Category Archives: Culture

Maxine Peake, Widnes Council, and a Reclaimed Toxic-Waste Dump – Reflections on Spike Island

Exactly 30 years to the day, what’s changed? I like Maxine Peake for her membership of the Communist Party and for her outspokenness on political matters (and she’s a truly great actor (but maybe yet to be recognised as such)).

The only occasion I’ve had to go near Widnes in the 30 years since is to drop some paperwork off at a colleague’s house (Widnes and surrounding areas are much nicer than the name Widnes suggests – maybe Widnes Council needs to amplify this (or change its name). I once lived near Summertown, Oxford. They know how to name places down there. It lived up to its name.

The Stone Roses LP is still a part of my vinyl collection, and is, in fact, unsleeved on my (still/static) turntable right now. I own way more vinyl than 30 years ago.

Maxine Peake took a beating from a critic for her performance in Peterloo (something to do with her northern accent) – maybe the critic should have been focusing on the incident itself, and the fact that kids like me weren’t taught about such things (or the tanks sent to Glasgow shipyardsto ward off the ‘threat’ of communism; or the use of paramilitary troops disguised as police officersto break up the coal miners’ strikes).

I didn’t value mon£y then (I never had much until around 1996). I don’t value it now, and have arguments with people about it. I did have a phase in between where I had money and acted like people who have money (and didn’t like it (the pha$e) very much).

I think the Stone Roses are in danger of becoming their own tribute act.

The world is in such a mess it is hard to tune out.

Much of human activity is pointless, at best, and destructive, at worst.

Doing anything for mOn€y involves compromise.

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25” Straight Leg Jeans, Fishing Hat, and C20H25N3O – Reflections on Spike Island

Jeans. So wide at bottom, trainers/trainees/sneakers completely obscured from view. Turn-ups 3” deep, turned 3 times, gather roughly 1” dirt/dust over course of night. Later emptied onto bedroom floor. Pockets deep enough to hide Lysergic Acid Diethylamide, for personal consumption. Two packets of fags. £30. Lip balm stick. Zippo lighter. 30 years on, jeans lay in paper bag in attic. Nearly new. One careful owner. Pockets empty.

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Fishing Hat. Bought from Army Navy Stores on high street. Morning of Stone Roses concert: Lee’s back yard. Selection of Airfix paint pots, very small. Dip tiny paintbrush, flick paint onto hat. Old bed sheet on patio appeases Lee’s mum. Colours selected: Made of Stone (hat: light khaki/stone?). Not yet aware of Jackson Pollock (have heard name in lyrics). 15 minutes after concert ends, hat stolen w/ menace. 30 years on, presumed dead. Reward offered for safe return.

C20H25N3O. Safely enters Spike Island. Spends 2 hours playing in pocket fluff. Tiny piece of cardboard/paper w/ kooky image (of what?). Taken w/ water. 1 hour later all faces look implausibly distorted, both animal and alien-like. Dry mouth. Cigarette smoke causes wincing, watering mouth, and colours in back of eyes. Smoking oddly unpleasant yet comforting. Toilet trips fraught w/anxiety. Light reflecting off disco ball (for Waterfall) causes tiny slashes on face (hand waving cannot deflect light/slashes). Concert ends. Walk to car, alone. Hat stolen. 6 or 7 of them. 1 of me. Walk on. Find approximate parking area. 30 minutes getting anxious (friends watching do not let on, just watch). Friend retrieves distraught me. Safe in car. Up to Lee’s room. Inspect dust/dirt. Ears hurt. Eyes won’t close. Dry mouth. Wincing at smells and colours.

27thMay 1990. Spike Island, Widnes.

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Sunny. Hot. Dry. Vivid.


