and formed in 1961, Scottish author Irvine Welsh is now acknowledged
as the distinct voice of British youth culture. Writing in a crude,
phonetic dialect about drugs, sex, violence, and soccer, Welsh captured
the lazy imagination of a generation not easily seduced by books. After
debuting in March 1994 with The Acid House, a hilarious, soulful,
and shocking short-story collection, Welsh became a full-fledged media
phenomenon with the publication of his first novel Trainspotting,
published in August of the same year.
The book, by turns depressing and exhilarating gave mordant insight
into the Edinburgh housing projects where the writer grew up. As well
as earning Welsh heady comparisons to the likes of Celine, the book
was shortlisted for Britain's prestigious Booker Prize, stayed on bestseller
lists for over two years, and in 1995 was adapted for the stage.
The hyperkinetic hit movie version of Trainspotting (1996),
coming on the heels of Welsh's ambitious, hallucinatory second novel
The Marabou Stork Nightmares (1995), engendered a level of press
attention that led Welsh to retreat to relative anonymity in Amsterdam.
The negative reviews that were accorded to Welsh's next book, a slightly
uneven short-story triptych Ecstasy (1996), may have been as
much a comment on the media overkill surrounding the writer as the quality
of his work.
More plays and the film version of The Acid House followed.
In the decade's end, he wrote Filth (1999) which was loved by
some, but panned equally by others. Welsh then took some time off and
surfaced in places like Ibiza. Now he suddenly emerges with his most
complete novel yet Glue. I was able to speak to him on his recent
Have you been working on DJ skills and break dancing?
The weird thing is I spend so much writing, I don't have time for music.
I will go into the studio when I get back to London. I also will go
to Ibiza which I go to most summers. I have been going for years and
Did Ibiza start happening in 1988?
Yeah. It was Oakenfold and the Mondays who kind of kicked it off. It's
always been sort of a hippie alternative thing. Oakenfold started going
over there. It started having a good feel to it. But when the Manumission
Hotel started three years ago; that was the best time in Ibiza. It's
become sort of a corporate now. It's like fucking bingo, now, you know
what I mean?
I see all these Ibiza collections of music with remixes of Moloko and
Paul van Dyk.
Then there's the Miami music conference. It's more fun. Miami has gotten
so big, that everything that is going to be in Ibiza is showcased in
Miami first. All the hits. A lot of people are skipping Ibiza and going
straight to Miami. They can hear what's going to be popular in the summer.
I've never been to Love Parade. They had one in Leeds which was supposed
to be really good. I've been to Gatecrasher and T in The Park.
There is some familiar terrain in the new book Glue?
The usual stuff: football, drugs, sex. There's no Ibiza, but there's
Amsterdam. The novel takes place over four decades.
AL: There "Dad's ten rules"
which are all about the importance of being faithful to your friends,
your mates. That is pretty important?
Irvine: Yeah. It's all about
taking a look at the collapse of traditional values based on Christianity
and Socialism. Both of which don't really exist anymore. Certainly those
were the old values that we all came from, the whole working class thing.
It's like Presbyterianism and Industrial Socialism doesn't exist anymore.
It's all consumer capitalism, like everywhere else. Now you have loan
sharking and drug dealing and that's were people learn their morality,
instead of in the churches and unions.
AL: Many of your characters
are in arrested adolescence. Very few of them seem to take on the responsibility
of having of family and so on. They don't mature much beyond post-adolescence.
Irvine: After you have adolescence, you have twenty years
to kill yourself. If you fuck that up, then you have to think about
doing something else. It's a thing that people do in our time. They
realize that you are a long time dead. This is the thing about consumer
capitalism: we want everything and we want it as long as possible.
AL: How did you feel about
the recent football season? You follow the Hiberian team, right?
