Sheena McDonald on use and abuse ofa 4-letter word.
It's been an interestingtime. g lhalf-ateaslater. ; No—itwasn‘tout f ofanykindof 3 affected solidarity with the undernourished. nor yet a ﬂamboyant challenge to the animal rights activitists It was just a mistake. There it was. clinging to the underside of the cube ofcheese l’d popped into the old cakehole. Mm. Maybe you‘ve done it yourself. If not. a word. It‘s one of those experiences -- like pouring halfa bottle ofvodka into a funnel connected to a nose-hose leading directly to your stomach - which you don‘t have to personally undertake to learn from. No. no ~ Ihaven't poured half a bottle of vodka. etc — the point is. avoid trying two things at once. particularly ifone of them is eating. The other one was. on this occasion. watching television. Not incompatible activities. you would think. But I was rapt beyond sensory concentration. Here's why.
I was watching - - and listening to - Tony Harrison reading his poem V. Maybe you caught it ~ or its first broadcast. when the forces for censorship failed to stop its transmission. You‘ll remember that stushie. It was all about language. and kin to that continuing debate about radio drama: exactly how many swear-words. four-letter words and generally taboo syllables and phonemes can be allowed per Monday Play or Afternoon Theatre. context (always) permitting'.> In this particular case. you'll remember. Harrison was responding. immediately and passionately. to the desecration of the family headstone. His poem is a dialogue. in a bleak landscape of today. between himself and the ‘skin‘ who defends the vandalism — like an updated. or perverted imitation of ()wen‘s Strange Meeting. It is well-written. The images are true. it seemed to me. The rhythms r as Harrison reads them 0 of their place. And the faithfulness to the rhetorical inadequacy of the skin was all too exact for me. Yes. yes. I would always defend his right to write. No.
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no — it neither subverts nor depraves the listener. But it depressed this listener considerably. It‘s nothing to do with freedom. or reaction. It‘s to do with the eventual exhaustion one experiences withstanding the fact that the worst term of abuse is agreed to be ‘cunt‘. This is not a bad word — even though 1 know I'm stretching my editor‘s tolerance by printing it. It's a word which specifically and unequivocally denotes a woman’s genital area — there is no secondary meaning. no blurring. It is not a word used by doctors. It is perhaps a word used by lovers. It is certainly a word used by haters. vilifiers. scoffers. And the implication is plain. There is no better way to express your contempt for another than to define them as that most secret. most sacred but depe rsonalized part of a woman. Don't be paranoid — you say — Don’t be (worse than ‘cunt'll ‘feminist‘! What about men? It's the same for their secret. sacred parts! Oh yeah? Well. why didn't Tony Harrison choose ‘dickhead‘ as his emblematic and endlessly-repeated sweary-word? Because it doesn’t carry that great load of scorn. Because it doesn't offend so well. And that's what depresses me. In identifying the root and expression of a boy‘s hate. Harrison is complicit. His aim is sound enough — to ruffle. outrage. stir. provoke guilt. But why -— again - at the expense of half the world‘s population? Oh my. it’s wearying— and cost the life of an innocent androgenous Slater. . None of which is what I meant to bang on about. I meant to rage against the non-existence of crash-barriers along treacherous grassy miles of that central sward that divides the M8. There's a few. but not enough — as you'll have noticed if you were suddenly faced. as l was. by a hurtling-towards-you 90mph blunt instrument. effortlessly leaping the thin green belt. I lived to tell the tale — and ram! You heard it here first! Male driver'.’ Oh. come now! They‘re not all bad. One of them grew up to be William Shakespeare: happy birthday Bilbo! Unless the plays were actually written by Anne . . .? Yes. an interesting time. .
Despite the release of a new single. Sidewalking. one of theirbestlor ages. the Jesus and Mary Chain's current situation is very much one in which they are reflecting on their achievements to date.
