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Within These Walls: On L.Pierre's The Island Come True By A Piss Artist
John Doran , January 16th, 2013 06:11

This is not a record review. This is (no longer) a speech that John Doran intends to give at some distant point in the future either. As the AA yellow card says: "Who you see... what you hear... leave it here."

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Hello, my name's John and I'm an alcoholic.

I didn't want to do this chair when I woke up this morning. I'd been putting off thinking about it for days but then I played a new record and it gave me an idea. I hope it makes sense but please bear with me while I try and articulate what I mean.

I remember when I first came into these rooms five years ago, the person who was chairing the meeting, sitting behind the table like I am now, said: "If you're less than 24 hours sober we ask that you don't share, just pay close attention to things said that you identify with and don't worry too much about the things that you don't."

I had a fair idea that I'd hear some bracing things. Like Chapter Three from The Big Book says: "Most of us have been unwilling to admit we were real alcoholics. No person likes to think he is mentally different from his fellows. Therefore it is not surprising that our drinking careers have been characterised by countless vain attempts to prove we could drink like other people. The idea that somehow, someday he will control and enjoy his drinking is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker. The persistence of this illusion is astonishing. Many pursue it into the gates of insanity or death."

Insanity and death. Those were two of the things I had an inkling I was going to hear about when I first came here to the rooms.

Then there were some other things that didn't surprise me when I did hear about them: violent dads, insane mothers, trouble at school, unemployment, prison, mad houses, fights, regretful sex, unplanned pregnancies, regretful abortions, drunk driving, car accidents, the death of friends, depression, suicide, illness and hospitals. Cradle to the grave drinking.

One of the things I didn't know I'd hear about though was the quest for beauty, a struggle to achieve aesthetic perfection in an imperfect world. For me, every morning I woke up, the world was too ugly to face. There was dirt, horror and disfigurement everywhere I looked. But after one stiff drink I could leave the house; after two drinks the fear started lifting and then after the third drink I'd feel like an artist. Or to be more precise, I would see the world through the eyes of an artist. And after five drinks, well, take your pick. On a good day I felt like Picasso. But there were all kinds of days. Imagine being Gustav Klimt in Hull, the golden light of the low winter sun at 3pm in the afternoon radiating along the avenues. Imagine being Walter Sickert in Manchester, the violent brown and black smudges radiating from your feet and along canal tow paths. Imagine being Vincent Van Goch in St Helens. That is something close to victory, something close to beating death.

They laughed at me and called me a piss artist. And how right they were. I was an aesthete with a broken nose in a stained shirt and inside out boxer shorts, drinking the world beautiful.

Thus protected you can see the sublime in the augury of fried chicken bones and tomato sauce cast upon the upper deck floor of a bus. You can divine a narrative among the finger-drawn doodles on the misted windows. You can feel your destiny in hundreds of individual condensation droplets on the glass turning red, then amber, then green.

Everything that you'd worried about a few hours previously... Where will I get the money from? What if he beats me up? Am I seriously ill? Am I dying? Have I got cancer? What will she say when I finally get home a week late? Will she cry when we eventually go to bed together? Will she pack her things and leave the next day? How near is death? What will it be like? Will I scream and cry? What is it like to die? And now, after some drinks, there is just the sweet sensation of your life passing you by with no struggle and no fuss. The rope slides through your fingers with no friction, just warmth as a balloon rises higher and higher out of sight. I have bottles and bottles and bottles and my phone is out of credit. A Mark Rothko night. A Jackson Pollock night.

And I'd forgotten all this until I heard some music this morning. I have a new album, The Island Come True by a man called Lucky. An ironic name maybe? A drinker's name for sure. I have another album by him as well called Touchpool. He has two others I believe but I haven't heard them. And this music speaks to me about alcoholism.

I don't think Lucky is an alcoholic, not a jakey, not a tramp, not an urban camper, not even a barfly or an off license gargoyle but I'll bet you money he's felt a great thirst in his life. I'll bet you any money he has looked at life through the eyes of an artist at 4pm, in saloon bars, in lounge bars, on buses, in cabs, in rented flats with the thin, cheap curtains drawn during daylight hours. With laughing women. With crying women.

