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Tainted Love by Stewart Home

by Danny Evans 

Stewart Home has been telling serious jokes for a long time.  His use of deceit and confusion once got Jimmy Cautey’s house raided by the police, and this tendency, which he refuses to dissociate from his intellectual left-communism, has thankfully kept him safely outside of the mutual back slapping association that is the ‘literary establishment.’  With Tainted Love, however, Home has produced what might be viewed, superficially at least, as a more mainstream proposition; a fictionalized memoir, based upon research into the life of his biological mother, Julia Callan-Thompson, and focusing on her adventures in 60s London and eventual mysterious death in 1979.     


The historical reality of Home’s mother has been questioned, but this is of relevance only to those who desire to be spoon-fed ‘the truth.’  It is perhaps fortuitous, or maybe just obvious, that in telling the story of his mother Home has been able to develop themes he has been expounding upon in his more recent books.  Most obviously, these include the interlinked studies of prostitution and the disappearing city of London.  Down and Out in Shoreditch and Hoxton, Home’s last outing, dealt with the gentrification of these favoured haunts of London’s oldest professionals, through the narration of a time traveling prostitute.  Tainted Love features Home’s fictionalized mother, re-named Jilly O’Sullivan, as a high class escort in Notting Hill, giving him the opportunity to explore the seedy bohemian history of this now sanitized suburb.  He does this with some relish, gleefully rummaging through the bins of the ‘60s.   


In a dramatized version of Tom Vague’s pop history of Notting Hill, Jilly makes the acquaintance of both well remembered rock royalty and half forgotten underground figures.  The junkie situationist Alexander Trocchi features prominently, as does black power and housing activist Michael de Freitas (later Michael X.)  In a memorable passage, Jilly accompanies these two to John Lennon’s Weybridge mansion.  Home hilariously draws upon Lennon’s well documented Lewis Carroll obsession as well as his Oedipus complex in a character assassination that has an acid-fried Lennon quoting Alice In Wonderland while Trocchi turns him on to smack and de Freitas turns over his pad.  Lennon regresses to a gurgling babyish state, sucking on Jilly’s tit and calling her Julia.  As Home’s real mother was also called Julia, this is a cute piece of oedipal synchronicity that is also played for laughs; a self-conscious working through of Home’s own Oedipus complex. 


In a later episode of the book, Jilly attends a punk/reggae gig that plays host to a riot.  As Home anecdotally relates his own part in this riot in his punk book, Cranked Up Really High, Home/Jilly’s reflections on it provide the reader with both a knowing wink and a touching evocation of the loving imagination.  That Home can combine the two demonstrates his skill as a writer; he understands and masters the styles and genres he deconstructs. 


Jilly’s story follows the 60’s hipster trajectory, from jazz, grass, pills and mod clubs to acid, hippie mysticism and heroin.  As with many of the beautiful people in that disappearing decade, disillusionment with the plasticity and rigid conformity of the straight community led to a search for authentic experiences and totality, first through politics (Jilly was a Dylan fan and CND supporter at the beginning of the ‘60s) and later through drugs and spirituality.  As it’s put in Tainted Love, “The campaign for nuclear disarmament had served its purpose.  London was swinging and what us hipsters really wanted was better living through chemistry.”  In Jilly’s coincidentally emblematic case these attempts founder in the context of poverty and her brutal harassment by corrupt policemen.  The conclusion, not enunciated by Home but nonetheless obvious, is that the struggle to unify our existence with what we hippyishly imagine to be our essence, can’t be divorced from the struggle against the money system and the bizzies. That such a leftist moral has to be superimposed upon a Home novel is unusual as his previous output is chock full of plagiarized Marx.  Here the commie sign-posting is a little more subtle, a reference to the Second World War as the ‘second inter-imperialist war’ implies an ultra-left analysis, while the film script that provides one halt in the narrative is titled The Eclipse and Re-Emergence of the Oedipus Complex, in a nod to Gilles Dauve and Francois Martin.   


So while there is little that ostensibly narrows the appeal of Tainted Love (as long as you’re not offended by the image of John Winston Lennon, working class hero, having skag injected into his cock) it is far from orthodox.  As a London novel it is part of a distorted lineage that encompasses Iain Sinclair, Derek Raymond and probably Colin MacInnes, even though he gets the ‘treatment’ in here too, and definitely excludes Martin Amis and Monica Ali. 


Interested persons should also get on to this: http://www.nigelayers.com/taintedlove.html upon which Stewart Home and Nigel Ayers collaborate to tell the story over an ambient psychedelic soundtrack of loops and cut-ups, and such classic nasty 60s tracks as ‘Needle of Death’ by Bert Jansch, ‘Notting Hill Gate’ by Quintessence and ‘Out Demons Out’ by the Edgar Broughton Band.






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