Sunday, 31 October 2010


Larkin's Jazz

Larkin's Jazz, commissioned by the Philip Larkin Society, is part of the "Larkin 25" celebrations. Larkin wrote that: "Few things in life have given me more pleasure in life than listening to jazz." This collection offers fresh perspectives on both Larkin and the jazz he actually liked.

Trevor Tolley and John White offer informed and "personal" reflections on Larkin and the music that he loved. Both have written extensively on Larkin and jazz.


Friday, 29 October 2010

The Great Fire of Newcastle and Gateshead 1854

From the Illustrated London News. Click on this and you can see a bigger version.

James MacArthur RIP

James MacArthur and his mother, Helen Hayes, on the set of Hawaii Five-O

James MacArthur, ‘Danno,’ Dies at 72
Published: October 29, 2010

James MacArthur, who played Danno, the boyish-looking but hard-driving sidekick on the long-running television detective show “Hawaii Five-O,” died Thursday. He was 72.

Mr. MacArthur died in Florida of natural causes, his agent, Richard Lewis, told The Associated Press.

For 11 of the 12 years that “Hawaii Five-O” first ran on CBS, Mr. MacArthur, as Detective Danny Williams chased thieves, hit men, swindlers, spies and assorted loonies. His boss was Detective Steve McGarrett, played by Jack Lord, the straitlaced, tight-lipped head of a small, elite police team determined to keep the idyllic islands from turning into a modern Wild West.

When the bad guy was captured McGarrett would tell his partner, “Book him, Danno!,” which became the show’s popular catchphrase.

Most of the original show’s main actors are now dead. Mr. Lord died in 1998; Kam Fong, who played Chin Ho Kelly, died in 2002; and Gilbert Lani Kauhi (credited as Zulu), who played Kono Kalakaua, died in 2004.

The original “Hawaii Five-O” ran from 1968 to 1980, making it one of television’s longest-running crime shows. It was seen in more than 80 countries. Mr. MacArthur left in 1979, saying that he wanted to pursue other acting challenges.

Last month, a new version of “Hawaii Five-O” made its debut on CBS.

If acting was not in Mr. MacArthur’s blood, it was certainly in his upbringing.

James Gordon MacArthur was born in Los Angeles on Dec. 8, 1937. When he was seven months old he was adopted by the celebrated actress Helen Hayes and her husband, Charles MacArthur, the playwright best known as the co-author, with Ben Hecht, of “The Front Page.”

“They did teach me a lot about the theater just through my life with them,” Mr. MacArthur said of his parents in a 1957 interview in Teen Life magazine. Starting as a teenager in summer stock productions, he would go on to a career onstage, in more than a dozen movies and on many television shows.

Mr. MacArthur considered the real start of his acting career the 1955 television production of John Frankenheimer’s “Deal a Blow,” in which he played a misunderstood teenager on the verge of manhood in trouble with his parents and the law. It was remade in 1957 for the big screen as “The Young Stranger,” with Mr. MacArthur reprising the role.

Reviewing it for The New York Times, Bosley Crowther wrote that Mr. MacArthur was “clean-cut and energetic,” bringing “a refreshing ingenuousness and candor to the role.”

Before “Hawaii Five-O,” Mr. MacArthur acted in several Disney adventures, including “Kidnapped” and “Swiss Family Robinson.” He had a small but significant role in the taut 1965 cold war thriller “The Bedford Incident.” In the rambunctious 1967 film “The Love-Ins,” Mr. MacArthur’s character hung out in the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood of San Francisco and smoked banana peels.

Besides “Hawaii Five-O,” Mr. MacArthur acted in many TV shows, including “Gunsmoke,” “Bonanza,” “The Love Boat” and “The Untouchables.” But it was his appearance in the 1968 movie “Hang ’Em High,” a low-budget spaghetti western starring Clint Eastwood, that prompted Leonard Freeman, the creator of “Hawaii Five-O,” to cast him.

One of his favorite “Hawaii Five-O” episodes, Mr. MacArthur said, was “Retire in Sunny Hawaii Forever” (1975), because it was one of the rare times that he worked with his mother. Miss Hayes played Danno’s Aunt Clara, who visits Hawaii and helps the detectives solve a murder.

Mr. MacArthur is survived by his wife of more than 25 years, Helen Beth Duntz, four children and seven grandchildren. His first two marriages — to the actress Joyce Bulifant, from 1958 to 1967, and to the actress Melody Patterson, from 1970 to 1975 — ended in divorce.

Thursday, 28 October 2010

J. C. Leyendecker

Memory Motel

Elton John loves Modern Times (!)

Now 63, the John is particularly proud of his latest album, 'The Union,' which he worked on with a host of music legends, including Leon Russell, T-Bone Burnett and Bernie Taupin, John's longtime lyricist and the man behind 'Rocket Man,' 'Tiny Dancer' and 'Your Song.' He says the record was inspired by Bob Dylan's acclaimed 2006 album 'Modern Times.' "Once I'd heard 'Modern Times' by Bob Dylan it really changed the way I wanted to make records. That was such a beautiful record," John says. "It could have been made in 1950, it could have been made now – it's timeless, just simple, beautiful music played so brilliantly."

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Mark Gatiss' A History of Horror - The American Scream

Three-part series in which League of Gentleman star, Doctor Who and Sherlock writer Mark Gatiss celebrates the greatest achievements of horror cinema.