He makes holiday music for people who don't go on holiday. Why would you go on holiday when you could just get a bottle of ginger beer to go with your vodka and turn on the fairy lights around the cocktail cabinet in the front room? With the constant drip feed of alcohol your entire existence becomes jaunt-like. I don't drink any more but when I drank. Oh boys, when I drank, I used to make myself a Samoan Fog Cutter in a tall glass with ice and listen to his song 'Jim Dodge Dines At The Penguin Café'. And I'd wear my favourite Hawaiian shirt. Maybe turn the thermostat up a little. Put some ice in container shaped like a pineapple. Dance indoors with my lady. The ice clinking in my glass sounded like the breeze blowing a yacht's rigging and rope against the mast.

And I know it's not just me who feels like this.

There was a fantastic advert in the 1980s that opened with a camera panning across a tropical lagoon while a narrator said: "Peckham, on a wet Saturday afternoon." Then the film cut to a brightly coloured parrot: "Next door's budgie." The next bit was pretty weird – pretty fucked up. It showed a sultry young woman looking sexually provocative on the beach as the voice over continued: "Auntie Beryl." The next shot was of sophisticated looking rich people in white linen clothes sipping cocktails before running down a jetty to get into a speedboat lit by an unnaturally swollen full moon: "The Dog & Duck, down the high street… Catching the last bus home…" All of which was the set up to the emphatically delivered punch line: "If you're drinking Bacardi."

You'd never be able to screen an alcohol advert like this now… which is wrong because it's the only truthful drink commercial that's ever been made.

Lucky's album speaks to me of the eternal holiday of the alcoholic. Once you create as much distance from your everyday life as you naturally have from orange tinted Polaroids of childhood caravan trips or stays in seaside hotels and Super 8 film reels of school sports days, then you start to experience your quotidian life like it's the sun bleached memory of a happy event. You feel nostalgia and warmth for boring events that are unfolding right in front of you. You feel wistful about experiences that most people would find barbaric or gauche or unremarkable. You experience the epic, the heart-warming and the hilarious in post office and supermarket queues. You develop permanently rose-tinted glasses.

But there's no getting away from it, after a while the strategy starts failing. You start seeing everything through the eyes of Francis Bacon, through the eyes of Edvard Munch, through the eyes of H. R. Giger…

This is Lucky's fourth album, after a break of several years, and his strategy has changed. All of this music is made from tapes, samples, loops, found sounds, field recordings. The beauty is more fragile, more ephemeral. Melancholy, sadness and even depression are seeping in at the edges.

At the outset, seagulls soar and caw as rigging and rope snaps against mast in some unnamed harbour. A simple three note violin refrain loops as the tide rises and falls. The patina of dust on his old records is a buffer between the listener and the harshness of reality. The fact that most of these records were at one time popular, and exist in the public domain, add to the comfort to be gained...

Even though this is the music of 'true' sight becoming occluded, it made me think of the neurologist Oliver Sacks who tells of blind men given the gift of eyesight late in life thanks to improvements in surgery and how it does little to improve their quality of life. The anguish of AgnosiaMolyneux's Problem - often means that visual information is too much of an overload to process when it arrives unexpectedly in adult life. The sufferer often continues to act as if blind because to try and make sense of what they can 'see' is too difficult, too painful, too distressing. But even if such a person learns to interpret what they 'see', the world can appear less idealised than they had imagined. Their environment is not clean and faces are not beautiful, they see things that we simply choose not to talk about for the first time. People who learn to see late in life often turn to suicide or fall into ill health and die not long after vision returns. Just pick up a bottle. It is a cure for what offends your eye. Pluck the cork from the bottle.

On the song 'Harmonic Avenger' various fine strands of easy listening are combined to provide very uneasy music. Grand piano chords echo across a winter garden. Rachmaninov's 'Prelude In C Sharp Minor' if I'm not mistaken. Polynesian maidens hum a counter melody. A boulevardier plays something similar on a battered accordion. But when the descending strings hit, it is too much to hope that a fourth element will slot comfortably in place. The effect is that of the caustic clash between the diegetic music playing on a radio in a film when it rubs sourly against the extra-diegetic strings on the soundtrack. The character may well be listening to sweet pop music or soothing classical but only you, the viewer, have the intimation that something is awry.

