Thursday, January 29, 2009


Thumbsucker This post is about the shock & surprise of seeing one of my book's on-screen, full frontal, in the US  indie feature 'Thumbsucker'  directed by Mike Mills  and adapted from the Walter Kirn novel of the same name. I knew it was in there because I'd been tipped off by ace reporter Nicki Macadam but even so it was a shock to see it.  The scene comes early in the film. The girl that the boy Justin Cobb  fancies sits down at the library table opposite him and says: !Have you read that book'. Full-screen shot of 'The Greenpeace Story.' It's a bizarre kind of product placement, that's for sure.GreenP History2387

I enjoyed the movie much more than I expected. It seemed to have a genuine feel to it, thanks to the fine central performance by Lou Pucci. Its a delicate subject.

Wikipedia entry on the movie.

Official movie site

See also the site for adult thumbsuckers

GUY PEELAERT: Rock Dreams & The Big Room

GP rock dreams385 The Belgian artist Guy Peelaert died in 17th November last year and it has taken The Guardian until today to run his obituary, which carries a quote from an interview I did with him in 1986.

Without doubt Guy's masterwork 'Rock Dreams' will be the work he is best remembered by and with good reason. The iconic images he created seemed to reach psychological depths and capture some strange voodoo truths about the extraordinary musicians he depicted. His hypersurrealistic collage style, combining paint and photography, stimulated the imagination. No wonder he attracted great writers to his work. Nik Cohn wrote the caption text and Michael Herr the Introduction. The latter described as an icon painter which hit it on the button. The book is a unique and will stand for all time.

He told me: 'For me the right picture is when you have the technique and the idea. In between is where my happiness is.'

I asked him where he got the idea for Rock Dreams: 'I worked before in theatre and movies and tv and I thought I could do small frames  - in that time they didn't call them clips - for movies and tv, as short stories about the singers. But I couldn't do exactly what I wanted so with Nik I made a book about it.'

I well remember going to the exhibition of the paintings which was held when the book first came out in 1974, on the top floor of Biba's department store in Kensington High Street in London, remember being awestruck by the images and then turning the corner and there was David Bowie, who was likewise inspired enough to subsequently commission Guy to produce the cover for his album 'Diamond Dogs.'

GP big room386 Herr went on to collaborate with Guy on his next epic work 'The Big Room' - portraits of the key figures that came to Las Vegas and created the tawdry fabulosity in their own image. It was the place where the gangsters and the stars, the politicians and the sports icons assembled, gambled and gambolled. The figures are largely seen alone, caught in moments that seem to speak of their isolation. Michael Herr's text is much more extensive than before and adds depth and dimension to the images.

When this second book was published I interviewed both Michael Herr (in person) and Guy (on the phone) for a piece in The Guardian (October 22nd 1986) which is reproduced below. Later that year, I met Guy and Herr together at a party at Sonny Mehta's house.


The Writer

BORN and brought up in Syracuse, Michael Herr went to Vietnam for Esquire magazine in 1967 to write a book about the war. Ten years later Dis­patches was published to widespread acclaim. It led him to write the narration for Apocalypse Now and, more recently, to collabo­rate on the script of Stan­ley Kubrick's forthcoming Vietnam film, Full Metal Jacket. He has been work­ing on a book about rock and roll and on a script based on the life of Walter Winchell.

John May: You start the book by quoting from the great showman P. T. Barnum. He seems to be an important character in your view.

Michael Herr: Barnum's memoirs is one of the great American books. It should really be taught on any course of American history. It's up there with the Feder­alist Papers and the autobiography of Henry Adams. It's a major testament to a very powerful force in Ameri­can life which is all about distraction, entertainment, diversion, image. The whole 20th century way of doing things is foreshadowed in Barnum's memoirs.

You say that Las Vegas is now in decline and this idea seems linked to the decline of the American empire.

It's certainly the decline of the American empire as we've always known it It's also the death of image and celebrity and showbusiness as we've known it.

How many of the people in the book have you met?