Even Amidst Fierce Flames… #TransLivesMatter

An ardent fan of FX’s POSE, watching Paris is Burning further cements the extent to which we are all indebted, culturally, to those who simultaneously thrive and struggle in subcultural realms. It is fair to say that the riches they magically produce from next to nothing to put on a Ball, for instance (admittedly, sometimes through criminal means), or to form a family House, both, in part, to provide structure and meaning for the younger generation but also to validate their own existence, succinctly demonstrates the wastefulness of our society, where the mainstream fails to recognise the true value of such activity – instead occupied with figuring out how best to plunder it for financial gain. At least that’s my cynical view of things.

In previous posts, on the subject of House music’s origins in Chicago, I discuss my own purposeful, carefully planned pilgrimage to The Warehouse, 206 S. Jefferson St., and the debt that I feel towards the pioneers of the genre – again, those bringing something new and vibrant into the world, and often with very little at their disposal. While there, in passing (queuing for coffee) I chat with kids busy with their preparations for Pride weekend, some of whom possibly too young and confident to have given much thought to those that came before them – although they were thoughtful enough to make me aware of the areas I shouldn’t wander into in Chicago. Kids dressed in tutus, boob tubes, and wild, colourful adornments and even wilder hairdos, far more concerned with the violence that I might experience than for their own safety, which is kind of a nice thing – that they don’t live in fear of what someone might do just because they are seen to be different by a minority of hateful people with skewed perspectives.

And so the point of this post is the deep sadness that I experienced as Paris is Burning draws to a close. Somewhat naïve, and occasionally hopeful, despite my cynicism, I wasn’t prepared for news of Venus Xtravaganza’s murder. I’d already ‘lived’ that when Candy dies in a similar manner in POSE. Sitting/laying on a bed talking about her hopes and dreams of a domesticated life with a husband out in the suburbs may sound a little bit cliché, but that was Venus’ dream, and for someone forced to move away (or to feel like they’re forced to move away to save a family the embarrassment of having to explain away the fact that Thomas Pellagatti doesn’t exist anymore – Venus Xtravaganza has taken over) in her early teens, to a life where someone ends up seeing you as literally so worthless that they’ll strangle you and leave your dead body under a bed, not to be found for around four days, is way more than sad. It is fair to say that in Venus we see (if we so choose) a Golden Lotus that endures.


Socialism may just Save the World (for now) – only very slightly, and not directly, linked with The International Adam Curtis Society series of posts

In light of the Covid-19 stuff that’s going on right now, there are three things worth pausing over:

Commonality. Knowing that this virus does not appear to discriminate brings the possibility for renewed connection. Maybe life’s too short to hate. It’s probably too valuable to keep doing things the way we have. Wars, weapons, greed, etc., all seem fairly crass at a time like this (yet their effects are long-lasting and far-reaching).

Community. Though there are always stupid people amongst us, the vast majority of things I’m seeing and hearing about are tales of positivity – people being kind and compassionate to one another. People willing to help others in a time of need.

Communication. Fortunate that we do not have to live within our own limited bubbles, modern technology offers the chance to connect and engage with like-minded people around the globe. Feeling that there are others who think, feel, care the way we do can bring great comfort.

And as capitalism ceases to function (though, perhaps, temporarily), brought to its knees in a matter of weeks, it’s worth reflecting on the derivation of the three words above. They are all linked. In many ways they are lynchpins of capitalist society (certainly the latter two), yet society seems reluctant to acknowledge this fact. Anyhoo… stay safe, comrades.

We are The International Adam Curtis Society.

We know no boundaries.

With love,

President Matthew Alexander…

(The International Adam Curtis Society series of blog posts will not use imagery, web links, or anything other than the written word to convey its message. Distraction and entertainment is not our goal.)


Roosevelt Diggin’ the Commie Vibes- The International Adam Curtis Society series of posts

The central tenet of Adam Curtis’ The Century of the Self (Part One): Happiness Machines is that Freud’s theories around human ‘drives’ are used to underpin the Capitalist system throughout the 20th century – appeal to the most base elements of humankind and you can sell them all the stuff you wish (and profit financially in the process). Curtis documents facts around Freud’s nephew, Edward Bernays, who influenced big business in the U.S. in all manner of Freudian thinking around ideas of consumerism – not mentioned is Ernest Dichter, a disciple of Freud’s, who functioned in a similar manner. Now, this is one way of going about things, using marketing, advertising, public relations, and so on, to influence consumers, but it’s condescending at best, and just plain manipulative at worst. Edward Bernays’ daughter, Ann, sums this up as the planned wedding together of democracy and Capitalism, in order that it be inconceivable for anyone to think that democracy could ever survive without a Capitalist system to protect it.

