That Cat’s Something I Can’t Explain

I would describe this as essentially a Bond theme about a Siamese cat. I’m a big fan of Syd Barrett, but have a deep pool of loathing for Roger Waters. I would call it an irrational hatred, but I feel like I could come up with plenty of reasons for my loathing. My mother is a big Pink Floyd fan, so I’ve had plenty of exposure over my lifetime to fuel it.

I also find a lot of the discourse about Syd’s withdrawal from fame quite irritating. Like he’s clearly a man who was plagued with a lot of mental and physical health problems, but a lot of the things you see written about him act like he was extra crazy for backing off from rock star fame and going back to his modest little house in Cambridge (I have seen it, it’s not exciting at all). Like “you lived the dream, you must have something really wrong with you to not want to do it any more”. Maybe that wasn’t his dream at all, even in the modest stages of Pink Floyd’s fame before they became a giant business colossus after he left. His songs are full of joy and spontaneity and just the pleasure of being creative, and I imagine that level of money focus would have totally crushed that.

Also, in terms of joy-crushing, I spent far too long in London around people who thought Hardcore Was the One True Music and anything too far from HxC was weak, suspect and uncool. Liking Syd Barrett was something I did that was apparently particularly uncool (also-see Nick Drake, Jeff Buckley, Shirley Collins). Imagine having that little joy in life.

On a more cheerful note, my MA supervisor, George Hardie, drew the cover for Dark Side of the Moon. At the time he did it for a lump sum of I think about £50 (he did a lot of other album covers too at that time). Imagine the riches if he’d got a royalty percentage. I don’t think he really cares though, he has had a successful and happy life as an artist. Of course the best gift to get him is the worst bad knockoff Dark Side of the Moon merch you can find. Someone gave him some hideous boxer shorts of his own artwork and he thought they were hilarious. He also collects rulers, especially useless ones that have something wrong with them. I got him a silicone one from a Salvador Dali exhibition that was too flexible to actually rule a line with, but the holy grail I was looking for was a really bad Dark Side of the Moon ruler. I never did find one. A+ MA supervisor, even if my scruffy lines and love of scribbling sometimes made him despair.

I also used to have a beautiful Siamese cat called Oscar. Or perhaps I should say he decided I was his person. He was actually my mum’s cat and lived with her, but was very clear on the fact that he considered himself to be my cat, and was really quite annoyed that I didn’t live in the house. He tried his best to be haughty, aloof and magnificent, but was really just a big fluff who lived for belly rubs (and had a very plush velvety belly). Sadly he died last year of a tumour, which Siamese cats are prone to.

Ponder this to get nearer to nothing

When I wrote the 50 Things About Me entry a little while ago, I started creating a playlist of 50 favourite songs. It got unwieldy and didn’t flow well though, so I gave up. Instead I’ll write a little bit every so often about songs from the list.

The Van Pelt are not famous or well-known outside a small niche. The singer/song-writer  Chris Leo’s brother Ted Leo is much more well-known, and bass player Toko Yasuda has had success over the years playing with Enon, Blonde Redhead and St Vincent, but they never hit the big time. Instead they released two quietly treasured albums in the mid-90s (Sultans of Sentiment and Stealing From Our Favourite Thieves) and then disbanded- they’ve released a collection of sessions that were intended for a third album (Imaginary Third) and done the odd reunion tour (I was lucky enough to catch one in London-it was a very special evening) but I’m guessing only a small selection of my readers will know them.

They can be loosely classed in the post-hardcore genre, but they used the sound to create something with space, sparseness and a sort of philosophical intensity as well as emotional. I guess you could compare them to Modest Mouse but less frantic, or Slint but less searing.

The song references the Zen Buddhist story of Nansen killing a cat- from sweepingzen.com 

“One day at Nansen’s temple in old China, the monks of the eastern and western halls were arguing over a cat. Maybe they were arguing about which residence the cat gets to live in. The eastern people wanted it with them, or the western people wanted it with them, or neither of them actually wanted it, since the cat demanded a lot of attention and during zazen it would curl up on their laps which disturbed their concentration. Or maybe they were just arguing about whether the cat had buddha nature or not, or debating what is a cat anyway? Zen monks can come up with an argument about anything! You’d think they would have better things to do in a Zen temple than argue over cats, but that’s what they were doing on this particular occasion. And when Nansen, their teacher, saw this he held up the cat and said, “If you can express something, it won’t be killed.” The group had no reply so Nansen cut the cat in two.

Later in the day, Nansen’s great disciple Chaochou, who liked to talk about dogs, came back to the temple. Nanchuan brought up the incident and asked for his response. Chaochou immediately took off his sandals, put them on his head and left. Nanchuan said, “If you had been here you could have saved that cat.” Chaochou brought forth a true expression and his teacher seems to have approved it”.

