The 2006 ‘Rough Guide’ to Blogging

Last week I caught up with an old friend who gave me two wonderful presents. The first of these was a 2006 book about blogging:

There is something amazing about returning to old books on a subject, particularly ones about the Internet. Looking at the predictions and expectations is fascinating; what excited people before hindsight corrected them?

When the concept of podcasting is introduced, the book explains: “technically speaking, a Podcast is an audioblog delivered using RSS”. And I’ve learned that the word blog (2004 Merriam-Webster word of the year) was coined by Pewter Merholz in 1999, who wrote “I’ve decided to pronounce the term ‘Weblog’ as ‘wee-blog’, or blog for short

So far, my favourite prediction is from Jason Calacanis of Weblogs Inc. I had to look up Weblogs Inc to be reminded who they were (one of the first blog networks, bought by AOL in 2005 for $25 million – which used to be a lot of money). Calacanis claimed:

nearly half of everyone who currently uses email will have a blog, and with blogs integrating themselves into the common routines of internet users, the percentage of blogs updated on a regular basis will rise

Which is a fascinating quote… my first response was to see it as ironic, given that the blogosphere has been trounced by twitter and facebook. And then it occurred to me that Calcanis was wrong through being too conservative. After all, facebook’s status updates are basically a blogging platform that is simple and easy to use – even if it has stripped away important elements like RSS and openness.

The book is full of reminders of lost things that were once important: technorati, blog rings; all the tools I’ve used over the years, like typepad, userland and even diaryland. I was reminded about how tricky comments were in the 00’s, with Haloscan popups being the easiest way to handle things (I still have an export of my Haloscan comments from 2001/2). I wrote about moblogging last year and there is a section on that. There are whole services that have disappeared, like audioblog-by-phone. Even at the time, I’d not realised there was a company set up to offer services related to sideblogs. There were just two pages on videoblogs, which have exploded with the rise of Youtube. I remember Beth being a pioneer for this, organising a vlogging event in Brighton in 2007.

It’s sometimes hard to see the roots of the current web, since things have flowered in such interesting ways. Technologies that once looked like dead-ends have become central. But, most of all, reading this book summons the optimism of that time. And we need that optimism as we work to rebuild the open web and move out of the walled gardens. This has happened before, when blogs took over from AOL and Compuserve and newsgroups. It can happen again.

Graham also gave me a book in the Burry Man. I remember hearing about this many years ago, in a talk by Doc Rowe at the Beyond the Border festival. Yesterday Doc Rowe was in the guardian, talking about Britain’s Weirdest Folk Rituals. ‘One year he had 23 whiskies before 2pm’

Sprawling Projects

One of the reasons I’m obsessed with the film Synecdoche is the horror of watching Caden Coutard’s project spin out of control. There’s that moment in the trailer, where the cast face him and someone asks: “When are we gonna get an audience in here? It’s been seventeen years.”

So many of the things I’ve worked on have spun out of my control – on a smaller scale than in Synecdoche, but still out of control. The book on curry feels like it exploded all over my hard drive and bookshelves. I have reams of notes, but no clear single thread. I’m not even sure where to start with it now. Even things like the spoken word show, which received such positive response, have stalled.

I’m currently working on a project about hiking and Brexit (I’ll return to curry eventually). This  emerged from a talk I gave in October, as part of the Indelicates album launch. I’ve been working on that same subject much of the time since then. And it’s sprawling. I’ve done my best to keep it under control, with Scrivener saving me from losing track of the notes.

I think the only thing that will keep this under control is getting things out into the world. One of my aims for 2018 was to produce something every month. I managed this for the first three month. My April project, a zine about hiking and Theresa May is part of the hiking/Brexit project. It won’t emerge until May, but the second part should also turn up the same month. I have several trips booked during the summer, which form part of the research. The difficult thing is going to be moving forwards despite all the different threads in play.

I think it’s worth doing, and hopefully I’ll also learn enough about managing these epic projects that I can then work backwards and fix the other ones.

Amorphous Albion by Ben Graham

Last week, I read Ben Graham’s novel Amorphous Albion. The book is linked into the ongoing Discordian Revival in the UK, which Ben talked about in a recent interview with Historia Discordia. This revival links in with a lot of things I’ve loved for years including British comics, the KLF, and Ken Campbell. Ben has used this rich stew as the basis for an adventure story about the battle between order and chaos.

