Tag Archives: bbc

JEANS



Nothing new to report, but this BBC documentary on Levi’s 501s is interesting. Part of the Design Classics series from 1987 that also featured entire episodes dedicated to the Volkswagen Beetle and Barcelona Chair, the footage of Peter Blake in a Canadian tux and rare chat with Willie Gertler — Levi’s first British agent — sheds some light on how jeans became popular in the UK. Of course, at the time of the programme’s broadcast, 501s had slipped in terms of detailing, with selvedge scrapped in 1985, but their popularity was escalating, thanks to some smart marketing. Back then, even Pepe were seen as a threat to the company’s market share. Salutes to Emile Durkhelm for that upload.

Shouts to magCulture for putting me onto this Longreads list of links to lengthy pieces on the creation of some of the greatest magazines ever. You could get lost in this collection. The Awl comes through multiple times with superbly researched articles like the recent one on Entertainment Weekly‘s declining fortunes and last year’s Wigwag retrospective.

BEACHLIFE

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There’s nothing wrong with resurrecting a brand, provided it was an interesting one in the first place and Life’s A Beach sits with brands like Town & Country and Maui & Sons which were gateway drugs in the 1980s into the current wave of post surfwear lines (Stüssy always seemed almost high-end to me with those M-Zone price points on jackets, so it sits out this discussion). The drug analogy is appropriate here, because Life’s A Beach was all about the gear — bikegear, surfgear and skategear — and there was a lot of gear going around during the decade in which it flourished.

Where the brand has been during the last 21 years is a mystery — did it do the rounds as a license in other territories? There doesn’t seem to be a definitive archive to explain where its been and we know that the L.A.B. Bad Boy Club skate spinoff is actually still in use as an MMA line, which somehow links motocross, skate, surf, BMX and beating the shit out each other. As of this week, Life’s A Beach is officially back in business.

First, some history: Life’s A Beach started in 1984 as the project of non-professional but competing motocross riders from Chicago — Jeff Theodosakis and brothers Mark and Brian Simo who had no real background in the rag trade. Having spent time on beaches between bike riding, they saw an alternative to Spandex minimalism with baggy, colorful shorts which they created from tablecloths and curtains. Selling their Life’s A Beach shorts to a Florida store, after a slow start, spring breakers popularised the brand. Realising there was money to be made, Theodosakis and the Simo brothers relocated to California in 1985. The legendary Doze Green was involved in the designs and it’s said that the trademark neon-goth bone pattern, among other things, is his creation.

Initially sponsoring motocross rider Rick Johnson, who stood out in both his riding skills and stylish ways (motocross being a hotspot of sartorial no-nos back then), wore the shorts over conventional MX attire, the L.A.B. sponsorship also included surfers like the temperamental but brilliant Sunny Garcia and BMXer Brian Blyther, famed for his vertical feats. I believe they also had judo champ turned boxer Pierre Marchand on the books too (preempting that MMA connection). Once skaters entered the fray, Life’s A Beach had created an extreme sports lifestyle line before anyone seemed to have tied the pastimes together under that name and hell of a long time before X-Games ever came to pass.

If you grew up reading skate magazines circa 1988 then you’ll recall the irreverent Life’s A Beach ads that pre-dated the World Industries marketing strategies that followed. Both Life’s A Beach Surfgear and Skategear ran ads with the legendary Bill Danforth (a tattooed skater back when shoulder ink seemed rebellious and the type of guy to skate in DMs before Matt Hensley) and Mark Gonzales rocked those gaudy pants and garms in the press — skater’s skaters seemed to be the criteria and as the B.B.C. Bad Boy’s Club L.A.B. board division emerged, a young Mike Vallely wore his branded beret with pride. Texan legends like Jeff Phillips and Bryan Pennington were faces of the line too. Shouts to Mike Garcia, Ron Allen and Monty Nolder too.

