Thursday, December 23, 2010

From - Mad to Live

Mad to live

by Satyajit Sarna | December 23, 2010

Neal Cassady on the left; Jack Kerouac on the right.

Image above and article thumbnail is from tiseb's photostream on Flickr.
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If The Great Gatsby was a monument to disillusion and rotOn The Road was a passport to revelation, a promise that the grey ferment of post-war institutions was going to crack and spill out generations of discoverers and creators. When it was published, millions of young people poured out into the streets, all chasing the same conviction that there was a free new world taking shape, coalescing out of debris. They were all chasing the same thing.

“Somewhere along the line I know there’d be girls, visions, everything; somewhere along the line the pearl would be handed to me.”

And so, Sal Paradise starts out for the West in ill-suited shoes, the great bulk of the American continent hulking unknown, chasing the news of his friends moving like pieces on a board. In Denver, Chad King is excavating Indian artefacts, Roland Major is writing short stories in his dressing gown. Carlo Marx is psychologically treating Dean Moriarty – “We’ve had to take Benzedrine. We sit on the bed, crosslegged, facing each other. I have finally taught Dean that he can do anything he wants, become mayor of Denver, marry a millionaress, or become the greatest poet since Rimbaud. But he keeps rushing out to see the midget auto races.”

Dean Moriarty is Kerouac’s greatest invention, the “holy con-man with the shining mind”, the spirit that forces him to hitchhike and traipse and fall in with madmen. After years in reformatories and prisons, “where you promise yourself the right to live”, he rushes through the world with endless energy, falling in love and out, driving and parking cars for money, stealing them for kicks, practicing life like an art form. And talking, always talking - Dean issues proclamations, injunctions, a never-ending stream of prose poetry rich with a throbbing vein of joy, the joy of life to be lived, the life of dreams chased and the sorrow of their passing. A constant stream of superlatives flows from him, everything is the “biggest”, the “greatest”, the “hippest” – everything is animated with the maximalism of the eternal present.

Dean Moriarty electrifies and lives outside these pages, continues in minds and memories as a lure, the bagman waiting for you to join him. He lives forever in a world where you could wake up tomorrow and not know where you are, catch a bus to nowhere now, and ride with strangers who will be your new friends. Tomorrow morning, you could be loading morning glory seeds into a shotgun and firing it at hillsides as you pass, like a psychoactive Johnny Appleseed. Forget your job and family and responsibilities; you can have new ones tomorrow, if you ever want such things again.

To some, all of this means nothing. They’re just words in a book, imaginary people in a faraway land in a time past. They can read the story and shut this book and all of these people and things go away. Neither Kerouac nor I have any words for those people. If they can read about hopping freights as they curve around the golden hills of California in the sun, read about the back of pickup trucks under the giant clear starry skies of the mid-west, spend two weeks in a Mexican brothel, jump from jazz joint to jazz joint, and can then shut this book and go back to making tables or lists of dates and not experience a sense of revulsion, then I cannot understand them. I have no empathy for those who are not seduced by On The Road.

I first read On The Road in a Signet paperback edition that I found on my father’s shelf. The front cover had a rising sun sinking into clouds; the back promised me, in giant letters, Sex, Drugs, Travel. The offer was too rich. In my own compromised way, I followed. In the years after I read it, I travelled by bus, by train, by truck, by cement mixer, by bullock cart, with tickets, without tickets, alone, with company, by day, by night, by stealth, by stupidity, by accident, frequently broke, with or without a clear destination; like a talisman, I carried it with me back and forth across South India. That copy my friend’s girlfriend left in a bus stop, somewhere in Tamil Nadu. Now I have a copy which has never been outside my house and it means nothing to me.

Sal criss-crosses America with abandon, and sees the road in all its manifestations, from Los Angeles, the “one and only golden town” to the wildernesses of the East Coast, walking without money or food along the “mournful” Susquehanna. When he finally catches a ride, it is with a maniac who believes in controlled starvation and promises Sal “I’m going to live to be a hundred and fifty years old”. Those are the breaks of the road. I too know them, like the black humour of hanging on to a chain in a general compartment of a train for five hundred kilometres and discovering that the door you were going to enter is locked, or being stuck on the wrong side of a state border with protestors on both sides, burning buses.

