Did You Hear? BlackBook’s Audio Book Review of Irvine Welsh’s Skagboys

Presented by Audible

Listen in on your own: buy Skagboys  or get a free download here.

Instead of spending hours of my week unnecessarily fiddling with Twitter and Facebook feeds and/or watching TV and/or falling into the black hole of YouTube and/or complaining I have very little time to read, I spent those hours listening to Skagboys by Irvine Welsh, expertly narrated by the Scottish actor Tam Dean Burn. No doubt, listening to this gargantuan novel (24+ hours of audiobook) is a commitment, so I listened to it while going about activities that don’t require a lot of mental energy but rather physical energy: working out, commuting, walking miles through a concrete jungle, grooming, and eating. It was perfect, because Skagboys demands your attention, and once the story grabs you, you’re tossed into a world both harrowing and comical, populated by characters both repugnant and charming.

These characters are familiar to anyone who has read Trainspotting and Porno: Renton, Sick Boy, Spud, Allison, and my personal favorite from the Welsh canon, Franco Begbie. We’re given a thorough account of their early lives in lowland Scotland. It’s all here: family dynamics, motivations, the effects of politics and socio-economic conditions, and the story about how these characters encounter and succumb to skag, Welsh’s “favourite word for heroin.” It truly is an epic novel, not just in length, but also in character development, setting, theme, and most notably language. Much of it is written phonetically in raw Scottish dialect.

The most daunting part of reading Welsh, for me—and this is not an indictment but a welcomed challenge—is wrestling with this unvarnished and phonetic Scottish vernacular, particularly in the dialogue of his characters. Admittedly, I struggled a bit when I read Trainspotting and Porno a few years ago (though I really enjoyed the challenge of deciphering just what the hell was written!). But it’s equally rewarding, and maybe even more so, hearing Welsh’s prose and his characters’ dialogue blister and pop. This is where a talented narrator comes in and Tam Dean Burn nails it. To illustrate my point, here are two choice passages from the physical book: “So she’s wipin spunk offay her face, gaun aw fuckin panicky, ‘Whae wis that, wis that ma dad?’” and “Wir gaun doon thaire tae huv a wee fuckin blether wi this Hong Kong Fuey cunt! Ah feel masel swallyin hard wi nowt in ma throat.” One can’t simply skim-read these sentences. They demand a read, rinse, repeat. But listening to it?  These words simply flow and the effect is terrifically different.

Sure, some may call it a cheat, but I disagree. Here is where audiobooks are a gift to a reader who enjoys being forced out of his or her comfort zone and challenged by unfamiliar language, a reader who celebrates picking up phrases and terms known to other parts of the world but unknown to him- or herself. Here is where that somewhat intimidating but interesting book you picked up once when you were feeling ambitious stops being a guilt-inducing tome, collecting dust and coffee mug stains on your bedside table, and becomes, instead, what it truly is: an adventure that stimulates and illuminates all the dull corners of your day.

Listen in on your own: buy Skagboys  or get a free download here.

BlackBook 3 Minutes: Composer Clint Mansell and Writer Irvine Welsh (Part I)

If, like me, you were lucky (and old) enough to have attended the UK premiere of Danny Boyle’s Trainspotting in Edinburgh in 1996 you would have been aware of witnessing a cultural moment. Part of that was Boyle’s kinetic filmmaking—a much-needed jolt in the arm of a moribund British movie industry dominated by period dramas and genteel comedies. Then there was the alchemy of a cast that included Ewan McGregor, Ewen Bremner, Jonny Lee Miller, and a terrifying Robert Carlyle, as well as barmaid-turned-actress Kelly Macdonald making her debut as Diane, the underage girlfriend of McGregor’s heroin addict, Mark Renton. And, crucially, there was the political landscape into which the movie was born—the tail end of 18 years of Conservative rule that had decimated Britain’s industrial base.