I was in a helicopter with Bob Hope on one of his Christmas tours of Vietnam in late 1967 with Raquel Welch. I once spent a little time with Sammy Davis Jr. when I was a kid of 17 or 18.1 met him in a television studio in Los Angeles where he had come to do a guest appear­ance on a celebrity chat show run by a cousin of mine, who'd got him his first recording contract

Have you ever been to Las Vegas?

I've been to Vegas once in my life for a 36-hour period when I was 18 years old. That's a long time ago. I remember this one guy that had been at the tables for something like 72 hours straight who was just main­taining enough margin to keep playing. Looked like some kind of advanced mas­turbation, like he'd been jerking off 50 times, so hag­gard, weakened and enfee­bled. He made a great impression on me.

The Big Room is the place where the big stars play?

Yeah. A lot of those figures in the book certainly have some horrible traits and characteristics but it takes courage discipline, will and even talent to make the Big Room. You have to be someone inspired.

Say what you want about Richard Nixon or Jimmy Hoffa or Bugsy Siegel but they certainly were inspired. Meyer Lansky was really inspired. I mean he was like a visionary and he saw it with such clarity and cleanliness. He happened to be a criminal but he was no ordinary criminal. He was sort of Napoleonic, some kind of genius. Evil genius maybe, But certainly a genius. You've got to take your hat off to him.

All these people had nothing to do with the Sixties but with an era before that. Were they people you'd grown up with?

They're people who I feel like I've always known. Many of them were the entertainers of my parents' generation. The sixties were a reaction against that old stale showbiz crapola.

So what does this book mean to you — a reconciliation?

I never thought of it like that but I do feel a lot of love for the pageant, the players. I feel a lot of love for all that action.

Are there people of similar stature in the current scene?

I'm sure there probable are but we will never quite feel that way about them again because we know too much. We do love them. Maybe we love them as much but there's a different space between us now. It's not very glamorous.

Mind you, there are a lot of people in the book who are not glamorous. It's like the old music hall thing when, with one hand, the guy's motioning for the audience to stop applauding and, with the other, he's motioning to increase the applause. I do that in the book. I try to run a scalpel through the glamour and then try to bring it back again just because that's how I feel about them.

I feel sorry for anybody who buys The Big Room for reasons of nostalgia because I think that both Guy's paintings and my text are implacably anti-nostalgic. Nostalgia's one of the great wastes of time.


GUY PEELLAERT was drawing comics in the Six­ties in his native Belgium when he was invited to Paris to work on a film for two months. He is still there. Best known for his book. Rock Dreams, first published in 1974, he has worked in many media. The Big Room, which has taken him 11 years to com­plete, is illustrated in pas­tels and acrylic.

John May: How did the Big Room begin?

Guy Peellaert: When Rock Dreams went very well the publisher asked me what I wanted to do and I said I wanted to spend a few months in the States to do something about Vegas. So I worked there with a profes­sional newspaperman to learn the city but later I threw everything away. Started to read more about the inside story rather than just the outside story, about the people.

Who was the first character?

I think it was Bugsy Siegel, not because he was a mobster but, as you have seen maybe about the book, it's mainly about people who are dying for their dreams or some­thing. That guy, he didn't interest me as a mobster or whatever, blood and hood­lums and things, but he interested me because he was one of those poor kids who sud­denly has a dream about happiness and the dream is not true.

Did he lead on to the other characters, because they're all connected?

That was a happy surprise. Because in Vegas I made a list of about 300 people who made a city and finally there's no miracle because it's like a big hotel lounge where everybody comes in, out, with their luggage. their problems, their dreams. They all went there and so they are somehow tied to each other.

What does the Big Room mean to you?

That's a brilliant title Michael found because it was mainly about people with their problems or hidden problems. It's a double mean­ing. Trying to play in the Big Room in Vegas but the Big Room is also an empty room.

Do you do much research for the paintings?