The road reveals the traveller, tests him and uncovers his true nature. At the end of the day, Sal Paradise is an intellectual, a product of collegiate ivory towers; he is earnest and bookish, easily impressed and frequently lost in the depths of the real world. When he settles down as a cotton picker with a group of Mexican immigrants who take him in, he lasts a week. Then he hits the road again, and is glad to be free of the responsibility he had started to feel was weighing him down. But Sal is not as free as Dean, he can take trips once in a while, but the road is not his life. Similarly, it is not mine. In my defence, I know nobody brave enough for it to be his either. All of us journey with parachutes, with life jackets; safety is always a phone call or a withdrawal away.

As a novel, On The Road is a miserable failure, a higgledy-piggledy mass of scenes. It has no discernable or meaningful plot. The story flags towards the end. Long portions are unreadable and repetitive. Characters stick around unnecessary and unwanted in scenes where nothing happens. But that’s life, and On the Road was written into the notebooks of Kerouac as he lived the story. Dean Moriarty was the novelist Neal Cassady, Old Bull Lee was William S. Burroughs, and Carlo Marx, of course, was Allen Ginsberg, beat poet and proud member of the North American Man/Boy Love Association. Then, he returned home, taped sheets of tracing paper into a 120-foot long scroll and banged out the whole damn thing in three weeks.

Now, ten years after I first read it, I see the bones beneath the skin, the skills and structures that could have created the kind of excitement I had felt the first time I read it. I am older in other ways too. I have more than one bank account, a credit card, I’ve paid my taxes for the last year, I’m a little more willing to dress for the occasion. But still, there are times when I weary of all this dross, and I feel the call of the road, sense the ghost of Dean Moriarty beckoning. Then all of the elements align and I feel that the pearl may yet come to me.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

From - Trailing Maldini in Samarkhand

Trailing Maldini in Samarkhand

by Satyajit Sarna | December 16, 2010

[The Travels of Marco Polo – Translated by William Marsden, 1948; Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino, 1972]

Call it delusion. For years, when I have thought of Marco Polo, in my mind’s eye I have seen Paolo Maldini. Therefore, I see Marco Polo playing a dangerously high line with assurance, Marco Polo bursting out of the left side of defence with the ball at his feet, or in his current avatar, Marco Polo wearing a black designer coat and sunglasses in the director’s box. The crowd loves Marco Polo; at present they wish he were still playing. Conversely, in my mind’s eye, I see Paolo Maldini riding a camel across the Gobi, Paolo Maldini frowning as a merchant in Aden, weighing sacks of pepper, Paolo Maldini confidently striding down the paved path of a Peking pavilion as an evil minister plots in the distance.

Think now of Marco Polo as a foreteller of the modern world, a world where tomatoes and potatoes (native to the new world) have become an integral part of Indian food, where Atlantic bluefin tuna is endangered because of Japanese tastes, where teenagers in Kampala wear knockoff Maldini jerseys. In 1272 A.D., when he set out, could Marco Polo have known that he would have become the most famous Venetian ever, the high priest of world travel?

Marco accompanied his father Niccolo and his uncle Maffeo on their voyage east from Venice, and returned in 1292 A.D., after twenty years of living in the East. When he returned, Venice was at war with Genoa and he had the misfortune of falling into Genoese hands. In prison at Genoa, he shared a cell with a fallen romance writer, Rustichiello of Pisa, who became his confidante and amanuensis, recording his adventures in Old French, as the Disavisement dou Monde, which then found its way back into Italian as Il Millione. In English, we know it as The Travels of Marco Polo. There exists no authoritative edition, merely more likely ones. Still, in the fourteenth century itself, the book was wildly popular. Over the centuries, it has become the touchstone of travellers and travel writing. Christopher Columbus’ extensively annotated copy lies in a museum in Seville. Little wonder that he wanted to go east, for what had Marco Polo not promised him?

Marco Polo travelled through Armenia and the Caucus mountains, east of Constantinople, and fell off the map, out of the consciousness of the western world. But in exchange, he discovered an Islamic civilisation at its peak. In Baghdad, which is called Baldach, he finds the Caliphate of the Arabian tales, with its intrigue and riches, “the biggest city in this part of the world”, fed by the port of Balsara – modern day Basra. What a tragedy it is that we only hear of these cities now in connection with their destruction. In contrast with the Islamophobia and paranoia rife in Europe today, The Travels is respectful and open-minded towards Islam. At the same time, ascendant Islam was exploring the world; a few decades hence, Ibn Battuta would leave Tangiers.