Mark explores the explosion of American films of the late 1960s and 70s which dragged horror kicking and screaming into the present day. With their contemporary settings and uncompromising content, films like Night of the Living Dead and The Texas Chain Saw Massacre remain controversial. But Mark argues that these films - often regarded as only being for hardcore fans with strong stomachs - have much to offer. Made by pioneering independent filmmakers, they reflected the social upheavals of American society and brought fresh energy and imagination to the genre.

Mark gets the inside story from a roster of leading horror directors, including George A Romero, whose Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead turned zombies into A-list monsters; Tobe Hooper, director of the notorious Texas Chain Saw Massacre; and John Carpenter, whose smash hit Halloween triggered the slasher movie boom.

Mark also celebrates the other great horror trend of the era - a string of satanically-themed Hollywood blockbusters, including Rosemary's Baby, The Exorcist and The Omen. Along the way Mark visits the Bates Motel, gets mobbed by zombies and finds out what happened to Omen star David Warner's decapitated head.

You've got five days to watch it on BBC iPlayer:

The late Dame Catherine Cookson, Paul and a poodle.

Monday, 25 October 2010

Salinger and Hemingway

When Papa met Salinger

By Bradley R. McDuffie
Edmonton Journal
23 July 2010

In Time magazine’s 1961 article Sonny, An Introduction, John Skow gave the following account of J.D. Salinger’s meeting with Ernest Hemingway during the Second World War: “In France, Staff Sergeant Salinger had an audience with War Correspondent Ernest Hemingway, who read Salinger’s work and, possibly in appreciation of it (‘Jesus, he has a hell of a talent’), took out his Luger and shot the head off a chicken.”

In the years that followed, almost every Salinger critic has reported some version of this story. But as the half-century anniversary of the infamous chicken myth draws near, it is time, at last, to set the record straight.

Unfortunately, the myth has led scholars to ignore the fact that meeting Hemingway during the war is the most overlooked event in Salinger’s formation as a writer. Considering the meeting involves two of the most influential writers of the 20th century, the oversight is difficult to comprehend. Salinger died in January at age 91; Hemingway, who died in 1961, was born 111 years ago last week (July 21).

By all accounts, Salinger first met Hemingway at the Hotel Ritz after the liberation of Paris in 1944. In a letter dated a couple of weeks later, on Sept. 4, 1944, Salinger tells his editor, Whit Burnett of Story Magazine, that he met Hemingway and found him soft in comparison to the hard, tough demeanour of his prose. Salinger also says Hemingway was generous, friendly and unimpressed by his own reputation.

Salinger boasts that Hemingway liked the same authors he did and that he genuinely diminished his place in literature. Though, unfortunately, Salinger does not go into details about most of the authors they discussed, he does mention that Hemingway had more than a passing admiration for William Faulkner’s work.

Salinger’s first impressions of Hemingway indicate his surprise about the difference between the author’s public and private personas and, as the letter to Burnett continues, he emphasizes not only Hemingway’s humility, but his generosity. Hemingway told Salinger he remembered him from one of his stories in Esquire, and he asked to read one of Salinger’s new stories.After Salinger gave Hemingway The Last Day of the Last Furlough, from The Saturday Evening Post, Hemingway said he had enjoyed the story. Beyond the fact that Hemingway knew Salinger from his work (one can only wonder how this must have made Salinger feel), his generous spirit toward the young writer extended beyond a token gesture. Salinger finishes his account of the meeting by telling Burnett that Hemingway was a good guy and that after reading his work, Hemingway said he would write a few letters on Salinger’s behalf, but Salinger declined the offer.
Salinger’s testimony of the meeting is in stark contrast to John Skow and Time’s. Yet Salinger’s surprise at Hemingway’s humility and generosity is revealing in light of how others have dismissed the meeting between the two writers.

Such dismissal falls in line with long-established critical trends of generalization and stereotyping of the mythical Papa Hemingway.

Still, chicken myths and other reported fictions aside, the reports of the meeting between Salinger and Hemingway have centred on various descriptions of what transpired at the Ritz. And though a few scholars have hinted at the possibility that the authors met more than once, none has previously been able to identify when or where those meetings might have taken place.
A key eyewitness testimony of one meeting between the two writers comes from a lifelong friend of Salinger’s, Werner Kleeman. In his book From Dachau to D-Day, Kleeman offers a thorough account of a Salinger visit with Hemingway “one dreary evening at around 8 p.m., when we were both staying in the same house in Zweifall”: “(Salinger) said to me, ‘Let’s go and look up Hemingway.’ With that, we put on our coats, took a flashlight and started walking. After about a mile, we found a small brick house and noticed a marker P.R.O., which meant ‘Public Relations Office.’ A few steps up we found a side doorway, which we entered.

“Inside we found Captain Stevenson, who was in charge of the office, and there was Hemingway, stretched out on a couch. A visor on his forehead, he was busy writing on a yellow pad. The office had its own generator to produce electricity for war reporters who had checked in for the night. The rest of the town lay in blackness.”

Kleeman adds, “(Here) I was, sitting with Giant and the young aspiring author, Salinger, who had already published several stories. While we sipped champagne from aluminum cups, I was fascinated, thinking that I was in the presence of such gifted men and was able to observe them in such a natural setting.”

Kleeman’s account provides a revealing glimpse into the nature of Salinger’s meetings with Hemingway during the war. Since the meeting with Kleeman was not the first time the two writers had met, and since Salinger suggested the visit, it seems Salinger felt relatively comfortable going to see Hemingway when the moment presented itself.

