Last night ended with a dream in which I cast Jimmy Stewart in Speed Death of the Radiant Child. He didn't start out as Jimmy Stewart, he was Pete Seeger to begin with. On being introduced to him in the dream I said: "Mr Seeger, it's a very great honour, sir." -- and then cringed inwardly at my fulsomeness. I mean I felt actual physical cringing. How odd, to be able to cringe while you're sleeping. What evolutionary purpose does that serve?
And this morning began with a really ravishing nosebleed. Haven't had a full-on nosebleed for years -- but I had a fiendish headache yesterday so maybe I've been building up to it for a while.
So, well, that's where I am. It's been sort of a horrible week. Nothing very horrible has happened, I've just felt horrible, really stressed. But nothing very stressful has happened either, I've just been coping very badly with a small amount of stress, though I suppose that's stressful in itself. At the first sign of trouble I fell -- no, I hurled myself -- off almost all of the various wagons I've been on for the past few weeks. How stupid, to conspire so greedily in my own meltdown at the first sign of trouble. I really thought when I got home from Australia that I was finally ready to turn my life around. Which I suppose I did. I just should have stopped before I completed 360 degrees.
It's a retreat, really, a deferred January of sniffling and duvet-love (my January this year having been so rudely interrupted with a completely gratuitous outbreak of upside-down summer) and really feeling the need of some re-foresting time before everything really kicks off showbiz-style in April. But the couple of pleasant and civilised pottering months that I thought I was coming back to post-Sydney have turned into a clamorous wig-out. I feel like I've been trying to grab forty winks curled up inside Moe Tucker's kickdrum.
The best of the bad deal is that I've become quite immersed already in Speed Death. I mean the thing with Jimmy Stewart, that's the first time I've ever dreamt about recalls. (We'll assume it was a dream rather than a down-the-line premonition.) So that sort of indicates the extent to which the project is already taking me over. Also, four times in the last month (most recently an hour or so ago) I've been so deep in thought about the piece on the way home from town that I've walked right past the front door of my house. I really can't tell if this is a good sign about my Art or a bad sign about my Mental Health. Same thing, I suppose. For Speed Death the casting in particular is more crucial and more complicated than ever, absolutely fraught with contingencies, and what is usually my favourite part of the process of making a new piece has at times become a little oppressive. A small assortment of shortlisted actors, less than a dozen I guess, have been going round and round in my head like kittens in a tumble dryer, and it's not much fun for any of us. I think I'm over the worst of it, though, and this time next week, fingers crossed, it'll all be over.
Another promising sign is that I travelled down to Plymouth last week with Naomi, the designer, and we had an amazingly successful day. The team at the Theatre Royal is bright and engaged and they seem to be genuinely up for it, pretty much whatever 'it' turns out to be. So right now, I really do think we can make something extraordinary. When I talk about the piece I keep using two images more-or-less interchangeably: running into a wall; and jumping off a cliff (sometimes, for added colour, "onto a big spike"). That's what the show has to feel like, and I begin to suspect that's also what making it will feel like. It ought to. That's the whole thing. The scrolling ticker-message under my obsessional stress-headache says "YOU ASKED FOR IT", and I bloody did too. I always remember that beautifully simple and heartening line of Ani Difranco's: "Would you prefer the easy way? / No, well, OK then, don't cry."
The other big task of the past fortnight has been an email interview with the excellent Sam Ladkin for an upcoming Chicago Review which has a feature on four 'young' UK poets. (Actually, to be precise, three real UK poets -- Andrea Brady, Peter Manson, Keston Sutherland -- and one bumptious hobbyist, yrs truly.) This CR gig has been quite a slog and my own attitude to it all is still unsettled, to say the least. But the invitation to participate, especially in such distinguished company, was ultimately irresistible; and Sam and co-editor (at the British end) Robin Purves have been quite exceptional -- not least their intro to the feature, which I just read, and immediately becomes required reading for anyone seeking a levelheaded overview of upstream poetry in Britain since WW2. We're still not home and dry with it, and several times weekly for the last five months a light at the end of the tunnel has turned out to be an oncoming train. But to have that coming out in the spring, and the book of essays on Geraldine Monk to which I contributed presumably finally emerging from Salt in the summer I guess, makes me feel that perhaps I haven't altogether mislaid or scrambled my connexion with the poetry scene.
