An interview with Stewart Home: youth cults, pulps and, of course, Marx
“The communities that create a culture are more important than the culture itself, but those communities should be expansive and inclusive like the working class is in its totality”
🇮🇹 Attenzione! Questa intervista con Stewart Home è disponibile anche in italiano: Un'intervista con Stewart Home: sottoculture, pulp e, ovviamente, Marx.
Stewart Home is a cultural agitator, a fiction and essay writer, an artist, an art hystorian, a communist, a former neoist and currently a fighter against the gentrification of London, where he was born in 1962.
Regarding the specific interests of this blog, he experienced the punk rock explosion and the renaissance of the skinhead cult – he has been a skin since the late ’70s for at least two decades, furthermore he has been a ska and punk rock musician.
As far as it concerns Stewart Home’s writings, we have to mention his late ’70s punk fanzine Down in the Street, his pulp novels – some of which are very focused on youth cults – and his very attractive as well as amusing essay Cranked Up Really High – Genre Theory and Punk Rock (1995), which we talked about in our article on skinhead revivalists and boneheads (the post is in Italian only, but you can still rely on Google Translate for a rough translation).
Since you can find lots of info and interviews on Stewart Home’s artistic and intellectual activities on the Internet – starting from his website Stewart Home Society – we decided to focus the following conversation on ’70s and early ’80s music and youth subcultures. Enjoy the reading!
As far as we know, you joined the punk scene early on. We guess that you adopted the skinhead look during the late ‘70s revival. Can you explain us in further detail how you’ve been involved in the world of subcultures?
Subculture was just a normal part of growing up around London and the whole of the UK in the Seventies, especially for working class kids. So my immersion in youth subculture predates punk or the skinhead revival.
One of the first bands I really liked was T.Rex, especially their early hits like “Get It On”. The radio was always on pop music stations when I was at home so I heard all the hits of the Sixties and Seventies when they came out. That said, my views diverged from those of the older kids around me. When The Beatles broke up in 1970 some of the schoolboys I got the bus to school with were really upset, but I didn’t care coz I wasn’t into The Beatles or The Stones since to me they were the idols of an older generation.
When I was eight or nine, apart from T. Rex I really liked a wide range of things but especially the reggae releases that would make the British charts back then, the more commercial end of skinhead reggae, and of course I liked Motown and other soul music.
In those days when you were 11 years-old you changed from junior to secondary school – unless you passed the 11 plus exam which I didn’t and nor did many working class kids. Subculture got a bit more serious when you went to secondary school. The one I attended had became notorious for the violence of the skinheads who went there right at the start of the Seventies coz stories about them had been featured in the national press. But I didn’t go there until 1973, so by then skinheads – who’d emerged from the hard end of mod – had evolved first into suedeheads and then boot boys.
A lot of the boys at school wore the clothes that were two stages on from the skinhead look, we grew our hair long, wore Oxford bags (loose fitting trousers that rather than flaring out at the bottom were spacious all the way down but as wide as flares and which also had huge waist bands), wide collared shirts often that buttoned down and had picture patterns on them, and of course boots. Ideally you had cherry red Dr. Martens boots that went up to you knee, but they were expensive, so I had cheaper army surplus boots.
The boot boy look kinda crossed over with the northern soul, which was one of the subcultures at my school. Not when I started but when we were a bit bigger there were kids from my class who regularly went to Wigan Casino at the weekend, and everyone knew the most popular tunes from that scene, although the hipsters were into serious obscurities. There was also a small scene of people still into mod at school, big on The Who; this was way before the late-Seventies mod revival.
The main subcultural split was between soul boys and grease, the latter aspired to get a motorbike when they were old enough and act like hells angels. But the soul boy cult was much stronger than the biker culture. We all read books about bikers but grease was very much a minority thing.
