‘Incurable’

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Edited by Nina Antonia for Strange Attractor.  Also includes a detailed biographical essay by Ms. Antonia.

For more info and ordering details, please go to Incurable.

It is doubtful that you will know much about Lionel Johnson (1867-1902) unless you are particularly knowledgeable about Victorian Poets, Oscar Wilde & W.B Yeats. Occasionally his best known poem ‘The Dark Angel’ crops up in ‘decadent’ anthologies, where his despairing voice soars out of the darkness, ‘Lonely, unto the Lone, I go’….Culture is mainly driven by commerce and although countless books have already been written about Oscar Wilde, no doubt there will be countless more for as long as he continues to exert a fascination. Fashion demands an icon-recycle every decade, be it Bowie, Prince, Hendrix, Wilde and now again, we’ll have Edith Piaf, Coco Chanel, Frida Kahlo or Schiaparelli, it depends on trends. I’m waiting for Rimbaud and Genet to get their seasonal rediscovery. Unfortunately, by narrowing the perimeters of art, we lose character and different perspectives. Thank goodness James Baldwin just snuck in. Aleister Crowley is another who has been overexposed by too many biographers who truly believe that another book on ‘The Great Beast’ will be a revelation, ditto The Sex Pistols, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave and William Burroughs. It’s like baked beans every night for eternity.

Subculture tends to be more interesting and I don’t mean Patti Smith who has clothed herself as a Bohemian poet radical despite having establishment backing throughout her career. It depends on whether you wince or not at the thought of Robert Mapplethorpe who after exploiting the physicality of his models and boyfriends, many of whom had addiction and mental health issues kicked them out the door. I’d rather see ‘Paris is Burning’ than watch Madonna ‘Vogue’, it all depends on your perspective of authenticity. Nothing is ever just ‘entertainment’.

And so we return to Lionel Johnson, to whom I’ve dedicated myself for the last three years, from a feature in ‘Fortean Times’ to an essay in ‘Wormwood’ as a character in ‘The Greenwood Faun’ and now by editing a collection of his work for Strange Attractor, entitled: ‘Incurable.’ His poetry is exquisitely morbid, his story heart-breaking whilst his influence helped to shape one of the most fascinating yet tragic eras. Of his friends, Aubrey Beardsley has quite rightly been enshrined, Ernest Dowson, another ghostly versifier has been rediscovered, Lord Alfred Douglas has been vilified and the genius of W.B Yeats acclaimed but Lionel was allowed to slip away, absinthe glass in hand. It must also be remembered that as a teenager, he had the rare honour of having a volume of Walt Whitman thrown at him by a Welsh postmaster.

The Ten Rules of Faerie

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The Ten Rules of Faerie

The first rule of Faerie: Don’t be twee in word or image.

The second rule of Faerie:  Mortal children with fake wings are not of the Fay. (This also applies to adults)

The third rule of Faerie: You don’t own them (Although they might own you)

The fourth rule of Faerie: Be enchanted & awed but do not worship else the road ahead might be perilous.

The fifth rule of Faerie: If you see one do not blab, else you may be excommunicated from The Court of Mab. (Venturing a sighting is all well & good but it may deter from future concurrence)

The sixth rule of Faerie: Do not attempt to summon – you don’t know what you may call up but it won’t be ‘The Good People’ who do things when they want as they want. The etheric is not a telephone exchange.

The seventh rule of Faerie: Do not scorn the wisdom of Faerie vision amongst clergymen, else you may never engage with the Secret Commonwealth as laid down by the Rev. Robert Kirk who passed from this world to officiate ‘Under the Hill’ forever more in 1692.

The eighth rule of Faerie: Be respectful, it’s not a game especially if you wander into their territory.

The ninth rule of Faerie: No one person or group has a special key to the enchanted realm, the door opens as and when. Misfits & unfortunates, however, are more likely for a visitation or gift. Those absorbed by the worldly and its plastic charms are least likely.

The tenth rule of Faerie:  Access to the otherworld is free but has a tithe.

© 2018 Nina Antonia.

Fauntasia: ‘The Further Adventures of The Greenwood Faun’

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‘The Faun’ has been popping up in the most unexpected places and just this week was spotted in Australia by reviewer, Robert Brokenmouth.

http://www.i94bar.com/books/three-books-one-review

In the Out-there land of cult-authorship, it’s hard to gauge one’s place in the literary landscape, which is usually skulking by the overgrown fountain.

Just as Michael Dirda of the Washington Post did such a wonderful job of rounding up the latest Esoteric offerings, so Mr Brokenmouth has placed ‘The Faun’ in poetic Bohemia, with surprising consequences.