Speed Death and the poetry stuff have together almost completely squeezed The Goodman Portraits out of my mind in the past fortnight, but hopefully from the end of next week that can be my main focus for a while. The first stab at it will be a sort of preliminary sketch (called An Apparently Closed Room) as part of an Artsadmin festival in June -- just a one-off gig, but part of a really strong line-up, so I want to do this really well. I'm still scared. I feel very alone with this one, suddenly. But I suppose the advantage of work in this mode is, you take those sorts of feelings and embed them in the piece, and then at least nothing goes to waste. Everything's composted.
Every time in the past few days that I've felt daunted by any of these projects, I've had in mind the brilliant Desert Island Discs last week with Paul Abbott, the genius screenwriter, originator of Shameless et al. (I don't know about the 'al', really -- not having a telly makes it harder to keep up with this stuff. But I've caught up with the first three series of Shameless on DVD and down everyone's favourite series of tubes.) Unfortunately DID isn't archived at the BBC web site so I haven't been able to listen to it again -- I tried to wake up in time to catch the Friday morning repeat, I really tried, but I hadn't got to bed until past 4am, so it just didn't happen... Anyway, Abbott said something brilliant about the importance of "learning to shout", and it really struck a chord. Wish I could remember the exact phrase.
A few other teensy cultural fragments that have got past the human firewall this week:
For Your Consideration is a small affair and I reluctantly have to concur with those critics who have found it a little disappointing. But, equally, it's a complete delight, and well worth seeing (as I did) on a rainy afternoon. Every few minutes, another favourite actor from the Christopher Guest rep co pops up; really, you're spoiled, it's the Christmas celebrity special of Record Breakers, but for grown-ups. John Michael Higgins is on particularly wonderful form. (Ricky Gervais is not.)
One of the regulars at Dennis Cooper's blog posted a really great link to this Screen International interview with Harmony Korine about his forthcoming Mister Lonely. It's eight years since Julien Donkey-Boy and now he's back with a movie about celebrity impersonators and a cast including Diego Luna and Leos Carax. A truly exciting prospect in a world where The Queen is considered to represent everything that serious film should aspire to, may God have mercy on our poor etiolated souls.
A better film (so far): Regular Lovers, Philippe Garrel's riposte to Bertolucci's The Dreamers. It's such a paradigmatic French art film, you can hardly believe your eyes. Louis, Garrel fils, already iconic, deftly manages the baffling (but delightful) switches between semi-improvised, politically acute dialogue and some barely-updated nouvelle vague tomfoolery. It's three hours long and pretty slow and I only got half way through it, but that's partly because it's so hard watching movies on my computer, with so many other distractions buzzing around. I'll pick it up and see it through, it's already amply repaid the attention I gave the first half. ...Also had another look at Noah Baumbach's The Squid and the Whale -- great performances, but I'm still not convinced it's the masterpiece some have claimed: though I do love the beautifully understated gag where we cut between the separate houses of a recently separated couple -- at his place, Loudon Wainwright is on the stereo, and at hers, Kate & Anna McGarrigle. That's ticklish. Ah, whatever, it's better than Little Miss Sunshine, so I'll go along with it.
(Also got a great package of DVDs in the mail, from the US. How's this for a combo: Johan Grimonprez's dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, and Sesame Street Old School 1969-1974.)