Just how many meetings took place between the two writers is anyone’s guess, but Kleeman’s story is yet another clue that indicates the level of Hemingway’s influence upon Salinger in his formative years as a writer.Hemingway makes reference to Salinger in a letter dated Sept. 3, 1945, to writer and critic Malcolm Cowley. Hemingway tells Cowley about a kid in the 4th Division named Jerry Salinger. Hemingway notes Salinger’s disdain for the war, his desire to be a writer and that he is a good writer. He also says that Salinger’s family loves him and sends him magazines, including The New Yorker.

In her memoir Running With the Bulls, Valerie Hemingway, who worked as Hemingway’s secretary and later became his posthumous daughter-in-law, writes, “the contemporary American authors (Hemingway) most admired were J.D. Salinger, Carson McCullers and Truman Capote.”

Hemingway also bought Valerie a copy of The Catcher in the Rye shortly after they first met in Spain in 1959. And a copy of the novel rests in Hemingway’s library at his home outside Havana, Cuba, a volume that is rumoured to be autographed.

McClatchy Newspapers

© Copyright (c) The Edmonton Journal

Sunday, 24 October 2010

The Novocastrian...

...has a great series of blog posts called Newcastle in Film. Don't Look Back's the latest one.

Amis on Larkin

Philip Larkin's women
When it comes to women, I give you up, Kingsley Amis wrote to Philip Larkin. Although the poet – bald, peevish and apathetic – had several romantic relationships, most enduringly with the indomitable academic Monica Jones, his private life was ultimately a failure.

Martin Amis
The Guardian
Saturday 23 October 2010

The age of the literary correspondence is dying, slowly but surely electrocuted by the superconductors of high modernity. This expiration was locked into a certainty about 20 years ago; and although William Trevor and VS Naipaul, say, may yet reward us, it already sounds fogeyish to reiterate that, no, we won't be seeing, and we won't be wanting to see, the selected faxes and emails, the selected texts and tweets of their successors. Philip Larkin's Letters to Monica, published by Faber, covers the period 1945-70, and passively evokes it: digs and lodgings ("I have put in for a flatlet!!!"), pre-decimal currency ("I owe you 21/1d I think – 24/11 plus 1/2 minus 5/-"), The Archers, Pickford's Movers and myxomatosis; its settings are remorselessly provincial, mainly Leicester and Hull (and Belfast, true), with so-called holidays in York, Sark, Lincoln, Poolewe, Bournemouth ("I hope you got my card from Pocklington"). The volume will be of vital interest to all admirers of Larkin's work, and to all students of the abysmal mystery of Larkin's life, with its singularly crippled eros. Much of the time, though, readers will be thinking that the "literary correspondence" is something we're well shot of – a postwar embarrassment, like child labour, meat rationing and outdoor toilets.

Sexual intercourse, as everyone knows, began in 1963 (which "was rather late for me"). But what preceded it?

Up to then there'd only been
A sort of bargaining,
A wrangle for the ring,
A shame that started at sixteen
And spread to everything.

Larkin got to know Monica Jones in the late 1940s, at which stage he was wrangling over a ring with Ruth Bowman, who was a 16-year-old sixth-former when they met. The wrangle with Ruth lasted eight years; the wrangle with Monica would last for 35, leading to the same outcome. Ruth's frail yet defiant homeliness can only be described as quite extraordinarily dated. Monica was a robust and comparatively worldly blonde, with well-shaped bones (but ogreish teeth). A lecturer in English at Leicester, she was a small-community "character": she wore tartan when she discussed Macbeth, and in general favoured dirndl skirts, low-cut tops and markedly cumbrous jewellery. But her defining characteristic was her voice – or, rather, her overpowering idiolect.

This is an extract from the most memorable letter in the book (October 1952): "Dear, I must sound very pompous & huffy . . . It's simply that in my view you would do much better to revise, drastically, the amount you say and the intensity with which you say it . . . I do want to urge you, with all love & kindness, to think about how much you say & how you say it. I'd even go so far as to make 3 rules: One, Never say more than two sentences, or very rarely three, without waiting for an answer or comment from whoever you're talking to; Two, abandon altogether your harsh didactic voice, & use only the soft musical one (except in special cases); & Three, don't do more than glance at your interlocutor (wrong word?) once or twice while speaking. You're getting a habit of boring your face up or round into the features of your listener – don't do it! It's most trying."

Larkin's tone is wholly unmalicious; it is affectionately, even pleadingly protective. And he at once retreats, explaining that those "3 rules" are merely "simple points of technique". We may take it as significant that the word "boring" is used here in an unexpected application – as a verb rather than a naked adjective. The person this letter describes is not just an individual but a familiar and fearsome type: the congenital, and unstoppable, windbag.

This collection qualifies as inside information; so it is not indecorous, I hope, to add some inside information of my own. Although the trajectory of Larkin's relationship with Kingsley Amis was already evident in the 1992 Selected Letters (edited, as is the current volume, by Anthony Thwaite), Letters to Monica adds substance and detail: undergraduate infatuation, measured disaffection, growing irritation, unregulated envy (envy being best understood as empathy gone wrong), a bourgeois distaste for bohemianism ("Patsy says [so-and-so's] house is filthy. I pressed her: 'As filthy as Kingsley's?'"), and finally a settled ill-will, occasionally tempered by nostalgia. Kingsley's feelings were more constant. But there was a Larkinian peculiarity that filled him with almost lifelong incredulity and dismay: Philip and the women. And, most especially, Philip and Monica.

