David, Vi and me

I don’t remember when I first came across David Bowie but it was probably on Top of the Pops, as it was for most of my generation.

This would have been in the very early seventies, and in order to understand the impact Bowie had you have to know a little bit about my life and those of the people around me.

suedeheadsI lived on a large council estate built to house the bombed out overspill of blitzed towns like London, Glasgow and Portsmouth. Our heroes were often footballers, but more often football hooligans. My first memory of wanting to achieve a specific ‘look’ was wanting to be a suedehead (this being the end of ‘skinhead’). I wanted monkey boots, a denim jacket, a feather cut and red braces.

My father was a no-nonsense, ex-forces, manual worker, who I’d followed around the world with my mother until illness forced him back onto Civvy Street and a council house.

I went from a good junior school to a bad comprehensive and everything changed for the worse. I got bullied, my clothes didn’t fit, I had few friends. My comprehensive was staffed by disinterested teachers, and less interested children. We weren’t being schooled to succeed in anything other than staying off the dole queue.

After five years of comprehensive education, a tenth of my school mates ended up doing time, a third joined the Army, Navy or RAF. and the rest were employed in the Naval dockyard.

Top of the Pops was a programme I was both desperate to watch, and anxious to avoid be noticed watching. My father used Top of the Pops as an opportunity to vent his homophobia at every opportunity, while my mother seemed only interested in whether bands wore suits (she therefore approved of The Jam, just).

To my Dad, Marc Bolan, Steve Harley, Freddie Mercury, and especially David Bowie, were ‘poofs and weirdos’. My Dad hadn’t even been a rock and roll fan. His music was Frankie Laine and my mother liked the Light Programme on the BBC.

On the other hand, although I was rather excited by my suedehead and bootboy friends, it was not a world into which I fitted. I liked drawing and singing, dressing in my mother’s heels and putting on make up, reading books and listening to a huge stash of sixties pop singles on a Dansette record player given to me by my aunt (who was only a few years older than me).

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Because my parents both worked several poorly paid jobs, I was often left in the care of my Grandmother, Vi, who was, compared to them, liberal and understanding. Not only did she teach me to knit and sew, but she knew Harvey from the Glitter Band (who she’d served as a teenager in the Coop) and Adrian Street (right), the outrageous, be-glittered wrestler.

She’d take me to see wrestling bouts at the Theatre Royal Portsmouth, or the Guildhall.

We’d have front row seats, and after the bouts she’d take me backstage where Jackie Pallo and Kendo Nagasaki would shout “hello Vi, is that your little grandson?” and pat me on the head with hands the size of baseball gloves.

She let me watch Top of the Pops without comment, and saw glam rock for what it really was – good old British variety with great tunes and humour in spades. She laughed when she watched ToTP, but she did it in an affectionate way.

After nagging her about David Bowie, Nan who took me to a record shop in Southsea to buy Space Oddity. It wasn’t the original release but a maxi-single released in 1975, with two songs on the b-side; Changes and Velvet Goldmine. The three songs on this record changed everything.

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Those three songs led me to a greatest hits album; ChangesOneBowie, and to a second hand paperback copy of The Man who fell to Earth by Walter Tevis, and every interview with Bowie in every magazine I could find.  Bowie seemed to represent and vindicate not only my confused sexuality, but also my feelings of alienation in terms of my gender and personality. If Bowie didn’t fit in then it didn’t matter that I didn’t fit in. In fact it made it cooler.

The interviews I read with Bowie in the music papers (and there were six of them published EVERY week in the UK in the seventies) were like recommended reading and listening lists. So I was introduced to the work of Mott the Hoople, Lou Reed and the Velvets, Andy Warhol, Nico, Kraftwerk, Iggy and the Stooges, New York Dolls, Roxy Music, Eno and Fripp.  And from there to punk, krautrock, disco and beyond.

Later, when Bowie dressed as not one but three different women in the Boys Keep Swinging promo video, I knew I was correct to follow and keep following Bowie.

Outside my family, Bowie is the ONLY constant in my life. Outside of people I actually know, Bowie has been the most important person in my life.

Interestingly I never saw him play live. I was always too frightened that he’d disappoint. And I had my own Bowie and I was happy with that. I didn’t want to share him with anyone else in some sort of mass worship experience.