Beyond boards, on the music side, members of The Accused and Anthrax wore those shorts and it even seemed to be infiltrating the growing snowboard scene. Looking back at images of the Swatch Impact Tour, it’s a sign of an industry at its vertical limit waiting to get squashed by a bigger focus on street. While B.B.C. offered street and vert options on their decks, they couldn’t compete with skateboarding’s complete aesthetic switch into the 1990s. Those neons, bum bags, all over prints and letters down the sleeves defined a decade, but they didn’t define the 1990s. Reading the September 18th, 1990 Los Angeles Times look at a sports retail tradeshow, things look doomed: “Life’s A Beach will replace Day-Glo colors with two different color schemes. Its main line of clothing will feature “basic bright” colors, including turquoise, blue, yellow and red, Theodosakis said. An “underground” line, which is aimed largely at skateboarders, “will be drab olives and muted colors, like grays and blues…”

The business partners would split in 1990. Bizarrely the company’s last boomtime was when the aggressive looking Bad Boy Club character (drawn by Mark Baagoe) experienced a strange boom as a sticker on car windshields that reached epidemic levels. There was a sale of the business in summer 1991 and by 1992, Life’s A Beach seemed to vanish. The late motocross rider Marty Moates would recruit the Blyther brothers to turn an earlier design that read ‘NO FEAR’ into a full-fledged brand in 1989, which, while never as cool as L.A.B. (to quote Canibus when he had quotables rather than pseudo-mathematical gibberish, “Blow up the planet with No Fear like them clothes white boys be wearing”), was incredibly successful. Theodosakis founded the yoga-centric company, PrAna with his wife in 1992 and the partners reunited to found the SPY Optics sunglasses company in 1994. For the original Life’s A Beach team, it seems that there were happy endings, whereas for onetime team riders like Jeff Phillips, things would come to a sad end in Christmas 1993.

It’s good to see that my friend Greg Finch (who as a skater, knows a lot about Life’s A Beach) and art don Fergus Purcell are heading up the brand’s resurrection. Fergadelic was key to the Holmes and Silas aesthetic, has put in work for Very Ape, Hysteric Glamour, his Tonite brand, Stüssy and probably created your favourite Palace prints too. He makes no secret of the fact he’s a Life’s A Beach fanatic, to the point where multiple L.A.B. identities are drawn on his skin permanently:

“I first saw Life’s A Beach in the pages of R.A.D, Thrasher & Kerrang and I fell in love with it. It was worn by sick skaters as well as by the thrash and crossover bands that I was into — the stuff was out of order! It had a bad attitude and a killer sense of fun. This look and feeling had a big influence on my own aesthetic — to this day I hope that my work includes those two qualities!

I’m so obsessed with the brand that I have five homemade tattoos relating to it and I am super stoked to now be involved. I’ll be bringing some of my designs to the party, but the archive of original designs is incredible — and very timely — so we’re mainly going to feature them. It’s all about the shorts, baby!”

Looking at Ferg’s influence on the industry and taking into consideration that L.A.B. inspired him to that extent, its reappearance is very relevant. Skulls, bones and long-sleeve print tees (Canada’s Skull Skates deserves a lot of respect too) seem to be standard issue right now, so it’s good to see an OG brand back with some OG folk behind it — this was just the surface scraped on the Life’s A Beach story. A rebirth is welcome and while the nostalgics might struggle, because neon can be a young man’s game, there’s plenty of simpler stuff in the mix that just keeps the lairy stuff to the backprint where age doesn’t matter. Go check it out at spots like PRESENT and Slam City right now.

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Ron Allen Ad

Danforth Blunt Ad

Gonz L.A.B. Boneless

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MY WEEK BEATS YOUR YEAR

I completely forgot about this 1996 Nike documentary that braitnicho uploaded. Seeing this late that year (I believe the Branded series also had Heinz and Levi’s episodes) was a key instigator in making me want to work with Nike on something one day. There’s some interesting footage in the mix here and some good insights from Phil Knight. This seemed to be a golden era of business documentaries that wrangled access to some places that no other documentary seems to have gone since.

On the subject of YouTube, this footage from a CBGBs showcase of unsigned acts from summer 1992, with Bobbito as the host via CharlieChopoff (salutes to Unkut for the heads up) is worth your time — Artifacts clad in Polo, Fatal in a Timberland sweat, 8-Off showing you why he got a deal, plus Hard 2 Obtain and a few acts that never made their splash post Unsigned Hype (like Legion of D.U.M.E) are all present in this rare video.