Like Robert, I’m not one for modern poetry, though all poets were in their time modern, none more so than Lord Alfred Douglas with whom I’ll conclude with an excerpt from ‘The City of The Soul’ written during his last holiday with Oscar Wilde, in Italy.

‘The fields of Phantasy are all too wide,

My soul runs through them like an untamed thing.

It leaps the brooks like threads, and skirts the ring

Where fairies danced, and tenderer flowers hide.

The voice of music has become the bride

 

‘The Greenwood Faun’ Goes to Washington…..

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In his splendid round-up of otherworldly books, Michael Dirda of the Washington Post, heralds the spirit of the season. In Medieval times, maidens and young men would venture into forests and groves to gather flowers for their May day garlands, a tradition alluded to by Shakespeare in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. Similarly, Michael has plucked a glorious garland of titles once again supporting the independent crop of small yet beautiful independent publishers of fantasy, including Swan River, Tartarus, Sundial, Zagava, and Egaeus, who last but not least gave ‘The Greenwood Faun’ a home earlier this year. There’s a splendid array of authors too, from Arthur Machen, Avalon Brantley, Mark Valentine & R.B Russell, Richmal Crompton and Robert Aickman. It’s wonderful to be included in such a gathering.

Bedeck those May Poles as ‘The Greenwood Faun’ returns for the merriest, maddest month……….

Read Michael Dirda’s article.

In Praise of Old Books

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Old books are beautiful

Their pages fragrant with time

Old books are made of history

Through them, ghosts live again

Each book is an author’s dream

Pulled from the clouds

Spirit captured in print

Emblazoned on candle-glow pages

Purchased in shops long closed

Read in homes since vanished

Old books have survived wars

And speak in silence

They are childhood’s companion

And age’s comfort

Old books still enchant

A repository of myth, faery, poetry, philosophy,

Sinners, saints, delinquents, kings, queens, libertines

Hellfire, incense, romance, consequence, superstition and erudition

Old books have known as much of life

As you or I

And as long as we read them

Old books never die

Hieroglyphics

Tuan MCarroll by Rackham

I’m writing to you from the deepest point of the ocean, so far down in the terrible icy blue it remains one of the last unexplored regions. You can’t hear me calling from the furthest dungeon in a remote castle in a forgotten land. No one has passed by this place in years. They don’t even know it exists. There is no bird-song, sunset or twilight. Someone has taken down the stars. There’s a tangle of cobwebs where thoughts used to be. I’ve become a ventriloquist’s doll that no one has taken out of the box. Moths are eating my mind. I’m a blank message in a bottle; an S.O.S on an unread telegram from 1910 and lost property that will never be reclaimed. The beautiful paintings have gone from their frames and words in books have become harder to understand than hieroglyphics. I need a translator to get through the day. The nights last forever but sleep plays tricks, as elusive as meaning. I’ve gone awry, amiss and though you may think I am here, the present is past, tomorrow without formula, a meaningful life a script that has been handed to others more worthy, able to keep pace with the directions that I can no longer follow. My road is going the wrong way, far down a track called clinical depression and all who wander here are lost. Sadness is like the rain when you are indoors at night, a delicate sorrowing encapsulating tenderness and loss. Melancholia is the watercolour of emotions or a sweet, poignant song that carries memories like a last dance before the affair ended. Depression however, is the ice breaking underneath you, gradually slipping into the abyss. The websites tell you to reach out to family, the assumption of social collateral when you’re as lonesome as a twig in winter. And there’s no second layer of skin but just the fact that I’ve written this is something of a triumph, a sign on the road that might lead back to where I was supposed to be going.

Washington Post Review

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Being a literary zine enthusiast as well as a contributor, I was delighted by Michael Dirda’s excellent article that appeared in the Washington Post this week. With great aplomb, Michael has chosen the choicest of titles: ‘The Weird Fiction Review’, ‘Wormwood’ ‘Faunus’ (The journal of the Friends of Arthur Machen) from Swan River Press comes ‘The Green Book ‘& as a post-script, ‘Zagava’.

I take full responsibility for having never pursued career goals, writing was always a vocation and the direction it took was where my passions led me. Which was frequently overdrawn. Having spent the last two years in relative obscurity, writing about a relatively obscure Victorian poet, Lionel Johnson, I was thrilled when ‘Wormwood’ accepted the feature. An article without a home becomes a paper orphan and Lionel had suffered quite enough in real life to face more rejection. Thanks to Wormwood and Michael Dirda, he was able to take his first bow on the pages of the Washington Post, as was I.

