household. The social distance between them was impenetrable.
Peter Weibel died on the first of March. I wish I had known him better. For 24 years he presented cutting-edge shows at ZKM, the Centre for Art and Media, Karlsruhe. I first met him when Udo Breger put on a huge William Burroughs show there that I was involved with and again when Tom Neurath and I went over to give a talk on ‘Swinging London’ – of all things. I had lunch with Tom only two weeks before Peter died, and we had been speaking about him. I first heard of him back in 1968 when I had loved how outraged people had been at his performance piece with his partner and fellow artist Valie Export, described as ‘…on a balmy afternoon Valie Export led Peter Weibel by a dog’s leash on all fours along Kärntnerstrasse. Walking like this means succumbing to the way of the world, proclaiming the negative utopia of the upright backbone in our animal community. This film produces reality, recreates it from the rough tapestry of ideologies.’ Here’s a picture of Peter, Tom Neurath, and I in Karlsruhe and of Peter going for a walk.
In March I went to Rome. I had always wanted to go to Rome, but something always prevented it. Back in 1966, my then wife Sue and I travelled to Northern Italy, spending time in Pisa, Lucca, Milano, Venice and Firenze. But we dawdled and spent so much time in the Scuola Grande di San Roca – I am constantly amazed by Tintoretto’s masterpiece – and the Accademia in Venice – I returned several days in a row to see ‘The Tempest’ by Giorgione, Byron’s favourite painting, that by the time we reached Firenze we only had a week left and spent much of it in the Uffizi with no time left to travel further south.
The same applied in 1969 where we spent so much time with our friends Nanda Pivano – translator of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs into Italian – and her husband, designer and architect Ettore Sottsass – future founder of the Memphis Group of designers – that we got no further than that. I’d never been anywhere like their apartment on the via Manzoni where even a cup of coffee had to ordered from the Grand Hotel et de Milan across the street and waiters in long white aprons appeared to serve lunch and dinner. There was no need to consult a menu – though there was one – we just asked for anything we wanted. Nanda recommended the fish en papillot, cooked in a paper bag, which was slashed opened with much ceremony. Ettore had another apartment, the same size, on the floor below that was devoted entirely to plan chests containing tens of thousands of examples of graphic design, from film posters to the printed bibs you wear in a lobster joint.
I arrived in Rome on March 3rd and stayed with my friend Valerie who was taking a nine-month sabbatical and had swapped her flat – a couple of doors down from me in London – for a similar flat in Rome just south of the Vatican walls. To walk or bus into town you had to cross the tourist lines in St Peter’s Square, just as I have to cross Oxford Street’s teaming crowds to get into Soho. If I had to choose just one building in Rome it would be The Pantheon, the design model for so much Western architecture – more or less any building with columns, a dome and pediments over the windows and columns has its origin with this building. I have several books on it, so it was wonderful to finally give light and colour, scale and acoustics to my image of it. Rebuilt from a previous structure by Hadrian in 126 AD, it’s been mucked around with a lot by the Catholic Church, of course, who, among other violations, robbed it of its bronze to make Bernini’s ghastly Baroque canopy or ciborium in St. Peter’s. (Other sources say most of the bronze, taken from the portico ceiling of the Pantheon, was used to make canon.) However, it’s still one of the best-preserved Roman buildings and its coffered concrete dome is a wonder to see. The central oculus is open to the weather and provides the only light to the interior. It is apparently still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome after standing for 2,000 years and it has now been confirmed that the giant bronze doors are original.
We naturally visited the Spanish steps. It was also great to see Tragan’s Column in the clear Roman sunlight. I was only familiar with it from the dusty plaster cast in the Cast Courts of the Victoria & Albert Museum. There is still some debate over what use the column was intended for as it would have originally had its view blocked by two libraries, thus limiting its function as a triumphal feature, despite its position at the head of the Forum. We may never know. Before the restoration of the Cast Courts in the V&A, the pedestal, a sizeable room, had an admirable use: it was where staff members would sneak off to for a quick fuck.
We visited Michelangelo’s Campidoglio, the model for so many public squares. Here is a picture of Valerie on the steps to the Sala della Protomoteca leading from it. I wanted to see just the most important things as to see everything would take a year. I restricted myself to Roman structures with a few exceptions, such as the churches containing Caravaggios, of which there are many.
The other exception was of course the Vatican Museum. By booking online and paying an extra five euros you can avoid the long queues and walk straight in, at least you could in March. I was delighted to find that their Egyptian galleries consisted mostly of statues of Sekhmet, my favourite goddess. Though they had nothing to match the British Museum or the Louvre, they had a wide variety of examples. She’s a cat, with a sun disk on her head. At one point she almost destroyed humanity and was only stopped when Ra dyed beer with red ochre and poured it on the earth. Mistaking it for blood she became so drunk that she gave up and went home. They’ve also got some more realistic cats. It’s a good collection. They’ve even got a Francis Bacon Pope, but he’s not screaming.
I managed to spend an hour in the Sistine Chapel while thousands of tour groups trudged through, led by bored tour leaders with flags on sticks or funny hats, followed by Americans or Japanese who photographed everything, not knowing if it was a Raphael or a Michelangelo, as a loudspeaker shouted at everyone to be quiet. ‘Silencio, this is a sacred place,’ he yelled. There are seats at the sides and the end which are easy to get if you wait a few minutes for someone to move. Then you can raise your eyes above the crowds, and they miraculously disappear in the face of the beautiful ceiling. 10,000 square feet of Michelangelo takes a while to examine. It is a great deal harder to distinguish and admire the Botticellis that are among the frescos on the side walls because you must push your way through the crowds.
It was not all museums and churches, there was a lot of sitting outside cafes and bars, even an ice-cream, my first in about 25 years. The market was fantastic, and I made saltimbocca. I was restrained because, thanks to Brexit, I was unable to bring back any of the delicacies. As usual, even the most mundane supermarket was ten times better than anything you can buy in Britain (and the same goes for France and Spain).
Rome is famous for its offal and has developed a whole cuisine to deal with it. Valerie’s favourite offal restaurant was Agustarella, where the eccentric spelling of the English translation made the food all the more appealing. I naturally plumbed for ‘Pajata arrosto (grilled viel entrails)’ as a main that were delicious.
My son Theo and I spent Christmas and the new year in Ireland, staying at Ed Maggs and Fran Edwards’ place in Kerry, on the far south west coast.
It should have taken 11 hours to get there by train, but the day before we left there had been a rail strike which, as usual, had disrupted the service. By the time we reached Holyhead, we had missed out ferry to Dublin and had to wait five hours for the next one. This meant a stop-over in Dublin and a train the following morning. The trip took 22 hours in total. As I was expecting, it rained every day, but it was the gentle rain coming in off the sea often not much more than a mist. Distant hills were golden with sunlight while rain dripped down the windows, then the opposite would happen. This is why it is called the Emerald Isle. There’s not much green left on the hills, though, as overgrazing on a massive scale has reduced them down to their topsoil and what nature intended as a temperate rainforest is now a series of bald hill studded with thousands of sheep, making sure that not a shoot or flower survives.
Ed and Fran had a series of houseguests, including my old friends Susan Stenger (composer and musician: Band of Susans, Big Bottom, recently on tour with Nick Cave) and Paul Smith, the founder of Blast First records who released Sonic Youth, Butthole Surfers and other alternate bands in the UK.
Also there was Mandana Ruane, who for twenty years was the manager of the Academy Club, above Andrew Edmunds’ restaurant in Lexington Street, Soho, before retiring to SW Ireland. She is still nippy with a Waiter’s Friend.
For one dinner the table was set for nine, including the local farmer who shot the deer that we were eating. And what a table it was: Ed was still making it when we arrived. He has an industrial scale workshop in which he constructed a trestle-style dining table of carefully planed wood.
