REASONS TO LIVE: 2011

What’s the point of getting up in the morning? You could get thrown over the dashboard of a speeding car on the way to grab provisions, go into a coma for the rest of the year and not miss a damned thing. That’s pretty frightening. It’s also a grand overstatement —there’s lots to look forward over the next year. Put down those pills and close that tab that’s open on alt.sucide.methods. Get involved with these things…

MIKE TYSON & THE ANIMALS

Iron Mike’s autobiography might be MIA at the moment, but Tyson’s sounding mighty healthy on both Twitter and in the real world. He’s looking a little leaner and he’s got an Animal Planet show; ‘Taking On Tyson’ which seems to be a pigeon racing reality show, with Tyson traveling the world (including Scotland) to discuss his feathered friends. If that doesn’t appeal to you, we’re not on the same wavelength. Kudos to whoever pitched it in to the network too…it probably wasn’t an easy sell. This show debuts on TV Stateside in March.

BIG BROTHER’S BACK

While the Dave Carney ‘Boob’ book is still inexplicably hard-to-obtain, there’s a whole documentary on Big Brother magazine in the making. ‘The Big Brother Memoir: A Stupid Skateboard Magazine’ may well be an extension of the footage posted on the Jackass site a few years back and it’ll probably disappear into the 24 month limbo that skate-related documentaries have a habit of slipping into but it’ll be worth the wait. There’s a lot of magazines dropping these days, but which ones have any personality? Big Brother in its heyday was absolutely untouchable and an arguable influence on the next wave of pretty much everything for those who experienced it. You already knew about these PDFs, didn’t you?

THE SOUND OF araabMUZIK

The current wave of rap-related viral videos seems to be built on addressing rumours and interview arguments. Boring. araabMUZIK videos are hypnotic. The MVP of the MPC is the most interesting to watch at work, and while he isn’t the first to make similar sounds (he sounds like the hyperactive child of Mannie, Justin and prime Heatmakerz), Lex Luger seemed to be…ummm…”inspired” by his work when he gave Jay and ‘Ye a track over which they inexplicably opted to rap like they’d had a Lemsip overdose instead of the requisite H.A.M. levels (at least it caused Busta to drop his annoying date rape flow for 2-minutes). araabMUZIK’s thrash metal team up was the least excruciating hip-hop and metal union since Faith No More & Boo-Yaa back in 1993, another recent video sees him tearing through live beat making with a nifty black-on-black Dipset piece around his neck—at 08:37 he unleashes the kind of drama music that’ll make you want to strike a stranger. What exactly is in that cup?

ANOTHER DEF JAM BOOK

Stacy Gueraseva’s book on Def Jam five years ago was a must-buy, and on a glossier and officially licensed level, the Rizzoli ’25 Years of Def Jam’ effort should be great too. Reuniting Dan Charnas (writer of the essential ‘The Big Payback’ ) with old mentor Bill Adler, there’s no cover or in-depth information as of yet regarding cover art or content other than its hardback status and September release date. Will it have a whole chapter on Jayo Felony? Highly doubtful.

LARRY CLARK IN LONDON AGAIN

Larry Clark’s ‘What do you do for fun?’ exhibition opens at the Simon Lee Gallery on February 10th. It should make up for missing the ‘Kiss the Past Hello’ show in Paris last year, and from a preview on the Simon Lee site, it’s significantly more wide-ranging than the ‘Los Angeles 2003-2006′ offerings at the same space in early 2008. It’s unknown as to whether the newly unearthed silent ‘Tulsa’ 16mm film will accompany it (supposedly, the movie was recently limited to a run of 5 DVD copies).

VASQUE RESURRECTION

Vasque never really went anywhere, but for the fans, there’s two versions of this boot—the current old man hikers and weird trainer hybrids and the ones you used to eye up in the Source. The preoccupation with hiking gear is unlikely to go anytime soon so we might as well have the best and I suspect my homie Mr. Ronnie Fieg—a Vasque boot superfan and the David Z frontman for special projects—will do something with the Sundowner or Super Hiker, even if they’re not Italian made any more like they were in the early ’90s. The brand’s attempt to break the UK market a few years back via some brash lad-mag ads remains an odd move.

