Saturday, June 25, 2011

5 Minutes With Max Blagg - He Rants It Like It Is

Max Blagg is a British-born poet, writer, and performer from Retford, England. Blagg came to New York City in 1972 and is recognized as an influential performer, respected writer, and poet in the New York literary scene. In 1992, his poem "What Fits?" was the soundtrack to a commercial for Gap jeans.
The venues where Blagg has performed include the Kitchen, Guggenheim Museum, Jackie 60, Cable gallery, Nuyorican’s Poet’s cafĂ©, St Marks Church, Bowery Poetry Club, CBGB, KGB Bar, Performing Garage, Mudd Club, and many other cultural landmarks.

Q1. What was the first record you bought and how did it change your life?

The first record I bought with my own money, earned from my paper round, was the Rolling Stones’ second single, ‘Not Fade Away’. For some reason we had a set of maracas and with these in hand I accompanied the Stones on this single for hours at
a time as it spun at 45rpm on my sister’s Dansette player, pursing my way too thin lips savagely as Mick snarled out lyrics like ‘I’m gonna love you night and day’, an astonishing concept to a kid of fifteen. Do it in the daytime? Sounds good. Something
about that music broke things open, the possibilities were endless, it was part of an enormous wave that engulfed my teenage mind, filling my tiny head with eccentric alternatives to apprenticing at British Ropes or Hurst’s Plumbers the minute I left school. There was a larger world outside my little town, pulsating to the rhythm of this music, and if I really wanted it, and it was mine to explore. Yes, all that from a fucking single!

Q2. When did you come to New York and how has the city changed since then?

I arrived in New York one a one way ticket in 1972, after a horrible four year stint in dark and gloomy London, hammered by vile weather and bootleg psychedelics. Arriving in New York was like stepping into a poem by Frank O’Hara, and after about three days here I knew it was the only place I wanted to live.

It still is, despite the recent overload of blatant Wall Street looting and the presence of the name 'Trump' on way too many buildings, Barnum and bailouts for this gullible age. In New York you can always feel the Bohemian history running
underneath, that powerful city nerve throbbing like a boner, no matter how slick with scum the surface. This crass too will pass. Wherever I am in the city, within a few miles or a few yards there are trace memories, remnants of some writer or artist whose work inspired me. That’s why kids still wake up every day in the Midwest or in a small town in Yorkshire and say, “Hey sugar, take a walk on the wild side!” and start planning their escape. Global schmobal, New York City is still ‘the place where’. Everything and anything, from writing, art, music, fashion, food, coming out of New York always has a tad more authentic ‘oomph’ to it than product from any other location in the whole wide world.

Q3. Your publication 'Bald Ego' brings poetry, prose and photography together into a volume of work-what inspired you to create this mix?

Bald Ego was a co-production with Glenn O’Brien, and it was truly a case of two clashing egos making a third thing that was really a very cool artifact, a perfect blend of high and low, contributors famous and unknown. Also, tits and ass cheek by jowl with high-falutin’ art, all superbly contained in one 6 by nine inch vessel. After the first two issues, I was looking at everything through this 6X9 frame, and some things fit just right. And the dirt blended so well with the more refined stuff. Everybody wanted to be in the mag, so we even started inviting people we didn’t know, after the blatant nepotism that helped us fill the first two issues. But you need money for such a project. I hated the business side and so did Glenn so that part of the adventure was kind of a drag. We had a little bit of money from ads but it wasn’t enough. Everybody worked for free and we made a beautiful magazine and it ended up losing money. We did get some money for the third issue but that turned out badly in the end, money was promised for more issues but it never materialized. and the plug was pulled while I was in the midst of the fourth issue, gathering some incredible stuff, including twenty pages of Cecily Brown sex drawings that are just phenomenal…haha, where was I, Bald Ego, yes, marvelous experience, editing that mag! And distributing it by wheelbarrow to bookstores throughout the city. And trying to collect from the people who took out ads. I’d do it all over again in a minute, but this time without the Vicodin.

Q4. You have performed your poetry at a number of iconic venues-can you share a crazy story about one of your performances?

One of my favorite performances, which was happily recorded on very low quality VHS, took place back in the mists of time, around 1981, at a fantastic bar called Tin Pan Alley, on 47th street, which alas no longer exists except in some Nan Goldin photographs. Even though the owner, darling Maggie Smith, was a raving feminist, she was a big fan, and I read there quite a few times. On this occasion I was performing with musical back up by a composer named Jim Farmer and twelve [12] female back up singers dressed as girl scouts. Two days before the show I had discovered the uniforms in a vintage clothing/ bookstore hangout called Sohozat, which like so many other iconic spots in NYC is now a Korean grocery. Lee and Stanley, the two cool cats who ran the place, happily loaned me the outfits and it was no problem finding twelve girls to wear them, even if they couldn’t sing a note. After the performance, we all went downtown to J.S. Vandam [now the Greenhouse]. When I walked in, twelve girl scouts in full uniform, accessorized by heels and fishnet stockings, were draped along the length of the bar, drinking martinis. I felt like I was in heaven. And in a way, I was.

Q5. Do you that social networking and Twitter are a positive force for distributing the written word?

I’m an oral poet, at heart, though of course I also want my poems to stand up on the page. Poems are word bombs that ideally should be unleashed into the air, where they will explode or fall harmlessly to earth, according to the charge they carry. The very word “Twitter’ for me invokes an image of budgerigars chatting inanely in a cage, like twits and twats, chattering. People clogging the airwaves with lots of useless information, photographing themselves and sending photos of the food they are eating, giving you a play by play of their every move, kind of tedious and surely superfluous when everyone is already working various other social nets; IM and FB and the DL. And it can get you in all kinds of trouble. Weiner and his weiner, and just today poor old Roger Ebert made some nebbishy comment on the sudden demise of Ryan Dunn, who was a funny guy but
he did after all drink and then drive at 130 mph with a friend on board, and killed them both, so Ebert was not totally out of line. Yet poor Roger has been absolutely stoned to metaphorical Internet death by a raving horde of truly barbarian Jackass fanboys out there. It’s interesting the amount of pure hate that people spew, there seem to be no rules for any kind of civility on the interwebs. I guess it’s easier to talk shit to people if you’re not standing in front of them. Another problem with all this social networking is that it has empowered everyone, not always in a good way. It’s given everyone a voice, and some of these voices should really keep their traps firmly shut. What they think simply doesn’t matter enough for it to be let out of their house, which is probably made of cheap glass anyway. Everyone has an opinion, and we really don’t need everyone’s opinion, because ‘everyone’ is not an expert. So filter ON and STFU already. Also, this shorthand way of writing is an insult to anyone who can read. How much longer does it take for the eye/brain to scan and understand ‘see’ than ‘c’?

The Rolling Stones - 'Not Fade Away'.

1 comment:

  1. There can't be two Max Blagg's from Retford about my age. I remember him as a desired heartthrob, way out of my league. I understand how he felt listening to that music, I also wanted to escape the confines of Retford - and I did!