Poor old tired Mr Postie also brings Body of Work, the remarkable new Reality Street collection of Maggie O'Sullivan's 80's chapbooks and fugitive pieces. O'Sullivan is a writer I've always admired rather than truly liked or felt close to, but this volume is seriously reconfiguring my relationship with her work. Extraordinarily exciting stuff with an unexpectedly urgent candour to it. -- And also, a slimmer volume of equally striking beauty, the score of Cathy Berberian's Stripsody, which I'm going to have a crack at performing some time soon. (At her official web site, click on 'Playlist' and you can hear Stripsody live. Killer.)
Other reading: finally finished Michael Palin's Diaries 1969-79. (Fascinating, though never quite gripping. In the introduction he affectionately mocks his schoolboy diaries: "Cabbage for lunch. Watched tv." Which is fine, but actually these later journals proceed very often along the lines of: "Went to party, met Leonard Bernstein. Cabbage for dinner. Watched self on tv." -- Which is also fine, I guess. Critics teased the arguably underedited mundanity of some of this published stuff, but when your experiential world changes in a matter of a few years, from a quiet middle-class Sheffield upbringing to hanging out with George Harrison and attending Studio 54 parties with Andy Warhol, I can well imagine the thread of narrative concerning your family and the weather and the local residents' association becomes even more valuable.)
Anyway, now that's over, I'm having a go at Zizek's The Indivisible Remainder but mostly finding my attention wanders to My Take by Gary Barlow: whose irrepressible Pooterishness makes Palin look like Dali.
Lots of time spent catching up with old theatre pals. Tassos Stevens, restless innovator and lapinophile, on good pre-Valentines form, sweetly trying to comprehend the Borgesian abyss of my lovelife; Jon Spooner, of Unlimited, eyes a-glint with an appealing new project, and still (I think) slightly nonplussed to find himself a father of two; Liam Jarvis and Ria Parry, of Theatre Trash, even fuller of beans (if that were possible) than when I first met them five years ago. Nice feeling that we're all still plugging away...
Listening to: Patrick Wolf's The Magic Position, a gorgeous, sexy album, finally fulfilling the exceptional promise of his earliest recordings; for Speed Death purposes, Ghosts of Dead Aeroplanes by Prolapse, and the New Fast Automatic Daffodils' Body Exit Mind; for out-and-out nostalgia, Bill Sharpe & Gary Numan's apogee of radio-friendliness, Automatic; in memoriam, the few shreds and patches I have of recorded work by the extraordinary Paul Burwell, who died some days ago. (Brian Catling turned in a nicely lavish obit for the Independent.)
Worst listening experience: an absolutely appalling reading, by the normally dependable Philip Franks, of Edward Lear's 'The Jumblies', on some Radio 4 thing hosted by Adrian Mitchell (of whom I remain fond, despite everything). I'm sure it's the smallness of his iconic spectacle-lenses that makes people think of Lear as being some sort of genial curate. Maybe that was how he presented himself, even. But inside! Inside, for God's sake! Artaud wrestling a bear! 'The Jumblies' is possibly the most vividly alarmist literature of the 19th century. To whom it may concern: going to sea in a sieve is not some whimsical peccadillo, like having little bunnies on your jim-jams. It's a monstrous outburst of reckless fury -- at the sea, at the sieve; at the self, and the stultifying logics of purpose and compatibility.
(Still, I readily forgive Mr Franks, who some years ago introduced into my life the precious word 'pecorious', as part of a wonderfully sensational narrative about needing to use the bathroom at a party and finding it occupied by livestock. But that's another story.)
Rediscovering William Forsythe's Improvisation Technologies CD-Rom, which I managed to track down again, having trodden on and broken (accidentally!) my original copy about three years ago. To anyone with any interest in improvisation or choreography, in any way, I honestly can't recommend it highly enough. Not easy to track down, but not impossible. It fundamentally altered the way I work and think, and I feel certain its contents are cross-applicable to any area of artistic or ideational activity.
And watching, above all: David Lynch's hands. I don't think I've ever seen Lynch talking extendedly before. Look at his hands! My God, he's like Rostropovich!
Oh and I'm going to have another go at a novel, I think. Writing one, I mean. Don't let me forget.