In 1948 or 1949 Kingsley spoke slightingly of – or quite possibly to – Bowman. What followed was an alarming froideur. ("Kingsley was petrified," my mother later told me. "He thought he'd never see Philip again.") But Larkin extended no such chivalric shielding to Monica Jones. This is from an Amis-Larkin letter of the same period: "It doesn't surprise me in the least that Monica is [studying George Crabbe, 1754-1832, poet and parson]; he's exactly the sort of priggish, boring, featureless (especially that; there isn't anything about him, is there?), long-winded, inessential man she'd go for; if she can see beauty in a derelict shit-house, she must have more [sensibility] than you. Talking of [shit-houses] . . ."

In addition, as is well-known, Larkin acquiesced and indeed connived in Amis's merciless portrait of Monica (as Margaret Peel) in Lucky Jim (1954). Margaret is not only plain, theatrical, garrulous and of course boring; she is also a lying manipulator bent on entrapment. And Larkin would continue to regale Kingsley with grimly jovial asides about Monica's affectations – and, for instance, about her facial resemblance to Stan Laurel (an improvement, one supposes, on Oliver Hardy).

Ruth and Monica shared a certain trait: a restless self-importance unaccompanied by the slightest distinction (Monica, for all her strong opinions, published not a single word in her entire career). Two of the other three women in Larkin's life were similarly "superior": the aggressively "permissive" Patsy Strang (who drank herself to death at the age of 48); and the virginal, religious and implausibly naive Maeve Brennan (who claimed, in her maturity, not to know the meaning of the word "wank"). Only Betty Mackereth, Larkin's "loaf-haired secretary", seemed cheerfully content in her being. When it comes to women, as Kingsley wrote (in a style not to everyone's taste), "I fucking give you up". My mother, who revered Larkin, used to say, "Well, don't forget he went bald in his 20s. And he had a stutter. I think women frightened him." Then why, one wonders, were the women he chose so frightening?

And why was it Monica he always ended up with – Monica, the most frightening of them all? To describe Larkin's half of it as "love-hate" is perhaps too bold. On the positive side we register an urgent warmth, a snug intimacy of jokes and whimsies, and Monica's courageous acceptance of Larkin's intense melancholia – melancholia not as a mood or a susceptibility, but as a besetting Jonsonian humour ("black bile"). Larkin could be frightening too (and without much provocation): "No, I really can't do anything at all – it really is disgusting, I feel tearful with rage – why must [the landlady] leave her door open so that her filthy radio floods the whole house? . . . It really affects me strongly: a kind of spiritual claustrophobia – I can't get out, & can't get away, there's no way out, I can't stand it! Oh hell. How long will this go on, wasted time, wasted wasted wasted . . ." All this Monica shouldered and palliated. Still, on the negative side, we register Larkin's solemn exasperation, and his suppressed hostility and contempt. As early as 1953 Larkin told Strang why he was abandoning The New World Symphony (his third novel and his last attempt at fiction): "You know, I can't write this book: if it is to be written at all it should be largely an attack on Monica, & I can't do that, not while we are still on friendly terms, and I'm not sure it even interests me sufficiently to go on."

It is hard to construe this singular blend of animus and apathy. Even the "attack" on her bores him. So why did he cleave to Monica for another 32 years – till death did them part? He knew why. The reasons he gives Monica for not marrying her (often rehearsed) are the same reasons he surely gave himself for not leaving her. Failures of energy and courage, and a vast inertia.

Well, there was sex, too. Or was there? No indication is given, in the early letters, of the transition from friendship to romance. Turning to Andrew Motion's biography, we learn that Larkin "had come to me", as Monica quaintly put it, by the summer of 1950. (What would be the male equivalent of this phrase? "It was in August that I first took her"?) But such brooding cadences seem inapposite. "If it were announced that all sex would cease on 31 December," writes the hot 32-year-old on 15 December 1954, "my way of life wouldn't change at all." Evidently, though, they fumbled along. "[O]ften I'm quite uncertain whether you are feeling anything . . . you rarely seem to like anything more than anything else"; "I'm sorry our lovemaking fizzled out . . . I'm sorry to have failed you!" Larkin seeks a kind of safety in portraying himself as the omega male. Anyway, "taking care of business" (to paraphrase Aretha Franklin) was definitely not this man's game.

But these are turbid waters, thick with suspended matter, and go far deeper than Larkin's admittedly preternatural indolence. I defy any man – even the most self-sufficient poodlefaker – to read the following without a twinge: "I think . . . someone might do a little research on some of the inherent qualities of sex – its cruelty, its bullyingness, for instance. It seems to me that bending someone else to your will is the very stuff of sex, by force or neglect if you are male, by spitefulness or nagging or scenes if you are female. And what's more, both sides would sooner have it that way than not at all. I wouldn't. And I suspect that means not that I can enjoy sex in my own quiet way but that I can't enjoy it at all. It's like rugby football: either you like kicking & being kicked, or your soul cringes away from the whole affair. There's no way of quietly enjoying rugby football."

"In bed," the poet Ian Hamilton once told me, "you don't want to be too clear-headed about what you're doing." Larkin's clarity, his almost clinical over-sensitivity (naturally vital to his genius), could not be muted or muffled. This was his curse.

Or one of them. In Dostoevsky's Demons (1872) Varvara Petrovna accuses a portly valetudinarian bachelor of being "an old woman" – a verdict she promptly refines to "an old bag". Larkin, in his daily dealings (haircut, train ticket, utilities bill, new pullover, salaried employment), had a fair bit of the old bag in him ("I think there's a lot of infection about these days," he typically quavers, "upsetting one's insides: with all these foreigners about [in Hull, in 1966], one is never completely well, as when abroad"). There was, of course, a prominent old woman in his life – his mother, whose solitary widowhood lasted 30 years: "For her the daily round is hideous with traps, and dangerous with hidden ambush, and calamity: it is all she can do to creep through it unscathed. She . . . spends the time thinking about next summer's thunder-storms, gas taps, electricity switches, dark clouds, and I don't know what." Eva Larkin, then, in combination with the long-deceased Sydney (clever, cynical, despotic and pro-Nazi even after the outbreak of the second world war), might be expected to leave her son a heavy legacy.

