Archive for the ‘james joyce’ Category

The 10 Books which made the most impact on me

A friend of mine, Carol, (aka The Naked Novelist) via my bestman Stuart, passed on a challenge this week: to list the 10 books that have had the most impact on my life. So that’s impact, not my favourite 10.

Here’s my stab at it…

1. ‘Here We Go’ – the Janet and John book I learnt to read with: “Look, Janet, look!”

janet and john here we go book
2. ‘Ulysses’, James Joyce – it’s about everything, and very resonant if you’re a Jew married to an Irish woman “Yes, yes, yes!”

First edition (I'd love one of these)

First edition (I’d love one of these)

3. ‘Paradise Lost’ Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent – the poetry’s pretty damn good but the footnotes were a revelation – it helped me realise school subjects are artificial divisions and everything’s connected to everything else. “Of man’s disobedience and the fruit of that forbidden tree…”

 'Paradise Lost' Books 1 & 2, John Milton ed. John Broadbent book
4. ‘Asterix in Britain’ – I loved the notion of an invasion succeeding because one side stopped for tea at a set time every afternoon (5 o’clock)

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Asterix Chez les Bretagnes

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

Time for Tea (a fatal weakness)

5. ‘The Dinosaur Strain’, Mark Brown – got me into the subject of Creative Thinking, led to me making a computer game (MindGym) and ultimately to writing my own book about Creativity, ‘When Sparks Fly’ (5/8 finished, interviewed Jamie Oliver for it today)

the only picture I can find as it's almost extinct

the only picture I can find as it’s almost extinct

6. ‘Romeo and Juliet’, Shakey – emblematic of the year I had an inspiring teacher (English teacher of course – Mr Fitch RIP MA Cantab) who got me really reading

romeo and juliet shakespeare arden edition
7. ‘The Riddle of the Sands’, Erskine Childers – made me realise what a burden material possessions can be in the scene where the protagonist can’t get his trunk into the sailing boat and has to dump all his shit on the quay

'The Riddle of the Sands', Erskine Childers penguin book
8. ‘The Complete Plays of Joe Orton’ – bought it for a 6th form project, turned me on to satire and the Sixties

'The Complete Plays of Joe Orton'  book
9. ‘Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide’ – pored over this fat tome when I first got really into movies as a teenager

'Leonard Maltin's Movie Guide' 1979
10. ‘On the Road’, Jack Kerouac – led me to Allen Ginsberg who in turn inspired ‘When Sparks Fly’ (see above) and is the subject of the first chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend

On the Road by Jack Kerouac

on-the-road-book-cover-jack-kerouac-poster

jack Kerouac-On-The-Road book novelIf it’s not too Neknominate, please do share your Top Impact 10 below (or a link to it)…

Marilyn in Bloom

1955 by Eve Arnold

1955 by Eve Arnold

Photographer Eve Arnold on the background to this photo…

We worked on a beach on Long Island. She was visiting Norman Rosten the poet…. I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She said she kept Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it — but she found it hard going. She couldn’t read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her. It was always a collaborative effort of photographer and subject where she was concerned — but almost more her input.

A couple of other Ulysses posts if this puts you in the mood:

Starless and Bible Black

Caught in Session

ReJoycing in Dublin

Caught in Session

Can you imagine the looks on the two teenage faces when their mother tells them that she is going to invite people round to the house every eight weeks to sing in the back room …and say poems …and read stuff? WTF?! And she wants you boys to join in. You can just listen but you’re to be there. WTFF?!! On Saturday night the second such session took place. Enfant Terrible No. 2 engineered  a sleep-over. No. 1 actually showed his face at the end after a no-show eight weeks earlier.

Here’s what was on the menu…

Daffodils

Una opened with a Spring theme reading Wordsworth’s Daffodils.  The next morning this Wordsworth quote arrived by serendipity in my InBox (7th April being his birthday, in 1770):

The best portion of a good man’s life: his little, nameless unremembered acts of kindness and love. 

