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Spare Change Books Launch Upstairs at the Garage

8.00pm, Sunday, 31 August 2003


MC was Esther , your website host ...

First off was Hugh Mulhall, reading from his new book A.K.A. A Memoir of the Divine Ms. Thing ...


Then Dolly Sen, author of The World is Full of Laughter (Chipmunkapublishing), reading poems ...

Then Jeremy Hardy got up to introduce Ted Curtis, and speak about Palestine and make numerous political points (and jokes) at breakneck speed ...

Then, to the sound of "The Archers" theme, Ted Curtis took to the stage to read from By Theft & Murder ...

Then Esther introduced Ben, saying he was "very proud" to write the jazz page in Hi-Fi News ...

Ben Watson [improvised]: Although I write about Free Improvisation, I myself can't improvise, certainly not with the speed and wit Jeremy Hardy has just demonstrated, but before I begin reading I thought I should point out a couple of things about the cover of my novel. Rob Dellar originally had the idea of portraying V.I. Lenin with a spurting cock. When he said he knew a "good artist" in Hackney who could draw such an image, I felt put on my mettle. I'm a good artist too! Believing that drawing from life reveals things denied to cartoonists, I looked around for a model, and decided it had to be me. Getting an erection was easy, all I had to do was stare at my photograph of Esther's Punnk's behind as collage fundament, with torn scraps of a knitting pattern and a déchiré by Jacques Villeglé confering instant art status. My sketch was done in November 2002 when Mad Pride was about to promote Dallas Boner and Ape Shit in Kentish Town. That very day I met up with Melanie Clifford and Rob Dellar from Mad Pride at the Bull & Gate. They'd brought a tape measure, but we didn't have a piece of paper to take down any notes about the venue's dimensions, so I had to fish my drawing out my pocket. Being an artist, Melanie was not at all shocked, and seemed to find it quite amusing. Later on, a square hole was cut in the drawing for insertion of the photo, visual stimulus and somatic effect combined on the same page. A curled photo of Joseph Dietzgen, who people always mistake for Karl Marx, was placed as if floating on the tide of blue highlighter which filled the background. Far from simply being obscene and attention-seeking, the cover is actually what Walter Benjamin would call a "dialectical image": it makes blatant what pornography usually represses, which is the wanker. Also, I discovered that drawing must occupy a different part of the brain from the arousal zone, because I found my erection wilted as I drew. The more I concentrated on the curves of my hand and cock, the smaller the latter got. Despite Laura Mulvey's contention that the fetishist is really a narcissist who wants to transform the female body into a phallus, there's something not very arousing about the thing-in-itself (as Hegel himself was aware). So in the drawing, it's somewhat diminished in comparison to the actuality. [To his relief he thought he could hear a few laughs from the audience, even though Dallas Boner had told him he couldn't stand to hear that explanation/excuse yet another time. Out To Launch now felt confident enought to move on to his (post)script to the novel he was launching ...]


Out To Lunch began reading from the script in his hand to the assembled ranks of chancers, roughnecks, peace activists, anarcho-punks, Mad Priders, doley literateurs, scriveners of incomprehensible poetry, improvising improvors, critical critics, sun-kissed marxists, listeners to lists masquerading as prose, chip-shouldered class warriors, e-poets from over the Atlantic, and lifelong subscribers to Radical Philosophy. He was aware that the bared member on the cover of his new paperback was merely a mask on the truly offensive part of his programme, which was his SWPness: that marxist insistence always primed to offend the guardians of privileges granted by the current order. However, waxworker Nellie Condottieri's toy boy (a non-member), had already assured him on the phone that he'd found the presence of a newspaper named Controversialist Soaker in the novel deeply amusing. Lunch had weathered a debate on György Lukács and the Situationists at the Aquarium Bookshop where Michel Prigent, noted author of the Misery of Football pamphlet, had bayed for blood, thrusting his outsize hands into enormous big red boxing gloves. However, Out To Lunch decided to play it cool. He was well aware of the genteel depths lurking like stability tanks beneath the spiky exterior adopted by non-aligned intellectuals and confused politicos.

Squinting down the page, Out To Lunch could see from the layout that his text included some lines of verse. He wished he'd asked Gamma along to read them, his bassett-in-a-barrel tone being so well suited to Lunch's patented mixture of hegelian jargon, prynnian surrealism and figleaf motifs plucked from Frank Zappa's oeuvre. The way Gamma had pronounced "apparatus" on Ian Stonehouse's masterpiece Le Tombeau d'Esemplasm - "apparat-us", as if it was some inscrutable motto beneath a parody coat-of-arms - still brought a glow of happiness to his cheeks and a tear of affection to his eye. However, after Gamma had sabotaged two nights of free improvisation at a Greek-Cypriot theatre in Somers Town with his drunken bawling, Out To Lunch didn't feel it would be conducive to solidarity with the Palestinian cause to bring him aboard this time.