Oh yes. I wanted to do a kind of false portrait with two or three levels. One portrait is like a parody of the classic portrait but there are many little secrets in every painting. My influence was to know very well the lives of every­body and the dream of every­body and then not to be too vulgar when you know some­thing, trying to hide it but there's always something left of it.

Can you let me in on one of the secrets?

Di Maggio. I remember I read a sentence from a sport newspaperman when he left the New York Giants. He wanted to go back to San Francisco; that's why he had the little portrait in the hotel room of the Bridge and it can be taken as three different moments. The sentence of the journa­list was: "It's a long time from Fisherman's Wharf to New York City" and so it's the moment he quit baseball playing.

He was rich enough now to buy the house of his father in San Francisco so, because he's Italian, he decided to marry. I'm rich enough now, I'm not gonna take a dark-haired Italian girl. I'm gonna take a blonde one. I can afford that. Unfortunately, she didn't want to cook spaghetti. That's maybe a dream he has look­ing through the window. And it can also be taken as, the second time he left New York, when he couldn't stand to have his wife showing her panties in a movie. So there's always a trick.

How long did each picture take?

Sometimes it goes in two weeks, sometimes in two months. It's very strange because the last one went very quick and the first also.

Who gave you the most trouble?

Liberace maybe. It's very hard for me because a lot of people inside the book were not precisely my cup of tea and that's maybe why it was not so good at the beginning because when you want to be too clever or maybe naughty it's always bad. So it took me a long time to approach them like human beings and to try and find something human in their behaviour, something touching. A lot of people inside that book were not sympathetic.

The paintings are reminiscent of Edward Hopper.

Of course, because I take lots of bits and pieces from people I like. Also because you have the three approaches of solitude, empty places and colours in that time. Hopper helps me to get into that kind of solitude. 'm using the material to get more inside the person. I hope to help people get quicker in the mood.

Eleven years is an awfully long time to work on one project

If I do two more (like this) I'm going to be dead.

Thursday, January 22, 2009



Near the end of his inaugural address, President Obama said the following:

'So let us mark this day with remembrance, of who we are and how far we have traveled. In the year of America's birth, in the coldest of months, a small band of patriots huddled by dying campfires on the shores of an icy river. The capital was abandoned. The enemy was advancing. The snow was stained with blood. At a moment when the outcome of our revolution was most in doubt, the father of our nation ordered these words be read to the people:

"Let it be told to the future world ... that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive ... that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet [it]."

These words were written by Tom Paine in the first of his series of pamphlets entitled 'The American Crisis', which George Washington did, in fact, have read to the troops in the most difficult days of the revolutionary struggle.


The quote in context reads:
“Quitting this class of men, I turn with the warm ardor of a friend to those who have nobly stood, and are yet determined to stand the matter out: I call not upon a few, but upon all: not on this state or that state, but on every state: up and help us; lay your shoulders to the wheel; better have too much force than too little, when so great an object is at stake. Let it be told to the future world, that in the depth of winter, when nothing but hope and virtue could survive, that the city and the country, alarmed at one common danger, came forth to meet and to repulse it. Say not that thousands are gone, turn out your tens of thousands; throw not the burden of the day upon Providence, but "show your faith by your works," that God may bless you. It matters not where you live, or what rank of life you hold, the evil or the blessing will reach you all. The far and the near, the home counties and the back, the rich and the poor, will suffer or rejoice alike. The heart that feels not now is dead; the blood of his children will curse his cowardice, who shrinks back at a time when a little might have saved the whole, and made them happy. I love the man that can smile in trouble, that can gather strength from distress, and grow brave by reflection. 'Tis the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm, and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles unto death. My own line of reasoning is to myself as straight and clear as a ray of light. Not all the treasures of the world, so far as I believe, could have induced me to support an offensive war, for I think it murder; but if a thief breaks into my house, burns and destroys my property, and kills or threatens to kill me, or those that are in it, and to "bind me in all cases whatsoever" to his absolute will, am I to suffer it? What signifies it to me, whether he who does it is a king or a common man; my countryman or not my countryman; whether it be done by an individual villain, or an army of them? If we reason to the root of things we shall find no difference; neither can any just cause be assigned why we should punish in the one case and pardon in the other. Let them call me rebel and welcome, I feel no concern from it; but I should suffer the misery of devils, were I to make a whore of my soul by swearing allegiance to one whose character is that of a sottish, stupid, stubborn, worthless, brutish man. I conceive likewise a horrid idea in receiving mercy from a being, who at the last day shall be shrieking to the rocks and mountains to cover him, and fleeing with terror from the orphan, the widow, and the slain of America.”
Thomas Paine (1737-1809) The American Crisis pamphlet I, 23 December 1776