Elsewhere loops from vintage children's TV shows, wind up music boxes, children humming simple refrains, orchestras tuning up, the chirrup of insect life and old hypnotism records, slide in and out of the mix.

And while, no doubt, this will remind some people of music that comes out on the Ghost Box label (perhaps even in a negative way, if they have very regimented and codified views on how music in specific genres – in this case hauntology – should operate), for me, this isn't really that important. 'The Grief Does Not Speak' (and all of the excellent bonus material that comes with the vinyl version), reminds me of another artist, The Caretaker. Again, maybe a lot of people will disagree. They say his music is about the loss of memory, of amnesia, dementia and Alzheimer's. And even though it probably is, metaphorically speaking, literally this music is about the terrifyingly deleterious effects of alcohol on the brain; of a never ending round of getting clattered night after night and the fragile world of half memories and half-truths you then enter. There is beauty of sorts in this world but it's the beauty of a finely crocheted shawl… it's less substance than it is void. You can only define this ephemeral radiance by the holes and by the absences.

When I was a kid my parents told me a story. Two devils manufactured a mirror in Hell which rendered anyone who looked into it unbearably ugly and deformed. They flew up to Heaven to trick God into looking into it but when confronted with his beauty, it shattered into a million pieces and rained down to Earth. A girl standing below was looking up at the stars when a splinter fell into her eye, rendering everything she saw for the rest of her life horrific. The Island Come True is the act of staring at what looks like glitter gently falling from the stars towards you.

And that's all I've got to say this morning. Time to open the meeting up to the room.

grit bin
Jan 16, 2013 11:36am

this is fucking incredible

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John Doran
Jan 16, 2013 12:08pm

In reply to grit bin:

Very kind of you to say so.

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J M
Jan 16, 2013 12:20pm

This is absolutely the most moving thing I have ever read on this site. Unbelievable. The record is great and, although I can't empathise with the resonance that it gave you, it has indeed conjured up memories for me.

By the way, the paragraph that you close on about the story with the mirror... was that the basis of Hans Christian Anderson's "Snow Queen?"

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Chal Ravens
Jan 16, 2013 12:58pm

A typically splendid piece. And I learned a new word: augury.

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A.C
Jan 16, 2013 2:28pm

It's a beauty; lovely tone; reads like a condensed 'Legend of the Holy Drinker' by Joseph Roth. How the Guardian or Observer or any other old hat 'serious' newspaper would love to have the guts to go down such a post-post-modern boozers memoir route...

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John Doran
Jan 16, 2013 2:51pm

In reply to J M:

Oh wow, how exciting. I'd almost given up hope of finding what that story was. In fact, I'd started to think I'd made it up. Cheers. And thanks for the kind words everyone.

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"Daily Mailer"
Jan 16, 2013 3:41pm

Defend Tradition 11.

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Laura Snapes
Jan 16, 2013 3:49pm

I'm sincerely looking forward to the day J. Doran publishes a book. This is an incredible piece.

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T
Jan 16, 2013 3:54pm

amazing

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Maya K
Jan 16, 2013 3:58pm

Fucking hell John, that might be the best thing I've read in any music publication ever x

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RJC
Jan 16, 2013 4:03pm

The Quietus is on a fuckin roll this week - first the Nico thing and now this. Good work Doran - this review kind of sits well alongside all those Menk pieces. Now hurry up and write that book.

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John Doran
Jan 16, 2013 4:47pm

In reply to "Daily Mailer":

Defend it from what? Vandals? Cybermen? Banksy? Explain what you're talking about first please...

If you're talking about me and AA, well, this is a fictional format used to hang a piece of critical writing on in that sense - believe it or not I haven't chaired an AA meeting and spent it talking about an ambient LP. It bears no relation to any 'real' meeting that has occurred.

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Sol Hoopii
Jan 16, 2013 5:56pm

I'm in the States and actually ordered the deluxe vinyl + cassette from Melodic... It's really quite remarkable how good Aidan is at this AND his 'day job' of singing + songwriting. Sure, there's an occasional clinker (usually due to A's intermittent sentimental streak) but for the most part, his output is fucking tremendous.