Irvine: Yes, we made it to
the Cup Final but got beat. It's was a pretty good season. We got into
Europe as well. We just signed an Ecuadorian guy who's supposed to be
really good. Of the London teams, I like Westham. They got rid of their
manager which was the wrong thing to do, I think. Football now, to be
honest, it bores me. You can publish the salaries of the teams and then
you look at the standings and they are almost the same. It's like American
baseball, and the New York Yankees, and they have all the money. You
look at the Pittsburgh Pirates -- they will never win another fucking
game again. One player on the Yankees makes as much as the whole Pirate
team. There's a monopoly in sports. They should break it up.
AL: I was reading some of
the reviews and some of the stuff on Amazon, and the general reaction
to this new book, Glue, is pretty positive. Many people hated
all the music references in Filth, but most seem to really love
the new book.
Irvine: I hated the music
as well. I had to listen to a lot of Michael Bolton to find that character,
you know what I mean. That's how I get characters. There are three things:
where they stay, who they lay, and what they play. That's all my characters
AL: This one guy in his review
of Glue says, "Welsh has lost the plot.."
Irvine: There is no fucking
plot for Glue, there are just characters. I just put a bunch
of characters in one book to see where they'd go.
AL: This guy apparently liked
Filth a lot too.
Irvine: The funny thing is
that the people who don't like this book liked Filth, and the
people who didn't like Filth, like this book. There are two types.
This book appeals more to the literary types. And Filth appeals
more to the sleaze merchants. There are the sleaze merchants and the
literati and it's very hard to please both.
AL: Can you imagine people
going into a bookstore and flipping through your books to see if there
are any interruptions or tapeworms trying to control the narrative?
Irvine: Some people like
the text to be broken up. They like weird things to happen. Glue
has no effects. It's a straight narrative. There's no talking babies
or exploding squirrels. There's no plan on what novel I plan to write
next. I never know what I'm going to do one minute to the next. I don't
have a master plan. I finally wrote a proper book.
AL: Americans still complain
about the language. They think it's hard to read. There was a lexicon
in one of the American editions.
Irvine: It makes it more fun
when you have to figure it out. I don't like writing in Standard English.
I tried that before. People don't talk like that. If you look at films
or TV, or songs and music, people don't talk in Standard English. Why
do we have to put up with that in a book, when we never would in TV, or
a film, or in real life? I think Standard English is really fucking depressing
AL: Also Americans have a problem
with the word "cunt." You can say "motherfucker" or "asshole" but nobody
wants to be called a "cunt." It's too low for some reason. In England,
you call all your best friends "cunts" all the time.
Irvine: Some people in Washington
DC walked out on the reading. I don't know why it's so taboo. People invest
too much power in words. If you let a word hurt you, I think it's a silly
thing. Language shouldn't have that sort of power.
AL: I had a question about
Ewen McGregor. You acted with him and helped him along in his career by
writing Trainspotting. He's sort of a big film star now. What's
he like and do you still see him around?
Irvine: He's a nice guy. He
has the same bank as me, so I see him at the bank quite often, in Piccadilly.
AL: Looking at another review,
this fellow was disappointed because he felt you were too conservative
with this novel. How do you feel about that?
Irvine: Yeah. It's more of
a straight novel really. The subject matter dictated the style. The subject
matter didn't really lend itself to tape worms and stuff like that.
AL: Many people really like
this character Terry in the new book and wished there was more of him
in the novel.
Irvine: Really? He's a good
character, because he just gets into it and doesn't give a toss.
AL: It says here (looking at
an Amazon.com print out) that people who bought books by Irvine Welsh
also bought books by Chuck Palaniuk, J. G. Ballard, Nick Hornsby, Bukowski,
and Hunter S. Thompson.
Irvine: Hey. That's good company
to be in.
AL: So, on this book tour,
you are just going to do a straight reading from the new book? No performance?
Irvine: I don't know if I will
be doing a straight reading because I won't be fucking straight. There
will be a reading of sorts. Tonight I'm going to see Mogwai at the Fillmore
afterwards. Also DJ Brian is having a party. I went to Mission Rock.
AL: Do you like Arab Strap?
Irvine: I think they are good.