Musically punk goes back to the Sixties and even earlier, but as a subculture it is very much a product of the mid-Seventies. In the summer of 1976 I discovered – on the So It Goes TV show – the contemporary punk rock scene and decided to go with that. There was a girl in my class who decided to be a punk rocker about the same time and for a year from the summer of 1976 to the summer of 1977 we were the only two punks in the school. After that there were a few more but it was still a very minority thing when we left school in 1978.
When I was into punk I got on fine with the soul boys at school coz I liked that music, and it didn’t bother them if I liked punk too. I experienced much more bigotry about my liking for soul on the punk scene where it wasn’t considered cool. By the time they left school a lot of the soul boys were having a bit of an identity crisis because between them they were divided over whether to stick with northern soul or go in a jazz-funk direction. I never really worried about that stuff because I thought you should just go with what you liked and that it was possible to like more than one thing at the same time.
By the end of the Seventies I was finding the punk look too scruffy, so I’d switch between mod and skinhead revival fashions. If you had your hair short but not too short you could be a mod one night and a skinhead the next. And you could wear a lot of the same clothes, button-down shirts, sta-prest trousers, Harrington jackets, whether you had boots or shoes on made a big difference – and of course the target t-shirts etc. were strictly mod! And for punk bands I’d just dress down a bit more if I didn’t wanna go as a skinhead.
Some of the mod revival bands were really great live although many of them didn’t sound so good on record. I went to see them all but of the more famous ones The Purple Hearts were the best and I saw them a lot.
What were the cultural influences for the boys of your age? Did they intersect with the world of subcultures in any way?
I notice Tim Wells talked in his interview with you about the kind of books that went around in school and that reflected the culture we had. Tim was born in North London and I was born in South London but the stuff he mentions is what was popular at my school too. Books about skinheads and hells angels mostly – but not exclusively – published by New English Library, war books by the likes of Sven Hassel, and as Tim also mentioned The Rats by James Herbert, which was huge.
William Peter Blatty’s novel The Exorcist also had a impact because we all wanted to see the film but the cinema managers would never let us in because you were supposed to be 18 to see it. Back then age restrictions weren’t too strictly enforced, so as long as you claimed to be 18 it was usually no problem getting to see Bruce Lee and other kung fu films, and I went to see as many of those as I could. The odd cinema manager would tell you if the cops came you must promise to say the cashier asked you your age and you said you were 18, but most seemed completely unbothered and were more interested in your cash than the fact you and they were technically breaking the law. However when it came to X-rated sex or horror movies, the managers turned away 12 year-olds, as they clearly thought we shouldn’t be seeing them.
Our reading was heavily influenced by cinema, nearly everyone used to see the James Bond movies when they came out, and we read the Ian Fleming novels too. I didn’t know too many kids who read sci-fi and fantasy novels but I did. I really liked Michael Moorcock when I was 12 but I was reading the Elric novels and didn’t read the Jerry Cornelius books until I was 15 or 16. I didn’t like Sven Hassel’s novels, which I considered Nazi shit, but a lot of other kids did. And although I read them like everyone else, I was aware Richard Allen’s skinhead books were extremely reactionary and much preferred the more progressive politics in Mick Norman’s hells angel novels, where the motorcycle outlaws were the last hope for freedom from an authoritarian regime after the destruction of the Angry Brigade and in which the gay bikers were even harder than the straight ones.
You have to remember this was an era of mass strikes including major ones by miners leading to power cuts and the three day week in the UK, so politics was talked about a lot and it really felt like there was the serious possibility of major change and an end to capitalism. I used to borrow Das Kapital from the local library and put it on my desk at school to wind up the reactionary teachers. I also had a copy of Willie Hamilton’s republican bestseller My Queen & I which I’d leave on my desk and that also upset many of the teachers. So when I discovered punk subculture at 14 it was just perfect for me.
You have to remember that back then the TV we watched was mainly comedy, sports, pop shows and old cinema films that had been sold for broadcast on the small screen. There were only three channels and once or twice a week you’d get to see old silent expressionist films or Universal horrors, or more recent Hammer stuff. But there were hours and hours every day when we couldn’t find anything we wanted to see on TV so we read pulp books.
