Koen De Smet
Keep the bloody racket down
DOOR Dorothee Elmiger
29-11-2010

keep the bloody racket down

the bloody train is bloody late
you bloody wait you bloody wait
you’re bloody lost and bloody found
stuck in fucking chickentown
(John Cooper Clarke, Evidently Chickentown)

 

The last few days I’ve often thought about John Cooper Clarke and his hair cut. That might sound somewhat weird and funny, but I mean it very seriously.

The evening after my return from Antwerp I was at the Appenzell railway station, in the very East of Switzerland. It had been snowing, it was already dark and very quiet. In this scene I remembered what I had almost forgotten, there was something about this railway station and my childhood village, something about the train and expecting, that it would take me somewhere, away away away, to a place full of people and upcoming events, there was something about me being restless, about the idea that not very far from this place many things might be different.

Since I’m not living there anymore, but somewhere instead, this feeling has come over me less and less often, and yet, it is indispensable: it holds dissatisfaction with reality, a strong objection against order and quiet, like John Cooper Clarke’s the bloody neighbours, bloody moan / keep the bloody racket down / this is bloody chicken town.

Since Evidently Chickentown in 1980, John Cooper Clarke has aged, and I was born only in the meantime, yet, I recognised him at once: I saw him sitting at a table in The Hague, holding a spoon in his hand. I saw him standing on the stage with his poems, separate sheets of paper in a plastic bag. I saw him sitting on the edge of that stage, his legs crossed, nodding to the rhythm. I recognised him right away by his hair cut, it was tumultuous, his hair going in all directions. Completely unthinkable that this hair would be self-acting, I thought, and this idea pleased me deeply: John Cooper Clarke who wakes up every day and creates this chaos on his head, this objection against order or reality and that he has been doing this for a long time, for years and years, up until today John Cooper Clarke has been doing this. Up until today, so it seems, he has refused to obey order and to take back his ancient thought: he is still there.

Three days ago, I was in a bar at night; there had been a party as opposed to order, or even better: against the fear of disorder that is spreading in Switzerland, a fear that makes people drowsey and fake, and eventually always turns against those, whom all pretend not to belong to themselves.

It was late, the music had been turned down, there were just few people left inside, and I was waiting for the first train back to Chickentown. I was standing there thinking that just maybe this type of hair cut could prevent one from degrading to order, but I was not absolutely sure about that.

Anyway, that night, there was just a little nip of whisky left in my glass and my train could be there any minute, I finally heard his voice through the loudspeakers: Oh!, I thought, John Cooper Clarke is still around as well.

Alle vertalingen van Koen De Smet
Keep the bloody racket down
29-11-10

keep the bloody racket down

the bloody train is bloody late
you bloody wait you bloody wait
you’re bloody lost and bloody found
stuck in fucking chickentown
(John Cooper Clarke, Evidently Chickentown)

 

The last few days I’ve often thought about John Cooper Clarke and his hair cut. That might sound somewhat weird and funny, but I mean it very seriously.

The evening after my return from Antwerp I was at the Appenzell railway station, in the very East of Switzerland. It had been snowing, it was already dark and very quiet. In this scene I remembered what I had almost forgotten, there was something about this railway station and my childhood village, something about the train and expecting, that it would take me somewhere, away away away, to a place full of people and upcoming events, there was something about me being restless, about the idea that not very far from this place many things might be different.

Since I’m not living there anymore, but somewhere instead, this feeling has come over me less and less often, and yet, it is indispensable: it holds dissatisfaction with reality, a strong objection against order and quiet, like John Cooper Clarke’s the bloody neighbours, bloody moan / keep the bloody racket down / this is bloody chicken town.

