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SEX, VIOLENCE & ANARCHO-SADISM: Stewart Home interviewed by Jussi Ahokas
JA: Where did you get the idea for Pure Mania? Did you have any literary models besides Richard Allen? Has your attitude towards writing changed over the years?
SH: Before I set to work on Pure Mania, I'd already written several short stories in the same style, and the original idea for doing fiction of this type had come in 1984 when I re-read Boot Boys by Richard Allen which I'd previously read a decade earlier, when I was twelve. I liked the energy and impact of the book but it was also extremely right-wing in a not particularly politically conscious fashion. I thought it would be very funny to write something similar about the anarchist scene in London with lots of sex and violence, but from a far more progressive perspective. It took me a year and a half to do anything at all with this notion. In fact, I'd never intended doing anything with the idea myself, instead I'd tried to get various other people to use it. However, since no one else was willing to utilise the concept, I figured I might as well see it through to some sort of realisation myself. I published the resultant story in a magazine I used to edit and it me! t wi th a very good response, some people were very angry while others were rolling around on the floor laughing because they had a very good idea of who I was satirising. Quite a few people immediately began pestering me to write a novel. It took me a couple more years, and a few more short stories, before I actually did this.
The immediate inspiration for the subject matter of Pure Mania was that my last punk band, King Mob, had just split up. We were completely unknown and only played five gigs in total, but I'd grown quite fond of the lyrics I'd written for the group and wanted to do something with them. So hacking the book together was a way of making use of one of my many aborted attacks on the music industry, a kind of fantasy of what I'd have liked King Mob to have done, partially based on the careers of bands such as the Sex Pistols and the Clash. So anyway, all the songs in the book are things that I actually wrote and managed to perform in public a few times. It should go without saying that we were a four piece outfit with a girl singer, I played guitar and wrote the songs. Just as I state in the book, a lot of the guitar riffs were simply copied from old punk records.
I'm not involved in the Animal Liberation scene myself but I know people who are or were, so I thought that would be interesting to write about. Also, having a very black sense of humour, I just get a lot of inspiration from observing the generally fucked-up nature of people's sexual relationships. Likewise, pulp fiction is an obvious influence. Richard Allen is by no means the only literary model. From the same period, I particularly like the Hells Angels novels of Mick Norman which have just been republished in England by Creation Press. Then there's all sorts of classic pulp fiction that I've always loved, from the hardboiled thrillers of Mickey Spillane to the horror stories of H. P. Lovecraft.
I don't think my attitude to writing has particularly changed since I started hacking out fiction, although I do think that as I've had more practice at it, the prose has got tighter and closer to what I've always wanted to do. These days, I think the use I make of theoretical works is better integrated into the structure of the plots. Nevertheless, the intention was always to bring together elements of low brow pulp fiction and high brow theorising, so that I could create something unprecedented out of the resultant wreckage. However, I wouldn't want people to think the books are difficult to read, there's a variety of layers to them. If someone just wants to use my stuff for a quick read with a fast plot and plenty of laughs and action, then that's fine by me. Likewise, if the reader wants to look for more in the books, then they'll find it, particularly in the more recent stuff.
JA: What about characterisation, what's your attitude to that?
SH: Well, you can just forget it, I'm not interested in traditional notions of literary depth, and characterisation bores me. The only character in my books is really the place, the setting, that is to say London. The "individuals" featured in the prose are just cardboard cut-outs, vehicles with which to move the plot along. The complexity in my stuff comes from its referentiality, what in modern literary studies is called intertextuality, although I prefer to describe what I do as plagiarism because this helps confuse the issue. My technique is actually closer to the Situationist notion of detournement and has nothing to do with simply passing off the work of others as my own. I don't treat any given text as self-enclosed but instead endlessly refer to things outside it. No one is likely to get all these references but if you spot whole lines and re-worked passages that I've appropriated from other people's writing, then you will probably be amused by the way their meaning is tw!isted and changed by the context in which I place them. If you miss this stuff, it doesn't matter, because the plot will just carry you along.