PORT LOOKS INTERESTING

Big name magazine launches can be sheer wankery, but ‘PORT’ looks promising. Editor Dan Crowe’s Zembla literary magazine was a superb effort, and while Port’s emphasis seems to be style, there’s plenty of substance promised for its March launch. My days of reading magazines cover-to-cover seem to be numbered, but hopefully this one might restore my papery OCD. I just want to pick up something authoritative. It has a poetry editor and Daniel Day-Lewis writing an essay on Gaza. That’s enough to confer investigation, and it launches at a point when iPad compatibility is more than a rushed afterthought too.

MORE PALACE

This picture from the new Palace line is straight swaggerjacked from the Hideout’s site. I remember happy days of local skate shops stocking a rail bought seemingly at random from New Deal or Shiner, and simply buying the most eyecatching tee, complete with a barely concealed Hanes (or far, far worse in the thickness stakes). This New York Giants style effort is some no-nonsense branding that harks back to happy days of Holmes and many that went before.

NIM CHIMPSKY

Yes, that really was the name of the chimp taught a form of sign language decades ago, who apparently unleashed the 16-word sentence through these gestures, “Give orange me give eat orange me eat orange give me eat orange give me you.” Mired in debate, it served to reinforce our relationship with our simian neighbours. ‘Project Nim,’ directed by James Marsh (the man behind ‘Man on Wire’ —a documentary that left me cold), tells the story of the monkey raised as a human, and the byproduct of the experiment. As a chimp superfan, I can’t wait to see it. After showing at Sundance days ago, HBO swiftly picked it up.

TAKAHIRO MIYASHITA CAN’T LOSE

Just when outdoorsy screwfaces prove they’re here to stay temporarily, former Number (N)ine kingpin Takahiro Miyashita’s The Soloist project keeps on innovating in a weird way and the S/S 2011 collection is somewhere between woodland hipster buffoon, Victorian tinker, Hoth reconnaissance, the twins from ‘Rad’ and something far more innovative. Accompanying gear with New Balances, teaming with Oliver Peoples and using some very luxurious fabrics is a winner—as is Takahiro’s leisurely pace. While everyone else has let the cat out the bag for the whole year. Who knows what he’s got planned for the colder months?

SLEEPLESS NIGHTS STORIES

Avant-garde film director, writer, musician and artist Jonas Mekas is 87 years old and he’s still got more ideas and vanguard spirit than you. Don’t feel bad. He’s a genius. ‘Walden’ is a sprawling, brilliant headache of a film and he’s back after six years with an 8MM film experiment and ‘Sleepless Nights Stories’ which seems to have Björk and Harmony Korine involved too. That’s as much as we know.

CARHARTT KIMMEL

Adam Kimmel’s been peddling terrifyingly expensive workwear that’s actually very wearable, plus something significantly sharper for a while now, so his alliance with Carhartt sounded pretty natural. A.P.C. and SOPHNET have done big things with the brand (though in the case of the latest SOPH, I’m not looking to dress like a train driver from the 1920s), but from shots on the Hideout’s blog, it looks significantly more cohesive and wearable as a total look. There’s pocket tees, three cashmere versions of the watch cap, but the jacket in the picture here is the one for me. It’ll terrorise your credit card when it drops, but if you slept on the Junya jacket early last year this might cheer you up. Initial reports indicate that the line is non-smedium.

MORE BOILER ROOM

Boiler Room is awesome on a number of levels. As I drop out the loop, FACT magazine and Boiler Room’s transmissions are something of a lifeline. USTREAM is often misused. For every transmitted sexual act, live suicide or other watchably grand gesture, there’s a drivel tsunami on the broadcast front. Team Boiler Room keep the strong lineups coming every Tuesday at 8…you too can experience Dalston as you imagine it to be, without having to deal with the everyday reality and twattery of the area. The SWAMP 81 label gets a showcase on Tuesday and I’ve been told there’s some serious guests booked for the rest of the year too.

www.boilerroom.tv

HIGH MAINTENANCE

Wow. There’s been a lot of talk of murderers and psychopaths on this site over the last few weeks. Maybe it’s time to dwell on some apparel for once. Having said that, on a holistic level, everything’s somehow related. I think the more macabre topics could link into the none-blacker Rick Owens aesthetic, and even if that’s not your thing for everyday wear, last week’s Paris show is up on his site, complete with the slightly warped Felix ‘Don’t You Want Me?’ edit as the soundtrack and none of the shaky fashionista phone camera flaws that plagued the rushed YouTube uploads. I could never pull off a damned thing from the show, but the spectacle is undeniable and a glorious, experiential antidote to third-hand jpegs.