Marco had the eyes of a trader. He notes processes and industrial secrets, such as the smelting of zinc and antimony ore to make valuable collyrium, or the extraction of asbestos from mountains, as a sort of metallic wool. Even as he marvels at its immunity from flame, he ruefully notes, that “of the salamander under the form of a serpent, supposed to exist in fire, I could never discover any traces in the Eastern region”.

The reader follows Marco Polo through Balkh, Bukhara, Samarkand, names to conjure with, now ruins in a flat land. This is a land of distances and vanishing points, of deserts so vast that they are a month to cross at their narrowest. There are evil spirits in the sands, which imitate the calls of friends and the horns of enemies to lure the lost traveller off his path. Lost without reference points, a man would crawl to his death. Neil Gaiman uses this episode to have Marco Polo meet Dream in The Sandman, because it is one of the uncertain, shifting spaces of the world, unlinked to reality, an island of the imagination.

Marco Polo at Kublai Khan's court; a miniature from The Travels of Marco Polo.

Image above and on article thumbnail is from the Wikimedia Commons here.

When Marco Polo reaches Cathay, to encounter the magnificence of Kublai Khan’s empire, he is already familiar with the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, but is still swept off his feet by the extent of China, of its provinces and treacherous hinterlands, like Tibet. Kublai Khan is an emperor big enough for even this country. He professes no personal faith and pays casual lip service to all. His empire is full of marvellous technologies, like gunpowder and coal, practices like tattooing, and organisational means like paper money and a gold standard.

Swiftly, he rises in Kublai Khan’s esteem, becoming governor of Yan-gui and an important presence at the court. The Travels provides such an ample jump-off point for meta-fiction, and Italo Calvino, in 1972, accepted the opportunity. Calvino’s Invisible Cities invokes the central structural feature of The Travels, the description of the notable features of each new city or province, to unleash an infinity of possibilities. This is the gambit: Kublai Khan and Marco Polo lounge about the imperial pavilions, smoking opium and playing chess and Marco Polo speaks of all of the cities he has visited. They are imaginary, impossible, evocative, each like a prompt for a masterwork of fantasy, creations that owe no debt to reality. But each also contains a truth about the nature of cities.

Valdrada, for example, is a vertical city of verandas built on the shores of a still lake, so that every single action that takes place in any house is reflected perfectly in the lake. Now which is the city, and which is the reflection?

In Ersilia, the inhabitants stretch strings from house to house, whose colours indicate the relationships between their houses, whether of kinship, of love, of authority, or of business. The houses and streets are so full of string that the inhabitants of Ersilia live on the mountainside above the city, studying the structure of their lives.

Inside St. Mark's Cathedral, Venice.

Kublai Khan asks Marco Polo why he never tells him about Venice, and Marco Polo replies “What else do you believe that I have been talking to you about?... Every time I describe a city, I am saying something about Venice”. Invisible Cities is full of inversions, of converses, twisted reflections, styled answers, hidden fears. It is a slim volume and hides on bookshelves, and yet, when there is nothing to read, it falls into your hands and is again a new book. I lose copies, I gift copies, copies find their way into other cars, other houses, other people’s lives. Every time, I buy another copy with a sigh, with the same determinism as Marco Polo lying in his hammock in China, sketching out a new lie for the great Khan. As I imagine it, his hands are elegant and strong, like those of Paolo Maldini raising any number of European Cups.

Eventually, Marco Polo returned to the Venice of his birth and never left home again. After a long and prosperous life, he lies buried there, at the heart of mirror world where marble confections are hung between a blue sky and a blue sea. If you want to visit him, you can fly into the Venice Marco Polo Airport.

Perhaps, at the end of all his travels, he longed for the familiar and the certain. In the same way, the reader is affected most by that which he recognises clearly. After all the phoenixes, crystal palaces and sorcerers, Marco Polo comes to south India and notes:

“All the people of this city, as well as the natives of India in general, are addicted to the custom of having continually in their mouths the leaf called stembul; which they do partly from habit, and partly from the gratification it affords. Upon chewing it, they spit out the saliva to which it gives occasion. Persons of rank have the leaf prepared with camphor and other aromatic drugs, and also with a mixture of quick-lime. I am told it is extremely conducive to the health. If it is an object with any man to affront another in the grossest and most contemptuous manner, he spits the juice of the masticated leaf in his face.”