Later she read one of her own poems, Bodies, a moving and intimate Heaneyesque account of dressing her father’s body for his wake. Towards the end she read another of her pieces, Underground, inspired by a Northern Line encounter and written on the spot.

Here are two of my own recent Northern Line encounters:

tube couple underground red

double bass man tube

For my contribution this time I read one of my favourite posts from this blog, Starless and Bible Black, and then the passage from James Joyce’s  Ulysses to which it refers. It’s when the two protagonists have an outdoor piss together under the night sky, all done in the form of a catechism, and containing that very special line:

THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.

At the first session I read the opening of the first chapter of my book in progress, When Sparks Fly, about Allen Ginsberg. I concluded with a Ginsberg poem referencing the same incident mentioned in the first line of the book.

Joyce linked nicely to the next person up, an actress specialising in Beckett (who was Joyce’s secretary) – she read The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by TS Eliot (whose masterpiece, The Wasteland, was published seven years later in 1922, the same year as Ulysses).

ballerina-ballet-black-and-white-dancer-tutu

She also recited from memory a brilliant poem of her own about her days as a ballet dancer and how that went down in the Midlands of Ireland. And as if that wasn’t delight enough, she sang a powerful Sinead O’Connor song (from Universal Mother I think). And then a song in Irish about a boy from Loch Erne (Buachaill ón Eirne).

pints of stout in a triangle

All the music and much of the rest of the singing came from our friend Patmo and his gee-tar. Highlight for me was a song about the potboy in the Dorset Arms in Stockwell where we used to go to watch Patmo and his band The Stone Rangers play. It’s called Put one in the tank for Frank and celebrates plying the late lamented Frank Murphy with beer to get access to the storeroom with all their gear in it. He also played Una’s favourite of his songs, A Little Bit of Lace (as immortalised on Adie Dunbar and the Jonahs’ Two Brothers), as well as some classic singalongs from Sinatra’s Fly Me to the Moon to John Denver’s Country Road (some painful, submerged teenage memories there from the height of the punk era but surprisingly enjoyable all these years later).

Our old friend Roddy read from a great early 60s first edition he has of Brendan Behan’s Island, a beautifully illustrated (by Paul Hogarth) travelogue around the old country. His other half, Alex, also by coincidence a former ballet dancer, read some Yeats love poetry (it was an evening of the Irish reading the English, and vice versa – perfect to herald the week which sees poet and president Michael D Higgins making a state visit to London, on the very day (8th April) Gladstone presented his first Home Rule Bill to Parliament in 1886). Alex closed proceedings with a parting shot of Dorothy Parker.

dorothy-parker

All in all, a pretty darn good evening (and that’s not counting the Connemara whiskey and fresh homemade soup).

<0>

Dorothy Parker, when asked what she’d like for breakfast…

Just something light and easy to fix. How about a dear little whiskey sour?

Tower of Power (Day 89)

Tidied up my model chapter, With a Little Help from My Friend, added the intro and the piece between Chapters 1 and 2 and then sent it to two people for some fresh-eyed feedback. The first tentative steps into the public domain! No. 1 copy went to my Other Half and the second to a friend, Farrah, whose opinion I really respect but who I feel sufficiently safe with.

Then I went for a run back to Sandymount Strand where a Godsky was illuminating the beach.

Sandymount Strand morning sunrise Dublin Ireland

A good breakfast back at Bewley’s, a quick catch-up with an old friend of mine on his way back from an interview for production design on a horror movie, and then a great chat with TV producer Steve Lock who hails from my NW London neck of the woods but has ended up in Greystones, along the coast South of Sandymount and Dun Laoghaire (I’m always impressed with myself that I can actually spell that name). Steve helped me a few weeks back with the Tony Wilson/Music chapter, Chapter 2) by being interviewed about his time working with Tony at Granada. He kindly brought along today the Factory Christmas card for 1988 consisting of a flick-book animation from a New Order video and his FAC51 card for the Hacienda.