The Last Testament

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Thank you to James for rounding up ‘The Last Testament’ with a picture of him and Nico, taken backstage at the Berlin Planetarium, on June 6th, 1988.

This was Nico’s final concert and probably one of the last photographs, snapped by Graham ‘Dids’ Dowdall, who played percussion in ‘Faction’.

According to James Young: “The worried look on Nico’s face is due to stage fright … we all had it as we were featuring new work. “I think I’m going to have a heart attack,” she said.

With music of so strange a sound,
And beauty of so wild a birth-
Farewell for I have won the Earth‘ (‘Tamarlane’ by Poe)

Post Script by James Young

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I don’t know why Alan said that he helped with my book, though he did like to see himself as a literary figure. Usually when Songs They Never Play On The Radio came up as a topic he was immediately dismissive of it, recommending that people turn their attention instead to Dostoyevsky or Proust.

Alan and I were extremely close, which is why at times there was this adversarial stance, like brothers fighting. We knew each other from the age of twelve and were in the same class at school. I delivered one of the eulogies at his funeral. But sometimes he could be very controlling and when I told him I was thinking of writing a memoir of our time with Nico he said, “I’M the writer … you’re the piano player.” Everyone had very fixed roles in his world and he didn’t like anyone to change.

In interviews Alan often just said whatever came into his head, sometimes to be mischievous, sometimes to surprise himself. Usually, as I said, if the subject of Songs They Never Play On The Radio came up he would brush it imperiously aside. But latterly things did get very mixed up in his mind … dates, places, people. He was on massive medication and had been addicted to Valium for fifty years. Nonetheless, I do take my work seriously and someone else claiming they had a part in its creation when they absolutely did not has to be addressed … even if it does come from a beloved friend.

Best,

James

 

Nico & The last Testament of Doctor Demetrius

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(photograph by Danny Fields. Garden of the Portobello Hotel, London)

Monday’s full blue blood moon weaved its strange magic. Few rock tomes stand the test of time but James Young’s ‘Songs They Never Play on the Radio’ will always have a permanent place on the bookshelf. Some thirty years have slipped by since Young played keyboards for Nico, then penned a slender yet mischievous memoir of his adventures touring with the Moon Goddess. Nico always managed to escape the modish, even if she started her career as a model, before Andy Warhol inducted her into the Velvet Underground as their resident chanteuse. Her solitary aura and aloof stance separated her from her more frenetic band-mates. Reincarnating as a solo artist, she morphed into The Moon Goddess, composing haunting dreamscapes on a harmonium.  Art can only survive time’s relentless harvest if it touches upon eternal themes. Nico’s music, a silvered interior wilderness carved out of night and thronged by shadows can never date because it is unclassifiable whilst being Gothic in the manner of Pugin. Some years ago, I interviewed Alan Wise, who pivotal to Manchester’s post punk music resurgence, left his unique imprint on both the Hacienda and Factory Records. However, it was as a Nico aficionado that I sought Wise out. Featured as ‘Doctor Demetrius’ in Young’s tome, Wise managed Nico in the last years of her life, though he was clearly in the thrall of the Moon Goddess as this rare and insightful interview attests. Like Nico, Alan Wise has since gone over the frozen borderline, though I have no doubt he is still in the stately procession of the Moon Goddess.

 Alan Wise Interview

(with some words from Ari, at conclusion)

N: When you first met Nico what where you doing?

A: It was 1981, at the time I was running nights at a club called Rafters and she was booked to play there by Mike Hince who worked for Rough Trade.  He introduced a lot of interesting stuff to us. I didn’t really know who she was and when he made the booking I said, ‘Who is he?’  What happened was I saw her arriving with her boyfriend, Robert, from the Scars, a young Scottish guy. She was carrying her harmonium and I was just going out to get something to eat at the Italian restaurant next door. I liked the look of them, they looked interesting, bohemian. I said ‘Would you like something to eat? Are you hungry?’ Of course they were. We went next door for something to eat.

N: Where her circumstances quite precarious?

A: Yes, very, they were travelling on buses, doing gigs for money, there wasn’t that great a fee, she had a tour of the North to do so I went with her, to look after her. Both she and Robert were hopeless; they had no sense of organisation or the money side of it, and no access to legal supplies methadone.

N: There must have been something about Nico that made you want to be act like this …..to be valiant?

