The purpose of this monthly series is to highlight an outstanding contributor to the site as chosen by the editorial staff. Over the past three years, Blogcritics has grown tremendously, in large part due to the contributions of a stalwart group of writers who have consistently informed, engaged, and entertained us. This designation is meant to recognize and celebrate the best of the best, those writers who not only shine by virtue of their talent, but whose continual participation gives all of us a reason to tune in each and every day. As new readers are continually discovering Blogcritics, we also hope to introduce these fine writers to a new audience.
Please join me in a virtual round of applause for this month’s honoree, Duke de Mondo!
It would be quite impossible to visit Blogcritics with any regularity and not know the Duke. A Blogcritic since March of 2004, the Duke has waxed philosophical on all manner of pop culture topics, and has offered up opinions on a wide variety of film and music, writing in a voice that could belong to no one else. His distinctive style, braced by equal amounts of candor and humor, liberally sprinkled with the most creative profanity on the planet, and delivered in an Irish brogue you can hear through the screen, has earned him legions of fans. A look through his current series, Pop Cult Mind Wax, gives you just a taste of where the Duke’s writing might take you, and if you’ve missed out on any of these – well, there’s just no reason not to catch up on some of the most entertaining reading on either side of the pond.
In addition to his solo efforts, the Duke is also a frequent contributor to The Hot Topic, an ongoing collaborative effort on the part of several BC writers. Fellow Hot Topic writer DJRadiohead offered the following when asked to describe the Duke:
The Duke is perhaps the first of the New Media Renaissance Men.
Think about this — he's a singer/songwriter who makes ‘net records. He maintains a blog. He hosts a podcast. He writes essays discussing film, pop culture, and music. To simply have the ambition to put that many irons in the fire is admirable. To be brilliant most of the time at most of the endeavors is beyond the scope of my imagination. To be a humble, decent sort of fella with all that brilliance and and all that ambition is special. The Duke, at his best, inspires me to continue doing my own creative thing and at the same time gives me the kind of fits of jealousy that make me want to hang it all up.
Blogcritics Executive Producer Eric Berlin waxes poetic in describing the effect that the Duke’s writing has on him:
There are so many things that I love about the Duke's writing that it's difficult to know where to begin. It's like entering a different land, reading a newly published piece: strange and baffling and incisive and barkingly funny all at once. I feel privileged to read his work, as though I'm privy to some James Joyce-ian figure of the electronic age that no doubt will be heralded one day (sooner rather than later, I'm convinced) as one of the most innovative and endlessly inventive minds of his generation. The unique way in which he weaves heartbreakingly hilarious personal tales through pop culture criticism in of itself deserves a deep and thorough examination. It's almost shockingly unfair that Duke is also one of the kindest and most generous souls one can hope to know.
My intention here was to boil down some Duke-supplied biographical information into a few concise sentences, but the material he provided needs to be shared in its entirety (and paraphrasing this – well, that just seemed sinful somehow). And so, without further ado, the Duke’s life story thus far:
Lived all of my days thus far in County Antrim, Northern Ireland. Raised Protestant which may well account for the fascination I have with Catholic culture. Those chapels all afire with icons and grottos and mythology always seemed gloriously inspirational when contrasted with the drab Presbyterian alternatives.
In fact, although I’m agnostic and don’t have much of a faith in Christ or Krishna or whoever (just the regular no-frills God for me an myself), religion is one of the great obsessions in my life. Alongside beautiful lasses and fine tunes and life-affirmingly deranged cinema and intoxicating words and gloriously inventive filth.
Spent teenage years stumbling in and out of this drunken frenzy or the other, spent a wee touch o’ time between the walls of a psychiatric ward which is where, I might add, I started writing what would become my first abandoned novel. All of this, of course, lends itself gloriously to the spinning of a Grand Yarn of an evening.
Many failed novels followed. They were uniformly abhorrent.
Studied media at university on account of being terrified of The Real World and needing desperately to hold it back till such times as I could pen the work would surely grant me some sorta leeway with regards the snarl of the Grown Up Life And That.
Played in various bands and wrote film reviews for a local newspaper for free until such times as the whole Blog-based brouhaha took off and I realised that online I could write similar screeds and still not get paid and better yet, could use the word “fuck” and derivatives of such as much as I wanted.
Which brings us to the here and now.