Factory records Christmas card 1988 and Hacienda membership card

Steve dropped me off at Sandycove Point where I went to visit the Martello Tower where Ulysses begins. First a scene on the roof of the tower, looking across the bay to Howth Head where the book ends, the story physically embracing Joyce’s native city; then the characters descend and head over the lane to the Forty Foot, a rocky outcrop just opposite the Tower from which people have been swimming in the Irish Sea of Dublin Bay all year round for some 250 years. There was an auld fella swimming just round the corner this very afternoon – January 15th, full on winter, albeit a beautiful sunlit afternoon.

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

The Forty Foot where Buck Mulligan swims

I didn’t get any other writing done today, too busy immersing myself in a perfect yellowy afternoon, which will charge the creative batteries if nothing else. I’ll get onto the synopsis document I need to produce tomorrow. In the meantime, here are some images from the Sandycove adventure…

Martello Tower at Sandymount Dublin from Ulysses by James Joyce

The Martello Tower getting a bit of a spruce-up

The Forty Foot Dublin Bay Sandycove

The view to Howth Head

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Tower and the Forty Foot

The Forty Foot Sandycove

The Forty Foot togs sign

ReJoycing in Dublin (Day 87)

National Library of Ireland Dublin Reading Room

You could call it bathos, you could call it homage, but it felt like a good idea plugging into the Joyce vibe whilst in Dublin, channelling some of that energy into When Sparks Fly. So I’m writing this in the National Library of Ireland on Kildare Street which Leopold Bloom visits to check up on an old ad he’d placed in a Dublin paper. As previously mentioned in relation to Sylvia Beach/Publishing and in this blog pre-sabbatical, I’m a real lover of Ulysses.

National Library of Ireland Kildare Street Dublin

This reading room can’t have changed much since 1904 when Ulysses is set. It’s remiscent of the Reading Room in the old British Library with its pastel colours (here green, there blue) and circular ceiling (here a semi-circle extended into a barrel vault, there totally circular). The only time I ever did any research in that venerable circle was to look up an out-of-print Dr Seuss book (The Big Leap) with a TV project in mind. Here I haven’t even got a Dr Seuss book as I believe you need a reader’s ticket to work in here so I’m an illegal and daren’t monkey with the books in case I get turfed out. It’s drizzly out there and I like this place so head down, eyes on my fries, try not to attract attention. That librarian over there with the Victorian beard and red tie looks like he could turn nasty.

National Library of ireland Kildare Street Dublin

So I got a bit of writing in yesterday (Sunday) to catch up a bit on the slack days at the end of last week, did a bit more before leaving for the airport, and finished off late in the afternoon in my room in Bewley’s Hotel in Ballsbridge, South Dublin, an old masonic school. I finished my second draft of Chapter 1 on Allen Ginsberg after a whole week, longer than I expected but at least it reads well and I finally have a polished draft to use as my model chapter.

On the way over I read Barry Miles’ book about the Beat Hotel in preparation for my interview with him next month and as deep research for the Ginsberg chapter. I picked up my copy at Shakespeare and Company in Paris on Day 53 and visited its location on Rue Git-le-Coeur the same afternoon, another enjoyable literary pilgrimage.

Once I got to the hotel, with the winter late afternoon light fast fading, before settling down to writing I headed down the Sandymount Road opposite the hotel to get some air. I passed a hotel opposite where I once co-wrote a film entitled Memories Are Made of This (with a suitable Doris Day soundtrack). A block down I came, unexpectedly, to an urban cottage on a corner which a brass plaque indicates to be the birthplace of WB Yeats.

I carried on down to the coast, beyond the DART railway, and through a slice of Dublin 4 where I came out at Sandymount Strand, the sun now down and an almost full moon now out, reflected in the wet sand of the broad beach at low tide. I walked up to the Martello Tower, not The Martello Tower but a Martello Tower in the same coastal chain as the famous one in which the opening scene of Ulysses is set. That’s four and a half miles further down on Sandycove Point. I was hoping to go down there this afternoon but the weather’s too Irish (in contrast to yesterday afternoon at this time) so I’ll try again tomorrow and for now make do with the Library which is new Ulysses territory for me (the Tower I’ve been in before, notably on the centenary BloomsDay in 2004).