Anyway, I’m going to miss him, though I have him with me in the person I am. Bowie runs through me like my own blood.

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My books of 2015 … the rest

#2 Not that kind of girl by Lena Dunham
LenaDunhamI shouldn’t like this book, but I do, just as I love Dunham’s TV series Girls, and her movie Tiny Furniture. What’s that all about?

I’ll be open about one thing. I do find Lena Dunham particularly hot. Is that wrong? She’s funny, intelligent, politically liberal (and engaged), interestingly dressed, frequently naked.

Of course I fancy her!

But I also loved the book because it was recommended to me by real-life girlfriends who had found it inspiring and said it reflected their own lives. As much of Dunham’s work, it’s about that period between leaving school and starting your adult life. And the friends, and the shit ushering jobs, and the attempts to write something meaningful. Going to your friends’ piss poor drama performances, or derivative art exhibitions. Their bad bands. Their poorly attended club nights.

I laughed out loud a lot when I read Not That Kind of Girl. Because I recognised my own life and that of my friends at that stage of our development. And that, more than anything, is why I love Lena.

Check out her blog, Lenny, by the way. It’s an excellent daily reader.

 

#3 Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture by Carol Queen
CarolQueenA delightful treatise on queer life, and a book that offers another way of living, one that is about self-definition, personal autonomy and pleasure.

Carol Queen managed to put into words something I’d been struggling with my whole life – why, if my culture is queer, my politics are queer, my friends are queer and my art is queer, I am defined by who I’m sleeping with at any given moment?

 

#4 King Kong Theory by Virginie Despentes
Essays on rape, gender, sexuality, and punk rock by the writer of Baise-Moi.

Despentes seemed to take these issues back from the realm of theory, and positioned them anew against the backdrop of her own experience.

She’s one of the freshest writers I’ve read for years, and her anger shines brightly and offers hope, not least because she embraces the act of sex and the practice of sexual choice. She doesn’t hold it at arms length.

 

#5 Sick On You: The Disastrous Story of Britain’s Great Lost Punk Band by Andrew MathesonThe_Hollywood_Brats_5
Even though I’d adopted the lifestyle of punk towards the end of 1976, I’d never heard of the Hollywood Brats.

That’s hardly surprising as their ‘career’ had come to an end by 1975. They were possibly Britain’s first punk band, our own New York Dolls.

Matheson’s book is a riotous carry-on, instantly recognisable to anyone who’s been in a crap band. It’s about bedsits and cider and fag butts. It’s about falling out with a succession of bass-players and managers, and about all the times you nearly have ‘made it’; but for your own ignorance, pride, pig-headedness and stupidity.

Mathewson is the punk Withnail, and it could make a fabulous movie. As long as they don’t cast Noel Fielding, Russell Brand or Bill Nighy, it could even be a great movie.

 

#6 Wreckers of CivilisTGation: The Story of Coum Transmissions & Throbbing Gristle by Simon Ford
Leant to me by artist Juli Watson (who has become something of a partner in crime this year), Wreckers of Civilisation was an excellent introduction to the story of Throbbing Gristle.

With a very few exceptions I still prefer reading about TG than listening to their music (this is an exception).

But TG were as revolutionary as the Sex Pistols, Crass or the Ramones. In both art and music, their impact has been enormous. Many people have had their lives opened to incredible possibility by Cosey, Chris, Sleazy and Genesis. I’m one of them.

 

#7 Pirates, Punks & Politics by Nick Davidson
FC St. Pauli are the adopted German football club of punks, anarchists, hippies and larrikins, supported across the globe by those who feel excluded or morally corrupted by the ManYoos and Real Madrids.

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I used to make a living writing about sport. There are times when I still do. I’ve written extensively about the politics and culture of football, rugby league, Aussie rules and wrestling. This book as a reminder of why I loved sport in the first place, and what was missing from so much of the sport we have access to via television, print and radio media.

St.Pauli are run by their fans, and make collective decisions. They’re based in the inner suburbs of their city, Hamburg, and fans still stand up at matches.  To understand why that’s important you probably have to be a football fan. But to understand why football is important, you just need to pick up a newspaper.