"[M]y mother seems to be resuming her normal whining panicky grumbling maddening manner," he writes, perhaps self-revealingly. On the whole, though, Larkin tries to resist Freudian entendres and psychological determinisms: "[I]f one starts blaming one's parents, well, one would never stop! Butler said that anyone who was still worrying about his parents at 35 was a fool, but he certainly didn't forget them himself, and I think the influence they exert is enormous . . . I never remember my parents making a single spontaneous gesture of affection towards each other, for instance."

And the instance certainly hurts and connects. In an unpublished memoir (quoted in Motion's biography), Larkin wrote: "When I try to tune into my childhood, the dominant emotions I pick up are, overwhelmingly, fear and boredom . . . I never left the house without the sense of walking into a cooler, cleaner, saner and pleasanter atmosphere." Feelings of guilt, and possibly a desire for utter self-immolation, subjected Larkin to a recurrent temptation: that of setting up house with Eva. On this question Monica was impressively firm: "don't be robbed! don't be robbed of your soul!"

Monica Jones had many other virtues, chief among them her kindness and gentleness; she was stoical and unshockable, and could stand her ground under the awful searchlight of Larkin's candour and truthfulness. Thwaite quotes sparingly but tellingly from her letters (some of which were two or three times the length of this review), in which she also emerges as a tenacious literary critic, and an exceptionally close reader of Larkin's works in progress: it is startling to see how hard and how gingerly he struggled with poems that we now regard as etched in flint ("Church Going", say, or "The Whitsun Weddings"). From Larkin's viewpoint, of course, her main strength was her toleration of meagre rewards: "I accept, don't I, & without private reservation or grudge," she wrote in 1962, "that you don't like me enough to marry me." She accepted much else: his emotional sluggishness, and his morbid dread of effort in any sphere except poetry.

The fact that Larkin made little effort with Monica is everywhere apparent in these pages. His Selected Letters constitutes a literary event of the first order (alongside, for example, the imminent Saul Bellow: Letters). But the present book will remain a literary curiosity. Here, Larkin's prose is habitually perfunctory and pressureless: "Sun still shining here, but 'not for long' I fear"; "Of course, I might have been peevish anyway. More than likely!"; "Sheldon [the new sub-librarian] has started: seems all right, but nothing to write home about"; "Oh dear. I don't seem to be able to write you the interesting sort of letter I should like to . . ."

"Aren't I writing badly," he writes – and quite rightly. "The day didn't get off to a very good start by my reading some stories by 'Flannery O'Connor' in the bath – horribly depressing American South things." American South "things"? Larkin would never have written so exhaustedly to Amis, or to Thwaite, or to Barbara Pym, or to Robert Conquest (the world-famous historian whom he monotonously belittles: "a cheerful idiot", "the feeblewit", "what an old bore Bob is"). An old bore is what Larkin becomes, all too often, when he writes to Monica. But this too was no doubt salutary: a regular collapse into the unadorned everyday.

"It seems to me that what we have is a kind of homosexual relationship, disguised . . . Don't you think yourself there's something fishy about it?" What I take this to mean is that Larkin wasn't very masculine and that Monica wasn't very feminine. They lived, or subsisted, in middlesex. The process was far advanced, if not complete, by 1982, when I spent a long evening in their company. Larkin was demurely diffident (though he retained his "impeccable attentive courtesy: grave, but at the same time sunlit," as Kingsley would say in his funeral address, four years later). As for Monica – well, despite her clothes (brown trousers of crushed velvet, wifebeater blouse, plus earrings the size of hula hoops), she resembled an all-in wrestler renowned for an indifference to the norms of fair play. She also dominated the evening, despite the presence of my father, as host. Larkin had clearly ceased to urge her to revise, drastically, the amount she said and the intensity with which she said it.

Still, one way or another, Monica enabled Larkin to cherish his crucial essences – and to turn them into immortal poetry. "I am sure you are the one of this generation!" she wrote in 1955. "I like your poetry better than any that I ever see – oh, I am sure you will make yr name! yr mark, do I mean – really be a real poet, I feel more sure of it than ever before, it is you who are the one . . ."

Many a muse, no doubt, has murmured these words to many a poet. But Monica happened to be right. Larkin's life was a failure; his work was a triumph. That is all that matters. Because the work, unlike the life, lives on.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Way To Blue - The Songs of Nick Drake at The Sage, Gateshead

MELANCHOLIC English songwriter Nick Drake released three albums in the early 1970s,
to critical acclaim, but little commercial success.

He died, aged 26, of an accidental overdose at his Warwickshire home in Tanworth-in-Arden in 1974, a depressed and isolated figure.

Like the tragic Romantic poet John Keats, Drake's fame has been wholly posthumous, and a growing army of fans and acolytes keep his musical flame alive.

Way To Blue was curated by Drake's producer Joe Boyd and featured not only a fine string section, but some of the best interpreters of the tragic singer's music.

Highlights included a rousing Poor Boy, with Teddy Thompson on lead vocals, a stunning Time Has Told Me by Krystle Warren and the wonderfully blue-eyed soul voice of Scritti Politti front man Green Gartside on Fruit Tree, arguably Drake's greatest song.