In these pictures we have Ed sharpening the knives and Paul laying the table. I hadn’t seen Mandana in five years, ever since she left the club. She told us that she had always had two dreams in life: to run a Soho drinking club, and to live in a cottage in the south of Ireland, and here now she had achieved both aims.
We were able to get about a bit, saw some traditional Irish music in a pub: musicians some of whom didn’t even know each other but who all knew the tunes. Fran drove us to see some of the inlets down on the coast. More bald hills but 20 years of rewilding would sort them out. The water was beautiful.
I was very taken by the local amateur signage. Here are two good examples:
A few weeks later, back in London, I had dinner at Jill Nicholls’s house with her, Marsha Row and Marion Fudger. All three had worked at the feminist magazine Spare Rib; Marsha being the co-founder. It was a wonderful evening, particularly as I hadn’t seen Marion in 45 years when she played bass with the Art Attacks after leaving the magazine. She was also in the Derelicts and played on a European tour with the Sadista Sisters. I caught up with them in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands. Back then  I was writing regularly for New Musical Express, but I’d rarely seen such outrageous group behaviour except for covering The Who and one time when Roger McGuinn shot out the lightbulb in his hotel room because it wouldn’t turn off (he was using the wrong switch). I went to see them in Holland, that evening, the glass front door of the Sisters’ hotel was shattered to pieces when Marion ran straight through it. She must have been travelling at some speed as it was made of thick glass. It was more fun being on the road with a female group because people weren’t expecting them to have so much energy. Also, the audience had far more girls in it than the boys/blokes that most male bands attract.
21 January 2023Ten months has gone by, and I haven’t added anything to this blog. My New Year resolution must be to keep recording. For my own interest, and hopefully the reader’s, I’ll continue from that date. On March 21 I did a radio interview with Stephen Coates for Soho Radio. It’s always great to see him and I’m envious of how many projects he seems to have going at once. The next day I took the Eurostar to Paris and stayed with my friend Catherine. Her great friend Brunhild Ferrari had a performance coming up, and so my first full day in Paris ended with Catherine, Steve and I going out to Montreuil to visit her for dinner. She is a singer and composer, the widow of French musique concrète composer Luc Ferrari and her companion, Junya, was preparing one of his world-class Japanese meals. It would be worth moving to the Paris suburbs to eat with Junya each week, he is such a superb cook. We saw them again a few days later when Brunhild was one of the performers in a piece by Luc Ferrari in a Paris record shop. We all had dinner afterwards.
I met with Hélène -Florence Leroy at the Musée d’art modern de Paris to discuss an upcoming William Burroughs and Brion Gysin show. I had already met her, along with Olivier Weil, an art expert brought in as a consultant, in London where they visited me and several other Burroughs and Gysin ‘experts’ to discuss the show. When Brion died he left the contents of his studio, over 400 paintings, to MAM, but for twenty years they did nothing with it. Hélène had been working directly with the Minister of the Arts but wanted to move closer to the art world. She saw there was a position at MAM as head of the collections and applied. She examined their catalogue of holdings and realised that they had done nothing with their Gysin collection and so she made that a part of her application proposals. She got the job. After a period of settling in, she began preparations for a Gysin show.
I was delighted to meet her again; Apart from her obvious professionalism – copies of manuscripts and articles promised arrived quickly by e-mail, something that rarely happens – I loved her sense of style. Parisienne women have an instinctive ability to wear a scarf that you see nowhere else on Earth, and particularly when they work in the arts, they can pull off a degree of elegance that would look shocking in other cities. This time Hélène wore a sky-blue top, a ring with a blue stone, wore glasses with sky-blue frames and had a sky-blue cover to her I-phone, all of which matched her sky-blue eyes. I was impressed. She showed me the paper archives they had of Gysin and we looked at the space proposed for the exhibition and discussed the essay I wrote for the exhibition catalogue. I am really looking forward to the show. We had lunch, then I walked back along the Left Bank of the Seine to visit my friend the couturier Yang Li. He lived in a giant apartment with a triple height art studio living room overlooking the Café de Flore and blvd St. Germain. Catherine and Steve joined me there later and we had a brought-in Chinese meal.
I returned to London in time for the celebration of the life of Tony Elliott the next day. It was held at the Roundhouse, Chalk Farm, a building that Tony had helped to rescue. I was both surprised and saddened by the fact that many of the old timers did not show up. Tony could be difficult, and he was not a good businessman, but Time Out was a better employer than most, and were it not for Tony they wouldn’t have their houses and gardens in North London. In fact, many of them seem to do better out of it than he did. The event was organised by Janey, his wife, whom I knew long before they go together. Janey and I spent the 1977 Jubilee sitting in a garden swing, in her parents’ garden in South Cerney, getting through a bottle of whiskey, while the local villagers held a party in the main street of the village. I first met Tony when he came around to International Times in 1968 and suggested that we expand the last two pages of the paper, where we ran counter cultural what’s on listings, but we were more interested in the news side of things. He asked if we would object if he did it as a separate publication and we said, no, go ahead. By the time he died Time Out was an international brand, with editions coming out in 40 cities world-wide, a line of travel guides, and a chain of street markets around the world.
I edited Time Out in the late seventies and had little to do with it since then and so I didn’t know the speakers, but it was good to see Janey, and I did catch up a bit with a few old friends like Joe Boyd.
Hélène and Olivier came over from Paris to see more people for their upcoming Burroughs/Gysin show and spent the afternoon examining my collection of Gysin and Burroughs photographs. Gysin was a very good photographer: his shots look like movie stills, there is always something happening. I only know of a couple of dozen of them but surely many more must still exist. It would be very interesting to see a book of them, or at least an exhibition.
I won’t list all the exhibitions I’ve seen in this period, but the Cornelia Parker show at Tate was so exceptional that I even took a few photographs, something I very rarely do at exhibitions. The presentation of some of the pieces was just so good, in particular the one where the shadows of the objects were as important as the objects themselves.
I will mention one other show, Louise Bourgeois at the Hayward. I went with Jill Nicholls, who made a film about Louise Bourgeois for BBC-Imagine. She met her and found her to be old and frail and almost incapable of a proper interview. Jill was surprised then, and concerned, as I was, to find that there was a whole room of huge, elaborate and very expensive sculptures that she had supposedly made subsequent to Jill’s meeting. It made one wonder just how involved she had been in their manufacture or whether this was another example of someone’s sketches being turned into large three-dimensional artworks by others. Ever since the rise of the super-galleries and the total commercialisation of high-end art, this has become a problem. One thinks of poor, dazed Willem de Kooning, suffering from Alzheimer’s, being given a paintbrush and paints each day and told that he was an artist. Millions of dollars are at stake. Her work is still great, though.
In August Catherine lent me her flat in Paris as she was spending the summer in Liverpool. I arrived just as the heatwave started. It was too hot to go out or visit anywhere except the Carrefour on the rue de Martyrs for the first few days. I caught up with Frank Rynne and had dinner with him and his partner Makoto in Saint Mande. I went out to Montreuil to see Brunhild and Junya for more great Japanese food. This time we were celebrating the fact she just had a new album released.
I had an interesting conversation about racism with my Tunisian cabdriver on the way back. He had previously lived in London and thought that London was worse in that respect than Paris; that when it existed it was more open in Paris, but in London, it was like a permanent invisible wall between him and most people he met. I wondered if that wasn’t partly because the British don’t express much in the way of neighbourly behaviour to anyone until they have known them for years. My Spanish friend Maribel says that the British are the least emotional and the most closed-up and frozen people she has ever met. He thought it might be partly that as well. We had a laugh.
