by Eamonn Murphy
SF Crows Nest
January 3, 2012
This book contains a wide range of Moorcock’s non-fiction, mostly from the last ten years or so but with a few earlier pieces. There is an introduction by Iain Sinclair and an editor’s forward by Allan Kausch. These are followed by two odd pieces, “Scratching A Living” which is a sort of day in the life of a writer and “A Child’s Christmas in the Blitz” which is an interesting autobiographical essay. Moorcock, it seems, was reading Edgar Rice Burroughs and George Bernard Shaw before he started school. Many modern youths can’t read them after they leave. That’s progress. Following this, the content is divided into six categories as follows: London, other places, absent friends, music, politics and introductions and reviews.
The section on London held no great interest for me because I am neither a Londoner nor particularly in love with our capital, though it is undoubtedly one of the great cities of the world. However, the title essay, “London Peculiar” had a bit more autobiography and it struck me that Moorcock has led an interesting life and should write it down.
The section on other places consisted of diary entries between 2001 and 2010, nine in all. They were originally published in the Financial Times and are interesting on world events and the geography of Moorcock’s life. He has homes in Paris, France and Austin, Texas and makes valid comparisons of the health services in the two places. Apparently Wal-Mart sells do-it-yourself wound sewing kits because even skilled American workers cannot afford routine medical care. Oh say, can you see the fun of it! Like most English people I do not anticipate that more free market in the NHS is going to be of much benefit to me, though the big corporations, accountants, lawyers and insurance companies are no doubt rubbing their hands with glee. Lest US readers go forth and lynch Moorcock, I should add that he is full of praise for ordinary Americans, adores the country and describes it in loving detail. It’s just the health service he’s not keen on.
The absent friends section is testament to one of the problems of living quite a long time: your friends die. Here Moorcock pays tribute to J.G. Ballard, Ted Carnell, Thomas M. Disch, Arthur C. Clarke and others. Clarke, it seems, was nicknamed “the ego” since childhood and threw “parties” where tea was served and home movies of the great barrier reef were shown to bored, sober guests. Apparently everyone knew he was gay but he was an easy-going, loveable soul and everyone liked him. They just tried to avoid his parties. Thomas M Disch, we learn, hated Phillip K. Dick for his hippie guru pose which he thought false. Disch committed suicide. It is probably the case that highly strung artistic individuals are more likely to perish through drink, drugs or suicide than us ordinary mortals. It kind of goes with the territory.
Music and politics are brief sections but mildly interesting. “Living With Music: A Playlist” has some surprises, the classical mostly. He cites the albums “American Beauty” and “Workingman’s Dead” by the Grateful Dead as favourite listening. For some reason I have always been under the impression that the Dead produced an awful racket but these albums (I sampled them) are almost as melodic as the Beach Boys. Moorcock is also a big Woody Guthrie and Mozart fan.
Introductions and reviews is the longest part of the book and too extensive to go over in detail. It features the obvious Science Fiction and fantasy writers: Leigh Brackett, Philip K. Dick, Aldous Huxley, HG Wells, Mervyn Peake and a few oddities like Robert Crumb. There are also reviews of some London literati. Having been around a long time and mixed in with the London avant-garde, music and literary scenes for almost as long, Moorcock knows a lot of people in the arts. He has been or is friends with Iain Sinclair, Peter Ackroyd, Alan Moore, JG Ballard, Mervyn Peake and many others. He’s not quite as fruitful a name dropper as Gore Vidal, who knew really famous people like Jack Kennedy, Orson Wells and Tennessee Williams but he does okay. When literary cliques review each other’s books and praise each other to the skies it can look suspicious and the ‘must read’ lists and reviews that come out every Christmas and summer holiday are always mocked in the English satirical magazine “Private Eye.” This is too cynical. I prefer to believe that these literary cliques are friends because they like each other’s work, not friends pretending to like each other’s works for promotional reasons.
To appreciate everything on display here, one’s tastes would have to be as wide ranging as Moorcock’s and mine are not. I certainly share his love of pulp fiction and graphic novels but I am not really into the high flown literary stuff or not the modern’s anyway. Moorcock likes low, alternative and high art but has little interest in the middlebrow stuff, which he would probably call mediocre. It’s hard to imagine him settling down with the latest John Grisham.
This is probably the sort of book to keep by the bedside and dip into occasionally. Having a deadline to meet, I read the pieces in commercial breaks while watching, on the television, crime scene investigators at various locations across the United States. However you do it, it’s an entertaining and enlightening gaggle of stuff. Moorcock is many things but he is never boring.