Cult Fiction: Popular Reading and Pulp Theory

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There was also a small scene of people still into mod at school, big on The Who; this was way before the late-Seventies mod revival. The main subcultural split was between soul boys and grease, the latter aspired to get a motorbike when they were old enough and act like hells angels. But the soul boy cult was much stronger than the biker culture.

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We all read books about bikers but grease was very much a minority thing. Musically punk goes back to the Sixties and even earlier, but as a subculture it is very much a product of the mid-Seventies. In the summer of I discovered — on the So It Goes TV show — the contemporary punk rock scene and decided to go with that. There was a girl in my class who decided to be a punk rocker about the same time and for a year from the summer of to the summer of we were the only two punks in the school.

After that there were a few more but it was still a very minority thing when we left school in By the time they left school a lot of the soul boys were having a bit of an identity crisis because between them they were divided over whether to stick with northern soul or go in a jazz-funk direction. I never really worried about that stuff because I thought you should just go with what you liked and that it was possible to like more than one thing at the same time.

If you had your hair short but not too short you could be a mod one night and a skinhead the next. And you could wear a lot of the same clothes, button-down shirts, sta-prest trousers, Harrington jackets, whether you had boots or shoes on made a big difference — and of course the target t-shirts etc. I went to see them all but of the more famous ones The Purple Hearts were the best and I saw them a lot. I notice Tim Wells talked in his interview with you about the kind of books that went around in school and that reflected the culture we had.

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Tim was born in North London and I was born in South London but the stuff he mentions is what was popular at my school too. Books about skinheads and hells angels mostly — but not exclusively — published by New English Library, war books by the likes of Sven Hassel, and as Tim also mentioned The Rats by James Herbert, which was huge.

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The odd cinema manager would tell you if the cops came you must promise to say the cashier asked you your age and you said you were 18, but most seemed completely unbothered and were more interested in your cash than the fact you and they were technically breaking the law. Our reading was heavily influenced by cinema, nearly everyone used to see the James Bond movies when they came out, and we read the Ian Fleming novels too. You have to remember this was an era of mass strikes including major ones by miners leading to power cuts and the three day week in the UK, so politics was talked about a lot and it really felt like there was the serious possibility of major change and an end to capitalism.

I used to borrow Das Kapital from the local library and put it on my desk at school to wind up the reactionary teachers. So when I discovered punk subculture at 14 it was just perfect for me. You have to remember that back then the TV we watched was mainly comedy, sports, pop shows and old cinema films that had been sold for broadcast on the small screen. Spaghetti westerns turned up on TV and most of the kids I knew loved those.

At school in every year there were two classes for illiterate kids and another five for those who could read and write, so seven classes per year in total. I was always in the top classes so for a lot of the time I was separated from the non-readers — but I always got along fine with them when we were doing sports or whatever.

It was kids from the local orphanage and Muslim kids who ended up in the remedial classes. There was a definite split between those who came from Christian backgrounds — including African and Afro-Caribbean kids — and Muslim kids.

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Part of the reason there was less tension was the workforce was entirely male, so there was none of the bullshit about crossing a line in terms of sexual relationships because no one was admitting to being gay. Clearly there are still many issues to be resolved, but now around London I see a lot more Muslim kids engaged in the same subcultures as kids from other backgrounds — these subcultures tend to be rap orientated but not exclusively so.

I used these terms differently to you. I thought the place was horrible and anyone who bought the unbelievably marked up gear in there had to be stupid. The early punk scene was very mixed and things evolved into a more tribal situation later. Towards the end of Crisis there were some very odd characters who turned up at their shows. One of them was an original skinhead known as Nazi Ken. The last time I remember seeing him was after a Crisis gig in Brixton.

His girlfriend had actually passed out from too much booze and drugs. Some kids from Paddington I got to know at early Adam and the Ants gigs became skinheads too and sadly joined the National Front.

The audiences and friendships at gigs in the late-Seventies were very mixed in terms of subcultures. It was in the Eighties that things got really tribal. For instance, their recent passion for watching trashy TV shows. As if it were fun, as if it were innocent, as if it were anything but pure surrender, and as such, totally unacceptable.

She could give them a hard time about it, but she senses that other people are tired and discouraged.

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Not everyone is like her: still ready to go mad with rage and smash the place up. Docility, lassitude, complacency — these are adult failings in Despentes. Her muses are always teenage girls: restless, contemptuous young things bucking for experience, much like the girl she once was. Of course, Goodis would have been greatly amused by this kind of scholarly attention.


Having begun his novel-writing career in with the Hemingwayesque Retreat from Oblivion , hoping to join the proper literary establishment, Goodis soon came to embrace — as much by choice as by force of circumstance — the role of popular writer. A retreat from oblivion , indeed. That said, as Gertzman points out, Goodis considered his novels to be more than crime stories; they were psychological portraits of the life on the other side of the tracks, in conditions of poverty or near-poverty.

Of course, there are similarities: both are Jewish and both portray alienated characters stretched to breaking point by their encounters with the state and its bureaucracy. Still, the comparison is provocative and fruitful, in that it forces us to regard these novels, which had long been ignored by serious critics, as both a substantial artistic achievement and an expression of a distinctly 20th-century sensibility. Such discussions are a welcome addition to what might otherwise have been simply a series of plot summaries.