1974 - David Peace

David Peace's 1974, the first book from the Red Riding Quartet, is a ripping ( pardon the adjectives connotations please ) ride through the life and fall of Edward Dunsford -a hard done by, hate fuelled North of England Crime Correspondent for the Evening Post. Its an icy, bleak, soft hued world of net curtains, ghoulish hung over policemen and nervous mothers eyes darting anxiously towards the glare of the cameras. A dismal amoral universe of  serial deception, dominance and destruction. The catalyst for almost all actions being hate or grief, policemen are driven by anger and journalists are driven by competitive jealousies.  The spine of the fictions geocorps is without a doubt the Styxeous M1 motorway that Dunsford speeds along between the cold, drab, brown fields and barren moorland of Leeds and Wakefield, the majority of the time he is either hungover and anxious or drunk, angry and hateful - foul weather being the other constant in this world. Alcohol plays a large, albeit co-incidental role in the novels procedings, the british 70's are wonderfully depicted in all there dehydrated drabbiness. There is a lot of drinking, alot of smoking, alot of phone boxes, a lot of driving and an awful lot of phallonarcisism. A chauvinistic, male dominated world cloaks a story that is essentially a tragi-comic adventure. Dunsfords propulsion into the world of serial murderers, bent policemen and grief stricken families is mainly fuelled by his own grief for his father, Peace doesn't exactly hint at this but rather dumps literary road signs around the northern paths of the novels protagonist. He is constantly looking at his "fathers watch" whilst chasing various leads and even forgets his own fathers funeral occured the previous week when in conversation with his boss, denial driven excusrions to boardered up terraced houses leads him into being emersed in a sick world of power struggles, the journalist, the leech, the voyeur slowly becomes apart of the bitter world - his coagulation, consumption by the evil in the world is a tragically harsh consequence of avoiding his own guilt. The paradigm beneath the fictions themes is essentially a morbidly nihilistic perspective, harboured without feeling and a lot of indifference. Striking or rather emotionally stunning nihilism is a perhaps an achievement by Peace, for all the literature i've had the pleasure of reading so far i've found that a subjective nihilism is much more common that an objective, universally world engulfing nihilism. For Peace, the authorities, the geographies, the people, the society and pretty much every facet of his northern, rain soaked world are filled with despair, hate and cold nihilism......

Peace has received a lot of praise recently, his work is well conceived and executed with decisiveness if not  subtlety or restraint, however despite the wonderfully vivid conjuring of North England circa 1974 ( perhaps the best I have read ) the level of depth feels shallow in comparison with other contemporary writers thematic areas of interest/exploration. Peace is accomplished at providing a few elements of genius, but rather dismally these insightful aspects are spent within the first quarter of the book. The engulfing realm provided in 1974 is wide open from page 1 and does not dilate any wider upon further reading, rather, it is the singular ( perhaps too flat, or standard ) literary mechanisms inside the world that change and progress but in an essentially predictable trajectory. In many modern novels this lack of depth and thematic staleness would render an essentially engrossing and vivid world merely average, however Peace has another talent that carries the book forward into above average status - pace and it's gambolling momentum. The rate of Dunsfords descent is pure acceleration, like a rock falling awkwardly out of view into a tragedian chasm, bouncing along the cliff face apparently accelerating the descent. This momentum carries the book through ( as previously mentioned ) an awesome realization of British history, perhaps one of the best recent fictional realizations, whilst the pace and tone maintain a relentless snowballing in bleakness, misery, hate and fear.

However the morality of Dunsford, remains ambiguous. His treatment of women, his mother and his collegues is appalling and even though the majority of the time he is being pushed or pulled by hate or evil, when juxtaposed with the few opportunities he's given to make the right, or at least the better, choice's he invariably opts for a negative and destructive action. On occasion this is surprising or even shocking and raises large questions about the nature of the greater forces at play within Peace's 1974 universe. If Dunsford is so helpless why does he actively leave a rather shameful path of destruction in his wake? At times he is undoubtedly pushed into the evil and sick worlds, self preservation leads him there, however there is also an innate curiousity about Dunsford - or rather an unhealthy obbsession. Under pressure, driven into situations he's unaccustomed to, dealing with gruesome murders and evil, manipulative figures of authority Dunsford can be forgiven for making a few questionable decisions, for behaving rashly or impulsively, but slowly Dunsford continues to make amoral moves in the world even whilst cucooned away from the evil that tends to engulf him for the majority of the book. A few questions are formed from Peace's bleakly nihilistic northern tragedy. Are the demons and evil of the world infecting Dunsford? Or has it eaten away his soul, slowly eroding the good? Or was he always inclined to be drawn into the grotesque and macabre - and most interestingly, isn't everyone, at some level, drawn to evil and the macabre? The media coverage of murders, leeching off a mothers grief, the car crash voyeurism. Even metathematically, the book we are reading - why are we drawn into this world? Dunsford could be an avatar for ourselves, just an emotional/cultural symphorophilian vehicle for the ugly, destructive curiousity that dwells somewhere in everyone. 

