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Secretly Sublime

Iain Sinclair: The Great Ian Penman, 19 March 1998

Vital Signs 
by Ian Penman.
Serpent’s Tail, 374 pp., £10.99, February 1998, 1 85242 523 7
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... 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 Cat People, admired Penman’s review so much that he invited him over to Los Angeles to talk product ...

Sonic Foam

Ian Penman: On Kate Bush, 16 April 2014

... performers I recall dreaming about are Les Dawson (I was having breakfast with the genial comedian and his wife, as if they were my real, lost parents), and the underground rock group Coil, now sadly no more since the deaths of its two founding members, Geoff Rushton and Peter Christopherson, whom I knew, though not especially well. When I interviewed ...

Even If You Have to Starve

Ian Penman: Mod v. Trad, 29 August 2013

Mod: A Very British Style 
by Richard Weight.
Bodley Head, 478 pp., £25, April 2013, 978 0 224 07391 2
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... people wrongly perceived as frivolous. The Mod obsession with Blue Note album sleeves and Italian fashion had the quality of fetish, in both the Marxist and ritual senses. It required near-fanatical commitment to ‘source’ the materials required for a makeover. (In the early 1970s when I was a teenager, the high street was still hopeless, a fashion ...


Ian Penman: Elvis looks for meaning, 24 September 2014

Elvis Has Left the Building: The Day the King Died 
by Dylan Jones.
Duckworth, 307 pp., £16.99, July 2014, 978 0 7156 4856 8
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Elvis Presley: A Southern Life 
by Joel Williamson.
Oxford, 384 pp., £25, November 2014, 978 0 19 986317 4
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... and his shimmy. His robes and his finery. One side of the young Elvis was a faultlessly polite, radiantly ordinary boy next door. But he was also drawn to outrageous clothes, pimpish overload, endless resculpting of his princely hair. His everyday clothes look neither work-appropriate, nor what was then officially classy. The way he looked says ‘underclass ...


Ian Penman, 1 July 2015

Sinatra: London 
Universal, 3 CDs and 1 DVD, £40, November 2014Show More
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... His day-to-day social intercourse was conducted among hard-bitten, resourcefully cynical musicians – we can just imagine the ribbings they dished out to young Francis about his undiscerning new fan base. Sinatra’s bandmates were actually more bewildered than bothered by this latest development: despite his major rep as a real ladies’ man, no one had ...


Ian Penman: The Obsession with Charlie Parker, 23 January 2014

Celebrating Bird: The Triumph of Charlie Parker 
by Gary Giddins.
Minnesota, revised edition, 195 pp., £15, October 2013, 978 0 8166 9041 1
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Kansas City Lightning: The Rise and Times of Charlie Parker 
by Stanley Crouch.
Harper, 365 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 0 06 200559 5
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Bird: The Life and Music of Charlie Parker 
by Chuck Haddix.
Illinois, 188 pp., £20, September 2013, 978 0 252 03791 7
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... of voice, in all its self-contradictory rhythm and curl – or borderline racist, like some Victorian anthropologist’s respectably freaky show and tell. A couple of things should be made clear: one, Quincy Troupe is a black poet and academic, not some ofay hack-cum-hustler; two, Miles: The Autobiography was released at a time when Davis was looking to get a ...

Ways to Be Pretentious

Ian Penman, 4 May 2016

M Train 
by Patti Smith.
Bloomsbury, 253 pp., £18.99, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6768 6
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Collected Lyrics 1970-2015 
by Patti Smith.
Bloomsbury, 303 pp., £20, October 2015, 978 1 4088 6300 8
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... solipsistic. Smith took a handful of favourite 1960s 45s – ‘We Like Birdland’ by Huey ‘Piano’ Smith, Chris Kenner’s ‘Land of a Thousand Dances’, Them’s ‘Gloria’ – and magicked their trashy pop into convincingly ecstatic art music. She threw a block party at which a straggly line of unlikely scenes (1960s garage rock, Warhol’s ...