This is not the first time that Obama has quoted Paine (if uncredited) According to 'The Nation': 'Obama quoted frequently from Paine and particularly from 'Common Sense', during his campaign for the Presidency.

The article continues: 'It was right that Obama turned to Paine. When the Pennsylvania Assembly considered the formal abolition of slavery in 1779, it was Paine who authored the preamble to the proposal.

Paine's fervent objections to slavery led to his exclusion from the inner circles of American power in the first years of the republic. He died a pauper. Only history restored the man--and his vision.

And on this day, this remarkable day, Thomas Paine is fully redeemed. Paine, to a greater extent than any of his peers, was the founder who imagined a truly United States that might offer a son of Africa and of America not merely citizenship but its presidency.'

'It was Paine, the most revolutionary of their number, who proved to be the wisest, and the best, of that band of patriots--for his time, and for this time....Today belongs to Barack Obama. But it also belongs to Thomas Paine. When our new president says that his election proves "the dream of our founders is alive in our time," it is Paine's dream of which he speaks. That dream may not be fully realized. But it is alive--more, indeed, today than at any time in the history of a land that might yet begin our world over again.'


"Blogging," Huffington wrote in the book's introduction, "has been the greatest breakthrough in popular journalism since Tom Paine." Paine's 1776 pamphlet "Common Sense" dramatically helped promote the cause of American independence.

Ariana Huffington, promoting her book 'The Huffington Post Complete Guide to Blogging.'

'The most revolutionary minded of all America's founding fathers was Tom Paine, who articulated a flaming hope birthed in a vision of a new world and driven by the spirit of persistence to resist the British occupation. Tom Paine's self published forty page  pamphlet, "Common Sense" united and emboldened disparate and disconnected groups of settlers to become compatriots who rose up in rebellion and formed a nation where democracy thrives best on dissent grounded in common sense.'

- Eileen Fleming on Arabisto/News and Commentary on the Middle East

We could be rocking’n’rolling at Shakespeare’s Globe next year, to catchy songs with titles such as Rights of Man, Common Sense and The Age of Reason. The life of the 18th-century pamphleteer and revolutionary Thomas Paine might not seem obvious fodder for setting to music, but that’s what Trevor Griffiths, author of the screenplay for the Oscar-winning movie Reds and the play Comedians, is doing. Les Misérables tried something similar with moral philosophising — and, despite initially lousy reviews, has run and run.

“There will be about 20 songs in A New World,” Griffiths tells me. “But it’s a play with songs, not a musical.” The music will be by Stephen Warbeck, who did memorable scores for Shakespeare in Love and ITV’s Prime Suspect.

Griffiths has been trying to get a dramatised version of Paine’s life off the ground for more than 20 years, initially as a film, directed by Richard Attenborough. The director, however, has struggled to raise the money. Now Griffiths may have hit the jackpot not just at the Globe, but with HBO: the American giant wants its own film, with Tim Robbins directing and starring.