The book is written in a fast-paced pulpy style which reminded me of Michael Moorcock. But it’s also a richer text, with a dense network of associations. I picked up on a lot of them, but I had to pop online to check a few things, such as the Jimmy Cauty image of Stonehenge. I knew I’d love Amorphous Albion from the first page, which includes the line “We came back to earth with all the grace of a floundering car-park”. Ben is a poet, and uses this with fine effect, with some stunning use of language.

Amorphous Albion starts out on Brighton beach, with the Hove Space Program, who are devoted to the ‘exploration of inner and outer space’. Something bad has happened to the country; Ben describes how the i360 “lay on its side, half-submerged in the pebbles like a downed flying saucer”. The book heads out from Brighton on a tour of the country. It describes the fate of commuters at Three Bridges, what happened to Glastonbury, and Stonehenge overrun by military camps of Salisbury Plain. Lord Andrew Eldritch makes a cameo as the Raven King.

You don’t need to know about Robert Anton Wilson or the KLF to enjoy things like Ben’s theory on the 5th Beatle, which is sublime. But there are some lovely references, such as the way the 1992 KLF Annual becomes important to the plot; or the importance of Sheffield’s connection to Brighton. It’s also great to see mention of Wonderism.

Wonderism is the opposite of terrorism. There’s increasing terrorism in the world — to counter than, we have wonderism, which is random acts of joy…re-enchanting the world, making it seem strange and wonderful again through various artistic acts.

Sometimes I feel cynical about the Discordian Revival. There is a danger of the whole thing turning into counter-cultural cosplay – it can’t just be DJs and writers who are on the second or third act of their careers. Writers like John Higgs and Ben Graham shows there is more to it than reformed bands. There might actually be something gathering, a return of a counter-culture. “The loose collection of rebels, shirkers, outcasts and oddities generally known as the amorphous freak franchise… We’re not any kind of organised movement as such, but we know each other when we cross paths”

Ben has been working on some live performances of the book, including one at last year’s Superweird Happening. There was another one in Glasgow this weekend, and hopefully I’ll catch one in Brighton soon. (I missed the one last April to watch the Sisters of Mercy in London – very much the wrong decision).

While I’m cynical about some aspects of the Discordan revival, works like this make me authentically excited. While it does hark back to RAW and the KLF, there is enough new raw energy here to make it worth reading.

The Frankie Vah Revival

Frankie Vah, ranting poet, must be in his mid-fifties now. It’s a long time since the 1987 election, when Frankie toured the country as a support act for indie band The Midnight Special. Vah would be completely forgotten if he were not the subject of Luke Wright’s new play, Frankie Vah.

By looking at the problems within the Labour party of the 1980s, Luke has found an interesting way to approach contemporary issues. There’s an incredible amount of research into the time – Kinnock: The Movie, an election broadcast, is an essential point, as is the deputy leadership contest between Dennis Healey and Tony Benn. Somehow, this level of political geekery is passed off gently, introducing the background without obvious exposition. And it’s done well. The show I saw was followed by a Q&A with various politicians who’d attended gigs at the time, possible even ones Vah had performed at, and they accepted the reality of Luke’s play without question.

Obviously, I never heard Vah perform, but Luke’s performance does an incredible job of summoning an energy and outrage around Thatcherite politics. Lady Winter, Luke’s reconstruction of the sort of poem Vah might have done, is pitch-perfect and stirring.

For a play about the 80s, Frankie Vah made me think a lot about current politics. About idealism vs compromise. About what art can do to change the real world. The show is currently on at the Soho Theatre, but if you can’t make that, then the script has been published by Penned-in-the-Margins. It kept me company on a recent trip to Ireland.

Brighton Festival and Fringe 2018

It’s that time of year when Present James commits Future James to attending lots of events, even though Current James can’t stand the idea of going out two nights in a row. It’s great that the Fringe brings so much great entertainment, but it would be better to have it spread out across the year. There are too many things happening in a short time.

Of course, May’s highlight will be seeing the full version of Rosy’s show Passionate Machine. She performed a version of this in a previous fringe, and since then has been working with producers and dramaturges, meaning that the new version will knock people’s socks off. You can read about it in this interview with Rosy. I’m going to the Monday show.