Some of these things clearly never change.

The Bridge of Sighs. The City of Venice.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

From - Consensual Hallucination

Consensual Hallucination

by Satyajit Sarna | December 09, 2010

Image above and on article thumbnail is from the Wikimedia Commons here.

Julian Assange is under arrest, for unrelated crimes. Sweden wants him. The Americans want him even more. Demagogues on the floor of the Senate of the United States want to hang him. Wikileaks itself is moving from server to server, as the gates of once-friendly states shut behind it. In the meanwhile, the diplomatic cables leak continues to turn up surprises, from the hilariously petty to the shocking. Move all the petitions you want, thump the rostrum, pound the gavel; it will not help. The cat is out of the bag; the shine is off the apple.

For the cynical, the only surprise is the extent to which the world’s governments had underestimated the power of information and the Internet. The comfort and ease of life on the islands has lulled everyone into the belief that the sea is shallow and empty; that the Internet is benign and safe and regulated.

The truth is that the titans of the binary who established the foundations of the Internet and defined its parameters did not set out to create a world that could be policed or regulated easily. They are libertarians, so far to the right that they have gone left, or conversely, liberal radicals of such a deep dye that they sleep with guns under their pillows. If they could choose to make a world, they would make it free and lawless, a world where each atomised individual could forge his own glory or plunge to his doom.

That was the world Neuromancer turned me on to.

When William Gibson’s Neuromancer opens, Case is in Chiba City, sleeping in a capsule hotel in Tokyo, out above the bay. Case is a cowboy – a hacker – who once made the mistake he’d sworn he wouldn’t make; he stole from his employers. They crippled him, burnt out his talent for connecting to cyberspace and left him unfit to work. When he was a hotshot cowboy, “the elite stance involved a certain relaxed contempt for the flesh. The body was meat. Case fell into the prison of his own flesh”. Now, he is reduced to being one more down-on-his-luck gaijin in the neon madness of Chiba’s Night City, moving like a pinball between dealers, bars, and all-night game parlours. He hallucinates and hustles, running himself perilously close to the edge, owing money to the wrong people, tempting fate. Then, just as Case is spiralling inevitably to an anonymous death in an alley, the mysterious Armitage appears in his crisp suit and throws him a line; a chance to work again- for a price.

'The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel.'

Image above is from Coso Blues' photostream on Flickr.
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From the famous opening line, “The sky above the port was the colour of television, tuned to a dead channel” to the climax, in earth orbit, falling through the defences of the hostile Artificial Intelligence,Neuromancer is the word made flesh. Writing is called visceral all the time, but rarely does it mimic the reactions and methods of the body as much as Gibson’s does. In the same way that Case jacks into theMatrix, the reader enters Case’s world completely, in the flesh.

The world has changed, but not beyond recognition. The most dangerous kind of science fiction to write is that set in the near future, because it could so easily be proved wrong, so easily turn comically optimistic or gawd-help-us. Just think of how freely the golden age of sci-fi dated itself; flying cars by 1970, robot cooks and surgeons by 1980, bases on the moon by 1995. What a crock.

William Gibson got it right. Writing in 1984, he predicted the Internet, video technology, widely available and functional plastic surgery, net banking, underground lifestyle cults and twenty-four-seven celebrities. But this is not your dad’s future. Gibson’s Sprawl and Chiba City are godless synthetic urban jungles. The nation-state is defunct, horses are extinct, the metalwork is rusting and decaying, the plastics are cheap and pink, the hustlers have biotechnology and neurosurgery, the dealers have derms and no one has a great deal of hope. Everyone is wired on different kinds of chemicals, except for the Rastas, who grow immense forests of ganja in a derelict space station. Life is cheap, data is expensive.

'William Gibson got it right.'

