“It’s a sort of everything crisis, isn’t it. It’s not just banking; it’s politics, it’s the way we run our health service, a social crisis. What started as the collapse of a bank is becoming the collapse of a nation.”
Ministry of Sound founder James Palumbo chatted to Skrufff last week to promote his second novel Tancredi, an apocalyptic Gulliver's Travels style yarn that starts from the concept that ‘humankind has become so riddled with the disease of short-termism that it ignores its fate.’
“Tancredi decides to make it his mission to save them”, the book’s accompanying press release explains and, chatting to Skrufff today in the café of his South Kensington gym, James admits he shares more than a few preoccupations of his latest fictional character.
“Where a few people were inconvenienced before because Lehman Brothers collapsed now we have houses burning on the street,” he notes, speaking softly but intensely.
“One can sound very shrill and extreme talking about these things (saying that) the world is coming to an end: which isn’t a good look. But it’s difficult to see quite where it’s going to end,” he sighs.
While his debut novel Tomas (published soon after Lehman Brothers collapsed) dealt with themes of ‘bloated bankers, Russian roubles, salacious socialites and filthy footballers’, Tancredi dissects celebrity culture, in particular today’s short-termism and idiocy of reality TV. Writing it, James admits, was a tougher task than for Tomas.
“I think second books are problematic. The first one is a leap into the dark whereas with the second you’ve had more feedback,” he muses.
“How do I feel about how critics will respond to this one? I’m a little nervous and excited,” he says.
“What I noticed with Tomas was that it mainly attracted five star or one star reviews, and I didn’t mind the one star ones, shredding me (saying things like) “this is the infantile ramblings of a teenager’, ‘not worth the paper it’s written on’. That’s just fine, those reviews actually say as much about the reviewer as the author. The killer reviews are those which ‘this was a reasonable effort, but . . .’
“That’s what I’m watching out for. I’m wondering whether Tancredi will elicit such extreme reactions because it’s less dark than Tomas.”
(http://bit.ly/nD8g50 (Tancredi; trailer, Youtube)
Skrufff (Jonty Skrufff): Where did you start with the new book?
James Palumbo: “Well relating it to music, when you make your first album, you’ve already had a lot of the material in your head for ages and it comes out quickly and that’s what happened with Tomas. I was so angry about the banking crisis then. So in that sense, like recording a second album, writing Tancredi was a lot more difficult.
But the overall theme- that we’re spiralling towards some ghastly end, the world seems obsessed with short term greed and gratification, politicians ignoring dealing with problems because that would make them unelectable-
It’s all there, but it was less of a fluent process. The banking crisis was so immediate, so visceral and so clear when I was writing Tomas, that that made that one easier to write.”
Skrufff: Are you generally writing every day?
James Palumbo: “I took a break after Tomas, I find you can’t force it (the creative process), I read a lot and then the ideas come. When you’re writing, I think writing a book takes three months- and you have to be disciplined: for example writing from 6am-10am every day, whatever your regular time slot is. So you’re doing your 1,000 or 2,000 words even if you’re not feeling well. Then afterwards there’s a huge process of changing, shaping and editing. I think you need a break after you’ve actually finished producing something.”
Skrufff; How does the creative process work for you?
James Palumbo: “I must admit the story, the characters and description are less important than what it is I’m trying to say (through them). Even some of the madder, more tangential ideas are less important because I tend to have some very stupid ideas that jump into my head. I want to talk about, I’m concerned and angry about, contemporary social stuff and the way people are behaving, so I’m not so interested in character development and character depth.”
Skrufff; Why don’t you just speak out about these issues directly as yourself, rather than communicating through a novel?
James Palumbo: “Do you mean by being a non fiction writer?
Skrufff: I mean being ‘James Palumbo’, speaking about the state of the world; both Tomas and Tancredi encourage the concept of taking risks and standing up for what you believe in, why not address the world as you?
James Palumbo: “I understand that but I’m not sure how to do it, wouldn’t that be preaching? There are lots of writers such as Camilla Cavendish from the Times, who writes brilliant articles about short termism and the state of the health service and many other brilliant social commentators. I understand what you’re saying but I also wonder whether people will listen more, if it’s funny.”
Skrufff: Talking a little more about Ministry of Sound, in your recent interview with the New Statesman you talked about how the club changes prices depending on the night and the music. To quote you in full you said; I asked the manager why the bar prices were double the usual. He said: "The guys actually prefer to pay more." It is just a horrifying, wasteful, awful useless world populated by horrifying, awful, wasteful people”, why do you think people are like this?
James Palumbo: “They want to take out their money in front of their girlfriends, reel off £50 notes, what can I say (shuddering). It’s as horrifying as Nicole Scherzinger . . . did you see her on X Factor last week? She stood up and did some horrendous karaoke version of I Will Always Love You, with tears streaming down her face, her lower lip trembling, sobbing ‘this is why I’m involved with this show, this is why you inspire me’. I felt sick, really nauseous. It’s just how things have become. The guy peeling his £50 notes, the singer on stage in tears, none of it’s gonna last, is it.”
Skrufff: The book includes a device called a moronOmeter, Ministry’s putting out some videos that could arguably be considered moronic . . .
James Palumbo: “Are We?”
Skrufff; Yes, I’d say so. I always think of the Benny Benassi Satisfaction video with the semi naked models writhing around playing with power tools . . .
James Palumbo: “They’re funny. If you look at the Benny Benassi video or Eric Prydz’s Call On Me, they’re funny.”
Skrufff: But you could say the same about X Factor . . .
James Palumbo: “Benny Benassi or Call In Me is self evidently ridiculous, the girl pouting, the expressions of the girls: in the Eric Prydz videos you can see the girls laughing. The problem with X Factor is that it harms people. That sound shrill, but the bottom line is that after their six months of fame, playing in cafes and clubs, it’s game over. And you have the judges sitting there saying ‘you are the next great talent coming out of the UK, you’ll have a great career’ and it’s not true.
That and the ritual humiliation is what disturb me. I think they provide a bad example and that’s a million miles away from girls jumping up and down clutching power tools. It’s the harm test.”
Tancredi is out now.
http://bit.ly/nD8g50 (Tancredi; trailer, Youtube)
Jonty Skrufff: http://listn.to/JontySkrufff