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The Masthead

This September The Wire posse was out in force in Chicago for what looks like becoming an annual celebration of Adventures In Modern Music at The Empty Bottle. For a full account of the action, featuring Keith Rowe, Oxbow, Noxagt, Sightings and more, see On Location, page 80. Sad to say, my nag had thrown its shoe and with this lame excuse ringing in their ears, the posse left me at home with a consolation copy of Nonconformity, a fierce yet hear tfelt polemic on writing and resistance by one of Chicago’s finest sons, Nelson Algren (1909-81).

Unpublished until 15 years after his death, the pamphlet was in par t seeded by Algren’s Hollywood encounters with director Otto Preminger and the people behind the film version of his most famous novel, Man With The Golden Arm, which threatened to sanitise the book’s grim depictions of Chicago’s dir tpoor mean streets (which coincidentally appalled the city fathers, one of whom Algren would later memorably describe as having a “puss like a forsaken moose” in another pamphlet, Chicago: City On The Make). But it ver y quickly flowered into a broadside against those ar tists who chose the path of least resistance during the 40s and 50s era, as defined by Cold War fear and the un

American witchhunts led by rabid anti-communist Joe McCar thy. With a mighty broad sweep, the writers Algren invokes in the cause of resisting the onset of fear-induced mediocrity include his onetime lover Simone De Beauvoir, F Scott Fitzgerald, Gide, Kafka, Dostoevsky and Joseph Conrad, whom he quotes: “A novelist who would think himself of a superior essence to other men would miss the first condition of his calling.” Elsewhere he draws sustenance from a 1952 speech by the brilliantly named Judge Learned Hand: “Risk for risk, for myself I had rather take my chance that some traitors will escape detection than spread abroad a spirit of general suspicion and distrust, which accepts rumours and gossip in place of undismayed and unintimidated inquir y.”

50 years later, the media roundly condemned outlaw Countr y singer Steve Earle’s 2002 song “John Walker’s Blues” for attempting to understand what was going on inside the head of an American who fought with the Taliban. Unlike Judge Learned Hand, it would appear, our guardians of freedom still prefer to spread abroad a spirit of general suspicion and distrust. “Our myths,” Algren summarised back in the day, “are so many, our vision so dim, our self-deception so deep and our smugness so gross that scarcely any way now remains of repor ting the American Centur y except from behind the billboards.” The challenging work of Oxbow’s Eugene Robinson, among others at The Empty Bottle, and the mar vellously resilient daftpunk noise of this month’s cover stars Wolf Eyes (page 38) argue that in the American margins, at least, there’s still plenty of action behind the billboards.

Algren’s other non-fiction includes his travel journals Notes From A Sea Diar y and Who Lost An American?, where he repor ts meeting the Japanese poet and theatre visionar y Shuji Terayama. Glumly anticipating a dull exchange with a kimono clad aesthete, he was happily surprised when Terayama whisked him of f to the races. Another encounter with Terayama’s spirit occurred when this month’s Invisible Jukebox candidate, Complicité director Simon McBurney, attended London Riverside’s staging of Directions To Ser vants spectacle, by Terayama’s Tenjo Sajiki in 1979 (page 20).

Finally, The Wire has a new Web editor, Susanna Glaser, whose writing features in The Big Chill anthology reviewed by David Stubbs in Print Run (page 72). Welcome onboard. CHRIS BOHN

W I R E

Adventures In Modern Music Issue 249 November 2004 £3.60 ISSN 0952-0680 (USPS 006231)

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