Camila came to join me from Geneva where she was teaching, so first I went to buy some pillows so that she would have a comfortable bed. The nearest big store that I knew was Galleries Lafayette, which was in walking distance. I’d never been there before. It took a while to find the right building for bedding as the place is enormous compared to similar stores in London. Naturally I checked out their food hall. There was a whole section devoted to truffles: a branch of La Maison de la Truffe. They seem to infuse them in everything from oils to jams, they slice them and grate them and use them to flavour salt and cheese. Best of all there was a large pile of summer truffles – behind glass, of course – priced at, I think, 2,800 euros a kilo, not by the gram as you would expect. An admiring crowd stood around them, discussing their finer points.
Camila had only previously spent a weekend in Paris with rich Brazilian tourists: selfie in front of the Mona Lisa, and so had seen nothing. I cooked a late lunch – mushroom omelette with truffle oil – then we went to the Musée de la Vie romantique, which was nearby. She teaches William Blake and the English Romantics, so this was an opportunity to see the French end of the movement. It is a delightful museum, housed in an 18th c mansion, once owned by the Dutch painter Ary Scheffer. Regulars at his Friday evening salons included Frédéric Chopin, George Sand, Franz Liszt, Gioacchino Rossini and of course Eugène Delacroix. There are no hugely famous pictures, but they have a plaster cast of Chopin’s left hand and drawings, jewellery and household items belonging Georges Sand as well as a cast of her right arm. There’s a tea house in the small garden.
The idea was to show Camila my Paris. There isn’t such a thing really as I don’t know the city at all well, just certain sections where I spent a great deal of time in the past. My Paris happened mostly in the Seventies, when I was a rock ‘n’ roll critic and had a girlfriend living there, but that was 45 years ago. I knew the small cheap hotels around the rue de Seine, and student clubs and hangouts of the Quartier Latin. Belleville and Ménilmontant were yet to become trendy, and I’d spent no time in Pigalle. My Paris was as it was in the days of the Beat Generation, so that was what we visited. I’ll write it up in detail because it was the old clichéd trip down memory lane for me as, though these are all places I go to all the time, it was the first time I’d consciously looked at them as the stage set for a part of my life.
We took a bus to the Louvre and walked over the Pont des Arts to the rue de Seine where we stopped off at La Palette for coffee. It doesn’t seem to have changed much in half a millennium. This is where the art dealers of the street used to meet – and still do – and where Bill Burroughs often took his morning coffee when he lived at the Beat Hotel. It is also where he scored his drugs, later in the day. You can still get a bavette angus there for under 20 euros. The mirrors, like many of customers, are mottled with age. I’ve spent many a pleasant evening in there, watching the art dealers dealing and on one occasion, getting engulphed in their celebration of selling a particularly nasty Mathieu to an American collector and being forced to drink old Armagnac.
We stopped at the site of the Old & Roll Circus, at number 57, where Jim Morrison died of a heroin overdose in the toilets there. His body was smuggled out through the adjoining Club Alcazar, which was almost empty, taken home and put in the bath. The club would have lost its licence if the truth was known. (This version of the story is confirmed by both Sam Bernett, who owned The Rock-n-Roll Circus, and by Marianne Faithfull, whose boyfriend Jean de Breteuil sold Morrison the heroin.)
I always pause at number 22, where Gaït Frogé had her Libraire Anglaise. Ian Sommerville recorded William Burroughs’s first album, Call Me Burroughs, in the cave here; released by Gaït in 1965. Before that, in 1960, she had rescued Minutes To Go (Burroughs, Gysin, et al) from the printer when Two Cities couldn’t afford to pay the bill. She used to post packets of Olympia Press titles to me under plain covers, as British customs would open and confiscate anything published by the Olympia Press, even though I was only ever ordering the three William Burroughs novels they published or books by Gregory Corso, Aubrey Beardsley, J.P. Donleavy or the like, none of which were obscene. I wouldn’t dream of ordering Henry Miller’s Sexus – those I brought through myself, wrapped in my dirty shirts. I bought the remainder of Gaït’s stock for Indica Books when she closed down and moved to New York.
Next we looked at La Louisiane, at number 60, where Miles Davis had his famous affair with Juliette Greco and musicians John Coltrane, Mal Waldron, Bud Powell, Lester Young, Chet Baker all stayed. It was home to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre as well as Boris Vian, Hemingway, Henry Miller and even Jim Morrison for a while. It has recently been done up but is still cheap by Paris standards.
The Beat Hotel, at 9 rue Git-le-Coeur is only a few short streets away. I was always disappointed that when they installed a plaque to Brion Gysin, William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Peter Orlovsky, Gregory Corso, Harold Norse and Ian Sommerville commemorating the Beat Hotel that another wasn’t installed to Chester Himes, who lived and wrote there before Beat days, having escaped the USA to Paris where he was able to live openly with his white girlfriend. Now called the Relais du Vieux Paris, it is a four-star hotel, beyond the budget of today’s young writers. We looked around the lobby and I was pleased to see on the reception counter, copies of the English and American editions of my book The Beat Hotel. Someone must have half-inched the French edition. Camila insisted we had our picture taken together outside which the receptionist kindly took for us. I always feel rather foolish when this sort of thing happens, but there was no-one on the street to stop and snigger.
After a quick look at Le Select, home to Picasso, Hemingway, Soutine, and where Allen Ginsberg wrote the opening stanzas of Kaddish, with tears streaming down his face, we walked over to Shakespeare & Co, né Le Mistral, packed with American tourists and surely the only bookshop in the world that needs a doorman and velvet rope to control the crowds waiting to get in. If you value the book you have just bought you must stop them before they bang a great big rubber stamp on the first free endpaper with the logo of the shop on it. It’s still a great bookshop, and of course, anything that will make young people excited about books is fine by me.
Gaït was always scornful of George Whitman’s Mistral bookshop, because, although he sometimes had readings by Burroughs and the Beats, he didn’t stock any Olympia Press books at all because he feared being busted. She also objected, vociferously, when he changed the name of the Mistral to Shakespeare & Co, appropriating the name of Sylvia Beach’s famous pre-war bookshop so that modern tourists would think that his bookshop was where Ulysses was published. (Plenty of guidebooks have gone along with that falsehood even though Sylvia Beach’s shop closed in 1941.) The name change came only after Sylvia Beach was safely dead in 1964. George claimed that in 1958 Sylvia Beach had told him he should change the name of his shop to Shakespeare & Co, but she said it as a joke, referring to the fact that it served as a post-restante for so many visiting Americans just as her bookshop had done. She hadn’t expected him to really do it. Gaït was a friend of Sylvia and seethed at the thought of George using her name to get publicity for a shop that did not even dare to sell copies The Naked Lunch. For all his professed communism, George was an old-style American capitalist at heart. He was not interested in personal gain – I went with him several times to the Marché aux Puces de St-Ouen where he bought his suits, never for more than £5. What he wanted was to own the building that housed the bookshop. His books were not cheap, and in the sixties, he put such an enormous markup on the psychedelic posters that I sold him from the Indica bookshop, that I tried to get him to either bring the prices down a bit or else pay for them a bit quicker. He saved enough to buy any adjoining room in the ancient building that came up for sale and the shop is now a maze of interlocking rooms. In medieval times it was a convent. After examining the rare book room, we headed off for lunch at Le Procope.