Since Evidently Chickentown in 1980, John Cooper Clarke has aged, and I was born only in the meantime, yet, I recognised him at once: I saw him sitting at a table in The Hague, holding a spoon in his hand. I saw him standing on the stage with his poems, separate sheets of paper in a plastic bag. I saw him sitting on the edge of that stage, his legs crossed, nodding to the rhythm. I recognised him right away by his hair cut, it was tumultuous, his hair going in all directions. Completely unthinkable that this hair would be self-acting, I thought, and this idea pleased me deeply: John Cooper Clarke who wakes up every day and creates this chaos on his head, this objection against order or reality and that he has been doing this for a long time, for years and years, up until today John Cooper Clarke has been doing this. Up until today, so it seems, he has refused to obey order and to take back his ancient thought: he is still there.

Three days ago, I was in a bar at night; there had been a party as opposed to order, or even better: against the fear of disorder that is spreading in Switzerland, a fear that makes people drowsey and fake, and eventually always turns against those, whom all pretend not to belong to themselves.

It was late, the music had been turned down, there were just few people left inside, and I was waiting for the first train back to Chickentown. I was standing there thinking that just maybe this type of hair cut could prevent one from degrading to order, but I was not absolutely sure about that.

Anyway, that night, there was just a little nip of whisky left in my glass and my train could be there any minute, I finally heard his voice through the loudspeakers: Oh!, I thought, John Cooper Clarke is still around as well.

Interview with a poet
20-11-10

I’m in the bus to Antwerp, Theodor Emil Geer is sitting next to me. He’s wearing a blue cardigan, he’s looking through the window, he’s thinking. A poet! The windows present: a crane, the upper floors of the city hall, empty against a clear blue sky on this Sunday, and yes, a bird, flown right from the sea to this place. The bus makes one other tour around the hotel and drives off, out of the city.

Elmiger: Theodor Geer, your last name sounds Dutch.
Geer: True. But actually, I come from the land of the confederates, missus!
Elmiger: How do you feel here in the European Union?
Geer: Oh, great. I’ve left my dearest valuables at home anyhow. And last night, I was presented a wonderful piece of pie, I guess made of one hundred layers, more or less.
Elmiger: So, in a European foreign country life can be pleasant as well.

Geer doesn’t answer, he is looking somewhat wistfully out of the bus window again. At that very moment John Cooper Clarke and Mister Cutler take off their boots at the back row, tighten a thin piece of paper over their combs and blow a little tune.

Elmiger: And Crossing Border? How do you like it?
Geer: I must say I enjoy the early morning above the city hall a lot, there is this song I get low, performed by Timber Timbre in the German Church, and it was moving to see the four young men dancing like mad in the loge last night, and the beautiful voice of a young lady singing in a band called I am Oak. I –
Elmiger: Is this Theodor Geer, the poet, speaking, or just Theodor Geer?

Geer pulls a plastic bag out of his rucksack filled with small pieces of pie. Outside a river is running. Someone told me last night it were the last habitat for the swarm-fish.

Geer: You can call yourself lucky, this pie previously mentioned has filled me with mercy, for your question shows a certain ignorance: there is no such thing as a distinction between the world and literature, is there!
Elmiger: But my question was –
Geer: Please, Ms Elmiger, or you allow me to answer your question, or I have to ask you to let me eat my pie in peace. Well then. As I was saying, I enjoyed: this pie, I get low, those men in the loge and the lady in the boughs of the oak. Also, I liked the silence in the small garden behind the pie buffet, and those pancakes for dwarfs at breakfast every morning. Swarm-fish too. And the crisscross of cables lying there so inexplicably, as you’ve always imagined it but almost never witnessed, and winding through the hallways, up and downstairs, into the walls: a swarm of bees is buzzing in the cables, right? And I enjoyed the fresh air in the Koorenhuis, the walk at night over the square towards the blue hotel, above me a satellite: good night, sleep tight!
I hope this will do. I’m exhausted and life is short. Mister Cutler is getting back into his boots and there, there is Antwerp, Mademoiselle.