More important than any of these things, however, was the scabrous novel by Irvine Welsh, a boiling cauldron of fury and outrage leavened by the antic, madcap exploits of a group of pals desperate to find their next fix. The idea of a literary “event,” seems almost quaint today, but the 1993 publication of Trainspotting—really a series of short, interconnected stories—was a seminal moment that connected to the kind of readers not typically courted by the publishing industry. The fact that is was just voted Scotland’s favorite novel of the last 50 years illustrates how lasting its impact has been even if the novel’s principle concern—Scotland’s chronic drug culture and the epidemic of AIDS it spawned—is less resonant than it once was.

Welsh did not rest on his laurels—seven novels and four collections of short stories have followed, including Filth, a picaresque tale of a misanthropic, coke-snorting psychopathic Scottish detective. Despite being described by Welsh as “unfilmable,” a movie version has just been released in the U.K. to raves, particularly for James McAvoy’s performance in the central role, and it will be a lasting shame if it doesn’t find the audience it deserves. And as Trainspotting drew power from the propulsive techno of Underworld’s seminal track, “Born Slippy,” so Filth is elevated by the sepulchral beauty of composer Clint Mansell’s score.

Best-known for his long working relationship with Darren Aronofsky, Mansell grew up in the U.K. at a time when the attitude and spirit of punk was rousing a generation of frustrated teens. For Welsh, the call-to-arms was The Sex Pistols; for Mansell it was The Ramones. Both men would channel that spirit into their work. As lead singer and guitarist for Brit rock band, Pop Will Eat Itself (aka The Poppies), Mansell enjoyed modest success, cracking the U.K.’s top ten with the 1993 single, “Get The Girl! Kill The Baddies,” and later befriending Trent Reznor (Mansell plays backing vocals on NIN’s The Fragile).

The break up of The Poppies in 1996 might have been the end of Mansell’s career in music but for a random encounter with Aronofsy who was looking for a composer for his debut movie, Pi. The two bonded over their mutual despair at the state of filmmaking in general, and film-composing in particular. Requiem for a Dream—arguably Mansell’s best-known score—followed, and the commissions have come thick and fast ever since. “I’m not very analytical really; everything I do is based on gut feelings,” Mansell told BlackBook earlier this year. “My job is to embellish the universe that the filmmaker is trying to create with this story and images and performance; everything I do has to be true to that world.”

BlackBook invited Welsh and Mansell to chat about the art of story telling, the power of punk, and what it means to help articulate a cultural moment.

(See PART II of their conversation HERE)

Dirty Goes Clean in a New PG Teaser Trailer for ‘Filth’

We’ve already seen two enjoyably explicit trailers for Jon S. Baird’s Filth. Adapted from Irvine Welsh’s novel of the same title, the film stars James McAvoy as a bombastic, obscene crooked, drug-addicted, bipolar, sex-crazed cop who tries to gain a promotion by solving a murder while dealing with his very clear emotional issues.  With Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Martin Compston, and Eddie Marsan rounding out the cast, today we’ve got a new PG trailer for the feature which basically teases at the fact that nothing you’ll he here is intended for a young audience. The always brilliant Clint Mansell has taken the reigns on the film’s score and today we also have a new set of still from the smutty film to check out. Enjoy.








James McAvoy Gets Dirty in a Raunchy New Trailer for ‘Filth’

I may be a tad presumptuous here, but James McAvoy is truly at his best when playing an absolute mess. Whatever your feelings on Danny Boyle’s Trance, McAvoy’s erratic and twisted performance was one of my favorites from him, and with the next rough and salacious film to emerge from one of Irvine Welsh’s novels, Filth looks to show a much raunchier side to the Scottish actor.

Filth, which explores a crooked, drug-addicted, bipolar, and sex-crazed cop who tries to gain a promotion by solving a murder, gives us a much more dangerous and perverse side to McAvoy, and today we get a new smutty trailer for the feature. Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Martin Compston, and Eddie Marsan round out the cast, in the film from director Jon S. Baird. In first writing about the original trailer, we noted that Clint Mansell is at the helm for the soundtrack, and with a project that seems to require something a little less refined and elegant than his scores of late, hopefully this will harken back to his schizophrenic and feverish older work a la Requiem for  Dream.










