Tommy Concrete is a remarkably versatile musician who has been performing since 1987, releasing over 60 albums across fifteen bands. These include legendary punks The Exploited, Man Of The Hour, Jackal-Headed Guard of the Dead, and his own band Tommy Concrete and the Werewolves. His latest solo album, Unrelaxed, is due to be released through Howling Invocations on October 19th, and it consolidates a variety of metal influences to address sterotypes surrounding autism, disability and mental health. Tommy is a well-known figure on the music scene in his native Scotland, and he is also an author. His novel ‘The Wages Of Metal’ is inspired by metal music and sounds right up my street. Tommy has written a beautiful, intensely personal meditation on the books that mean something to him…
1. Naked Lunch, by William Burroughs. This book is a sprawling vomit of surrealistic depravity, written by Burroughs whilst allegedly in the agonising throes of cold turkey. Part autobiography, part nightmarish hallucination and often derided for being a misanthropic barrage of hideous filth, The Naked Lunch set off a piss-hued nuclear explosion in my mind and inspired me not only write a book of my own (The Wages Of Metal) but to explore my own then dormant depravity. The book was considered to be a subversive and dangerous attack on morality and common decency. Not just for its grotesque sexual violence, but for its chaotic prose and anarchic structure. It has no real plot to speak of and no character development; instead it offers up a seemingly endless tirade of wildly bizarre scenarios that make me feel enthralled and revolted in equal measures to the point where I can no longer tell which is which. The Naked Lunch is not a morality tale; it isn’t anti-heroin; if anything it is a celebration of addiction and all the claustrophobic horror that entails.
2. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley. This book describes a society that blurs the boundaries between dystopia and utopia. Classes are genetically engineered and everyone has a job appropriate to their design. Nobody wants for anything apart from the freedom of choice. Similar to the George Orwell classic 1984 in which it depicts a society under the total control of the government, except in Brave New World the citizens believe they are free… scary how all thoughts of rebellion disappear when the government prescribes free drugs for all and sexual promiscuity is the norm.
3. The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch, by Philip K Dick. “The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is not a book about insanity, The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch is insanity” – Philip K Dick. This is a superb mindmelter of a book and almost impossible to sum up. It is my favourite PKD story and depicts a future Earth scorched by pollution, where the rich are artificially evolved and everyone is a user of legal dissociative drugs. A new competitive drug is then introduced by a pantheitic deity in order to get the human race addicted to a trip in which you and everything is God… unfortunately PKD lost his marbles in the end, but thankfully he left us insane gems such as this. Sometimes I feel he was trying to explain secrets of the universe so bombed out they were too vast for a human mind… a psychotic epipany of galactic terror…
4. The Man In The Maze, by Robert Silverberg. Wow. This one resonates very deeply with me. Probably my favourite science fiction novel. A story about alienation, isolation, exile and social interaction and the problems it creates. Basically, this chap studies an alien race of giant spiders who totally and utterly ignore him. At the end of the study, he sets to leave their planet thinking his mission a failure. It is at that moment the aliens bestow upon him the gift of telepathy… on return to Earth he is horrified to find out that he cannot help but transmit his emotions and true self to anyone who gets near him. Unfortunately this results in everyone being immeasurably disgusted to the point of nausea. So much so he self-exiles himself to a deadly maze planet. It is there that he finds true peace…
I was not aware I was autistic when I first read this, but every word spoke to me deeply. For me, this is the best description in fiction of the multi faceted experience of being high functioning autistic. I don’t believe that it was intentionally written as such, but the whole book perfectly describes the disgust and confusion of humanity that I feel.
5. The Way Of Wyrd: Tales of an Anglo-Saxon Sorcerer, by Bryan Bates. Okay so one of my all time favourite albums is Dreamweaver by Sabbat, which is a sprawling thrash concept album about this book, which tells the tale of a Christian cleric sent to infiltrate and erase pagan culture. Unfortunately he ends up having sex with his own soul which happens to be a woman… It was originally supposed to be an academic novel about Anglo Saxon Sorcerery, but the author figured that the best way to impart his studies would be to present them within the context of a fictional adventure.
6. Lanark: A Life In Four Books, by Alasdair Gray. This is a surrealistic, futuristic, semi-autobiographical, non linear depiction of Glasgow. The book is split into four parts which cover the four stages of the protagonist’s life, some of it is the regular boring old reality and other times it shifts into a world where dragon men eat recycled humans in the form of cubes that smell and taste of burnt tyres. Based on real places such as Stobbhill Hospital, which is a surreal place which feels like it exists outside of time as it is. The book is in parts sad, hilarious, philosophical and down right mind-melting. A modern classic. When I was writing The Wages of Metal I hit several blocks where I thought I would never finish it, Lanark invigorated and inspired me enough to finish it.