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Armed with his newly-repaired neural system, a suddenly flush line of cash, next-year’s model of Ono-Sendai deck and a firmware construct of a dead hacker legend, Case returns to a world he had lost hope of ever seeing again:

“Cyberspace. A consensual hallucination experienced daily by billions of legitimate operators, in every nation … A graphic representation of data abstracted from the banks of every computer in the human system. Unthinkable complexity. Lines of light ranged in the nonspace of the mind, clusters and constellations of data. Like city lights, receding…”


If the world of cyberspace fascinates Case, with its endless grids of light, the predatory “ice”, the danger of flatlining forever, it is the real world that fascinates the reader. Case’s travels with Armitage and his deadly mercenary sidekick, Molly Millions (who has mirrored implants inset over her eyes, and razors under her nails), take him from the old bazaar of Istanbul to the concrete wasteland of the Boston-Atlanta-Metropolitan-Axis. In this gritty dystopia, the characters they meet are sleazy and unsociable at best, from the Finn – a sort of twenty-first century Fagin, to 3Jane, the scion of an immensely rich family that has had themselves cryogenically frozen for eternity in a satellite in space. It is so rich and fertile a fictional universe that it spawned the entire genre of cyberpunk.

Oh, to be sixteen again, and to be reading Neuromancer for the first time! If it is beguiling to read now, imagine reading it when the Internet as we know it was still young, when operating systems were command-line-based and everyone wanted to learn how to write programs! In the time of Vanilla Ice, how much cooler was the black leather, dull chrome, thumping beats world of the Sprawl!

For the first time, I will admit these shameful truths in public. A lot of people suffer puberty. Unfortunately, I suffered puberty and read Neuromancer at the same time. Then I read everything else by Gibson. For a couple of years, his work became my world. So I taught myself how to program computers and how to Telnet into servers and set up (since abandoned) webpages. I got hold of an old trench coat and wore it all the time and listened to incomprehensible minimalist Japanese techno and drank litres of black coffee. If anyone had given me the access to the drugs or the weapons, I would have embraced them with a grateful whimper. I too cultivated a casual contempt for the flesh, especially where pretty girls were concerned, in part because none of them was one-tenth as awesome as Molly. Bizarrely, even though they had not read anything at all by Gibson, they reciprocated with a casual contempt of their own.

Now I am older. So is the Internet; the bones are covered in skin and flesh and smiles, but do not be fooled. If information does not necessarily want to be free, know that it has a life all of its own, that complex systems generate their own endemic forms of life. Know also that technology, the biggest mover of people and money in our time, is child to and slave of the imagination.

After all, Gibson wrote Neuromancer on a typewriter.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

From - Obsession and the Slacker

Obsession and the Slacker

by Satyajit Sarna | December 02, 2010

Image above is from Wolf Gang's photostream on Flickr.

All obsessives belong to the same tribe. Surely you know a member. The subject may be different – matchbox covers, vintage cars, ice hockey, Tibetan Buddhism - but the phenomenon is the same. The pathology of the obsessed is universal; it encompasses limitless research, listing and numbering like a librarian, the performance of elaborate rituals, and an overriding first charge on the victim’s finances.

In High Fidelity, Rob runs Championship Vinyl, a record shop specialising in “everything for the serious record collector”. He frequently has no customers before lunchtime and spends his time doing crosswords and formulating top-five lists. He has top-five lists of Elvis Costello songs and of Dustin Hoffman movies. He spends weeks reorganising his record collection at home. Every time he meets a girl he likes, he makes mixed tapes. Music is Rob’s life, but it no longer makes him happy. 

In some ways, this was not Rob’s choice. He did not intend to be thirty-five years old and working at a record store, even if he does own it, single, poor, and wondering why. But since one disastrous breakup in his university years, he dropped out, wandered about, spent a lot of time feeling sorry for himself, and has not made a big or active decision since. In fact, Rob never made any choices that mattered and one day, he woke up and his life had settled in around him like a tight sweater.

But High Fidelity isn’t just about a loser and his music. Rob also has a top-five list of breakups, and the last one doesn’t even make the list. Laura has just left him and Rob feels better at first; he feels great. Gradually, the façade crumbles. He spends all day fantasising about beating up her new lover and half the night calling his house. In order to figure out what went wrong, he starts at the beginning, and goes in search of his top-five breakup ex-girlfriends, starting from the fifth grade.

Reading about Rob’s desperate, tortured circling makes me shift uncomfortably, because I’ve seen something ugly in the mirror. We men are fucked up. We’re pathetic. We never have enough. If we have company, we want sex; if we have sex, we want compatibility. If we have sex and compatibility, we want something new because what is the point of being happy with what you’ve got?