This is a tourist site, but the food is still good, and it really has to be seen: the oldest café in Paris; it opened in 1686 (though there was a bit of break 90 years ago). Napoleon and Marie Antoinette both ate there, as did Robespierre, Danton, and Marat. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson took coffee there. Voltaire drank 40 cups a day there. Truffle risotto x 2, salad and the house red. I hadn’t been there since 1989 when Rosemary and I, Peter Wollen and Leslie Dick ate there to celebrate the opening of the On the Passage of a Few People Through a Rather Brief Moment in Time: The Situationist International, 1957-1972, show at the Pompidou Centre, organised by Peter Wollen with Mark Francis. I had a collage in the show, to my great satisfaction and pride.From there to the Jardin du Luxembourg, where we naturally visited Bartholdi’s Liberty Enlightening the World, to give the Statue of Liberty it’s proper title. This is the 1/16th scale version he presented to the Musée du Luxembourg in 1905. In fact, his original was removed to the Musée d’Orsay in 2014 and this is a bronze replica but still worth seeing. I remember Allen Ginsberg asking Jean-Jacques Lebel why there were so many images of the Statue of Liberty in Paris (there are five in total); he was quite preoccupied by it. Jean-Jacques explained that the New York statue was designed and made in Paris. Surprisingly Allen hadn’t known.
A quick look in Saint-Sulpice and a drink in the Café de Flore – famous for Georges Bataille, Robert Desnos, Raymond Queneau, James Baldwin, and Picasso – then home. The next day we made an early start and had coffee and croissants at the Musée Rodin, my favourite Paris museum. There is a large garden, a small park really, containing dozens of full-size bronzes as well as a mansion filled with small pieces, maquettes and even works by others: it is quite a surprise to across a brightly coloured Van Gogh portrait among all the monochrome. The Thinker, the Burghers of Calais, individually and collectively, the Kiss, Balzac, they are all there. We spent a lot of time looking at the Gates of Hell. He never saw it in its final state; cast in bronze. From there to La Coupole for lunch.
I used to come here a lot in the Seventies when it was a real rock ‘n’ roll hangout, particularly for record company staff and rock critics who would always bring visiting musicians here. It was open all day and catered to a wide group of people, lots of filmmakers and artists but also politicians and bureaucrats, I have seen everyone from Jack Lang (when he was Minister for Culture) to Godard and Serge Gainsbourg in here. Patrons of old included Josephine Baker, Albert Camus, Colette, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Chagall, Picasso, and Tamara de Lempicka. The columns are decorated by 27 different artists including Matisse and Leger. So, a place with a bit of history. Camila had her first ever tartare de boeuf Normand here. It comes with chips. We drank a chilled Brouilly.
Heading back towards Pigalle, we found ourselves on the blvd du Palais. Camila hadn’t known about Sainte-Chapelle, so we joined the queue. We were the last group allowed in that day. The ground floor is unimpressive, but you when ascend the medieval staircase and emerge into the giant gothic chapel (finished 1248) filled with stained glass, the light streaming in, the impact is breath-taking. Camila just stood still, tears in her eyes; it really is that beautiful. It is one of my favourite buildings in the world. Afterwards we sat for a while in Paris-Plages, looking out over the Seine, people-watching. Even the Metro home was interesting.
Camila left for Geneva and that evening I had dinner with Hélène and Olivier at the Café Beaubourg. We sat outside as it was still hot. Few things could be more pleasant than sitting with friends outside a Paris restaurant in the evening. With us was Yuri Zupancic who I’d met earlier to catch up with over a drink. He moved to Paris some time ago from Kansas where he was the curator of Burroughs’ paintings. In Paris he married Pauline, and now they have a child, Gustav. Pauline and Gustav also joined us, and 10-month-old Gustav was disgruntled enough by not being the centre of attention that he took his first steps, to tremendous approbation. (Actually, he did rehearse earlier that afternoon).
I arrived in the Pyrenees on the 24th. It was still hot, but the combination of sun and fresh clean mountain air was wonderful. I hate the cold, one of the many reasons I dislike Britain. When questioned at Immigration as to why he was coming to Britain William Burroughs told them, ‘I come here for the food and the weather.’ At least the West End has a mini-climate that makes it several degrees hotter than the rest of town, even if it is caused by pollution: restaurants and hotels pump it out, and the endless traffic exhaust on the Euston Road is blown all over us even though Fitzrovia has the lowest car ownership in the country, per-capita.
Our first visitors were Suzy Treister and Richard Grayson, both artists, so you can have a decent discussion about art without seeming pretentious. They have a house the other side of the col de Jau, a 1500m pass, higher than any mountain in Britain, so although they live close as the crow flies, it is in fact, quite a journey up a series of hairpin bends so it’s best to visit each other for a few days at a time. We visited Vernet les Bains, but mostly just hung out, cooked and sipped the odd glass of Cap de Fouste, the best local Roussillon red.
Three days later, Catherine and Steve arrived. It was their place I stayed at in Paris while they were in Liverpool. Catherine teaches art at the Sorbonne, so we visited the Musée d’art moderne in Ceret to see the new extension and their School of Paris show, and three days later, Aristide Maillol’s studio home in the mountains outside Banyuls-sur-Mer. I love this small country museum and have been to it at least a dozen times. Rosemary was very taken by his kitchen: we had the same 19th c carved red marble sink from the quarry at Villefrance and she surrounded it with the same deep green tiles that he used. Maillol is buried in the garden with his 1905 bronze statue, La Mediterranee, as the grave marker.
Jill Nicholls came to spend a few days and we even managed a trip to the seaside, except when in France we call it the Coast, like Californians. (New Yorkers, however, call it the Ocean.) The French call the Med le grand bleu, which sounds much better. We went to my favourite beach bar, the southernmost beach café in Canet, NBC Bar. It is composed of a series of interlocking elements: bar, banquettes, palm trees in pots, awnings etc that can be assembled in many ways, a different one each year. This year’s construction was smaller; clearly they expected less people this year. The beach was pretty empty.
My final visitors were old friends Simon Caulkin and Ginette Vincendeau. Simon was Rosemary’s editor when she worked for Engineering Today, 45 years ago, and Ginette lectures in film at King College London. She is the author of two brilliant books on Brigitte Bardot, as well as other French film subjects. It was nice to spent time with them as we usually see each other at dinner parties with other people, though Simon and I have lunch at the Academy Club from time to time, as old chaps do.
After almost three months in France, I returned to the quotidian London life of seeing friends and art exhibitions, as well as writing every day, after all, as Jean Genet said, ‘a writer is someone who writes.’ A routine had been established some time ago with my friends Luzius Martin and Udo Breger who visited from Switzerland once a month – actually Udo less often than that – in that we all had dinner in a restaurant with Terry Wilson, and the next day I would cook for the same group. We used to go to the Moroccan Sahara restaurant on Hereford Road, Notting Hill, run by a wonderful woman from Casablanca, but the covid lockdown put an end to her business and she never re-opened. Now we meet at a branch of Côte. Luzius and his wife run a restaurant in Basel, where Udo also lives. Udo for many years ran Expanded Media Editions, publishing books by William Burroughs, Jurgen Ploog and other cut-up and avant-garde writers. Terry wrote Here to Go: R-101 with Brion Gysin and authored many cut-up novels. We were in a way, a Burroughs study group.
Maribel and I went to see the Frieze statues in Regents Park, an interesting collection including Ugo Rondinone, Robert Indiana, Ron Arad, and George Rickey. Our favourite was Péju Alatise’s Sim and the Yellow Glass Birds, four constructions featuring the life of a 9-year-old servant in Nigeria and her fantasy life of flying with birds and butterflies. The sculpture not included in the exhibition map, Marinella Senatore’s Bodies in Alliance, is apparently a permanent installation, inviting public participation as these pictures show:
I’ve spent a lot of time looking at art so far this year. The reopening of the Courtauld Institute Galleries has been a wonderful chance to reacquaint myself with their superb collection. Somerset House has been closed for three years for a huge renovation project, so it was particularly good to see all the old favourites again. I have been familiar with the collection ever since I was at art college, fifty years ago: Manet’s bored-looking barmaid at the Folies-Bergère with its massively distorted perspective and the bizarre pair of legs of a trapeze artist in the top left-hand corner, the row of seven Cezannes, including the Card Players. They are all so familiar, like old friends. I’ve been four times now since they re-opened, the last time to see the Van Gogh self-portraits. They already had one of the most famous ones, ‘Self Portrait with bandaged Ear’ which they have simply moved from one room to the next, but it is wonderful to see it surrounded by dozens of others. The Courtauld has spent millions on the building, but the pictures are in the same old frames, which means that most of them have a harsh black shadow cutting off the top inch or so of the picture, changing its dimensions, altering the tonal relationships, and interfering with the composition. These pictures would have originally been seen in natural light coming from windows on the same level as them, so no shadow would have been cast on the canvas. With the overhead lighting now prevalent in virtually all galleries – the National is just as bad – the elaborate nineteenth century frames cast dark shadows. Sometimes these are not even straight black lines, but wavey, curved lines from great scalloped frames that further distort the composition. They have re-written the labels – particularly the Gauguins – so why not upgrade the whole collection to the 21st century? My friends are sick of hearing about it.