7. The Dice Man, by Luke Rhineheart. This is another book that has been considered subversive and dangerous. I was introduced to this book when I joined Underhill (ex dBh) in Liverpool. Everyone in the band had read it so as part of some pseudo intellectual initiation I had to read it as well. The story follows a man who decides to let rolling a dice choose his life, to essentially live completely randomly. It starts of innocent enough with him making basic choices such as should he ring in sick to work or not but quickly descends into the weird, such as changing his entire personality every twenty minutes to dice led personas such as messiah, drug addict and so on. Eventually it gets very dark and chaotic as he puts more extreme choices to the role of a dice such as addicting himself to heroin, becoming a prostitute and raping his neighbor. The book explores the theory that we are defined by our behavior, and so he essentially erases himself through a life of random decisions.
We got really into this and used to roll dice to make mad decisions all the time, including where to go out drinking, what to drink, amount to drink and so on… the fascination with the game ended after the dice decreed that we should drink triple tequilas in horrible malevolent townie pubs.
8. Meditations on Violence : A comparison of martial arts training and real world violence, by Rory Miller. Written by a prison guard and martial arts expert, this book goes into detail about the psychology of fighting, the mind of a predator and is all backed up with personal experiences and stories. The basic premise is that not only do traditional martial arts not work but training them actively makes you a worse fighter. For many years I trained and taught Ju-Jitsu, attaining a 4th Dan black belt, which was nice, but essentially damaging to me psychologically as such accolades have little to no link to reality and at best give the wearer a false sense of security into their capabilities. I have not worked in a prison, but have spent many years working in secure / semi-secure facilities where I used physical interventions in violent situations, so I am firmly with Rory on this one.
Anyone who has any sort of interest in training martial arts for self defence reasons should read this book before choosing a class. There is a hell of a lot of fake, useless stuff out there taught by instructors who are either duped by their own bullshit or straight up con artists, this book strips it all down and tells you like it is. It is terrifying, but not fear mongering. The whole tone of it is not sensational and in fact very peaceful. In a strange sort of way, it embodies the true nature and attitude of traditional martial arts far better than the styles it debunks.
I have distanced myself from trad martial arts now and feel very strongly about the whole nonsense they are filled with. The last session I trained at I had an epiphany in which I knew that there was a very real chance I would be involved in a fight the following day at work, as was par for the course and that if I used anything I had been taught it would fail, basically I was drilling suicidal techniques…. It drives me crazy when I see styles advertising themselves as ‘the ultimate self defence system’ and the instructor is some guy who works in an office by day posing in fancy robes and holding a ego driven title. The crying shame is that scared people go to these classes to learn to defend themselves and they are setting themselves up for a major fall, it’s absolutely criminal.
9. Watch My Back, by Geoff Thompson. This is ace, I read it in one go, couldn’t put it down. Written by an ex bouncer, it’s an autobiographical journey of a man searching to confront and face his fear. Probably the most violent book I have ever read, it relays hundreds of confrontations and how they went down, it describes in incredible detail the fear and emotions surrounding violence. The point it makes, is the psychology and mental manipulation that can take place. This book has helped me out (along with The Rory Miller one) and shaped my approach to managing situations that are potentially violent. Mainly it helped me with overcoming stage fright, face confront and own your fears. It’s a bit scaremongery in places, but unlike Meditations on Violence this is a story not a manual so he gets artistic licence…. Best thing it did was inspire me to pack in working in jobs where unstable folk come at you with scissors….. I faced my fear, owned it and quit to do something where I don’t put myself at risk.
10. Tall, Dark and Gruesome, by Christopher Lee. Yeah. This is a belter of an inspirational read. Who wouldn’t like Dracula’s autobiography? I seriously loved this and was really touched by his lifelong battle between his passions of opera singing and acting. Reading it gave me new fire in pursuing a life in the arts as his work ethic and passion were outstanding. He comes across as really likeable and dignified. Best bit is the parts about Howling II, which is by many people (not me) considered the worst film ever made (its the best). Christopher Lee made me a very happy fanboy when he says he enjoyed working on Howling II more than any other film and that he loved it, he also talks about it more than anything else. Some folk are born to be legends.
Thanks for the opportunity to write this, I have really enjoyed it and I hope some of the readers discover something cool to read.