Q & A (The Serious Stuff)
How was the persona of The Duke born from the young man that some people know as Aaron McMullan? The back story, please?
Heh, well now, a curious tale it all is. Superficially, I suppose, what happened was I found myself with a blog went by the name of Mondo Irlando and figured I needed some kinda kooky flick-forum-friendly pseudonym to witter under. I never gave much thought to it, Duke De Mondo just seemed altogether fitting at the time. Now, I tend to wish I’d thought of something a touch more original. Mean, for Gods sakes, “The Duke!” But it stuck, and I suppose it was easier for folks to get to know the “character” and the like since there was an easily remembered nickname attached. My own name, which I find incredibly torturous to either speak or write, is a touch, I dunno, forgettable. Seemed that if you wanted to get anyone’s attention at all in yonder “blogosphere” or whatever folks call it nowadays, the kookier or zanier a fella appeared, the better. I soon lost all interest in any sorta feigned wackiness, mind you.
The persona business is a touch more complex. It is, of course, an altogether perilous venture, discussing these kindsa matters, since a fella is at risk of tumbling any second into some sort of deplorably egotistical web of pretension and narcissism and self-obsession, but nonetheless, I’ll try. Way back when, back when it was all terribly witty and foul-mouthed “reviews” of the flicks and the records and not much else, back then there was a conscious effort to stay “in character” as it were and keep as much of myself out of proceedings as was possible. Jokes and inventive ways of saying “go f**k yourself”, that was all I concerned myself with.
As time went on, I dunno, I kinda hit a dead end with that approach, I felt there were plenty of folks doing the funny review business and much better than I was, and I was feelin’ all sortsa constrained by the demands of writing like “The Duke” or whatever. Somewheres around about the arse-end of 2004 I found myself writing far more concerning the Personal History and what have you. Along with that came a mad desire for to go bounding around the language and messin’ with it to reach some sorta style I felt comfortable with, somethin’ I felt was mine, as opposed to half-inched from here and there and wherever.
I started writing like I talk, and that ol’ line ‘tween the screen-name and the real person started blurring. It hardly exists now, that line.
I think, wherever I’m at now, I think that’s where I wanted to be originally, where there’s no real contrast between the me I yack about under that particular pseudonym and the me doin’ the scribbling. Give or take the lashings of absurdity and the like flung into it all for to keep things interesting.
You've been writing at Blogcritics since March of 2004, and you have a pretty impressive body of work assembled (375 articles as of this writing). How old were you when you started writing? The Irish are born talkers and storytellers — how much of the literary "you" springs directly from your Irish roots? Is there a collection of stuff that predates BC and Mondo Irlando that hasn't seen the light of day?
Well, I think my writing has gotten a lot more, I dunno, colloquial in time, a lot more obviously “Irish”. That comes from listening to people, though, from wanting to write like people talk, people who work in factories and grocery stores and butcher’s shops ‘round here, folks I could listen to all day. However I write has more to do with a love for those particular local dialects and the like than with any particular love for Irish literature. There are only a handful of Irish writers I actually like. Brendan Behan, James Joyce, Flann O’Brien as of late, these sortsa people, people who also played with the language and the pitch and the gloriously inventive swearing you might hear of an eve in the bookies and the taverns here and there.
I dunno when I started writing, I was young, I know that much. I used to write terribly graphic horror tales as a wee lad, and with regards pre-Blogcritics/Mondo Irlando scribbling, there are countless short stories and two novels lost to the whirl of the hard-drive that date from way back then, wretched buggers each and every one. Sometimes I click on them under the demented assumption that they might’ve been okay, but no, hideously embarrassing, stunted tripe. It was important, though, insofar as developing some sorta style might be concerned.
You have one of the more identifiable and unique voices at BC — how long did it take you to find that? Is it still evolving, or are you comfortable with your current literary identity?
At the minute, I’m very comfortable with it ‘cause it feels like mine. I don’t feel like I’ve ribbed bits from here and there, or if I have, I don’t know I’m doing it. I feel like I’ve got some sorta unique style developed, maybe a terrible one, but I think it’s identifiable as mine, for me at least, and that’s as much as I wanted. It took time, and I think the first year of stuff I wrote for BC, for example, is fairly mightily removed from the stuff I write now. For better or worse, I dunno, but I prefer it now, that’s for sure. I don’t necessarily like the pieces all the time, or even most of the time, but I like the style, so that’s always something.
