Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Liverpool (Awaydays promotion)

May has been a strange month. I've not had time to do much writing or blogging. I attended the Damned show at the Fillmore in New York a couple of weeks ago, and I haven't even blogged that yet--usually I'm pretty prompt about such things.

I returned home from the UK (4th visit in the last 6 months) on Sunday. If you're guessing that I went to see John Foxx again, you would be right. This was not a formal gig; Foxx did a VJ/DJ set with Karborn and Dennis Da Silva as a promotion for the film "Awaydays" as part of Liverpool's Sound City festival.

Before I get into that, I want to mention Foxx's official web sites. A review of Google Analytics tells me that no less than 100 people over the last couple of months have come to this blog looking for information on John Foxx. While I'm pleased to have people reading this blog, it's mostly my opinion and not an official source of information on what John is doing. I worry that Google may be sending people here first rather than to the official sites. With a tip of the hat to Rob Harris, the official sources are:

Metamatic website:

The Quiet Man blog:

The John Foxx MySpace page (run by Steve Malins):

(There are actually 3 MySpace pages now--one for Foxx currently, listed above, one as a retrospective of Foxx's earlier work, and one for John Foxx's Ultravox).

If you're a Facebook user, there's also the "Metamatic : the Music of John Foxx" group page. I don't think any other Facebook pages for Foxx are official. As of right now, I don't believe there is any official Twitter feed, either.

(Update: thanks, Gem, for pointing out that the Facebook page isn't official--though I still consider it as such because news posted there comes directly from Rob).

Lastly--and I almost forgot--you can get e-mail updates on John Foxx by sending an e-mail to

OK, now that I've taken care of business--the Liverpool set. Karborn was besieged by technical problems from the moment he walked in and set up. Steve Malins and John Foxx told me that the set had worked perfectly right up until that moment--even on the train to Liverpool. Apparently there was a major software failure, and Karborn had to try to re-install the program while he was there at the set. Fortunately, he did get things going, but it took him almost an hour of tinkering to get things straightened out.

The set itself was pretty good--there was only one technical glitch once they got going, and the set consisted of clips from the Awaydays movie, backed by music from the film. The only Ultravox song I remembered hearing in the set was a remix of "Young Savage".

Afterwards, I talked to John Foxx and Karborn, and they both said that the set didn't go as well as they would have liked--that you got the "general idea" of how it was supposed to go, but it wasn't what they were hoping for. Karborn said that he thought 3 songs went well, and that the second half was better than the first. Foxx kept stressing that this was only an experiment, that they'd never done anything like this before--and they only had 3 days to put the whole set together. I imagine the fact that this wasn't their material was also challenging.

I don't know anything about the technicalities of these sets, so I just take their word for it--the DJ/VJ thing is more Karborn's business, so he would certainly know. To my untrained eye, the set was just fine--a bit repetitive at certain points, but I think it went fairly well considering all of the technical difficulties and time constraints. I have a brief clip of the set on YouTube (VERY brief, and taken with a digital camera, so it's not the best quality):

YouTube has a couple of other clips taken by others as well, so look at the "related videos" if you check it out--their clips may be better.

Steve very kindly invited me to the aftershow at Heebie Jeebie's, and I had a lovely time chatting with everyone who came along. I never seemed to be without beer, and at one point I realized that my food to alcohol ratio was tipped heavily on the side of the latter. Fortunately, I didn't end up with any headaches or hangovers. We called it quits around 2am, and I headed back to my room to take a bath in the most magnificent tub I've ever seen.

I should also comment on the city of Liverpool itself. Liverpool has a reputation for being seedy, and perhaps it was at one time. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that Liverpool isn't seedy at all--it's quite gentrified, and the people there are very friendly. Like any major city, I'm sure it has its troublesome elements, but I wouldn't say that it's the prevalent vibe of the city. I returned to London the next day, and was fortunate to have a gorgeous weekend to do things in the city.

Now I'm back at home and left to contend with the mysteries my cats have laid out for me in my absence (i.e., why there was blood all over my washing machine, where their food dishes disappeared to, etc.)--and looking forward to this weekend in New York City at BEA and the Rumpus party...