A: I liked her instantly I thought she was a very interesting character. I only got involved in entertainment to meet interesting characters. She was strong but vulnerable, bright, charming. I found her somewhere to live, she’d been touring but she liked Manchester because of the Victorian architecture. Initially she was staying in a Polish hotel in Whalley Range (what do you get for your trouble and pain?) the Polex owned by a war hero, it was very cheap, she didn’t have much money. After that, she came to live in Didsbury with me, only briefly, then she moved to the other side of Manchester, a beautiful area called Prestwich Park (house was called Moresby) it was Victorian.

I remember when Gregory Corso was staying with her, it was funny, they had this banter, they’d watch old films, ‘King Solomon’s Mines’ and Nico would say ‘I wish I had a mine’ and Gregory would respond ‘Sorry Nico, I can’t help you, I haven’t got a mind’ ‘I didn’t say ‘Mind’ Gregory, I said ‘Mine’…’Gregory was with us for about a year, he was sending letters home  to his wife telling her that he ‘Staying with a lovely couple in the Lake District. I said to him ‘You’re hardly staying with a lovely couple in the Lake District’ He said ‘Alan a gentleman doesn’t read someone else’s mail.

N: Did she talk much about the past?

A: All the time, Nico’s life was the past. Berlin, the war, what she’d done, modelling, why she didn’t like it. I spoke to Andrew Loog Oldham about her; he said that when he’d met, she’d been very ‘Harvey Nichol’s’ meaning nice clothes, bright attire, fairly upbeat, what you might consider a ‘Lightweight’ but her personality changed because of her opiate use. She got into that culture.  Had she not got into opiates she may simply have been a light hearted German Folk Singer, as ‘I’m Not Sayin’ suggests. The heavy Marlene Dietrich stance came later. Oldham said her character wasn’t like that at all. She could be moody, but I’d have said it was because of all the drugs she took over the years. Her mood altered every few seconds but she could talk and be charming and witty. She said what she did and got on with it. She was one of the last Left Bank Bohemians. She read good books, although she hadn’t had a formal education in the sense that she hadn’t gone to university, which she regretted and said was because of the war, she always read good books. Dostoyevsky, Solzyenitschen? (Gulag Archipelago) quality English writers. She liked being solitary but she’d also socialise but she wasn’t a snob, she’d hang out at the local pool hall, strike up a conversation with a bum.

N: What happened to her harmonium?

A: Ari, (Nico’s son) took it back to Paris but his girlfriend sold it; it was here for a long time.

N: Ari is staying with you? What kind of a relationship is it?

A: Depressing (laughs) It’s not a permanent thing, he was poorly in France so I’m looking after him. Ari’s memoirs were very well received in France. He’s decided he’d like to get it released in England if he can get a translator. He’d love a deal for it in the UK. He can’t remember what he signed for with the French publisher, in that respect he’s just like his mother. We’re not friends, were family, I’ve known him for so long. His mum was family to me, and so is Ari, it’s a family affair. I remember some Dutch promoters came to see us, they said ‘Not only do you work together, you live in the same house.’ Our working relationship wasn’t business, it was family, we didn’t have a proper contract, we fought and made up like family.

N: Is James Young’s book a true reflection?

A: No but it’s comical, I helped him write it. We decided to write a funny book that was a bit like our experiences, but the publisher didn’t want it done like that and the only way they were going to pay an advance was to finish the book as a biography but it’s not an accurate account. Life was much more comical than that and she did very nice venues, you can’t tell me that the Palais De Beaux Arts and some of the Italian theatres we played were dumps. James portrayed the down side of pop life because it was attractive, of course it was representative of certain aspects, but it ignored an awful lot of other things.

N: Any truth to the story that Nico wanted to be a florist?

A: That was towards the end, she wanted to work in a flower shop until she found out the wages. She went to a florists to ask how much they paid. They told her £150, she said ‘I can’t live on a £150 a day’. They said no, it’s £150 a week. It was a local place, she’d worked in a florists before and she liked flowers.

N: Marriage proposal from a Hassidic admirer?

A: That was really comical, he was about a 110. He owned the house she lived in. What she used to do was the light the fires for him on a Saturday. Jewish law states that one shouldn’t do any work on a Saturday, so they invite non-Jewish people in. Incredible as it sounds she volunteered to light the fires for him and put the oven on. She’d done this as a child. But he asked her to marry him. She seemed to think it was serious.

