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|Interview with PRAGUE POST 23/12/2004, by James Scanlon|
|"Holiday Gloom - Phil Shoenfelt puts a
different spin on Christmas"
Demons play havoc with his mind and dark memories haunt him. But that's not going to stop Prague's favorite doom merchant, Phil Shoenfelt, from indulging in a bit of the festive spirit at his Christmas Eve bash at Malostranska beseda.
As a musician, writer and poet, Shoenfelt is a complex artist who defies easy categorization. That said, two newly released retrospectives provide more than a good starting point.
First up is Deep Horizon, out on the German label Phantasmagoria. Featuring songs hand-picked by Shoenfelt, it's a double CD highlighting his best moments with Southern Cross, Berlin-based Fatal Shore and some of his early work in his native England. With references to dark rooms, silver spoons and near-death experiences, Shoenfelt's narratives of fear and self-loathing delve deep into his days of heroin addiction and manic depression. In his most desperate moments, though, he still turns to the Holy One to save his wretched soul. Why?
"If you want to talk about extreme experience, whether sexual or emotional or whatever, a lot of writers turn to religious imagery because the prosaic imagery of normal life these days can't really encompass this deep feeling," Shoenfelt says. "Most people aren't in contact with these deep feelings anymore. They're too busy with their day-to-day lives; they're alienated from it. But when writers want to evoke that deep experience, the only imagery capable of dealing with it is religious imagery."
If it's not God, it's girls -- and lots of them. "Magdalena," "Dead Flowers For Alice," "Marianne, I'm Falling" and "Charlotte's Room" for a start. Are they real people?
"Most of the girls in these songs are composites," he admits. "They're the sort of girls who drive you mad. Marianne, for example, that is Cissy from Junkie Love [Shoenfelt's award-winning book about heroin addiction when he lived in London's Camden Town]. Her real name was Claudia. That was one of the few songs I've actually based on one particular woman. Most of the others are the archetypal muse, I suppose, the sort of women that you can never possess. They're wild and free, and you can never pin them down. And that makes them attractive."
Shoenfelt's other release is another double CD, New York-London 1981-1986. This one recaps his time with Khmer Rouge, a post-punk outfit he formed in New York toward the end of the '70s, when he was sucked into the whole NYC vibe of CBGBs, Max's Kansas City, strippers and, of course, drugs. The lineup included Barry "DJ Scratchy" Myers, who ended up being The Clash's DJ for their first three American tours. He also backed Joe Strummer & the Mescaleros before Strummer's untimely death. Myers helped launch the aforementioned Double Horizons CD at a recent Akropolis gig.
"Working alongside Phil again at Akropolis and then on the trio of dates in Germany recently was exactly what our friendship has been about for some 24 years now," says Myers from his New York home. "It was the first time we'd worked together in 15 years, and it was an honor to christen the album."
Strange, but true: Shoenfelt's gig that night was not all shoe-gazing melancholy, but a lot of fun. He closes a subsequent interview by stubbing out his 10th cigarette and muttering the words, "I'm a happy man, really." He'll have a chance to prove it on one of the happiest nights of the year.