Another notion of nineteenth-century literature with which I have no truck is that of the anchored authorial voice. I'm heavily into ambiguity because I like to make the reader do a little bit of work, I'm not interested in giving people everything on a plate, and so I deliberately make it very difficult to pin down the specific meaning of individual passages within my books. I don't want readers coming away from my writing thinking Stewart Home believes X, Y and Z. In any case, why would anyone be interested in that? I don't think you can pin down where the parody ends and belief begins in my work because I very deliberately aim at achieving an ecstasy of semantic confusion. There's a slogan which states that "BELIEF IS THE ENEMY", and this is very much a factor that I take into account as I construct my books.
JA: But what about punk rock? I don't think anyone could come away from your books believing you didn't like that! Tell me something about the bands you like?
SH: Sure, I love punk rock, I saw most of the more successful UK bands back in the seventies, like the Damned when Brian James was still the guitarist, the Clash, Stranglers, X-Ray Spex, Vibrators, Jam, Rezillos, Sham 69, Buzzcocks, Stiff Little Fingers, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Undertones, Skids, Angelic Upstarts, Members etcetera. I saw a few of the excellent American and Australian bands too, like the Dictators, Dead Boys and Radio Birdman. Fifteen years ago, I used to go to three or four gigs a week, so I saw a lot of the smaller bands as well, the Jolt, Slaughter and the Dogs, Cortinas, Chelsea, Penetration, Adverts, Ruts, Tights, Alternative TV, Wire, London, Valves, Drones, Lurkers, 999, Raped, Menace, UK Subs, Fatal Microbes, and even groups like Pure Hell from the States.
The bands I saw more of than anyone else were Adam and the Ants before they turned into a chart group, and Crisis who went on to become Death In June. Even bands that I wasn't fanatical about, like the UK Subs or 999, I'd have seen somewhere between ten and twenty times. To be honest, I went to so many gigs that I don't remember a lot of them very well, so there's quite a few acts who I just couldn't tell you for certain whether or not I saw them. An example would be a group like Neon Hearts, who I'm pretty sure I saw at the Marquee in Wardour Street, but I wouldn't want to swear to it.
Right now, I'm listening to a lot of the West Coast stuff from the late seventies like the Dils, the Germs, the Avengers and the Weirdos. Among the bands that I've liked more recently are the Angry Samoans, Reagan Youth and Nation of Ulysses. Over the last couple of years, the only bands I've seen regularly have been Blaggers ITA and Huggy Bear. Right now, my favourite band are the Queers, although I've never seen them because they haven't toured Europe as far as I know. The Queers are absolutely brilliant, like hearing the Ramones again for the first time. Among the Finnish bands I like are Briard, the Dolphins and Widows, I've heard quite a lot of energetic stuff from Finland that I liked but it's hard to remember what it is when it's sung in a language I don't speak.
JA: What about anarcho-punk and other stuff less influenced by 1977 aesthetics?
I've always liked my music quite poppy, with good tunes, so on record most anarcho stuff passed me by, although I thought bands like Conflict and the Poison Girls were very good live. One of the bands I was in, called at various times things like the Slaves Of Freedom and the Screaming Peasants, managed to play gigs with groups such as Icons of Filth, Hagar and the Womb, Conflict etcetera. Another band a bit more off the beaten track that I really dig are Metal Urbain from France, they went on to do a brilliant album called Wall Of Sound as Doctor Mix and the Re-Mix. In a punk vein, I also listen to a lot of sixties groups like the Sonics and the Troggs. However, I like all sorts of music, including dance, early reggae, pop, exotica and industrial, although punk is probably my favourite.
JA: What about mediums other than books and music? I understand you've made films.
