Lou Reed wrote an essay for Aspen no.3 – the Pop-Art issue that Andy Warhol edited, in 1966 – some months before the appearance of The Velvet Underground’s first album. Reed’s sentences are of their time. The aesthetic, already in place, is light years ahead.
Repetition is so fantastic, anti-glop… Listening to a dial tone in B♭, until American Tel & Tel messed and turned it into a mediocre whistle, was fine. Short waves minus an antenna give off various noises, band wave pops and drones, hums that can be tuned at will and which are very beautiful. Eastern music is allowed to have repetition. That’s OK for glops with strawhats and dulcimers between their blue legs… they don’t listen to it, or see it, but they sanction it. Andy Warhol’s movies are so repetitious sometimes, so so beautiful. Probably the only interesting films made in the US are Rock-and-Roll films. Reducing things to their final joke. Which is so pretty.
On 23 October 2002, between 40 and 50 Chechen men and women drove in a blacked-out van through the early evening central Moscow traffic, out to a suburb once home to one of the world’s largest ball-bearing factories. They pulled balaclavas over their heads, strapped belts of dynamite across their bodies, and walked briskly into the main entrance of a concrete, brutalist theatre known as the House of Culture of State Ball-Bearing Plant Number 1.
The show that evening was a performance of Nord-Ost, a musical set in Stalin’s Russia. It was sold out. The terrorists came on stage during a love aria. They fired into the air. At first many in the audience thought they were part of the play. When they realised they weren’t, there were screams and a charge for the exits. But they were blocked by ‘black widows’ with explosives wired between their bodies and the doors. The men on stage ordered the audience back into their seats: if anyone moved they would be shot.
By the time I arrived the next morning, as a fixer for tabloid hacks and documentary crews, the theatre was surrounded by soldiers, medics, TV cameras, cops and onlookers. More »
Writing drunk rarely works. Writing hungover, on the other hand, can be surprisingly effective. A bastard behind the eyes can still the frivolous part of the brain – the part that wanders off and watches cats on YouTube, or scrolls through Vice’s Dos and Don’ts – and allow the serious part to take control. Daily Rituals, Mason Currey’s compendium of working methods of the ‘great minds’, is full of writers who spent their nighttimes getting wasted, then got up and almost immediately started producing. More »
One of my neighbours came over to say hello the day the Royal Mail was privatised. ‘I expect you’re looking forward to getting your hands on all that money you’ve just made,’ he said. The shares allocated to me as a member of staff had gone up by almost 40 per cent in a day. The government had brought forward the date of the IPO in order to beat a strike ballot by the Communication Workers’ Union. Most of us, like most people, were against the privatisation. It felt like my neighbour was congratulating me on taking a bribe. More »
Since the summer, members of the London Chinatown Chinese Association say, the UK Border Agency has been targeting businesses in Chinatown, looking for people who may be living or working in Britain illegally. Most of the raids, according to the LCCA, have been speculative ‘fishing’ trips, based on no intelligence and designed to intimidate. Almost every business in Chinatown has been hit. At one restaurant the officers showed the manager their warrant only after the raid was finished – they were at the wrong address. More »
A few days ago a coroner released a report on the deaths of two cyclists killed in London. Both died while cycling along Cycle Superhighway 2, which runs from Bow to Aldgate. Both were hit by heavy goods vehicles. One of them, Philippine De Gerin-Ricard, was riding a Boris Bike. More »
Last week, just as the latest round of nuclear talks in Geneva between Iran and the P5+1 were about to begin, I was talking on the phone to a friend in Tehran about Hassan Rouhani. ‘Now we will see if he’s serious,’ my friend said, ‘or if he’s just another Khatami. Another one of him we don’t need.’ Mohammad Khatami was elected in 1997 on a far more reformist platform than Rouhani, only to find himself, and his attempts at change, blocked by hardliners throughout his presidency. So last week’s nuclear talks were the first test: of both Rouhani’s sincerity and his ability to get things done. Before the negotiations began, the Iranians promised to present a proposal that had the ‘capacity to make a breakthrough’. More »
Alan Milburn, the government’s paradoxically named ‘social mobility tsar’, last week released the first annual report of his Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission. The findings are not surprising: inequality is getting worse; the government will miss its child poverty targets by up to two million; 275,000 more children are now in absolute poverty, two-thirds of them in working households; youth unemployment is at a 20-year high. The report concludes:
We see a danger that social mobility, having risen in the middle of the last century then flatlined in the end, could go into reverse in the first part of this century.
‘Omer Post Office – For Omer Residents Only!’ says the headline in a pamphlet distributed by a party running in the local elections in the rich southern suburb near my hometown, Beer-Sheva. More »
A striking current feature of the European political landscape is its convergence and separatism. As the European Union expands, secessionism keeps pace. Scotland’s referendum is next September. Artur Mas steps up the pressure on the Spanish government to timetable a poll on Catalan independence. In Belgium, borborygmal noises from Flemish separatists are a ground bass over which national politics plays.
Anyone tempted by the thought that secession is always nice has to face the history of Texas. More »