That whole gothalete look has an elegance that prevents the right wearer from looking like Dave Vanian at a Fitness First. It’s an all-or-nothing approach to attire. Those Raf Simons hiker dress shoes are clearly the next logical step in stylistic mixes, looking like some abstract atonement for the strange moonboots of seasons past. They’re the all-in-one solution for post-sneaker wankers troubled as to whether to go casual or formal—it’s like a knowing flip on the craze for giving smart shoes a Vibram base.

Too much of the good clothing is high maintenance. You can’t sling it over a chair or merrily swing a burger around while you’re in mid-anecdote while you’re wearing it. That’s why I favour replaceable and utilitarian. Cashmere? I’m gonna George Costanza that neckline in seconds with my oversize noggin. White Oxford shirts? With denim they remind me of my mate’s dad’s pub outfits back in the day and they’re stain magnets. On seeing the perennially dipped Edson from Patta flossing in a suede coat I was immediately hating on a player, but in my hands I’d ruin it in seconds as well as looking a little like Dennis Waterman, yet there’s part of me that saw older kids macking in suede blousons as a kid and still wants one as a matter of closure. They’re the outerwear equivalent of buying a Mogwai…you just can’t get them wet. Jerry Seinfeld knew this in the ‘Seinfeld’ where he meets Lawrence Tierney. Want to spray protect it like a pair of Timberlands? You’re asking for an uneven finish. It doesn’t matter if it’s a rough suede, nap suede or shaved suede.

From the avant-garde Nicolo Ceschi and Isaac Sellam variations to the more grounded takes courtesy of the defunct (and very, very overlooked Invertere of Newton Abbott which is soon to be resurrected), Paul Harnden, the suede Baracuta lookalikes from Orvis (check the Bomber Jacket) and the excellent Golden Bear Sportswear (the Ross in suede) who make a mean varsity jacket too, to the long-gone suede take on J. Crew’s Stockton, I’ve admired many coats in the easily annihilated fabric over the years. But I’m accident prone, a frequent backpacker and incessant coffee drinker. Me and suede outerwear were never destined to be.

Bamford & Sons had the ill soft suede Field Coat, but Ralph Lauren’s Purple Label (the Purple Label Reinder Suede Hacking Jacket was truly fancy) wing has the most aspirational creations in the sensitive leather. The Vincent Suede Car Coat is baller status, but the current sale pieces (still monstrously expensive) like the down vests in goat suede go hard. I could live without a Walking Coat in the wardrobe, but the goat suede Stinson Down Coat is serious. It’s a shame that it would last around a week in my possession, before I manage to give it alopecia-style patches and destroy the sense-of-luxury. I’ll stick with the bland, resilient fabrics for the time being.

EVIL

I’m taking inspiration from some interesting figures this year. You can keep your influencer or “brand builder”—I’ve been conducting my own little investigation into odd and evil characters, and there’s something weirdly mesmerizing about some monstrous individuals. I’d sooner watch the Aum Shinrikyo anime recruitment video than listen to a payola-led prediction about what 2011’s boom-brand will be. I’ve been watching that as well as marveling at the wide-eyed joy on the faces of Heaven’s Gate cult members pre-suicide on the “exit statement” video as Marshall Applewhite excitedly introduces each person, just before the infamous phenobarbitone pudding mass snacking. What do those folks know that we don’t? It doesn’t quite match the nightmarish aura of the Jonestown death tape—Jim Jones’s total lack of his fabled charisma, the bursts of mania and crying, plus the ghostly sound of previous music and hymns from a previous recording on the tape conjures up a scene that’s several shades of wrong. They’re all examples of PR and marketing gone hideously right…how do you generate that level of devotion? It’s one thing to sell bad denim to idiots nomadically hunting for the “next shit,” but getting your followers to take it up a notch in the devotion stakes is very intriguing indeed.

I’d love to have seen Shoko Asahara, the Rev. Jim Jones and Marshall Applewhite perform a TED talk on brand loyalty. They’re scumbags, but they were obviously onto something when it came to marketing. I also want to know why 1982’s cult errr….cult film ‘Split Image’ with James Woods and Peter Fonda (as a religious leader of sorts) remains in limbo.