Curtis positions Roosevelt and the ‘New Deal’ in opposition to this, stating that Roosevelt understood the benefits of not treating members of the public as ‘passive consumers’ – Roosevelt preferring to engage with the masses as ‘active citizens’ capable of thinking for themselves (and of the needs of others). Now, Roosevelt was no saint (his ‘deal’ did not apply to all citizens, obviously), but what Roosevelt actioned/approved/sanctioned during this period is akin to the early years of Lenin’s Russia (though starting from a much more advanced position, technologically and ideologically), and thus I find it very hard for anyone to argue against the fact that Roosevelt used the mechanisms of Communist thought to lift the U.S. out of the doldrums it found itself in during the 20s and 30s. Roosevelt’s ‘New Deal’ was born of Leftist thinking, a crazy bastard-child of democracy and socialism. Comrade Roosevelt’s vision underpins the logic of Communist ideals – the P.O.T.U.S. ensures that state funding provides work, and security, and prospects. That’s not how Capitalism works. That’s not how the ‘markets’ wish to operate. F.D.R. was RED. That’s for sure. Discuss.

If you have stuff to say about Adam Curtis’ works, or have ideas that spring from them, you should email: Matthew.Alexander@liverpool.ac.uk

We are The International Adam Curtis Society.

We know no boundaries.

With love,

President Matthew Alexander…

(The International Adam Curtis Society series of blog posts will not use imagery, web links, or anything other than the written word to convey its message. Distraction and entertainment is not our goal.)


Theaster Gates – Amalgam

On at Tate Liverpool as a special exhibition, Theaster Gates’ Amalgam ebbs and flows in the way it conveys the horrors that U.S.A. administration policy visited upon the people of Malaga, a small island off the coast of Maine in the early 1900s.

There are, however, some joyful elements to take from Gates’Amalgam, and it will be up to each individual to find these.

The smell of the Ash pillars is one such element. Get up close. Press nostrils to the wood. Inhale the uniquely vibrant stench of death.

The other element is contained in Gates’ multi-media film that runs on loop.

For a few brief moments two individuals stare (at one another). The look is (enough). The connection pure. This, for anyone who has ever felt it, is the moment a heart feels (like it’s to burst). As you catch another’s stare. Something fixes (the gaze). It is a back and forth. (It is). And you are lost, if only for a brief spell. Unable to look away. Almost unable (to breathe). All else fades (from view). And upon averting one’s gaze, for that has to happen at some point, that person seems to live within you. They are all (you see). The memory of features (imprinted). Recalled (at will). A vital presence. Carried (within). Felt )without(.

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(For my friend).


What does Art do?

Depending on where and how you view art, and then again, what type of art you’re viewing, the effect it has on a viewer might be different. I can recall many standout moments from established, world-famous galleries, such as the Tate Modern showing of Rothko’s ‘Four Seasons’paintings, or Bourgeois’ ‘Maman’, for instance.

But what about the pop-up shows, the shoestring-budget shows, the ones where selling stuff isn’t the primary objective? Well, after mulling one of these shows over for a couple of weeks I’ve come to the conclusion that the main effect I experienced is that of thinking… What am I meant to think? Am I being guided by the artists to think? Or am I thinking anew because of what I’ve seen? And even… what have I just seen – what’s its purpose?

And thinking is never a bad thing, so, the overall result on a person’s psyche must be impactful at the very least. If it stays with you, as this show has, its effect will be long-lasting and far-reaching (assuming that I’m not the only one still thinking about it (the show)).


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