PARIS – If I performed an interview in 1996 that I have just re-read and found fabulous and fascinating and super-cool, then I cannot be blamed for being boastful if I say that it is fabulous and fascinating and super-cool. After all, I wrote it in 1996 – which is to say, 17 years ago – and therefore, any such reaction and announcement CANNOT be considered boasting. Before I turn full-circle again on such a pronouncement, I think I just want to say that the interview in question was the one I did with Jean-Bernard Pouy, a French crime writer, as I researched my story for The Armchair Detective on French crime writing.
So as part of my blog articles as opposed to posts section, I have decided that the next installment is the Ancient Interview with Jean-Bernard Pouy, following the Ancient Interview With Maurice G. Dantec. In fact, Pouy is not just a crime writer – today he is still around, at 67 – but he was also a key element of the new wave of French crime writers in the early to mid-1990s as he helped spawn the careers of both Dantec, and another of the major writers, Tonino Benacquista, both of whom were former high school students of Pouy’s in a Paris suburb….
Thanks to Norman Spinrad’s generosity, I have the most enormous hangover I’ve had for years. I never usually drink enough to get a hangover, but last night at a Creole restaurant in Paris near Montparnasse where Norman Spinrad, one of the world’s greatest science fiction writers had invited me to join in to celebrate his 70th birthday, I started out on Rhum and Vanilla and soon hit the harder stuff…. I had so much fun that it was not until I got into the cab at 2 AM that I noticed my head was just spinning, and Paris was turning over on itself.
But to jump back a step before I return to Spinrad’s 70th.
I had so much to do yesterday that I did not get a chance to mention the opening of the new art space in Paris that I visited the previous night. And I will, in fact, tie together these two evenings with a musical theme, in keeping with most of what’s on this blog. My musical adventure goes not only around the world with the Formula One circus and the open mics and jams I find at each race. It also extends into my daily life in Paris. And on Thursday I could not find an open mic so I decided to attend the opening of this new art space, which I had been invited to via Facebook.
The space of the Collectif OXIII on the rue d’Enghien actually opened up at the end of July, but Thursday it held its official opening. Now, before I left I said to myself, “All right, do I bring my guitar with me?” I always like to be ready with the guitar just in case I pass a bar or other place with music where it might appear I could play.
I decided for the worst of reasons not to bring the guitar. I did not want to look pretentious, or have something encumbering me at the OXIII. I never usually care how pretentious or idiotic I look. But this time for some reason, that’s how I felt and I left without the guitar. Getting the art space, I found a fabulous building of several floors with gallery space, performance space, a room they call the world’s smallest concert hall since it fits only four audience members, and in the basement there was a music rehearsal space with a couple of guitar players playing, oh, and upstairs, more musicians played and some sat around on the floor with guitars and jammed. And I did not have my guitar!!
I would have been able to play had I brought the guitar, and I would have been in heaven. So I failed, made a bad decision. That’s life. Had a great time anyway, meeting up with some friends, members of a band called the Burnin’ Jacks, the lead guitar player of which – Félix – plays on two of the tracks on my songs on my Ephemere Recordings from July.
So how do I tie this in with Spinrad’s 70th birthday party the next night? Well, first, who cares about tying it in? The important thing was that one of the great science fiction writers turned 70 and celebrated it in Paris in a Creole restaurant. I first met Spinrad in 1997 when I wrote a story about him for the International Herald Tribune, when I was writing a lot of stuff about technology, and the American author had put up for sale on the Internet for $1 the rights to his novel, “He Walked Among Us” to the American publisher who would do the best job of publishing it.
Spinrad, to quote my own article, was “part of the “new wave” of the late 1960s when he wrote “Bug Jack Barron,” a novel that anticipated the days when presidential elections would be decided entirely by television.” We kept in touch and saw each other again and he invited me to his 60th birthday party in Paris in 2000 when he lived in the 5th Arrondissement. A very cool man, I recall that at his 60th birthday party he had invited people like his local wine story seller and probably even his butcher – although I cannot remember precisely that fact – along with publishers, writers, artists, etc.
So it was with great anticipation that I returned to his 70th birthday last night, and was not let down. This time it was in the cellar room of a Creole restaurant, and the atmosphere was wonderful. Among those who showed up were the science fiction writer Michael Moorcock and his wife Linda Moorcock, Spinrad’s editor at his French publishing house, Fayard (which, by the way, is publishing “He Walked Among Us”!), and I found out only after everyone had left that the woman sitting across the table from me at one point who looked like the French actress Josiane Balasko, was in fact, the French actress, scenarist and film director, Josiane Balasko. And of course, there were some of his friends of “the common people” as well, which included an RATP (Paris métro) repairman….
Norman Spinrad Celebrating his 70th birthday in Paris
So how do I tie all this together to a musical theme? Well, I had again debated whether I should bring my guitar with me, and again I had decided against it. As I stepped off the metro and surfaced on Montparnasse, I realized I was right next to the Swan Bar, where I go on Friday nights sometimes to play music. And, as it turned out, the Spinrad party erupted into a musical celebration when the cake arrived, and someone in the party who knew I played music, asked me if I had brought my guitar.
Well, I decided that having drunk so much at that point, that I would ask the DJ if he would put on a track – Since You Left Me – from my Ephemere Recordings on the sound system. I wanted to see how well my music blended in with Bob Marley and the other pop songs that were being played. I wanted to do it without anyone knowing that it was my music, just to see how it blended in – you know, would people stop short, raise their eyebrows and go, “What the hell is this?”
In fact, the DJ decided he wanted to announce to everyone that I was the guy making the music that was piping in through the sound system, so I had to take a little bow, and then behave naturally somehow. But the great news was that people continued dancing to my music as they had to ther music, and they appeared to enjoy it immensely. But then again, I suspect that I was not the only one who had by then drunk so much that anything that was piped in would have sounded wonderful….
