On standing up in multiple locations
I recently spent a weekend at the Edinburgh Festival. It was the first time I’d been to the Fringe, both as a spectator and a performer.
I did my best to make the most of it, hawking books in the street while handing out flyers.
I was part of the line-up at Stand Up Tragedy, a London collective of “spoken word”, comedians and musicians. Our nightly variety show was remixed as a podcast, including interviews with beginners such as me (alongside some stars).
As published in Green Left Weekly
By Daniel Simpson
Sick Justice: Inside the American Gulag
Ivan G Goldman
(Potomac Books, 2013)
Justice is criminally unjust in the United States. Its predatory bankers and warmongers rarely face charges, but the nation’s prisons are packed with impoverished small-time crooks.
If the cells were a city, it would be the largest after New York, Los Angeles and Chicago: 2.3 million Americans live behind bars. One in every 100 adults is a convict, a rate that rivals North Korea.
These figures have shot up relentlessly since the War on Drugs began in the 1970s. The result is a sprawling penal network, which author Ivan Goldman compares to the Gulag, the Soviet agency that administered Stalin’s work camps.
The U.S. system might appear less brutal, Goldman argues in Sick Justice, but detaining the relatively harmless in vast numbers “can eventually transform a free but excessively punitive society into a totalitarian state”.
As debuted at a warm-up night in London
Next month, for two nights only, I shall Stand Up Tragically, on the fringe of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, for free. So come and laugh!
Stand Up Tragedy is downstairs at the Fiddlers Elbow, from 3-14 August, at 18:30 for an hour. I’ll be there on Friday 9 and Sunday 11. For a flavour of what to expect, here’s what the organisers say: “Why just laugh, when you can laugh until you cry and cry until you laugh?”
In other words:
“We make you sad; we make you think; we make you smile. Expect music, comedy, fiction, spoken word, true stories and more, all playing up to the tragic form but not always taking it seriously.”
Here I am onstage, at the Dogstar in Brixton (and here’s an interview beforehand):
As told last night in Little Venice
The 10-minute remix of A Rough Guide to the Dark Side, ad-libbed live at the Canal Cafe Theatre in north London.
Spark is a monthly storytelling evening. The theme of this latest event was billed as “Quitting”, but it was postponed from the start of June, and thus another another idea was offered.
The alternative theme was “Driven”; as in stories related to transport, or this vision of disaster: “have you been driven to the brink of madness by circumstances beyond your control?”
Well, as it happens… Cue my Balkan Summer of Love act from the platform.
As published by Strike! magazine
On sale now at all good stockists of explosives, yours for £1.
OCCUPYING THE MEDIA
By Daniel Simpson
“When the going gets weird, the weird turn pro…”
– Hunter S. Thompson
Life’s too short to waste in a dead-end job. When that dawned on me this time last decade, I was working for The New York Times as a foreign correspondent, and my colleagues were enabling the invasion of Iraq. I was naive enough to be shocked by their propaganda, and too ambitious and too junior to challenge it. The only way ahead was to resign, and try to start a revolution.
The form this took was determined by my circumstances. Since I’d been hired to report on the Balkans, I was stationed in Serbia, which ignited the wars that had killed off Yugoslavia. My brief was to ask if “The Serbs” had accepted guilt. This got me ridiculed as a hypocrite: young Serbs were resisting their leaders all along, whereas I was employed by a paper that whitewashed warmongers.
I didn’t have an answer to that, except to get stoned. My editors showed minimal interest in Balkan news, so I had plenty of time to dream up other plans. I’d met a man who suggested we organise a music festival, on an island in the Danube in Belgrade. We convinced ourselves we’d start a Summer of Love, drawing crowds from the neighbouring countries Serbs attacked. We could also revive a dormant student protest movement, which helped topple a Serbian president two years earlier. We’d even lure some tourists from afar, by promoting ourselves as Ibiza crossed with Glastonbury. All told, it was “constructive ethnic cleansing”, a way of reclaiming Serbia from its past. Hell, The New York Times might even cover it.
As published by Perfect Sound Forever
An excerpted passage from my memoir; a series of extracts is posted here.
SONIC YOUTH & SERBIAN MAYHEM
By Daniel Simpson
Putting on a festival was alchemy. If we hadn’t transcended our limits, it couldn’t have happened. G’s magic had simple principles at heart: [my mysterious partner had] clarified intentions at the outset, and detached himself completely from the outcome. While he hoped to see his vision fully realized, everyone was left to do as they pleased, and this free-for-all was ECHO’s fatal flaw. But it also proved a vital source of strength.