Martello tower sandymount strand dublin

I went down onto the Strand in the silvery light. A few dog walkers and joggers provided occasional punctuation but largely I was alone with my lunatic self. I took out the ol’ iPhone and on it I have two books – Kidnapped (which I’ve never got far into) and Ulysses. This electronic copy is the vehicle for my slow 4th reading, running in parallel to my further advanced 3rd reading of my trusty hardback copy. I opened the Eucalyptus app and on the very page I had previously reached was Gertie (MacDowell)’s name, the girl Bloom watches (in a naughty way) on this very strand. I leafed forwards a few pages to get Stephen Daedalus out of the stiffling school he teaches in and onto his walk into Dublin down Sandymount Strand. As he walks onto the beach it’s a philosophically charged moment, he has his eyes closed and is wondering what status the world has on the other side of his eyelids, whether and how it exists without being the focus of his conscious mind.

sandymount strand dublin moonlight

“I am getting on nicely in the dark … Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?”

Bloom later crosses Stephen’s path on the strand (Stephen by then long gone) when he spots Gertie and the girls and has a vigorous flight of fancy. Opposite the beach, in the distance, is Howth Head where the book climaxes.

I read for a bit on the illuminated screen on the illuminated beach then headed back to write.

For the evening I made for the gates of Trinity College to meet a colleague from RTE with whom I’m working tomorrow. Chat and food and a little drink was partaken of.

Who does that librarian remind me of? It’s really bugging me now. Lytton Strachey? Roger Casement? No, it’s someone alive and closer to home…

I came home, did a little more writing, read a bit more of The Beat Hotel in a hotel room far removed from Room 32 of M. Rachou’s establishment, no radio coming from the sink plughole or any other eccentric plumbing, no rationed hot water or limiting of the electric light to 40W, no smells of garlic, or of worse from the Turkish-style two foot position squatty hole arrangement so typical of Paris back in the day. You can’t build an empire on crappy plumbing as our very own Bazalgette, forbear of the man who brought the magnificent ordure of Big Brother to Channel 4, proved. I suspect the pipes in the Tower also left something to be desired, but then you got to shave outdoors overlooking the snot green sea so what’s to complain about. It’s a fair city indeed.

 Ginsberg in the Beat Hotel with rimbaud

Too Long in Exile

stolen paintings

I’m sitting here in the James Joyce Foundation in Zurich with in front of me a copy of ‘Thom’s Official Directory of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland for the year 1904′ published in Dublin by Thom & Co. (Limited) of Middle Abbey-Street. 1904 is the year in which Joyce’s Ulysses is set. This big red volume is the reference book Joyce used to recreate the detail of Dublin from exile here in Zurich. Joyce came to the city on leaving Dublin in 1904 (hence the choice of date for the novel – it is Dublin as fixed at the point of exile) accompanied by his other half, Nora Barnacle. They moved on to Italy/Trieste, back to Zurich, and on to Paris. Much of Ulysses (1922) was written here in Zurich. Joyce left occupied France in 1940 for Zurich where he died in 1941 (aged 59) and is buried.

So I’m flying in this morning with my iPod Shuffle on and up pops Van the Man singing ‘Too Long in Exile‘ with the line “just like James Joyce, baby / Too long in exile” – one of those meant to be moments.

And on the subject of Abbey Street and occupied France, in my hands is a copy of a classy thriller ‘The 6th Lamentation‘ by William Brodrick whose two central characters are a monk and a victim of the occupation of Paris. Another key character is a refugee to Switzerland. So I’m psyched for the Stiftung James Joyce.

I’m welcolmed by a friendly American academic and by the Director and prime mover of the Foundation, Fritz Senn, a Joyce specialist and as near as a Swiss man can be to being Irish.

In the back of Thom’s is an advert for Uska-Slan – Water of Health – in the form of Cantrell & Cochrane’s Table Waters. Just the kind of ad Leopold Bloom would have dealt in. I’m fresh from a lunchtime conversation which included the benefits of Badoit and the insanity of bottled still water. There’s a wonderful passage in Ulysses about water I heard declaimed atop the martello tower in Sandycove, South Dublin on the centenary Bloom’s Day on 16th June 2004.

