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Sonic Foam

Ian Penman: On Kate Bush, 16 April 2014

... A dream,​ just before waking. It’s a day or two after Kate Bush’s unexpected announcement of her return to the concert stage for a series of shows later this year. In my dream, Bush takes the form of a child’s tiny hardback book: solid, substantial, not too many pages. On the front cover is a menagerie of cartoon animals, all Smartie-tube colours and toothy smiles ...

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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... In a lovely 1963 piece on Miles Davis, Kenneth Tynan quoted Cocteau to illuminate the art of his ‘discreet, elliptical’ subject: Davis was one of those 20th-century artists who had found ‘a simple way of saying very complicated things’. Jump to 1966 and the meatier, beatier sound of a UK Top 20 hit, the Who’s ‘Substitute’, a vexed, stuttering anti-manifesto, with its self-accusatory boast: ‘The simple things you see are all complicated!’ You couldn’t find two more different musical cries: Davis’s liquid tone is hurt, steely, recessive, where Townshend’s is upfront, impatient, hectoring ...

Shapeshifter

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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... In the spring of 1965​ , on the road between Memphis and Hollywood, desert plains all around, his bloodstream torqued by a tinnital static of prescription ups and downs, Elvis Presley finally broke down. He poured out his troubles to Larry Geller, celebrity hair stylist and, lately, something of a spirit guide for Elvis. Geller had given him a mind-expanding reading list of what we would now recognise as New Age self-help books ...

Swoonatra

Ian Penman, 1 July 2015

Sinatra: London 
Universal, 3 CDs and 1 DVD, £40, November 2014Show More
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... Reveille with Beverly is a now largely forgotten 1943 film starring Ann Miller and the great Franklin Pangborn. Worked up from an equally forgotten US radio series it’s a corny but percipient tale about a spunky young DJ who’s hep to the vital Swing rhythm the kids all dig, and the stuffy station owner who wants no part of her indecorous jive. Miller, as the wide awake DJ, specialises in the wake-up call requests of local servicemen, and the film was a big hit with US military personnel stationed overseas during the Second World War: ‘Gooood morning, Potsdam!’ Forgotten it may be, but Reveille has one of the all-time great soundtracks: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, proto rock’n’roller Ella Mae Morse doing ‘Cow Cow Boogie’, and, in his Hollywood debut, a slender young reed called Frank Sinatra ...

Birditis

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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... There was a lot of racial tension around bebop. Black men were going with fine, rich white bitches. They were all over these niggers out in public and the niggers were clean as a motherfucker and talking all kind of hip shit. Trane liked to ask all these motherfucking questions back then about what he should or shouldn’t play. Man, fuck that shit – Bird had this white bitch in the back of the taxi with us ...

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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... The woman​ who cuts my hair – forty-something, old enough to remember punk but a neo-hippy these days – recently mentioned she’d been to see Patti Smith, who was touring her 1975 album, Horses, for its 40th anniversary. ‘Patti, yeah! Went to see her at the Roundhouse. Paid £30, which I didn’t think was too bad … Didn’t stay that long, though’ – snip, snip – ‘Went up the front and had a proper look, up close and personal’ – snip, snip – ‘And then I left early ...

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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... Assiduously and without much constraint, he conditioned his personality, making it as impenetrable and resourceful, as submissive and difficult, as it had to be for the sake of his mission.Walter Benjamin, ‘On the Image of Proust’To create in myself a nation with its own politics, parties and revolutions, and to be all of it, everything, to be God in the real pantheism of this people-I ...

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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... In​ 1975 David Bowie was in Los Angeles pretending to star in a film that wasn’t being made, adapted from a memoir he would never complete, to be called ‘The Return of the Thin White Duke’. This dubious pseudonymous character was first aired in an interview with Rolling Stone’s bumptious but canny young reporter Cameron Crowe; it soon became notorious ...

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 ...

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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... copy for rudeboy journalists. Jonathan Meades (‘Robin behaved badly before anyone else did’), Ian Penman, John Williams, Elizabeth Young – they’ve all done him. And been stretchered back to the cab. A Cook tribute is the contemporary equivalent to the apprentice’s passing-out ceremony. In both cases, you’re likely to end up legless in a ...

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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... many years ago, ‘The Triumph of the Word of God in the Life and Literature of John Bunyan’, Ian Paisley praised this ‘dreamer and penman’ for his ‘strong doctrinal’ preaching, his opposition to the civil and ecclesiastical authorities, the enormous crowds he drew, and for his prose style. This ‘poor ...

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