The presence of Jim MacDougall, however, was inevitable (Mad Pride performers never leave the stage, they're perpetually mad). The self-proclaimed "spastic of your nightmares" and charismatic lead singer with Apeshit had called unexpectedly at ten at night and made off with copies of both Dipsticks & Snowballs and Bi-Ceps & Murmur, it being a matter of personal pride to obtain a copy of every Spare Change Books publication without paying.

Out To Lunch knew that mention of MacDougall's name might lead to some jovial joshing on his part, so he'd cleverly scripted a poem whose crafted insanities would bewitch the madman's brain stem, causing his consciousness to plummet down his spine like Batman and Roibin down the fireman's poles at Wayne Manor. There was nothing for it: the "poem" had to be read. Luckily, T.H.F Drenching, whose dictaphone stylings had done so much to inject fizz and vim into Derek Bailey's latest performances, was not in the audience. After two years of watching Out To Lunch read from Benison Fence-Off at every opportunity, he'd written saying he really ought to come up with somen "new shit". The reference to Frank Zappa's Sheik Yerbouti had not been missed. As any Scally knows, invention is the daughter of necessity, but in this context, Lunch was fairly sure that no-one - except maybe Esther Punnk - had heard these lines before.

Fence-off, no plush stab back
In the vacant lot, grainily
Mirrored by kickstool apparatus.

He began, resolving to at least give the assembled politicos and Mad Priders a taste of the linguistic unconscious which is repressed in the functionalism of any universal insistence on direct action. Out To Lunch objected to the way prose had somehow been inserted into the poem, but he understood how anyone reading from a script is at the mercy of the "self" who penned it earlier, the future reduced to a puppet on a string. Now he suddenly understood why Derek Bailey insisted on Free Improvisation as his sole mode of musical production. It was to avoid the Sandie Shaw problem: being constrained by pea-brained, McCartneyesque concepts of lived life, one of the many insidious ways in which the Diktats of Capital are transmitted to the labouring population. Out To Lunch foresaw a reference to the blues in the next line and brightened visibly. Meanwhile, someone at the back was arguing with a doorman - the Garage's "no pass outs" policy always leading to bitter altercations. The poem went like this:

As sacks of happenstance cotton
Avail themselves, bailing out
The stolen lover's resolve. It's
Ticked & picked by moron cricks,
A dodo daze of half-billed fluff.
Gravy on the waistcoat bib,
Again the rush from lunch.
The greedy gaze of riddled hues,
A glaze of burning cross.
My hope for pipping interrupt,
The scalded, setlight "boin-n-ng" of festive wit -
Which sprays like scent across the bows.

Who was that figure who'd appeared to his left? Eyes focused on his script, he couldn't afford to take a look, he might lose the flow. Was it sax supremo Alan Wilkinson, tired of waiting for his cue and desirous of a blow? Or was it perhaps Jim MacDougall? He sneaked a look. Jim! A bottle appeared in his eye line, behind his script. Still reading, Lunch took it.

He'd thought it was a large bottle of beer - Czech Budweiser or Stella Artois - and was quite surprised when a draught of red wine flooded into his mouth. He read on, not wanting to give over the limelight to another one of those spontaneous, charismatic bastards who didn't need a script.

One more whiff of leftish woof, a
Yawning pragma feint, a suck.
Down of course to the root canal, the
Comfy gleam of Davy's lamp
Rising precisely to split my screen:
Clever-clogs hurting for the cleaver.
All such sofa stuff volumned in light
Of Tessa's lamps, whorled in a gauze
Whose name is nailed in benison.

Out To Lunch suspected that the last word would be lost on his audience, although the term was of great anthropological interest (anyone who is acquainted with the word will immediately recognise in it certain references to vegetation ceremonies). "Benison" was in fact first used in a poem by the insufferable poet-on-a-private-income "Heaving Steven" Lightnin' Rod Man, and was enquired after by J.H. Prim, whose extensive browsings in the longer Oxford English Dictionary had so far failed to turn it up. The references to sofas and lamps deliberately raised the ghost of the domestic interior, bourgeois motifs designed to rile the post-Trainspotting rule that everything literary become drug-laden, bar-billed and streetstupid. If course it was likely that Out To Lunch's listeners would simply take a position on the immediate atmosphere of his lines, rather than understanding them as a feint within the carefully nuanced construction of his verbal oeuvre. Although Marco Maurizi, the noted zappologist from Rome, had brilliantly defined the dialectic of Modern Art as mediation criticised by immediacy, Lunch thought that too many listeners were now taking immediacy into their own hands, reducing finely considered artistic moves to intemperate rubble.