I can, for example, look up my sister-in-law’s street in Ballybough (PoorTown) and see exactly who lived there in 1904. Mrs Grace at No. 24. A draper at No. 1, a jeweller at No. 14 and Mr John Killen of the GPO at No. 16. It tells you where the pillar boxes were (“Pillar Letter Box adjoining Raglan-road”). I’ve just spotted my father-in-law’s namesake (Murphy, James, esq.) at No. 26 Clyde-road which was valued at 70 pounds – and a certain William McGee at Cobourg-place (next door to Jasper Monahan the spirit grocer, which I assume is a far more colourful name for an off-licence).

My wife has now lived in London – many miles away from the cemetry at Kilbroney, Co. Louth where James Murphy after James Murphy is buried – for more years than she’s lived in Ireland – she went past the mid-point a couple of years ago, very significant really.

When I was in Ireland for the summer holidays last year, staying at said sister-in-law in Ballybough, I picked up a copy (at the Irish Museum of Modern Art in Kilmainham) of ‘That Neutral Island‘ by Clair Wills about the Irish home front in the Second World War. I often wonder what similarities and differences there are between the Irish neutrality and the Swiss. Joyce spent most of the First World War (July 1915 to October 1919) in Zurich, as well as getting the permit for entry from occupied France in late 1940.

A few weeks ago there was a big art robbery just outside Zurich from another Foundation – the Emil Buhrle Foundation. Buhrle was a Zurich-based, German born industrialist who sold arms to the Third Reich. After the war 13 paintings in the collection, which was raided in February by armed masked men, appeared on a list of art looted by Nazis from Jews and eventually he handed them over, getting some compensation from the Swiss government. The provenance of other works in the collection remains shady. Much like the Russian collection currently on show in the Royal Academy, London (in the From Russia exhibition), where the British government had to provide an official ‘safe passage’ document to insulate the dubious pieces from any chance of investigation and return to their rightful owners – Russia’s art galleries are peppered with works ‘nationalised’ after the Revolution or looted in the Second World War, many ultimately from murdered Jews. So one has limited sympathy for the Emil Buhrle Foundation as whose work the masked raiders with the Slavic accents actually stole is a moot point.

I recently came across this quotation by the writer and Nobel Peace Prize winner (and man behind another foundation, this one a Foundation for Humanity, which bears his name) Elie Wiesel (through A.Word.A.Day – a daily email with an interesting new word – might have been Joyce’s cup of tea [my philisophical Zurchner taxi driver earlier today was tickled pink by this British idiom]):

“Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented.”

And this popular one attributed to Edmund Burke also comes to mind from the Last Message SMS competition on Lost Generation:

“It is necessary only for the good man to do nothing for evil to triumph.”

Reckon I’ll give the last word to Van the Man (not to be confused with White Van Man – the Buhrle robbery was carried out in a white panel van) and his collaborator on ‘Song of Being a Child‘, Peter Handke (not Swiss but Austrian like Adolf Hitler and Simon Wiesenthal, born in 1942, also a collaborator with Wim Wenders [Wings of Desire], a writer who has lived in self-imposed exile in Berlin, the US and for the last two decades Paris):

When the child was a child
It was the time of the following questions
Why am I me and why not you
Why am I here and why not there
Why did time begin and where does space end
Isn’t what I see and hear and smell
Just the appearance of the world in front of the world
Isn’t life under the sun just a dream
Does evil actually exist in people
Who really are evil
Why can’t it be that I who am
Wasn’t before I was
And that sometime I, the I, I am
No longer will be the I, I am

A little more magic from the Hiberno-Germanic melting pot.

Warum bin ich ich und warum nicht du?
Warum bin ich hier und warum nicht dort?