Fever Pitch is non-fiction; the story of Hornby’s own obsession with the Arsenal Football Club. Every since his dad took him to the Arsenal match as an eleven-year-old, the world of masculinity and achievement and self-actualisation for Hornby merged inexorably with being a Gunner. The book is divided not by chapters, but by fixtures, spanning decades. Through thick or thin, Hornby is bound by the code of the football fan to his team. If the Arsenal win 3-0 away at Leeds in the FA Cup semis, it’s been a grand week; and if they lose narrowly to Swindon Town at Highbury, then even before you leave the stadium, you know that your boss will shout at you, the bills are coming in, and the weather’s looking shite.

Keep in mind, this isn’t Wenger’s Arsenal that Hornby would head out to keep vigil for. This is dirty physical old Arsenal, 1-0 Arsenal, offside trap Arsenal. Football in England before the advent of thePremier League or foreign players was a miserable sodden smelly trip once a week to terraces where drunk punters would puke, piss, or spill on you while you struggled to watch hefty clunkers thump balls upfield in the rain. But this was the world of the football fan, before prawn-cocktail sandwiches and tickets that cost fifty quid and wriggly little French players and red cards handed out for intent.

The troubling thing is that Hornby, and Hornby’s character Rob (who are now starting to look a bit similar, aren’t they?) have absolutely no adult interests. Neither could give a fig about the National Health Services or the falling dollar. Again, reading this, I feel a discomforting association. When do young men stop being boys? And is it right for them to actually be allowed to make decisions that have any impact whatsoever on anyone else? After all, if you still get excited by the Xbox or you can spend days cataloguing Chuck Berry B-sides, are you really fit to have a child or get married or for God’s sake, even have a woman expect anything of you?

"Nick Hornby is a one-trick pony. All his books are actually the same book.

You realise this when you’ve read about four of them and feel a strange sense of déjà vu."
Image above and on article thumbnail is from the Wikimedia Commons here.

Hornby’s forte is recreating scenes of emotional power and conveying their impact on the character. At the trough of his depression, Rob visits the Harry Lauder, with “ceilings so high that the cigarette smoke gathers above your head like a cartoon cloud. It’s tatty and draughty, and the benches have had the stuffing slashed out of them, and the staff are surly, and the regular clientele are either terrifying or unconscious, and the toilets are wet and smelly, and there’s nothing to eat in the evening, and the wine is hilariously bad, and the bitter is fizzy and much too cold; in other words, it’s a run-of-the-mill North London pub”. For some reason, cutting through all his music snobbery and carefully nurtured taste, he finds himself crying at a cover of Peter Frampton’s Baby, I Love Your Way and realises that he is crying because he misses Laura with a passion, and simultaneously, without contradiction, he has fallen in love with the singer. This is the lot of men, and somehow, Nick Hornby gets it. He gets it in Rob, and he gets it in himself, and thrillingly, he gets it in me, poor sods all.

Likewise, there’s a scene in Fever Pitch, when, at the end of the 1989 season, at the end of a long decade of not winning anything, Arsenal are left needing a two-goal victory at Anfield to win theChampionshipLiverpool have not conceded two goals at home in four years. In the dying seconds, Michael Thomas latches on to a through ball, untidily bundles it past the last man, and pokes it in at the near post. At this juncture, despite this being the moment he has waited for the entirety of his life as a fan, for the first time, Hornby feels the compulsion of something greater.

Nick Hornby is a one-trick pony. All his books are actually the same book. You realise this when you’ve read about four of them and feel a strange sense of déjà vu. It doesn’t matter that Fever Pitch is about football and relationships, that High Fidelity is about music and relationships, that A Long Way Down is about suicide and relationships, and that Slam is about skateboards and relationships. They’re all pretty much the same story, but what a story – that ordinary people with screwed-up lives can make decisions to make their lives meaningful. If you can keep pulling it off, it may grow old, but it doesn’t get any less wonderful.

Ultimately, the most empowering thing about mania and maniacs is what it reveals about the everyday:
‘Have you got any soul?’ a woman asks the next afternoon. That depends, I feel like saying; some days, yes, some days, no. A few days ago I was right out; now I’ve got loads, too much, more than I can handle. I wish I could spread it around a bit more evenly, I want to tell her, get a better balance, but I can’t seem to get it sorted. I can see she wouldn’t be interested in my internal stock control problems though, so I simply point to where I keep the soul I have, right by the exit, just next to the blues.