With the added ingredient of legendary bassist Danny Thompson - who played on Drake's albums - the whole show was a moving, meticulous homage to a great English songwriter.

The only downside - and almost essentially Drake-like in its melancholy - was that the main hall at The Sage was only half-full.



Mike Unplugged:

Friday, 22 October 2010

William Gibson Interviewed

William Gibson Talks Zero History, Paranoia and the Awesome Power of Twitter

By Scott Thill
September 7, 2010

From recession-proof military contractors cool-hunting secret, weaponized brands to “gear queers,” viral iPhones and Twitter darknets, William Gibson’s new novel Zero History examines the 21st century’s techno-cultural fetishes with a deceptively simple directive: The future is now.

Gone is the sci-fi pretense of an imagined future, and for good reason.

“All we really have when we pretend to write about the future is the moment in which we are writing,” the 62-year-old godfather of cyberspace told by phone. “That’s why every imagined future obsoletes like an ice cream melting on the way back from the corner store.”

Out Tuesday from publisher Putnam/Penguin, Zero History dissects our paranoid, post-9/11 information overload with an eye for imminent terror and immanent transcendence. Like Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49 and Don DeLillo’s White Noise before it, Gibson’s new novel is not as interested in riveting plot points as it is in parsing an everyday life swarming with signifiers.

Its main characters — detail-obsessed Russian translator Milgrim, ex-rocker and taste-making detective Hollis Henry, and postmodern marketing mogul Hubertus Bigend — have been retrieved from the pages of Gibson’s previous novels Pattern Recognition and Spook Country to serve as ciphers through which the author’s hypercritical cultural examinations are executed. spoke with Gibson in a wide-ranging interview about Zero History, social networking, 9/11, fashionable militarism, brainy endeavors like Inception and The Century of the Self, smartphones and the cinematic adaptation of his sci-fi classic Neuromancer. Many of your previous characters have returned in Zero History, but it seems like the ones that steal the show are named Twitter and iPhone.

William Gibson: I hope not literally. It’s naturalism, in terms of the milieu I’m describing, which is a milieu I encounter more often not. The people I hang out with tend to use Macs, not that I think they’re necessarily superior. It’s just the brand they smoke. The next book I may have to depict a Windows cultural universe just for balance. There’s a scene in the book where Milgrim is asked whether he’s running a Mac or a PC. And when he answered “Mac,” I could immediately hear the anti-Apple crusaders on in my head screaming, “This is an outrage!”

Gibson: [Laughs] It’s what I encounter in researching that particular milieu. What people don’t notice is that Garreth’s laptop is another unnamed brand, which is probably some weird, rugged, military unit running stuff we couldn’t imagine. He’s not a vanilla Mac user. But I did give Milgrim and Sleight totally bland, extinct smartphones like the Neo. How about Twitter? More than most authors I’ve checked out, your tweet-happy avatar @GreatDismal seems to be most comfortable messaging and cool-hunting on the service. And in the novel, Twitter’s consistently used as a communication and parenting device, depending on the spook.

Gibson: Well, I discovered Twitter while I was writing the novel, and I immediately saw its odd potential for being a tiny, private darknet that no one else can access. I’m always interested in the spooky repurposing of everyday things. After a few days on Twitter, what was most evident to me is that, if you set it up right, it’s probably the most powerful novelty aggregator that has ever existed. Magazines have always been novelty aggregators, and people who work for them find and assemble new and interesting stuff, and people like me buy them. Or used to buy them, when magazines were the most efficient way to find novel things.

But now with Twitter, after following people who have proven themselves to be extremely adroit and active novelty aggregators, I get more random novelty every day that I can actually use. A lot of it just slides by, but a lot of it is stuff that I used to have to go through considerable trouble to find. And a lot of it is so beyond the stuff I used to be able to find, which is good. It sounds like Twitter has successfully brought the social networker out of you.

Gibson: I guess Twitter is the first thing that has been attractive to me as social media. I never felt the least draw to Facebook or MySpace. I’ve been involved anonymously in some tiny listservs, mainly in my ceaseless quest for random novelty, and sometimes while doing something that more closely resembles research.

But I never wanted to be on Facebook. And to my surprise, I found that Twitter started to bring in new friends and connections. I suspect the difference is that it is less formatted, or not formatted at all. It hasn’t been constructed to provide me an experience in any particular way, which is a function of its minimalist architecture. The deluge of novelty that Twitter provides reminds me of the line in Zero History where Milgrim’s therapist explains that “paranoia is too much information.” Do you think Twitter, as well as the exponentially evolving internet, is turning us all into paranoiacs?

Gibson: We’ve all got infinitely more soil for paranoia than we previously had before. But I don’t think it necessarily means we are more prone to grow it. But if we are prone to grow it, we could grow it more quickly and lavishly than we could when we only had a few newspapers and monthly magazines to act as fertilizer. It seems that after 9/11, which provides the political and cultural backdrop for your last three novels, it’s possible to develop paranoia just by picking up one newspaper, much less a bunch of them.

Gibson: It could, but what I think it mainly intends to induce now is vertigo. The vertigo of flow. Years ago, I was at CNN in Atlanta with Bruce Sterling, and he bought a pair of souvenir shot glasses. He said he was going to put them on top of his television set in his living room, so he and his wife could have a drink the next time there was a “CNN moment.” And when I asked him what a CNN moment was, he said it’s one of those moments when something of enormity has occurred and suddenly the future is right up against your face. You don’t have the lag you usually get to enjoy between some sense of a knowable present and what’s coming in the very next minute. And it seems like 9/11 jammed us into a permanent CNN moment. Is that why your last three novels, unlike Neuromancer and the rest of the Sprawl trilogy, have delivered us not into some sci-fi future but rather our own speculative present?

