Bangkok based author Lawrence Osborne has a new novel out, The Glass Kingdom, so what better time to review a book of nonfiction he wrote almost 10 years ago? The Wet and the Dry – A Drinker’s Journey published by Random House in 2013.
A previous book of nonfiction by the author, which I also enjoyed, The Accidental Connoisseur – An Irreverent Journey through the Wine World was a plum assignment, but The Wet and the Dry trumps that traveling narrative by a long chalk. It’s good work if you can find it and Lawrence Osborne has the ability to do just that.
The premise of the book, or one of them, is to wander the drinking and non-drinking world and decipher whether drinking alcohol is a sign of civilization and sanity, or its polar opposite? Put another way, “Is alcohol the creator of the mask or the thing that strips it away”?
Osborne is a comfortable wanderer and doesn’t mind occasionally getting lost, whether on foot, by car or motorcycle. Getting lost is likely part of the destination for this erudite Oxford educated New Yorker, who saw the advantages of pursuing an earlier career in journalism in the USA over England, his England. That climb wasn’t always smooth and it is the matter-of-fact way in which Osborne writes about the slips on the career-ladder that makes his writing enjoyable and accessible. Whether you favor George Will or Charles Bukowski, a Bombay Sapphire and Tonic or a Leo beer, are a teetotaler or in recovery, Osborne will appeal with his relatable travel stories of inebriation in countries where it is easy to get a drink and others where it takes a great deal of effort. It’s an effort that is richly rewarded, for writing material anyway. In one chapter Osborne is in Poland talking with his father-in-law at the time, a renowned musician and composer with a side trait of alcoholism. Asked what writing prospects he had in order to be able to take care of his daughter properly, Osborne succinctly replies, “None”.
The author drinks with a former warlord, alone, which seems to suit him fine, and with Malaysian sex tourists in the deep south of Thailand to see what makes them tick, just to mention a few. As Audrey Hepburn said, “I don’t want to be alone, I want to be left alone”. And so it seems to be with Osborne often enough as he sips a favorite alcoholic drink in some of the more interesting bars of varying classes around the globe, preferably starting at 6:10 p.m. Countries include: Oman, Turkey, Egypt, Thailand, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates as well as Surakarta in Indonesia and Brooklyn, New York. The ending time for Osborne’s drinks is less precise and a jack-knife into a Dubai swimming pool is worked in at least once before he drags himself or is dragged with help to bed to awaken in a wet suit and tie. Osborne finds Dubai to be a city that is “grimly interesting”. What’s not to like so far?
One cannot write a book on drinking without mentioning the mighty hangover. Osborne’s take on the morning after:
“A hangover is … a complex thing. It is slow, meditative; it inclines us to introspection and clarity. The aftereffect of a mild envenoming is cleansing mentally. It enables one to seize one’s mind anew, to build it up again and regain some kind of eccentric courage.”
In reading The Wet and the Dry I learned a lot of what I didn’t know and re-learned much of my world history, which I had long ago forgotten for lack of usefulness. It was Islam that gave us distillation and the Greeks that gave us fermentation. I knew that, maybe? I also learned a lot about Dionysus, the god of wine, knowledge which should come in handy. Harsh realities are also included, such as that alcohol produces a lot of “unnecessary truthfulness”.
Other truths are proffered. When discussing the teetotaler vs the drinker Osborne concludes, “Each finds the other a bore”. I like the egalitarianism in Osborne’s observations. He is a fine observer of human pleasures and miseries, whether the human is drunk or sober.
My favorite chapter starts on page 127 of the 226 page book. Titled Bar’s in a Man’s Life it leads with another esoteric fact: “The term bar was first used in English in 1591 in Robert Greene’s drama A Notable Discovery of Coosnage”. Osborne has an appreciation for the absurdity of life, including his own. There is a comical scene where a hungry writer is motivated to quarter a frozen turkey with a handily available ax, while living on part of a wealthy architect’s compound during a cold and snowy winter. If you can’t picture Lawrence Osborne drinking wine out of a soup bowl you will after reading The Wet and the Dry. For one brief moment he shares the type of misery and reality found in After Life with Osborne in the role played by Ricky Gervais.
Mr. Osborne is a dutiful listener and a keen observer. He takes what he hears and sees and puts it to the written page as well as anyone. The author is on quite a roll with many of his novels in pre or post film production. While I look forward to reading The Glass Kingdom, which arrived at my home in a cardboard box yesterday, I highly recommend his nonfiction books as well. They could be overlooked with all the buzz he is generating at the moment. The Wet and the Dry produces a buzz of its own kind and in the process helps explain the many paradoxes which occur in parts of the world that allow or prohibit alcoholic drinks.
Lawrence Osborne reminds us during his drinking journey logged in at The Wet and the Dry, that it’s always 6:10 p.m., somewhere.
Step right up Ladies and Gentlemen, J.D. Strange, “The Artist Formerly Known as Newman”, has a new book out, The Circus. Strange has written a novella that will appeal to circus-goers everywhere. And have you ever met a person who hasn’t gone to the circus more than they should?
Strange lets you peak under the slick, flammable, paraffin-waxed Big Top, where a collection of clowns, acrobats, strong men, human cannonballs, bearded ladies, toilet-lickers and flimflam artistry reside. If you have a copy of Freak Show by Robert Bogdan in your home library then you will love the pathological specimens Strange has caravanned together. What is a circus if it isn’t a family? Our protagonist is Jimmy “Mr. Tightrope Walker” and the antagonist, his twin brother, Joey the Clown. A child has been murdered and hastily buried and the murderer is a mystery of sorts, but then all people are mysteries, so the suspects are obvious and not so obvious.
The author describes Jimmy:
“Twenty-eight or twenty-nine years old hair fallen to the collar, jeans and overcoat are of strange cut. The cage boy is all grown up and enjoys the delicious scent of fried bacon and freshly brewed coffee wafting from the kitchen.”
“The waitress looks over at me and I read her thoughts clearly, ‘What’s all this then? Circus in town?'”
James Dennison Strange must be one lousy hunter because he is one hell of a good story-teller. Who wants to sit around a campfire with a sharp-shooter anyway? The circus Strange has assembled doesn’t just come to town, it is open 24/7 for human curiosities, freaks and non-freaks, dreamers and nightmare awakeners.
The great Harry Houdini once said, “An old trick well done is far better than a new trick with no effect.” Strange has heeded Harry’s advice well; the story-telling is layered much like a clown’s makeup. No spoilers but a couple of the literary devices in The Circus have been used by good and bad novelists alike, often poorly. Not in The Circus. After all, magicians and novelists share commonalities; they both want to create imaginary worlds, but if you can see the trick coming too soon it spoils the illusion. And no one likes their illusions spoiled, especially clowns.
Woven into the two-part, 124 page novella are fun facts and history about the circus and the types of performers who call it home. My favorite is the tidbit on John Wayne Gacy, “dubbed the Killer Clown, assaulted as many as thirty-three young men during his ten-year reign of terror from 1968 to 1978”. That’s information Alex Trebek never asked about.