Richard Brooks



Green New Deal 

'To finally spark the creation of a clean energy economy, we will double the production of alternative energy in the next three years. We will modernize more than 75 percent of federal buildings and improve the energy efficiency of two million American homes, saving consumers and taxpayers billions on our energy bills.  In the process, we will put Americans to work in new jobs that pay well and can't be outsourced—jobs building solar panels and wind turbines; constructing fuel-efficient cars and buildings; and developing the new energy technologies that will lead to even more jobs, more savings, and a cleaner, safer planet in the bargain. '

Obama's Green New Deal was announced on January 8th 2009 Source: President-elect Barack Obama on His American Recovery and Reinvestment Plan


"If only we could turn every building into a power station.
If only we could build high-speed train links to every city.
If only every building in the country was well insulated.
If only we could develop video conferencing that made you feel you were actually there.
If only all vehicles were super-efficient, like plug-in hybrids.
If only we invested in better public transport that everyone wanted to use.
If only industry used energy efficient electric motors.
If only we could harness the world's largest nuclear power station: the sun.
If only every power station could use its wasted heat to warm our homes and offices.
If only there were giant North Sea wind farms, made in Britain.
If only we could create hundreds of thousands of green collar jobs.
If only Britannia could rule on wave and tidal power.
If only there was a Green Investment Bank to finance a low carbon infrastructure and industry.

If only, if only, if only...

If only we had political leaders with the vision to see the economic benefits of green technology.
If only we had politicians with the resolve to put long-term investment ahead of short-term interests.
If only we could secure jobs and the economy while at the same time securing the future of our planet.

Well, we can. The Future is green."

Text copy of new Greenpeace UK advert

See Green New Deal published by the New Economics Foundation in the UK

In Canada, a Push for Obama-style Green Stimulus

South Korea: Briefing on the Green New Deal for foreign correspondents


smart grid

CITY LAUNCHES SMART GRID /Monday, May 26, 2008 Source: The city in question is Boulder, Colorado.

Al Gore’s ‘Unified Smart Grid’ vision for repowering the USA - will it happen?November 8th, 2008

The Problem: The US electricity transmission and distribution system – or ‘grid’ — is in critical need of an upgrade. It is old, balkanized and too limited in its reach. The current grid is a series of independently operating regional grids – it can’t meet the needs of a nation whose economy would benefit substantially from the system optimization that comes with national interconnection. Its limitations and vulnerability to failure are also reported to cost the nation $80 billion to $188 billion per year in losses due to grid-related power outages and power quality issues. And most critical to clean energy development, areas rich in renewable resources like solar, wind and geothermal are currently not well-served and thus have no ‘highway’ available to move power outputs to the markets where that power is needed.

The Solution: Modernize and expand the infrastructure for moving electricity from where it is generated to where it is needed through a unified national smart grid. Make that grid ‘smart’ so that it can monitor and balance the load, accommodate distributed energy from local areas and, in the near future, capitalize on a massive national fleet of clean plug-in cars. This new grid encompasses both the long-distance, high-voltage transmission lines and the lower voltage distribution systems that connect the power to customers.

The Benefits: Updating our grid with advanced transmission will save money, increase reliability and protect consumers from outages, and make possible a clean electricity system. It will move renewable power from where it is generated to wherever it’s needed, whenever it’s needed. Just like the interstate highway system and railroads before it, investing in modernization of the grid will create thousands of jobs for American workers.

For 2009, It's All About Smart Grid and Storage

December 19, 2008 /by: Michael Kanellos

'With ethanol and fuel investing having exploded in 2007 and solar shining brightest in 2008, IBM has two words for you in 2009: Smart Grid.

Smart grid is attractive on a number of levels. For one thing, a substantial amount of the power in the U.S. is wasted. UC Berkeley's Arun Manjumar recently said that the U.S. consumes 100 quads (or 100 quadrillion BTUs) of energy a year and 50 to 60 quads get lost as waste heat or by other means before it can be used. Smart grid technologies that can help shuttle around power loads over a network conceivably could put a dent in that.

Second, the technology better fits into the VC mold for building companies. Unlike solar or biofuel companies, most smart grid outfits don't need to build huge factories. They develop software or networking devices for controlling various aspects of power transmission or consumption.

Smart grid actually passed biofuels in the second quarter in the number of VC deals completed and then passed biofuels in the amount of money and number of deals in the third quarter, according to VenturePower, a newsletter published by Greentech Media.'

