Seeing us through to the end of the year we’ve reached out to a number of our favourite artists and cultural creatives to join us in celebrating good things. A bunch of five things that make their world go around, inspire them or just need celebrating for what they are. There’s no theme here. It’s no kind of “best of year” round-up. These are just five things of the many things identified as making the world a better place to be. We’re all about positivity. Almost all of the time. We promise…
Robert Wringham is an author working in Glasgow and Montreal. He's the editor of the delightfully eccentric but perfectly serious small press magazine, New Escapologist, is a regular contributor to the Idler, and was shortlisted for Canada's prestigious Leacock Medal for Humour. While we wait on 2023 to see Robert's sixth and seventh books drop - one of which is his first novel; currently, Stern Plastic Owl - Robert's collection of very funny and often surreal vignettes, is available from Go Faster Stripe. Robert's Big Five...
SIDE 3 OF MILES DAVIS' BITCHES BREW
I'm a jazz man and a disproportionate number of records in my collection are by Miles Davis. It's not an achievement to like Miles Davis, not particularly advanced or rarefied, but I love him like other people love Bowie or the Beatles. Bitches Brew is a late addition to my pantheon of Miles records; it came out in August 1969 after his first ill-advised sojourns into electronica, but its up there with any of his best. I want to give special mention to the third side of Bitches Brew, which to me seems utterly transcendent. The tracks are called "Spanish Key" and "John McLaughlin".
Glasgow's Counterflows Festival is my cultural event of the year. I missed it greatly during the pandemic and no amount of online cleverness could replace it. There are people I only see once a year and it's at this festival. I also love Tectonics around the same time but the community vibe of Counterflows is hard to top and the outsiderishness of some of the performers is more genuine and exciting. Both are brilliant but since I can only nominate one, Counterflows is my choice.
What do I do? I'm a humorist, a page comedian. Not that you'd know it from this interview. The deities of the genre are James Thurber, Stephen Leacock and Dorothy Parker, but for me, Fran Lebowitz is where it's at. She was friends with Andy Warhol and for decades has idled around the supper clubs and bookshops of New York City in Levi jeans and those impeccable masculine blazers. I love her. Shamefully, I only got around to reading her work after publishing my own first collection, A Loose Egg, and I was surprised to recognise many of her creative choices as ones I'd make too. She gives me a run for my money when it comes to being a well-dressed unapologetic wastrel. It makes me laugh that she's been so successful with so little work: she only has two collections yet Scorsese made two lengthy documentaries about her! I'm quietly hoping to meet her when she comes to Glasgow in April.
Here's a picture I like of Frannie in Paris Vogue with Iman in 1983:
THE DEVOTION OF PHILIPPE GAULIER
Philippe Gaulier is a French clown, a professional mentor to clowns the world over. He does these intensive weeks-long courses in clowning that look like a fucking nightmare but will teach you everything and serve as a right of passage. I've done a very streamlined two-day clown course and that was enough for me, so I find the devotion of Gaulier and his students breathtaking. The key is not learning to juggle or fall on your arse, but rather "finding your clown," knowing what physical and spiritual assets you have that can translate to meaningful physical comedy. My clown "takes big risks," which is both useful knowledge and something to be proud of. I suspect Gaulier's real skill is to destroy people's ego, to obliterate their sense of self completely and then piece it all back together. Gaulier to me represents commitment, devotion, anarchy, the ability to elevate something seen as base into an art form.
"DOROTHEA HANNAH" BY JAMES MCINTOSH PATRICK
I have a daughter. Well, sort of. There's this painting in the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art. Whenever we're in town, I ask Samara (my partner) if we should "visit our daughter." She sort-of looks like a cross between us. Her facial structure resembles both of ours in different ways, she has a similar Time Lordly vibe to ours only she's better at it, and even her velvet jacket resembles my treasured one that once belonged to drag king Diane Torr. "Dorothea Hannah" is plausibly a name I'd suggest for a daughter; I especially like that "Hannah" is a lengthy palindrome. Like Samara, she's stylish and aloof. If our future daughter grows up to look like this and then nips back in time to the 19th Century, we'd both be very proud.
Robert Wringham's latest collection is Stern Plastic Owl (2021), available now from Go Faster Stripe. Meanwhile, you should watch this space for news of a brand new book about performance artist the Iceman. Wringham's website is at wringham.co.uk. Photo credit: Alan Dimmick.