To stick with art, I also saw the Francis Bacon: Man and Beast show at the R.A.. My first thought was that it was too big. With these blockbuster shows I always take a quick stroll through the exhibition to see how many works there are and pace myself in order to see it properly. Though most of the paintings are fantastic, I didn’t think the concept really came off, it was too forced. Whereas the September 2019 Francis Bacon: Books and Painting show at the Pompidou , which came complete with readings from the texts that influenced Bacon, filmed interviews with him in both French and English about literature, really worked because it investigated the idea behind the show in some depth. It was a superbly curated selection of just seven single paintings and a dozen triptychs and one left feeling strangely elated. Somehow the theme of this show didn’t work – Man and Beast – it was too contrived, too forced and just didn’t seem a strong enough reason to bring this particular group of paintings together, wonderful as most of them are individually. Both shows ended with his ‘Bull’, the last picture he ever painted. It is a powerful, sad work. You can see him checking out.
There was a really great show at the Fitzrovia Chapel, curated by Hannah Watson from the T. J. Boulting Gallery of Leigh Bowery’s costumes called Tell Them I’ve Gone to Papua New Guinea. I wrote the introduction to the rather beautiful catalogue. No-one else could possibly wear Leigh’s costumes so he was hardly haute couture, though there was a certain parallel to Thierry Mugler’s seventies work (Sadly Mugler just died, 22 January 2022). Leigh did however make outfits just for friends of his like Sue Tilly, who was interviewed at the show by Gregor Muir from the Tate on February 2nd.
Naturally I’ve cooking a lot over these winter months; there is now nicer way of spending time with friends than over a meal. One of the more memorably evenings was when I did a rabbit. I always cook the head with it but forgot to remove it before serving. My son was a bit taken aback when he found it on his plate, but my friend Valerie, who is half French, seized it from him when he set it aside. She regarded it as a delicacy and carefully pulled out the brains, saying they were particularly toothsome.
A bit more follow-up to my remarks about Peter Jackson’s Beatles Get Back film. Here’s Paul talking back in the 90s about some of the other songs in the film I didn’t mention last time:
The way it worked was, if we’d done, say ‘Let It Be’, I would sometimes send them around to other people. I sent ‘Let It Be’ to Ray Charles, because I just thought he’d do a great job on it. Sometimes, when you are writing, you imagine someone doing the song. When I wrote ‘Long and Winding Road’ I definitely was Ray Charles as I wrote it. He did a great version of ‘Eleanor Rigby’ It’s great. So I always used to do a song with the Beatles and then sort of think, ‘Well okay, it’ll have its Beatles life which will probably be its prime life. But it would be quite exciting if some other people did it. So I might send ‘Let It Be’ to Aretha Franklin, just because, Boy, she’ll storm it!
It has always been a slight regret for me, not a disappointment because it’s just part of the game, but almost a regret for me, that I write the specific song and somebody else gets to do the scat version of it. I’ve established the tune, so everyone knows the tune. And I always want to do the ad-libby, the scat version of it. To be that loose. But I always feel I can’t because I’m establishing the song. I’ve got to lay down the melody at least. I suppose a way to do it, and how I’d get round it, would be to develop it within the song live, but I don’t tend to do that. Live, I tend to stick basically to the arrangement, mainly because whenever I’ve been in the audience with people who’ve not stuck to the arrangement, it’s very rare that it’s improved. It’s nearly always, ‘Ah, they’re goofing on this, and it is kind of interesting, but I do wish they’d just done “Satisfaction”, to my satisfaction’. I want to hear it exactly like that, only massive. With all these people, and I want to go ‘Shit, that’s it, that’s the fucker, that’s the fucker!’ So I always do that for audiences. Not always, but mostly I do that.
Various friends have commented on Peter Jackson’s film and asked me questions about it, but I have only now managed to see the full version. I liked it very much. It was filmed in January 1969. I was then the label manager for the Beatles’ Zapple label and, unfortunately, I was in New York recording poetry when the rooftop concert took place, so I missed it. Nor did I attend any of the Get Back sessions, though seeing the footage brought back clear memories of watching the Beatles record as I’d been to dozens of the sessions for Revolver, Sgt. Pepper, Magical Mystery Tour and The White Album. Only true Beatles fans will want to see the endless takes on each song, but that is what recording sessions are like, and the documentary gives a very good sense of the waiting around, the slow pace, the interruptions, and the occasional flash of brilliance when a song finally comes together.
Just to show off, here are a few pictures of my-then-wife Sue and I at a Sgt Pepper recording session at Abbey Road, in 1967, about 18 months before Get Back was filmed.
It was great to see The Beatles’ staff again, in their youth, laughing and joking as I remember them. In particular, it was great to see Mal Evans, their roadie in action. I always liked him and got on with him and was saddened when I heard he was killed by L.A. cops. A friend called the police when Mal, spaced out on Valium, threatened to kill himself with an air rifle that his friend could not get away from him. But when the police arrived, he pointed the air rifle at them and they shot and killed him. I looked up what Paul had to say about him in the interviews I did with him for my book Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now. Paul:
Mal was our roadie. He came in very useful on Yellow Submarine to turn various devices and the alarm clock on ‘Day In the Life’. He was always in the studio so if we needed an extra hand. I remember we had one thing that required a sustained organ note so I said to Mal, ‘Look, that’s the note. I’ll put a little marker on it. When I go ‘There’ hit it.’ Which he did. And I said ‘When I shake my head’ take your finger off. So for that kind of a part, he was very helpful. He played the anvil on ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ and he was on gravel bucket. At one point he had a bucket full of gravel and we asked him to shovel it as a rhythmic device. As you can you imagine, we had a little bit of a giggle doing those kinds of tracks.
Though ‘Maxwell’s Silver Hammer’ was rehearsed for Get Back, it wasn’t recorded until August for the Abbey Road album. The four sessions devoted to it were the most acrimonious that the Beatles ever did with the other three Beatles hating the song. I enjoyed seeing the rehearsals because it includes one of pop music’s few references to ‘pataphysics, the French literary movement started in honour of the playwright Alfred Jarry. I was made a member of the College in 1965 and was the one who first introduced Paul to his work. As Paul told me in one of our interviews:
To me the interesting thing was the ‘pataphysical reference, which as I know and you know, comes from Alfred Jarry and the Ubu plays and that was a nice little in joke that not many people got unless it was pointed out to them. So that was a nice little thing for people who knew. Only one or two people got it over the years. […]
I am the only person who ever put the name of ‘pataphysics into the record charts. C’mon. No, it was great, a lovely idea. As I say I love that surreal, Magrittian little touch in all the respectability. How Magritte lived, or the ‘pataphysical apparent respectability. Just with the little surreal cuts, that’s nice because it reminds us of where we are, sort of thing, you know. It’s not the Lord Mayor’s Banquet, it’s something else.