With the exception of a formatting error on page 25 of my review paperback copy, the text is beautifully edited. Strange rightfully credits Iain Donnelly in the dedication for his assistance, as well as my favorite German comedian, Tom Vater, whose clown knowledge must have been invaluable to the author.
How would I describe The Circus? It is a story about demons, abuse (of drugs and people), addiction and recovery, but mostly it is a story about the mind. A very good story about the mind. Strange is still capable of throwing flames but as the writer has aged his words are better paced and irony laced. There is great contrast between expectation and reality. The strange circus mastered by J.D. is chock-a-bloc with creativity, imagination, black-comedy, and darkness.
A writer’s words are more important than any critic’s. In Part II of the Novella, titled The Farm, Jimmy finds himself in recovery and at a meditation meeting. It is here where Strange sums up one of the morals of the book:
“I expect nothing. Expectations are resentments waiting to happen. It does us well to expect nothing and be grateful for everything, people. But between you and me, guys, together we are nothing less than a bloody miracle.”
Enter The Circus with no expectations and when the show concludes as you read the last page, in one sitting preferably, you will be grateful for the experience. J.D. Strange has created his own bloody miracle in the year 2020 – a great piece of longish short-form fiction in an age of instant gratification and 60 second movies. As Hunter S. Thompson wrote before he was blown out of a cannon: “Buy the ticket, take the ride…and if it occasionally gets a little heavier than what you had in mind, well…maybe chalk it up to forced consciousness expansion”.
How is your 2020 year going? My 2019 ended at a health resort in Eastern Thailand where my wife and I brought in the new year calmly and appreciatively at a riverside restaurant and cabin on the Bang Pakong River. The celebration included a Himalayan man-made salt-cave with Kitaro like music to reflect upon. It was groovy.
Bang Kapong River on December 30, 2019
Then we returned to our Bangkok condominium and this was the first sunset of 2020 without a filter, mind you:
January 1, 2020 Sunset – The First Day Ends, the First Night Begins
The year 2020 looked so damned promising, I tell you, but you know that already. Now it is July 1, 2020 in the USA and Thailand has reopened to a new normal which is feeling more and more like the old normal with every passing day. I like to hang onto my illusions as long as they are useful.
It’s the year of Covid-19 around the world and we are as fractured as ever. You have your hard-core science guys. You can spot them wearing their elitist N-95 masks which they got from their friend with a Ph.D in molecular biology. Then you have your traditional liberals wearing their favorite blue bandanna or perhaps a homemade mask by their wife or girlfriend that is color coordinated to their Hawaiian shirt. The moderates are wearing the cheapie disposable masks and then you have a mixture of rebels and rednecks wearing no masks at all and humming along to the Chip Taylor & The New Ukrainians ditty, “FUCK ALL THE PERFECT PEOPLE”. It’s a wonderful world as both Louie Armstrong and Sam Cooke remind us from time to time.
(Best to read while listening to this tune)
Let me cut to the chase. What has Covid-19 and the year 2020 in the name of your Buddha or higher power taught you so far?
For me, it’s an appreciation of movement while simultaneously recognizing that I don’t move as much as I could, and when that old judge who sits on my shoulder chimes in, as much as I should. So I am dedicating the remainder of 2020 and as many years left as the good Lord or science and lifestyle allows me, to movement. Why? Wisdom, hopefully. As the old Joni Mitchell song goes, “You don’t know what you got til it’s gone”. It’s one thing to pave paradise; it’s quite another to lockdown the parking lot. My movement, such as it is, was taken away from me or so I thought. The thinking part matters too. A lot.
Here are a few of favorite quotes by some cool folks on movement:
“If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river. Walk in someone else’s shoes or at least eat their food.” — Anthony Bourdain
“To me, if life boils down to one thing, it’s movement. To live is to keep moving.” — Jerry Seinfeld
“Sometimes ya gotta move.” —Sista Monica
“The secret of getting ahead is getting started.” — Mark Twain
“That’s all you need in life, a little place for your stuff. That’s all your house is- a place to keep your stuff. If you didn’t have so much stuff, you wouldn’t need a house. You could just walk around all the time. A house is just a pile of stuff with a cover on it. You can see that when you’re taking off in an airplane. You look down, you see everybody’s got a little pile of stuff. All the little piles of stuff. And when you leave your house, you gotta lock it up. Wouldn’t want somebody to come by and take some of your stuff. They always take the good stuff. They never bother with that crap you’re saving. All they want is the shiny stuff. That’s what your house is, a place to keep your stuff while you go out and get…more stuff! Sometimes you gotta move, gotta get a bigger house. Why? No room for your stuff anymore.” — George Carlin (It’s the airplane line I like).
“Can I move? I’m better when I move.” — Sundance Kid from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
So movement it is in 2020 and forever much longer I have. I recently turned 66 years old. My older sister, Roxanne, never saw her 66th year. I never assumed I would. But now that I have made it I plan to enjoy it, and move with it, as much as i can. It takes a village as the saying goes and I have some friendly villagers who are helping me along.
For my June birthday I thought what do I need or want? I feel I pretty much have all the stuff I need. And as George Carlin notes, if I got any more stuff I might need a bigger room to keep my stuff. Who wants that kind of move? Not me.
So I contacted one of my favorite Dutch artists, Ronald Merkesteijn . Ron has long done an inner-turmoil series, which I appreciate. They are often self-portraits but not always. I sent Ron a few photos of me taken first thing in the morning. No shower, no shave, no smile. I did my best to give him some torment to work with. Ron and I have had some laughs about torment. I like that. You can’t get rid of torment but you sure as shootin’ can laugh about it.
The finished work is shown above and in this blog piece. I think he did a great job. I’ve always wanted hair like Jack Nicholson’s. Well, that’s not entirely true, I always wanted hair like Jackson Browne. But I’m older and wiser and male patterned cursed at this stage in my life. So when life hands you onions, make onionaid.
May all my vast readership here at Thailand Footprint have a healthy and movement oriented 2020 and beyond. I hope to see many of you face to face soon. Face to face beats Zuck’s Facebook every time.
Appreciate what you have before (and after) people try their best to take it away.
And if you’d like an inner turmoil portrait of your own, please contact Ron via Facebook. He’s a cool cat. He stares down his inner turmoil often and keeps moving.
Happy July 2020! It beats the alternative, as far I know.
It’s hard to keep track of perpetual man-in-motion, Hugh Gallagher. Where is he now? Who is he now? We know he is no longer Von Von Von the entertainer from Antwerp who once nailed his Apollo Theatre appearance. He’s no longer True Player the author of Hugh’s previous book, Yo Ching – Ancient Knowledge for Streets Today. Is he still writing ad copy for Nike and Adidas or have his fortunes turned south like much of the rest of world and he now has to smile while talking to executives from Converse and Underarmour? The horror.
