In flux, as usual
Bill may have had plans to write a new novel, and to at long last finish reading Proust's Remembrance of Things Past, but his status as a living legend of Kiwi culture and his absence from his homeland for long periods over the past decade and a half made it inevitable that, even before he unpacked his bags in Devonport, the offers and requests would begin coming in. Music fans wanted to see Direen reform his backing band The Bilders and play some of the back catalogue he created in the 1980s and '90s for labels like South Indies and Flying Nun. Creative writing students intrigued by Bill's apocalyptic yet recalcitrant novels and short stories were eager to get his advice, whenever he popped over to the office at the University of Auckland which is one of the perks of the King fellowship. Europhiles wanted to know about Bill's experiences living in Germany and France over the last fifteen years. The Depot Arts Centre wanted to interview Bill as part of its 'New Zealand Cultural Icons' series, and the organisers of the Going West festival were keen for his presence at their shindig. All sorts of people wanted to contribute material to Percutio, the multilingual journal Bill publishes and distributes in both Europe and New Zealand. Old and new friends wanted to chat over a beer or two.
Bill has had a more hectic six months than he counted on, but he has still managed to produce a very respectable quantity of writing, and his relentless generosity has not gone unnoticed. Bill will be marking the end of Auckland sojourn with a gig next Wednesday night at the Wine Cellar, that collection of softly-lit rooms beneath Karangahape Road. Bill gave a fine acoustic performance at the Wine Cellar a couple of years ago, but next Wednesday he will be assisted by some of the musos who graced The Bilders back in the 1980s; this old crew replaces the youngsters who helped Bill record his 2008 album Chrysanthemum Storm.
Like The Bilders, the Kiwi literary journal brief seems always to be in a state of Heraclitean flux. Since the austere, splenetic Alan Loney launched brief back in the mid-90s, the publication has had more than half a dozen editors, who have guided it in a number of different directions. Despite or - more likely - because of its complicated history and the political battles which have sometimes broken out between past and present editors and their supporters, brief has established itself as part of the antipodean literary landscape, and is even respectable enough to get Creative New Zealand funding nowadays. brief's forty-first issue, which was put together by Richard von Sturmer, will be launched at six o'clock next Wednesday at the Auckland Zen Centre on 16 Church Street in Onehunga. I'll be coming to the launch to read an excerpt (a short excerpt, I promise) from 'An Annotated Guide to Mungo National Park', a piece which first turned up on this blog, but which reappears, after a spellcheck, in brief 41, and then heading up later in the evening to see Bill and his old cronies play at the Wine Cellar.
I was reminded of the longevity of brief when I discovered an old newspaper cutting in a box the other day. Back in 2004 the Sunday Star-Times ran a feature article on literary editors which featured a chat with Jack Ross, who had taken over responsibility for brief and was busy enraging Alan Loney by opening the journal up to a wider range of contributors and linking it to political issues like the cruelly prolonged stay of the Algerian asylum-seeker Ahmed Zaoui in Mt Eden prison. [click to enlarge]
Jack has a vast personal library - last year he set up a website with the name A Gentle Madness to catalogue its fifteen thousand volumes - and the photographer for Sunday Star-Times asked him to pose in front of one of his bookcases. I remember Jack telling me that he had realised, when the photo appeared in print, that he had been standing in front of shelves which housed books which were, in his words, 'a little bit dodgy'. I've squinted at the photo, but I can't make out many of the titles on the spines of Jack's books: can anybody help identify them?