Given that The Beatles were the biggest band on Earth, it is interesting to be reminded how casual their security and protection was and how small their staff. They only had a chief roadie and his assistant. Derek Taylor was their Press Officer, famous in his own right though he only appears briefly in the film, They travelled with no assistants, roadies or bodyguards, though they did have drivers. Paul was the one who insisted on retaining a ‘normal’ life:
I remember showing up to the ‘Let It Be’ rehearsals – took the tube in myself and just walked the rest of the way. You’d often get grabbed by a gang of girls who’d just sort of find you, and run towards you, but I just used to say, ‘Right, right, right. What d’you want? Autographs? handshakes, conversations? What is it? You won’t get anything if you push. No come on…’ Line ‘em all up like an elder brother, you know, ‘Come on.’ And they’d get quite pally actually. They’d say ‘I really want an autograph’ so I say, ‘I’ll do ‘em as we walk. Now let’s be sensible’, and they’d ask, ‘Tell about your new record, Paul,’ and all that. I never wanted to become a prisoner of my own fate, or my own fame, or whatever it is. It always seemed to me the ultimate tragedy that. And I’d seen it.
The amazing thing is that this was filmed over 50 years ago, but it looks as if it was done last week, thanks to Peter Jackson’s superb restoration. The Beatles are all in their twenties, they are young men and yet were old-hands at the job of making music with a decade of performing behind them. Their adroitness with their instruments and understanding of musical structure is wonderful to see; they are consummate professionals. They were wearing warm winter clothing but still looked fashionable for the time. Another thing, as my friend Raymond Foye remarked, they all smoked all the time. He also enjoyed their clothes.
I enjoyed seeing their song writing ability at work: hearing a version of a song before one or two key words had been added. Paul said:
‘Get Back’ was something we made up out at Twickenham, basically. I had a rough idea of a few little things, and I was jamming them out. It was basically my song, and we worked on some lyrics. Jo Jo was a fictional character. Many people have since claimed to be the Jo Jo and they’re not, let me put that straight!
I also enjoyed watching them establish the lyrics to ‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ Paul:
‘I’ve Got a Feeling’ was mine and it has an inclusion in the middle. Rather like I have an inclusion in the middle of ‘Day In The Life’, John has an inclusion in the middle of ‘I’ve Got A Feeling’ which was quite separate, written separately. They’re both the same tempo and they both matched so we were able to link ‘em up. The first bit of the song is mine, then John’s is ‘Everybody had a…’ John liked it, we must have liked it to include it.
Another song I enjoyed watching them record was ‘The Long and Winding Road’, one of Paul’s songs. It was written with Ray Charles in mind and in some ways reflects the tensions in the group. Paul:
A pretty sad song, really, in that respect. It’s all about the unattainable, in my mind, the door you never quite reach. If life is what happens on the way to doing other things, then this is the road that you never get to the end of. It’s that, it’s in keeping with that. The wild and windy night, the rain, left a pool of tears.
For me it was a nostalgic look back at the Sixties. Because it was the Beatles it was hard to get away from the myth, but there were enough street scenes and interviews with the general public to fix it in time: London in 1969, just as many of the sixties ideals were beginning to sour, and some of the better sixties ideas: racial equality, the women’s movement, were beginning to flower.
I managed to get to France several times in the summer of 2021 which was wonderful. Contrary to what the right-wing British press said, there were no food shortages at all in France, and there still aren’t. The French spend twice as much on food as the British and eat less than half as much processed food, so the quality and quantity even in a provincial supermarket is still far higher even than Selfridges Food Hall or Waitrose can provide and, of course, at a much cheaper price. I love shopping in the street markets in Paris because you can buy so many things that are impossible to find in Britain even in high-end shops. Yes, I know, why don’t I go and live there? I would if I could, but Paris rent is even more expensive than London. Also, my friends are mostly here. But if there was such a thing as a European passport, I’d willingly burn my British one. So many of friends are lucky enough to be entitled to an Irish passport and so are able to travel freely to the Continent for as long as they want: even my brother-in-law and his children have got theirs. My old friend Simon Caulkin received his French passport and was saluted at the border and congratulated when the immigration control first saw it.
In France our old friends Paul and Polly Timberlake and Roslyn Hope and Gordon Stewart had noticed how sad and grubby the house was looking after being closed for 18 months due to lockdown. They spent three days ridding the furniture of mould, throwing out mouldy carpets, cleaning and tidying up the terrace so that when Theo and I arrived it looked welcoming. What marvellous friends to have!
I spent most of my time sorting through Rosemary’s papers. She was a travel writer and the author of a number of travel guides to France, including the AA Guide and the National Geographic Guide. These needed to be regularly updated and so she kept a huge reference library of clippings, press packs and local flyers, arranged by region. They took up five four-drawer file cabinets. When the internet came in, she stop clipping but this huge mass of 20-25-year old papers remained. I had to go through them all as there were, inevitably, photographs, diaries, manuscripts, and letters among the redundant papers. I even found a letter from Martha Gelhorn, whom Rosemary once interviewed. I asked other travel journalists and a couple of institutions if they wanted the collection but no-one did, so I began to recycle them. Clearing out the possessions of your dead partner is an emotionally stressful job, and I could only do about three hours a day, but I got at least half of it done.
Theo could only stay a week because of work, but then my friends, the artists Suzy Triester and Richard Grayson came to stay and cheered me up. We cooked, visited the local sights, and drank a few bottles of the local wine. Here they are exploring the jungle garden.
I returned to London via Paris, where I stayed with Catherine and Steve in SuPi, as trendy folk call Sud Pigalle. Catherine, who teaches fine art at the Sorbonne, suggested that we go out to Clamart to see the house designed and built by Sophie Taeuber-Arp for her and Jean Arp to live in. I was very pleased to do this because at that very moment there was a huge Sophie Taeuber-Arp show in London at Tate Modern that I had not yet seen. Most of the items on display in the house were by Arp, as her stuff was mostly in London at the Tate show, but it was great to see the same rectangular compositions used in the windows and proportions of her house as she used in her paintings, tapestries, furniture, and interior designs. I have always liked her work and thought that, particularly as she was a founder member of the Dadaists, she had been unfairly overlooked by art historians who concentrated, as usual, on the men. These are some of Arp’s sculptures in the room that was once her studio. Catherine and I also visited the Rodin Museum, which of course brought back memories of visiting it with Rosemary a couple of years before. I do like Rodin and Maribel and I spent hours at the Tate Rodin show back in July.
Paris was great as usual. I have been a member of the College de ‘pataphysique since 1965, but I had never visited the site of the first production of Ubu Roi by Alfred Jarry. This time I did. The weather was fine, so we also explored the Cemetery de Montmartre. It was a shock to suddenly come upon the grave of Jeanne Moreau as I hadn’t known that she had died. (31 July 2017). I had always loved her work, particularly Truffaut’s Jules et Jim (1962), of course. I was at art college when it came out and we all saw it and wanted to live that way. Les Amants (1959) and Lift to the Scaffold (1958), both by Louis Malle, were also hugely influential on we teenage art students.
I particularly liked the grave of Henri Murger, whose Scènes de la vie bohème,  first turned me on to the idea of the Bohemian life (I read it in translation when I was 15.) I’ve just about managed to live that way ever since. Thanks Henri!
I did a number of TV documentaries during the summer. Yet another one on John Lennon, thanks to my old friend Keith Badman; one with Nick Broomfield, whom I liked and whose work I have always liked, about the downside of the sixties, concentrating on Robert Fraser and Brian Jones; and one of Michael X for BBC Studios, which was shown on Sky, but which I haven’t seen because I don’t subscribe to Sky. There was also one about the Camden Music Scene which inevitably focussed on Amy Winehouse, though my part was about the Roundhouse in the sixties. So a legend in my own lunchtime, yet. Actually, I usually try and avoid drinking at lunchtime.