There was a good example on stage next to him. MacDougall was now standing to his right and ostentatiously sniffing a bottle of poppers, the stench of dry-cleaning fluid reminding Lunch of the time Christine Rybeck, a cleaner at the Leeds General Informary of Polish extraction, and leading member of the Hospital Workers Action Group during the hospital strike, had dipped cigarrettes in a bottle of poppers, left them to dry, and given him one to smoke. His irises had dilated and he'd puked instantly. Now Jim was offering him a sniff.

"I don't want any of that. Last time I did it I puked!" he improvised. Jim staggered off towards the back of the stage. There was a thump. It appeared that the amyl-nitrate had knocked him out cold. On with the reading, which had become strangely appropriate:

In the grand arena of the unspoken, anything may be connected to anything else, and frequently is. What lurks beneath the threshold of utterance is a dark aquarium of half-bidden thoughts and desires, denizens circling around in the dark waters, consuming each other and fusing into monsters hitherto unperceived by the light of day. On the more beastly manifestions of aqueous life, phosphorescent nodules at the tips of the antennae lure smallfry into mouths lined with row upon row of razor-sharp teeth.

One such case is standing here before you, Out To Lunch, ladies and gentlemen, the self-confessed "ferryman" on the Stygian waters that lie stagnant, greenblack and waiting between the pre- and un- conscious. Drunk on mountains of verbiage imbibed while sozzled on Grolsch (ignoring Hektor Rottweiler's dictum "Es gibt kein wahres Leben im Grolschen"), Lunch liked nothing better than to allow prose to ooze out of him like automatic black treacle, surrendering himself to the rhythms of a language understood via school productions of Shakespeare, Lewis Carroll and Bob Cobbing, allowing the contradictory impulses of his eclectic reading to mingle experimentally in the turbulent retort of his addled bonce.

Out To Lunch finished his reading, told the audience he wouldn't answer their cuntish questions and fled the stage, pushing past sundry members of Mad Pride and Writers Forum and Poets' List in order to fling himself down the stairs and out onto Holloway Road. Well, it is Holloway Road outside the Garage, even though its official designation is "Highbury Corner". It was that point beyond twilight when artificial light has taken over from the sky, and everything looks garish, stripped-back, raw. Lunch was itching to answer the telephone, interrupt his own narrative with an entirely new scenario, but he was the proud non-possessor of a mobile. He nipped into a phone box and dialled up his answering machine at home.
"Hello, this is Zappo!" said a voice with a German accent, distant and crackly all the way from Bad Doberan in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. Zappo was the proud possessor of the last non-instutionalised Zappa moustache on the planet, and regularly published a calendar consisting of nothing but photographs of rock's greatest scatologist and composer. Out To Lunch felt threatened. He remembered his traumatic experience when staying with a member of the Fils de l'Invention, the Parisian chapter of Zappa maniacs. He'd woken up screaming, bolt upright in bed, his hand over the face of Didier's giant Zappa poster. Too much fetishism of Zappa-the-man shrivelled Lunch's Id, obliterated him beneath the weight of patriarchal law, gave him the screaming heebie-geebies. He'd much rather Zappo had put together a calendar of poodles or vacuum cleaners or brodie knobs and spinners or khaki maple buckwheats sizzling on the stove. But Zappo wasn't talking about his calendar, or about Wolfhard Kutz and his famous Zappanale, he was talking about Thing-Fish.

"Mick Zeunig and I and fifteen other members of the Arf Society have tickets to see Thing-Fish at the Battersea Arts Centre on Saturday. Can we sleep on your floor?". The prospect was terrifying. Having helped himself liberally to free beer and Jack Daniels in the backstage hospitality tent at Zappanale #14, Out To Lunch knew that it was his call. They'd put him on at the Kamp Theater, speaking on Hegel and Zappa and the phenomenology of household objects, and allowed him to flog his books. The problem was that his floor was made of asbestos tiling crumbling into tiny particles. He knew that just one night on that surface would eliminate the entire rock avantgarde of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. "We have one other question," the answer-phone message continued: "What has the crab-grass baby got to do with Capgras Syndrome?".

