Canadian documentary film director Douglas Arrowsmith @feltfilm caught up with Nina in London where they talked about her latest work, Incurable: The Haunted Writings of Lionel Johnson, the Decadent Era’s Dark Angel. Many thanks to Douglas for this!
Johnny Thunders was loved in Japan and he in turn appreciated his Japanese audiences. They didn’t dwell on his drug past but considered him an artist and treated him with courtesy. Besides which, he loved all the funky little knick-knacks so integral to Japan’s pop culture, returning from his first gigs there, in 1988, laden down with novelty lighters including mini-handguns and fire-breathing Godzillas plus a staggering amount of kimono’s which he distributed amongst his friends. Johnny might have been a Heartbreaker but he was always a New York Doll, the bright trashy splendour a part of his aesthetics. Had the guitarist been allotted more years, I have no doubt the love affair with Japan would have continued, as it was he played his last electric gigs there in March, 1991. Sadly, Johnny was by this point perilously ill and it was touch and go as to whether he’d be able to make the weeks’ worth of shows. However, he didn’t want to let the fans or the band, The Oddballs, down. Johnny’s Japanese swan-song was played out with great aplomb and he was chased down the street and mobbed by girls wielding flowers. Tentative plans for a new album featuring Japanese musicians were made prior to the guitarist’s departure. Thunders was always good at putting up a front but there were indications that he recognised that he was bowing out, from the lily in his lapel to a last tattoo, Christ crucified, done in Bangkok, in early April 1991, a matter of weeks before his death.
It is impossible to quantify how influential Johnny Thunders was, from New York to London to Russia, Japan, wherever he roamed, he left chaos and glory in his wake. (An honourable mention goes to the Wakefield Working Man’s club, but that’s another story for another time) In Japan, Johnny Thunders was a rock n’ roll icon, his style and influence taken up by a legion of young musicians, including Hiroshi The Golden Arm Nakagome, who has been kind enough to share his archives for a Christmas Thunders treat. It was after all, one of Johnny’s favourite times of the year.
A big thank you to Hiroshi & everyone who remembers……
An Interview with Nina Antonia by Brian Young (RUDI – The Sabrejets. Original Punk from Belfast) from DOLL magazine 2001.
Johnny Thunders Special produced by Hiroshi The Golden Arm Nakagome including his review of Nina’s In Cold Blood.
Thank you to Michael Dirda at the Washington Post………lovely to see ‘Incurable’ included in such lambent line-up of book reviews that includes Wilde & Stenbock….
‘Thank you to Duncan Fallowell, author of ‘How to Disappear’, for including ‘Incurable’ in his choice of books for 2018, on The Spectator.’
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
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.
‘The Faun’ has been popping up in the most unexpected places and just this week was spotted in Australia by reviewer, Robert Brokenmouth.
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
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……….
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
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.