Marshall’s insistence on a nifty little exit outfit, complete with that ‘Away Team’ patch (the lurid cult logo has long been a favourite of mine), and just as Jim gave out Flavor Aid rather than the rumoured Kool Aid, talk of Cortez as the Heaven’s Gate footwear of choice is wrong too. While that outsole is different to contemporary examples, they look more like budget 1996/1997 Windrunners or—looking at the outsole compared to the usual Windrunner*—a Waffle runner of sorts. I wish Nike would put that shoe out again.

*Thanks to shoe genius Mr. Ghettrocentricity the shoe is officially  identified…it’s a Nike Decade. Wikipedia needs to fall back with its talk of Windrunners. Shoe images courtesy of eBay and only-sneakers.ru.

Is that really a Windrunner sole…or something else?

But if you’re talking workrates, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski is a fascinating case study. Well regarded by NYC and Newark mobs as the hitman of choice, he was a steely eyed hulk of a man and a complete psychopath, but at least he was thorough. With a child killer as a younger brother and another brother killed at his alcoholic father’s hands, he was destined to turn out peculiar, but he channelled his blank approach to mayhem in a more profitable way. Testing crossbows on strangers to gauge effectiveness, killing prey with cyanide inhalers, videoing supposed rapists being eaten by rats, dressing up as a 6″5 homosexual to apparently evade detection and putting screwdrivers through spines to prevent escape, he was clearly a monster—and a wifebeater too—but he kept his day job a secret from his family. As a freelancer, he amassed a strong reputation that led to constant work. Let that be a lesson to you budding stylists, copy writers and designers out there—keep it thorough. Given his size, location and family life, his story must’ve entered ‘The Sopranos’ at pre-production stage in one way or another. On the HBO topic, their 1991 and 2001 interviews with Kuklinski are excellent. That blank face and subject matter is at odds with his colourful sweatshirt in the 1991 conversation—he’s a chilling character, and he’s in more standard prison attire for the 2001 chat, but seems marginally more relaxed.

If you’re caught up in notions of mobster glamour, Philip Carlo’s ‘The Ice Man: Confessions of a Mafia Contract Killer’ and ‘The Butcher: Anatomy of a Mafia Psychopath’ (based on the antics of Tommy “Karate” Pitera) are a good read. Kuklinski was apparently a little liberal with the truth, but it’s entertaining and terrifying nonetheless. Philip Carlo passed away late last year, but his book is the crux of a forthcoming film about “The Iceman” which would have been good with the long-rumoured Mickey Rourke lead (though if you’ve watched the chats, Gandolfini or Rip Torn a few years back could have nailed it), but now its rival production has the green light. Based on another book on the big man by Anthony Brunowith and the HBO specials, the usually unhinged Michael Shannon will be starring, with Benicio Del Toro as his mafia employer, Roy Demeo and James Franco as Robert “Mr. Softee” Pronge. Normally, I’d be sceptical that the film will ever materialise, but a test scene has appeared online with Shannon killing a non-Franco Mr. Softee (played by Michael Wincott). I’m looking forward to it. In the violent cinema stakes, Lee Tamahori’s ‘The Devil’s Double’ about Uday Hussein and his lookalike sounds like lurid fun, but ‘The Iceman’ has some serious potential.

This post was meant to be a rundown of what I saw on a brief Germanic tradeshow jaunt, but other than the Gourmet sneakers using Horween’s Cordovan leather, LVC’s new range (and that RRL influence via the new man in charge shows in a major way), Levi’s Made & Crafted and Supra’s plans for 2011, it was pretty underwhelming. Those tripping in France at the moment will be seeing the truly good stuff..

ROUGH TRADE

(BlackBerry blogging is back: I had to write this on a packed train with a woman and man behind me arguing about a fold-up bicycle)

For all the misery projected on here and Twitter, I actually like my job and the industry I’m in. I’m only salty that I saw it when it was fragmented, less regimented and a goldmine for someone to collate, repackage and regurgitate from a distance before I got involved in it. That’s not so say it wasn’t a cliquey, chummy, second-hand smoke zone in the years prior, but even stale ideas weren’t quite beaten into submission back then. Since coverage and retail have assimilated for me a little more (maybe with more emphasis on retail), so January means tradeshows.

