Dreaming of Brixton
Martin Millar, the 36-year-old tattooed punk-hippy and Brixton’s latterday Shakespeare, talks to Jane Cornwell about his new novel.
The insular world of inner-city bohemia has fired the imagination of many a would-be novelist. It might be hard to write objectively when you live in the eye of the storm. but one author continues to capture the urban picaresque in true cult style. Martin Millar left Glasgow at sixteen to plunge head ﬁrst into Brixton's alternative world of dreadlocked musicians and government-sponsored artists. Twenty years later, he‘s still hanging out with the jugglers, clowns and buskers. If there is a rising generation of literary brat- packers (which he doubts), Millar doesn‘t want to know. He loathes the literary establishment because he says they ignore his paperback publications. Neither does he know any writers. ‘Though ifl did,‘ he states, ‘I would challenge them to Sega video games. l'm convinced l’d beat any other author in the country.‘
Millar pours his eclectic obsessions — Shakespeare, feminism, Greek mythology and the minutiae of pop culture — into novels loaded with understatement, wit and street satire. He won‘t wear the ‘magic realism' label, insisting his works are, ‘just real books with fantasy bits in them'. Confessing a love for Jane
Austen‘s command of language and Marvel comics, he says his main interest is. ‘telling a good story’. His ﬁrst novel, Milk Sulphate and Alby Starvation, may have been ignored by the literary press but was seized upon by the music press due to Millar’s determined hustling. in fact City Limits magazine took the unprecedented step of billing his second book — Lux The Poet — as Single of the Week. With the media now wise to Millar‘s popularity, even the
BBC are planning to serialise book number three, Ruby and the Stone Age Diet. And all, with the exception of The Good Fairies of New York, take place in South London.
As does the latest, Dreams of Sex and Stogediving (Fourth Estate £5.99). Elﬁsh, a compulsive liar and shoplifter, lives for her thrash metal band Queen Mab, named after Shakespeare’s fairy deliverer of dreams in Romeo and Juliet. Mirroring the main story is a sub-plot involving a burgeoning video- game: a raft carrying Cleopatra, Botticelli, Bomber Harris. Mick Ronson and other cultural icons hurtles toward the edge of the world. Their dreams constantly flutter up to the moon. a concept appropriated from Pope's Rape of the Lock. ‘This is a symptom ofthe society in which i live,‘ says Millar. ‘Often these people don’t carry out their ambitions. But Elﬁsh sticks to her ideals and l have a lot of sympathy for her, although in real life she‘d be pretty
Millar Is In the rare position oi tackling subcultural liiestyles and turning them into serious literature.’
Where Millar’s male characters are all species of wimp, his female creations are strong and capable. ‘Elﬁsh‘s independence is my unsubtle attempt to redress the imbalance of society,‘ he says. Millar is aware of being in the rare position oftackling sub- cultural lifestyles and turning them into serious literature. ‘1 present this as a positive way to live,’ he continues, ‘and so critics tend to overlook my books and review the ones about couples in Hampstead. Which is ﬁne, but assumes that writing about squatters in Brixton isn‘t worthwhile.’
Dreams of Sex and Stagediving (Fourth Estate £5. 99). Martin Millar will be at Waterstoneis, 13—14 Princes Street. Edinburgh on Thurs 9 June at 7pm.
:- Kent’s state
Back in the days when rock stars mattered because they were rock stars, not wheels in a corporate sponsorship machine, llick Kent was chronicling their exploits tor the Ilew Musical Express. Kent was the king at British rock writers, sharing his idols’ tour buses, conildences and, eventually, drug dependencies.
Ills long-awaited best-oi, The Dark Ste", bristles with intelligence, insight and sharp writing. Rather than lust pulling old articles out oi the tiles and slapping them together, he has substantially rewritten and updated the pieces to make a series oi proilles oitheartiststhathave mattered to him the most. The end result he sees as being closer to lirell Marcus’s Mystery Train or Michael ilerr’s Dispatches than a straight anthology.
‘It’s The Dark Stuii,’ he declares, ‘lt’s
Kick Kent: Once you get caught in the music business you're already detached
its own thing. llorninally, it’s a best-oi. It iunctions on that level because that’s what they wanted. it I’d said, “I want to do a book about rock ’n’ roll and the way that you have to be to
make it, what it does to your liie when
you make it,” they would have said, “I don’t think so." So I subverted the best-oi thing to come up with the one book that I really wanted to write more than anything else.’
The Dark Stuii makes a smooth transition from the certiilable - Brian Wilson, Iioky Erickson, Syd Barrett - to the survivors - like Neil Young and Iggy Pop - who garnered a degree oi wisdom irom their years in the public eye. It does, though, seem to add fuel to the notion that you have to be somewhat detached irom reality to make classic rock ’n’ roll.
‘Once you get caught in the music business,’ counters Kent, ‘you’re already detached irom reality, you’re someone else’s iantasy object, and you have people who do all the normal day-to-day things ior you.’ And it’s not lost drugs that exacerbate the problem. ‘I think with every one oi these people It’s all rooted in their childhood,’ he says. ‘That’s where all the instabilities start.’
Kent had his own lnstabllities, starting in 1974. At the top oi his proiesslon, bored and convinced oi his own invulnerabllity, he deliberater cultivated a heroin habit. ‘I honestly thought I could go through It in two years,’ he says, dryly. ‘it took iourteen.’
Eventually, he rid himseli oi iour separate addictions and became active again. Currently, he lives In Paris, working on the pop show Rapldo, and rarely, ii ever, conducts interviews. ‘But I will again, when l iind people that are interesting enough. There are still people I’d like
. to interview. I’d like to do Prince, but
It’ll never happen. Michael Jackson, at course, but that would be rather a limited conversation. There’s a lot oi talented people, don’t get me wrong, but there’s not a lot oi people who’ve got the blend oi talent, weirdness and charisma that I like.’ (Alastair Mabbott)
The Dark Stuii is published by Penguin at £9.99.
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