This was a moot point. A month earlier, Vincent van Veen from Pittsburgh had contacted Lunch about this very matter. In Thing-Fish there's a blasphemous re-enactment of the Nativity in which the baby Jesus is known as the "crab-grass baby", a reference to a vegetation ceremony indelibly linked with the dreary uselessness and spiritual vacancy of suburban existence in the States. The "crab-grass baby" was Zappa's way of expressing the situationist ejaculation "real life is elsewhere": the crab-grass baby is a rubber doll, the product of a liaison between Artificial Rhonda, a sex toy, and Quentin Robert De Nameland, a TV preacher with an enormous Wayne Cochran-style white pompadour. The crab-grass baby speaks in an early-80s computer-generated language. It sounds rather like people who've lost their larynx and manage to speak entirely on wind derived from self-induced belches. Unlike the dalek's voice, which was modelled on Hitler's hysterical speeches as relayed through horn-shaped loudspeakers attached to lamposts, the computer-generated voice used by Zappa is entirely level, each syllable delivered with the same emphasis. It's the sound of high-tech death, robotic and mechanical, especially when set against the warm lowing of the Mammie Nuns, who sound like a herd of cows grazing on quaaludes.

The host of Thing-Fish the musical, Thing-Fish himself, speaks a "negrocious" dialect, an exaggerated version of the verbiage originally spouted by George Stevens as Kingfish in the Amos 'n' Andy radio show, which began in 1928, as refracted through Tim Moore's televised version in the 1950s. When Gamma does what he calls "word-surfing" you get much the same effect: words collapse under the weight of their sound-alike possibilities. As with Finnegans Wake, the Id experiences a thrill at being relieved of the oppression of the concept. The verbal material is allowed to find its own muddy high-water mark on the old school bench. This verbal contamination results in sentences like: "Sho'tly denafter, with HIGH-LEVEL GUBNINT COROBBERATIUM, he arranged to have a good-will visit to San Quentim, 'long wit some country-westin mu-zishnin's, 'n sprinkle a little bit of it on some of de boys in deahhh (since dey done used a few of 'em befo' when dey was messin' wit de ZYPH'LISS)." A society which could allow the Tuskegee Experiments - where black convicts were witheld treatment from syphilis in order to observe the fullblown symptoms of the disease - could easily unleash AIDS as germ warfare on blacks and gays. It's also a society in which the word has been so corrupted by media manipulation that only its pulverisation into the direct communication called music can be trusted. In this, Zappa is not so different from the tradition of American political songwriting which stretches from Woody Guthrie to Phil Ochs and on to Eugene Chadbourne, and which undergirds the politics of both Rock Against racism in the '70s and Free Improvisation and Mad Pride today. The public spectacle of rationality in the mass media is a front on inhumanity, atrocity and war, and only direct contact between human beings can bring out the truth.

Like Out To Lunch, Vincent van Veen does not see why the verbal disintegration presided over by Frank Zappa in his music shouldn't extend to the interpretation of his work. For van Veen, the "crab-grass baby" is a cipher for Capgras Syndrome, a mental delusion diagnosed in modern psychiatry. The chronic, systematic delusion diagnosed by Capgras has to do with misrecognition - where a middle-aged woman suddenly announces that the husband she's been living with for twenty years has been replaced by a "double". Vincent van Veen pointed out that Thing-Fish is full of "doubles" - there's Harry and Harry-as-a-boy, there's Rhonda and Artificial Rhonda. Indeed, the whole musical appears to be a delirium in which people can no longer distinguish between real things and their representations. Harry and Rhonda are pissed on by the Mammie Nuns at the start of the performance, but Harry insist it's "theater piss", not real piss.

Keen to check out this strange "coincidence", Out To Lunch contacted zappologist Vincent Denis in Paris asking if he could track down the first mention of Capgras Syndrome. Taking advantage of free time created by a strike by the SNCF, Denis visited the library of the Sainte Anne hospital in Paris and made a photocopy of pages 6 to 16 of the bulletin of the Société Clinique de Médecine Mentale, 1923, Volume II: "L'Illusion des <<Sosies>> dans un délire systématisé chronique". This was sent post-haste to Lunch in London. Out To Lunch felt he was also seeing double when he clocked the names of the authors. Here he was, relying on a Vincent van Veen and a Vincent Denis for his bibliographic reference on Capgras Syndrome - all about doublings in the work of Frank Vincent Zappa - and the article was written by Jean-Marie-Joseph Capgras and Jean-Marie-Joseph Reboul-Lachaux! Eager to bring clarity to his consciousness, Lunch consulted the first page of Finnegans Wake, which is all about doubling in the new world, and found the phrase "sosie sesthers wroth with twone nathandjoe". The double helix of the DNA crystal span before his internal eye as he imagined the meiotic splits which allow genetic exchange between the parent's chromosomes before a single strand is stripped out for combination with a sexual partner.