Altamont
20-11-10

Last August, I was lying in bed with a fever. It seemed as if the birds at the window were ceaselessly whistling wide awake and sharp. One of these feverish days I was watching Gimme Shelter, the documentary on the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont Speedway: December 1969, people arriving from all directions in the North of California, on foot and by bus, carrying blankets over their shoulders, duffle bags and firewood, taking place on the hills, waiting. And after a while the Rolling Stones hit the stage. On both sides of the stage Hells Angels have taken their posts, they will guard people’s security – with a dreadful smile one of them rolls his eyes completely fucked up, still so vivid in my mind, a bad trip. The concert ends when a young man in a light-green suit is stabbed with a long knife by Alan Passaro, Hells Angel, while the band is playing Under My Thumb. In my feverishness I was totally cut up right after, this most insane concert, dangerous and wild and most of all, showing no perspicuous pattern, a disorderly commotion between poorly overgrown desert hills.

Yesterday, the tour manager of that Rolling Stones concert in 1969, Sam Cutler, was sitting at a table in the royal theater. He has just published a book about this event, about that time. He is wearing heavy rings on his hand, and I’m astonished seeing this Sam Cutler on the stage telling his story so lively while having experienced back in 1969 vividly what is way back in the past for me, being born too late.

Altamont crosses my mind a few times that night. Actually, I think of Altamont very often, when I’m in a concert hall. They anger me or wear me out maybe, these concert halls and the rituals that reside there to be carried out over and over again – from arrival to the final applause, performed over and over again, maybe even directed: as a huge show. Sometimes I would like the choreography of the spotlights to stop for a second, that something unexpected would happen (I recall Scout Niblett leaving the stage after only four songs, once), that the audience would trash a few chairs or at least, if only for a second, that they would hesitate about the next clapping, that a daredevil would climb onto the stage and call something through the microphone.

The concert at Altamont Speedway may possibly be a bad example here. The Hells Angels and their sharpened billiard cues, their withdrawn faces, and their widely dilated eyes, this unbridled chaos frightened me that day in my summery slumber.

And yet, these moments are often the most precious to me these days, the perfect show being disturbed, interrupted for a short time – in a theater play the most exciting moments to me are those where I am not sure whether the actress is playing her role or being herself, as the prompter whispers a word into the silent space. A short stumble so now and then.

As I was strolling to the hotel pondering, thinking about Altamont and Scout Niblett, about Sam Cutler and the Hells Angels, about the year 1969 and the year 2010, the splendid performances that night, as I was reflecting on the huge number of possible combinations of white, red and yellow spotlights, on how these ritually grown actions are directly linked to the human need of security (indeed, I was in a very philosophical mood so late at night!), I thought that the best moment of the evening may have been Jesse Malin & The St. Marks Social tuning their instruments, now and then yelling words through the microphone, hammering one or two times on the drums as a sound check, bam bam bam. Their hairstyle was pretty cool in a way. Actually, they were way cool, with their turned up collars and all. A short show before the real show, it was, accidental and unplanned, and each one of them doing his utmost best. It would have been very easy for me to make it so bold as to climb onto that stage and shout through the microphone. I had already left my jacket and rolled up my sleeves, but the moment was gone.

Woody Pecker and swarm-fish
19-11-10

Seven in the morning, and there it is, this sound in the heating of my hotel room. No unfamiliar sound, no: first an accelerating ticking, like a tiny, madly picking woodpecker, followed by gurgling water – there must be a small river flowing past my bed!

Last night – we were having rice and swarm-fish for dinner at Bodega De Posthoorn (The Posthorn) – translator Ina Rilke told me that when translating a poem she particularly considers very carefully the sounds a poem makes. I can’t remember the exact word she used that very moment – sound couldn’t have been it, sound was merely the translation in my head while brooding on that swarm-fish.

This morning, the gurgling river along my bed, I happen to like the idea of considering words as sounds. The unfamiliar words in a foreign language coming from mouths at the table at Bodega De Posthoorn come to me chiefly as sounds, tones and rhythms with no manifest meaning. And yet, they don’t seem senseless or absurd. At one occurrence I accidentally join in the laugh, just because the rhythm and the pace of the preceding sounds has brought me to it. At the bodega I decide it is a good thing to send home for once the urge having to understand everything: it can wait for me there and interrogate me when I come home late at night: swarm-fish? Yes, swarm-fish!, I nod convinced, though the word swarm-fish is obviously my very personal translation for a minor sound that a waitress called out to me over the long table.