Spaghetti westerns turned up on TV and most of the kids I knew loved those. I was especially impressed by 5 Man Army (Un esercito di 5 uomini, 1969) scripted by Dario Argento, which I saw on late-night TV in the mid-Seventies. Back then I didn’t know this was part of a subgenre called Zapata Westerns, a cycle which is often seen as starting with A Bullet for the General (Quién Sabe?, 1967), and that these films have been interpreted as critiques of imperialism. It wasn’t until VHS came in during the Eighties that I started catching up with the broad range of Italian cinema of the Sixties and Seventies. I’m actually not much of a Dario Argento fan but I love Mario Bava, Fernando Di Leo and Lucio Fulci for his horrors.
Obviously there was no internet in the Seventies and we couldn’t afford to go to the cinema or gigs all the time, so apart from the kids who were illiterate most of us read books as entertainment, and I read more and faster than anyone else I knew. From 1974 on I’d go to sci-fi bookshops like Dark They Were And Golden Eyed in Soho to get books I couldn’t find anywhere else. But there were a lot of exchange bookshops and market stalls then, dealing in used pulps, so I’d go to those and libraries as well. Once I got into punk I also learned about Compendium Books in Camden Town, so I’d go there to get stuff by beat and surrealist writers – American imports I couldn’t get from a library.
At school in every year there were two classes for illiterate kids and another five for those who could read and write, so seven classes per year in total. I was always in the top classes so for a lot of the time I was separated from the non-readers – but I always got along fine with them when we were doing sports or whatever. It was kids from the local orphanage and Muslim kids who ended up in the remedial classes. About 25% of my school was Muslim and those kids had a different culture, which is not the one I’ve been describing.
There was a definite split between those who came from Christian backgrounds – including African and Afro-Caribbean kids – and Muslim kids. It wasn’t a black and white split, but Christian and Muslim – although there weren’t too many who considered themselves Christian, that was their background culturally. I got very close to a Muslim girl in my class a little before I got into punk rock, and that went down very badly with some of those on both sides of this religious divide, so I’d have to have fights about it.
Religious divisions were worse at school than the first factory I worked in when I left, where there were a lot of Muslims and everyone got on, which isn’t to say there wasn’t blatant discrimination in that Muslims didn’t get the better jobs or to be foremen, and it was often obvious there were Muslim guys who deserved those positions more than the white guys who got them. Part of the reason there was less tension was the workforce was entirely male, so there was none of the bullshit about crossing a line in terms of sexual relationships because no one was admitting to being gay.
Today things aren’t as bad, and the point of what I’m saying is that then it wasn’t easy to be involved in these subcultures if you were Muslim. Clearly there are still many issues to be resolved, but now around London I see a lot more Muslim kids engaged in the same subcultures as kids from other backgrounds – these subcultures tend to be rap orientated but not exclusively so.
According to the common narrative, the skinhead revival had two main tendencies: traditionalist skinheads and skunks. The latter were also called “boneheads” by those who made reference to the original subculture. In fact, in Cranked Up Really High you use such term in its original meaning and not as a synonym of “white power skin”, which is now commonly used. Do you remember exactly when the terms “skunk” and “bonehead” came into use, and when the latter assumed predominantly the meaning of “Nazi skinhead”?
I used these terms differently to you. For me “skunks” was skins and punks together, so a band that had both in or a gig that would attract both – there was a club called “Skunks” on Chapel Market but I never went to it coz it put on shit gigs.
Maybe “skunks” could be used to describe the idiots who hung around The Last Resort shop. I used to go to Petticoat Lane Market to get clothes so obviously I’d have a look in The Last Resort but it was overpriced like the boutiques down the Kings Road in Chelsea. I thought the place was horrible and anyone who bought the unbelievably marked up gear in there had to be stupid. As far as I’m concerned a bonehead was always a badly dressed idiot with very short hair, to me they don’t have to be a Nazi although obviously that’s the association many have with it now.
