The Animals: Love Letters Between Christopher Isherwood & Don Bachardy

Posted by in books, journalism, review

Reviewed by Mark Simpson in The Independent (20/9/13) Contrary to what the pop songs tell you, the lan­guage of love is not uni­ver­sal. It really isn’t the same the world over or even on the same street. Everyone’s love affair is utterly unin­tel­li­gible to every­one else. It’s per­haps the whole point of hav­ing one. Which can make read­ing other people’s love let­ters a baff­ling if not slightly point­less exper­i­ence. Katherine Bucknell’s The Animals (Chatto & Windus), a col­lec­tion of let­ters between the fam­ous British-born nov­el­ist Christopher Isherwood and his lover the American…read more

The Anti-Christ Has All The Best Tunes

Posted by in journalism, music, review

The P2P revolu­tion is like Gutenberg plus Protestantism plus Punk all rolled into one highly com­pressed file, by Mark Simpson  (Independent on Sunday, August 2001) Perhaps the best thing about digital music is that it doesn’t only make listen­ing to music more con­veni­ent and less irk­some: it actu­ally does part of the tire­some job of listen­ing for you. ISO-MPEG Audio-Layer-3 — mer­ci­fully shortened to MP3 — is the digital file format for music exchanged on the Internet and very pos­sibly the acronym of doom for the record industry. It is…read more


How to Spot a Sodomite

Posted by in gay, review

Mark Simpson reviews some fam­ous Victorian bum holes in Neil McKenna’s Fanny & Stella (the Independent) “I had never seen any­thing like it before… I do not in my prac­tise ever remem­ber to have seen such an appear­ance of the anus, as those of the pris­on­ers presen­ted.” So test­i­fied Dr Paul in shocked tones at the trial of Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton, two young, cross-dressing clerks charged with sod­omy in 1870 — a crime that then car­ried a pen­alty of a lifetime’s penal ser­vitude. Park and Boulton had been arres­ted in the…read more

The Few, The Proud: A Jarhead memoir of the First Gulf War

Posted by in commentary, journalism, masculinity, review

The myth­o­logy, the rituals, the dogma, the cult of mas­culin­ity and most of all the hair­cut, set US Marines apart. Mark Simpson takes a look at a mem­oir of the First Gulf War. (Independent on Sunday 23/03/2003) It may seem odd that the United States Marine Corps, the élite fourth branch of the US Armed Services, lar­ger and bet­ter equipped than the whole British Army, heroic vic­tors of Iwo Jima and Guadalcanal, spear­head of the last and cur­rent Gulf War, should be best known for, and most proud of, its…read more

Mad Men and Medusas

Posted by in journalism, review

Coming across this old review of Juliet Mitchell’s ‘Mad Men and Medusas’ (Independent on Sunday, 2001) reminded me that pretty much all the main char­ac­ters in the TV series of the same name launched in the late Noughties are hys­ter­ics, but most espe­cially Madison Avenue’s Don Juan, aka Donald Draper. I hope Mitchell is get­ting a roy­alty. by Mark Simpson A touch of hys­teria can make you a real hit with the ladies. If you play your symp­toms right, emin­ent fem­in­ist schol­ars might even end up arguing over your body…read more


Apollo’s Acolytes

Posted by in history, journalism, review

We wor­ship the body, watch ancient battles at the mul­ti­plex, and bow down before the gods of celebrity. Mark Simpson mar­vels at how much our cul­ture owes to those skirt-wearing olive-munchers, the Greeks (Independent on Sunday 30 May 2004) Philhellenes are every­where, and every­where they look they see the glory that was Greece. “Today we are again get­ting close to all those fun­da­mental forms of world inter­pret­a­tion devised by the Greeks…” enthused one of the more fam­ous examples; “we are grow­ing more Greek by the day.” No, not Camille Paglia, but jolly…read more


What Happens When a Giant Brain Meets Kylie?