Was in a record store yesterday and heard the new-- and incredibly insipid-- Yo La Tengo album and was glad to be on side the Scots.

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Jan 16, 2013 5:58pm

In reply to John Doran:

John, as a sidenote to this fine piece, you might want to read Nick Tosches' new novel, "Me And The Devil"; ignore the reviews and discovered its hard wrought and scarifying brilliance for yourself.

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"Daily Mailer"
Jan 16, 2013 9:13pm

In reply to John Doran:

Short form Tradition 11: Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion; we need always maintain personal anonymity at the level of press, radio and films.
Long form Tradition 11: Our relations with the general public should be characterised by personal anonymity. We think A.A. ought to avoid sensational advertising. Our names and pictures as A.A. members ought not be broadcast, filmed, or publicly printed. Our public relations should be guided by the principle of attraction rather than promotion. There is never need to praise ourselves. We feel it better to let our friends recommend us.

IF you are an AA member AND John Doran is your real name then by disclosing your membership of AA in the press without using a pseudonym you may be seen by some people as in breach of Tradition 11. It isn't just about observing the yellow card. With regard to Banksy, vandals or cybermen, I believe Bill W said something like the greatest threat to AA's future came from within.

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John Doran
Jan 16, 2013 11:03pm

In reply to "Daily Mailer":

What makes you think I am actually an AA member? Like I've said, this is a fictional construct, to hang a piece of criticism on.

Do you have a genuine complaint or are you just being a bit of a dick?

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Jordan Bassett
Jan 16, 2013 11:28pm

"Drinking the world beautiful." Fucking hell that's ace.

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JA
Jan 17, 2013 12:11am

In reply to "Daily Mailer":

I saw a movie at t'pictures recently called 360 in which Anthony Hopkins' spoke at an AA meeting. I do hope you've thrashed this out with him as self-appointed leader of the Friends of Bill stasi. Maybe if you spent less time looking at tradition 11 and more time practicing step 11 then you might chill the fuck out and concentrate on your own recovery

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Johnny Nothing
Jan 17, 2013 12:20am

John. Mate. This resonates. Way beyond the review of the album. Vivid, life affirming and utterly hilarious. You sure can write.

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Jan 17, 2013 6:16am

Excellent writing: Honestly one of the best things I've read in recent memory.

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"Daily Mailer"
Jan 17, 2013 10:24am

In reply to JA:

I thought Hopkins' behaviour was outrageous. These people refuse to comply with a simple request & one doesn't have to be the leader of anything to point that out. I would have bought Hopkins up here, only I don't believe he writes for The Quietus.

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Britbeatzzz
Jan 17, 2013 11:24am

John, I gave up drinking 2 months ago.... Im 39 and think my life has gone a lot like yours was. This piece is really beautiful and insightful... its TOTALLY correct, and youve done me a big favour by finding the way to describe something ive never managed to describe to myself...good man.

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Britbeatzzz
Jan 17, 2013 11:27am

"Daily Mailer" you are a fool. IF he is a member, then so what? Im NOT a member cos I feel like Im going to have to deal with people like you. I would be much more likely to be a member if there was more people like the guy who wrote this involved.

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JA
Jan 17, 2013 11:27am

In reply to "Daily Mailer":

You angrily firing missives on message boards is hardly the way to go now is it? As I said, concentrate on your own ish and have a word with yourself while you're at it son. Wonderful piece Mr Doran

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Britbeatzzz
Jan 17, 2013 11:33am

BTW, Im Yoko Ohno who gave you a hard time when MENK started... just being a dick really, I think your column is ace now. Sorry.

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Jan 17, 2013 11:35am

J.D. Prick

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"Daily Mailer"
Jan 17, 2013 11:57am

In reply to JA:

It's a comment thread. I commented. Nothing wrong with that. Oh, and do please make your points without using the tiresome "Like I said, have a word with yourself son" routine. This isn't a film starring Danny Dyer.