Your writing is almost painfully personal at times. You've written one of the most searing accounts of alcohol addiction I've read anywhere, and you talk very openly about your love life. Do you ever have the feeling you've shared too much or gone too far, or is the writing therapeutic? How much does the writing factor into keeping The Duke grounded and sane?
Well, Experience is all a fella really has that’s his own, and if I’m gonna write, I feel I may as well capitalize on the one thing that’s mine. I always liked sorta “confessional” stuff in whatever medium, be it writing or music or film or whatever, and I feel comfortable with that. I don’t always feel comfortable putting it on Blogcritics, mind, since sometimes I feel like what I’m writing can’t possibly be of any interest to anyone else. But then folks say they dig it, so what do I know? The accounts of addiction you mentioned, I’m guessing you’re referring to the two-piece thingy that was written way back in the early days, a piece which I am utterly mortified by now. It’s an example of what I try not to do, which is to present chunks of “Here’s what I did and I was oh so very upset and it’s all okay because I’m stronger now.” Embarrassing, is what it is, and I was holding back every other line, leaving out the kindsa things might drive a fella to write an article about it in the first place. If I wrote that now, I’d like to think I could do it with a touch more flair, and certainly I would have much less fear about digging deeper into the memory-gland, being much further removed from it now, in terms of the months and the years and so on. I like to have other stuff going on, rather than just “What happened was this…,” I like to have it stylistically interesting enough to justify however self-indulgent the topic may be. I think I’ve gotten better at that, but I still falter the odd time. But certainly there’s something therapeutic to it all, something incredibly cathartic. More than that, though, is the sense that something worthwhile is coming out of even the most wretched experiences. If something diabolical happens to me, well, that’s one thing, but if I waste the opportunity for a tale afforded by such, that right there is just unforgivable. There are obviously things you can’t relate, but I usually take matters as far as I can. I don’t mind at all how I look, it’s only when other people are involved that I have to hold back.
Plus, I’d wager, there’s something of the “Letting Go” in it all. Something upsets me and I write about it, it becomes a story. A story can’t ever hurt you in any real way.
I suppose by nature I’m over-analytical, and so yeah, battering these events and head-spasms back and forth ‘cross the screen does help keep the mentals in tow, and it gives me some sorta release. When the piece is finished I can move on to whatever other absurdly trivial hiccup is keeping me awake all the live-long day.
And humour, too, is incredibly important in that. Knowing when to laugh at yourself, which in my case is all the damn time. It’s ridiculous how much fretting I do over this or that or the other, fretting that, way back when, led to hideous drunken dalliances and all sortsa terrors. Now I recognise when I’m being a prick and chuckle rather than wail. Heh.
It all boils down to the old “wank” analogy, these confessional pieces. At the end of the day, a man can’t get far with a savage erection gnawing at the legs, but at the same time, masturbation isn’t exactly the kinda thing anyone else wants to be looking on, so best make sure there’s something else. So I try to keep it funny and inventive and arresting in some way. It doesn’t always work out, but I try.
You've shared a lot of your original music on your website. If you had to choose between the writing and the music, which would it be?
Well, I’d hate to lose either, but I can’t really pretend that I’m better at the music thing than the writing thing. It’s only really recently I’ve considered them both as part of a whole, which has something to do with how the songs have gotten incredibly self-obsessed in conjunction with the writing. So now the tunes feel like articles put to music, and the articles feel like melody-less songs. So yeah, it’d be difficult to sever them and to have one at the expense of the other, but in the end, I’d have to leave the music. I’d be gutted, though.
Where do like to hang out online when you're not at Blogcritics or Mondo Irlando?
Blogcritics completely monopolised my web habits. Totally. With a touch of MySpace here and there. Before BC, I could browse the Internet all day and never see the same site twice. Now it’s a constant refresh/scroll/refresh cycle primarily involving Blogcritics. I’m not complaining though. The hell else do I need?
This is, of course, without mentioning the occasional (every other half-hour) ego-Google of my name and any and all possible associations with such that might have cropped up someplace midst those ones and zeroes.
What are you working on that we don't know about yet? Where do you see yourself and your work a few years down the road from here, and how has BC figured into your writing life?