By Monday night, there wasn’t a puddle in sight. Countless feet had trudged them into sludge. The atmosphere backstage was reverential. Higher powers blessed us in the end; the heavens above were fair, and the field was full. I was dumbstruck by the vista from the stage. Rippling away in the moonlight, the crowd was pulsing like a human graphic equalizer. It roared in a wave of souls merged as one. There must have been eighty thousand, at least. The police locked thousands more outside the gates. They feared stampedes. To a fanfare of cymbals and chords, Sonic Youth took the stage.
‘Thank you for inviting us here to beautiful Belgrade,’ drawled Thurston Moore. His hair alone was a time warp to 1990, a Ride on Inspiral Carpets to happier Mondays.
An exchange with a party reporter (now retired)
In a front page article this morning, The New York Times told a tale of expats from Jamaica, who like to “Get Party to Come to Them, via DVD”.
Their passion for watching films of far-flung nightlife was deconstructed in great depth, including this detailed analysis of the contents:
The hallmark of a good DVD is outlandish dancing. Egged on by the evening’s M.C., called a “selector,” and a shouted running commentary over furious reggae-inflected beats, women pinwheel their legs while standing on their heads.
The author, Sarah Maslin Nir, used to be a party correspondent, or “Nocturnalist” (regaling us with life in royal “we” form). She now writes about Queens, where she encountered dancehall culture. I wondered if she might have been misled:
As published by Stop The War Coalition
A report which draws on research for an unmade film, and the script for a short.
The elephant in the room the media still won’t mention: Iraq was a war crime
By Daniel Simpson
In all the words churned out by journalists marking 10 years since the invasion of Iraq, one remains apparently taboo: crime.
Outspoken columnists rue the “catastrophe”, “horror” and “obscenity” of the war, which killed hundreds of thousands of those it was meant to be helping. But few find space to mention criminality. The timid still passively say “mistakes” were made.
News reports list “failures”, “setbacks” and “lessons” for “the West”, while relating “sectarian tensions” that could yet split Iraq into several countries. But there’s never a line of background saying the people who started the war are now criminally liable.
As published by Roads & Kingdoms
My debut dispatch from a place billed as “journalism and travel, together at last”.
YOGA HIDEOUT, GERMAN BAKERY
By Daniel Simpson
Back in the Seventies, when hipsters lived in Kabul, most backpacker trails converged on Kathmandu. When he got there, a German named Klaus missed wholegrain bread. So he made some himself, in clay pots on a kerosene stove. Before long, he’d upgraded to ovens, and started selling his loaves to fellow travellers; in Nepal and down in Goa by the beach, where he opened a restaurant with a bakery attached. Four decades later, there are probably more “German Bakeries” in India than McDonald’s.
Which isn’t to say that Klaus controls a franchise. He only opened a handful of outlets, then retired. The rest have mostly copied his basic recipe: create a space for foreigners and locals to mingle, and fill them up with glutinous golden brot, among other European treats. The German Bakery in Pune became such an icon of comity that Islamist terrorists blew up the building in 2010. It just reopened.
Many others are effectively holes in the wall with a sign, hawking croissants, cakes and cookies with the loaves. They’re found near ashrams, in far-flung Himalayan trekking valleys, and in most of the tourist ghettoes round the country. The holy town of Rishikesh has around ten. Even the largest has no connection whatsoever to the original, although its manager and his staff are from Nepal, where Klaus got started. With the resplendent title “Devraj Coffee Corner German Bakery & Restaurant”, it perches on a cliff beside the Ganges. It’s little more than a glorified shack with an open front, but its vantage point provides views of the fast-flowing turquoise depths below, and of the shaky bridge across to high-rise temples.
As performed at Hackney Attic
A rendition of the story behind A Rough Guide to the Dark Side, live at Spark.
The theme of the evening’s event was “Open Heart”, as in:
Hearts are funny things. They break; they stop; they beat faster; they burn. We can give them to someone else. They allow us to live. Are you open hearted? Do you give your heart freely? Is your heart reliable? Do you have heart problems? We want stories about our most essential organ and the love that it symbolises.
I took this as a cue to relive my twisted Balkan Summer of Love… also known as the ECHO Festival.