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Another toy I wish had existed when I was a kid is Sideshow’s Snake Plissken figure. The McFarlane toy doesn’t count because it was based on Escape From LA, which we all like to pretend never happened, but this super detailed creation is taken from the 1981 original, complete with the strange cam on the trousers, his weaponry, everything allotted to him by Lee Van Cleef, and, if you pre-order it from the source, you get a tiny repro of the tape which may or may not contain Dixieland jazz to set off WWIII. Now, where’s that Frank Doubleday as Romero toy, reeling off a list of kidnap demands when you pull a string? Carpenter’s classic has always warranted a full toy line.

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By now the internet will be at least 25% Lou Reed, but the planet has lost at least 2% of its angry stares in his absence. Contrary to Sickboy’s assessment, Lou never really lost it. I also think his period of musical excellence (though it wavered in the mid 1980s around the time of this Honda ad) up to 1990 tops Bowie’s tenure of brilliance too in terms of longevity (and Lou’s early novelty record, The Ostrich is better than David’s The Laughing Gnome). Those live performances from the last decade and the courtside seats at Knicks games with Richard Lewis meant he was a functioning cool guy up to the very end, regardless of any perceived missteps. For decades, Lou was the final level boss for many an aspiring music journalist to tackle — a lone wolf participant in a jihad against mediocre questioning. Now he’s gone there’s not really a replacement with the intellect to match the bad attitude, is there?

Street Hassle is my favourite Lou Reed song at this moment at this moment in time for that blend of romance and pitch blackness, with that uncredited Springsteen appearance. Even in a spoken word verse from a scumbag junk dealer’s perspective regarding dead body disposal ends in pure poetry. That’s why something might owe a debt to Lou and the Velvet Underground, but it’ll rarely match the dead-eyed beauty of its reference points.

Hey, that cunt’s not breathing
I think she had too much of something or other
Hey, man, you know what I mean
I don’t mean to scare you
But you’re the one who came here
And you’re the one who’s gotta take her when you leave
I’m not being smart or trying to be pulling my part
And I’m not gonna wear my heart on my sleeve
But you know people get emotional
And sometimes they just don’t act rational
They think they’re just on TV — sha la la la, man
Why don’t you just slip her away
You know. I’m glad that we met man
It was really nice talking
And I really wish there was a little more time to speak
But you know it could be a hassle
Trying to explain myself to a police officer
About how it was that your old lady got herself stiffed
And it’s not like we could help
But there’s nothing no one could do
And if there was, man, you know I would have been the first
Only, someone turns that blue
Well, it’s a universal truth
And you just know: That bitch will never fuck again
By the way, that’s really some bad shit
That you came to our place with
But you ought be more careful round the little girls
It’s either the best or it’s the worst
Since I don’t have to choose, I guess I won’t
And I know, This is no way to treat a guest
But why don’t you grab your old lady by the feet
And just lay her out in the darkest street
And by morning, she’s just another hit and run
You know, some people got no choice
And they can never even find a voice
To talk with that they can even call their own
So the first thing that they see
That allows them the right to be
Why, they follow it
You know, it’s called bad luck

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TRANSMISSIONS

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Forgot today was blogging day. Can I just talk about the last three things I watched on YouTube? While I’m at it, I’ll plug this Tinker Hatfield feature too because there’s a few jewels in there for the nerds. I’ve been distracted by Mickey Drexler’s remarks in this Stanford appearance from late last year — I don’t subscribe to the quasi-motivational drivel that do-littles hurl all over Twitter and Facebook, but Drexler’s answer 23 minutes in regarding explosive modes of management is amazing and he offers a good excuse to use next time you swear loudly in a meeting. “Surround yourself with people that get it,” is easier said than done but it’s the key to greatness. It also means you need to recruit fellow dysfunctional oddballs.

This BBC footage of Goldie in 1989, as well as some other writers is pretty good too. It’s a shame that Dick Fontaine’s candid clips of Goldie talking about NYC trainyard and tunnel excursions have been taken down from YouTube.

For a minute I thought that a 2000 Channel 4 documentary (from Madonna Night) on her early Downtown days was a figment of my imagination, but it’s partially available online. One of the few documents of Futura 2000’s relationship with Madge, it includes a few soundbites from the man himself plus Fab Five Freddy’s entertaining attitude to her antics in the early 1980s, “I really thought Madonna was cool, but for me personally, she was not the kind of chick I would really would have wanted to get with, because a lot of my other crew had been up around her. You know what I’m saying? And that just wasn’t my steelo at the time.”