Posted by in journalism, music, review

Genius, pop Svengali, the­or­eti­cian of cool: Mark Simpson gets to grips with the man who really listens to ‘La la la, la la la-la la…’ (Originally appeared in Independent on Sunday 03/08/2003) What do you hear when you listen to ‘Can’t get you out of my head’? This is a bit of a trick ques­tion as you prob­ably don’t listen to ‘Can’t get you out of my head’. Not because, like most hit pop singles that are played end­lessly on the radio, in shops, pubs, hos­pit­als and clubs for a while, it…read more


Jungian Complexes at the Multiplex

Posted by in commentary, journalism, review

This week David Cronenberg’s feature-length shrink cos­tume drama, A Dangerous Method, about the most fam­ous — and doomed — love-affair in psy­cho­ana­lysis, premières in the UK. I’m talk­ing of course about the pas­sion­ate, twis­ted and teas­ingly uncon­sum­mated romance between Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. Despite very mixed reviews I’ll be going to see it when it’s put on gen­eral release as I’m a sucker for this kind of costume-drama nos­tal­gia — and let’s face it, any­thing to do with psy­cho­ana­lysis in the skin-deep Twenty First Century is nos­tal­gia. Although both are good act­ors, the…read more


German-American Pride and Prejudice

Posted by in commentary, journalism, review

Review of Bryan Malessa’s new novel The War Room, by Mark Simpson in The Financial Times. As an Englishman, I’ve always found the US to be a very German-flavoured kind of place. The organ­isa­tion; the pres­id­en­tial prin­ciple; the laws against jay­walk­ing; the love of tech­no­logy; the Protestantism. But almost nowhere do you find it acknow­ledged – which is odd, as almost every other eth­ni­city that went into the fam­ous “melt­ing pot” is cel­eb­rated from the rooftops and the floats on the St Patrick’s Day Parade. But now an American writer…read more


Does My Brain Look Big in This? Susan Sontag’s ‘Where The Stress Falls’

Posted by in journalism, review

This week is Susan Sontag’s birth­day. The fam­ous, and pos­sibly last American intel­lec­tual, died in 2004. Below is my some­what irrev­er­ent review of her last book (Independent on Sunday, 2002) The first sen­tence in Susan Sontag’s latest col­lec­tion of essays is eight lines long, men­tions Camus and Pasternak and ends with the word “impinging”. But would we have it any other way? Sontag dares to look ser­i­ous in a way that is some­how enhanced rather than under­mined by that Bride of Frankenstein stripe of grey she sports these days. To…read more


20 ‘Stella’ Years of Dolce & Gabbana For Men

Posted by in commentary, fashion, journalism, metrosexual, review

by Mark Simpson, Arena Hommes Plus (Winter-Spring, 2010) America’s hot­test new Hollywood stars – who nat­ur­ally enough in this post-Hollywood era, don’t actu­ally work in Hollywood but real­ity TV – were recently hon­oured with a pro­file in Interview magazine. The Italian-American ‘Guidos’ from MTV mega-hit ‘Jersey Shore’, who have conquered America with their brazen­ness and their Gym Tan Laundry routine, were styled in Dolce & Gabbana. Suddenly, they looked as if they had come home. After all, these twenty-something earthy but flam­boy­ant, self-assured but needy young men are, aes­thet­ic­ally, emo­tion­ally,…read more


Army Dreamers: A Backwards Salute to Recruitment Films

Posted by in commentary, current affairs, journalism, masculinity, popular culture, review

by Mark Simpson, The Guardian As a boy grow­ing up in the 1960s and 70s I was raised to fight The Second World War all over again. Airfix mod­els. Commando com­ics. Air tat­toos in June. Watching The Battle of Britain and The Longest Day on telly with my dad, just so I’d know what to do if I ever found myself pinned down on a Normandy beach or with an Me 109E on my tail. All of which made me easy prey to an RAF recruit­ing film about a buc­can­eer squad­ron train­ing…read more


The Definitive Vietnam War Novel? Or Cartoon War Porn?

Posted by in journalism, review

Today’s FT car­ries a review by yours truly of Karl Marlantes’ con­tro­ver­sial novel Matterhorn.