I’m working on a novel at this minute in time, I have roughly twenty-one different Chapter One’s, but just two nights ago, at 6 in the morning, I believe, I finished that particular chunk. So chapter two is all throbbing back my eyes. What I can tell you is it’s not all that different to the kinda stuff I write in the Pop Cult Mind Wax series.
I don’t want to think for a second about where I’ll be years from now. I’d go mad. All I know is I was set to go to London this September and it’s now been postponed to September of next year, so I have from now till then to finish the novel and the like, and I can’t bring myself to consider anything else.
How I really wanna be is sat writing much like I do now and being paid enough for it to survive, and if I get to go and play some songs here and there of an evening, all the better. That’s what I’m aiming towards.
How BC figures into it all is that it helped me develop a style, it made me think about readers, made me think twice about letting a line slip that’s under-par. It’s been immeasurably important insofar as developing as any sorta writer might be concerned. I doubt I’d be writing like I am now if not for Blogcritics, which is not to say that I think what I’m doing is all that fantastic, but that I’d still be fishing for a “voice” and the like, still be aping other writers and still be completely out of touch with regards what’s good and what isn’t. ‘Cause folks on BC will tell you! And thank God for that! Knowing when to listen, though, is a trial in itself.
Q & A (The Fun Stuff)
What book/CD/DVD do you have more than one copy of, in case something happens to the original one?
I have a couple copies of The Libertines’ second record for that very reason, but for the most part I tend to just back up whatever I wanna be careful with. I do, however, have multiple copies of flicks released in nicer editions and in uncut fashions and the like. God alone knows how many versions of Lucio Fulci’s Zombie Flesh Eaters or Frank Darabont’s Shawshank Redemption or George Romero’s Night Of The Living Dead are filed away in the cupboards, for example.
Would you like to tell us who/what do you share your life with?
I share it with family and friends and a cat called Tabby. And a beautiful lass who may have gone and gotten fed up with me afore this ever gets published, but here’s hoping…
If you had to pick one sense to do without, which of your five senses would it be?
I was all for saying “smell”, but then I wouldn’t know when I was stinkin’. But I certainly wouldn’t want to lose any other of the others. Ach, I’ll go with smell. Or whatever the sense was that ended up with Bruce Willis as a ghost. I could lose that.
What do you wish they'd do a series about on TV?
I’d love a documentary series about The Pogues on a par with The Beatles Anthology. I would give a fair ol’ chunk o’ my kidneys for to see such a glorious sight. Or maybe one of those Top 100 Whatever shows we in the UK are oh so very fond of, except one concerning The Best Saints Ever. What a glorious hour or seven of mania and mayhem that’d be.
If you could, would you swap sexes for a week?
Damn right I would. And I’d lock myself in the bathroom for every glorious hour.
What do you think you'd learn if you could swap to the opposite sex?
The first thing I’d wanna find out is where, exactly, certain elusive quarters of the anatomy reside. Then I’d make notes, in that delightful female hand-writing all loops and squiggles and circles above the i.
What sports team will you love until the day you die?
I don’t do the whole sports thing, alas. At various points in high school I supported Aberdeen, Sheffield United and Manchester United, but it was all terribly half-arsed, to be honest, and it turned out the ladies were no more likely to fling themselves at a fella’s feet-pegs just cause he knew who Michael Owen was.
What's one sign that you're a total nerd?
If I’m in a bar or someplace and hear someone at another table make even the slightest comment about some record or flick I have an opinion on, I can’t concentrate on the conversation I myself may be having, and often, in fact, need to go over to the table in question for to make known my thoughts on the matter, and to correct any errors in their arguments. This is also known as acting like a prick.
What's the first book you recall reading?
It was probably something by Stephen King. Maybe The Tommyknockers. I don’t think I finished it though.
What magazines do you subscribe to?
I don’t subscribe to any, but every month I pick up Empire, Total Film, Q, Mojo and Uncut. And the Fortean Times. And NME every week. That’s a hella lotta adverts for ringtones, right there.
Who is your favorite writer?
Oh, I have loads. Chuck Palahniuk, Hunter S. Thompson, William Burroughs, the Marquis De Sade, Nick Hornby, those folks I’ll read anything by, pretty much. Although I haven’t read nearly as much Burroughs as I’d like.
Who is your least favorite writer?
