It’s time to electrocute someone
December 16th 2011
Michael Holden has recently started writing another of his brilliantly funny columns, this time for Vice. You might also have read his All Ears musings in the Guardian Guide, and if you’re a wee bit older you may remember him as an integral part of the original Loaded magazine, back when it was actually interesting and funny and not just full of tits and morons.
Michael once blessed a fanzine I worked on, Full Moon Empty Sports Bag, with some incredible writing about an antisocial man and his struggle with life and the medical profession in particular. The first installment he wrote for us was called ‘Crisp Sucker’s Diary’, which gives a good flavour (boom boom) of the slightly unhinged and darkly hilarious content.
Anyway, it had been a while since we had spoken, and he’s a very interesting person, so I thought I would ask him a few questions and then put the questions and his answers to the questions on this blog. Enjoy!
Hi Michael. Can you give us a song for people to listen to while they read this?
Here – my elder brother had a copy of this, I would have been about ten years old when I heard it and it still sounds amazing to me now.
I remember being in The Griffin many years ago with Steve Cotton, and you told us a great story about when you met John Lydon in LA. Was that when he was doing his real estate thing?
It’s funny, I have no idea what he was actually doing with his time (that’s how focused I am as a journalist). We were just excited to meet up with him, and of course when you do, you have a conversation that, with drink in the equation, takes some strange turns. I’d rather do that than ask someone about their new album. There’s always a writer somewhere doing that. Better for the day and the anecdote if you go off the reservation sometimes.
Did he spit a lot?
He certainly did. Some loyal soul has actually typed out the whole piece and stuck it online. You can read it here. It started with a spit.
What was it like working with Downey Jr on Sherlock Holmes? He kind of messed with some basic historical facts, didn’t he?
It was great, I didn’t spend that much time with him but what I did was memorable, at least to me. It was great, after years of interviewing actors, to work with one on a script instead, and for a movie that actually got made. That was one of the first rewrites I ever did and it gave me a rather skewed perspective of the film business. That picture went from script to screen in no time, a year and a bit – partly because of RDJ’s schedule and also because when Hollywood throws the 100 million dollar plus lever they aren’t going to fuck about. Things get done. There’s a mad pragmatism to it at that level. The rest of the time it’s ‘let’s do lunch, no thanks, maybe next year’. A tremendous amount of time is spent discussing things that will never, ever happen. But when it moves, it moves.
As for messing with historical facts – that’s Hollywood’s job! God knows life’s hard enough. I don’t expect to go to big, tent pole movie and see a faithful rendering of anything. It’s a highlights package, and that’s as it should be. There was a point during development where we knew the big henchman had to be scared of something, have some weakness. Electricity came up. And being new to it all I’m on the Internet fretting about whether such and such an apparatus could have existed in 1891. It doesn’t matter. If it works on screen, if it’s a cinematic way of solving the problem and entertaining people then screw history. It’s time to electrocute someone.
Did you work on the sequel at all?
No. Which is a shame. I would have loved to. Writing dialogue for a character like Holmes is great. Conan Doyle has done all the hard work for you. There’s a few lines in that first movie that I’m very proud of. It’s a great thing to have added to that body of work. Holmes is one of the great creations and I feel very grateful to have had a shot at adding to that. Not unlike playing for England, in writing terms, I like to imagine.
I think a lot of people reading this will know you as the author of All Ears from The Guardian. But can you tell us about your time at Loaded instead? How did the whole thing start, and what was it like working there at the beginning?
James Brown and Tim Southwell were the men who dreamt it up. I was one of the first staff and the youngest, I’d have been 23 at the time. I worked on the dummy issue, and through the launch, then when it was out I stayed for four years. The thing is slightly reviled now, and indeed the whole era (mid 90’s) seems to be at the mercy of revisionists, or people who were unhappy with everything at the time and now feel justified in saying so. The idea of anything ‘meaning’ anything would have been totally alien to me at the time – largely because I was having so much fun. Most of the people that worked on and around the magazine were much more experienced than me, writers, photographers who I’d admired from afar for years in some cases – I was an avid reader of magazines even as a kid. I had done fanzines, and a bit of work for Dazed and Confused in its early days, things like that, but James and loaded were offering a job, wages, a budget. I was on the dole at the time. I grabbed it with both hands. And it was sensational to be in the middle of that. When something succeeds like that did it’s very intoxicating, and there was a lot of that going around to begin with. I learned to write there, went round the world and made strong abiding friendships with people I still see today. It was great.
Do you still keep in touch with My Gay Lamp?