Edmund White’s Vulgar Fag-ism

Posted by in gay, journalism, review

I’ve always liked Edmund White’s refusal to get with the con­tem­por­ary gay hypo­crisy pro­gram and shrew­ishly con­demn promis­cu­ity in the hope that this will deliver lots and lots of wed­ding presents. In con­trast to that pas­teur­ised movie Milk, which lied shame­lessly about gay men’s sex lives in the 1970s to make it easier for them to lie about their sex lives today, White, a vet­eran gay-libber who first star­ted lib­bing around that time – in bath-houses, back rooms and along the piers – insists on telling it as it was, gen­ital…read more


Edward Carpenter — The Utopian Uranian

Posted by in bisexuality, homosexuality, journalism, review, working class

Mark Simpson on the for­got­ten ‘English Whitman’ (Independent on Sunday, 5 October, 2008) On his 80th birth­day in 1924, five years before his death, the social­ist Utopian poet, mys­tic, act­iv­ist, homo­phile, envir­on­ment­al­ist, fem­in­ist and nud­ist Edward Carpenter received an album signed by every mem­ber of Ramsay MacDonald’s Labour Cabinet. Glowing trib­utes appeared in the social­ist papers as well as the Manchester Guardian, the Observer, the Evening Standard and even the Egyptian Gazette. He was hailed by the philo­sopher C.E.M. Joad as the har­binger, no less, of mod­ern­ity itself: ‘Carpenter denounced…read more


The Botton Line

Posted by in journalism, review

Mark Simpson is mys­ti­fied by the aim of a book that obscures its author’s own status — and anxi­ety (Independent on Sunday, 07 March 2004) ‘Oh, god! Alain de Botton! Do you know how rich his fam­ily is?! His dad owned Switzerland!” This, or some­thing very sim­ilar, is what almost every fel­low scrib­bler exclaims when this “pop­u­lar” philosopher’s name is men­tioned. Which is rather fre­quently, because Mr de Botton, damn him, is a best­selling author whose books get made into TV series. In their eyes, his crime is two-fold: in a…read more


Action Man: on land, on sea and legs in the air

Posted by in journalism, masculinity, review

Mark Simpson goes on a top secret mis­sion to the bot­tom of the garden (Independent on Sunday, 14 March 2004) I never had an Action Man (G.I. Joe to Americans). He was for sis­sies. I only gar­risoned my bed­room with tiny non-moving, non-camp Airfix sol­diers I’d painted myself. Naturally, this didn’t stop me play­ing end­lessly with the fam­ous male doll when I vis­ited my mates. My best chum had the Eagle Eye Action Man with work­ing com­bat hang-glider — which is why he was my best mate. When he finally real­ised…read more


A Right Royal Rent Boy

Posted by in commentary, journalism, masculinity, metrosexual, review

By Mark Simpson The makers of BBC2’s The Tudors, know which side their Irish buns are buttered. They recently announced that Jonathan Rhys-Meyer’s Henry will not be allowed to get fat in the third series, cur­rently in pro­duc­tion. In case anyone’s inter­ested, the actual, his­tor­ical Henry VIII became a big porker in later life and needed a crane to hoist him on to his poor horse. Quite rightly, the makers of The Tudors, now half-way through its second saucy series, have decided that Henry’s his­tor­ical obesity is a little bit…read more


You’re the Top! You’re Mussolini!

Posted by in journalism, review

Where are we going on our Honeymoon then, Adolf?“ “A lovely place in the east, Benito! Called Stalingrad.” Mark Simpson on the oddly pas­sion­ate adu­la­tion the ‘Roman Genius’ Benito Mussolini inspired — and still inspires to this day. (Independent on Sunday, 29 June 2003)   ‘I grabbed her on the stairs, threw her into a corner behind a door and made her mine,’ wrote Mussolini recall­ing one of his teen­age woo­ings. ‘She got up weep­ing and humi­li­ated and through her tears she insul­ted me. She said that I had robbed her of…read more


Waxing Desmond Morris

Posted by in commentary, journalism, masculinity, metrosexual, review

By Mark Simpson (Independent on Sunday, 21 Jan 2008) Every child wants to be a zoo­keeper when they grow up. To run a place where everything is in its place, and has noth­ing to do but eat, shit and breed — to your timetable. Maybe it’s a yen for revenge on the par­ents who brought them into the world without ask­ing their per­mis­sion first, or maybe it’s just because chil­dren are all little dic­tat­ors with a peaked-cap fet­ish. Most though aban­don these zoo fuehrer dreams when they actu­ally grow up. Not…read more


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