Art Decades: Ultraviolence, Marilyn and More

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Out now, the third issue of Art Decades magazine is the best yet. Highlights include interviews with two of music’s outliers. Viv Albertine, former guitarist of all-girl punk band The Slits, is now a solo artist. She published a widely-praised memoir in 2014. Maria McKee is a Californian singer-songwriter, who fronted country rock band Lone Justice, and topped the UK charts with ‘Show Me Heaven’ in 1990. She now makes music for film with her partner, director Jim Akin.

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On the subject of women in music, my review of Lana Del Rey’s latest album, Ultraviolence, is also featured. There is something of a David Bowie theme to this issue, which can never be a bad thing. Edward Bell, who designed several of Bowie’s album covers – from Scary Monsters to the ill-fated Tin Machine – is interviewed, and there is also a stunning pictorial inspired by Bowie’s 1999 song, ‘The Pretty Things Are Going to Hell.’

A short interview with myself is included in an article about Marcelline Block’s new book, Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe. Superfans Megan Owen and Marco van der Munnik share their stories, and a long, fascinating interview with Los Angeles-based impersonator Holly Beavon is also included. Marilyn is also mentioned elsewhere, as an influence on Serena Czarnecki, an adult film star of the 1970s who has re-emerged as an artist and author.

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Holly Beavon as Marilyn

While £15.48 (the current price on Amazon UK) may seem like a lot, Art Decades is filled with beautiful imagery and unique insights about music, film and artists who are mostly ignored, or (as in Marilyn and Lana’s case) misunderstood, and yet have inspired so many of us. Published quarterly, it is both a niche publication, and truly egalitarian. Unlike other, mass-market magazines, it is purely content-driven and doesn’t rely on copious advertising. It also has more to offer than a lot of similarly-priced books.

You can buy single issues on Amazon worldwide, or buy direct from the Art Decades website, with options to subscribe. A portion of the proceeds from sales of this issue will be donated to Belongto.org, a charity supporting young LGBTs – so you know it’s all in a good cause.

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Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe

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fan phenomFan Phenomena’ is an ongoing series from Intellect Books, a Bristol-based publisher with an international outlook. Since 2013, they have covered a variety of subjects with huge fan followings – including sci-fi movie franchises and TV shows, as well as more cultish offerings like Twin Peaks and The Big Lebowski. Fictional characters, such as Sherlock Holmes, and celebrities including Audrey Hepburn, have also been re-examined – with figures as diverse as Jane Austen and James Dean projected as future titles.

Marcelline Block, who has edited numerous books related to film, approached me in 2012 – a year which marked the fiftieth anniversary of Marilyn Monroe’s death, reviving public interest in her life and personality. From the outset, Marcelline showed the utmost respect for both Marilyn and her admirers. In contrast to many in the mainstream media, she understands that fans are not just ‘geeks’, and their knowledge and creativity helps to keep art alive. The result is a quirkier, more intimate look at the icon than is generally depicted.

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Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe combines academic essays about how Marilyn is being represented today – including her Youtube presence, influence on contemporary fashion, and recent portrayals in the biopic My Week With Marilyn, and the TV series Smash – and interviews with fans, including collectors Scott Fortner and Melinda Mason, impersonator Suzie Kennedy, memorabilia expert Marijane Gray, and fan-club owner Mary Sims. These personal testimonies were a highlight for me, partly because over the years, we have all supported each other in different ways.

My own contribution is an extract from The Mmm Girl, focusing on Marilyn’s love affair with the camera. I have also been interviewed for an article about Fan Phenomena, published in the latest issue of Art Decades (of which more later.) While Fan Phenomena: Marilyn Monroe is not a biography, it brings new insight to Marilyn’s undying appeal, and provides an up-to-date companion piece for earlier cultural studies like American Monroe and The Immortal Marilyn.

Lady Day at 100

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I bought my first Billie Holiday record at sixteen. I must have read about her somewhere, because I’d never heard her sing. But it was love at first listen, and I quickly found another compilation. Neither was considered her best work, but I didn’t care.

Her music stayed with me during a hard time when my family lost our home. Every night that summer, I’d switch off the lights, open the windows and just play her songs.

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Later on I heard Lady in Satin, which became my favourite album (next to Marvin Gaye’s What’s Goin’ On.) Her voice was broken but she still had soul. I also became interested in musician Lester Young, or ‘Prez’, who gave her the name ‘Lady Day’. As a student, I bought a double album of their work together.

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I found a second-hand copy of her memoir, Lady Sings the Blues, when I first moved to Brighton. Although not wholly accurate, I still hold it dear. She survived the worst of childhoods, and amid the shadows of racism and addiction, her courage – and wit – never left her.