  • Sh!t Theatre’s Letter to Windsor House is one of my favourite ever theatrical things, and I can’t wait to see DollyWould. I saw a version at Latitude last year and it was great: cloning, body farms and Dolly Parton!
  • The main festival is curated by David Shrigley, whose contributions include Life Model II, which replaces “the live model with David Shrigley’s caricatured sculpture of a nine-foot-tall woman“. So, not problematic at all. Kate Shields is one of the people appearing at a (free but ticketed) discussion panel at Fabrica on May 2nd, Between Artist and Model. Is this the art equivalent of an automated till?
  • Sunday May 6th, there’s a fun double bill at the Dukebox, with two spoken word shows on the same evening. Luke Wright is performing his Down the Pub show, a relaxed pub set. Earlier that same evening, Jonny Fluffypunk has a show at the same venue, How I Came To Be Where I Never Was.
  • On 8th of May, there’s Laud of the Rings. I’ve been thinking a lot about hiking and Tolkien as part of my Walkerpunk project so couldn’t resist this: “Josh Gardner saved Europe by reenacting Frodo’s journey to Mordor [travelling] from Oxford to Istanbul dressed as a hobbit
  • I’ve no idea what to expect from The O.S. Map Fan Club, but I don’t see how a show on that topic won’t be interesting.
  • Iain Sinclair is talking about his book the Last London on May 15th
  • On May 26th, David Bramwell is doing his The Cult of Water show.
  • There are a couple of good events at the Bosco Tent about theatrical genius Ken Campbell. His daughter Daisy is doing her show Pigspurt’s Child (“a romp through Ken’s legacy of lunacy, and a quest for Daisy to make peace with the gap he has left”) and there is a night dedicated to Ken Campbell too.
  • Rosy Carrick is an expert on weightlifting, so was definitely up for seeing Brawn.
  • And, of course, the surprise return of Dynamite Boogaloo!

The Return of DEAN

I was sent the above photograph by Chris, who took it in Barcelona. The lighting might not be perfect, but you can make out the graffiti: DEAN.

A long time ago in Brighton, there was a graffiti artist who wrote that same word in huge capital letters. I’ve written about DEAN in the past; despite the unsophisticated tag, the genius placements made DEAN my favourite graffiti artist.

I read a rumour that the artist had died fleeing from the police. But seeing this picture from Barcelona, I like the idea that DEAN moved to Spain, and has lived a life so wonderful that they have added colour and sparkles to their tag.

Kanye vs Bowie

When I tell people that Kanye West is this era’s Bowie, I’m not trolling. Or, at least, I’m not just trolling. I honestly believe that Kanye West is one of the most interesting artists working today.

Of course, any such comparison is disgusting. Why should one artist be pitted against another? It’s wrong to try scoring such individual careers against each other. But the comparison does have one positive, in trying to stop people from dismissing Kanye as untalented or mad, while Bowie is uncritically considered as a genius.

Bowie took some great risks. He was mocked for Tin Machine and his early love of the Internet, but he took those steps regardless of the response. The music press was cruel about Bowie’s experiments with jungle, as if they wanted more of the same, year after year. And the whole reason we remember Bowie is that he was controversial – that moment, now so overdetermined, on Top of the Pops – most people who hate on Kanye now would probably have been hating on Bowie back then. You know: he’s not great like the Beatles or Elvis, is he?

Kanye is brash and provocative, but there’s a lot of thought to it. I mean, that New York Times interview where he compared himself to Steve Jobs was an exquisitely targeted provocation. Then there was releasing Yeezus, an abrasive nasty album with no hooks when he had the world’s attention. I mean just check out Lou Reed’s Guardian review of Yeezus: “No one’s near doing what he’s doing, it’s not even on the same planet.”

Kanye attended art school before dropping out to become a producer – and a massively successful one. That work alone assured his place in rap history, before he made his own tracks. People might mock the fashion work, but Kanye has put in the time, moving to Rome to intern with an Italian brand. West is constantly experimenting and playing. Not all of it works, but hey – Bowie had Dancing in the Streets and the Laughing Gnome.

People want that hit that’s as easy as Space Oddity: the three minute track that explains the artist. Whatever. Kanye West is a fascinating artist and there’s a lot to look at. If you don’t want to engage with it, fine, but don’t assume that makes the work worthless.