Die Son Die, Miss Halliwell - the band who know both their selves...

Bit late in on this one I know, Miss Halliwellhave been heavily involved ( obliquely, at will or against ) with the Birmingham 'indie' scene ( for want of a less abysmal term ) for a few years now and are deservedly developing a cult following - for Miss Halliwell this much over used introduction does actually apply, for the fans are fans and the followers are followers - a little odd, perhaps eerie, but totally passionate and obsessive. Understandably so in many respects, for everything good or enjoyable in popular music/ indie is ruined through sarcasm or parodied into submission - with a touch more aplomb and a lot more accomplishment than half their influences and 90% of their contemporaries. Miss Halliwell could be really really homosonically good. They can do hooks, they can do blissful coagulations of acoustics and electronica, they can rip caustically through the no wave genre whilst leaving no cliche behind them - all whilst in jest or parodic smugness. Why be good like everyone else when you can be odd, awkward and ( actually - literally ) interesting. Curve balls of snide lyricism opposed with satisfying progressions will delight, before another post punk exercise is launched into..... the rate of polyphony, the strata of passion, parody, cynicism and ambivalence are impossible to track, for the listener there will always be another realization over the horizon. Double entendres, puns, double meanings, polemical fictions narratives and dichotomies populate the lyrics but also the life of Miss Halliwell - a band name so apt for a collection of artists who opperate schizomatically. Miss Halliwell is a person, an imaginary persona and a performer, a brand and a beast, an alter-ego and another wannabe in jest, deadly serious and tongue in cheek. The parallelean jugglings of Miles Perhowers lyrics dominate the cerebellum of the receiver, the thumping, raucous, impassioned tracks dominate and ride the soul - regard the absence of any mentions of instruments, Miss Halliwell have, through luck, fate or skill developed their own voice and sound. An arresting coagulation of acoustic organicism and analogue explorations. A Tele is no match for the sum of their parts - indeed most of their contemporaries ( and maybe some of their influences ) are no match. Myriads of experiences blossom at a their live shows in the UK midlands, whilst polysential codes of metaphor and analogy are barked by Perhower ( a shrewd phonetic interpretation of the lead singers initials and other pseudonym ). Miss Halliwell is a band acutely, perhaps painfully aware of the Lynchean dichotomies inherent in their inclusion, participation and/or positive/negative interactions in the industry they inhabit and the strata of ambiguities and identities thrive, spawn and harbour.

The Hypometaphoric Beauty of H.B.O.'s The Wire

The sprawling dickensian opera that is H.B.O.'s The Wire has long been hailed as 'the best program ever' or 'the best program of the decade' -these appallingly flat statements of wide eyed fandom are so ubiquitous in UK media that the actual content of The Wire ( let alone the plethora of nuances, or the multitude of deeply complex arching progressions and themes ) has been abandoned by contemporary criticism. The snowballed heaps of praise jettisoned comment, critique or analysis a long long time ago. So much praise but so little critique. After re-viewing an enthralling episode from the first season even more subtle facets of the thematic construction dawned on me. Episode 9, "Game Day" is dizzying russian doll of analogies heaped on metaphors heaped on allegories. Central to the plot of the episode is an Basketball game between East and West sides of the Baltimore gangland, this situation is itself a fairly obvious metaphor for the drug and territory battle between Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale. The players sweating and running out on the concrete whilst the team managers ( Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale ) stand from afar watching inconspicuously albeit omniscient. Whilst the feud between east and west is being played out on the court many spectators crowd around the courts fence, another beautifully realised analogy for 'the game' in that the bulk of the interpersonal reactions concerned are those of peripheral characters, spectators and onlookers - the majority of participants being connected or involved obliquely, a lot of gossip, a lot of hypo-digesis. Behind this hubbub, behind the local spectators and the neighbourhoods involvement, are the police and the authorities. The law looking in and occasionally penetrating through to the level of the neighbourhoods vantage point however without any notion of context or even a knowledge who the stars of the show really are. This is poignantly summed up in a short exchange between two low rank police officers ( Herc and Carver ), whilst enjoying the game as a distraction from work they overhear a familiar low level drug dealer remarking about the Avon Barksdale - Avon Barksdale being the elusive target of the investigation they have been involved with for weeks. The situation is indicative of the wider socio-political contexts painted in The Wire. The police are usually on the periphery of the situation, at best infiltrating towards ground level context but always ignorant of who the main ringmasters are, clueless about their proximity even whilst standing adjacent to the investigations main target. 

