incendiary-chris cleave

a conversation i had at work the other day:

“if you could only listen to one artist for the rest of your life, who would it be?”

erkyah badu.

“really, badu? i mean..she doesn’t really have that many albums”

“so? every single note she’s ever released has made a mark on my life, and my life has changed a lot in the fifteen years that her music has been in it, and it seems like hers has too, but it’s still relevant. hers was the greatest live show i’ve ever experienced, i already do listen to her music like it’s the only thing around…”

“yea-but think about it-the rest of your life. i mean, bowie would be mine.”

“ok, but you obviously value quantity over quality, and that’s fine if you’re you, but i’m not. badu. final answer. i’ve been committed.”

and as i ponder my unconventional long-term relationships, i suppose it shouldn’t come as a surprise that i kind of fail at any of the conventional ones-that’s just the tradeoff, right? but the thing about miz wright the rapper that stays with me is that everything she does manages to sound different yet familiar. that’s what it means to develop a signature, but not get lazy in your artistry. that’s what it means to find a way to get closer to yourself, rather than flail and try new things in hopes that they’ll like you. kevyn aucoin (rip) said something along the lines of “the world adores the original and sees the copy as the shitstain on the drawers of life”. well, imitation gets less sincere as flattery if you’re just reproducing yourself, right?

but going back and reading the first after i read the second cleave is the opposite experience of getting frank after back to black. there are obvious leitmotifs that circle in this man’s head; four year old boys, global response to acts of war, infidelity and matrimonial strife/the breakdown of relationships, what the dead do and do not do, and the nuances of prejudice, but his style is so fresh, so urgent, and his approach is so amazing and original that he accomplishes the exact feat of artistic progress-instant vintage.

i also love that he doesn’t cut his books.

“It was a long afternoon after that and when 5 o’clock came I just put on my anorak and walked home head down in the gloom. In England on a cloudy day in autumn it gets dark by 4 in the afternoon. A few weeks of that Osama and believe me you start to feel like topping yourself. A lot of poor bastards do. I swear to god Osama the English climate’s done in more people than you ever have. If you tried living here for just 10 days in October your Kalashnikov would rust and your sandals would rot and your GP would stick you on Prozac and you couldn’t hate us any more you’d just feel ever so sorry for us instead.” (193)


5 thoughts on “incendiary-chris cleave

  1. so you know how sapphire used form to communicate the road to reading in push? and it worked because it wasn’t hard to read, unlike when palahniuk tried a similar thing in pygmy? and it’s not just poor writing like sistah souljah or syles p? there is a similar thing in this book-length letter without punctuation (and this here blog about booky things without capitals). i love that shit.

    dearest osama, you don’t know shit about london. and you really need a makeover:

    “I saw the video you made Osama where you said the West was decadent. Maybe you meant the West End? We aren’t all like that. London is a smiling liar his front teeth are very nice but you can smell his back teeth rotten and stinking.” (4)

    “Cold is a funny one. It’s impossible to remember it until you actually feel it. I don’t know if you’ve ever jumped into freezing cold water Osama? Well it’s easier to imagine yourself doing it than actually to do it. Don’t you find? Once you’re standing there on the edge of the mountain lake shivering in your Kalashnikov and Speedos I mean.” (79)

    “It rained for 6 whole days. London was a city on a lukewarm rinse cycle there was water everywhere. The Central Line flooded and Bethnal Green Road ran brown as the Thames and the pigeons sat down in doorways all sulky and wet and they didn’t even bother flying off any more when you went near them. It was summer Osama what can I say?” (150)

    “It was a long ride to Knightsbridge and so it should be. I mean it’s a different world isn’t it? It doesn’t seem right that you can get from Bethnal Green to Knightsbridge in a cab you should have to go via space or something. Petra kept moaning at the cabbie for taking so long but it wasn’t his fault. All the roads we needed were closed off. It looked like the authorities were determined not to let your men get anywhere near the fashion shops Osama. So I suppose you’ll have to stick with the cammo look for now. Even if it is a bit late 90s. As for me and Petra we had to take a big diversion.” (153)

    the fact that she takes this familiar tone with this mythical creature actually shows a lot more compassion than most folks are willing to consider. ironically, she does this whilst regurgitating all of the usual stereotypes. i suppose the medium is the massage.

  2. family values:

    “After that I cried a bit and then I lay awake listening to Petra and Jasper arguing with each other in whispers. It was a horrible noise very vicious and quiet like 2 insects fighting in a jar. It didn’t sound like love to me Osama but then what would you or me know I mean we’re half deaf from the bombs already.” (110)

    “I could feel the G&T starting to work. It was nice being out. Pubs were the best places for me really. I mean all the smoke made me nervous but I never actually saw my boy in pubs. They don’t serve the dead or anyone under 18.” (127)

    “-Christ, he said. It looked less like a congregation and more like two sides lining up for the English Civil War. I looked back at Tessa and I saw her looking out over the church too. She was trying to be brave but I could tell she’d just seen the same thing I’d seen. There it was. All laid out before us. Tessa looked at me and from that moment I don’t think we were under any illusion. I don’t think you could really say it was love after that. The theatre. Child rearing. United front. But not really love.” (130)

    “Yeah and it’s no different from any other war. You ever wonder why an East End girl like me hasn’t got much in the way of family? Well here’s the reasons Petra. World War 1. World War 2. Falklands War. Gulf War 1. Gulf War 2 and the War on Drugs. You can take your pick because I lost whole bloody chunks of my family in all of them. That’s war Petra. This one’s no different. The people who die are people like me. And the people who survive. Well I’m sorry Petra but the people who survive are people like you. And you’re so used to surviving you don’t even notice you’re bloody well doing it.” (189)

    don’t rush in.

  3. let’s not wag the dog-putting out the cigarette is more important than you think. ask audre lorde (rip) a lil’ something something about everyday activism:

    “-33 thousand, she said. 33 times more people than died on May Day die mainly avoidable deaths every single year. I watch them suffer with tubes jammed in every hole of their bodies. It takes them months to die. But does this country declare war on smoking? No it does not. Instead we turn London into a fortress. As if that could possibly stop the terror. As if they couldn’t blow us up just as easily in Manchester or Pontypridd or the queue for the ice cream van on Brighton beach.” (62)

  4. Hi I like this description and it was so informational and I am gonna bookmark it. One thing to say the Indepth determination this narrative has is greatly remarkable. No one goes that extra mile these days? Bravo!! Just one more tip you can get a Translator for your Worldwide Readers !!!

  5. thank you. the ego in me is accepting this as real, even though you are a ladder-seller. or a catfish. damn that movie.

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