I have no idea if Hugh is in Barcelona, Spain or back in Portland, Oregon. The former teenage viral sensation author of the College Application Essay was also a Bangkok keyboard-expat for a good long spell. All I know is, Hugh is worth trying to keep track of and his latest book is worth reading during these novel cornonavirus and riotous times.
Hugh, of course, is best known for his interview which ran in my second book, DIFFERENT DRUMMERS – BANGKOK BEAT REDUX, which you can read later on at this link: Writer and Showman Rolls the Dice. Hugh has also written other stuff under other names, if you are interested in gleaning the net for it. Hugh Gallagher has more distinct personalities than Sybil did in the 1970s. What else can you expect from a branding specialist who I hold personally responsible for me never buying a single item of anything bearing the name or colors of Tommy Hilfiger. Just Say No to Tommy Hilfiger, I say.
Presently, (and isn’t that the time that really matters?) Hugh has a new novel out called Chicken 65, originally published under, Hugh O’Neil but now changed to Hugh O’Neil Gallagher. I have taken the opportunity to post my review of that book below in the hopes of generating enough traffic to sell a book or two of my own. Hey, we are all self-interested in the long run. Enjoy!
Learn Things Only Grasped at High Speeds in Chicken 65
Hugh Gallagher was once a traditionally published novelist with a dust jacket blurb from Gore Vidal. Hugh now writes purely for the fame, fortune, and the chicks that come with being a writer today. His audience is mostly people who have never heard of Gore Vidal. They are not missing much but you will be if you don’t check out this plucky road-race journey in a car named Pablo Cruise, a road-race which dates back to the Vietnam War.
In Chicken 65 Gallagher has written a book about life, death, and all the fun and dangerous stuff that happens in-between. There is plenty of Thailand with its Land of Smiles qualities as well as other groovy parts of Southeast Asia, contrasted nicely with work-life in the Pacific Northwest or as I like to call it, the Land of Microagressions.
The narrative is a transformative one, which the author shares skillfully with his readers. For me the book is about following your curiosity with all the risks and rewards that come from doing that. Upon finishing Chicken 65 in three sittings, the Jefferson Airplane song, White Rabbit was buzzing in my head. Coincidence? No. The White Rabbit and the Chicken in Chicken 65 are brethren or maybe sistren for some Portland folks but they are definitely in the same family of curiosity. There is indeed a Lewis Carroll THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS quality to the novel, complete with equally memorable characters. The protagonist is solidly single Rich Archer on the tail end of his tail-hunting time in Thailand. Chicken 65 is a chaotic fantastical diversion from the chaotic reality of life in 2020.
The story has a Cannoball Run meets Boogie Nights quality to it. If Mark Wahlberg were not pushing 50 I’d cast him in the film version of Chicken 65 but there is probably an unknown to me Generation Y star in Hollywood that would better fit the bill. There is plenty of autobiographical material from the author’s five-year stint living and working in Thailand and I was initially apprehensive about that, but the story arc transforms at warp speed and concludes wisely.
The author is a borderline A-list writer without, so far, all that cumbersome A-list income. The question I have for Hugh O’Neil Gallagher is, why are you still writing novels and not screenplays? Chicken 65 will be a fun read for those who have taken the road less traveled, people who are stuck WFH nowadays or people who just like to text WTF a lot. A hilarious and lengthy Asian journey with no shortcuts taken by the author. Don’t wait for the movie – buy the book today and find your place in the sun along the way. Five Stars.
Stu Lloyd has all the moxie one would expect from someone with his background in the advertising industry. Stu is businesslike, candid, and a collaborative guy with a good sense of humor. I have crossed paths with him one time only at a Checkinn99 incarnation on Sukhumvit Soi 11 a few years ago. Until this week, for reasons logical and illogical, I had never read anything by Stu other than his Hotheads blog, which I regularly enjoy and recommend.
In Bamboozled – – The Lighter Side of Expat Life in Asia, Stu Lloyd reminds me of Mark Twain with frequent displays of wit and wisdom in his assorted tidbit tales, right down to the cover of Bamboozled, which is a perfect rendition of Tom Sawyer persuading the neighbor kid to trade him an apple in exchange for the opportunity of painting a fence. Being bamboozled has a long and glorious history in Asia and elsewhere. It ain’t going anywhere anytime soon from what I can tell, so you might as well enjoy hearing about the tricks and treats from Stu and hopefully strengthen your immune system in the process.
Bamboozled had me before I even got to Chapter One, with the dedication quotes: “May you live in interesting times.” – Confucious and “Say yes and you’ll figure it out afterwards.” – Tina Fey. Stu Lloyd goes through life much as he does when he takes a one-thousand plus kilometre motorcycle-ride on a Royal Enfield Interceptor in Australia – it’s all about the adventure for him. While Stu knows he will probably swallow an insect or two along the way, he’s more focused on where the best meat pies can be found.
Bamboozled is chock-a-block full of meaty morsels. The appearance of insects that try and ruin Stu’s day (or his house guest) on any given day are quickly repelled and transformed into a funny story or better yet a moral to be learned. Some people are said not to suffer fools gladly. Stu views his fools not with disdain but as straw handed to him willingly to be woven into gold. Whether he’s visiting a friend in a condominium and needs to get by the security guard or is being pushed through a Chinese airport in a wheelchair, Stu finds a way to entertain himself and the reader on every page.
Uniquely, the longest and perhaps most enjoyable story among the many shorts by Stu and other contributors may be the Forward where we get to learn who Stu is and, more importantly, hear his distinctive voice. You can hear it clearly and sometimes even see the twinkle in his eyes. The goal of the author seems clear to me, he wants you to enjoy the stories in Bamboozled as much as he did when he lived or learned of them. Mission accomplished.
The contents of Bamboozled deal with many typical situations that any short-time or long-time expat will recognize: language problems and miscommunications; airports and flying stories; corruption, bribery, and conmen; and immigration, customs and other officialdom, to name just a few. The best compliment I can give to an author is that a read of a first book leads me to purchase another. Done. So let me give Stu a second compliment: thank-you for writing Bamboozled – The Lighter Side of Expat Living in Asia: It’s the perfect whimsical read for these imperfect and serious times.
Stu Lloyd does what every good storyteller does, he tells good stories. It’s a lot harder than it sounds.
Christopher G. Moore gives his readers advance notice that the Vincent Calvino Novel #17 will be the last in the series about Calvino’s world, which began with Spirit House in 1992. Moore chose to set the series finale after the Great Upheaval in a climate changed Bangkok where water is on everybody’s mind. A risky move by Moore but one that pays off like a bell-ringing tourist straight out of Heathrow. As the female mega-cyber-celebrity character, Emily, says, “The worst thing anyone can say at your funeral is that you played it safe. Fuck that.” Moore is a lifelong adventurer and a cultural-detective; he takes his readers along with him on Vinny’s last wild paper case.
