Nick Richardson


24 March 2015

Advice from Robert Frost

Occasionally at the LRB we receive emails from would-be contributors asking how to go about writing a piece for us. It isn't an easy question to answer: every writer’s different, each subject requires a different approach... I’m often tempted to give them the advice on writing record reviews that my first editor gave me when I worked at the Wire magazine: ‘Tell us who made the record, then say something interesting about it.’ In future I’m going to send people to Robert Frost.


16 March 2015

At the Bedlam Burial Ground

Dead bodies are being evicted from East London to make way for the new Crossrail station at Liverpool Street. Crossrail is gentrifying the soil. Last week archaeologists began digging up skeletons from what used to be the Bedlam, or Bethlehem, burial ground. The cemetery took its name from the lunatic asylum, which was close by, and some of the people buried there were former inmates. But it was mostly used, between 1569 and 1738, by East London parishes as an overflow cemetery for ill-favoured corpses, an underground slum for the dead.


6 October 2014

Aphex Twin's Genius

Richard D. James, better known as Aphex Twin, the UK’s (arguably, but not that arguably) most innovative electronic music producer ever, has said he was suprised his record label Warp wanted to release a new album by him – the first Aphex Twin album in 13 years. I don’t know how he can have got that impression. Warp was so enthusiastic that it floated a green blimp over London with the Aphex Twin logo on it. I was so enthusiastic about it that I bought the album from an actual shop the day it came out; almost everyone I know has heard it; last week it was the eighth best-selling album in the country, which is unusual for a piece of avant-garde electronica.


28 July 2014

The Fear that Creeps

There are two types of fear, the fear that bites and the fear that creeps. Nathan Bland, the teenage protagonist of the horror story that David Mitchell recently published on Twitter, has had a strong dose of the first. He’s been mauled by a bull mastiff, which ‘pulled skin off my cheek like skin off roast chicken' and 'shook me like a doll, my own blood blinding me'. The dog still stalks his dreams. When Nathan and his mother arrive at the house of Lady Briggs, an aristo his mother is keen to impress, a dog barks and he feels a pang of terror - ‘my lungs fill with dark’ – before he realises that it’s ‘only a little yappy thing’. Later, Nathan plays a game of ‘Fox and Hounds’ with Lady Briggs’s creepy son Jonah. He’s running, trying to catch Jonah up, when he hears the mastiff behind him. Suddenly it appears with Jonah’s bloody head dangling from its jaws. Nathan runs into Lady Briggs’s house, slams the door and blames the apparition on the Valium he took earlier.


24 July 2014

On Liberty Island

Liberty Island is a website for conservative ‘literature’ set up by Adam Bellow, son of Saul. A disproportionate number of the stories on the site’s front page are classified as ‘dystopia’ or ‘horror’, which suggests that the Islanders may be just the teensiest bit paranoid. Conservative values triumph, by turns, over a pandemic, an invasive social service sector, a genetic disorder that turns babies gay – beneath that one someone’s commented ‘a real thinker’ – full employment, and a Lovecraftian tentacular monster. There are no romance stories or nature writing because they are for the weak; ‘military’ stories have their own replete section. One writer, Lari Vine, contributes a weekly send-up of Hillary Clinton’s campaign diary to the ‘humor’ section, in which she cracks jokes such as 'It's my day to babysit a recovering Chris Matthews. The other day he got his nose too far up Obama’s ass and he strained something.’ Guffaw.


11 April 2014

On the Katzenklavier

On April Fools' Day, the Wire magazine put out an announcement for an avant-garde music festival in Poland. I was completely taken in; but then, none of the performances mentioned sounded unrealistic. So James Ferraro had written an operatic tribute to the Nokia 3310 that was to be ‘simulcast online using Netscape Navigator’? Sounds like a natural move after his elevator music installation last month at MoMA and his Heathrow Airport-themed concept EP.


14 March 2014

Translating Lorem Ipsum

Sometimes, when we’re putting together an issue of the LRB, we use Lorem Ipsum, a chunk of phoney Latin dummy text that’s been used by printers and typesetters since the 16th century. We paste it into a layout so we can tell what a page will look like before the copy's ready. The practice is known as ‘greeking’ because the Latin’s so mixed up it’s all Greek. Only it isn't. The text itself has been designed not to communicate, to have the look of text but no meaning – but meaning bubbles up through it nonetheless. The 16th-century printer who came up with it got there by mangling Cicero’s ‘De finibus bonorum et malorum’, an exposition of Stoicism, Epicureanism and the Platonism of Antiochus of Ascalon. Though most of the metaphysical subtlety has been wrung out, sense hasn’t completely: the text is haunted, as Derrida might have put it, by the piece of writing it once was.


21 February 2014

Live like Lenin, be buried like Hitler

People get uber-tombs when we don’t want to forget them, or when whoever’s in power wants us not to forget them. They’re a way of making sure that the dead don’t fully die, architectural avatars of the values that belonged to the person pickled, withered or wrapped inside. Lenin’s tomb in Moscow, as Gwendolyn Leick points out in Tombs of the Great Leaders: A Contemporary Guide, is a prime example, though its look – squat, windowless, Lego-like – had more to do with Stalin’s take on Lenin’s values than Lenin’s. When Lenin died in 1924 his widow wrote to his successor:


17 January 2014

The Week in Self-Help

Every morning the postman delivers a sack of new books to the LRB office. The bulk of them turn out to be either books about religion or self-help books, which may say something about the apocalyptic mood of the publishing industry. The categories often overlap, as in The Truth Within by Gavin Flood, ‘a history of inwardness in Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism’: religion can put you in touch with ‘a deeper, more fundamental, more authentic self’. The rest of this week's religious haul includes the Oxford Handbook of Quaker Studies and a collection of essays on Habermas and religion. There’s less variation in the self-help books, as the genre creeps forwards fad by fad. Pace Flood, the new hot topic is outwardness: help yourself by understanding others.


27 November 2013

Tooting on Kazoos

On my way to band practice last night, I came out of Camden Town tube station to find a group of men and women dancing about, singing songs and tooting on kazoos. They were, they told the assembled crowd, the Citizens’ Kazoo Orchestra, and they were there to protest against Camden Council’s decision to ban unlicensed busking in the borough.