Today is Record Shop Day. I’ve been frequenting mine (Alan’s in East Finchley) plenty recently so I’m just making an internal nod to indy record shops and I’ve just played a classic record Spiral Scratch by (the) Buzzcocks (albeit not on vinyl, I’m in the wrong room) – the track I played is Boredom because I’ve been thinking about it a lot yesterday and today.
I’m living in this movie
But it doesn’t move me
I’m the man that’s waiting for the phone to ring
Hear it ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding
You know me, I’m acting dumb
You know the scene, very humdrum
Boredom, boredom, boredom
I was just out jogging, listening to a podcast with Irish writer John Banville talking about Raymond Chandler and Philip Marlowe. Banville, under his low-brow pen-name Benjamin Black (which I don’t much like – as fake as they come, a bit like Julian Barnes’ Dan Kavanagh), recently wrote a Marlowe book at the request of Chandler’s estate, The Black-Eyed Blonde. Marlowe stories usually start with the gumshoe sitting bored in his down-at-heel office waiting for something to happen, usually a dame walking through the door to give him a knight-errant mission.
Then late last night I was listening to a radio programme from BBC Radio 4 called The Buchan Tradition about John Buchan, marking the centenary year of The 39 Steps. Richard Hannay is bored in London at the start of that ripping yarn when lo and behold a spy dies on his living room carpet and the adventure begins.
That’s also often the case with Sherlock Holmes – he’s bored out of his brain, coked off his face, ennui has well and truly set in when a character shows up at 221b with a juicy mystery to solve.
One of my favourites, a resident of The Shelf of Honour, The Riddle of the Sands by Erskine Childers, opens with the protagonist bored in the “dead and fermenting city”, London in the dog-days of late summer. When the opportunity crops up to sail around the Baltic and North Sea coasts, in spitting distance of imperial Germany, with an English eccentric in an Aran jumper, it’s the perfect cure not just to boredom, but also to the complacency and materialism of modern life. One of my favourite scenes is when Carruthers, the narrator, can’t fit his trunk through the opening into the Dulcibella, the boat he is due to go off for a trip in and he has to dump most of his stuff (which he never really needed).
Recently I watched again one of my all-time favourite movies, Apocalypse Now, with Enfant Terrible No. 1 (a convert to The Godfather movies). Damn it’s good. Great. Nearly perfect. It opens with Captain Willard (Martin Sheen) bored to near-death in a hotel room in Saigon. Waiting for a mission.
Saigon…shit. I’m only in Saigon.
Every time, I think I’m gonna wake up back in the jungle.
I’m here a week now. Waiting for a mission. Getting softer. Every minute I stay in this room, I get weaker. And every minute Charlie squats in the bush…he gets stronger. Each time I looked around…the walls moved in a little tighter.
There’s boredom as debilitating ennui as in Baudelaire’s Les Fleurs du Mal. But there’s also boredom as a motivator, a prompt into adventure. The question is whether in real life the blonde walks through the door or the spy expires on your carpet? Does the ring-a-ding-a-fucking-ding really come?
I’m standing on the terrace of the Château Grimaldi in Vieil Antibes (aka le Musee Picasso). Below is an expanse of azure sea punctuated with dozens of white sails travelling in various incomprehensible lines as they race from whoknowswhere to somewhereelse. I couldn’t be happier being back in Antibes/Juan Les Pins. I’m here for the MIP TV market/Digital Emmys, my usual reason for being in this neck of the woods, but as a veteran of such things, I know to stay in Juan rather than Cannes.
Juan-les-Pins has two particular resonances for me – my European grandparents and jazz. The former, a Germano-Polish alliance, used to come here in the 50s and 60s as it was à la mode, the In place. They both enjoyed gambling so I expect the casino was a significant attraction. The latter I suspect was not unrelated to this modishness as it was the golden age of modal jazz and other such modern experimentation. I’m pretty sure I’ve seen stuff about Miles and Coltrane playing here. This hotel (I’m now on the balcony of my room at Le Grand Pavois as my phone ran out of juice at the end of the first paragraph) has a Sidney Bechet room. Somewhere near the patch of sea I can see through the pines is a commemoration of the international jazz festival they used to hold in town.
A quick bit of Googling shows that Trane played at the festival in 1965 and a live LP was recorded, and Miles played here in July 1969. That probably makes the Trane performance within 6 months of the release of ‘A Love Supreme’.