 

#8 Low Budget Hell Making Underground Movies with John Waters by Robert G. Maier
robert maierI’m a huge fan of the work of John Waters. I saw a double-bill of Pink Flamingos and Desperate Living at the old Scala Cinema off Tottenham Court Road in the late seventies, and it was as much a turning point as hearing United by Throbbing Gristle or the first Swell Maps records. I thought – I could do that!

Maier was an insider on all of the early Waters’ films, mostly as Waters’ production manager.

He sheds a harsh light on Waters’ single-mindedness, selfishness and meanness in making his movies. And while Waters also comes across as self-obsessed myth maker, often at the expense of his friends, he also comes across as kind and thoughtful, generous with his gifts, a man who likes to surround himself with those he trusts the most, supporting them in their endeavours and personal trials.

 

#9 Carsick by John Waters
ct-watersfrontis1-jpg-20140529On the other hand there’s this.

Probably the most disappointing read of the year. While it had it’s moments (most of these being the factual interludes where Waters enjoys the company of ordinary drivers who pick him up as he hitch-hikes across the American continent), at least a third of the book, perhaps more, is given over to Waters’ sexual fantasies.

These, perhaps inevitably, are about being picked up and tortured by truckers. I love a good sexual fantasy, particularly when they’re being shared by famous people I admire (I LOVED Madonna’s SEX!), but John W’s wet dreams are tiresome and repetitive.

He’s always fun, but this time I was laughing less than usual. Got a signed copy though, courtesy of my gorgeous friend Elspeth.

 

#10 Zami: A New Spelling of My Name by Audre Lorde
AudreLordeIn early summer I asked my friends for a list of great books by women.

The amazing Ami Nisa suggested this book and was then kind enough to lend it to me.

It’s the story of a young black woman growing up in Harlem NYC and her growing awareness of race, sexuality and intelligence. It’s about her writing and her education, and it’s powerful stuff.

She was a contemporary of the Beats, but her story is the flipside of that macho, homo-erotic, misogynistic culture. While the Beats deified ‘negro’ culture (and jazz in particular), Lorde was living with the reality of actually being black in pre-civil rights America. Being working-class, female and lesbian added suffocating layers to her daily struggle, but Lorde is an inspiring figure, tackles life with gusto and triumphs as a writer and as a person.

One of the great autobiographies.

My book of 2015

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#1: COMING OUT LIKE A PORN STAR: ESSAYS ON PORNOGRAPHY, PROTECTION AND PRIVACY (Ed. Jiz Lee)

I’m proud to call Jiz Lee a friend, and although they’re ‘only’ a Facebook friend, they’ve been a Facebook friend for some years. If you haven’t seen Jiz’ work, treat yourself. Jiz (see photo above) is an extraordinary adult performer who just smashes everything you thought you knew about porn.

This book (which was published by an excellent new publisher called ThreeMedia shares intimate personal ‘coming out’ stories from porn performers of many genders, races and ethnicities. Coming out to family, friends, partners, lovers, and community, the writers open up about far more than their personal relationships.

But what this book was really about for ME was ownership and autonomy.

Who owns our bodies, who has a say in how it’s used, defined or displayed? It goes beyond fucking and sucking. It’s political.

These amazingly open writers talk, sometimes unconsciously, about the way powerful coercive forces – government; churches, temples and mosques; the local community; big business – have literally taken ownership of our body rights, where reclaiming them has become a revolutionary act. Which is why the act of ‘coming out’ is dangerous, and why this book is so important.

I’d say it changed my life. 2015 was a year in which I decided more than ever that it was important to define myself, and to own and live that self. And this book inspired that in ways I’m still becoming aware of.

PS: it also serves as a primer to a list of simply amazing queer performers. 2016 will be SO much more interesting as I work my way through that list x thanks Jiz.

PPS: you can order the book here. Do NOT use Amazon!

I am a prescription drug addict

Two weeks ago, after 16 years of addiction,  I stopped taking a drug called Paroxetine (also known as Paxil and Seroxat).

It’s (apparently) as addictive as morphine, and coming off the drug can be as difficult as going cold turkey from any opiate.

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“Evidence has shown that paroxetine has among the highest incidence rates and severity of withdrawal syndrome of any medication of its class. Common withdrawal symptoms for paroxetine include nausea, dizziness, lightheadedness and vertigo; insomnia, nightmares and vivid dreams; feelings of electricity in the body, as well as crying and anxiety” says Wikipedia.