Gibson: It certainly has been a post-9/11 concept for me. Before I started writing science fiction, my theory was that every fictive, imagined future can only be understood historically within the moment it was written. Because nobody really writes about the future. All we really have when we pretend to write about the future is the moment in which we are writing. That’s why every imagined future obsoletes like an ice cream melting on the way back from the corner store. It’s going to almost immediately acquire a patina of quaintness; that’s just part of what imagining the future in fiction is about. Have you always felt that way?

Gibson: I knew that when I started, but there aren’t that many people who think that way. As an analytic experiment for myself, without making too big a point of it, when I got to the end of the Neuromancer trilogy and began another, I went to a very, very near future that is really more like a freely hallucinated version of the day in which it was written.

That was sufficient proof of theory for me when I got to Pattern Recognition, which was intended to be a novel that examined the day in which it was written with the standard-issue sci-fi tools. By the same token, I’ve always thought of writers like Don DeLillo as being people who use the oven mitts of sci-fi to pick up and examine the red-hot steaming mess that is the present. We’ve got the tools for the job. But the pretense to a future setting, in your work as well as that of DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon and others, is gone. Sci-fi has been around for a while now, but the concept that you’re living in the future now rather than envisioning it seems to be fully ascendant in this century.

Gibson: I agree completely. I know there are writers doing really good work today, taking all the trouble to imagine believable futures. But the trouble is I don’t keep up with them because it’s no longer what I am personally compelled to read. I have this post-it note on the windshield: “Read more great contemporary science fiction!” [Laughs] I’m serious. I know it’s there, and I’ve met some of the people that do it. But I’m spinning off into other directions. I look forward to my eventual renaissance as a sci-fi reader, and catching up on all that stuff. One thing that I’ve loved about your last three novels is that they’ve taken advertising, propaganda and identity down the rabbit hole. They remind me of Adam Curtis’ stunning documentary series The Century of the Self, which does the same. Have you seen it?

Gibson: No, but it’s funny you mention it. I was at breakfast with a really good friend of mine recently, and we weren’t talking about my stuff at all. We were talking about 20th-century history, and he brought up The Century of the Self and ran me through its take on the history of psychology. So that’s instantly warranted a more urgent post-it note: “Check out The Century of the Self!” Awesome! Curtis’ documentary is consumed with the idea that people are psychologically and politically empowered through excess consumption. Zero History seems to argue that it’s much harder to do when you’re spiraling through an age of information overload.

Gibson: Yeah, when I wrote Pattern Recognition, we were in a world in which we all hadn’t yet become cool hunters. But since then, it’s been democratized. It’s become a kind of function of the individual. What I notice about advertising lately is how incredibly little attention I pay to most of it, and how relatively little it influences my purchasing patterns. I don’t know what that’s about. I think I’ve tuned into my own universe of advertising and consumption. I just ignore the mainstream, and that may be where we’re all going.

Advertising today seems after the fact; I don’t feel like it’s addressed to me. If I pay attention I can see how it’s structured, and I don’t think I’m at all remarkable in that. I think consumers are generally becoming dangerously sophisticated about advertising, and how it works. Bigend is a fantasy figure I came up with to interrogate that situation, to make fun of it. I think I created him to enjoy the impotence of much of 21st-century marketing. [Laughs] For someone who laughs at 21st-century marketing, you sure know how to serve up the killer buzzwords and phrases in Zero History. I’m partial to “Anaheiming.”

Gibson: That’s the difference between what Anaheim was like in 1950 and what it is like now. I think of Anaheim because I’ve known a couple people who grew up in Orange County in the early ’50s and how they react to it now. It’s kind of like that Joni Mitchell song “Big Yellow Taxi,” which is about paving paradise and putting up parking lots. It’s a ubiquitous condition for a lot of the world; there’s a certain pathos in making a big deal about it. And yet there is also a certain pathos in seeing people too young to have any idea of what it was once like, walking around lost in a sort of pre-Lapsarian vision. As if someone told them that there were once miles of orange trees, but they can’t quite get their heads around it. How about the new militarized “Mitty demographic” that has gone “gear-queer.” I loved that one.

Gibson: There’s no invention in that one. Get on Google and punch in the term “tactical” and anything else: “Tactical briefcase,” “tactical boots,” “tactical trousers.” Do “tactical ballpoint pen;” that will blow your mind. You’ll find yourself in a whole galaxy of places retailing weaponized ballpoints, which are way post-9/11, appalling consumer artifacts.

I assume people buy them because they think they can probably still carry them on planes? Where maybe they’ll feel safer? I don’t know. But there’s just a big knot of this stuff right in the middle of American culture. I did my best to describe it. I tried very, very hard not to exaggerate that culture, and get it just right. Because a lot of people don’t know it’s there. And a lot of people do know it’s there, but they take it for granted. They can’t see that it’s strange or new in any way at all.

For some people, it’s just the way it is. But it hasn’t always been that way. It’s strange. Perhaps it’s not so much post-9/11 as post-Vietnam. I would’ve been a keen follower of stuff like that when I was 15 years old, so I know it wasn’t around. Doesn’t that kind of fetishized militarism or cultural weaponization concern or bother you?

Gibson: Well, I think it deserves to be noted. I try to keep it under the same anthropological umbrella where I keep my observations on technology. That stuff is a kind of technology; most of what we do is a kind of technology. And I feel like I have to be sort of agnostic about it all, as much as possible. I suspect most technology is morally neutral until we decide to do something with it. Zero History has a bunch of brand, and band, names in it. Hollis’ band was The Curfew; another invented band called The Bollards is mentioned. Do you have any favorite real band names?

