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Baker's Dozen

Songs Of Praise: David Keenan's Baker's Dozen
Jennifer Lucy Allan , December 2nd, 2020 09:46

Jennifer Lucy Allan hears about high-fiving Edgar Froese, frightening the neighbours, disavowing the devil and how Scottish author David Keenan is all about saying yes. Portrait by Heather Leigh.

David Keenan's books are not read, they speak (and sometimes, shout). When I suggest this to him, he says: "I want my books to be alive – you say the books speak, and I'm getting closer and closer to writing books as entities – to ways of making books that form a relationship with the reader."

Xstabeth is his latest book, which came with a ghostly ebook called The Towers The Fields The Transmitters. Xstabeth is on the one hand about parental love, St Andrews, sex, and golf. It is also a dream captured in language. He cannot remember writing it, and this spirit forms the book's refrain – ‘Xstabeth is appearing’. For Keenan, the project of his work, since Xstabeth, has become about making fundamental, leap-of-faith affirmations: "The great great great project of art, real art, true art, is to redeem reality as it is. Are you capable of saying yes to it in all its complexity? In all its difficulty, horror, loss? In its beauty, magic, incredible relationships, the glory of nature?

"His first book was England's Hidden Reverse, a tome on British industrial underground groups including Nurse With Wound, Current 93, and Coil, among others. It was followed by first novel This Is Memorial Device, a fictional oral history of the Airdrie underground, and a second, For The Good Times, about the Troubles. "The two books I knew I would write were ones about growing up in Airdrie, being so grateful for those magical times in the post-punk era, and also one about my dad and his brothers growing up in the Ardoyne during the Troubles... Then when I wrote Xstabeth I felt something different happen. My first two novels are a debt of gratitude, but I'm somewhere more uncharted now. The books are writing themselves and I don't know why."

There is a sense in which Keenan's books could not be written by someone who hadn't transcribed hundreds of hours of speech, which he did for years as a rock critic. He was a major contributor to The Wire magazine, as well as Mojo, Melody Maker and others. "Life is deformed by music rather than transformed," he says, "my life took on a totally different shape after I encountered DIY music and culture."

As such, he talks, enthuses, preaches on the music that has changed him faster than I can type even at the slowest transcription setting. Our conversations about each individual record are the same size as one entire normal Baker's Dozen. High-velocity anecdotes that survived the edit include cake-eating Japanese underground legends, terrible gigs on John Peel's freebies, traversing Brooklyn Bridge with a saxophonist who drove as fast as he played, Lou Reed giving his mum the finger, and why he hasn't combed his hair since 1987. The unpublished novella-sized version of this Baker's Dozen includes many tangents, not least a moment where he spoiled Ulysses for me by quoting its final sentence, and long philosophical digression about language and reality. He also told me about Nanjo from High Rise nicking all his rare records while he drove members of Acid Mothers Temple to see Stonehenge, how as a kid he was led to believe an AC/DC show was a hyper-violent orgy of destruction, and a perfect moment Keenan had in the photographer's pit for Kiss, when Gene Simmons slid across the stage on his knees, stopped inches away from the camera and flicked a single bead of nipple sweat right in his face.

David Keenan's Xtabeth is out now on White Rabbit books. Click the image of Keenan below to begin reading his Baker's Dozen