Early on in DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME a metaphor is given about an aging-runner. It makes the reader think about what you might prefer not to think about, but are wiser for doing so. Moore keeps up this rabbit’s pace throughout the 321 page tale told, uncharacteristically, in the first person by our man in Bangkok, Vinny, the former disbarred lawyer from New York City. It’s a Bangkok where age 50 is the new 23 but that’s not all it’s cracked up to be. There’s a lot going on in this classic-noir investigation, which includes a perfect balance of Old School past and a super-technology laden future. The people’s lives in the City of Angels are not-so-balanced. Bangkok has changed – why wouldn’t it? It has Big Ben – the original, not a knockoff, a gigantic ferris-wheel (protected by a sea-wall) that dwarf’s London’s to placate everyone, a Chinese run AI named Henrietta with a sense of humor, ostensibly running the show, and countless displaced climate refugees living in Lumpini Park, among other places, where there aren’t any sinkholes.
Survival of the bittest comes into play when a Chinese scientist, Dr Wen, working on genetically modified mosquitoes is murdered the old fashioned way – with an AK-47. Vinny, meanwhile, has been retained, as he often is, to find someone not particularly looking to be found. Colonel Pratt and Ratana are along for a dangerous ferris-wheel ride that creates a false messiah figure and many deaths. Cranky McPhail is smoking spliffs for the faithful and we’re just getting started.
It was Charlie Chaplin who said, “Life is a tragedy when seen in close-up, but a comedy in long-shot.” Never have I laughed-out-loud so often during the reading of a Vincent Calvino Crime novel as I have during DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME. That may be because I did not have the courage to zoom-in on the various tragedies unfolding in front of my eyes. It may also be that Moore has surrendered to the absurdities of life on this planet rather than bank on being an agent for idealistic change. As he writes in Vinny’s voice on page one, “I’d finished with the drama of tilting at windmills.”
Los Angeles had the Bloods vs the Crips and Bangkok in the future does them one better with the Smarts vs the Religious Guilds – by far one of my favorite parts of the book. And speaking of smart, what a smart novel Christopher G. Moore has crafted in DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME. It’s not preachy smart; it’s not trigonometry smart, although it wont hurt if you are good at the latter. No, it’s common sense smart; it’s 2+2+2+2=8 smart; it’s funny smart. It’s ecologically smart; it’s scientifically smart. Even the gentle digs at the USA are smartly deserved.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t include Vinny’s love interest, Aom, the leader of the always needed Resistance. Vinny is still Vinny and Moore stays in smart form by sticking with a fade to black scene rather than vie for the Bad Sex in Fiction Award. Go, Vinny, go, but behind closed doors it is. Good call in 2020 or 1992.
DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME dishes out justice artfully and against all odds, fairly, in the long run. Given the circumstances, a surprisingly satisfying ending to a memorable and historic crime series. The crime of the century is administered punishment after all. Who’d have thunk it? Who will inherit this earth anyway? Read DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME and find out.
Do I have any quibbles with the book? I do not, but I’ll throw some out there for those who will. I didn’t get every literary reference. I also didn’t care. There were a few words I didn’t know the definitions to. I didn’t stop to look them up. I am not a huge science-fiction fan. I stopped reading The Windup Girl by Paolo Bacigalupi at page 90. I was worried I might not like Calvino #17 before I turned the cover. I got it wrong.
There is another elephant in the room as I do my last book review of a Vincent Calvino Crime Novel. Will I miss Vinny and the gang? I say, no. You can only miss the dead. I’ll continue to use Vincent Calvino the same way I always have, since I first read Comfort Zone in 2001, as a cultural compass and a diving-board to spring into the mysterious future.
Thanks for all the rides, Vincent.
Christopher G. Moore will be at the book launch for DANCE ME TO THE END OF TIME Saturday, February 1, 2020 at the Bangkok Edge Festival
Cameron Cooper during his Farang Magazine Publisher days
The first time I took note of Canadian expat Cameron Cooper was while perusing a copy of Thailand Tattler at my lower Sukhumvit area gym. There was a picture of him on a motorcycle and a lengthy review. Whether it was for the Ducati Scrambler, the Harley-Davidson 750 or the Triumph 675 I can’t recall – Cameron has ridden and written about them all – plus many fine automobiles too. I remember thinking that’s a good gig for a Bangkok based writer. I knew of his name previously as the publisher and co-editor of Farang Magazine not long after I arrived in Thailand in 2001. I was an irregular reader of the magazine, which seemed to cater to Bangkok irregulars. It went the way of many magazines of the 21st Century and had its last hurrah in 2007.
We first met at John Branton’s Queen Bee pub on Sukhumvit Soi 26 where he was getting in some rehearsal time with a Rolling Stones cover band, where he plays the part of Bill Wyman, with a little Daryl Jones cool thrown in, as the bass guitarist for what was then called Sticky Fingers and is now known by their following of fans as the Midnight Ramblers. He was friendly enough, polite as Canadians tend to be in Bangkok, and displayed a sense of humor. He seems equally comfortable with his band of brothers or grabbing a cigarette break and a drink by himself.
When he’s not meeting deadlines for well-known glossy magazines, riding his own Kawasaki or playing his Fender guitar, he runs a business: Uncle Cameron’s Meats, where he provides many Bangkok restaurants and savvy consumers with his own recipes for sausages, bacon, ribs, chicken, and various other smoked delicacies. Cameron runs the business with the able assistance of wife, Pat Cooper. They will be married twenty years this coming March.
I last saw the Midnight Ramblers play at that well-known Irish pub in Bangkok – Hooters Silom – for St Patricks Day. Cameron played with his right arm in a sling while still recovering from a broken-arm related to his Kawasaki needs. The Midnight Ramblers are fresh off a two-night gig in Laos as part of the Savan Fun Fest located in historic Savannakhet. Cameron and the Midnight Ramblers will be headlining at the Ploenchit Fair this week, November 30th 2019 from 10:00 am to 9:00 pm at Bangkok Patana School. All proceeds will support Thai charities under the management of the British Community in Thailand Foundation for the Needy. The Midnight Ramblers are due to take the stage around 7:00 pm. It is a fun-filled family day with a great track record that should be sought out by Bangkok expats, visitors to the Kingdom and Thais alike.
The Midnight Ramblers at the Savan Fun Fest in Laos (Left to Right): Joe Cummings, lead singer Eric Brown, Arne Osterberg on drums, Matthew Oakley on guitar and Cameron Cooper on bass.
Cameron agreed to this interview at Thailand Footprint as a way of promoting the Ploenchit Fair and the charities they help support.
KC I think of expats living in Thailand as a set of waves. First wave, second wave etc. How would you characterize your wave? What year did you arrive to stay? Do you maintain friendships with that wave of expats? Are they still here? What do you think of the current generation of expats arriving and staying in Thailand, say post 2010 to present day?