A bit more Googling reveals that Coltrane, Tyner, Garrison & Jones (the recorders/creators of ‘A Love Supreme’) were the band who played in Juan on 26/27 July 1965 and they played A Love Supreme, Impressions and Naima, which makes it I believe the one and only live performance of ‘A Love Supreme’, one of my favourite records, the opening track of which I’ve left a request to have played at my funeral (on the way in).
Back in the land very much of the living, today has been a pretty blessed one. The taxi driver who picked me up in Nice had a PhD in history of art from the Sorbonne and taught there. Cue interesting conversation about Fragonard, Boucher, etc. The hotel room they put me in is a corner room and because of its odd shape is big enough to play football in and has this huge sweeping balcony hugging the curved corner of the building where I’m now sitting in the golden rays of the evening sun in just a clean white towel (refreshing after the London winter).
So I dumped my coat and baggage, changed into shorts and my Save Ferris T-shirt and headed over the hill to Old Antibes. Steak frites for lunch with a glass of rosé. Crêpe citrone and café crême. Reading The Bone Clocks (David Mitchell), my book club choice. Then into the back streets by the marché provençale to the Musée Picasso, like an annual pilgrimage. It’s one of my favourite places.
I delighted in revisiting the fabulously Mediterranean ‘Joie de Vivre” (1946) which Picasso painted in the building after the war and about which I’ve written at length. This time the work that really stood out for me was ‘Nu Assis sur font vert’ (1946) which is a good example of Picasso capturing the human body in geometric, sculptural forms.
From there I passed a happy hour reading, snoozing, listening on the small harbour beach beside the marina. A walk over to Jaume Plensa’s Nomade sculpture (2010) on the harbour wall. Pleasant memories of one of my best days at Channel 4, rounding the corner of a wood to see for the first time ‘Dream’, which Plensa made as part of the ‘Big Art Project’ series. I met him that day.
On the late afternoon walk home I had one of the best ice-creams I’ve ever had (rum & raisin and coffee if you want to know).
The feeling that came to me walking over that hill on the way out at noon was that for all the crap going on in the world (and there’s no end of it) we need to stay in touch with the joys of living and appreciate them each and every day. That’s the only way to live. Otherwise it’s a road to madness.
Yesterday Christies in New York sold the manuscript and notes for Don McLean’s 1971 mega-hit ‘American Pie’ for $1.2M. It’s a view back from the perspective of 1971 over the 60s and 50s to an age of innocence represented by Buddy Holly, Richie Valens and The Big Bopper. The lyrics have a reputation for being impenetrable and rich in sub-text, though it is easy to spot Dylan, The Stones, The Beatles, The Byrds, Janis Joplin et al as he takes us through from his 12 year old self mourning the loss of Buddy Holly and co. in a tragic plane crash in 1959 through to a jaded, nostalgic 24 year old surveying the wreckage of the Hippy era. When asked what it means McLean’s favourite answer is: “It means I never have to work again.”
I went back this evening to check whether the song is as irritating as I remember. It is. The description of “bubblegum Dylan” is not far off (I think the phrase is Alexis Petridis’s). But the song’s sale and the fact it is trying to capture the meaning of a particular point in music history makes it a good springboard for a project that’s been brewing up in me for quite some time.
Over a couple of years I kept noticing that a number of classic records were recorded in 1971. After a while it seemed more than just coincidence. And as the 1971 records gathered I noticed that in many ways they seemed to represent the essence of the 60s/Hippy era even though they were a couple of years late numerically. How come the 60s seemed to climax in 1971? What was special about that year?
I went back to look and picked out 10 records that seem crucial to that year, and then one track on each that gets to the heart of the record. I’m planning to do a post about each of them in the wake of this intro. So first up will be ‘Natural Woman’ by Carole King from ‘Tapestry’…
A message from
James Rhodes, pianist & campaigner for music education
19 Mar 2015
We have had our first campaign success with Don’t Stop the Music – and it couldn’t have been done without your tireless campaigning.
Ofsted have agreed to include a ‘broad and balanced curriculum’ in their inspections of schools.
This is great news! It is the first step in helping ensure that children have access to a proper music education. It could not have been done without your support.
And on Tuesday night, I got to speak in parliament to members of the House of Lords and House of Commons about our concerns and what we need to do to protect music for future generations.