One time she was in hospital, she had septicaemia, it was 1983. The hospital was in Crumsall. She would dominate the ward by turning the television over when ‘Coronation Street’ came on. She put on intellectual, educational programmes that no one else wanted to see. When I went to see her, she gave me the run down on the ward ‘That women there, she is such a moron she watches rubbish on TV’ ‘This one reads a terrible paper’ ‘That one over there, her husband is always very noisy’ but then she pointed to the women in the bed next to her ‘And this one sleeps with a tiger’ ‘You what’? ‘Or maybe I’m imagining it’ She didn’t know but the fact that this woman was sleeping with a tiger seemed perfectly acceptable to Nico. I remember when she used to do TV interviews, she’d be asked a question, like ‘Would you like a car?’ then they’d go on to another subject, say for instance ‘Rome’ but she’d still be responding to the car question, while they were on to ‘Rome being an ancient civilisation’ She’d say ‘About 2000 years’ and of course it would sound like she’d asked for a 2000 year old car. The conversation she was carrying on in her head was 15 minutes behind everyone else. Looking back, I think she has more talent now that I did then. She wasn’t a rock singer, her strongest work was her own, ‘The End’ ‘Marble Index’’ she was really an avant -garde torch singer in the Dietrich tradition. Her songs were sort of folky, fairy tale, following a Germanic tradition. At the time she wasn’t liked in Germany but now she’s considered a star there. She didn’t like playing Germany, she found it boring and the promoters always wanted to stick to time, they were always so dramatic. She wasn’t rock n’ roll. She did one programme and she said, ‘I don’t know anything about rock and roll; I don’t know why you are asking me.” She was more interested in classical music. She liked modern classical composers, she like Max Bruch, but the greatest one for her was Mahler, the greatest piece of music for her was Mahler’s 5th symphony. She liked the Velvet Underground, Lou Reed and The Doors. One time we were travelling across the Alps and she took over from me, then after a little while she said, ‘I can see Jim’s face in the road’ The rest of us said’ what about the fucking road Nico, we’re getting out’ the whole group got out and waited by the side of the mountain rather than travel with her. She carried on with Barbara, her faithful companion, driving.

N: The way you describe Nico it’s almost as if she lived in a hallucinogenic fairy story

A: She lived like her act, there was no separate persona to the person you saw on stage to the one at home except she wanted to change her name back to Christa Paffgen, she said I’m not Nico, I’m Christa, Nico was a photographer who gave me that name. She was getting a bit tired of the Nico persona.

N: Do you think Manchester afforded her some shelter from that?

A: We lived in Manchester and in London, 29 Effra Road; it was me, Nico and John Cooper Clarke.

N: Did you set up the Martin Hannet sessions?

A: Yes, he was a friend of mine, it was called ‘Procession’ it was a long time since then, we only made one studio album and one live album, which sold a lot. One was ‘Camera Obscura’ which came out on Beggars Banquet, produced by John Cale with the Faction which was James Young, Graham Dowdall & Mike Hinc.

N: You helped her get a script that must have made things easier for her?

A: Yes, she had a doctor who prescribed her methadone

N: The letter?

A: That was a weird occurrence, we went back to her hold out with a BBC camera crew, this was a few months ago, we returned to the house on Prestwich Park South,’ Moresby’ it’s called. It’s a big Victorian house; Nico lived in the upper part of the house, the new owner restored into one about 20 years ago. When she saw the BBC crew, the owner came down. She said, ‘You must have come about Nico; she left her room in a mess’. I said to her ‘Do you mean to tell me you haven’t tidied it up in all that time?’ ‘No, I left it the same but I found a letter’. Unfortunately, the BBC crew nicked it but it was written by Nico to Alain Delon asking him to look after Ari. It was never sent.

N: She must have had some sort of premonition. Ibiza was just meant to be a holiday?

A: Yes, she did her last show in Berlin, they always say that where you do your last show is your hometown and then she went to Ibiza. Ari was with her. She went cycling on a hot day and had a stroke; it wasn’t the fall off the bicycle that killed her. It was the stroke. The last person to see her, by a strange twist, was Peter Hook from New Order. New Order where on their way to the airport and they saw her at a café and waved and she waved back. Very strange.

N: How best would you guide me to write about Nico?

A: You have to go back to her origins, Germany, the war, Berlin.

N: Dick Witts claimed she had a tortured relationship with her mother.

A: She loved her mother very much, sometimes she was unwell but she loved her. Dick Witts claimed to have known Nico well, but he only met her once, she went to his flat but she was uncertain as to whether she wanted him as a biographer.

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Ari: ‘I have only good memories of my mother. She was a very funny character she had a great sense of humour. She loved me very much, we had a special relationship. It was unique, almost like man and wife, although nothing incestuous, although people sometimes thought we were married. We had an artistic relationship, she was a great lady and I miss her very much. I was with her when she died. To me she was just my mother, a great woman who always tried to protect me.’