CC: I arrived as a backpacking quasi-hippie in 1992, toured around Thailand and India for a bit, and then, having run out of cash (and having no return ticket – I lived dangerously in those days), moved into the now dearly departed Peachy Guesthouse on Phra Athit Road in March 1993 and set about making friends and trying to find teaching work.
Those friends, who helped me get on my feet I have stayed in touch with ever since. There have been a couple of deaths and departures, but the relationships forged during that “wave” have persevered – as a sort of surrogate family, which was especially valuable back in the pre-email/Skype days when biological family contact was primarily through postcards, handwritten letters and underexposed photos of me getting drunk with my Bangkok friends. Now I post photos on Facebook of the band onstage or my latest batch of smoked pork bellies … You grow, you know?
All of us arrived within a few months of each other in 1993 – during the pre-1997 boom – and I often wondered if it was unique – though it almost certainly wasn’t.
Peachy GH also played host to an earlier wave (with quite limited cross-socialization, oddly enough), consisting of your James Ekhardts and your Collin Piprells your Evil Davids and such. They were a group of mostly journos cum novelists, a decade or so older, who had arrived a few years before.
As far as those expats who came after me, I had very limited exposure to them, so can only assume they exist, or existed, because that would make sense. I did attend a couple of parties hosted by younger expats during the Farang Magazine years, and they struck me as lightweights. Smokers were banished to the balcony, among other such coddling social policies that they seemed to believe were self-evident. They probably thought we were self-aggrandizing old farts.
I suppose most expats’ lives feel special and somewhat happenstantial from their own perspective. If I knew any post 2010 young expats, I’d probably lean towards the curmudgeonly and incorrectly dismiss their experience as somehow inferior to mine. They are probably all cautiously polite to each other and aren’t allowed to utter the word “cunt” in company. At least that’s what I’ve read about that generation.
KC: When I think of Cameron Cooper I think of the 5 M’s: Music. Meat, Magazines, Motorcycles, and the Muse/writer. I have you pegged as an upper middle-class Canadian kid who had the world on a string and gave it all up for the uncertainty, excitement, and adrenaline rushes of Southeast Asia. Am I close?
CC: I didn’t have the world on a string before leaving Canada. I’d been working for Greenpeace Canada for a few years (hence the quasi-hippie schtick), and the campaign I’d been working on had been basically “won” (pulp and paper bleaching processes, if you must know), so I’d worked myself out of a job. So I collected my unused holiday and sick pay and headed out here, as outlined above.
My family fit more into what Orwell called “lower-upper-middle class.” My father was (still very much alive at 90, but long since retired) a civil engineer from working class roots, my mother (also still kicking up a storm at 82) was a housewife, nurse and estate agent. So we were comfortable, but not rich. My Scottish father certainly didn’t feel wealthy. With four kids in the house, he used to ration the orange juice and muesli (though probably more generously than the portions that landed on his plate during WWII), and in the winter he kept the thermostat pegged at the temperature of an Autumn night in Ayrshire.
But yeah, I had all the advantages of a comfortably off westerner – properly fed, a solid education, books, intelligent if sometimes competitive dinner table conversation, and loads of great music. Two of my siblings became full-time pro musicians, and my piano playing father has gigged regularly since his first paid performance in 1947.
So yeah, I was handed the string that was apparently attached to the world, but for the longest time didn’t take a very firm grasp of it.
Cameron Cooper – Martini Shaker circa 1989 – Thinking East
Being out here felt exciting, like being on the vanguard of something, which in a way we were, as globalization really began to take hold. Being here still feels a bit exotic to me, I suppose since I’ll always be one of “the others” — not Thai – no matter how long I live here or how long I am married to one. I don’t think I regret it. Not unless the ghost of expats past and present transported me to witness a parallel universe where I made different decisions and my life turned out to be far more interesting.
KC: You are a Canadian and the bass player in the most popular Rolling Stones cover band in Thailand and probably Asia. When did your love of music germinate and bloom? When did your love of the Stones begin. How and when did the two merge?
CC: As I mentioned above, I grew up as the youngest in a family of musicians. My father had played jazz piano all his life and played daily – usually after the kids went to bed. That penetrates little brains, I think, falling asleep to the sound of one’s Dad at his most relaxed and creative. Before I went to school and discovered otherwise, I assumed everyone’s father played piano, but I quickly discovered I was wrong. (I have some recordings of him playing – a style I’d recognize even if I was in a coma, and I find them strangely soothing and regurgitative of memories).
My mother was also very musical, and played vibes in a band with my father for some years. We had a dedicated music room in the house – the two boys and two girls had shared rooms, while there was this special room with a piano and guitars and vibes and other instruments.
Various bands they played in would rehearse sometimes at the house. I was fascinated by the saxophone, the bass and the drums. It was one of the only occasions when I would sit quietly, cause if I acted up, I got booted out.
My older siblings taught me the basics of how to read music around the same time I learned to read text. I wish they’d spent a little more time teaching me bass clef though – I’m still crap at that.
When people like my father, brother, sister and visiting bands weren’t playing, there was music on the “Hi-Fi” – Oscar Peterson, early Lou Rawls, Nancy Wilson, Nat King Cole Trio… the list goes on, but those musicians stand out. In the late 60s My brother introduced the Beatles and Steppenwolf and other Rock and Roll classics to the house – somewhat to my father’s consternation. No Stones at that point though. That would have driven my father daft.
So eventually learning an instrument was almost obligatory really, and as the youngest, you tend to follow suit, since it is your only vain hope of ever being taken seriously within the family unit. Plus, I had a feel for it.
I studied some guitar and piano, but in high school took up the baritone and tenor saxophones and was pretty good at them, playing in college level bands by senior year, and even joining the musician’s union at 18 years old. (Yes there was an effective musician’s union at one time – back when musicians got paid and weren’t expected to play for what bar owners like to call “promotional value” – as well as personal glory, of course.)
Then off to music school for a bit – the Humber College jazz program. That was fun, and totally immersive. You live breathe and shit music – and parties. Then I worked as a pretty well-paid street musician at Yonge and Bloor street in Toronto on saxophone for a couple of years.
Sax was my jazz instrument, but I’d taken up the bass as a rocker, and eventually, that’s the direction things took – where I felt most at home musically.
Cameron Cooper on a Washburn bass guitar
The Stones only really hit me in a big way at about the age of 17 or so – on the heels of my favourite rock band, The Who.
I do remember though being at a campground in 1971 (I was nine) and in the recreation hall there was a jukebox that had the Stones song “Brown Sugar” – a big hit that summer. On the B side was “Bitch” – a naughty word I’d never dare say in front of my parents.
When nobody was looking, I slipped my dime into the machine and selected the forbidden track. It was a dirty assault, kind of scary (even scarier than some of the psychedelic Beatles I’d heard at home), and I was aware in a vague but certain way that these guys were into dodgy shit – areas of life and the mind that the more straight and normal people who surrounded me at home and school did not dare to go. It was both frightening and tempting. Of course, I didn’t fully realize then that the whole Sticky Fingers album those songs came from was fuelled by cocaine and heroin, but I kind of felt it.