I had the opportunity to discuss our findings from the initial stages of Don’t Stop the Music; findings that gave me sleepless nights. Music education is in desperate need of support from the Government, and with May’s election fast approaching I need your help to make sure music education is not forgotten in the next Parliament.
We need consistent funding, not a post code lottery, opportunities for children to progress beyond their first musical experiences, more action from Ofsted, a trained teacher in every school, and school accountability measures (league tables and the like) which value music properly.
What I am asking your help with now, is making our voice as strong as possible.
If we have 100,000 people signed up to this campaign by the start of May, we will be able to make sure music education is not side-lined by a future Government.
So I am asking for your help, once again, to ensure more children have the opportunity to play musical instruments – please forward this message to your friends, put the petition link on Twitter and Facebook and get as many people as possible to sign up to the campaign
Thank you, thank you and thank you again.
Sign the petition here (it takes literally a minute)
I’ve been in a book group with some old school friends and a motley crew of other geezers for 13 and a bit years now. Here is a summary of our first 10 years. Well it’s my turn to choose the book again now – it takes 18-24 months for the honour to come round these days so you can’t take it lightly. I put a call out to social media friends for books that had really changed their lives or ways of seeing the world. Loads of interesting suggestions came in and rather than let them fade away in the ephemeral world of Facebook etc. I thought I’d save them here so other people in other book groups/book clubs/reading groups could make use of the titles. (The quotations are from the friends making the suggestions.)
- Out Stealing Horses – Per Petterson
- Crossing to Safety, Wallace Stegner
- A Fine Balance – Rohinton Mistry
- My brilliant friend – Elena Ferrante
- Random Family – Adrian Nicole LeBlanc
- Kevin Barry’s City Of Bohane
- Don de Lillo’s Underworld
- Marquez’ Love in the Time of Cholera
- Fugitive Pieces, Anne Michaels – “made me think differently about how the past shapes your present/future and how as individuals we get to choose if the negative parts of our past consume our futures or not. It is also beautifully written and made me revisit poetry too.” “it is the book that taught me how beautiful words can be”
- Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
- The social animal – David Brooks
- Do No Harm – Henry Marsh
- Andre Agassi’s “Open”
- The Life of Lazarillo de Tormes and of His Fortunes and Adversities
- Us – David Nicholls
- Amongst Women by John McGahern
- Malloy by Samuel Beckett
- The Master by Colm Tóibín
- The Country Girls by Edna O’ Brien
- Foster by Claire Keegan
- At Swim Two Birds by Flann O’ Brien
- The Quest for Corvo – AJA Symons
- Good Behaviour by Molly Keane
- Birchwood by John Banville
- How Many Miles to Babylon by Jennifer Johnston
- The Speckled People by Hugo Hamilton
- Love’s Work – Gillian Rose
- The History of History – Ida Hatemer-Higgins
- Inventing God, Nicholas Mosley – “felt my mind shifting on religion/geopolitics/Middle East. God as the greatest invention of humankind. Humanist but generous to those who have faith – a gentle riposte to the Hitchens/Dawkins approach. In a novel.”
- A window for one year – John Irving
- A Prayer for Owen Meany – John Irving – “love, friendship and sacrifice”
- Wild, Cheyl Strayed
- Dracula – Bram Stoker
- The Sisters Brothers – Patrick deWitt
- Heart of Darkness – Joseph Conrad
- For whom the bell tolls – Ernest Hemingway
- To the End of the Land, David Grossman
- Cat’s Eye by Margaret Atwood – “felt the terror of teenage girls when read and re-read both as a teenage girl/40 yr old woman”
- The Crossing by Cormac McCarthy – “felt the power and grace of the quiet man”
- Things Fall Apart – Chinwe Achebe
- Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother “Made me respect young people more”
- A Thousand Splendid Suns – Khaled Hosseini
- The Mezzanine by Nicolson Baker “It’s very short, very unlikely and some in the group will HATE it and for others it’ll change the way they look at the world around them. You’ll never see perforations or a straw in a fizzy drink the same way again.”
- Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman – “had a huge influence on my going to university and recognising the need to never find oneself in a position where you are wholly reliant on a man. All teenage girls should read it.”
- William Leith’s The Hungry Years “taught me how not to be a food addict”
- Cervantes’ Don Quixote “taught me to rely on my inner compass rather than external signage.”
- Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow “showed me that our personal interpretation is where the colour and joy of the world are to be found, but to keep it just shy of solipsism”
- Alexander Trocchi’s Cain’s Book “became my personal cultural key to unlocking New York”
- Stoner – John Williams
- Steppenwolf – Hermann Hesse “made me see my middle class/ inner animal struggle in a clear & cleansing light, Damn you Herman Hesse!”
- Plumed serpent, D. H. Lawrence – “opening to the mythic underbelly”
- Henry James’s ‘The Portrait of a Lady’ “because his characters are so compelling and so flawed. Our heroine’s youthful arrogance and stubbornness sees her turn down suitors because she values above all her freedom, only to find herself trapped in a way she could not have imagined. I was excited at her prospects and I feared for her. There were other characters I was rooting for too! Having re-read it more than 20 years later, I was interested and surprised to find I had more compassion for some characters I disliked intensely and impatience for those I felt sympathy for when I read it as a teenager. A truly astonishing, complex masterpiece.”
- The Book Thief – Markus Zusak
- Cormac McCarthy’s The Road “is the most piercing book I’ve read. The description of the trials faced by the father and son has stayed with me for years.”
- 1984 – George Orwell – “”We are the dead” “You are the dead” stopped me in my 13 year old tracks. Never saw it coming”
- Thomas Pynchon’s Against The Day – “because it really does require you to take a big chunk out of your life to read it – Rams home the idea that reading is subversive: stops you working, earning, socialising and kinda does stop time.”
- A fraction of the whole – Steve toltz
- Douglas Coupland’s ‘Microserfs’
- Be Here Now – Ram Dass
- Brave New World – Aldous Huxley
- The Five People You Meet in Heaven by Mitch Albom
- The english and their history by Robert tombs – “Amazing and definitive book that filled in every gap for me in understanding where we live and why it is how it is”
- The Spinoza Problem by Irvin Yalom “Despite the title, it’s a real page turner. Yalom goes back and forth between Spinoza and Rosenberg (part of Hitler’s propoganda machine). My book club had a fantastic discussion.”
- Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society, and Neurosexism Create Difference by Cordelia Fine
- Humanity: A Moral History of The 20th Century by Professor Jonathan Glover
- Lolita -Vladimir Nabokov
- The Bone People by Keri Hulme
- Homage To Catalonia – George Orwell
- The Unbearable Lightness of Beingby Milan Kundera
- The Wind-up Bird Chronicle -Haruki Murakami – “Extraordinary writing that made me see the world differently”
- Strangers on a Train – Patricia Highsmith
- Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier
- House of Leaves – Mark Z. Danielewski
- Angel by Elizabeth Taylor
Again, thanks to all those who kindly contributed to the list.
In the end I opted for The Bone Clocks by David Mitchell (partly because I thought Cloud Atlas was something pretty special). Will report back on how it goes.
I’m a Londoner born&bred. A total Londonphile. I’d have a London passport if I could. And my hobby is being a flaneur with a camera, wandering around the city aimlessly taking photos.
Today I’m taking a staycation and headed off for Paddington. I’m now sat on the bank of the Grand Union Canal a bit beyond Little Venice in the Spring sunshine.
When I went on a similar (un)mission on Saturday it struck me for the first time that London really is in danger. I headed to Borough as a starting point. I really couldn’t find any real people to photograph – just sheepish tourists in queues at a market with no proper stalls selling largely non-local food. I remember enjoying eating in the shadow of Southwark Cathedral not that many years ago – I couldn’t even find where that was. There were just wall-to-wall visitors chowing down legs crossed, penned in. I couldn’t find anything worth eating.
I retreated onto London Bridge and headed over into the weekend City. It was punctuated with cranes. Building sites everywhere. Fox, a shop established in 1868, with its silver Art Deco frontage was empty.
I bussed out to The Angel to the canal. Rammed with French speakers (and I’m happy London is now the 5th or 6th biggest French city) adding, in the lack of variety, to the feel of a city being smoothed over and having the edges knocked off. I managed to get some good shots with the camera I just bought the Enfants Terribles but it was an unusual struggle.
On my way out today I picked up a copy of Time Out. The cover was Save London. So it’s obviously not just me feeling this vibe. This is the first time in my life London feels under real threat on a Blitz scale. Property developers who don’t care; dirty money playing Monopoly; Euroblandness; buy-to-let neglect; chain everything death by consumerism; a wash of global sameness from the Internet age and Capitalism eating itself.