If you take a look at the pics of the audience of some punk bands – i.e. Sham 69 – you can see skinheads who took care of their style. You used to hang out with a band like Crisis, that had both skins and punks in its line up. Furthermore, if you look at the pictures of skunks and you read some reports of the time, it seems that the “shaven punks” didn’t necessarily fit all the stereotypes commonly attributed to them. The overall impression is that skunks and sussed skinheads had some common ground and that sometimes the differences between the two trends could be blurred. Were the traditionalist and skunk groups so distinct?
The early punk scene was very mixed and things evolved into a more tribal situation later. Towards the end of Crisis there were some very odd characters who turned up at their shows. One of them was an original skinhead known as Nazi Ken. He would have looked sharp if he hadn’t worn a Nazi armband. He had a punk girlfriend but prior to that he’d been married to a black woman. I never had anything to do with him because of his politics which he didn’t seem to take too seriously and also he appeared to be completely off his box, among other things he had a heroin problem, which possibly accounts for why he’d turn up to Rock Against Racism gigs wearing a swastika. The last time I remember seeing him was after a Crisis gig in Brixton. He got up onstage and started waving a blade around and shouting into a microphone that he was gonna slice up the cunt who’d knocked his bird unconscious. His girlfriend had actually passed out from too much booze and drugs.
Some kids from Paddington I got to know at early Adam and the Ants gigs became skinheads too and sadly joined the National Front. So the night they told me they’d joined the Front I had an argument with them, then never spoke to them again.
The audiences and friendships at gigs in the late-Seventies were very mixed in terms of subcultures. It was in the Eighties that things got really tribal. In the Seventies I’d go and see Slaughter and the Dogs one night, and say the original Ultravox! with John Foxx the next, and I’d see some of the same kids in the audience. But from the start of the Eighties everything separated out into different scenes.
What’s different today from then is that if you go to regular punk/garage nights in London now like Dirty Water or Garageland, the audience are mostly in their thirties and forties and mostly from Spain and Italy, with a smaller number from France and other EU countries. In the Seventies the overwhelming majority of the audience at London punk gigs would be teenage to very early twenties kids who’d grown up in the city or its suburbs. It’s also much more expensive to go to gigs now than it was in the Seventies, even taking inflation into account, and there far few music venues and choices of bands to see than there was back then. So we’re lucky to have Garageland once a month, coz amazingly that’s free!
According to some testimonies, some original skinheads used to take drugs inherited by the mods, such as amphetamines. Do you remember any use of drugs during the revival, besides glue? Were such drugs used only by skunks?
There were always a lot of different drugs around both punks and skinheads and other subcultures that interconnected with them. Amphetamines were always popular, in the Seventies they usually came as blues, in tablet form. Back then there were also legal highs, for example kids would drink cough medicine to get out of it. There was a punk band called Actifed named after one brand of medicine punks and skins would drink to get high.
There was also a lot of weed smoking, which makes sense when you think of how skinheads and punks liked reggae. And while they never appealed to me, a lot of people liked downers such as Tuinal; their kick would be to try and stay awake on them, but often you’d see people asleep on the dance floor at gigs coz of what they’d done earlier. Some went on to heavier depressants like smack. Booze too is a downer and a lot of beer got drunk, and some stronger spirits too. I never saw many skinheads doing LSD, but it didn’t take punks long to get into acid.
We guess that you were also into the ska revival. Was there really a lot of left-wing skinheads among the 2 Tone fans, as Chris Dean of the Redskins says in an old interview? And what about Nazi infiltration? Were white power skins only politically motivated or did some of them have a genuine interest for that music genre?
I generally stopped seeing any band that had hit records, so I can only talk of what I saw earlier on in terms of 2 Tone. Chris Dean I suspect was speaking about the later and bigger scene, and I can’t comment on that because I was disengaged from it.