I don’t have a least favourite really, although I could do without ever reading anything by Martin Amis or Ann Coulter ever again.
Do you have a favorite Blogcritic?
There are a handful of people I’ll read regardless of what the topic might be, on account of I find them especially wonderful. I was dreading this question, actually, because I’m wrestling with the urge for to name names and the terror of leaving folks out. But I have a favourite group of Blogcritics, that’s for sure. Oh okay, people like Mark Saleski, Aaron Fleming, DJRadiohead, Greg Smyth, Eric Berlin, Mary K Williams, Mat Brewster, Bennett Dawson, Richard Marcus, these kindsa people. And loads more, but you have to draw the line here someplace.
What do you think is the best part of Blogcritics?
Definitely the opportunities it gives for folks to get their work read by an astonishing number of peepers, and the manner in which it helps writers develop styles and this sort of thing. It has fairly near monopolised my web-browsing, that’s for damn sure.
What song is stuck in your head right now?
Well, I’m listening to an acoustic version of “Black Boy Lane” by Pete Doherty, so that’s the very chappie in my skull-pipes.
What do you have set as the home page in your browser?
I don’t have anything set, I just get the AOL news page thing. Did you know “The Internet has brought the high street to our homes”? Neither did I. But it did, according to AOL.
Who was your idol as you were growing up?
I think it might’ve been Prince. There were a few jostling for attention. Prince, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Billy Connolly. Probably Kiefer Sutherland in The Lost Boys, too. A healthy mix.
What are three items you would need to have on a desert island?
Well, I’d love my iPod, but unless they release some sort of solar-powered version, some sort of iSun upgrade, then it’d be a bit useless, really. I’d want a book, definitely, something that could be read and re-read ‘til such times as I got eaten by sand-worms or whatever horrible fate is awaiting, so it’d have to be something I’ve already read, in case it turns out to be crap. Something that could withstand potentially hundreds o’ goings-over. Maybe The Great Shark Hunt by Hunter S. Thompson, which might scare off a hammerhead or two hell-bent on chewing the guts out my head. Or possibly the Bible, since it’s got the book of Job and the Gospel According To Matthew and those beautiful letters all padding out the last third of The New Testament. I’d want a good supply o’ notebooks and plenty pens, so as I could keep writing and maybe find a bottle I could shove it all in, fling it off cross the ocean in the direction of some publisher or other. I’m torn on the third item. A guitar or a dinghy? Probably a guitar.
What's the best place to get a meal in your neck of the woods?
I have a fondness for a wee place by the name of The Bushtown House. A big ol’ steak and a caffeinated brew and a fella called Jerry doin’ Bob Dylan covers in the corner.
If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?
I don’t know, I honestly don’t. Other than the world peace and so on. Mostly I get to worrying about changing myself in the right ways, that the big ol’ World and the like might be all the more tolerable even in its most deplorable moments. That might reek of some sorta wretched apathy, but sometimes I get to thinking well, what else can a fella do?
The Duke Picks The Duke
We asked the Duke to pick his favorites from among his many Blogcritics articles, and we hope you’ll take the time to check these out. In fact, take the time to check out the Duke’s entire Blogcritics archive for some very worthwhile reading.
This is as good a place to kick off as any, I’d imagine, being a kinda distillation of the concerns and obsessions and manias I spend my time fretting about. Also, the last line has turned out to be a tad inaccurate, but I don’t wanna go flingin’ spoilers left and right.
Sometimes I don’t like this one bit, and other times I think it’s maybe as good as I’ve ever done. At the minute I’m fairly fond of it, I can tell you that much.
This is another in a long running series entitled Screeds I Can’t Ever Show My Mother.
I wish I’d thought of a better title for this. I like the pace of it all, I can tell you that much. It was written to the rhythm of the song under discussion, although I dunno how successful I was in replicating that incredible stomp.
This is a seven-part affair concerning a weekend in that most glorious of cosmopolitan wonderlands. Some of the instalments are better than others, but as a whole, I dare say I wouldn’t be hard pushed to mutter something along the lines of “Yeah, I’m kinda proud o’ that one there.”
This was meant to be a fare-thee-well to the kinda self-obsessed nonsense I’d started scribbling. What instead happened, hilariously enough, was that it served as a gate-way to the kinda hitherto unthinkable pretentious neurotic babble I now wrap round every other sentence. Funny, that.