Tradeshows are generally bad—as the name suggests (the word “trade” immediately sucks the joy out of anything), they’re guaranteed to lure a fair cross-section; from ruthless rag trade types to bloggers. A few years back, the Berlin Bread & Butter show seemed to be full of buyers and those who’d been dragged along out of brand obligation. It was a pretty serious affair. Now they seem to be something that people—beyond those exhibiting—seem to anticipate with some excitement. Sometimes people go to tradeshows for the fun of it. I’ll never understand that, You came here off your own back without even a single roll of the eyes? It’s like Randle McMurphy’s realisation that some of his fellow inmates are there of their own accord.

Bread & Butter Berlin is a well-run creation. That it towers over other Euro “street fashion” (sorry, just coughed up some blood there) fairs is a testament to that. On scale alone, you’re destined to blankly saunter into vast swathes of mediocrity, but few can anticipate the nightmarish realm of the Denim Hall, wherein brands you love retain their dignity by perching vaguely out of sight between vast hastily-erected temples of shit…heavily distressed, paneled bootcut creations, franchises you assumed dead revived by Euro entrepeneurs and presided over by bearded men with fanciful, unnecessary belt buckles and V-neck tees swooping so far you can see their belly buttons.

Then there’s a G-Star stand so vast that it would probably be visible from space. It’s at that point that you realise that you’re tunnel-visioned good fight to see authenticity and accuracy in the jeans you wear is an absolute irrelevance. Sometimes you need a wake-up call. For that reason—and that reason alone—I recommend spending time in the denim realm.

As far as streetwear goes, much of a tradeshow based around sneakers, tees and caps is effectively just a walk-in blog. When a boffin turns WordPress into a 3D realm, some of your bookmarks will replicate a streetwear tradeshow experience. Except where seven foot tall Americans once wandered around in tilted New Eras and matching Greedy Genius shoes hip-hop hugging as if they were out to smash a hetrosexual intimacy world record, wringing their hands during conversation like Ted DiBiase, things have smartened up. You’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a theme park themed entirely on moc-toed footwear, or if ‘Jurassic Park’s John Hammond used the amber of prehistoric brands to recreate another kind of monster. Things done changed, but the generic aura remains.

What concerns me is that people seem to be going there to be inspired and gauge future trends, but with a new wave of double-acts like the Nigel Cabourn x Eddie Bauer jacket or whatever Filson footwear double-feature is dropping, it’s all just feasting on its own intestines like the bearded cannibal at the end of ‘Antropophagus.’ There’s no shock-of-the-new in sight and containing it in one zone, you can almost see the same idea bouncing around from wall-to-wall. If the big guns are bland, how on earth will the trickle-down ripoffs manifest themselves over the coming months? The quick meetings and stop-and-chats even feel like hipster speed dating for collaborations, sales or business cards to groom the brand into freebies in the imminent future.

I still can’t quite fathom why anyone would buy a tradeshow sneaker or apparel tie-in—but hey, someone must buy those Hard Rock Café varsity jackets. Maybe it’s as a tradeshow memento of bromance after all those hugs and shoe compliments (‘We’ll always have Capsule”). Still, I can’t deny the social side once the show’s over for the day. And to reinforce that experiential point about visiting the denim hall for a reality check, I recommend seeing every brand you’ve ever enthused about in a factory farmed setting (being milked for free stickers and keyrings) as a form of hype brand aversion therapy.

Un-PC as it might be in current circumstances, I’d love to pay a visit to the Defence & Security Equipment International arms fair or the Shooting, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show in Vegas…it looks like they showcase some interesting items right there, and it would make an interesting departure from waxed cotton. If people are dressing like outdoorsmen, weaponry’s surely the only logical next step, right? And as a weary dealer is obliged to go and inspect bullets, pistol grip innovations and laser scopes, I wonder if—given the chance—he’d trade the Glocks for frocks on the tradeshow circuit.

SCATTERSHOT

It’s a scattershot blogging day because I’m feeling particularly unfocused. In an effort to avoid revisiting 2010, the first fortnight of 2011 has passed in a curious blur of meetings, follow-ups and forgotten follow-ups. The byproduct is that I’ve done far less than planned. So it’s a good thing that I’m not one of those tits who spent New Year’s Day merrily declaring that “2011 is my year!” and other such doomed boasts. At least the Criterion release of Brian De Palma’s ‘Blow Out’ is something to look forward to. Since the fanboy boom for creating fictional Criterion fan art (as seen here), I can pretty much anticipate what a sleeve might look like, and ‘Blow Out’ is no exception, but it captures the film’s feel, from that studio to Travolta’s sense of isolation in a severe situation. And if that wasn’t enough, go check Criterion’s alarmingly talented real-deal designer, Sam Smyth’s self-designed posters for his top 10 films of last year.