That said, I saw most of the 2 Tone acts, getting into The Specials first coz I saw them on a support slot with The Damned. I then twice saw The Specials with Madness supporting them at a pub in west London called The Nashville; you may know the venue coz pub rock bands like Sex Pistols played there, as well as many punk bands later on.
After that The Specials got in the charts so the venues they played were too big for me to enjoy bands at, although I loved them as a live act. They were really fantastic the three times I did see them. Madness did nothing for me musically but The Selecter grooved me and I also saw all those other bands like The Bodysnatchers and The Beat. But based on seeing these bands in small venues I never noticed any strong left-wing presence, it was just teenagers having a good time. That may have changed later. Likewise I’ve never had anything to do with Nazi skins and I’m not aware of any liking reggae or ska, but it seems probable.
One time I went to Worthing and found a record shop with a lot of soul and the owner was obviously a complete fanatic for black American music. However he also had a load of Nazi records for sale by the likes of Skrewdriver. Worthing is along the south coast from Brighton, so I asked some records dealers I knew from Brighton about the guy when I next saw them. They knew about him and said he was National Front and had been a white power skinhead but he really loved soul music and the Skrewdriver dross he was selling off would have been his own disks.
Whenever I hear Nazi records they’re so bad I figure no one could be listening to them because they like them, it has to be for political reasons, so it makes sense that at least some fascists would crave hearing some decent music from soul or ska acts.
One of the reactions to the growth of Nazis was some left-wing skins explicitly stating their political opinions, at first with only partially successful attempts – i.e. Skins Against the Nazis – and later with the birth of the redskin tendency. Another kind of reaction came from the more traditionalist environments: just think about the fanzine Hard As Nails, that avoided the militant approach but at the same time supported a band like the Redskins. What did you think of such developments? In your opinion, which of the two tendencies gave the best results?
I’d support both approaches. We’re stronger with both. I have well formed political positions but I can get along with someone who has different views from me if they’re not a racist or a fascist. Right-wingers often claim to be apolitical as a way of giving themselves a fig-leaf of respectability, but as long as someone isn’t racist or fascist then while I’d prefer them to get more politically involved ultimately this is their choice and not mine.
That said, the working class finds itself fighting political battles to defend what its got and in the long run to make a better world. But to think I can speed up that process for everyone is to fall for the old idealist and vanguardist fallacy of bringing consciousness in from outside, which is one of the many things wrong with all forms of Bolshevism. So I don’t think I need to bring people to politics, social forces will confront them with political issues and the contradictions of capitalism regardless of how much they try to avoid this.
Your critical – but not entirely negative – attitude towards Oi! is well known. In your interview with Creases Like Knives you claim that from a musical perspective your favourite Oi! bands were those on the left, i.e. The Oppressed and the Blaggers ITA. Even your statements on the subgenre in Cranked Up Really High give us the impression that your lack of sympathy towards Oi! has some ideological reasons, besides your musical tastes and the fact that you were born “in the early rather than mid-Sixties”, as you admit in the quoted interview. We refer above all to the conservative elements actually present in the lyrics of some bands; furthermore, even when those elements are absent, Oi! lyrics hardly go beyond a generic protest against police oppression, the sense of belonging to the working class and so on.
With the exceptions noted above, I really don’t find most Oi! very interesting. It all just seems on one note to me and tedious both aesthetically and politically. I think for young kids having that sense of working class identity being reinforced can be cool, but I’ve gone a bit beyond that and of course overall working class culture is more reflexive and complex than most Oi!
That said, the communities that create a culture are more important than the culture itself… but those communities should be expansive and inclusive like the working class is in its totality!
The attitude of Marxist intellectuals towards the traditional culture of the subaltern classes consists – at least in Italy – in its rigorous documentation, which is followed by the rejection of the conservative and reactionary elements – i.e. machismo and eventually racism – and the valorisation of the potentially progressive or revolutionary elements, like the aversion towards the ruling classes. Do you think a similar attitude towards the working class subcultures and the related musical genres can be possible and appropriate?