Find Our World in Yours

Big 4

On Monday the artist Mark Titchner pulled by Channel 4 HQ to give some background to his new work, unveiled that day in front of the building, Find Our World in Yours. It is the latest incarnation of the Big 4, a 40 foot high figure 4 marking the 25th anniversary of the Channel and the advent of the Big Art Project, a bold cross-platform (TV, web, mobile, real-life) initiative focused on Pubic Art. Each quarter the Big 4 is reskinned by a different artist and this quarter it’s Mark‘s turn.

His approach involves punctuating the metal skeleton of the 4 with slogans in a style derived from trade union banners. Into the upstroke of the 4 is built a video booth, with echoes of the Right to Reply one at 60 Charlotte Street back in the day. Passers-by, staff or anyone who wants to can pop in and leave a message with their thoughts about Television. A selection of these is played out each week on the TV screens that pepper the framework. The main slogan reads: Find Our World in Yours, Find Your World in Ours.

What was most inspiring about hearing Mark talk was the eclecticism of his inspirations. In art history these ranged from Renaissance depictions of religious ecstasy to Duchamp op-art, from 60s psychedelia to contemporary advertising. And then beyond the art world he used everything from record labels to the aforementioned trade union banners, from the Black Panther movement to corporate mission statements from which to springboard ideas.

I’m a great lover of such eclecticism. At school I remember being given a book by velvet-jacketed Mr Fitch RIP (think Rob Newman’s Jarvis meets the Cyril from That’s Life) – it was a copy of Paradise Lost edited by someone called Broadbent (or similar) which had the most fantastically eclectic footnotes, from the biblical to the scientific, from the geographic to the historical, and all points between. Apart from turning me on to literature (I ended up studying English, French and German literature), it made me realise how interconnected all these disciplines are and how essential those connections are to creativity.

Which brings me to a peak of creativity, my favourite book, James Joyce’s Ulysses. One of the things I most love about the book is the fabulous ecelecticism of the novel – whether you want to know about the water supply of Dublin or the dynamics of grief, the family life of Shakespeare or the history of Irish Republicanism, it’s all in there. And, of course, the art of advertising (Leopold Bloom is in the business) which brings us full circle back to Find Our World in Yours which, like Channel 4, has advertising in its life-blood.

Drinker with a writing problem

brendan behan

What do I think of when I hear the name Brendan Behan?

* Drink
* Fighting
* IRA
* Dylan Thomas
* Woolly jumper
* Dexy’s Midnight Runners

Drink:
By all accounts the man was an alcoholic for years. It certainly done him in. He described himself as “a drinker with a writing problem” (not quite Oscar wit, but amusing enough).

Fighting / Woolly jumper:
He looks like a brawler in the photos, even with those 50s Irish woolly jumper and tie arrangements. I’m not sure how much fighting he actually did – suspect most of it was with himself.

IRA:
He seems to have got caught a lot but I suppose at least it gave him raw material for his writing. His first stretch, the time he did in borstal, was for republican activities, specifically a half-baked attempt to blow up Liverpool docks. His first writings, poetry and prose, were published in Fianna, the magazine of Fianna Eireann, the youth organisation of the IRA. (My first published photos were in An Phoblacht [it's a long story] but from there, besides our shared wild&windswept hairdo, our lifestories diverge.) I get the impression he eventually grew out of the IRA and came to doubt political violence.

Dylan Thomas:
There appears to be a number of close parallels between Dylan and Brendan – lionised to death in the US, hounded by the media, the drink, the woman they couldn’t live with or without (Caitlin and Beatrice respectively), the woolly jumper with tie look, money worries, New York, the White Horse Tavern on Hudson St. in Greenwich Village. My sister-in-law Bronagh is arriving from Dublin this evening and she knows about these things so hopefully I’ll be a bit more clued up about these connections by the time I hit the pit tonight. Poking around on the web I came across a bit of a spat in the mid-60s on this very point between Conor Cruise O’Brien and a certain Constantine FitzGibbon (a biographer of Thomas) – O’Brien made connections between the two and FitzGibbon denied them.