My friends Grace and Al have executed some strong film work that appeared this week. I’m linking rather than embedding to avoid this turning into some kind of clip show, and while I love zombies but couldn’t give a flying fuck about bikes, the mini-velodrome is very impressive indeed. There’s good scope for a pretty spectacular accident too. I always wanted to work on film, but it requires a level of patience that leaves me agitated. On a cinematic subject, Korea seems to know how to pump out vicious thrillers with flair. Kim Ji Woon’s ‘I Saw the Devil’ is a tremendous-looking film that forgoes logic and common sense in favour of a succession of brutal set pieces that mix and match horror, action and drama.

Choi Min Sik’s psycho might be one of the best serial killer characters of any film, with a remorseless, unhinged performance that’s at odds with his blank-faced pursuer, and after ‘Oldboy’ and ‘The Chaser’ I can’t help but note that Korean cinema favours a bludgeoning as preferred mode-of-carnage. Running at nearly 150 minutes (with some severe cuts), I loved this beautiful-looking but thoroughly dumb slab of very, very vicious fun. The clip below isn’t for sensitive souls (and it’ll probably last about another 24 hours on YouTube, but it’s a fight set piece to match the ‘Oldboy’s corridor and claw hammer fun. What happens when a friendly taxi driver picks up a serial killer when —out of sheer coincidence—there’s already a psychopath in the back seat? Stabby, well-shot mayhem commences…

It’s tradeshow season, so expect more XXXXXXXXX action than Soho in its sleazy heyday. Will someone unleash the next shit that drags the industry out of its current mire in Milan, Berlin or Paris? One relic of last year is this Fox news piece on Camo fabric production at Michigan’s Duro Textiles from last summer. I’ve been thinking about technical materials, and while I’ve yet to hear any solid proof of MultiCam’s effectiveness in current conflict, TenCate have got some amazing technologies in their roster—Armourtex is a serious application and Defender M’s long-established self extinguishing properties minimise burns. I heard tales of infrared eluding, bloodstain-absorbing lunacy in the labs of those fishing for military contracts. if market shellsuits circa. 1990 had an element of Defender M in the fabric mix, those apocryphal tales of badly dressed folk being seriously scorched wouldn’t exist. Camo production looks oddly hypnotic…

I’m convinced that hip-hop dumbed down by at least 20% this week. Gucci’s celebration of frozen dairy treats placed across his face for life was a dimwitted highlight, but Worldstar’s user-submitted gems are upping the goonery. Who exactly is The President, with his Jeezy and Rick Ross-alike delivery? He’s made several appearances on there, but his Twitter follow game is weak. “The President Buys A Building In TX, Counts 50K In Cash On Iphone In Response TO Haters + Pulls Out 713 Motorizing Custom Made Bentley & Diamond Flooded WhiteHouse Chain [User Submitted]” might be the funniest of all the video titles thus far. Where’s the logic in such audacious displays? Did anybody care enough to hate in the first place?

Worldstar’s payola-led business model creates its own rap realm that’s confined to the site. The President’s gimmick appears to be that he’s supposed to be a rich man who decided to rhyme on some Ted DiBiase shit, but his impending Jim Jones collaboration might get him coverage that isn’t sandwiched between crackheads getting walloped and J-Hood freestyles. If the President was keener to reassert how much cash he’s got, he’d make like Homer Simpson in his lottery fantasy (“Look closer, Lenny!”) and have himself gold-plated. It’s funny to see gutter-sounding folk like grimy whiteboy of the moment, Action Bronson operating on the other end of the scale— with superior results—at the moment too. Thank god for the launch of ego trip’s egotripland.com—it’s in its early stages at the moment, but those blogs have the potential to amaze. Edan and Daryl Jenifer haven’t commenced yet, but Dave Tompkins is already on the case, with an excellent Full Force piece.

 

Further proof that Tumblr can be used for good rather than mere self-indulgence arrives in the shape of the Essayist (“Aggregated long-form essays from the world’s best writers & publications”), which is a trove of amazing writing across all subjects—Natasha Vargas-Cooper’s ‘Hard Core’ is a personal pick of the selection, but it’s well worth diving in. The Documentarian (“Aggregating unknown documentaries and free video content to broaden yo’ fuckin’ horizons”) is a sister site to improve your year. The incredibly grim 1985 BBC2 40 Minutes entry on ‘The Outcasts’ biker gang is all types of awesome.