Watch James McAvoy Get Smutty in the Trailer for the Adaptation of Irvine Welsh’s ‘Filth’

For James McAvoy, after working with the iconic Danny Boyle on Trance, the natural progression would of course be to move swiftly along to a film adapted from a novel by Trainspotting author Irvine Welsh. And although he’s been starring in film, television, and on stage for quite a while, it’s only now that it seems McAvoy is really hitting his stride. Personally, I end to favor a more obscene and dangerous version of the Scotsman, which we got a taste of in Trance, but with Jon S. Baird’s new film Filth—based on Welsh’s novel—we get to see the newly bearded and blood-shot actor rough it up and get extremely dirty. 

And with the NSFW red band trailer out today, we watch McAvoy as a crooked, drug-addicted, bipolar, sex-crazed cop who tries to gain a promotion by solving a murder. Rounding out the cast is Jamie Bell, Imogen Poots, Jim Broadbent, Martin Compston, and Eddie Marsan in the film from the director of 2008’s Cass. Oh, and if you weren’t sold, Clint Mansell has done the soundtrack for the film which, I assume might step away from some of the more refined, elegant scores of late and harken back to his schizophrenic and frantic older work a la Requiem for  Dream.

Check out the trailer and the powdery new poster below.


Author Irvine Welsh Drinks Scotch and Discusses His New Novel, ‘Skagboys’

When I heard the sound of glass breaking, my first feeling wasn’t shock, or even sadness at the tragic loss of so much great whisky. The words I mouthed to nobody in particular after I watched the bottle of Highland Park 18-year-old Scotch slip from Irvine Welsh’s grasp and crash on the sidewalk were, “At least it wasn’t the 25.” I felt almost no emotion at all. It was as if its fate was written.