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Raymond Gorman
Jan 17, 2013 12:40pm

A friend recommended this piece to me today. I do read the Quietus fairly regularly and always enjoy however I also felt sufficiently moved on this occasion to comment in order to congratulate you John on an extraordinary piece of writing.Keep up the fantastic work.

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"Daily Mailer"
Jan 17, 2013 10:30pm

The damage is done now, but JA is quite correct. I shouldn't be wasting everyone's time picking fights on the web. I would like to offer my apologies to John Doran, JA, & Britbeatzzz for the ill feeling my comments have generated on this web page.

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Penny
Jan 18, 2013 1:04am

If my dear old alcoholic dad was still alive I would have gone over with a bottle after reading this. Just made my heart pound reading it.

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cosmic chancer
Jan 18, 2013 2:20am

Who is on that speaker tape that said he didnt just want to get out of it, he wanted to get higher and higher till he saw the face of the living god ? The boredom of my late drinking entered into the 'banality of evil' zone - but thanks for reminding me of my previous failed attempt at transfiguration .....who would have thought change could be so simple ? all the best on your journey.

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John Doran
Jan 18, 2013 9:40am

In reply to "Daily Mailer":

No worries, don't stress about it and good luck with your continuing sobriety.

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Sara
Jan 18, 2013 10:01pm

Drinking the world beautiful...I enjoyed this essay because it suggests an alternative reason to the cliche that people drink to escape from their world. It suggests that they don't just seek to escape it (although that this obviously suggested in the holiday motifs) but to transform it.

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Michael E.
Jan 19, 2013 9:51pm

I'm sure there is a link between this music and some exotica albums Les Baxter-style. The "innocence" and island phantasy of the cover resembles some Les Baxter and Martin Denny - covers though L Pierre replaces orchestration by fragmentation, the full palette of colours by slim lines, shadows... A beautiful and sad record, while listening one can have a lot of double-takes ("Is this real? Am I dreaming?") - and, speaking of King Alcohol, Les Baxter and Martin Denny loved their Martinis:)

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Harry Sword
Jan 22, 2013 11:52am

Beautiful.

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Vaughan
Jan 24, 2013 1:16pm

In reply to Jordan Bassett:

"Drinking the world beautiful" - agreed, totally ace. The whole piece chimed with my experience, but that phrase just captured something for me.

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Eliot
Feb 14, 2013 5:03pm

Great piece and beautiful, haunting record.
Surprise of the year at this early stage.
Sad Laugh is crushing.

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FON
Mar 2, 2013 8:53pm

Wow, what a load of WANK. Still, it should get John a respectable C in his Year 11 Creative Writing module. Give it up, pal.

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flop
Apr 16, 2013 8:56pm

This review brought me to the album and on first listen its a gem.. nice one man!

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StalinAlive
May 23, 2013 4:35pm

this

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Jessa
Jun 6, 2013 11:45am

This is so much more than a review, truly compelling writing John. L. Pierre's 'The Island Come True' is a remarkable piece of work. I hadn't heard of him prior to this album, but from the first listen it struck a chord very deeply in me.
I enjoyed reading your piece a great deal John, I appreciate much of what you say, having grappled with my own equally pervasive obsession with beauty and the emptiness that comes with the sober reality of life.

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Jun 6, 2013 11:46am

This is so much more than a review, truly compelling writing John. L. Pierre's 'The Island Come True' is a remarkable piece of work. I hadn't heard of him prior to this album, but from the first listen it struck a chord very deeply in me.
I enjoyed reading your piece a great deal John, I appreciate much of what you say, having grappled with my own equally pervasive obsession with beauty and the emptiness that comes with the sober reality of life.

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marriage and family therapy degree
Jun 7, 2013 9:53am

It's a beauty; lovely tone; reads like a condensed 'Legend of the Holy Drinker' by Joseph Roth. How the Guardian or Observer or any other old hat 'serious' newspaper would love to have the guts to go down such a post-post-modern boozers memoir route...marriage and family therapy degree

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Owen
Oct 12, 2013 5:41pm

In reply to John Doran:

You should most certainly write a book, Mr. Doran.

Love this piece as much as I love the album.

... And agreed on the Caretaker resemblances. Noticed that only a few moments before reading this.

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