Gibson: Nothing springs to mind. It’s been a long time since I’ve been totally impressed by one. It does strike me — as it seems to have struck Hollis — that there has been a long trend of coming up with band names that are deliberately unmemorable. And that may be because all the good ones have been used up. I think it would almost be unfashionable now to have a band name that was singularly striking. The Arcade Fire: I really like the band, and its name, but it’s not like it’s going to make people jump up at its first mention. We’ve been geeking The Beatles, the most iconic brand and band of all time, which settled on its band and brand name 50 years ago before breaking up 40 years ago.

Gibson: I had a funny relationship with The Beatles. I’m pretty sure that by the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, in some way I wasn’t quite conscious of, I had come to think of them as mainstream. Or a kind of new mainstream, in 1967, as far as I can remember.

I took it for granted that all of the old stuff was about to be replaced with something new, which I now know is never the case in history. But that’s because I was young, and the world was in a millenerian uproar, and they were not where I was going for the next or different thing. I’m kind of the opposite of a nostalgic person, in a lot of ways. If I hear The Beatles, I don’t go, “Wow! Those were the days.” It feels more to me like the beginning of where we are now. I don’t know, I’m kind of rambling now. I can’t get a handle on The Beatles. I think everyone’s been trying to for about 50 years now.

Gibson: The first Velvet Underground album came out almost at the same time, which was kind of like my Sgt. Pepper’s. The Beatles and The Velvet Underground would seem to be a wet dream of your marketing mogul Hubertus Bigend. One induced mass hysteria wherever it went, and the other influenced unrelenting cool.

Gibson: I was writing about the Velvets a few years ago, and it occurred to me that in 1967 it was possible to listen to those two albums, and think that each of them might have an equal chance of representing where pop culture was going to go. And it didn’t go the Velvets’ way. They sort of disappeared, and then they were sucked back in and their DNA was spread evenly through pop music. So you just never know. But there are these moments where two possibilities arrive, where someone sitting in a historical moment can wonder, “Which is it going to be?” With The Beatles, I think it was preordained that they were going to be iconic in the way that they are today. I believe I’m contractually obligated to ask you about the Neuromancer film, although I believe you could take the Fifth if you wanted to.

Gibson: Well, my experience with people making a film out of Neuromancer is that it hasn’t happened yet. But that said, I’m really interested in the idea of Vincenzo Natali possibly doing it. Beyond that, I kind of have to take the Fifth. Mainly because I never talk about my own work in progress, so I extend that to trying to never talk about others’ works in progress either. If any milestones are met, the internet will know about it. I’ve spoken with Alan Moore a few times about the process of filming the unfilmable. What do you think about taking influential source texts and translating them into film?

Gibson: Somewhere back in my post-grad days in some film-history course I once took, I acquired the idea that adaptations of literary works were not the optimal places for auteur directors to begin. It could work out, or maybe not, but most of the films we think of as really great films began with a director who had his own idea, perhaps wrote his own script and produced his own artifact.

I think adaptations start out behind the curve. But I don’t know. I have enormous respect for Alan Moore as an artist, but I don’t actually get the vehemence of his desire to see his work remain untranslated to other media. I know what it feels like to have things made badly, and it doesn’t feel good. But I don’t care if it doesn’t work. I may be briefly unhappy, but I don’t feel like it damages the original work in any way. Going into it, I’m always intrigued and curious to see what someone will make, particularly if they’re given $90 million to mess around with. Somehow I get the feeling they’re going to need more than that to film Neuromancer.

Gibson: It depends, you know? There are lots of different ways of doing it. My idea of a Neuromancer film at the end of the first decade of the 21st century isn’t about going big. Not that it’s necessarily my call, but it’s not what I would necessarily be thinking of. If it was my product, it probably wouldn’t sell itself on the basis of the huge acid-ness of its depiction of a super-evolved internet.

It would probably be character-driven, as much as anything, and have a lot to do with the close-up texture of the world in which it happening. But I say that with the massive caveat that I am not describing anything else that anybody is planning to do. It’s just my idea of what would be good right now. What about Christopher Nolan’s Inception? I immediately thought of your work when I saw that film, and noticed you were conversing about it on Twitter.

Gibson: Yeah, someone that I can’t remember off-hand, to my embarrassment, who I gathered was one of the main FX guys on Inception, tweeted that the curled-up Paris scene was inspired to some extent by Neuromancer’s space resort Freeside, and that something else was inspired by something from Idoru. And I was really flattered, because I loved the movie.

Although when I saw Inception, I had this whole list of stuff that I thought it was referencing, with maybe a little bit of my work down at the bottom. I thought it dallied way more in Giorgio de Chirico than it did in Neuromancer. But there is a way that those cultural influences flow through all the people who do any kind of serious work anyway. So you can’t really tell: When I get it from J.G. Ballard, does that mean I got it from de Chirico, because Ballard couldn’t have done it without him? If you’ve got it going on, it all flows together.

Dizzy Gillespie

Dizzy, God bless him, died on 5 January 1993; he was, however, born on October 21 back in 1917. Here's his picture, because he really was cool:

Thursday, 21 October 2010

Da's doings

Da has taken to his bed AGAIN the lazy good-for-nothing. So, he won't be out Friday AGAIN. He sends his best wishes, which on this form aren't worth a lot.
Get well soon Da you leadswinging old bastard.