Welsh, the Edinburgh-born author whose latest book—Skagboys, a prequel to his classic 1993 novel, Trainspotting—was released today, had just left the office and was headed to a black Town Car waiting for him out front. I loved reading Skagboys as I loved reading Trainspotting nearly two decades earlier. I found both to be amazingly detailed and true-feeling stories of growing up, getting in trouble, looking for kicks, and trying to find some meaning in life, and I was thrilled to talk to Welsh about his work. So I’d arranged to meet with him in BlackBook’s second-floor conference room, which overlooks 19th Street. Since I also write about liquor, I thought it would be fun to combine the interview with a spirits tasting. Highland Park, the northernmost mainland distillery in Scotland, had sent me two bottles to taste, and I couldn’t think of a better drinking partner than Welsh, one of Scotland’s top contemporary writers.  He struck me as a man who would appreciate a wee dram after a day of media engagements. 
And so we started with Highland Park 18-year-old ($120). “Highland Park is my favorite,” Welsh told me. It’s one of my favorites too. In fact, the most expensive whisky I’ve ever had was Highland Park 50-year-old. The 18 is smooth, soft, and mildly sweet. After a half-hour, we moved on to the Highland Park 25, of which I only had a small sample bottle, owing to its $400 price tag. We sipped and talked, nothing crazy, nothing sloppy. “Oh I like that one,” he said, gesturing to his empty tumbler on the conference room table. (It’s a remarkable pour, a heavenly aroma followed by luxurious vanilla and caramel flavors and a finish that goes on forever.)
At the conclusion of our interview, I gave Welsh the nearly-full bottle of Highland Park 18, which I put back into its box, to take with him, along with a couple of magazines. As I tidied up the conference room, I glanced out the window, curious to see what kind of car he got into. The next 10 seconds seemed to unfold in slow motion. The driver, seeing Welsh and his publicist emerging from the building, got out and walked around the back of the car toward the right rear door, presumably to open it. Welsh arrived slightly before him, magazines and bottle tucked under his left arm. He made a move to open the door, the box tilted slightly downward, the metal lid popped off, the bottle slid out, and the angels claimed more than their share of his whisky. I couldn’t hear what he said, but Welsh’s body language portrayed both disappointment and resignation to this fate. You just can’t un-ring that bell. But here’s how we got there.
Hi Irvine. It’s great to meet you. One of the things I do at BlackBook is review spirits, so I thought I could combine this interview with a Scotch tasting. I have this big bottle of Highland Park 18-Year-Old to start with, and a smaller sample bottle of Highland Park 25, which we’ll try next. I know you have to do a reading at Barnes & Noble tonight so we won’t get so crazy that you slur your speech and people don’t understand you.  
Nobody will understand me anyway. When guys say "my wife doesn’t understand me" it’s usually the cliche they break out when they want to have an affair. But I live it. [Welsh’s wife is from Chicago.]
I was in on vacation in Edinburgh week before last. 
We were probably there at the same time . . . Oh look at this. Highland Park is my favorite. It’s the northernmost mainland distillery in Scotland.
We’ll start with the 18-year-old … When we were in Edinburgh we went to the Scotch Whisky Experience, which was touristy and fun. They explain the different whisky-producing regions of Scotland and how the flavors differ.
Slainte mhath! This is great. It’s incredibly smooth. One of the places to go the next time you’re in Edinburgh, go down to Leith to the Scottish Malt Whiskey Society. They have tastings there and it’s a beautiful little old stone building, right in the old part of Leith. You’ve got big housing projects on one side and the old town’s on the other side, and you’ve got this pretty incongruous old building, with the crusty guys. They do the tour, you can sit there and just taste. And they’ve got a bar there that’s very luxurious.
We went to Kitchin restaurant in Leith.
Yeah, it’s good. Tom Kitchin’s place on the shore. That whole strip is amazing. When I was growing up, those bars were all sailors and prostitutes. There’d be fights. One of them had a leopard in a cage, so if people would get drunk and put their arms in they were likely to lose them.  It was a bit like a Star Wars bar. Now that street where Tom Kitchin’s place is has one of the highest number of Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe. And right down to the shore there’s these beautiful old pubs that have been transformed into high-end dining places.
So it’s not a run-down Skagboys area anymore?
Well, not that part, which was the original run-down area. That was where all the hardcore junkies used to go. What happened was you had the gentrification and you had all these old mills and factories down there being chopped up and made into apartments, which is fair enough, because there was nothing there. Then the people who moved there would call the police to get rid of the prostitutes and junkies. The police pushed everything up to Junction Street, farther and farther. You have a lot of social tension there now. Now that side is more and more run down. You have mothers pushing their prams and trying to get to the stairs and junkies lying there blocking the way.
I enjoyed Skagboys, and now I’m seeing references to it everywhere. On the flight back from Scotland they showed The Iron Lady, that movie about Margaret Thatcher, and there’s a scene with protesting coal miners rioting with police, and the police really smashing people up, just like the opening of Skagboys. There’s history in there.
Think about what happened a couple of days ago. The Hillsborough thing. South Yorkshire police, basically, because they did this job for Thatcher, they got away with it. What happened was that Liverpool played Nottingham Forest [at neutral Hillsborough Stadium in Sheffield on April 15, 1989], and there was a crush and 96 people died. Instead of admitting that security was bad and wrong, with the government officials’ help, the police basically smeared the dead. Fabricated evidence. It was one of the biggest coverups in British history, and was finally exposed a couple of days ago. The Prime Minister had to apologize to the families after 23 years. That kind of thing came about because the South Yorkshire police were given license by Thatcher, after they crushed the miners, to do what they wanted. So they vilified that whole city as a place of chaotic, deranged, savage heathens. Now it’s been exposed as a house of cards. So they’ve finally got justice, after all these people have been campaigning for it. One of the prominent people in the campaign is Pete Hooten, who was the lead singer of the band The Farm. Pete’s been one of the lead guys in the Hillsborough Justice Committee for years.