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The FUCT book for Rizzoli arrives in September, but Erik Brunetti has got his hands on an advance copy and it looks very good indeed. He’s taking pre-orders for signed copies on his site and with “streetwear”s continuing slide into just being a load of self-congratulatory thirtysomethings selling crap to kids (actually, it’s always been like that, hasn’t it?) the sense of threat that Brunetti managed to bring to the party seems more vital than ever. The fact Erik really fucking hates street art is reason enough to support his cause.

Zack De La Rocha wearing the classic Ford bite tee on a No Nirvana — a 1993 BBC Late Show special, was a great moment in streetwear on British TV. While Rage Against the Machine sure ain’t grunge (though that show was mostly bands that fell into that genre), will the current preoccupation with that scene’s industry mean an onslaught of short-sleeve tees over long-sleeves as well as plaid around the waist?

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The perfect soundtrack for that FUCT book would be Sly and the Family Stone’s classic There’s a Riot Goin’ On, with its aura of apocalypse vaguely audible beneath the good time riffing and Get On Down’s gold CD remaster comes with an embroidered take on the blood and stars American flag cover. No matter how jaded you are with fancy packaging to make you buy things you’re familiar with all of again, you’ve got to admit it looks pretty.

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BRITISHNESS

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Please excuse the rushed nature of this blog entry. I was going to move servers to make gwarizm.com the official home of all this claptrap but strange domain redirecting issues meant I actually ended up having the time to chuck something up here tonight after all. My relationship with printed matter is a tempestuous one — for much of my life I dreamed of being a scribe for one of the fancy magazines that broke the £2.50 mark in WH Smiths, but once I actually wrote for one, I realized that most of the content was advertorial (even the stuff without “advertising feature” on the top of the page). That culled my buying habits significantly.

While putting out a publication seems to be a new norm as some reaction to people thinking bloggers are chancers, doing it well is difficult. After all, the big magazines are spreading their pages for advertisers for a reason — survival. Just starting a magazine for the hell of it is as tedious as calling your blog an online magazine, so I’ve slashed my purchases to a handful of regular and when-they-can-be-fucked-to publications. Being lazy and odd (and not actually living in London) I never made it to Goodhood’s launch for the new issue of LAW, but I feel guilty about it, because it’s something worth supporting — continuing the history lesson, when I was putting out strange blog entries for Acyde’s The Most Influential site a few years back, I was determined to keep it UK-centric.

As a Brit, i felt it was my duty to talk about local matters and not my yankophile leanings. TMI actually changed before I could run out of ideas fully, but I was definitely running on fumes. I feel a certain guilt for not representing Britain fully on here, but – as I’ve mentioned several times – I think the ISYS squad, Rollo Jackson and LAW do it better than I ever could. There’s a certain Britishness that barely translates abroad and it’s part of the urban and suburban everyday existence — it’s all sportswear, mild eccentricity, inadvertently odd design touches and scowls. Most of the time we take it for granted and don’t document it (I’ve hunted some imagery for a couple of projects in the last 12 months and was shocked at how little documentation there was). LAW goes in to log it with a keen design eye that affords everyday objects and lives a certain elegance.

LAW #3 is out now and the use of Goodhood’s interior with the magazine’s driving slogan was a nice touch (all LAW-related imagery here is swaggerjacked from the Goodhood site). You can buy it right here for £12.50.

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Another magazine that gets a lot of deserved shine here is Oi Polloi’s Pica~Post. You need to know your stuff to actually have fun with anything and everything in this free publication – from the typography to the product pick is on point. This beats any bullshit slow blog-baiting lookbook (and those Anthony Crook Engineered Garments shots in here are a nice example of how a lookbook can be done) and you can read this online right here but the way it’s printed as an object gives it a purpose beyond the screen. Shouts to Eóin and the whole Pica~Post mind squad.

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In addition to the above, the Joe McKenna profile in Fantastic Man #17 is excellent too. But you’d expect them to deliver on a feature like that, wouldn’t you?