When I got into the Stones properly eight years later, digging into the Stones catalogue – mostly when I was high – it was still “dark” music, but by then that darkness felt like more of a friend. [As Paul Simon would have it, I suppose]
In various bands along the way, especially in the early days, you always ended up playing certain Stones songs as part of the rock and roll standards – “Jumping Jack Flash”, “Satisfaction”, “Brown Sugar” and the ever ubiquitous “Honky Tonk Women”, but a lot of the more challenging Stones numbers don’t get picked up.
So it came as exciting news 35 years later when writer/musician Joe Cummings told me there was a Stones cover band in Bangkok looking for a bass player (Joe joined later). I auditioned and got in and that was that. I love it and don’t get tired of the tunes – the catalogue is huge, and there are so many different styles and vibes in there, and variations you can explore. Played live, there is a lot of room for improvisation.
A lot of the Stones songs are more challenging than they first sound (Can’t You Hear Me Knocking” was murder to nail down). We’ve had some very accomplished musicians sub in when regular members had to be away, and they’ve universally acknowledged that the gig was a little more tricky than they expected. Above all, you have to catch the sometimes-elusive feel of the Stones – that “sloppy-tight” trademark sound that comes through on all their records.
KC: The Midnight Ramblers, like the Rolling Stones, have done small clubs and some pretty large gigs. Talk about some of the bigger gigs you have done and your favorite smaller ones too if you like. How are they different as a performer?
CC: When the Stones do smaller clubs, it’s for a change from the stadiums they normally play. For Midnight Ramblers it’s the opposite. We play mostly pubs and parties to a few dozen people , and sometimes get to play bigger festivals to a couple or three thousand. Our singer Eric, thankfully, can work stages sized from a postage stamp to a hockey rink equally well.
In small venues, you can see all the faces and body language of the whole audience, so it can actually be more daunting. You have to be smug and arrogant enough – or maybe better put, confident enough – to believe that what you are presenting is good, and if some audience members aren’t “getting it”, then that’s a shame for them. We love the music we’re playing (It’s only rock and roll but we like it), so we’re doing our best to attract and share that feeling with like-minded souls.
Big venues are less personal on a couple of levels. For one thing, the audience is mostly “out there” in the darkness – or even in the light, they are more of a blur. But if things are going well, there are always enthusiasts up front tramping down the dirt within a few songs, and then you feel that audience connection.
The sound is much more separated on big stages, and not nearly as loud and cohesive as in a small club, so it isn’t quite as easy to “feel the rumble” (as a bass player, that’s my primary personal goal.) And the other band members can be physically miles away, so communication is not as easy. A cueing eyebrow raise doesn’t carry much more than 3-4 meters.
KC: You recently played a gig in Hua Hin. Tell me of something that went a little overboard on the sloppy side. On or off stage. What did you get just right?
CC: Actually, that one earlier this month – at Father Ted’s Irish pub – went off without incident, really. The band has been a bit more restrained this year in terms of the partying. So have the Rolling Stones.
On the up side, the audience was a sold out crowd of mostly enthusiastic retirees, but a lot of younger folks this time out as well. Singer Eric worked his mojo really well that night, and the band was up for it and tight. The crowd were cheering their heads off throughout, which is always great. You know they liked it when they actually recognize the bass player offstage. All of the patrons seem to have a story about the time they saw the Stones in 1968 at the Marquee in London, or in Texas in 1972 – or last year in Berlin. These people are fans.
KC: You’ve got the headliner billing coming up at the Ploenchit Fair. What can music fans expect to find there? Why should they come out there for all or part of the day?
As it says on the package, it is a fun day out for the whole family. For me, the Ploenchit Fair has always been about running into people I haven’t seen all year, or less frequently that I might have liked to. There are games, rides and other activities for the kids I am told, though mostly over the years (at least until we started playing there two years ago), I have just sat with old friends, drank beer and eaten food from the countless vendors. If that is your plan, you might not want to come right at the 10am start of the day – or at least not if you still want to be conscious by the time Midnight Ramblers take the stage at 7pm. That would be a long session.
There are a lot of good bands on the roster this year – Cotton Mouth is one, headed up by the ubiquitous excellent keyboard player and singer Keith Nolan. Then there is the fun and funky Big Backyard – both featuring excellent musicians. We’re really looking forward to it – the band will be sharp as a tack and ready to rock the big stage.
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“Paul Bowles’s first and best novel, “The Sheltering Sky,” published 70 years ago this fall, was a book few saw coming. Its author was better known as a composer. Doubleday, the publisher that had paid Bowles an advance, rejected the manuscript, telling him it was not a novel. “If it isn’t a novel,” Bowles said angrily, “I don’t know what it is.”
When the book appeared, in fall 1949 (it was finally issued by New Directions), no one else knew quite what to make of it either. But they knew this bleak, spare story about a young couple from New York who drift from city to city in the North African desert marked the arrival of a different kind of American voice.” New York Times – Dwight Garner
Paul Bowles in Bangkok
By Phillp J. Coggan
The question that bothered Paul Bowles is this: Is the universe indifferent, or positively malevolent? His father advised him to get out of the gutter and enjoy the view, but when he did he saw the emptiness behind the sky. At his bleakest he is the author of ‘The Delicate Prey’ and ‘The Sheltering Sky’, at his most compassionate, there’s ‘The Time of Friendship,’ but while natives are incomprehensible, it’s an American who hammers the nail into the ear of his sleeping companion.
So what’s Bangkok to Bowles, or Bowles to The City of Angels? Nothing, of course. Bowlesian noir is the darkness at the heart of the universe itself, whereas in Bangkok it is society that is dark at the heart. So the two should never have met, but for a few months in 1966, they did.
It was all about money. Bowles needed to pay for expensive medical treatment for his wife Jane, so when Harry Sions of Little, Brown (a publisher that paid its authors good money; they did exist in those distant days) asked him to contribute a title to a series on Great Cities of the World, he accepted.
But which city? The Bowles name was already stamped all over Tangier, so naturally, Sions suggested Cairo. They’re all Arabs, aren’t they? Indeed they are; in 1991, after Gulf War I, Bowles wrote to a friend that American tourists were staying away from Morocco because they confused it with Iraq. But he didn’t want to write about Cairo. He whimsically suggested Bangkok, and Sions agreed. They’re all foreign, aren’t they?
And so, in June of 1966 and with the advance in his account (“Never accept an advance before the book is finished”: Bruce Chatwin), Bowles, who abhorred airplanes as he abhorred everything that had happened since 1931, the year he discovered Tangier, set off on a cargo freighter bound for Bangkok via New York and Panama.
He was expecting … what? Temples, canals, a gracious people secure in their own culture, which is to say, Tangier 1931, but with coconut palms. Disappointment was inevitable.