The city I love is in real peril. Better a Dornier than a Subway.
My copy of Tapestry sits uneasily beside Give ‘Em Enough Rope and Love Bites. It wasn’t really where I was at in the 70s. It was given to me (by way of legacy) by my friend Steve whose birthday it should be today. That’s him at the top.
This was taken by my friend Judyth at the SchluperBowl – an occasional soft ball game Steve, Stu (Toronto) and I organised on the Heath. The lime green shirt I’m wearing was bought with Steve and/or Stu at a shop in Middle Lane, Crouch End after a Saturday morning gathering at Wisteria cafe. We all bought a green jacket there and I wore mine today in honour of Steve.
Stu’s is now history. And of course Steve’s is lost in time. I was particularly conscious of Steve’s presence two evenings ago when I went to see Beautiful, the Broadway musical about the life and times of the great songwriting partnership of Carole King and Gerry Goffin. When Lewisham’s own Katie Brayben (playing CK) sang Natural Woman, that’s when the dust got in my eyes. I laughed, I smiled, I shook a leg. What an uplifting, entertaining production – way beyond anything I expected. I had been told by Jonathan Shalit a few days before (at a breakfast at The Ivy thrown by his agency ROAR) that it was a good show, but I was largely going as a treat for my other half, who has You’ve Got a Friend as her party piece. She grew up with Tapestry because they were doing hippy in Eire when we were doing punk here in London.
What the show made you realise is what an amazing array of brilliant songs Goffin-King wrote – from The Drifters Up on the Roof to The Shirelles Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow – across a number of years. The backbone of the story was the craft of song-writing, played out in the friendly rivalry between Carole & Gerry and Cynthia Weil & Barry Mann, either side of a thin partition in the Brill Building song factory.
Tonight my mum gave me a clipping about the performance the night before. Seemingly Carole King was in the audience unbeknownst to Katie Brayben and joined her in a rendition of You’ve Got a Friend after the show. That’s a moment I’d have loved to have witnessed – Katie seeing Carole emerge from the audience.
I remember hearing in a podcast – I remember exactly where I was, jogging along a field at the edge of Beit Chananyah – how James Taylor sort of nicked You’ve Got a Friend to put on Mud Slide Slim. They were recording in the same studios and sharing musicians – that’s how come JT appears on Tapestry. He did a kind of “I hope you don’t mind but…” on her and she was too polite to say anything. He scored a Billboard No. 1 with it. Joni Mitchell also appeared on both albums (her own Blue came out that same year). Carole said of You’ve Got a Friend “The song was as close to pure inspiration as I’ve ever experienced. The song wrote itself. It was written by something outside myself, through me.”
Talking of writing and inspiration, the whole experience the other night gave me an idea for a book. I went to write down a note about it when I got home from the Aldwych and found I’d already written the very same idea a while back in the same place. Meant to be. I started to work on the idea there&then and ploughed on through the night. Made the next day at work …interesting.
I’m listening to the record now as I write and Natural Woman, which has just come up, reminds me that Carole King first entered my life (I’m not counting the 8-track in my step-dad’s car, as I wasn’t paying attention, other than to the picture on the cover) thanks to Lawrence Kasdan’s The Big Chill, one of my favourite movies. It accompanies Harold and Meg as they make a baby.
I had a conversation about Carole King when my sister-in-law Bronagh wanted to find a song for her own funeral and asked for my advice. I suggested Way Over Yonder and we listened to it together. She was lying in a bed upstairs at my other sister-in-law Bernadette‘s house in Carlingford, overlooking the lough, preparing us for her impending death like Jesus preparing the disciples. It’s now just finishing playing Beautiful as I writes this, and has just segued into Way Over Yonder.
Way over yonder is a place that I know
Where I can see shelter from hunger and cold
And the sweet-tasting good life is so easily found
Way over yonder, that’s where I’m bound
I know when I get there, the first thing I’ll see
Is the sun shining golden, shining right down on me
Then trouble’s gonna lose me, worry leave me behind
And I’ll stand up proudly in a true peace of mind
Way over yonder is a place I have seen
It’s a garden of wisdom from some long ago dream
Today I hope the sun is shining golden on Steve, Bronagh and Bernadette in the land where the honey runs in rivers each day…