The article from the French psychiatric journal went on to detail experiences that were all too familiar to Out To Lunch - loved ones being replaced by imposters, everyone in the street being replaced by imposters, everything becoming like a film set, cars timed to drive by at particular times so that a flash of a particular colour would alter his mood. Rain splashing the windows like a dramatic moment in a stage play. He remembered when, at the height of his mania, he decided that his father had been replaced by a vile lech who blackmailed his foreign students into giving him sexual favours. The two Jean-Marie-Josephs included an inteview with a woman who saw doubles everywhere, and believed that all the real children of Paris had been incarcerated in cells beneath the pavements - she could hear their screams as they were being tortured. By reading this report from 1923 - free from the pseudo-scientific, laboratory nonesense which which post-war America inflicted on the discipline - was inspiring: a report which insisted there was logic to madness, that mad people's delusions were worth taking seriously. Lunch was reminded of the hurt and glory of madness, its intense communication with a real imaginary of suffering on the globe. A madness we cauterise in order to function, but is real psychic damage wreaked by the monstrosity of the capitalist world system. He felt grateful to the three Vincents - and the two Jean-Marie-Josephs - for this seemingly arbitrary plunge into the very epicentre of his psycho-political concers.
That, Lunch reflected, as he replaced the receiver on its cradle, and gently closed the door of one of the few remaining Soames-style red telephone kiosks in London outside Westminster, was the secret of Free Improvisation as played by Cecil Taylor and Derek Bailey. You can start with anything, any accident, any scrap, any "coincidence", and the vital dialectic which relates the part to the whole, the contingent to the absolute and the Many to the One will assert itself, and ask the modern, social question. How long will we allow property to screw up our lives?

Lunch stood by the kiosk in silent reverie, his mind as concerned and blank as the sky over Islington, the colour of a computer screen during a power cut, residues of his frenetic thoughts as delicate and personal as greasy fingerprints. By now, others were debouching from the Garage, streaming along to the tube station, chattering, their spirits raised by a night of non-mainstream literature and politics. He felt slightly guilty as Dave the Humpp and Charlie "Bad News" Mutton, characters from Iain Sinclair's Welsh masterpiece, Landor's Tower limped by, arguing as ever. He seemed to remember having promised them a floor for the night. Oh well, fictional characters can relocate themselves to Birmingham in the blink of an eye, he reflected. He dived into the Hen & Chickens, which was still open. "The double is representation!" he muttered, deciding that the spell needed to be broken, or sentimentality and delusion would invade his reading.

"Lunch!" OTL was interrupted, not by Humpp and Mutton, but by a guy in a strange, dazzlinglywhite t-shirt carrying an alto sax with "Xero Slingsby" written around the bell. Alan Wilkinson, sax supremo, louder than Peter Brötzmann, more in touch with the organic esemplastic Weltschmerzbau than Evan Parker. Hackney's only answer to David Murray. In tow were the drummer Paul Hession from Leeds and bassist and composer Simon H. Fell from Haverhill (the "H" appeared when he played the high-faluting "composer" card).

"Hey, Everyone!", Lunch said, dropping the novelistic shtick in an instant, "Wilkinson, impressario of the Flim Flam club and unstoppable transformer of life into art!" Switching his ear to the weight of the words rather than the conceptual target, Lunch broke into verse.

Turn rights, the fading local earn on belly ears
Distilled in over-price, the petty prints across the pot
You creak! Toot my raisins in a long-john kairn
Oft aloft, the snapple dimmed in exit lights.

Alan had found some diabolical high notes on the alto. The current word among middle-aged jazz critics - all of whom had no doubt recently been to their GPs for wax removal - for this kind of playing, invented by Pat Patrick from the Sun Ra Arkestra, and developed by John Zorn, was "ear-rinsing". Lunch paused. There was some applause. Should they stop?

"Improvise, you motherfuckers!" It was Dallas Boner, recycling a heckle which had involuntarily slipped out of Lunch when watching Peter Brötzmann play a disappointing set at the Red Rose Club in Finsbury Park. Wilkinson and Lunch returned to the fray, poetry and sax noise united in their refusal of bourgeois reason. Measles pipped their flush!

Twin stars blink, the instance of the spring
Which founts in pints, in star of choice.
Each grip upon the word swivels you in part
The kink which drives the general out of bed.

Tapered pieces rinsed in silver wash, the relic
Papered over. Plaster dust in sunlight.
Dated palms grip wristwatch ache, speak spells
Derived in passing from the actions of the most.

Ben Watson
21-viii-2003, 28-viii-2003 & 2-ix-2003

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