Caught by the River

Shadows & Reflections – Neil Thomson

Neil Thomson | 31st December 2008

In which, as the year comes to it’s end, our friends and collaborators look back and share their moments

Son, what have you done?

A London year spent mostly treading water in this city, steeped in Soho and lost in music. I suppose I have felt that I need the noise, hassle and grace of the capital more than ever because work and taking pictures has become very important to me and this is where that can happen. The days have mostly been spent in the company of Photoshop CS4, Phase one Digital Backs and Profoto lighting rigs, stuff that a previous generation of photographers and art directors I suppose would consider not just mere technology but actual downright magic, the potential of these tools for making art is incredible. Then the following nights have been blurs of continental lager, live music, illegal minicabs, neon, speed bumps and all too often ending in blackness. I have gone at everything at a thousand miles an hour this year, choking sometimes on the concrete. One exception to the rule was a magical summer Sunday spent at Waggoners Wells with you Jeff where the colour volume of the world seemed to have been turned up to 11 and everything had, indeed, gone green. Its been a long grind but of course there have been some moments of wonder, grace and epiphany as always …albeit with nothing like enough fishing…

Explosions In The Sky tearing apart the Astoria one night in January with a ballistic set of menace and beauty which included ‘Six Days At The Bottom Of The Ocean’ an ode to the Kursk Disaster that sent me 8 miles high; The impulse purchase of an Aquascutum raincoat which is so elegant it seems more of a work of architecture than fashion; Returning to the work of writer and fisherman Thomas McGuane especially ’92 In The Shade’ a murderous little novel about South Florida fishing guides which has perhaps my favourite opening line of any novel “Nobody knows, from sea to shining sea, why we are having all this trouble with our republic..”; It’s top of every list and rightly so but The Dark Knight stunned me and scared me witless at the point where The Joker tells Harvey that “I’m just like a dog chasing a car, I wouldn’t know what to do if I caught one…’ a line that reveals the terror and madness of our age better than anything ever written about 7/7, Mumbai or even 9/11. The terrifying point being that there (is) no point; the moment where my one of my favourite and most enduring mythologies, The Batman, matured into the high art I always knew it was. I also realized that aside from fishing I am at my most calm on motorways, those modern rivers of tarmac that cut across the nation, safe and warm, the shelter of the classic 900 with music flowing like blood from the stereo; Pete Beste’s amazing photographs in the book True Norwegian Black Metal; A windy spring day at Wembley witnessing Dean Windass and his pack of Tigers restoring pride to a ruined post-industrial northern city which used to be my hometown; After 38 years actually finally having a proper conversation with my father and hearing his tales of the old country took me back to Shane McGowan, from ‘Thousands Are Sailing’ “Wherever we go we celebrate the land that made us refugees…”; The Social, The Old Blue Last, The Griffin and 57 Greek Street all Houses of the Holy but I’m hoping not to see quite so much of them next year; A long afternoon spent with Larry Jon Wilson, a southern gentleman for sure, we spoke for hours and I wished I’d recorded it. I do remember him telling me about a trip he once took with Townes Van Sant, as they returned to Galveston Harbour after a days sea fishing Townes observed that Larry Jon had “drank twenty seven beers” during the voyage, Larry Jon replied “Goddamm it Townes! How dare you count my beers!”; I spent a week in New York with my friend Perou in October in an apartment in Little Italy that could have been painted by Edward Hopper and one breezy Saturday I pretty much walked the length of Manhattan, from Washington Heights all the way down Broadway and across the Williamsburg Bridge to the Salvation Army shop on Bedford Avenue where I bought the best pair of shoes I have ever owned: very much a perfect day indeed. Oh, and there was a weekend on the Southbank back in September where all sorts of magic happened including an amazing conversation with Jimi Goodwin’s father about Penny Rimbaud and Crass. As always, from S.C.U.M to Steve Earle thank you for getting up on stage and playing music.

It seems that America’s rivers are finally running dry, institutions are failing and there is palpable uncertainty in the air. I’m hoping this chaos will herald a period of change and perhaps next year we can all reduce, purify, learn and teach. Maybe not quite ready for a Static by the sea where I can fish all day and night but I might buy a birdtable. Or maybe we could all make one and put them in Hyde Park one night and see what happens, like the mystery tree planter of Tunbridge Wells. Trawling the internet as ever I found a monologue that was read out before Godspeed You Black Emperor! played the Royal Festival Hall in 2000 on the internet and it seems very appropriate at the moment…

Long live a little bit of autonomy,
Long live all quiet roof easels,
A sort of culture can be built here,
All sorts of things can happen,
When and if we finally begin to refuse,
We dedicate tonight’s performance to quiet refusals, loud refusals and sad refusals,
We dedicate it to the imminent market collapse,
We dedicate it to carpenters, waitresses and drug addicts,
We dedicate it to secretaries, alcoholics and schizophrenics,
We dedicate it to the boys kissing boys, girls kissing girls, girls kissing boys and everything in between,
We dedicate it to anxiety attacks, hangovers, worried depression and all the other necessary by-products of trying to live free,
We dedicate it to any endeavour who’s ultimate unreasonable goal is autonomy, self-determination or joy,
We dedicate it every prisoner in the world.

Happy new year