When phrases, words, strange words are sounds  – not meaningless sounds, no: melodious hum, significant buzz – for a few seconds the tension between speech and non-speech is gone, the world becomes text: at the airport, the earbud of the security lady – waiting for me carrying a sign, the earbud softly but directly whispering in her head. On the highway, the navigator mumbling words in Dutch over and over, as I am caught by a coughing attack in the backseat, my coughing, a fox yapping, the navigator, the lady’s whispering earbud. On the side of the road from Schiphol to The Hague seven cows lack every sound, and in the open field the gooses waddle and waggle while seemingly making no sound: We all know they gaggle! On the tram the ticking ticket machine, the sounds of the town as well of course, and that of the wind in the street at Louis Couperus’ house. The sounds at Bodega De Posthoorn. The blowing posthorn. The swarm-fish sighing on my plate! And later that night, the few sounds interlining Rufus Wainwright’s songs, once some coughing, one single seat tipping up, and there’s the piano again. The first key touched: a sound that takes part in the coherence of the music.

What now? That silly woodpecker is still hammering the heating. As a test I tap back with my knuckle, but Woody Pecker keeps its cool. Do as you like, woodpecker!, I think to myself, and dive forward into the river. You might catch a swarm-fish swimming.

Crossing the lowland, crossing over the border
10-11-10

I am in Tuscon, Arizona, on the border, a friend writes. I am in Bremen, I write, at the window since this early morning only gloomy gloam; the sea is not far away, and not too much more than a hundred kilometers lie between this town and the nearest border.

You are right, it’s time to assemble the lamps, writes a friend from Switzerland. He’s pointing out to the upcoming winter, but also to something else: crossing over borders, crossing the lowlands, witnessing the initiative by the right Swiss People’s Party, which aims for a less complex expulsion of migrants in the future.

In the newspaper a critical piece by a Dutch sociologist, addressed to Geert Wilders and friends, to borders and arbitrariness.

And my friend in Tucson, sometimes she is driving through the desert for hours looking for those who, somewhere between Mexico and Arizona, while crossing over the border, have lost their ways.

The discussion here in Switzerland has taken a new, sharp turn – but always somnambulant from emotional perspective – in the sense that now a majority seems to believe there is actually no doubt whatsoever about this distinction between the Swiss and the foreigners, no lifelong doubt, writes the friend from Switzerland, and human rights activist Anni Lanz writes about migration as a form of resistance of the poor against power and property unbalance, she speaks of war against the poor, and I am shocked, facing these words on an inconspicuous Saturday afternoon, though or because these words are so precise.

Whereas I cross over the border carefree, born in Switzerland and emigrated in the twinkling of an eye, drawn off to the neighbouring country, settled down with unburdened faith, placed a table in the kitchen, my bed in another country. A few days ago I received the journey tickets to The Hague. Things are so easy for me, and so hard on others, as if they were nation threatening war enemies.

And where is the music now? Should we or should we not unpack our trumpets and basses, our pencils, note sheets of paper and computers? It comes to my mind that in Arizona bands canceled their concerts when in April the government passed the severed immigration regulations, the so-called Arizona Senate Bill 1070 – Sonic Youth, Conor Oberst, The Coup.

But now and then music and literature may find a few gaps in the fencing. That would be great!, I think: Ha! For as music would not be stopped and words would be spread, with Chinese whispers, per tin phones, in all possible ways. The place for music is right there where it takes place, is it not? And translating words – converting one language into another, crossing the lowland in your head and on paper, crossing over the border – may be at best the clarification one’s perception of land and one’s starting point, it is an extended walk away from the nation, through lively woods instead, it is a sudden clear view from a hill high above the top borders, it is the reflection of the border as a construction, the contemplation of the mother tongue and the so-called fatherland, the immediate sense of being together with many others at the same time, in the same place: You are right, it is time to assemble the lamps in the farthest ends of the lowland, over each and every writing desk, everywhere.