The Question of U

Ian Penman: Prince, 20 June 2019

Prince: Life and Times 
by Jason Draper.
Chartwell, 216 pp., £15.99, February 2017, 978 0 7858 3497 7
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The Most Beautiful: My Life with Prince 
by Mayte Garcia.
Trapeze, 304 pp., £9.99, April 2018, 978 1 4091 7121 8
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... the real pantheism of this people-I.Fernando Pessoa, The Book of DisquietIt is the first or Christian name that counts, that is what makes one be as they are.Gertrude Stein, writing about Ulysses S. GrantIn autumn​ 1981, hot new act Prince was offered two nights at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum supporting the Rolling Stones. His first impulse was to ...

Wham Bang, Teatime

Ian Penman: Bowie, 5 January 2017

The Age of Bowie: How David Bowie Made a World of Difference 
by Paul Morley.
Simon & Schuster, 484 pp., £20, July 2016, 978 1 4711 4808 8
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On Bowie 
by Rob Sheffield.
Headline, 197 pp., £14.99, June 2016, 978 1 4722 4104 7
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On Bowie 
by Simon Critchley.
Serpent’s Tail, 207 pp., £6.99, April 2016, 978 1 78125 745 6
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Shock and Awe: Glam Rock and Its Legacy 
by Simon Reynolds.
Faber, 704 pp., £25, October 2016, 978 0 571 30171 3
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... sober he looks etiolated, smudgy and grey; he looks, in fact, downright ill. Bowie met the Somalian supermodel Iman in 1990 and they married in 1992. She seems to have dislodged something in him he’d hidden for too long, and he sobered up (though he continued to smoke like a troubled priest in a 1940s noir film). By swapping some of his alien ...

The Cadaver Club

Iain Sinclair, 22 December 1994

Original Sin 
by P.D. James.
Faber, 426 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 571 17253 9
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Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem 
by Peter Ackroyd.
Sinclair-Stevenson, 282 pp., £14.99, September 1994, 1 85619 507 4
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The Hidden Files: An Autobiography 
by Derek Raymond.
Warner, 342 pp., £5.99, December 1994, 0 7515 1184 6
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Not till the Red Fog Rises 
by Derek Raymond.
Little, Brown, 248 pp., £15.99, December 1994, 0 316 91014 7
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... Surely, it can’t just be the absence of T.A. Critchley’s guiding hand? Or the weird Balkan alliances of Liberal Democrats, property developers, hotshot essayists and art brokers that have, in the intervening years, stomped the riverside? This emphysemic essay in historical revisionism, the acceptable face of entropy, is a pantomime that’s all Dame and ...

Paisley’s Progress

Tom Paulin, 1 April 1982

... In 1969, while he was serving a prison sentence for unlawful assembly, Ian Paisley sent this message to his congregation: I rejoice with you in the rich blessings of last weekend. I knew that our faithful God would pour out His bounty. In prayer in this cell I touched the Eternal Throne and had the gracious assurance of answered prayer ...

Holy Boldness

Tom Paulin: John Bunyan, 16 December 2004

Glimpses of Glory: John Bunyan and English Dissent 
by Richard Greaves.
Stanford, 693 pp., £57.50, August 2002, 0 8047 4530 7
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Theology and Narrative in the Works of John Bunyan 
by Michael Davies.
Oxford, 393 pp., £65, July 2002, 0 19 924240 2
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The Portable Bunyan: A Transnational History of ‘The Pilgrim’s Progress’ 
by Isabel Hofmeyr.
Princeton, 320 pp., £41.95, January 2004, 0 691 11655 5
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... at Newport Pagnell. During his army years Bunyan witnessed the struggle between Presbyterians, who wanted to reform the Church of England, and radical sectaries. He had a religious awakening in 1650 – the year his blind daughter, Mary, was born – and suffered from a series of nervous illnesses which Richard Greaves unhelpfully approaches by means ...

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