Raymond Carver – Will You Please Be Quiet, Please? Carver was the first author that I really clicked with. I was a teenager when a collection of his called Short Cuts (for the Robert Altman film) came my way. All these characters seemed to resonate so strongly and it’s all done with an economy of language I’d never come across before. In most of these stories there is the sense of opportunities or epiphanies just out of reach, and that seems perhaps the one continuous thread to be found in life. This is something that has fed into Beggar’s music and particularly into Compelled to Repeat – this desperation, this crushing banality, this sadness. More than any other writer I think he instantly changed my life. My life is now worse. But Carver is good.
David Foster Wallace – Brief Interviews with Hideous Men I discovered David Foster Wallace a few years later and was totally gripped. He can reach right out of the page and arrest you by looking directly into the deepest recesses of your mind. He knows that you are afraid because he is afraid too. People who read a lot of his stuff often feel they know him better than they know their friends and family. Certain moments from his writing have found their way into Beggar’s output: the view of addiction in Infinite Jest; the gravedigging scene from the same book which we wrote a song about on our Shingles + House of Man EP years ago; the utter futility (and the sad, corporate hauntology) of The Pale King feeds a lot of the attitudes of Compelled to Repeat too, especially on tracks like ‘Tenantless the Graves’ and ‘Matryoshka Brain’.
J.G. Ballard – The Atrocity Exhibition The Atrocity Exhibition was probably the first experimental novel I got my hands on when I was younger and it hit me so hard. Characters boiled down to elements in an equation as we try to process the events of the 20th century through a sadistic paraphiliac automobile fetish. I think this brutally deconstructive approach to narrative as well as its transgressive subject matter will chime with a lot of metalheads. And for me it all seemed to be set in and around the M25 where I grew up – endless car parks, motorway reservations, underpasses, concrete bulwarks…
Philip Larkin – High Windows Larkin might be my favourite poet. Easily readable but with flourishes that utterly bend the mind. Funny but as dour and grey as the North Sea. I’ve chosen High Windows here but you’d be well advised just to get the Collected Poems from Faber & Faber as the two appendices of uncollected stuff is great and includes the completely perfect ‘Aubade’: ‘The sky is white as clay, with no sun. / Work has to be done.’
Ted Hughes – Crow Another dour and very British 20th century poet, again as unlikeable on a personal level as Larkin. I could have picked Wodwo or The Hawk in the Rain, but Crow is just so sick. A thoroughly blackened collection of verse from 1970 written after the death of Sylvia Plath. The crow character himself is a new myth, an embodiment of evil and guilt, ‘flying the black flag of himself’. The crow is the adversary in a very metal sense – more purely self-serving and individualistic than a theistic Satan but at the same time completely the nemesis of any notion of God.
Italo Calvino – Cosmicomics This is the most fun bit of writing I’ve come across in recent years. A collection of short stories, kind of based in the OuLiPo style of constrained writing, each taking as its premise a scientific fact to do with the formation or otherwise the physics of the universe, which is then spun into a keenly human story of rivalry or of unfulfilled infatuation. One might take place before matter has condensed into objects; another might narrate first-hand the first instance of binary fission in an organic cell and take that narrative all the way to present day – all while getting snarky about his underwhelming romance with the single-celled organism next door being muscled in on by some other dude. I really cannot stress enough how great these stories are.
Umberto Eco – Foucault’s Pendulum This is a totally fantastic and deranged novel about an the editors at an occult book publishing house in Paris who discover a thread that links and gives credence to pretty much all existing conspiracy theories and esoteric texts. It’s a chronicle of these people losing their minds in prose you could build a house on. Eco was a semiotician and a medieval linguist and it often shows: the passages about Abulafia, a typewriter endowed by its operator with occult cryptographic powers, is incredible. Hate to say it because it’s super reductive, but imagine if someone like Dan Brown was from the sixties and didn’t suck at all – that’s kind of what this is. It feels encyclopaedic and totally eccentric.
Philip K. Dick – The Man in the High Castle I was new to Philip K. Dick until fairly recently when I went on a binge, drinking up Do Androids Dream…, A Scanner Darkly, and Flow my Tears…, but The Man in the High Castle was the one I enjoyed the most. While I was reading this I was deep into sci-fi metal in the vein of Voivod, Origin and the thoroughly faultless Artificial Brain. This particular text feels far less high concept than other works in Dick’s oeuvre, but like A Scanner Darkly I think that works great. It’s kind of like Alone in Berlin with the addition of a samizdat hinting at a parallel universe – that parallel universe being our own. It’s just a great read. Avoid the dog-shit TV adaptation, though.
Mark Fisher – K-Punk This list is essentially just fiction and poetry, which doesn’t really represent my reading habits these days. I thought I’d include the late Mark Fisher here because he really has shaped my reading, listening and thinking. The guy had such a cool critical voice and wrote about some of my favourite films and music in a really dynamic and engaging way. Capitalist Realism is also highly recommended. Mark Fisher is required reading when it comes to contemporary cultural theory. If there is anyone out there writing about metal the way Fisher writes about The Fall or about jungle then I’ve yet to come across it.
T.S. Eliot – The Waste Land I have to throw in The Waste Land. No matter how long it’s been since it was new to me I still can’t escape it and snatches of lines suddenly grab me when I’m on the way to work – ‘I had not thought death had undone so many’ – when I’m with friends – ‘a fortnight dead’ – when I’m trying to sleep – ‘nothing again nothing’. I spent hundreds of hours when I was younger trying to memorise the thing and this is what happens. It has crept into our new album, Compelled to Repeat, like smog, and the tarot reader’s vision best describes what the album is about: ‘I see a crowd of people, walking round in a ring.’
Compelled to Repeat , Beggar’s debut album, will be released by APF Records on April 3rd. Pre-Order it here