I took the number 12 to the Dulwich Picture Gallery – the full length of the route – to see their show of Helen Frankenthaler’s woodcuts. I have always liked her work, and even wrote the essay accompanying my NDD exam on her, back in 1963 at art school. I always thought her colour wash pictures were superior to most of the other abstract expressionists, but they got all the attention, because of course, she was a woman, and AbEx was all about the big macho gesture. I spent all afternoon there. Wonderful works.
My old friend Michael Horovitz died on 7 July 2021. I first met him back in 1960, just before he left Oxford when I was still a teenager, 16 or 17, just arrived at art school. Through Mike and his magazine, New Departures, I discovered the work of Samuel Beckett, John Cage, Piero Heliczer, Cornelius Cardew, Paul Ableman, Robert Creeley, Raymond Queneau et al. I did already know the work of Allen Ginsberg, William Burroughs and Jack Kerouac. In fact, a friend and I even hitch-hiked around the south coast with a copy of On the Road in my pocket during the summer of 1959, as you did in those days. Those first two issues of New Departures shaped my view of art and literature for life. At the art school I put on a Live New Departures show in 1960 and kept in touch with Mike and his co-conspirator Pete Brown, meeting up with them at readings, jazz concerts, parties, CND demos. Pete invited me to stay at his place in Camden whenever I was in London and so I became a part of the circle of friends and supporters surrounding Live New Departures.
Over the years Michael and I did a number of stage events together, many bookshop events, the Asian Literary Festival in Brick Lane where we discussed Allen Ginsberg’s Indian Journals, even an event to launch a new translation of Allen’s Kaddish at the musée d’art et histoire du Judaïsme (mahJ) in Paris. We were not close, more like fellow travellers but I was saddened when he died.
Michael’s apartment in Notting Hill was famously chaotic. He was a hoarder, a psychological condition that not only fills all available space with old newspapers but ensures that their owner grows very fond of them and resists efforts by others to help organise the space. Hoarders are not collectors; no attempt is made to organise books in order, or to keep them in good condition. Fortunately, his partner, Spanish poet, singer, and painter, Vanessa Vie, had begun a process of organisation a year or two before he died and much of the correspondence had been filed by her, and manuscripts gathered into bundles. Since then, I have been over a few times to help her organise the papers into an archive. Most of Michael’s activity was done under the collective umbrella of New Departures and thus given a number, as if it were a magazine. We have used that as the organising principle. Standard bibliographic form will be used on Michael’s books and periodical appearances and the correspondence put into alphabetic order. What we are doing is organising the papers enough to see what’s there so that they can go to a permanent home.
I was always more interested in Michael as an editor than as a poet, and in my youth he was certainly my mentor. He had an enormously wide vision and enthusiasm that encompassed poetry, plays, painting, rock ‘n’ roll, jazz and literature. He saw the connections and overlapping areas between all the arts, and I learned a lot from him about breaking down the artificial barriers between art forms. In this way he was an early post-modernist. He would have probably made a great teacher. He didn’t like the picture I used of him in this blog once before so here’s one from 2014 with Richard Adams and Jim Anderson, Mike on left.
In November, I made a new friend, albeit just for one day. Brazilian William Blake scholar Camila Oliveira came to interview me as she is writing about the connection between Blake and modern popular music. I produced an album of Allen Ginsberg singing Blake back in 1969 so I was an obvious interviewee. I was able to give a few new names, such as Tony Bennett, who recorded the whole of Blake’s Songs of Innocence and Experience in his home studio. Allen and I met him in the VIP room of the Palladium in New York c1985 and heard all about it. She already had quite a list and since then she has found others. I love this new generation of intelligent, attractive women, travelling the globe. I can remember the early days of the women’s movement in New York and it seems to me that the confidence and assuredness that Camila has – what they were all aspiring to back in the early seventies – is now possible, at least for some. Anyway, here she is. I see her glass is empty.
This was brought to mind by reading Sheila Rowbotham’s latest book, Daring To Hope, My Life in the Seventies, (London: Verso 2021) where she chronicles the growth of the women’s movement in Britain. Her determination and energy in the face of what, let’s face it, seems to be the task of Sisyphus, is astonishing. Respect!
November 2021 seemed to be dominated by The Beatles. On the fifth Paul was interviewed with Paul Muldoon at the Royal Festival Hall about his new two-volume book of lyrics. I didn’t go but Theo went. The discussion was chaired by Samira Ahmed, who later emailed me to say that she used my Paul McCartney: Many Years from Now official biography as the source for some of her questions. I was flattered as I am a great admirer of her work. I was on one of her TV shows a few years ago and liked her very much. If only there were more like her at BBC.
Then, on November 16, there was a screening of a special 100-minute version of the Beatles Get Back TV documentary specially made for Apple by Peter Jackson. It was held at the Cinemax Cinema on Leicester Square, which was amazing because the screen is so large you can’t avoid being totally engulfed by the programme. Champagne was served in front of the screen, then we took our numbered seats and Paul McCartney came out to say a few words and introduce the film. As part of the presentation, Jackson ran all the footage of the Roof Top Concert, which was great to see. His electronic tweaking of the film makes it look as if it was filmed last week. After the show we all trotted round to Kettner’s on Romilly Street for a canapés and drinks, but it was so crowded it seemed like a Covid super-spreader, so after chatting to some friends from BBC and Apple we left. We finished up eating at the Academy Club on Lexington Street and chatting with Lucy. A nice Soho evening. I’ll write about the three part version of Get Back once I’ve seen it.
Looking at my diary, December leading to Christmas seems to be entirely food-related: pork cooked in milk, salt cod, octopus, crab, stuffed chicken thighs, stuffed squid… It wasn’t all me, fortunately. One lunchtime Maribel cooked a Spanish omelette. She chipped the raw, peeled potatoes the way her grandmother taught her in Andalusia: digging into the potato with the point of the knife instead of chopping them into cubes. That way they stay moist even though it takes a while to do, and it was the best Spanish omelette I’ve ever tasted, not dry at all.
Theo and I were meant to spend Christmas in Cambridge with our old friend Martha Stevns. She is Swiss and we always have fondu on Christmas Eve and goose on Christmas day. She also has a traditional Christmas tree with real candles (with a fire extinguisher standing by). We missed the previous year because of the Covid lockdown and missed it again this year because on the 22nd we came down with Covid. It was two weeks before I got a negative lateral flow test so that wiped out New Year as well. But here we are, going bravely into that New Year. Happy New Year!
Jim Haynes died on January 6th. I had known him almost 60 years. In 1963 my girlfriend Sue Crane and I hitch-hiked to Edinburgh to get married as her parents would not let us live together in London. We had been there before but had not got around to getting married on that trip. Our previous accommodation was unavailable the second time so I wrote to Jim, who we’d met on the first trip, to see if he could help us find somewhere to stay. Sure enough, he knew someone in the Village of Dean who was away for the summer and would like someone to stay there to look after it. In return, he suggested that I do a stock-take of his bookshop, The Paperback, as he was told he should one. He’d never before done one. I spent a few days rooting about in the basement and consequently came up with a pile of invoices that were still in the empty shipping boxes. ‘I thought they were packing slips,’ explained Jim. No wonder his account was blocked with some of the publishers.
We spent a lot of time with Jim who was very friendly, generous, and kind. I was still a teenager and he was ten years older than me but was in no way condescending. Jim invited us to see Jarry’s Ubu Roi at the Traverse Theatre, another of his enterprises. It was small and the audience sat on bleachers facing each other, the stage between. At one point we threw large cotton-wool balls at each other to simulate warfare.