I’d been taking it for 16 years, with two very short spells when I came off the drug (more about that later).

Having suffered from severe anxiety attacks throughout my life, I was hit with a couple of serious bouts of depression in the late 1990s, which led to me being prescribed Paroxetine by my doctor.

Starting off on a relatively high dose, I immediately started experiencing severe adverse symptoms including ‘brain zaps‘, loss of libido, poor vision, difficulty in concentrating, periods of severe lethargy, and inability to feel fully awake. I was unable to feel strong emotion – neither sadness, anger, happiness, excitement. I put on weight. Quite a bit of weight.

During the same period my father was dying (he lived in England while I was in Sydney, NSW). My marriage failed and I went through a divorce (she was in England while I was in Sydney). I got made redundant twice in three years. I moved back to England but to the North East, where I was subjected to some severe workplace bullying and found myself living in a fairly grim seaside town that had little to offer but amusement arcades and charity shops.

Twice in that early period, between 1998 and 2005 I had tried to wean myself off Paroxetine. The first time I did it, my doctor had advised that I reduce my dosage from 30mg to zero within a week. At the end of that week I was ‘scheduled‘ – in the UK you call it ‘being sectioned’ and in the US it’s known as ‘involuntary admission’ I think.

I was in a very nice (but frightening because of what it meant in my life) psychiatric hospital in Sydney.

Coming off so quickly had resulted in me having a complete physical and emotional breakdown. I was suffering massive brain zaps, body tremors, uncontrollable crying fits, inability to eat or to keep food down if I did.

I tried a few alternative drugs, including Xanax, which made my balls shrivel, gave me migraines, made me need to pee all the time, my cum watery, and my mouth dry. And then I reluctantly started taking Paroxetine again.

A few years later, having moved to Northern England, I decided to come off again, but this time I trailed came off the drug slowly. I took about three months to wean myself off, taking slightly smaller doses each week, coming down from 30mg to 5mg per day, and then to 2mg and nothing.

But this time the problem wasn’t the discontinuation period, but the period when I’d decided to discontinue. Moving to Northern England after ten years in Sydney was difficult: my father had died a few months earlier, and I had no moorings. I’d sold all of my goods – furniture, books, music, musical instruments – to come to the UK and be with my family; in short I didn’t have the medical, psychological or emotional support to go sober, and after a period when I again suffered the tremors, the crying, the zaps and the sleeplessness, I went back to Paroxetine, where I have remained to this day.

As Wikipedia says, manufacturer “GlaxoSmithKline has paid substantial fines, paid settlements in class action lawsuits, and become the subject of several highly critical books in relation to its marketing of paroxetine … and allegations that it failed to warn consumers of substantial withdrawal effects associated with use of the drug”.

I’m clean for two weeks now. It’s not going too badly, though the biggest problem at the moment is fear. I’m scared. I’ve relied on Paroxetine so long that I can’t believe I can function without it. It’s too early to say that I CAN.

On the other hand, what really depressed me for the past few years was the thought that for the rest of my life I could be reliant on a drug that didn’t make me feel better. It just made me feel less worse, but at the expense of the joy I used to feel, the excitement I missed, and at times, just having a decent boner.

My movies of the year 2015

#1: The Dance of Reality (Alejandro Jodorowsky, Chile)

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What little I’ve seen of Jodorowsky’s work has confused and impressed me. I don’t know what the story is about, but I love the way it’s told. I generally respond well to things that make me think “What the fuck was THAT all about?”

There’s not enough of it around.

#2: Tangerine (Sean S Baker, USA)
There was no way I was gonna be disappointed with a movie made on i-phones starring unschooled transgender actors.

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But this film delivered above and beyond. It was pacy, hilarious and made no apologies, though in the end, it was surely more about sex work than life as a trans person?

However … young filmmakers have no excuses NOT to make their work, and experienced Hollywood types have no reason to spend big bucks on theirs.

#3: Carol (Todd Haynes, USA/UK)
See that bit with Cate Blanchett raising the merest hint of eyebrow as her beloved walks across a crowded restaurant towards her? That’s the Oscar right there!

