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Chelsea Hotel Manhattan, Neon Liam

Our week with Joe Ambrose at the Chelsea Hotel continues with his memories of Neon Liam

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by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: April, 2008
He is still a pleasant fellow, but it's like those novels sucked insight out of him forever.
by Joe Ambrose, Literary Editor for outsideleft.com
originally published: April, 2008
He is still a pleasant fellow, but it's like those novels sucked insight out of him forever.

Joe Ambrose's Chelsea Hotel Manhattan - extreme travel writing concerning the time that Joe spent in the legendary boho hotel - is out now from Headpress. This is an exclusive extract from the book.

Neon Liam is longer in the tooth, shorter of breath, Fifteen years! Wider in girth - not so waisted. Higher up life's ladder. Curiously fragile in a manner that only comes to big men growing old. Still has his own hair. Never done time, an achievement in these parts. Brought up well in South Dakota by a mother who served Darjeeling Tea on blue Willow Pattern crockery. He is unenthusiastic about visitors but when he gets talking and trusts you he can't stop. His third floor apartment, just to the right of the Chelsea's neon sign, is one of the more pricey places in the hotel. Polished wooden floors, a sort of gilt couch you might expect to find in Rod Stewart's house, a teak shelving unit built to contain almost 5000 CDs, endless hardback books which actually look like they've been read. Then there is a bathroom of imperial proportions, a kitchen fit for a faggot, and two bedrooms.

The main bedroom is about the size of a small nightclub and the decor is such that only black silk bedsheets would be appropriate, and only black sheets are in evidence. The bathroom has another teak shelving unit, this one given over to books obviously deemed fit for shitting and pissing duties. Blockbusters and science fiction and beach reading and women's romances. His talk is a cross between how Marlon Brando spoke and Jack Kerouac wrote. He is not as theatrically eloquent as Brando but he tells a better story than the On The Road idiot. Forget about talking to him after three in the afternoon. His mornings are for painting, lunchtime is for receiving those who want sentient conversation, by the early evening he is gone marching into the land of nod. He was originally published by the pseudo-anarchist spooks at Semiotexte. They just loved collecting his 70s pieces concerning alternative art, originally written for underground zines, between paperback covers designed by some Jim Codeine.

Then in the 80s Neon Liam turned his attention to art criticism and did three very bad novels - each about the size of the Bible - which sold well. These, and marrying an array of rich women, changed him from being a one-room Chelsea Hotel 70s punk junkie with a brain into the contradictory creature he is today. He is still a pleasant fellow, a nimble conversationalist, but it's like those novels sucked insight out of him forever. When they made the first (and marginally best) of them into a mini-series starring Pete Coyote and Rod Steiger he bought an upstate farm. When his second got made into a TV movie he opened an art gallery which focused in on so-called art I think of as being pornography.

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Joe Ambrose
Literary Editor

Joe Ambrose has written 14 books, including Chelsea Hotel Manhattan and The Fenian Reader. Joe is currently working on his next book, Look at Us Now - The Life and Death of Muammar Ghadaffi, which is an expanded version of a story first published in the anthology CUT UP! Visit Joe's website for all the latest info: JoeAmbrose.co.uk.

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