The problem with most intellectuals is that they view cultures from the outside, and aren’t part of them. I don’t see this approach as appropriate or something that makes any sense.
I can perhaps best illustrate this by invoking the witchcraft subculture in London, and without intending to I’ve got to know many witches. These witches often grew up a long way from London, in Southern Europe or the Americas and they believe in things that most Marxist intellectuals would view as superstition. They also organise against gentrification and animal cruelty and many other things, and are mostly working class women. They tend to have really interesting practices when it comes to gender – with quite a number I’ve met using physical love as a way to transcend it. They try to create wholeness through a merging of male and female.
As an aside, ritual magic tends to attract bourgeois and aspirant bourgeois men, so as a class formation it’s very different to witchcraft. If I told the witches I know to throw away their tarot cards and “superstitions” and succeeded, I would undermine their entire subculture. Of course, there is overwhelming evidence to show that Wicca and other forms of contemporary witchcraft were invented in England in the mid-twentieth century, but most of the witches I meet believe what they practice is a pre-Christian survival. I’ve tried arguing with them about this but it goes nowhere and that doesn’t really matter because we can agree that traditions must be continually reinvented.
While others take quite a harsh view of tarot, I don’t view this type of divination as reactionary or necessarily superstitious. Tarot can be quite useful in helping someone make decisions when they feel stuck with their choices in life. I view the symbolism as a way of exercising the brain, although all the witches I know see it as connecting to unseen powers. But tarot can work for different people for different reasons, and given the balance of social forces at the moment to try and “rationalise” witchcraft from a shallow Marxist or intellectual perspective would be to rob it of its power.
And actually the goal of communism is disalienation and to take us beyond the limitations of class societies. This isn’t a question of simply the return at a higher level of the modes of social organisation found in primitive communist societies (i.e. pre-class societies) but of the modes of consciousness of primitive communist societies too. And witchcraft is much closer to that than the arid theorising of intellectuals who fail to continually reforge the passage between theory and practice.
A lot of the witches I know intersect with the punk rock scene; often they were into punk before they got into witchcraft but now combine the two. There doesn’t seem to be much crossover between witchcraft and skinheads, although one witch I knew on the London punk scene had back in the Eighties led the skinhead gang in the Spanish village she’d grown up in. She was a punk rather than a skingirl but she was a lot cleverer than the rest of otherwise male gang, which was why she was able to lead it. She always said there weren’t many bad girls in her village but those there were, including her, were really tough. She came to London to get away from the gang violence she’d been involved in back in Spain and had come to regret. She wasn’t a witch in Spain but once she was in London she got initiated into a Wiccan coven.
Not all the witches I know who’ve also been through the punk scene are Wiccans, at least some view themselves as post-Wiccan and say that because the world has shifted witchcraft had to change and the old styles of occult magic don’t work anymore!
The exhibition I currently have on in London, Dual Flying Kicks at 5 Years Gallery, is very influenced by what I’ve learnt from these witches and addresses the mixing of masculine and feminine energies that so obsesses them. So on the one hand Dual Flying Kicks deals with the Brucesploitation film genre and martial arts as hypermasculine, and on the other witchcraft as a manifestation of the feminine. Among other things I’m demonstrating that if you push the hypermasculine or hyperfeminine far enough they will tip into their opposite– but I also address how the occult revival paved the way for an interest in martial arts.
In the interview quoted above, you claim that for you being a skin was probably more a fashion thing than a way of life, since you “did not take it too seriously” and saw clothing as important because you “deplore scruffy boneheads”. Yet you had been in this subculture for at least twenty years, much longer than many others. We don’t want to end the conversation in a trivial way, but we’d like to know your opinion on the motto “once a skinhead, always a skinhead”. Do you still feel, to some extent, a sense of belonging to the cult? Don’t you think that, even when the style is put aside, having belonged to the subculture for such a long time has helped to make you what you are, and therefore will influence your subsequent activities?