One interpretation of the story it that it’s supposed to illustrate the dangers of being too detached, too enlightened, unable to actually engage with the world, too attached to rhetoric and theory rather than action. Another interpretation is the opposite- that you need to detach cause and effect and action on the world, and stop trying to analyse and intellectualise to achieve true enlightenment.

Chris Leo was brought up Catholic, and rejected it, but he doesn’t seem to have taken to Zen Buddhism or detaching from the world at an intellectual distance either. Ponder this to get nearer to Nothing. Nothing stinks. I guess I can relate. It’s easy to be an observer until you wonder if you exist, but it probably doesn’t do you any good.

Here are the lyrics:
There it is, plain and simple.
It destroyed itself without any of my slander.
This is the lunacy by which we kneel.
This is the doublespeak by which we kill.
This is the inertia that keeps tradition feared.
This is the absurdity by which we walk barefoot with shoes on our heads.
Ponder this to get nearer to Nothing.
On top of the world, think about it, there’s Nothing.
An unseasoned meal, monotone spirits, routine homily.
Nothing has never been clearer.
So kill a cat to keep logic at bay, then eat my body’s finest and fell me how it tastes.
Is it Nothing too?
Does it stink like Nothing?
Does it poison like Nothing?
(copyright Chris Leo)

Blogs -vs- zines

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People who don’t make or read them much themselves sometimes ask me why I still make zines, even though the internet exists, and the world is becoming more and more digitally-focused, and I have this blog. In short, the answer is for the same reason I still have hundreds of records and books, and develop black and white film at home, even though I have an ipod, spotify subscription, e-reader and two digital cameras, and I’m far from a luddite: I feel the physical medium offers me something that I don’t get from the digital version.

I always have the urge to document things. At home I have loads of scrapbooks with things like flyers, tickets, packaging etc (you can see one here) dating back to 2002. They’re not particularly private though, and friends are welcome to leaf through them when they visit. I’ve got some art/creative activity book type diaries where you have to draw things or do word association or whatever, which I fill out when I feel like. I use instagram a lot to take pictures of small details or objects (not so much for people, and I’m not sure why, I’d hope it’s because I’m enjoying their company more than fiddling with my phone- I’m very much a subscriber to phones away when you’re in company).

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Fanzine Ynfytyn

 

My zine, Fanzine Ynfytyn, is named after a song by Welsh language post-punk band Datblygu (“Develop”). The name could be construed as either “Fanzine Idiot”, “Idiot Fanzine” or “Idiot’s Fanzine”. People either look at the name with bafflement, go “uh, is it Welsh in some way?” or are pleased because they know the song (those people get a free copy). In some ways I regret giving it a name that so many people struggle to pronounce or understand, but I’m on issue 22 now, so they’ll just have to get used to it. When I started it, I only expected to give a few copies to some friends who were already familiar with the song, so it wasn’t really a concern (I also had a mini collage zine called “Pobble Eh Come?” like a really mis-spelt version of the soap opera). Seeing as one of those people was a fellow language student penfriend who I had a running joke with of us mangling Welsh and German together to make one überbendigedich language, I wasn’t too worried about the palatability of the name. I was never expecting to get to issue 22, and have sold or traded hundreds of copies of some of the back issues and have them in libraries and academic collections. I was surprised I got to more than a couple of issues to be honest.

I’m not Welsh, and didn’t go to school in Wales, but I have a fairly decent passive grasp of the language (I’d struggle to carry on a conversation). I have some relatives who are native Welsh speakers (they’re relatives by marriage, but their son is the same age as my sister’s son, so we used to see a fair bit of them), and more importantly, I spent my teenage years listening to the Super Furry Animals and Gorky’s Zygotic Mynci, bands who did songs in both English and Welsh.

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Hundertwasser

Every so often I like to write on here about things I like, and why I like them. I’ve (finally) been finishing my zine about Vienna, and there’s a section about Hundertwasser in there, but I didn’t really have enough space to say everything that I wanted to say, and in a b&w zine obviously you totally miss out on the colours, which are a major part of his work, so here is a longer thing about him and his work. I’ve visited the Kunsthaus/Hundertwasserhaus in Vienna quite a few times, and I wrote about one of my visits here. I first came across his work in 2001, when I was 16/17, and bought a £3 book from a discount shop because it looked interesting from a quick flick through. I’m glad I did! All the pictures in this entry are either taken by me, or come from hundertwasser.at. I don’t feel like I’ve really caught  my exact favourites here, but collecting images from lots of different sources and making sure they were all credited properly would have taken a long, long time. Here’s an overview of some things.

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