WHAT ‘THE BIG PAYBACK’ TAUGHT ME…

“Go read a book you illiterate son of a bitch and step up yo’ vocab.”

Having lived my life vicariously via the rap media for roughly two decades, I’ve developed that curious habit of picking up any tome with a vague mention of hip-hop culture. The result? Shelves heaving with hardback and paperback rap-related literature. I don’t regret a single purchase, but the good quality ratio is deeply askew. I respect Toop’s ‘Rap Attack’ but it’s a little dry and dated (and yes, I picked up versions 1, 2 and 3 for those extra chapters) and favour ‘Spraycan Art’ over ‘Subway Art,’ simply because I read it first and MODE 2 is that dude. My personal favourites are the dirt-digging drama of Ronin Ro’s possibly semi-fictional (who Brian Cross aka. B+ called, “a clown” on these very pages) ‘Have Gun Will Travel’ and ‘Gangsta,’ the aforementioned Mr. Cross’s ‘It’s Not About a Salary,’ ‘Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop’ by Jeff Chang, Brian Coleman’s ‘Rakim Told Me’ and ‘Check the Technique,’ both ‘Ego Trip…’ tomes, Cheo H. Coker’s ‘Unbelievable’ Biggie bio and now Dan Charnas’ ‘The Big Payback.’

There’s been histories of hip-hop, but who wants to hear some half-baked tale of gang violence quelled by dancing, the Sugarhill Gang, Run-DMC and other second, third and quadruple-hand smoke? The good stuff happened behind-the-scenes. To reinforce earlier sentiments, this is the best history of hip-hop ever written. The industry’s in flux now—Elliott Wilson at ‘Respect’ and Combat Jack at ‘The Source’s online operation are a reason to be optimistic. ‘Complex’ is bridging multiple gaps too. But as long as reaction videos and Twitter quotes are the norm, rap journalism won’t reach those Mind Squad glory days. Charnas creates a vast patchwork that cleverly overlaps each anecdote, resulting in perfectly pitched trivia.

Rap fans are hardcore gossips, and this’ll sate that appetite in some style, but those looking for superior writing, research and total enlightenment will be rewarded too. It’s a huge story of marketing, risks and exploitation, and the 600+ pages here ensure that Charnas has space to keep it thoro’ but it never turns arrid despite that phenomenal attention-to-detail. If Stacy Gueraseva’s fine ‘Def Jam Inc.’ whetted your appetite for smart writing, myth busting and information overload, Don just took it to the next level. Hyperbole? Yes. But it’s justified hyperbole.

Crucially—as rap marketing evolves digitally but critique dumbs down to a sizzurp crawl where four decades of painstaking progress and broken ground is written off by stoned YouTube commentators as being Freemasonry—we need a comprehensive history to piece together just how powerful hip-hop culture became. Magazine heads in particular will spontaneously combust at the tales of Shector and Mays’ meeting of minds (Charnas was an early Source scribe) and the trash-talking early days of ‘Vibe.’ It’s nice to see hip-hop get the book it always deserved. Those four years this book spent in development certainly weren’t wasted.

Here’s my ten favourite things I learnt from ‘The Big Payback’ (there’s much, much more where these came from)—

1. T La Rock worked in a pharmacy.

2. Ann Carli thought that Lyor Cohen was handicapped because he was “lumbering” and sounded like he had a speech impediment, thanks to his USA/Israel upbringing.

3. Russell Simmons dismissed any notion of Will Smith being the next Eddie Murphy in 1988 by announcing that, “He might be as big as Malcolm Jamal Warner.”

4. The adult film star that Rick Rubin dated was Melissa Melendez.

5. Kangol Kid from UTFO recorded a message on Jon Shecter’s parents’ answering machine with the lyrics, “Jon and Jane went to get a snack / But if you leave a message, they’ll call you right back / Take it from me, the leader of the pack.”

6. Ed Lover used to be a security guard. The initial ‘YO!…’ gig payed marginally more than he was getting each fortnight.

7. Timberland’s chief executive officer really did tell the New York Times that the urban market for their product was miniscule and that the target market was “honest working people.”