I wonder if that conviction would have gone through in America. 
Because America is such a big, diffuse country, it’s different. When cops get away with things here, it’s always kind of a local, municipal corruption thing. It’s not like a massive central government thing. Since Britain is a smaller country you do have that.
What was the idea for writing a prequel to Trainspotting?
I had some material. When I wrote Trainspotting I had 100,000 words at the start and 100,000 words at the end that I had just chopped. I didn’t know when to stop. Otherwise it would have kept going on and on and on. I thought, what is the story here? The story is I want to be in their world. So the preamble to getting to their world, and the bit that kept going on and on, I just chopped the middle out and sent the book away, just to get rid of it, basically. I didn’t really expect Trainspotting to be published, I didn’t expect all this to happen from it.
What did you do with it?
I had these two sections, one at the end and one at the start.  The section at the end was no problem. I just cannibalized some of the stories and put it into some short stories. The first 100,000 words I didn’t know what to do with, so I basically forgot about it and left it. Then I started getting older and thinking about what it was like, looking back, and it was all kind of abstract. I bought a proper house in Chicago, and I started to unpack things that had been in boxes for ages. I had all these disks that I got reformatted in Word and all that and I found all this stuff. I thought, “This is actually really good.” I thought it was just going to be a preamble to get into all the characters. But it had all the voices.
But I thought it can’t be like a what’s-going-to-happen type book, because you know what’s going to happen. You’ve read Trainspotting, presumably, you know what’s going to happen. The way to do this is to make this into a why-did-it-happen rather than a what-happened kind of book. So the thematic investigation of the book is to look into how people got into that kind of thing. You’ve got to break into their subculture and look at the world through their eyes. You can’t look at them through the world’s eyes. You’re looking at society and all the big changes that were happening [in early ‘80s Britain] there in terms of mass unemployment and boredom and not having money, and all the drugs flowing in at exactly that time, filling that kind of void, giving people something to do, basically, to get involved in.
Looking at the psychology of the individuals, looking at how somebody like Spud, for example, he’s got nothing to do. He’s got no qualifications or education. There’s no work that he can get, so he basically feels redundant in every way once he gets sacked from his job. So for him it’s just this idea of compelling adventure. Being part of a gang and part of a drug scene and having something to think about and orientate himself around. Which is an archetypal kind of thing, kind of a victim-of-society. Things change and you don’t have the skill set to adapt.
And with the Allison character, it’s about somebody reacting to bereavement. Being forced, because she’s basically now the woman of the house, she’s almost expected to kind of become the mother to her younger siblings, but she’s a party girl about town, she’s just not cut out for it. So that kind of pressure on her takes its toll and leads her somewhere else. And Renton and Sick Boy, to me, it’s not just this rebel persona, they’ve both got the existential anger and the rage about the world because it’s not like they want it to be. But also that folie à deux thing, the symbiotic relationship between them is very important. Probably neither of them would have been a heroin addict if they haven’t met each other. It’s almost that partner-in-crime thing. 
Every group of guys I know has a Francis Begbie, somebody who’s going to get you in trouble.
Yeah, it’s kind of that contained explosion. With people like him you’ve got to have the mindset that, I can’t be tentative, I’ve got to be gracious, if I’m tentative it will make him worse. To survive I’ve got to roll with this. 
Even though Begbie’s a drinker, he doesn’t reject his friends for being junkies. And I like the idea in the book that heroin doesn’t like alcohol. Heroin wants to be the only drug in your life. 
That’s the kind of resentment that Begbie has against the other guys. They get involved in this party that he can’t join. 
He chooses not to.
He wants to hit people, he doesn’t want to be stuck staring at walls. He wants to be out there and punching people and alcohol is a great drug to go with for that. Later on in things I’ve written about him, I’ve had him get heavily into cocaine, because that’s the drinking aid with alcohol that enables that kind of violence and arrogance. But he wouldn’t touch heroin for all sorts of reasons. He wouldn’t touch ecstacy. 
And Mark Renton’s disabled younger brother Wee Davie, Mark doesn’t outwardly feel bad for him but you know something is happening inside. 
He’s obviously upset and moved by him in ways he doesn’t understand. Until he starts to work through it and rationalize it it’s going to affect him. And then there’s Sick Boy, who’s all about hating his father and how he’s never going to be like him, yet they’re two peas in a pod. Sick Boy’s really a composite of three different people I knew back in Edinburgh. I remember, this girl one time was saying “I’ve got this friend, you’d really like her, you should go out sometime, she’s cool, she’s good-looking.” And my friend says “Does she have a decent job?” “Yes, she does.” “Does she have a lot of friends?” “Yes, she comes from a decent family.” “Then I’m not interested. Her self-esteem is too high. Give me something to work with. Give me a divorce, a history of some kind.” 
How much of your work is autobiographical? Were you ever on heroin? 
Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of strange. It’s hard to objectify your own experiences and put in any kind of framework. A lot of my old pals might say to me “You were a junkie for all of ten minutes, what the fuck are you doing writing that book?” And others might say “You were terrible, how did you ever get it together to write a book?” But I used heroin for a couple of years. There was really about a year I was very desperate. But I never felt like it was a permanent place for me to be. I wasn’t always in control, but I felt like I was learning things while I was doing it. When I felt like I wasn’t learning anything else I started to lose interest. Anybody can become a drug addict. Anybody can fall into that. I did because I thought it was cool, and I had a bereavement in the family that I had to come to terms with, a relationship breakdown with a first love that I had to come to terms with. But you have to have compelling reasons to stay. And these things are transient, you do get over them, and once I got over it there was nothing else fueling it. Nothing keeping it there. A lot of people from that era, they didn’t move on because there was nothing for them to move on to. It’s such a complicated thing. That’s what I was trying to get at through the characters was the complexity of it all. Not those simplistic nonsense like, “Oh, it’s because of Thatcher,” and like that. And it’s such a drug of association. You meet certain people at certain points of your life. If I had met another crowd of people I would have reacted much differently. 
For Mark Renton it’s almost a lifestyle choice.
Young people do strange things, and the older you get the more you forget that you were young yourself and did these strange things. You look at kids being willfully crazy and you ask “Why are you doing this?” but there’s a level of existential education going on, this just has to happen to me to make sense of what’s going on. Not even on an intellectual level but on an emotional level. 
The rehab part seems very real, especially the Big Lie. You don’t want to get off heroin completely, you just want to manage your habit. 
When you go to rehab, when you start off, not everybody wakes up with an epiphany like I’ve got to stop this, I’m never going to touch drugs again. Most people realize that their habit’s got their hand and what they want to do is detox. They just want a clean slate to start again, but feel rounded off so they can control it. Which is erroneous, but it’s quite natural that you would feel that way. If you’ve messed up something you think, I’m not going to make the same mistake again. I know my way around it this time. I still enjoy doing what I’m doing.
Maybe that is possible in places like Switzerland, where you can get your drugs in a clinic. 
In places like that, and, if you’re very wealthy in the U.K., you’d almost be silly not to become a heroin addict for at least six months. Why would you not want to do that? If you’re not getting attention from your family, you’re pressured into making all these career choices, just take a hiatus, go for six months, you’ll get looked after, you’re going to get clean needles, nothing’s going to happen to your body, it’ll be the best gear. You’ll have a wonderful time. And you’ll get the best attention in detox, and come out, and back to work after your little hiatus. 
And the strange things that men do together. The workers in the beginning, having their shitting contest? 
It’s the dullness of factory work. There’s no real barriers, it’s almost a race to the bottom. If the foreman’s a sleazebag in the factory, everybody’s a sleazebag in the factory. That was based on a factory I worked in where that was a morning ritual. Everybody had to shit into a newspaper. 
How long did this take to write? It’s more than 500 pages.
Because I had the 100,000 words first, I had to reread Trainspotting to get the film characters out of my head and put the book characters back in. Then I had to go through this again and work out how much of those 100,000 words I was going to use and how much I was going to jettison. It was a couple of years altogether. 
Did you actually want to do something on an epic scale? 
My original idea was to start off on a traditional model, like a Victorian novel, like a Dickens novel, or like John Irving would do nowadays. Write a lot of characters in and a lot of stories and think about how it’s going to be pulled together. Then, the second part, when they start to get into heroin, it becomes an episodic, chaotic kind of thing. Then give them a mission, like Trainspotting in the end, to pull it together. And I thought it has to have a bigger thematic feel. It has to be about a generation lost to industrialization. It starts off with a factory, trying to break into a factory, and the factory becomes a symbol as they try to stop the lorries from getting in. And at the end, it’s them trying to break into the heroin manufacturing plant. In the beginning they’re fighting for the right to work, fighting for employment and union solidarity. In the end they’re fighting for drugs.
And I was trying to keep Edinburgh the city as a character too. Edinburgh was the AIDS capital of Europe, and heroin could really happen there. These little vignettes throughout the book about the Scottish enlightenment, and the manufacture of the syringe and medical technology in Edinburgh and pharmaceutical manufacturing in Edinburgh. It was inevitable that the other side would happen too. 
It’s always about men adrift. The women in the story have a little more perspective on life. 
Because Scotland was like shipbuilding and mines and railways and stuff, it was always working class and tough guys who worked hard and got fucked up when they came home, and on weekends. It was all seen as a legitimate thing. You’ve earned it because you’ve done your work. But when there’s no more work to do, when the work culture left, the getting-fucked-up culture stayed. Women never had that thing to the same extent. But the next generation has seen a massive increase in the number of women addicts. Now you’ve got this big moral panic in Scotland about girl gangs, girls drinking much more heavily, doing more drugs. 
Are people really pushing it that much harder, looking for the edge? 
Until there’s opportunities for people to express themselves in different ways and do different things, people are always going to be questing until they find something that’s for them. In the west, there’s not enough work and not enough opportunity to go around. Nowadays, for people here in America, if they’re working, they’re pretty much fucked time-wise. You have to work loads and loads of hours. And other people haven’t got any work at all.

