From The Desk Of The Black Watch: The Poems Of John Tottenham

John Andrew Fredrick has spent the last three decades as the sole constant in one of music’s most perfect and unheralded rock outfits, the black watch. Using the Beatles as a tracing template, Fredrick has applied a kitchen-sink approach to the album at hand since his 1988 debut, St. Valentine, the opening volley in a catalog that would ultimately encompass 15 albums and five EPs, all of which inspired varying levels of critical halleleujahs and a deafening chorus of crickets at the nation’s cash registers. Fredrick will be guest editing magnetmagazine.com all week. Read our band new feature with him.

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Los-Angeles-by-way-of-Kent poet John Tottenham has amassed a formidable following doing stand-up poetry round this here metropolis by amusing-to-death his audience with verse that’s all about his life as a self-professed failure. Despite the fact that he’s published two well-received (in alternative circles, of course, for who but superkooks and poety poets themselves and grad students in English reads poetry these dark days?) and at times darkly funny volumes, like this and this—no mean feat. Tottenham considers himself an unmitigated no-hoper, a superloser, a “failed visionary” (courtesy his website) and master of wasters, a laird of lament and bard of supremely beatific disappointment and hopelessness. Sound fun? It is, actually. Try not to smile at lines such as this, from the snidely titled “Rush Hour”: “I thought I was dead, but, after a few seconds, I realized/That I was lying on the floor”; or this, from the assonance-laden and gallopingly dubbed “Anomic Otiosity”: “For many years/I have sat down to do the work/That the world would be no worse off/Without, and I have not done the work.”

Have a gander at Tots in in-action, as it were: See how he fairly hectors the throng with tales of woe, his emotional entrails self-eviscerated for one’s amusement and delectation. You’ll find yourself laughing, on account of that’s easier and less embarrassing than bursting into tears. Artist/martyr, handsome devil, celebrity washout (total loss, sinking ship, lead balloon, stalemate), purveyor of glorious lassitude, ennui, accidie, otiosity, sloth, languishings, self-contempt, “the horror, the horror,” this is a literary lion in the making. Though, when mass admiration descends, John Tottenham will most likely find a way to turn it into a catastrophe. I love that word: It comes from the Greek for “overturning”—something disastrous for a sea-faring people who didn’t necessarily require sailors to take swimming lessons. Come dip into Tottenham’s poems; you might drown your own silly sorrows in your tears of laughter at his inimitable encomiums to himself-as-grave-disappointment (to himself).

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