We got married and moved to London. In 1966 Jim moved to London to start the Jeanetta Cochrane Theatre in Holborn and we saw quite a bit of each other. My friend Hoppy and I had already started a publishing company with a view to bringing out an alternative newspaper based on the Village Voice and the East Village Other in New York. Jim and his best friend Jack Henry Moore were added to the list of directors and together we started International Times (IT), Europe’s first underground newspaper.
Our collaborations continued. When Jim and Jack started the Arts Lab, Sue ran the café and I set up a small bookstall of books from the Indica Bookshop. We obviously saw less of him once he moved to Paris in 1969, but we kept in touch and as time went by, he and I were often on the same panel or TV documentary discussing the Sixties, the Underground Press, the Counter Culture and the like. I think the last time I saw him was in Paris when Rosemary and I took some French friends to one of his Sunday dinners. Jim was gregarious to the extent it seemed like a way of never committing to a single relationship. He really wanted everyone on Earth to be in his address book, particularly all the women on Earth. Jim never seemed to want a single permanent relationship, preferring instead to surround himself with women. This is not to say that these were not often very close, meaningful friendships; I am sure they were. There was, however, a darker side to Jim. Many of his friends (and mine) stopped sending their young daughters to visit him when they visited Paris because he put so much pressure on them for sex. He was an old-style, unreconstructed, sexual predator. Having said that, this was not uncommon for people of his age; he was born in 1933 and we are all the product of our age, unless we make a huge effort to change. Of the founders of International Times (Hoppy, Jim, Jack, Mike Henshaw, myself, and Tom McGrath) I am the only one left. I thought Jim was a wonderful man and am privileged to have known and worked with him. This is Jim and I on a panel discussion in Glasgow in 2009.
I was in an early group to receive the anti-Covid vaccine. It was given at Lords Cricket Group in St. John’s Wood, next to Lords Tavern. It was a beautiful sunny day, with blue sky so I walked there through Regent’s Park then along the canal to St. John’s Wood Road. Several hundred old people were gathered together, and they were as excited as could be, introducing themselves to each other, helping the aged and infirm. It was the first time most of them had been out for months and they all had a smile on their face. It was like a village fete or a garden show; I half expected someone to come in carrying a huge onion or a giant cabbage. And, of course, everyone was very pleased to get their shot. Being in the vulnerable age group was very stressful and now that was being addressed. It was much less exciting when I had my second shot there in March, people had become used to Covid, but it was still a very positive situation with everyone profusely thanking the volunteers who were running it. This was the first time I have felt any affection for my old school, Cirencester Grammar School, founded in 1461, because that was where Edward Jenner, (1749-1823), pioneer of vaccines and creator of the smallpox vaccine, the world’s first vaccine, studied before going up to St. George’s Hospital, London. Here’s Mister Jenner.
It has been pointed out that there is a very large omission in my previous post. I didn’t mention that I had prostate cancer. In late August 2020 an annual MOT blood test at my doctor’s revealed a high PSA reading. A week later I was in the Royal Marsden for tests and a scan. The another two days later and finally an MRI scan. This large machine makes such a lot of noise that they give you earplugs to block it out. Giant magnets rotate and, by the sound of it, grind together each one making an entirely different electronic sound, from high pitched whistles to deep groans and clanking sounds. All it needs is a drum and bass track and you’d have a hit electro record. From then on it was a flurry of meetings and tests including a biopsy. I wasn’t really expecting this: you lie, curled in the foetal position on an operating table while three nurses insert a tube up your ass to take samples from your prostate. It’s the only way to get there. You can hear the mechanism at the end of the tube as it goes ‘Snip’, ‘Snip’ ‘Snip’ as they move it around and decide on a likely place to check out. Meanwhile, a charming your Irish nurse was seated next to my head, attempting to distract me from the procedure with conversation. ‘So what it is that you do now?’ she asked brightly, in a delightful Irish accent. In the end all five of us were having a lovely conversation about books and writing and agents, we could have been in the café at the British Library.
The cancer hadn’t spread so the standard treatment, 20 sessions on a linear accelerator, was indicated. It was a bit late to fit them in before Christmas, so I had them in the year, 2021. The extraordinary thing was, had I not been told that I had cancer, I would not have known that anything was wrong. I had a little fatigue but everyone I knew was anxious and depressed about Covid and quite a few complained about tiredness. The linear accelerator was a doddle. It makes hardly any sound, it doesn’t hurt in any way, and the daily radiotherapy session only takes 10 minutes. I was very interested in the machine, which was like the robots you see of the machines in assembly lines making cars. Huge bits of kit on the end of arms move around and perform a slow dance as you lie there, you don’t slide into a tunnel; the machine revolves around you. I commented on how big it was and the nurse laughed and said ‘All you can see is the bit that sticks through the wall. There’s a whole room behind there.’ I looked it up, naturally, and they cost between £4 and £5.5 million. They have two at the Royal Marsden; mine was called Brunel, after the great engineer, which I thought was rather nice. The nurses always referred to it as a ‘nice piece of kit’, a phrase I remembered Dr James using when I first met him; they were all copying him. It was all over and done with by February 25th.
I rather enjoyed my hospital visits. It had been years since I spent any time in Chelsea so each day I took the bus further and further down the Kings Road and walked to the hospital through the back streets. Sometimes I would get off early. The Chelsea Drugstore where Mick Jagger stood ‘in line with Mr. Jimmy’ is now a MacDonald’s, Mary Quant’s Bizarre is now a Jo & the Juice, it’s all much more commercial with the same old chains you see everywhere.
Well Brunel it did its job, though I didn’t get the results until several months afterwards as it does cause a bit of, painless, inflammation that has to go away before they can assess the success. It worked, PSA down to normal of 1:00. Ever since I’ve become a great advocate of getting tested and have banged on to all my male friends over 60 to get checked out. Over 60? Male? GET CHECKED!
By the end of March, 2121, up to six people were permitted to meet, and social life started up again. I was lucky in that I had always had my son with me for company as he still lived at home, and he had his friend Rami who lives upstairs as part of the bubble so we were never lonely as some people were. I began to cook for friends: Jill Nicholls, Maribel Torrente, Fran Bentley, Harriet Bowden, James Mair and Lauris Morgan-Griffiths, Suzy Treister and Richard Grayson. I was stuffing squid with chorizo and preparing quail with bread sauce and having a fine time. It was displacement activity, but a pleasant distraction and anyway, we still had to eat. Here’s Theo and Rami.
During lockdown and the period when we only allowed a restricted social life, I relied tremendously on my friends for support and to keep me from getting depressed and despondent about my cancer. I am privileged to know such a wonderful group of people. And here are a few of them: Maribel outside the French pub in July sunshine when you could eat outside but not in; she offered to move in and look after me. That afternoon was possibly the first time I felt really happy since my wife Rosemary died; other times were when walking in Regent’s Park with Jill during lockdown. I would bring a bottle of chilled Chablis and each brought our own glasses. At that time she was working on her brilliant BBC-Imagine TV documentary about Tom Stoppard; Harriet has since left this septic isle, swapping her bookstall on Portobello Road for the Mediterranean sun. And there were many more. My thanks to them all, they don’t realise how much I value their friendship.
About once a month, unless we are in lockdown, Luzius Martin comes over for a few days from Basel where he houses his massive William Burroughs collection. We always have plenty to talk about as I have written two books on Burroughs as well as one on the Paris Beat Hotel plus interviewed him, produced CDs of his cut-up tapes, curated exhibitions of his photographs, catalogued his archives (twice – 1972 and 2014), and lectured on his work on TV, radio and in academia. When Luzius is here we always have dinner with Terry Wilson, cut-up author, collagist, and Brion Gysin expert. I can think of nothing better than spending time with my friends, drinking wine, talking. Civilisation emerged from conversation.