Chicago: ‘Trainspotting’ Author Irvine Welsh Hosting Windy City Story Slam

Choose Memorial Day weekend. Choose Chicago. Choose gorging yourself on burgers and beer like a real bloody American. Choose drinking. Choose spending Saturday night listening to talented people tell stories. Choose seeing your Scottish literary hero introduce them. Choose making your preview post of the Windy City Story Slam a really terrible Trainspotting reference.

Anyway, locals who are sick of the beer-and-barbecue-and-mediocre-baseball Memorial Day Weekend agenda can take a break and get some culture on Saturday night when novelist Irvine Welsh hosts the finals of the Windy City Story Slam at the Viaduct Theatre in Roscoe Village. If having Welsh emcee the event still doesn’t excite you, local lit legend and inventor of the poetry slam Marc Kelly Smith (SO WHAT?) will also be there as six finalists entertain, enlighten and ultimately get crazy intimate in front of an audience. The finalists include Samantha Irby (who runs the wonderful blog Bitches Gotta Eat), Vocalo 89.5 host Luis Perez, Grown Folks Stories host Cara Brigandi, Detroit storyteller Shannon Cason, Scott Whitehair of the storytelling collective This Much Is True and Patrick Salem of the United States Marine Corps. 

Welsh has had a busy year, including another trip to the Windy City already. Back in March, he was one of the headliners of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs conference, he has a new novel out in September in the U.S. and a film called The Magnificent Eleven, which translates Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai into the tale of an amateur soccer team protecting an Indian restaurant. The film premiered at Cannes this year. At the beginning of 2012, John Hood spoke with Welsh about his latest projects, including a prequel to Trainspotting called Skagboys:

“I went back to them because the material was already there,” Welsh says. “I just didn’t know what to do with it. Then I got thinking about the ‘80’s and how it defined so much the Britain we have now and those characters were the best ones I could think of to tell that story.”