Cheers to Nike SB for letting me do some writing about the Koston 2 shoe for the Nike Inc. site. Anything that lets me interview Eric is the sort of thing that would make the 15-year-old me do an awkward dance in public. Now I just do it in private. There seems to be a quick glimpse of an interesting Lunarlon-aided Koston 2 golf shoe sitting by Tiger Woods’ shopping bags in the behind-the-scenes footage.

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On the shoe topic, now that every hip-hop related documentary of my youth is available on 2-disc DVD or on YouTube, where are the British trainer documentaries? The first time I ever saw Tinker and company was on the excellent 1992 BBC program Trainer Wars. I know that was far better than any recent effort to document sports footwear. Where can I get hold of a copy of it? Back in the day, you paid someone like Dave the Ruf to send you a 240-minute tape of tenth-generation dubs of everything you needed. I need Trainer Wars and the 2001 Sneaker Freaks documentary that Channel 4 aired as part of the Alt.TV series with Jeremy Howlett sitting on top of Howlett’s. OG Air Max 95s being sold for insane money at Meteor Sports and Will Self pulling a gasface at the notion of anyone hoarding Nikes. In fact, I believed that Trainer Wars never happened until I found this footage of the commercial for it from when it showed on Discovery Europe.

BLACK & WHITE

I’m sat in a Portland hotel room watching CNBC documentaries on Whole Foods, Costco (kings of the white t-shirt) and awaiting the J Crew documentary on personal hero, Mickey “Helloooo” Drexler — one of the greatest micro managing CEOs ever, before heading out to order a burger from an eatery staffed by people in thick framed glasses, bearing knuckle tattoos. In the time zone confusion, I forgot to update this blog with things. Other than watching retail-based TV, there’s a few other things I’m into at the moment. The gents at the increasingly bootlegged Palace brand are making power moves of late and their whole Fall lookbook has a VHS fuzz that’s appealing — I was amused to see the Palace Surf “sub brand” within the range, complete with the all important colour fade in the script and stonewash cotton fleece to evoke an appropriately surf-centric look. I think the crew are amusing themselves with memories of the lurid gear we used to break out back in the day — surfwear birthed street and skate wear as we know it anyway. That Tri logo is slowly taking over and I’m looking forward to seeing the less lurid shirts and trousers too when they eventually materialise.

On the subject of Londoners making power moves, Kyle and Jo at Goodhood’s ‘Unloveable’ lookbook is a winner too (as is their ‘How Soon is Now?’ women’s collection shoot). There’s no men in OBEY sauntering round a local park here — good food and beverage accessories, crisp photography, black and white and apparel picks worn right. I’ve mentioned it a lot here, but the R Newbold and Goodhood gear is some of the best collaborative clothing on the market. This season’s college football shirt gets a look right — something that can get a little too Superdry in the wrong hands. Crucially, this imagery makes me want to go and buy shit from them (which is kind of the point of the project) rather than feeling like some obligatory action to get a couple of thousand apathetic blog impressions and significantly less click-throughs. This is the kind of thing you get when designers are in charge rather than copyists. Cassavetes’ letting his team roam free might feel a million miles from Drexler’s tightly run retail empire, but both visions are quintessentially American in their own unique, driven ways. There’s lessons to be learnt from both characters.

Now Cassavetes, Gazzara and Falk are all improvising together in the afterlife, it’s always worth taking another look at a ‘Life’ magazine issue’s shots of the production of ‘Husbands.’ I’m a Cassavetes fan, but I’m not a huge fan of this film, yet I love the documentation —1970’s ‘Omnibus’ on the movie and this May 1969 collection of photos capture John’s emphasis on creativity and personal expression. Now when an actor juggles mainstream movies and their own indie flicks, it usually signals kooky self-exploration and tedious soul-searching, but Cassavetes did it with an unsurpassed integrity. What a guy. From suits to sweatpants, the mid-life crisis addled trio look cool between the yelling and drinking.