Theirthird album release. Barbed Wire Kisses. is a compilation of B-sides and outtakestrom their two ‘proper' albums. Psychocandy and Darklands. with two new tracks and a version of their debut single. Upside Down. also included. Despite their inability to conform with the expected Top Forty sound. the Mary Chain have had continued singles success. with April Skies and Some Candy Taiking both reaching the Top Twenty. Especially with the release of new material on single.l wondered why the (seemingly) sudden retrospection?
'The compilation was an idea we had about a year ago‘. says vocalist. Jim Reid. ‘At first we didn't know whether it would be an album length record. orjust an extended twelve inch. Essentially. it is a way of getting people to listen to the 8-sides. which we feel are better than people give them credit for. Ithink people tend to ignore the tracks just because they are 8-sides. but I feel thatsome of our best stuff has been on the B-sides.‘
‘Putting the tracks on album is not only a way of drawing attention to them,‘ he continues. ‘but italso Ieavesthem in a more lasting form. We've always had a differentapproach when doing B-sides. andl thinkthat's why they're special. You can take more risks doing a B-side. and I think we’re more relaxed and confident inthat situation. A lot of people have commented on the gap between Psychocandy and Darklands in terms of style.
and I think that this album is perhaps a clue to that. Ifyou like it is oursecond album coming outthird.’
Along with the album and single comes not a tour- but a one-off show at Barrowland on 27 April. Why?
'I suppose it stemmed from uslhinking thatwe don'treally do enough gigs.’ continues Jim. “We always enjoy playing in Glasgow anyway. The last time was quite difficult because it was the first tour we had done foragesl think we should have done the European showsfirst. because we did some ofour best evergigsthere. especially one in Paris. I would love to have done that in Glasgow. or London!
'I think we will probably be concentrating on the noisierstutt at Barrowland.‘ he says. “We might use more feedback. and play some of the B-sides and things. We are also auditioning some drummers- but I don’tknow "we‘ll find someone in time. It is really difficult choosing someone. because you have got to travel in a minibus with them for months. so you have to get on. We find that all the drummers we get on with are useless. and that we can't get on with any of the good drummers. . .'
Once upon a time. Bruce Robinson. the Oscar- nominated screenwriter of The Killing Fields. was a struggling young actor and pretty-faced participant in London's Swinging Sixties. Now he has parleyed some of those experiences into the hilarious Wifhnail And I. which also marks his debut asa director. ‘I didn'tplan that I'd direct it and anyway. the hard part is writing the sonofabitch. If you know it works on the page then it will work on the screen. To
Jesus and Mary Chain
actually transmit what you feel. especially in comedy. is a bloody difficult thing to do. it's a comedy of generation. ofacumulation of character. It's a film that relies on knowing who these two people are. to hopefully get laughs off them. There's no “my wife wentto Jamaica“.'
The film follows the fortunes of the eponymous 'l‘ (Paul McGann) and the manically dignified Wifhnail (Richard E. Grant) as they move from the living hangoverofa degenerate Camden flattoa rejuvenative holiday in a Penrith cottage with hilarious complications along the way. Robinson is full of respect for the actors who had to interprethis work. 'I was an actorand there are scenes I couldn't beginto play. Anyone giving less than total reality to itwould be embarrassing. I had incredible help from the actors and technicians on lhisfilm because I don't know my arse from my elbow technically.‘
The international success of Wifhnail might herald a long-term future for Robinson as a director though he seemsto regard the task as a necessary evil to protect his work rather than a definite calling. ‘lam a writer and not afilm director. I think afilm director is someone who gets sent a script from out of the blue and then directs it and. in that sense. lwould never be a film director. because I would never. could never. do anyone
else‘s work because i wouldn‘t know what it meant. Dn Wifhnail Iknew exactly what it was about because I wrote it.‘ Robinson begins his new film this month. A scathing satire on yuppiedom. it is entitled How To GetAhead in Advertising and will star Daniel Day-Lewis and Rachel Ward. Robinson is
set to write and direct.