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Goreyana and Childhood Books

After months of reading heavy-duty academic tomes on Jewish-Christian relations, the development of language, and the history of the Reformation, I decided to go for something lighter this weekend. This is the first free weekend I've had in awhile, and it's raining, so I can't do the gardening and yard work. It's the perfect time to sit down with a book and a pint of Guinness.

For whatever reason, I've had a hankering to re-read some of the early works of John Bellairs. John Bellairs did write novels and prose pieces for adults, but he was primarily known as a children's writer. Bellairs was recommended reading for us in the 4th and 5th grades. In the late Seventies and early Eighties, Bellairs was probably as popular of an author as Madeline L'Engle, Judy Blume, or C.S. Lewis (the Narnia series specifically). His most famous trilogy involved the Lewis Barnavelt character, beginning with A House With a Clock in its Walls. The stories take place in the late 1940s in New Zebedee, Michigan, and they do a great deal to evoke the time and the place. They are also probably the first example of the magical realism genre for me--Lewis's uncle and next-door neighbor are both practicing magicians, and yet are both very ordinary folk in all respects. Bellairs did have series involving other characters, but none of them equalled this first trilogy, in my opinion. After Bellairs's death, Brad Strickland tried to finish a number of Bellairs's unfinished works, all published as Bellairs/Strickland. As one might expect, these latter works all fall flat. I don't know of any author who has done well trying to write "in the style of" a particular author, except perhaps the Robert Bloch and August Dereleth stylings of H.P. Lovecraft.

The Bellairs books were also my first introduction to my favorite illustrator, Edward Gorey. Gorey was hugely popular in his lifetime, and even more so after his death. He is best known for the animated introduction to the "Mystery!" series that aired on PBS years ago, but that barely scratches the surface of his work. In 1996, a huge bibliography of his works entitled "Goreography" was published, and it's staggering to see just how much work Gorey did in his lifetime. I am a committed Gorey collector, but I have been limited to buying only 1 or 2 first editions, lithographs, or signed copies a year. Everything has just become way too expensive.

Gorey illustrated many children's books, particularly for Dial Press, but his own cartoon books were definitely not for children. About 12 years ago I did cataloging work for Baker and Taylor Books. One of the catalogers there told me about a children's book she encountered in the cataloging queue that absolutely horrified her. It was about a bunch of colorful bugs, all of whom are happy until a big black bug comes along. They all conspire to lead him to a cliff, then they push him off and drop a rock on him.

"Who would write such a horrible story for children?" she asked me.

"No one," I replied. "That's Edward Gorey's 'Bug Book'. And it's not for children."

Of course, the Library of Congress has subject-tagged all of Gorey's cartoon books as juvenile literature, and this is highly misleading, to say the least. Gorey writes about serial killers, children who are sold into slavery and then commit suicide, and a host of ghastly "alphabets" featuring gruesome murders. Works that don't cover these topics are usually heavy on puns, or mocking poor English translations of literary works. All of it is actually very funny, if you take it for the macabre humor it is supposed to be. One of my favorite lines ever is from Gorey's "The Loathsome Couple", about a man and woman who go about the business of murdering and dismembering small children. Gorey writes, "They met at a Self-Help Institute lecture on the evils of the decimal system, and immediately recognized their affinity." The whole thing is so weird, and yet so deadpan, gruesome humor with a totally straight face.

At my last place of employment, my supervisor and her husband used to go to the Gotham Book Mart in Midtown regularly when Edward Gorey came to read from his works. Each time they went, they got him to sign editions of his works that they had purchased. One year at Christmas, my supervisor left a huge shopping bag under my desk. I opened it, and it was full of the Gorey signed first editions, pop-up books, and even dolls made of his characters. She told me, "I've had them for so many years, and I have to get rid of stuff. I decided you would be the one to give them a good home." I was flabbergasted. That was one hell of a gift. I still have all of those items to this day. I acquire more each year by poking around antiquarian book fairs, checking bookseller lists, and browsing the Strand's rare book room.

The picture above is of just a few of my Gorey items.