The lamp it was based on, and which starred in the story fell by the wayside some years ago sadly. But its time had come, I’d had it since I was about 14 and there comes a time to set aside the lamps of youth, and walk into Heals like a man. That was where the idea came from, this bedside lamp had seen everything that had happened on and around my mattress for over a decade. I remember waking up one morning, embarrassed about something that had happened and imagining it judging me, and I thought it having this kind of disappointed and slightly disapproving persona, and then I thought it would be nice if it were gay. The rest is history of course. Sometimes I think you only get one, truly great notion in a lifetime, and I think My Gay Lamp may well have been mine. Again, a loyal enthusiast has put some of them online. I think the one where we go on holiday is my favourite.
Loaded’s club editor, Rowan Chernin, used to run an amazing night called It’s On at Gossips in Soho. Top Tunes, Shit Mixing. Were you a regular?
God yeah. Once a month for seven years I think, give or take. Gossips was a key venue in the history of London clubbing, a tremendous place, now gone. It was chaos in there, and quite silly at times, and not in an ironic way. Just people being very daft. There was one evening when there were some false beards floating about, that’s not a sexual euphemism or a drug reference, I mean actual false beards – quite convincing ones as well. The music would get a bit liberal towards the end of the night and on this beard occasion someone played Zorba The Greek, and I recall dancing to that, in a false beard. And circle of people forming around me, like some sort of hellish wedding. I realise that on paper that might sound bloody awful, but it wasn’t. At that moment, it made sense.
You interviewed Mickey Rourke for Esquire. Have you ever read this Joe Queenan’s Mickey Rourke For A Day?
No, and I haven’t got time now. But I will. I had a curry with Joe Queenan once, he was a good laugh. Very resonant voice – stentorian is the word for it. I’ve always been keen to get to the origin of that word. Was there ever a man called Stentor? How loud was he?
I remember seeing you on one of those talking heads programmes, about the Mini Pops. Did you do any others? How do they work? Do they just ask you questions about lots of unrelated topics and then chop them up for different programmes?
They’re weird those things. I stopped doing them in the end. Obviously you have dominion over what comes out of your mouth, but there’s no telling who else is on before or after you. You run the risk of being surrounded by idiocy – though the same is true of having things in a newspaper to a degree. The experience of watching TV thinking ‘who are these pricks? What do they know about anything’ is even less edifying when you suddenly become one of them. They would very cunningly make a lot of them in the run up to new year, when you’re thinking about tax bills and so forth, a few hundred quid for talking about children’s television can seem like a harmless idea. Actually, if memory serves that was one of the better ones. There are no repeat fees either and they get repeated for years. You’ll get texts from people saying, ‘you’re on TV’, which is momentarily exciting, until you realise Channel 5 are repeating something you made in 2003 in which your hair and clothes now look ridiculous to you – one’s own voice is a constant source of torment, and TV does nothing to assuage that. It’s also a great way to watch yourself age. I would only talk about things I felt I had some knowledge of or sincere opinion about. I had rules. A lot of those shows are just sneering. People ring you up and say, can you say something negative about Jordan for us, we’ll give you £300? I’m proud to say I resisted that one.
You were kind enough to get involved with us when we were doing our zine, Full Moon Empty Sports Bag. Did you collect any ‘proper’ zines when you were younger?
Not really, but again the benefit of older siblings, there were copies of ID in the house back when that was essentially a fanzine. I would see the other fanzines though in record shops, and kind of be scared to admit that I liked them and then start doing my own weird stuff without any idea of where I was headed. In fact that was pretty much my approach to everything for years.
How often do you eat crisps these days?
All too often. I’m depressed by the way that, as with almost everything great about life, crisps have been re-branded and sold back to us at a price as some kind of artisan/rustic fantasy product. See also beer.
Can you recommend a few good books for us? Maybe something seasonal? I’ve been ill a few times lately – maybe some books that involve illness?
Your former Full Moon ally Ian Allison once gave me Journey To The End Of Night by Celine, there’s a tremendous amount of illness in that. Lanark, by Alasdair Gray has some fantastic new illnesses in it, there’s one called ‘Twittering Rigour’ another called ‘Mouths’ in which mouths appear on your body and begin to argue. (it’s set slightly in the future). The most amazing book I found this year was The Book Of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa, it was assembled after his death, it’s the jumbled diary/internal monologues of a man who can’t reconcile what he perceives as the grandeur of his imagination to the tedium of the world around him, an issue for many writers I suspect, but conveyed with great poetic force. In times of trouble though I tend to reach for Vonnegut’s Breakfast Of Champions, something like that. Books that remind you of what words and people can really do.