I think if you understand how I came to skinhead via boot boy subculture and punk, and that mod is central to much British youth culture since the 1960s, then “once a skinhead, always a skinhead” makes no sense when applied to me. This is to do with both my age and the fact I’m from London.
I think in Southern Europe it is harder to break away from a social conservatism than in London. A lot of kids from outside global cities like London use subculture to break with the patterns of the past. So I know a lot of people who’ve moved to London from Italy and Spain and are now in their forties and fifties but are still punks and skinheads because for them to give up on their subculture would be to give in to the forces of conservativism they rebelled against. So saying “once a skinhead (or punk) always a skinhead (or punk)” makes sense for them but not for me. We come from different places (and London now is not the London I knew as a kid and teenager, so I too come from somewhere else) but we’ve ended up together, and while we share a lot, on this we are different.
The end of your question puts in my mind that famous quote from The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte by Marx:
Men make their own history, but they do not make it as they please; they do not make it under self-selected circumstances, but under circumstances existing already, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brains of the living. And just as they seem to be occupied with revolutionizing themselves and things, creating something that did not exist before, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service, borrowing from them names, battle slogans, and costumes in order to present this new scene in world history in time-honored disguise and borrowed language.
So while I cannot escape my past and it influences me, I still try to go beyond it. You can look at my visual work or my novels and you’ll see they’ve evolved. The visual work I’ve made since the 1990s is very pretty compared to the deliberately ugly approach I had in the Eighties. Likewise, my writing moved on from the earlier stuff dealing with punk and skinhead subcultures to other concerns.
Of course, I’m proud of what I did in the past but I don’t need to go back to it, and in some ways it isn’t possible to go back to certain parts of it. There’s more critical interest in Richard Allen and the New English Library youth culture novelists now than ever, but I’ve done all I need to do in terms of that stuff. I’m glad I interviewed Laurence James who was an editor of a lot of those books, as well as writing four of them, before he died, but obviously that’s not something that can be done again. As far as I’m aware there aren’t any other interviews with James covering his work as a writer and editor at New English Library. So I’d consider that interview important but I’ve other things I need to do now.
Moving on, Morbid Books published my collected poems under the title SEND CA$H last month, and I was happy they did that. They come across my sporadic poetry from the early Eighties, then mid-Nineties and finally some even in this century and asked if they could publish it all together. I was happy enough for them to do this but it wasn’t my idea and I wouldn’t have spent time looking for someone to publish this material in its entirety. There were long periods of years and years when I never wrote a poem because it isn’t really my focus.
I’m much more excited about my forthcoming book Re-Enter The Dragon: Genre Theory, Brucesploitation & The Sleazy Joys of Lowbrow Cinema because with that I’m breaking new ground. While there’s been a lot of scribbling about films that riff on Bruce Lee, it’s mainly been fan writing by people who’ve never got to grips with genre theory in cinema. So there is an incredible amount of misinformation around on this subject and a failure on the part of many fans to understand what constitutes a film genre. I’m excited to be destroying a lot of untenable myths and opening up a whole area of film that hasn’t been properly explored as far as writing in the English language goes.
The bulk of the films I’m dealing with were made in the Seventies and Eighties, although there are examples that are less than ten years old. So in some ways you can say I’m going back to an interest I’ve had since I was a twelve year-old boot boy, but at the same time I actually think this book will be useful to those interested in film genre and how we theorise that, as well as those into Brucesploitation, so it goes well beyond what interested me about martial arts films when I was a kid. So again the influences of the past are there and I understand how that forms me, but at the same time I don’t want to allow it to become a limit.
I’m not nostalgic for the past coz we ain’t going back there. There was an amazing live music and cinema culture in London in the Seventies, and we’ve not got anything like that now, but today I have access to a lot more than I ever did back then in terms of both recorded music and film. Likewise, the food in London in the Seventies was truly awful, and the very idea of having to eat now what I ate then makes me feel sick. And while there’s still racism, there’s more integration now than there was in the Seventies. So some things are better now and we should always focus more on the future than the past, without ignoring or forgetting the past.