By the way, this is not the first time I have mentioned Spinrad on this blog, as I mentioned him just a few weeks ago when I wrote about meeting a French punk musician named Eric Debris, and it turned out that Spinrad had made a record with another writer I know and who is a friend of Debris, Maurice Dantec. And as with the Debris evening, this evening at Spinrad’s birthday was one of those where I felt several of my worlds coming together, and that provides such a feeling of satisfaction and the fullness of life, which has outweighed the pain of the hangover. Next time, of course, however, I will have to take my guitar even when in doubt – even if I did get to put my song on the sound system and have my music heard….
I said yesterday that I would make the rounds of the bars and clubs re-opening after the summer break. I will not go into the details of where I went, in fact, but I did find a lively scene going on, and the night was hot and with clear skies and this helped make it sublime.
I will focus on the place where I ended up spending most of the evening, though, and it was not re-opening – it had not closed. And in fact, it was hosting a special evening of pop music from the year 1983 as presented by the acting DJ Caroline Harleaux, a journalist at the magazine called Voxpop, which focuses on the youth scene, particularly musical, in France.
I listened to the music, trying to figure out who was whom and had they really recorded that in 1983??? And then I got up and went to the bar for a re-fill and there I saw a guy I had met at the beginning of the year, and had never really had a good talk with. But he is friends with my ex-girlfriend and I decided it would be good to talk, finally. This was the vastly interesting Eric Débris, who was the lead singer and the guy who played the machines, as he called the synth and rhythm boxes at one of the original French punk bands, called Métal Urbain, which was founded in 1976. (“The first band ever to mix drum machines and synths with guitars back in 1976, Metal Urbain have influenced bands worldwide, generating the whole synth-punk movement in France,” it says on the band’s myspace.)
Eric and I were born in the same year, but at opposite ends of it, with him being born first. That still makes us contemporaries. And as it turns out, my talk with Eric would end up showing us both that we had far more common interests than we might have expected, but more importantly, it was a sort of snapshot of a phenomenon that I have written about here before, and that Eric pointed out frequently happens in life….
Here’s how I might define that: It turned out that there was a web of common interests and people that stretched across decades, areas of interest and into other worlds…. For instance, Eric is a huge fan of Formula One auto racing, which is, of course, my specialty as a journalist. But as we spoke, he said that he had noticed at my ex-girlfriend’s place a copy of my book about Colin Wilson, and he said that Wilson was one of his favorite writers, as he had read and loved when he was living in London in the 1980s, books like The Occult, Beyond the Occult, and the book about Carl Jung. And of course I had just been writing a chapter about The Occult over the last two weeks.
But then the conversation continued and he mentioned Norman Spinrad, the science fiction writer. I told him that I knew Spinrad too – who incidentally, has been fighting cancer recently – and then I said, “Spinrad also played in a band for a while.” To this Eric said, “Yes, I know. I am also friends with Maurice Dantec, who played in that band, and with Richard Pinhas, also in the band.”
To which I replied that I had met Dantec on several occasions and written stories about him, as certainly the first in the English language to do so extensively in the mid-1990s. I knew that Dantec had played in a punk band before he became a writer, but what I did not know was that he had modeled the band on Métal Urbain, Eric’s band, using a beat box. At one point, said Eric, they were the only two French punk bands doing that, in the late 70s.
So I will return to Métal Urbain, to mention that it was indeed one of the first and best French punk bands, but it never really broke out in France, being more accepted elsewhere than here – a typical situation in France, and one that I just read about yesterday in Rock & Folk magazine in a roundtable discussion in the summer issue of the French rock scene. Métal Urbain, in fact, was mentioned in that article.
Another tie-in here was that I mentioned to Eric that in 1977 when I was living in Toronto in the middle of the punk scene – before moving to England in the middle of the punk scene – I had seen one of the first and most famous of the concerts by a band called The Viletones. I mentioned the names of a few other bands from the time, including Teenage Head, and Eric mentioned The Diodes, and he said they continue to play around the world and that he is an old friend of one the band members.
What I did not tell Eric is that at this time, when I was 19 years old, I had begun some of my first disciplined efforts at prose writing – although I was myself trying to make it in show business, including in music – and it turns out that what I consider to be my first ever complete non-fiction or, really, piece of journalism, was a story I wrote about seeing the Viletones. It was never published, and I wrote it the very night I saw the band, upon returning to my rooming house. I never tried to publish it, in fact, as I considered it just an entry in my “Nothing Book,” a kind of diary with hard covers in which I began my first efforts at writing. I was heavily influenced by the prefaces to his plays of George Bernard Shaw, and in some ways I think I tried to imitate that. In any case, I have decided to transcribe my story of The Viletones at the Colonial Underground and put it on this blog in my stories area. For I have not found any other such photographic looks at the Viletones in Toronto in 1977, although I recently saw an old television documentary on the scene. You will see in my story that although I was only 19, and the lead singer of the group, whose name was “Nazi Dog,” was only a year more than me maximum, (IE, same age as Eric), I was far, far from being a punk myself.
Below is a photo of an Eric Débris skateboard with a photo of the model “Poison” on it – it’s part of his merchandize line.
But the point of this story was also really how a universe of common interests and affinities often surrounds people and they eventually link up for such reasons – as an example, Eric mentioned that one of his favorite writers turned out to be a fan of Métal Urbain – and it can be as far wide as from punk music to Formula One auto racing, or the writings of Colin Wilson or Maurice Dantec. But somehow it all fits together – I’m sure everyone reading this has their own examples of such Elective Affinities.