As with love, defining what makes something cult is difficult, but you know it when you encounter it. In the late 1980s Scottish writing had been reinvigorated by Iain Banks, James Kelman and Alasdair Gray, amongst others, all of whom are great writers, but who are too high profile to be ‘cult’, and anyway, whether something is good or bad is not really the point. Cult should be secretive, sexy, even sleazy, obtuse and dangerous. It should make sense to only a small group of people and not appear to try too hard. Almost exactly like love then.
Martin Millar became, for a brief time, Britain’s coolest writer. This was decreed by that arbiter of taste and all things fashionable, ‘The Face’ magazine, so there was no argument to be had. Millar had the looks and attitude that the magazine seemed to prize above any notion of talent or ability. Luckily he could write beautifully. For once it was not a case of the hipster’s new clothes. In his first two novels ‘Milk, Sulphate and Alby Starvation’ and ‘Lux the Poet’ he managed to capture a time and place perfectly; specifically Brixton in the early-mid 1980s, when the tensions between police and residents were at, or were near, their peak. Millar himself had moved to the area from Glasgow, and was a member of Brixton’s burgeoning artistic community who were drawn there by the cheap housing and kindred spirits.
‘Lux the Poet’ portrays a Brixton riot viewed through the bleary eyes of just such a resident. The central character of Lux is the vainest and most self obsessed protagonist this side of a Brett Easton Ellis novel. He wanders through the rioting Brixton like a post punk Holden Caulfield, oblivious to what, or why, events are unfolding around him (although he has the vague idea that they are in his honour). He proclaims himself the world’s greatest poet, if only anyone would listen. In his head he is the world’s greatest everything. He has the looks of Lana Turner and the legs of Betty Grable. He believes that everyone will fall in love with him, it is only a matter of time, and this is before he consumes a heroic amount of cocaine.
Over the next 24 hours Lux is pursued by the Jane Austen Mercenaries, a Thrash metal band whose demo tapes he has stolen as an act of musical criticism. He in turn searches for Pearl with whom he is in love, and who he knows will love him back if he can only keep in her company long enough. How can she not? He is thrown out of the flat he is kipping in as he frustrates his flatmates possibility of make-up sex by using their KY jelly to mould his hair, and is baffled at every turn that TV cameras are here to film the riot and not him. This is a man who cannot see past his own perfectly formed face. He thinks he is unique, but as he moves through the riot torn streets he meets others who seem vaguely familiar to him, which should cause him to doubt his uniqueness, if he was so inclined.
One of the people Lux encounters is Kalia, who has been thrown out of heaven and cannot return until she has a performed a million good deeds. As she is reincarnated throughout history she begins to recognise the auras of others who are similarly reborn. These include Lux himself, and his inability to learn any lessons in any of his lives is at the heart of the novel. He is doomed to repeat his mistakes, and Millar is stating that the history of humanity is proof that history will similarly repeat itself as once again greed and selfishness cause ever widening gaps between rich and poor until the poor have no other choice than to revolt, causing the cycle to start over again, as new bosses see that they can exploit and steal from those they are suppose to protect and support. It’s the morality of ‘The Lion King’ if it had been adapted by Karl Marx.
Brixton is the backdrop to the novel, although we mainly see it through the cocaine and delusional haze of Lux’s point of view. This month’s musical interlude is a double feature of Brixton based songs. First there is Paul Simonon on writing and vocal duties for The Clash’s classic ‘Guns of Brixton’, followed by ‘Brixton Blues’ by Ram Jam Holder:
It is heartening to know that Martin Millar is still making a living from writing as often a feature of a cult artist is that they burn out or fade away, or people realise they weren’t that good in the first place. Millar, under the pseudonym Martin Scott is responsible for the ‘Thraxas’ series of fantasy novels as well as writing the ‘Wolf Girl’ books. He also was responsible for the novelisation of the TANK GIRL movie pop culture fans, but I would urge you to have a read of his early work as it is evidence of a writer who knew no fear.
With Britain’s inner cities still bearing the scars of last year’s riots, it is the perfect time to re-evaluate ‘Lux the Poet’. Lux himself is a hero for all times. Yes, he is a self-delusional idiot (think of Charlie Brooker’s TV creation ‘Nathan Barley’ and you have a good picture of Lux), but aren’t we all, to some extent, avoiding addressing societies problems in favour of more direct and immediate satisfaction? Where once religion was the “opium of the masses”, it is now more likely to be opium, or at least some drug of choice, but the result is the same. You may not want to admit it, but there’s a little Lux in all of us.
The books that we deal with in ‘Indelible Ink’ can be bought from the Dear Scotland shop:
Next Month’s Novel: I hope that over the years and months these columns have proved what a breadth of talent and ideas are to be found in modern Scottish writing, and there are few things as invigorating as discovering a new voice.
I first heard Andrew Raymond Drennan read on Buchanan St in Glasgow, where he performed a whole novel throughout the day to friends, family and thousands of bemused shoppers. To say this is a committed writer is an understatement. The novel he read was ‘The Immaculate Heart’, and it is one of the most powerful commentaries on love of recent times. Prepare to be moved.
- Andrew Raymond Drennan The Immaculate Heart (Aug)
- Ajay Close Forspoken (Sep)
- Nina De La Mer 4a.m. (Oct)
- William McIlvanney Weekend (Nov)
- Jeff Torrington Swing Hammer Swing (Dec)