BURROUGHS

“I’m not anticipating any trouble, because I don’t like violence.”
William H. Burroughs

Something I’m working on led me back to Burroughs. You’re pretty much obliged to bow down to the beats and it’s understandable, but I’ve picked up plenty of tat in my quest for enlightenment. To be honest, ‘On the Road’ didn’t ignite an epiphany in me — I was more impressed by Kerouac’s ‘Doctor Sax,’ (written while Jack was living with William Burroughs), and Ginsberg’s NAMBLA support to prove a point left me perplexed. Maybe I need to reinvestigate Allen’s intent there. But Burroughs is the one whose work felt — and still feels — truly dangerous. Nearly every piece of the man’s work has a clinical oddness that’s somehow at odds with the sometimes squalid imagery in his head. He put impurity down with his own opiate-bred brand of twisting narrative that never felt contrived despite his celebrity status — in-demand from those seeking the seated figure with the memorably nightmarish voice and embalmed appearance. Even when he was being photographed for GAP and promoting Nike’s Max2 line, that creepiness remained. It was a perfectly tailored breed of hardcore, with a sedateness that betrayed what those eyes had seen, with no skull rings or posturing necessary. I’ve had to retreat from certain texts like, ‘The Ticket That Exploded’ (my mind wasn’t ready for that cut-up technique), but his love letter to the feline race, ‘The Cat Inside,’ was a revelation, exposing another aspect of a complex soul, evolving until the very end. Was he always so deadpan, or was it the drugs? Did that experimentation create the face that’s as hard to read as the prose?

When I’m watching footage of Burroughs or reading his work, as well as pondering just how high drinking nutmeg and water will make you, I’m looking for those glimmers of humanity, rather than the UFOs, viruses, governmental weirdness, extreme shape shifts and poisoned blood perversities, all the while bearing in mind that he shot his wife in the head once. In between all the dispatches from the dark side, there’s a joy in trying to decipher where his mind is at. With ‘Rub Out the Words’ — a compilation of his written letters during his ‘golden era’ — recently published (and worth your time, his near-constant financial issues explain that willingness to participate in so much during the 1980’s and 1990’s), and Burroughs’ shotgun art of 1986/87 going on display at Uruguay’s Bohemian Gallery & Museum of Contemporary Art, there’s always room for a retrospective. Blasting cans of spray paint in front of canvases with a firearm feels irresponsible, given the man’s relationship with bullets, but it’s an authentic representation of where his head was probably at. Had Burroughs had a knack for illustration, his canvases and sketchbooks might have been an even clearer depiction of his dreams. From recollections from fellow Harvard students that William was fond of firearms, to that day in 1951, to the end, where he’d entertain/scare visitors by producing a sword from his cane (as recollected in ‘Last Words’), weaponry was a significant accessory in the Burroughs mythos. That fetish gets a memorable outing towards the end of ‘Burroughs.’

Howard Brookner’s ‘Burroughs,’ filmed between 1980 and 1983, is a superior documentary that — like the Omnibus ‘Cracked Actor’ documentary — was a BBC production for the Arena strand with Alan Yentob heavily arrived that deserves a DVD release, quietly capturing the complicated subject at a significant point in their career. It’s one of my favourite documentaries, making good use of his readings (and I recommend the UbuWeb sound archives for a thorough collection of Burroughs audio, from him reading ‘Junky’ in its entirety to dubs of cassettes made with Genesis P-Orridge) and including some memorable moments — rare footage of William and his tortured, tragic son Billy at the table (Billy died in 1981, during filming) that’s interspersed with some unflattering remarks from James Grauerholz, William visiting the home of his old gardener and leaving him visibly moved with his surprisingly lucid recollections of the man’s deceased son, a visit to see Lucian Freud, a moment of mirth around his improvised ‘Danny Boy’ lyrics and quite a few weapons — on showing off a telescopic baton, he animatedly describes a telescopic blade to slash somebody’s throat “…right in the middle of a sentence” and shows off a massive knife and fires off a blow dart too. Then there’s his terrifying looking ‘Bunker’ that’s a disused YMCA locker room, where he discusses a paranormal visitor as if it’s simply a matter-of-fact. It’s a compelling watch and Jim Jarmusch was recruited for sound duties (Howard Brookner was gaffer on ‘Permanent Vacation’). Brookner’s passing at age 34 robbed the world of plenty more equally strong portraits.

Somebody has kindly upped the whole documentary on YouTube, but there’s also a full upload of 1984’s ‘Decoder’ there too. ‘Decoder’ couldn’t feel much more 1980’s, but with the real Christianne F (Christiane Felscherinow) as a love interest and Burroughs in some unsettling dream sequences, it’s worth 88 minutes of your existence if you’re my way inclined.