If you are looking for an interesting starting point, there’s this ten minute video on The Voice as Instrument, which I love. And there’s an entire podcast series on My beautiful dark twisted fantasy, which I really need to listen to.

Famous for 15 People

Famous for 15 People is an ebook of my writing. It came out last year, but I’m only now getting around to officially launching it, with an event at Brighton’s Regency Town House on March 15th.

I’ve described Famous for 15 People as a ‘mixtape’ rather than a collection, mainly because it doesn’t have the overall theme that a collection would. Instead, it collects a range of different writing I’ve done over the years. It’s a very mixed book, but I love all of these pieces.

The book contains a number of short stories that I’ve performed over the years: such as meat a story about vegetarian kink; or We have always lived in the Slaughterhouse, about a family forced to hide from abuse. There’s a story about Kurt Cobain and the clown-horror Death of a Ronald. One of my favourite pieces to perform is about ventriloquism, A bad place to stick your hand.

There’s also a few examples of microfiction, which I count as being stories under 300 words, preferably under 200. I’ve done a lot of this over the years through my workshop event, Not For The Faint-hearted. I’d love to do a collection solely of microfiction, but in the meantime I’ve collected some published and unpublished pieces here including Vole, Pinnochio and The Saddest Dogs in the World.

Then are the horror stories. I’ve written before about my love of horror fiction. I’ve become much more comfortable with working in this genre over time. One of the pieces in the book, In the Night Supermarket, was part of a magazine competition to find exciting new horror writers; I wish I’d followed up on that more. Death of a Ronald certainly counts as horror, and there’s also Eat at Lovecraft’s – a story I love, but one that frustrates me as I’ve no idea where it came from. Some of the horror pieces comes from my project Lovecraft in Brighton, a weird book that adds a new story with each copy sold, something I hope will begin moving again soon.

There are also a couple of pieces of non-fiction, one of them a history of vindaloo, the other a commission I withdrew about Britpop, memory and nostalgia.

It’s a wide range of pieces, all tied together by an introduction from Rosy Carrick. I’m proud of each of these pieces and it’s good to finally give them a home.

Book launch: Famous for 15 People

On March 15th 2018, I’m holding a Brighton launch for my ebook, Famous for 15 People. It takes place at Brighton’s Regency Town House, and features performances from me, Rosy Carrick and Chris Parkinson. Tickets are available online and cost a mere £4. There’s even a bar at the venue.

Many of the stories had their origin on the Sussex university creative writing MA, where I first met Chris and Rosy. I’ll perform a couple of regular pieces, as well as some multi-media performances that I’ve only done once before. There will also be some microfictions; and I’m going to talk a little about why ebooks are so exciting as a way for people to share their writing.

I describe Famous… as a ‘mixtape’. It contains short stories (some very short!) and non-fiction written over the last ten years. The title comes from a quote from the artist Momus that I love. I’m pleased to have made a home for all these stories.

The book actually came out in May last year, but I got distracted by work and other events, so the launch never happened. I am the worst self-promoter ever – as you can also tell by the fact I’ve got multimedia performances I loved that have only been performed once.

Do come! Tickets are £4, and the book can be downloaded from Amazon. And if you do get a copy from Amazon, please leave a review!

How to distribute a zine

I don’t normally take Brighton busses, but I was running late. I’d had to pick up a parcel then head into town, so I was waiting for the number 7 near Hove station. Bored, I spotted something odd in a box of leaflets. At first I thought someone had sneaked in a flyer.

Moving a little closer, I saw it was a zine. So I picked it up and read it.

This is the sort of thing I love about zines. You certainly don’t get this from a website. You don’t find websites carefully hidden when you’re wandering away from your usual routes.

Secret Desires is by Cynical Elliot, and the cover features “the bloke from Keane”. Now, there’s a band I’ve not thought about in years. I’ve listened to their records in the past, but can’t recall the names of any songs without checking Wikipedia.

The zine features portraits of various musicians, and invites us to “leave our musical prejudices at the door”. Now, I’m giving no quarter on my dislike of Jamiroquai’s music, but Dolly Parton I do have time for. And Bananarama.

Finding this on the way to work was a Good Thing. I love the idea of media that’s not tied to clicks and referrers, but is distributed by leaving it somewhere. Maybe there should be more of this sort of thing. (Maybe I should be doing this sort of thing?). Media like messages in bottles.