Bangkok is the capital of Yashoodabinia (“Yashoodabinia when…”). He’d arrived fifteen years too late, or so everyone told him. The nymphs had fled, the canals were filled in and paved over, the air was foul, and the place was full of GIs with mean faces.
He stayed in a concrete and glass hotel on the Chao Phraya. The sun heated it like an oven and the molten river reminded him of Venice, but with three-inch cockroaches. The city was vast and treeless and to get anywhere meant spending half the day in taxis, nor was walking possible, the streets being uncrossable. Yet nobody minded, at least nobody Thai, because accidents were karma, and if you got knocked down by a bus it was because you had it coming.
Bangkok 1966 View from Wat Arun
One day he visited Ayudhaya with three monks. “What is the significance of the necktie?” asked one, and seemed perplexed to learn that there was none. They toured museums and ruined temples in the all-pervading heat and the monks bought Bowles a pod of lotus seeds. Then a man on the bus whom Bowles took for a lunatic screamed at the back door until the monk told him this was the driver’s assistant warning the driver of on-coming traffic.
The book was doomed from the start. Connections failed to connect, requests for interviews went unanswered, letters drew no response. Long-term expats talked of leaving on vacation in order to avoid the GIs and their floozies and arrogance, the heat continued, and the government simply didn’t want him there. Permission to stay beyond the regular tourist period was not forthcoming, the fruitless seeking of it ate up the days, and after four unproductive months, he left.
He arrived back in Tangier in January 1967 to discover Jane had had a stroke and needed to be hospitalised. He returned the advance and asked Alec Waugh, the nicer brother of Evelyn, to take over. Waugh wrote a pot-boiler concentrating on colourful incidents from the reigns of kings and carefully avoiding anything critical, while Bowles wrote a short story called ‘You Have Left Your Lotus Pods on the Bus’, the title tells it all. “And there continued to be more and more people in the world, and there was nothing anyone could do about anything.”
Philip J. Coggan was born in Sydney, Australia, in 1950. He has worked as a diplomat and for the UN in many countries, including Bangladesh, Cambodia, Burma, Morocco and Iraq. He began writing on his retirement, beginning with the Hotel Cambodia series of “Asian noir” short stories. He divides his time between his home in Australia and travel in Asia. His books include Spirit Worlds reviewed here as well as a recent published history of Cambodia. He is best known as a friend of John Fengler.
“Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying. Only the echoes of my mind.”
Those lines were written by Fred Neil and popularized by singers Harry Nilsson and Glen Campbell in the lates 1960s. They are perfectly applicable today.
There once was a time when we looked to songwriters, poets, and novelists to be our voices among choices. They were the ones who best articulated what we were seeing, thinking, and feeling.
Their positions – the songwriters, poets, and novelists – have gone down in our society from my perspective, while everyone else’s have risen. The rise of a great mass can be as disruptive as a tsunami.
It’s not all bad, of course, this blog is an example of my voice. While my audience is small it is an avenue for me to express my thoughts not unlike the songwriters, poets, and authors of yesteryear. When there are no gatekeepers anyone can crash the gate.
Memories are often laced with nostalgia and not particularly accurate. I like to think that we listened better forty years ago, but maybe I am fooling myself?
What I do know for sure is that we don’t seem to listen very well today – myself included. “Everybody’s talking at me. I don’t hear a word they’re saying. Only the echoes of my mind.”
Nowadays everybody can have their own personal echo chamber. And if they don’t echo back on cue, well, fuck them. That’s an unfriend or a block. Easy enough.
“People stopping, staring. I can’t see their faces. Only the shadows of their eyes. “
I have quit Twitter. Four months ago now. I was told that Twitter was needed to follow breaking news. Maybe? But I don’t miss it. A friend once described blogging as sending out words into the great white void. That’s how I felt about Twitter.
Most everybody is also staring at their phones in this moment of time and they often don’t even bother to stop to do the staring. Many a time I have proceeded down a sidewalk in right of way mode only to have someone headed my way on a collision course, looking at their phone. I hold my position, firmly. It’s like a game of chicken where only one party knows that they are playing. The results stay pretty much the same.
“I’m going where the sun keeps shining. Through the pouring rain. Going where the weather suits my clothes. “
I have just spent the summer in California and soon I will be headed back to Thailand. During the summer, and before too, I get what seems like constant descriptions of an America I have never seen. I am not saying it doesn’t exist, I am just saying I have never seen it. I don’t look for it either – maybe that’s the problem or better yet, the solution. A place where racist policemen are the norm, where white supremacists are on the rise, where innocents are gunned down daily due to corrupt politicians more concerned with NRA money than the safety of their constituents (that one is pretty accurate), where opportunities are diminishing, a country with massive amounts of people with no health insurance, saddled with paying hundreds of dollars for their insulin pens.
Who writes this stuff anyway? I’ll tell you who. Anyone who wants to. Anyone who can. And anyone can nowadays. There’s the rub.
“Well, I’ll keep on moving, moving on. Things are bound to be improving these days. One of these days.” Jackson Browne
It’s not easy remaining an optimist in the year 2019. Being too optimistic is seen as being naive and not being realistic. A surfer’s world view – only as far out as the horizon. Maybe so. From my vantage point the surfers are the ones to emulate, not the academics, polemicists or politicians.
“Just get away from the shady turf. And baby go catch some rays on the sunny surf. And when you catch a wave you’ll be sittin’ on top of the world.” Beach Boys
So what’s the point of this meandering essay? I am not sure. It may be just another example of the prevailing yada, yada, yada out there. There is no beef or bisque to this story. For that try the Ramayana.
“So I’ll seek out the company of poets, the company of poets I’ll make mine. They’re taking passion’s pulse and they are signaling the future, they’ve freedom for a mistress and they’ve history for a tutor, and they can image water into wine. ” John Gartland
But I for one will continue to look for the best words of wisdom, not on Twitter or Facebook or esoteric blogs like this one. I’ll take the good advice of John Gartland and seek out the company of poets: Dylan, Cohen, Browne, Springsteen, Minko, Prine, Young and dozens of others. For these voices not only represent the soundtrack of my life, they represent the little wisdom I have picked up along the way.
“I’d love to stick around, but I’m running behind. Running on. You know I don’t even know what I’m hoping to find. Running blind. Running into the sun, but I’m running behind.” Jackson Browne
This blog post is running on empty. Time to take the Doobie Brothers good advice and listen to the music or read a good book. Thanks for tuning in.
I am a big fan of Christopher Hitchens. His stance on the Iraq War never bothered me much. You weren’t a real fan of Hitch if that swayed you away. Nobody’s perfect. Hitchens left behind a lot of wisdom. Among the quotes I like of his is this one:
“One should try to write as if posthumously. Because then you’re free of all the inhibition that can cluster around even the most independent-minded writer. You don’t really care about public opinion now, you don’t mind about sales, you don’t care what the critics say. You don’t even care what your friends, your peers, your beloved think. You’re free. Death is a very liberating thought. ” Christopher Hitchens
Anthony Perry is not perfect either. Given enough time I am convinced I will become a fan of the author, too. In fact I already am, although I have not read his novel, Lyle’s Grief, yet.