Cameron: we will build £1bn 'smart grid' to green Britain

Tories unveil low carbon plan as Heathrow decision causes outcry

  • The Guardian, Friday 16 January 2009

David Cameron will set out his vision today for a low carbon Britain built around a £1bn investment in a hi-tech National Grid that would include putting "smart meters" in every home in the UK. The network would allow energy companies to tell people when it's cheapest to use electricity, cutting bills and making the system more efficient.


"A global energy network makes enormous sense if we are to meet global energy needs with a minimal impact on the world's environment. Such advances (in long distance transmission) may even make possible the visionary suggestion ... that the Eastern and Western hemispheres be linked by underwater cable to assist each other in managing peak energy demand, since the high daytime use in one hemisphere occurs at precisely the low night time consumption by the other."

-- Nobel Laureate, Vice President Al Gore

Wednesday, January 14, 2009


kurt jackson 010

The Generalist was present at the art launch of Kurt Jackson's splendiforous outpouring -  130 pieces of Forest Garden artworks which, in the flesh, are quite stunning.  They range in size from seemingly fragile scraps on which Kurt has painted a delicate bottle of flowers, to vast unruly landscapes, created plein air then taken to the studio, stretched and amended.Copy of kurt jackson 041

The reproductions in the catalogue cannot give the tactile and immediate feel of the artwork, most often on rough-torn pieces of canvas and, occasionally, newspaper.  Swallowtails sail through the chestnut forest

There is no question that Kurt is one of the great painters of trees. His impressionistic technique, using a variety of materials and techniques, is quite stunning and in tune with the history of English art. Let's talk Samuel Palmer here, whose trees are full of mystic strangeness. Kurt's trees often look like explosions, a dense and expanding mass of colour which gives them life and vigour and beauty and splendour.

Tresco Apple Kurt Jackson (b1961)  has been the official artist for the Glastonbury Festival for many years and is perhaps best known for his extensive documentation of Cornwall, his home base since 1984. The son of two painters, he was encouraged from an early age to both paint and draw. He grew up exploring the hedgerows and streams of his surroundings, often sketching the animals he observed. Before reaching university age Jackson had travelled extensively throughout the world including the Amazon Rainforest and the Arctic Circle. His parents were active in the peace movement and he was taken on many political demonstrations. By his late teens he had developed his own affiliations to libertarian politics and environmental issues.

The new show's catalogue is introduced by nature writer Richard Mabey and the show will benefit Survival International. There are really important environmental issues here about the role of 'forest gardens' - a new concept to most people. 'Harvest forests, forests nudged, pruned, picked over', writes Mabey, 'existed long before the invention of agriculture.'

Jackson travelled to the almond woods of southern Spain, to rare In the cork oak forest apple orchards, olive groves and the great oak forests of Provence, where cork is stripped and chestnuts harvested. These important ecosystems - which sit somewhere between the farm and the wilderness - should be celebrated more highly and recognised as unqiue environments that deserve the fullest protection. Many are under threat from climate change, forest fires, tree diseases and other factors.

This issue ties in with the rise in interest in harvesting non-timber Goats in the cork oak forestforest products  - fungi, edible fruits and flowers, honey, nuts, animals for meat, craft materials, medicines and gardening supplies - for which there is a developing market. Scotland are ahead in promoting this as a way of generating income and protecting forests.

One feels inspired and healed by being in the presence of Kurt's work. These are things of real beauty, realised in a unique way. The colours sing, the leaves breathe. You feel drawn into the moment of when they were created, a fact contributed to by Kurt's aide-de-memoire scribbles on most paintings, which provide a short word portrait of the circumstances in which the painting was created.Kurt - South of France 2008 - Cork Oaks

There is a strength in Kurt's work which comes from sheer hard  work, his immersion in natural environments, his down to earth character. A beautiful experience.

The exhibition runs at the Messum's Gallery in Cork Street, London until the end of Jan.

Thursday, January 01, 2009


Left: Tongue and Groove performing at the Big Wig Ball on December 31st at All Saint's in Lewes.
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