This review is late and probably won’t tell you whether you should go and see Suicide Notes. So, if you think criticism should be a buyers’ guide with star ratings then don’t bother reading this. But, also if that’s what you like then you probably wouldn’t go to see Chris Brett Bailey. Suicide Notes is for people who don’t care that an experience is ineffable or a piece of writing isn’t what it claims to be – as long as they feel something, even if that something is a divine hopelessness (I’m referring to the show here, in case you felt I was making grandiose claim as to my ramblings).
This review is late because twice I have sat down to write it. The first time was the morning after, a lovely day full of sunshine and espresso. It was too clean and too of the daytime to think about Suicide notes. Reflecting in such a safe environment on what I’d heard: the collection of stories, gross-out erotica, black comedy, one man sketches and poems, felt wrong. Like putting clean sheets on after a messy one night stand, one that was bad for you but, if you are really honest with yourself, you would do again in a heartbeat.
The second time was last night and it was too late and too full of whiskey to be anything but a horrible cliché. I may as well have written it on a typewriter with a cheroot clamped between my teeth. I wanted to write a response in the style of a beat poem. When something hits you like Bailey’s The Modern Suicide and Babies concussed me, you want to reflect back art of your own. So, I pulled out the Addonizio, the Ginsberg, and the Acker (not Kerouac though, cos seriously, fuck that guy*). Bailey’s text of Suicide Notes sat amongst them, but the books all belonged together on bar stools somewhere where books go to drink, not on the vanilla floor of my living room. I could never be a poet, I don’t have the thighs for it and owing money makes me nervous.
Bailey is a musician, his voice manipulated as an instrument ranging from rapid gunfire delivery to grotesque slow, gurning; it’s poetry as a Ninja warrior assault course. With his electric shock hair and plugged in eyes, Bailey is an unstable chemical reaction contained behind a rickety, paper-piled desk. He also appears to be completely unapologetic, punk in a way that seems incongruous to 2018. A performer without distance between their scary stage self and the person taking the applause. Bailey commented to Exeunt in 2016 that he ‘doesn’t really live in the real world’ and I concur. ‘I can’t imagine him in the everyday, like, getting the tube’ I said to a friend ‘He is the master of his own nihilistic landscape, he has tongued it into submission.’
‘He definitely gets the tube’ my friend says, ‘He needs hate-material for seething.’
It seems lazy to try and categorise Bailey’s style as ‘like this’ or ‘like that’. Plus, he’s the king of metaphoric language himself (‘her, buttery pancake batter sloshing out of leather’ – Daily Mail sidebar of shame gone creative). The most I’ll dare is a comparison to the dark humour of Bukowski. Namely the poetry collection Love is Dog from Hell, not just for the disjointed rhythms and cruel, visceral imagery but for the glimpses of humanity and humour. Bailey tells us something awful, disgusting, too close to the bone – and then gives you a look over his papers that implies mischievous intent rather than a true desire to burn it all down. Or maybe the two aren’t incompatible and I’m looking for a light-hearted justification when I need to just accept this is a rave in a charnel house.
*I’ve already done one postscript in Exeunt about Kerouac as overrated and hijacked by awful fake-introverts trying to get laid. If you want that rant in full you’re gonna have to buy a girl a drink.
Chris Brett Bailey’s Suicide Notes is on tour: forthcoming dates include Tom Thumb, Margate (11th May), Warwick Arts Centre (14th May), and Theatre in the Mill, Bradford (18th May). Full info here.