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During my twenties I moved around so much that I wasn’t able to keep my record collection. In any case, Billie’s albums were the most scratched. When I married and had children, I replaced my collection with CDs.

Among the best are Lady Day – the Best of Billie Holiday, covering her early career; In a Soulful Mood; Billie Holiday – The Ultimate Collection, including eight of her later albums; and Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You – Live Radio, TV and Film Recordings.

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She has her imitators, but no other singer comes close. For some, she is a tragic figure – but while she may have helped me through some bad times, I don’t see her that way. She was tough, funny and smart, and her music is a celebration of life.

As Paolo Hewitt once wrote, she was ‘lively and joyful, an optimistic woman, in love with love, in love with life, a singer whose innocence and beauty one immediately warms to.’

Billie at 100

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Love Goddesses: Rita Hayworth and Marilyn

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Rita Hayworth, photographed by Bob Landry (1941)

Rita Hayworth, photographed by Bob Landry (1941)

In August 1941 – less than four months before the bombing of Pearl Harbour plunged America into World War II – Rita Hayworth graced the cover of Life magazine. She was pictured in a white bikini, grinning as photographer Bob Landry caught her eating lunch on a Los Angeles beach.  But this delightfully natural image made less impact than another picture inside the magazine.

Here, Landry depicted a far more seductive Rita, either relaxing in her own bedroom as the caption claimed, or on a studio prop bed. And the white silk negligee that she wore may have been borrowed from Columbia’s wardrobe department. Gazing boldly at the camera, Hayworth seemed to promise more than the artful illusion of glamour. Continue reading

‘The Mmm Girl’ Back in Print

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I’m delighted to announce that The Mmm Girl, my novel about the life of Marilyn Monroe, is finally back in print. This edition includes a new prologue and ten additional passages: including Marilyn’s diverse encounters with teenage fans and world leaders; intimate photo shoots, a rare stage appearance, and a trip to Mexico; and a closer look behind the scenes of her many movies, from early bit parts to timeless classics.

The Mmm Girl is now available from Amazon worldwide, in paperback (UK, £8.24; US, $12.50); and via Kindle (UK, £3.29; US, $4.93.) It is also available from The Book Depository, with free international shipping. While I can’t provide signed copies, I’ll be happy to send a signed bookplate, free of charge, to anyone who wants it. You can contact me here.

You can preview the first four chapters on Amazon, or read further extracts and reviews, and view the book trailer, right here. And of course, after you’ve read the book (and hopefully enjoyed it), please consider writing a short customer review on Amazon or Goodreads.

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‘Art Decades': Pauline Boty, and More

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Art Decades is a new print magazine featuring a variety of perspectives on everything from film to music to fashion, and beyond, from a large number of writers from all over the world. I’m delighted that my article, ‘Pauline Boty: Pop Artist and Woman’, is featured in the second issue.

Created by Kelley and Jeremy Richey (who runs the Moon in the Gutter blog), Art Decades also includes a cover story on The Raveonettes; an interview with Mary Woronov, and a profile of Cannon Films’ Menahem Golan; tributes to Lou Reed and Joy Division; art by Jeanie Laub, and photography by Whitley Brandenburg and Dylan Staley.

It’s a beautiful magazine, and I’m proud to be a part of it. Buy now from Amazon UK for £9.33; on Amazon US; or direct via Paypal, from the Art Decades website. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, in memory of actress Marie Dubois.

2014: A Year On Film

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My favourite film of 2014 was James Gray’s The Immigrant. Despite its stellar cast, it was woefully under-promoted and wasn’t even released in Britain. Marion Cotillard is luminous – almost Garboesque – as a young Polish woman who lands on Ellis Island in 1921. Almost a century later, Eva’s struggle is lived every day by millions like her.

And my favourite television show this year was True Detective.

Best Books of 2014

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This year has been all about Elena Ferrante and her Neapolitan novels for me. Autumn reaped a rich harvest in fiction, and there have also been some fine reissues.  Continue reading

2014: A Year in Music

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My favourite album this year was Lana Del Rey’s dark, brooding Ultraviolence, and my song of the summer was ‘West Coast’.

A close second was Lykke Li’s epic tearjerker, I Never Learn. You can watch her incredible Glastonbury performance here.

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I also enjoyed Samantha Crain’s Kid Face; Angel Olsen’s Burn Your Fire for No Witness; Small Town Heroes, by Hurray for the Riff Raff; and First Aid Kit’s Stay Gold.

Looking forward to 2015 – the reigning Queen of Pop, Madonna, will launch her new album, Rebel Heart, in March. A six-track EP, including lead single ‘Living for Love’, was released on i-Tunes this morning.

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