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Seriously understated and intimate, this is proof that Todd Haynes is worthy of a major award. And soon.

#4: Diary of a Teenage Girl (Marielle Heller, USA)
A film that treated teenage sexual appetite seriously.

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While my only real experience of being a teenage girl was dressing as one when I was a teenage boy, DOATG just rang true. It was funny, sad, frightening and uplifting in turn, and Bel Powley turned in one of the performances of 2016.

Of course the kids want to fuck. That’s pretty much all they want to do! Kristen Wiig was just the icing in the cake.

#5: The Ecstacy of Wilko Johnson (Julien Temple, UK)
I saw this on the Beeb, having missed it at the Tyneside Cinema. And I saw it just when I needed to.

Wilko estuary

Wilko has been an inspiration since I first saw him on the telly on Geordie Scene in 1975. And this year, for obvious reasons, he was even more of an inspiration.

May the Goddesses bless you Wilko!

#6: Dreamcatcher (Kim Longinotto, USA)
Basically, ex-hooker Brenda Myers-Powell drives around Chicago dishing out advice, hugs and condoms to street workers. Think it sounds boring? Wrong. Think it sounds grim? Not likely.

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This documentary is a stunning, uplifting exploration of how love can change lives. Heartbreaking and inspiring at every turn.

#7: Amy (Asif Kapadia, UK)
The proof of a great documentary is that it opens up a new world to the viewer. I knew very little of Amy Winehouse, and cared even less until I saw Kapadia’s film (and I saw it three times!).

She was great singer, but what I didn’t appreciate was how great a writer she was. I filled the gaps in my record collection after seeing Amy.

#8: The Duke of Burgundy (Peter Strickland, UK)

THE DUKE OF BURGUNDY (2)-0-2000-0-1125-crop

Apart from a seriously sexy performance by Sidse Babett Knudsen, an extra ordinary soundtrack by Cat’s Eyes, and stunningly claustrophobic art direction, this had some of the most beautiful lingerie seen at the cinema. Win win win.

#9: The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, Ireland/UK/Greece/France/ Netherlands)
Another “what the fuck was THAT about?” movie, and so much fun.

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Colin Farrell (the poor man’s Nigel Pivaro) starred opposite the delicious Rachel Weisz and I’m still none the wiser. Dating, terrorism, over reliance on modern medicine? All of those and more (but don’t ask me what!).

NOTE: enough Ben Whishaw please. We’ve seen him now. He can go away and leave us alone.

#10: Brooklyn (John Crowley, Ireland/UK/Canada)
Cried. All the way through. Having been exiled so many times in my life, and rarely having settled, I felt this very keenly.

It hit hard and it felt like a kiss.

Cut!

Next year is the 65th anniversary of the introduction of the X certificate in British cinema.

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In 1951 the X certificate replaced an earlier H certificate (H for Horrific) and was a reaction to the increasing number of film releases (many from Europe) which featured nudity, sexual activity, or bad language.

In 1971, the age at which you could attend an X certificate movie was raised from 16 to 18 years, and the X was replaced in turn by the 18 certificate in 1982. It’s pretty much where things stand until now.

To celebrate the introduction of the X Cert back in 1951, I’ll be working with a group of sex-positive pornographers, feminist thinkers, queer activists and film makers to explore what censorship has meant to us over that period.

We’ll be exploring issues that relate to freedom of both what we say and what we watch. How we use our bodies, and how our bodies are used by others. How our bodies are depicted on screen for public consumption, and how governments, big business and organised religion and politics decide what we can and can’t do, show and say.

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We’re starting in January with a screening and discussion of the work of Swedish feminist porn director, screenwriter and producer Erika Lust (see photo above), and will continue throughout the year; talking to film makers, actors and directors, lawyers, politicians and activists.

And we’ll be watching a lot of interesting work, exchanging ideas, and … probably … arguing and debating.

If you’d like to be involved in any way, please get in touch. You can email me at minkjaguar@gmx.com

It’s Sheena Eve!

Why I should start writing on Christmas Eve, I have no idea. I guess because it’s my first afternoon off for some weeks.

Check back soon. I think this will be a place I can write about and talk about the things I find interesting and the things that take up my time. Punk rock, film, pornography, feminism, roller derby and the world of queerdom.