Saturday, February 05, 2011

"It's all supposed to be embargoed"

An interesting long piece about Michael Moorcock by Hari Kunzru at the Guardian. (Strange to say, I have never actually read a book by Moorcock, though obviously his influence is everywhere; please offer recommendations in the comments if you feel that there is a particular one I can't live without reading!)

A couple of bits I especially liked:
In a recent introduction to The Dancers at the End of Time, which is set in a decadent far future, Moorcock claims to have sported Wildean green carnations as a teenager, not to mention "the first pair of Edwardian flared trousers (made by Burton) as well as the first high-button frock coat to be seen in London since 1910". Elric, much less robust than his creator, who admits his dandyish threads gave him "the bluff domestic air of a Hamburg Zeppelin commander", is part Maldoror, part Yellow Book poseur and part William Burroughs; within a few years of his first appearance in 1961, British culture suddenly seemed to be producing real-life Elrics by the dozen, as Keith Richards, Jimmy Page and others defined an image of the English rock star as an effeminate, velvet-clad lotus-eater. Moorcock was very popular among musicians, and it's tempting to see him as co-creator of the butterfly-on-a-wheel character, which still wanders the halls of English culture in guises ranging from Sebastian Horsley to Russell Brand. I ask him whether he felt at the time that the 60s rockers were living out a role he'd imagined. He's too modest to agree, but tells an anecdote that seems to sum up psychedelic London's openness to fantasy of all kinds. "I'm in the Mountain grill on the Portobello Road, where everyone used to meet to get on the tour buses. I'm sitting there, and this bloke called Geronimo is trying to sell me some dope. He says 'have you heard about the tunnel under Ladbroke Grove?'. He starts to elaborate, about how it's under the Poor Clares nunnery, and you can go into that and come out in an entirely different world. I said to him, 'Geronimo, I think I wrote that'. It didn't seem to bother him much."
The literary culture in which Moorcock, Ballard and their peers could make a living from magazine serialisations seems as distant now, in the era of the internet, as the Grub Street of the 18th century to which it bears a more than passing resemblance. I ask Moorcock about his famous 15,000 daily word-rate. How on earth is it possible to produce so much? "It's all planning. I'd have been in bed for three days, during which I've had time to sketch out the story. Then I spring out of bed and I've got a straight nine to five – or nine to six or seven – regime, which frequently includes taking the kids to school, then I just sit down and go through with an hour break for lunch." He makes it sound deceptively simple, though not without its side-effects. "When you write that fast the book really does start to write you, you get high on the book. It's partly lack of sleep, it's partly the sugar – in my case I only had strong black coffee because it kept me going."

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