Watch the trailer for The Magnificent Eleven and the performance from last year’s Windy City Story Slam winner, the brilliant, hilarious (though NSFW) Alex Bonner, below. The latter delivers some serious real talk about working at T.G.I. Friday’s. 

Our Man in Miami: A Night on the Town with Irvine Welsh & Public Enemy

“My God. Did that really happen last night? If I didn’t have pics I’d swear it was just an extended jetlag and writing fatigue hallucination.” That’s from my pal Irvine Welsh, who texted me as soon as he woke up last Sunday morning. It seems a particular portion of our Saturday night was a little far-fetched even for a man whose mind is behind some of the most out-there novels in the history of literature. Then again, catching Public Enemy in a locked-down burlesque joint on a sultry late summer evening is almost too surreal to be believed by anyone.

Irvine had flown into town on Friday and given me a ring, and we’d agreed to meet the next night. At the time, I had no idea where we’d go, but I figured something swingin’ would come up. Little did I know that it’d be something that swung in straight from another world.

Like all wild nights, it began with some splendid fortification. In this case, it was at the ever-hopping Mercadito, which opened in Midtown Miami back in May and hasn’t had a mild night since. As always, our host was the indefatigable Brian Hicks, a Chi-town native who seems predestined to table-hop. As a manager, Brian makes Mercadito move as smoothly as the Miami River. As a man, he’s the consummate gentleman. and he never fails to make patrons feel more than welcome.

Mercadito, which means “Little Market” in Spanish, knows how to feed folks too, with perfectly-portioned delicacies sourced as fresh and as fine as it comes. The cocktails are also crazy cool, and we opted for some pineapple concoction that tasted like a treat from Dionysius himself. Perhaps that’s why the rest of the night came off as some sort of ecstatic madness – we’d drunk from a god’s flask, and now we had to pay for it.

And how. The drive up to La Fee Verte was pleasant enough. As we crossed the 79th Street Causeway, Irvine filled me in on his August in Edinburgh at the legendary Fringe Festival, and I tried to counter with recollections of my summer in the thick of it all. We talked about books (he’s here to finish up a novel called The Scag Boys), flicks (he’s in L.A. next week to see about the filming of his book Filth), and women; or more precisely, his one and my lack of just one (Irvine’s longtime accomplice happens to be one of the most remarkable women alive).

We entered La Fee Verte expecting no less than sheer sexy from the get go, and we weren’t disappointed one bit. The art, the furnishings, the colors, the lights – all harked back to a time when burlesque was big business. Here, a man has to pinch himself to remember he’s actually in the 21st century.

But all the trappings in the world wouldn’t mean a thing if the entertainment didn’t also hit the mark, and here the joint outdoes itself. Aurora Natrix, Milena Hale, and my own personal favorite, Nicole Soden, shook and shimmied their way into our hearts as if they’d been designed to be broken. Call me a masochist, but there’s something about a tease that leaves me reeling; something delicious indeed. And these three knockouts knocked the proverbial wind out of me.

Then it happened. The lights dimmed, the room went silent, and a voice came out of the ether: “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome Chuck D and Flavor Flav of Public Enemy!”

The crowd, such as it was, went nuts. And Irvine and I looked at each other with a note of utter surprise. We kind of expected Chuck D to be there – Flavor Flav, on the other hand, was always in doubt. That the two would then ascend to a go-go dancer’s poled platform and launch into some of the most riotous hip hop ever to blast from a boombox never once entered our minds. Sure, we counted on hearing the hits, but from a stripper’s perch? Not in a million years.

Things got even kookier when Chuck and Flavor started serenading the birthday boy, who’d obviously coughed up a good chunk of change both to lockdown the joint and to lure what’s left of Public Enemy. And from the way these hip hop heavyweights bantered about, the largest part of that chunk must’ve been going straight into their pockets. But who am I to criticize? The cat made it possible for me and Irvine to see two of rap’s most historical figures from within arm’s reach. And at the end of it all, we both felt as if we’d seen something few people ever would see – let alone believe.