I like that sort of stuff. They are from Falkirk, which is just up the
road from me. The Scottish have to be dark.
AL: Your upcoming novel is
Irvine: I'm about two-thirds of
the way through it. I hope to get it done this summer. It's going to be
hardcore. All the freaks will like this one. All the literati will think,
"Oh, he went all immature again."
AL: I just picked up a bunch
of new CD's. Are you into any of these bands (opening bag)?
Irvine: Oh, Radiohead's new
one. Aye. One of the guys from Radiohead was at the launch party for Glue,
in London. I haven't heard this new one. It came out very quickly after
Kid A. It's supposed to be very different. It's a new style again.
Kid A was like their Metal Machine Music.
AL: Here's one from Sigur Ros.
Irvine: Never heard of them.
What do you reckon of them?
AL: They are like Icelandic
answer to Travis.
Irvine: Do you know Travis?
Irvine: I'm not a massive Travis fan. If a band is a rock and
roll band, they better be spectacular for me. I like dance music more.
I think Mogwai are interesting.
When you are writing novels what is your schedule like?
Irvine: I tend to work in the
mornings. When I wait to start until the afternoon I'm usually fucked.
Maribou Stork Nightmares took me five weeks. Glue took me
about a year because I didn't have any story. It is sort of a wasteful
way to work.
AL: Do you have any other hobbies?
Irvine: Hunting, fishing, shooting.
And music takes up a lot of my time.
AL: Fishing? Usually catch anything?
Irvine: Yeah, I caught a few
AL: Ever killed anything?
Irvine: Just a few brain cells.
AL: People always talk about
drug use in connection with yourself. Do you think that people's attitudes
towards drugs have evolved?
Irvine: No, they have stayed
AL: Do you look on the Internet
Irvine: I am not a great Internet
person. I spend so much time on the screen when I am writing, the last
thing you want to do is spend more time on the Internet looking at a screen.
That's what I hate about all this technology. You have a screen for everything.
You just have to say to yourself no more screens.
AL: Do you have a cell phone?
Irvine: No. Don't have a cell
phone. Never have driven a car in my life. I don't even have a watch.
AL: You spend a lot of time
Irvine: Relaxing on beaches
and stuff like that. The computer is the only concession because it's
easier to write with.
AL: Seen any good films lately?
Irvine: I am a presenter of
films and a film critic on TV in Britain. It's called "Cult Saturdays"
on Channel Four. We screen two films and I talk about them. All films
from all eras. I've been doing that about a year. I can say "This film
is shite" or "It's so shite, that it's good."
AL: They put you on against
The Bill and The Royale Family.
Irvine: Yeah, I clean up.
AL: So you must have five people
Irvine: Hey. Come on, man.
At least a half a dozen.
AL: Is there anything you personally
Irvine: I hate politics. I'm
glad that hardly anyone voted in the British general elections.
AL: Who designs your books?
Irvine: The British publishers
usually come up with an idea. If the American publishers like it, they
keep it. If they don't, they do their own. If the cover works, I say it
was my idea. If not, I say it's them who fucked up.
AL: What about this book Glue?
There is no glue sniffing in it.
Irvine: That was the joke on
everyone. Have a book called Glue but don't have any glue in it.
I am going to have a book called Heroin, and it will be about trainspotters
and guys who look out for trains, and there will be no heroin in it.
AL: That was the idea of Trainspotting.
Little kids make fun of each other and say, "You are a trainspotter."
Irvine: It's nerds.
AL: Nerds. That was what you
were pointing out, that heroin users are nerds.
Irvine: It's pointless. They
like to collect train engine numbers. It's the same with heroin after
a while. It becomes pointless. Trainspotting is a very obsessive thing.
AL: But otherwise you promote
any kind of hedonism as long as it's not destructive?
Irvine: Yeah, a bit of hedonism
AL: Is that a message you want
to send out to the fans.
Irvine: It's no message really.
It's a personal philosophy.
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry
Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
| July 2001 | Issue 16
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