8. Phil Knight was one of SRC’s (Steve Rifkind Company) earliest clients, after recruiting them for the Chilly Tee release in 1993. He invited Rifkind and some of the crew to Beaverton and they learnt about global marketing from Nike’s team to add to their street marketing savvy.

9. Oliver Grant from Wu Tang aka. Power was integral to the birth and growth of Wu Wear. He wore a full Coca-Cola outfit accompanied by Barkley Nikes (Alpha Force IIs?) to woodworking class and got glue all over it. Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter was in the same class that day.

10. As part of a genius Chris Lighty-assisted move, 50 Cent’s ‘Formula 50′ Vitaminwater flavour is based on grape “quarter waters”—hence his ‘I Get Money’ brag, “I took quarter-water, sold it in bottles for two bucks.”

SICKBED BLOGGING

I’m bedridden in that unsympathetic netherworld between actually being ill and probably being able to get up and aimlessly wander around. Like is he? he is he isn’t maybe he actually is R&B failure Omarion after the London bombings said, pray for me. Man-flu is a killer. It means that this blog will be brief and half-cooked as it’s transmitting live from the duvet wherein I’ve been kept sane by Keith Richards’ autobiography, Bronson in ‘Deathwish III’ (the Lemsip of sickbed cinema) and the new Yelawolf and Trae track. Like a 24 hour bug, I have a tendency towards 24 hour obsessions triggered by a single remark, memory or paragraph. Even though Donald Cammell annoyed him back in the late ’60s and despite Donald’s suicide in 1996 (lucid and pain-free for approximately 45 minutes despite a bullet in the head), Keith isn’t particularly sympathetic,

“I met Cammell later in L.A, and said, you know I can’t think of anybody, Donald, that’s ever got any joy out of you, and i don’t know if you’ve ever got any joy out of yourself. There’s nowhere else for you to go, there’s nobody. The best thing you can do is take the gentleman’s way out. And this was at least two or three years before he finally topped himself.”

The moral there is to not annoy Keef. Did Donald actually care? Probably not. It’s a shame we don’t get more like Cammell making movies. I’ve written about him here in relation to ‘Performance’ but I still think there’s a great value in revisiting the frugal handful of films he also made (of which I get the impression that 1986’s ‘White of the Eye’ may have been his favourite due to a minimum of tampering. It’s little surprise that Cammell hung out with Mr. Kenneth Anger (he even appears in Anger’s ‘Lucifer Rising’) but despite being a ‘Hollywood Babylon’ series superfan—and yes, I’m aware that they’re factually questionable—the recent Blu-ray acquisition of Anger’s short films reminded me that I often prefer his work in theory rather than practise. Cammell’s other works, like the bigger budget ‘Demon Seed’ and the butchered then reassembled ‘Wild Side’ complete a quadrilogy of experimental, beautifully shot movies that are arty, unique and very watchable. Totally linear? Nope, can’t help you there, but there’s nothing else like these out there.

I get the impression that Cammell couldn’t help being a pain in the arse…he just saw something different out there, resulting in these curious mixes of the occult, sexuality and violence (again, it’s easy to see how he and Anger may have seen eye-to-eye). But his secret weapon on three of the four films of note that appeared was a former teen actor, typecast as a hood – ‘Rebel Without a Cause’s Frank Mazzola on editing duties. Frank is the toughest character in ‘Rebel…’ yet he’s one of the most intuitive editors in cinema history, understanding Cammell’s fondness for the unorthodox entirely. Cammell befriended Marlon Brando in hospital after Brando was hospitalized for scorching his testicles with coffee and they plotted a film and book together (‘Fan-Tan’ was released as a novel almost a decade after Cammell’s death and a year after Brando’s). It might be a cliché (something Donald seemed adverse to) but Donald Cammell’s life played out like one of his films. It’s a shame that his mooted film starring William Burroughs as a Supreme Court Justice kidnapped by terrorists and taken to Africa was scrapped because it required a budget that would top that of ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ but it’s well worth investigating his work.

Mazzola was a strong presence onscreen

A superior BBC ‘Transmission’ documentary on the man from 1997 ‘The Ultimate Performance’ (that even includes a substantial appearance by James Fox, who may or may not have found religion because of Cammell’s work) is on YouTube now. Watch. Get inspired. While you’re there, watch the Kenneth Anger ‘Hollywood Babylon’ from BBC’s ‘Arena’ from several years earlier too. They really don’t commission them like that anymore.