Why a fan, you might ask?
I did read this one and only passage written by Anthony Perry in a Facebook Thailand Expat Writer’s List group. Out of the blue, it seemed to me, Anthony wrote:
I wasted decades smoking weed, heroin, cocaine, stealing, collecting holocaust art, Alfred Manning, Russel Flint, Francis Bacon, Lucien Freud, Thomas Moorcroft, Royal Worcester, Georgian Silver and obsessing over chemical equilibrium. Along the way I had five children, five black children cursed with a white junkie dad. I hope I’m not the only father looking back with regret and feeling unloved.
Another fine writer in that group commented, “I wanna read more”. That’s exactly how I felt. Anthony Perry was taking Hitchens advice and executing it. He was also killing it as a writer or so I thought. In one paragraph, consisting of three sentences, I gleaned that Mr. Perry is not a man who cares much about public opinion, I doubt he cares about what his critics have to say, and I am not even sure he cares about what his friends, his peers, and his beloved think – about this one paragraph anyway. As for sales of his books, I’ll guess that’s not a major concern of his either. In short, what Anthony appeared to me to be was a liberated writer, someone writing freely, as if he were already dead. That last sentence of his would make for a fine dying utterance in a noir novel.
This author was worth some further investigation. So I contacted Anthony Perry and asked if I could interview him for this blog. Friendly guy that he is, he has obliged. One of the first questions I asked Anthony was, “How old are you?”. He replied, “As old as my tongue and a little older than my teeth.” Before I begin my first interview of a Bangkok based author in the seventh year of this blog, here is some information you can find about Anthony, which I have summarized from his Amazon author page:
If you want to know what year Anthony was born it can be found easy enough. I prefer the mystery of it all.
In his twenties, Anthony became a heroin addict. An addiction that lasted fifteen years. During that time there were stints in prisons in his native England and abroad. In the year 2000 Anthony underwent a successful nine-week detox program in Portugal and has remained drug free.
After rehab he went to college and studied counseling for four years. Upon graduating he became an addiction counselor and has worked in various prisons and treatment centers throughout London, where he still lives part of each year. Anthony has taught poetry classes for the homeless and art classes for people with HIV and AIDS. He now devotes his time to a life of writing crime fiction and helping others recover from addiction.
Lyle’s Grief is his first novel.
KC: Welcome, Anthony. Do you live in Bangkok? If so, talk about a random interaction you’ve had recently in the CIty of Angels.
AP: Yes, I live in Bangkok for 8 months of the year.
Two days ago I was sitting upstairs in a members room of a cigar bar in Soi 24. Myself, six other men who are multi-millionaire businessmen, and a 22 yr old Thai-Chinese woman. I asked her at what age did she realize the effect she had on men. With that, the whole room fell into silence in eager anticipation of her answer. Bearing in mind three of the men were married to Thai women, I guess they had a special interest. She sat bolt upright and simply replied, “Power and control.” At that point, I heard a couple of nervous squeaks coming from her audience. I abstained from further questioning because I got the answer I wanted everyone else to hear. To cut a long story short she held court gathering information about how best she would obtain a USA visa. I evaluated she was starring in her own feature film by demonstrating her sense of power and control. I wanted to leave but stayed around thirty minutes before doing so. The music in the background was too loud for me, and the semi soprano singer was trying to sound cool and jazzy, and I detached and all around me it was a nightmare.
KC: What is your first memory of illegal drugs? How much did you spend on drugs during your time as an addict?
AP:: My first clinical experience of mood change was in 1962 with Purple Hearts. I smoked weed and hash every day from most countries who farmed for commercial reasons. Although I always felt paranoid, I think the mood change is what I had become obsessed with. After breaking my back in 1971 I soon found relief with Heroin. At the time I had an antique shop. Heroin was £100 a gramme, and I needed to fund my habit. I used the Times tabloid and always checked out obituary columns to find abandoned properties that housed aristocracies precious items.
This is my first roll-call. Cost of my drug habit was around £5.2 million, but my addiction cost me much more. I gambled from the age of fifteen. However, my addiction cost a whole lot more than money.
KC: What is the criminal justice system like in the United Kingdom? Does it work or is it broken?
AP: The simplest answer I can give it’s corrupted, its always worked and its always been broken. There are and always have been special open prisons for white collar crimes. Fraud, big money fraud usually carried around a two-year sentence, and that’s why it’s corrupt and has always been broken. One tiny example of this is the MPs expenses scandal and just the one was imprisoned. The government funds various organisations for drug rehabilitation, and most clients are in the criminal justice system. As soon as someone is held in police custody a drugs worker asks if they have a drug problem. The government have a system in operation that requests KPT (key performance targets), and this enables them to state figures which imply the government are doing a great job. Most first time prisoners reach the status of a repeat offender.
Anthony Perry at play
KC: Tell me about your time in the hoity-toity art world? Do you have any Lucien Freud or famous client stories, per chance?
AP: I sold art and antiques for many years and my clients were among London’s top auction houses. I bought a large collection of art from Phillipe Le Bon, a leading pioneer in cosmetic surgery and hair transplants. He was a collector and was grieving the loss of his wife Pandora Astor. He was a using friend of mine for many years and we cleaned up together but Phillipe relapsed and lost the desire to stop. I attended auctions across the UK and bought art mainly for American clients.
Lucien was a compulsive gambler. He ran into our club with a painting for £275.00 to gamble one time. He offered it to my Jewish friend and I bought it. I also bought a few nice pieces from Lord Lucan (John Bingham, 7th Earl of Lucan). Lucan gambled in Curzon st Mayfair. He did too much cocaine and famously killed his Nanny.
KC: Talk about your first novel Lyle’s Grief and how would you classify your writing style?
AP: Lyle’s Grief is about a black female detective murder squad chief. I attempted to highlight the consequences of slavery. Missy Lyle’s only son committed suicide under the strange mix of Heroin, Cocaine, Hallucinogenics, and Amphetamines. My writing style for me is difficult to evaluate, but I tend to describe my characters as not being off the cuff.
KC: Are you in control of your demons or vice versa.
AP: No, I am never going to be in control of my demons and I hope they will never be in control of me. After 15 years of trying to control my demons, I surrendered and waved the white flag and it has been raised for almost nineteen years. I do this by talking with other recovering addicts. I found listening to the insanity of addiction and working with clients at times to be challenging.
KC: Why do you think you are still alive? What’s in store for your Act Three?
AP: I am alive through pure chance. I overdosed many times and had a few accidents and emergency admissions. I have let go of the past and the future and hopefully the best is yet to come.
Click the book cover above to go to the Amazon page for Lyle’s Grief
For more entertaining words from Anthony Perry click the YouTube Video above It has close to 10,000 views on his Facebook page.