Ian Penman

Ian Penman’s essay collection It Gets Me Home, This Curving Track came out in 2019.

A kind of transcendence is often demanded of Black voices, as singers or as political orators: the kind of voice that fills the heart, fills the hall, embraces the land. There’s an unspoken expectation that such voices gift us some exalted truth. But quieter, weaker voices can ruffle our feathers too. Maybe they chime with the murky or tattered voices in our own psychical crypts. They seem to befall us.

Four Moptop Yobbos

Ian Penman, 17 June 2021

The rubble had been cleared away, but strange grasses and wild herbs had sprung up where the war-demolished houses had been.

Muriel Spark, A Far Cry from Kensington

Onthe opening page of Craig Brown’s One Two Three Four, Brian Epstein and his personal assistant, Alistair Taylor, behold the Beatles for the very first time. It is November 1961, in a ‘dank and damp and smelly’...

Vorsprung durch Techno

Ian Penman, 10 September 2020

Kraftwerk performing at the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin on 16 January 2015

Inthe autumn of 1977, sober-suited Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider of the German synthesiser group Kraftwerk entered a New York nightclub and were surprised to hear an apparently endless version of a track from their newly released album Trans-Europe Express. Hütter was at first delighted to hear...

The Question of U: Prince

Ian Penman, 20 June 2019

One evening recently I was in the local supermarket, which always has a surprisingly tasteful collection of old pop and soul hits on its playlist. ‘Raspberry Beret’ came on and I just couldn’t help it: I was instantly transported, singing along and showing out, right there in Aisle 3. It still sounded so good: those unexpected violins, the slightly ‘off’ backing vocals (a white girl sound, reversing the usual formula where a so-so white male lead is vamped by phenomenally good black female singers), the down-home cornbread of the song’s narrative queered by tiny splinters of subtext that black listeners would immediately flash on (Prince’s store-owning boss ‘didn’t like my kind/cuz I was way too leisurely …’). Was there really ever such a phantasmagorically odd pop hit as this, or was it all just a dream?

Wham Bang, Teatime: Bowie

Ian Penman, 5 January 2017

People still get into knots about the ‘mystery’ of Bowie’s serial life-swapping in the 1970s, but he’d been pulling the same trick for years on the perimeter of Tin Pan Alley before he applied it to rock. A bit of sci-fi, a bit of up-in-the-air sexuality, a bit of scarves-in-the-air sing-along, a bit of an ‘Oh no he isn’t!’ panto vibe, and a lot of power chords.

Secretly Sublime: The Great Ian Penman

Iain Sinclair, 19 March 1998

One of the myths that fuzzes the shadowy outline of Ian Penman, a laureate of marginal places, folds in the map, is that Paul Schrader, the director of a sassy remake of Jacques Tourneur’s

Read More

Read anywhere with the London Review of Books app, available now from the App Store for Apple devices, Google Play for Android devices and Amazon for your Kindle Fire.

Sign up to our newsletter

For highlights from the latest issue, our archive and the blog, as well as news, events and exclusive promotions.

Newsletter Preferences