SH: Yeah, I've made a few short films. Back in the eighties, I was even known to get behind the camera every now and then. Some of the stuff I made ten or so years ago was pretty obscure. For example, I made a movie with a friend of mine called Pete Horobin, who did this performance art piece pushing a pram all around the highlands of Scotland, so I documented that. These days, having concentrated so heavily on developing my skills as a writer, I prefer to stick more to this medium. I've made promo videos for my two most recent books, but I just did the story board and appeared in them, I've no real interest in getting involved in the filming or editing, I don't have enough time to do everything. The stuff I'm now making in collaboration with various film-makers is a lot more accessible than my earlier experiments in the medium, these days I like to concentrate on humour and sex. For example, one of my promo videos features me doing things like licking whipped cream from the arm-pits of an actress, so I'm just concentrating on good old fashioned dirty fun! I've also scripted an ultra-low budget feature film called Sex Kick, which is about an artist's obsession with the pop singer Sinitta. It's just gone into production.
JA: What's the response to your books been like in the UK?
SH: That really depends on who you're talking about, the style and music press have been very supportive all along, giving me very good reviews and talking about my books being the ultimate in cult writing. The literary establishment here is very conservative and I wouldn't expect them to like what I do. They occasionally throw tantrums about my work and the pranks I've pulled against them such as giving down and outs fake invitations to a literary prize ceremony but most of the time they've attempted to ignore me in the hope that I'll go away. However, since it's now becoming obvious to these bozos that I'm not about to give up and get myself a job in a factory, I'm beginning to make inroads even among this conservative clique. I recently got an excellent write up in the London Review of Books, which is enormously prestigious among the literati, and as a direct result, a great many "influential" people have suddenly decided that I must be a talented writer who needs to be treated! with respect. These people are incapable of forming opinions of their own, they simply venerate those writers who've been handed accolades by others. The vast majority of those who attain positions of "responsibility" in the publishing industry feel deeply insecure about their ability to do the job for which they're paid, and quite rightly do not trust their own powers of judgement. This fact partially accounts for the abysmal state of British publishing, which is run by twats who are more interested in social climbing than creating a vibrant culture. Snobbery is second nature to these cretins, grasping the movement of post-modern culture is completely beyond them.
JA: So who reads your books?
SH: People with impeccable taste and a very black sense of humour!
SH: It's quite mixed, obviously a lot of punks who picked up on what I do through Pure Mania, but anyone who wants something with a bit of edge, who is sick of the bland culture that they see all around them.
JA: So what about other writers, who else do you like?
SH: There isn't very much being published at the moment that I like. We've just gone through a very conservative period culturally. It would be good to build up a movement of writers who want to smash down the facade of decorum and good taste erected by the literary establishment. However, it's not easy, I have several friends who are producing excellent work but they just can't get it published. There was a very good writer in London called Robin Cook, he wrote under the name Derek Raymond, who died just a few weeks ago, which was very depressing. Other people whose work I greatly admire include Dennis Cooper, Darius James, Iain Sinclair and Lynne Tillman. None of them write like I do but, obviously, this doesn't prevent their work from being very impressive. I was very pleased to receive in the post last week an anthology of pieces by Al Ackerman that had previously appeared in fanzines and other small press outlets, this is the first time the stuff has been collected together in a book. There's even a parodic sketch of me in Ackerman's introduction to a selection of his Ling stories: "there was a deranged fellow in London a few years ago, a sort of penny-dreadful pornographer, who created an unpleasant scene in the Charring Cross Station early one morning by spilling what he called his 'genetic wealth' on a basket filled with skinhead gear, old pieces of laundry, dead pea fowls and artificial limbs all this while dressed in a pillowcase hood and claiming to be 'Young Ling'." Ackerman cranks out wonderfully surreal black humour and is a very believable teller of incredibly tall stories. There's plenty of people around producing brilliant work, and much of it will have the desired effect of giving the literary establishment a good kick up the arse once more of the stuff begins to get published. The crap currently winning literary prizes will be forgotten in ten years time and more deserving fiction will eventually gain the recognition it deserves. However, this is a process that takes time in a culture that rewards mediocrity.
First published in Toinen Vaihroeheo, Finland Winter 1994.
Stewart Home, 'big in Finland'.
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