   There is also another wonderfully concise and thorough metaphor present within the basketball game. At one point a member Prop Joe's team commits a foul on a member of Avon Barksdale's team. The referee does not call the foul, play continues and the ball travels up the court before adding yet more points to Prop Joe's side of the score board. Avon Barksdale confronts the referee about the uncalled foul, he's intimidating and aggressive in his approach, and after berating the meek referee, shouts at him to walk away after being given the opportunity to make a decision in Barksdale's favour. The referee's situation of being in a position to make a truce after upsetting Barksdale or walking away is exactly the situation Omar finds himself in later the same episode -  he is offered a true by Barksdale's people but rather than accept the offer he leaves town. The positioning of the referee caught under Avon's wrath and between Prop Joe and Avon Barksdale is also the position Omar moved into ( over the preceding episodes and scenes ) and now firmly resides throughout the majority of the episode before he resolves to exit Baltimore. The mirroring is beautiful and telling, life is life and people often fill the positions life deals for them and react in accordance with fate. Another parallel embodied within the context of the basketball game is the importation of foreign players to compete against the increasingly high standards of their opposition Avon Barksdale outsources his baller talent from an out of area school where he finds an N.B.A. destined young man who would be happy to compete in the neighbourhood game in exchange for a small donation. Much later,  - ( series, deaths and years later ) Barksdale imports a rare and unique talent from New York to deal with various awkward situations erupting around his drug trade- Brother Mouzone. The outsourcing and/or importation to keep competitive is a constant osmosis. The themes and positions are constants - the people, contexts, situational geographies and political positionings are variables. The Game as an endless analogy, a gyrating cartesian spiral of metaphor, the futility of life reflected through any realm of life is perhaps the beguiling beauty of The Wire. However, the production is not even as simplistic as just that, the Russian Doll effect is often present but over arching a plethora of loose ends, ambiguities and questions. The Wire thrives on the undefined and irreducible. One of the most subtle examples of this unique attribute is ‘the dirt’ on Cedric Daniels and his reactions towards the investigation in the Baltimore drug trade. His decisions to make 'quick rips' rather than pursue 'the money' are clothed in ambiguity - is his reluctance to ‘follow the money’ due to his connections or loyalties to illegal entities or simply a result of his careerist ambitions to meet his superiors demands? After the basketball game Daniels and another officer drive through the many homogenous blocks of the Baltimore ghetto in order to catch Barksdale. After apparently loosing Barksdale through supposedly a communication blunder Avon Barksdale passes Cedric Daniels. The two cars pass after approaching each other on a secluded street, Avon ticks his finger at Cedric and the latter glares back, swallow and tells the police surveillance team that they lost him. Is there an alliance between the two? Is the chase for a drug lord futile if no evidence can be pinned on him in order to press charges? Is the disruption to the investigation too great? Is the possibility of catching a clean Avon pointless? Or could it be that Avon has some sort of dirt on Daniels that he could trade up on - emancipating himself whilst bringing Daniels down? Or is it simply a case of Barksdale knowing that the police don't have a charge and that Daniels accepting this? A million ambiguities and questions are fleshed out in a single second, the electrifying explosion of possibilities are panoramic. The Wire is cerebically and emotionally stunning, not for what’s depicted, but rather for what isn’t -in short, the answers.