Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Twins and triplets

'Brothers of the Head' is a novella by Brian Aldiss that tells the story of Tom & Barry Howe, conjoined twins living on a remote island nature reserve in Norfolk in an indeterminate future. Along for the ride is a third brother, an undeveloped, ostensibly non-living head nestling on Barry’s shoulder. Eager to exploit their commercial possibilities in a world desperate for novelty, a pop music svengali buys the brothers from their apathetic father and sets out to promote them as The Bang-Bang – the first group in history to have Siamese Twin vocalists. They are phenomenally successful, until all three brothers begin to crave independence…

This short, effective tale is structured as a series of interviews or articles by those caught up in the lives (and love lives) of the weird brothers. Tellingly, the brothers themselves don’t get the chance to speak, they only exist as a third, fourth & fifth party: left to their own devices, despite being stuck together for life, they seem unable to agree on a direction, a story, a point of view, and end up pulling against each other, figuratively and literally.

Published in 1977, a contemporary reading would suggest it to be Aldiss’ reaction to the occasional freak show of Punk but, thirty years on, it appears remarkably prescient in a world where the inmates of a modern day Bethlehem Hospital regularly humiliate themselves for our amusement, with Simon Cowell and Amanda bloody Holden and Piers fucking Morgan sitting in judgement on the performance.

After years in development hell, a ‘Brothers Of The Head’ film came out in 2005. It’s not bad, but doesn’t capture the full, unsettling eeriness of Aldiss’ book in its pseudo-documentary format, although the Norfolk accents are nicely done. The music is surprisingly okay, but tends to be straightforwardly punky, rather than the eerie songs of alienation and interplanetary longing described (and transcribed) in the book, although an acoustic version of ‘Sink Or Swim’ comes closest.

1 comment:

Reimer said...

A great book (and I try to collect Aldiss books in the matching paperback editions that evoke that 70s SF Art look his publishers kept using into the mid-80s). I quite like the film and the s/track is pogo-ingly good in places.