I stumbled across this rather neat link last night: “Dylan Thomas wrote Under Milk Wood, Brendan Behan wrote under Littlewood” – referring to Joan Littlewood whose Theatre Workshop put on The Quare Fellow at the Theatre Royal Stratford East in 1956, transferring to the West End and ultimately to Broadway, establishing his international rep.

It’s the last commonality on the list above – time spent in New York – which gives rise to this posting. A new play entitled Brendan at the Chelsea is coming up this month at the Riverside in Hammersmith (starting 15th January) written by Behan’s niece Janet and starring Adrian Dunbar (The Crying Game, The General, My Left Foot, Hear My Song – who co-directs) and Brid Brennan (Dancing at Lughnasa, Topsy-Turvy).

It’s set in the 60s in the “legendary bohemian bolt-hole”, The Chelsea Hotel (where Dylan Thomas checked out of this world in 1953 with alcohol poisoning – hang-out also for that other poet who adopted Thomas’ name, Bob Dylan, and his buddy Allen Ginsberg, not to mention writers ranging from Eugene O’Neill to Arthur C. Clarke [who wrote 2001: A Space Odyssey there], and musos including Leonard Cohen, Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and the Grateful Dead, and of course the ungrateful dead, Nancy Spungen, who had no fun in a room there with Sid back in 1978). So, fellow playwright Arthur Miller is just across the hall, the grooves of free jazzer Ornette Coleman are drifting down from a floor above and Brendan’s in his room, short of dough and inspiration – he’s hung over and way past the delivery date of his next book, not a line written. He’s been told to stop drinking or he’ll be dead in six months – and that was two years ago….

So all set for a lively night on 23rd Street. I’ll report back when I’ve seen it and if you fancy a night of drama, drink and the fascinating interaction of human Behans, you’re just a click away from the Riverside

Dexy’s Midnight Runners:
I remember buying their first single Dance Stance and being intrigued by the litany of literary Irish (including Brendan who I hadn’t read but if he was in the same list as Oscar Wilde that was good enough for me)

Never heard about Oscar Wilde
Don’t want to know about Brendan Behan
Don’t think about Sean O’Casey
Don’t care about George Bernard Shaw, Samuel Beckett
Won’t talk about Eugene O’Neill
Don’t know about Edna O’Brien
Won’t think about Laurence Sterne

Shut it
You don’t undertand it
Shut it
That’s not the way I planned it
Shut your mouth til you know the truth.

Starless and Bible-Black

Dylan Thomas

Came across an astonishingly beautiful piece of music this week thanks to my friend – writer, music-lover, and fellow enthusiast for creative thinking – Doug Miller. STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK is a tune inspired by Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood, from an eponymous record of 1965 by the Stan Tracey Quartet. The Quartet was a British jazz outfit right there on the front line, “one of Britain’s few genuinely original contributions to world jazz”. The tenor saxophonist on Starless is a Glaswegian called Bobby Wellins whose performance is Something Special. I really, really love the title.

STARLESS AND BIBLE-BLACK.

It’s just one of those perfect phrases. It comes from the very beginning of Under Milk Wood: “To begin at the beginning: It is spring, moonless night in the small town, starless and bible-black”

I once started a novel (inspired by Henry Fielding’s Tom Jones) and took the rather over-reaching step of starting it “In the beginning…”. Proved a bit too much to live up to.

Tracey worked outwards from the titles which I really love as a working method – titles can be key and inspiring. “I settled down with the book and the album [original performance of Dylan Thomas' play], and as I was going through I jotted down ideas for titles. By the time I’d got to the end of the play I’d got all the titles worked out and just went on from there – writing for the titles”.

The phrase immediately brought to mind my favourite sentence from my favourite book:

THE HEAVENTREE OF STARS HUNG WITH HUMID NIGHTBLUE FRUIT.

It’s from James Joyce’s Ulysses (page 619 in my trusty old Penguin Modern Classics copy). It’s from when Bloom and Stephen go back to Bloom’s house after a wandering night on the lash and go out into the back garden for a piss.

Which brings us round to the Simple Pleasures – an outdoor piss after a great night out; an inspirational read; and a musical surprise. Total cost: about a fiver.

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