Archive for November, 2013|Monthly archive page
Went with the flow. Original plan was to get a change of scene for my writing day by heading off to the RAF Museum just a couple of miles away and write among old planes. But I had to drop the Other Half off in Holloway (near the library where Joe Orton carefully defaced covers and blurbs and got sentenced to 6 months for his trouble). On the way back heard on Radio London about Kenwood House re-opening today after two years of closure for renovation so went with it and ended up having a good, flowing writing session at the end of the Robert Adam library you never used to be able to get to (there was a rope barrier before the restoration). The gilding has been stripped away, which was a later accretion, and the beautifully lit domed room looks just right in its 18C pale pinks and blues with fine detail in pure white.
Sitting on the new leather sofa on its first morning of active duty I wrote five pages of the Tony Wilson chapter, picking up from the emblematic opening scene and intro I wrote earlier in the week. It flowed easily between related moments so that it got well away from any simple chronological account and feels like something cutting the cake in a more individual way.
Lunch break in the cafe in the stable block with a newspaper – revelling in the not-at-work feeling. Then another burst of writing outdoors overlooking the lake and grounds. Plus a bit of reading about Sylvia Beach who could make a good shorter chapter for variety. So a very productive day lifted by an inspirational environment.
After the library session had a look around the restored rooms and the rest of the house. Found a full length Sargent portrait in the old rooms upstairs that hadn’t registered before. Plus a collection of Elizabethan painting which wasn’t familiar – some amazingly modern fashion such as dresses decorated with little rips. Was reminded what an amazing collection is in the house (a vague memory that it was once curated by Cambridge spy Anthony Blunt, he certainly wrote the intro to older versions of the guidebook) – Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner, Boucher, Reynolds, Gainsborough, and all first-class examples, nothing second-rate. It’s a special pleasure to grow up with your own local set of paintings (as Vanessa Feltz eloquently captured on the show which brought me here) and it’s striking to see how a building/place can weave itself into the fabric of so many lives over such a long time.
Had a child off sick from school so found myself reading Norse myths with him, taking advantage of his recent interest in Thor comics. It was interesting to read that in Norse mythology there are three categories of people: Leaders, Makers and Doers.
Spent much of the rest of the morning preparing for some making by watching a BBC4 documentary on Factory Records, centred on one of Tony Wilson’s last extended interviews.
Then back to transferring notes from books into my draft Music chapter which is an arduous, slow task, often threatened by impatience to just dive in and write. I finished the process in the evening beside the local swimming pool where said sick child ploughed up and down the lanes as his illness declined with distance from the school bell.
But that leaves me with a clear, full-on writing day for Day 63 to get the build-up out of my system…
Hedley Lamarr: My mind is a raging torrent, flooded with rivulets of thought, cascading into a waterfall of creative alternatives.
Taggart: Goddarnit, Mr. Lamarr, you use your tongue prettier than a twenty dollar whore!
Used the morning to go meet a TV indie to talk about the televisual possibilities of this project on the prompting of a seasoned British commissioner I met by chance on the street in Copenhagen the week before last, who made an unsolicited connection as I explained what I was up to, and because the suggested contact was already a friend of mine from university days I thought might as well, if he’s seen something in it. It was on my plan but for way further down the line but the chat was useful, not least for the insightful questions and perspectives the producer raised.
As I was not far away, I decided to trot over to Parliament Hill and ascend. Did a bit of reading and writing at the top of the hill and in the cafe below, mainly centred on Sylvia Beach and the potential publishing chapter. Then home to return to the world of Factory and tap away in that realm.
Knocked off half an hour early to fulfil a long-held London ambition – to go see The Mousetrap, which has been playing of course since I drew my first breath. It was a charming immersion into the 40s (both on and off stage) and had the added bonus of leaving you with a hang-over of mystery and suspicion as you emerged back into the real life of the city, opposite The Ivy. An Aston Martin with the number plate JUL IIAN. An American family arranged by the father in front of the theatre, or was it in front of the sports car, for a sneaky snap. A man in a top hat shouting at someone. All bathed in red neon glow from the sign above. When a man is tired of London, he must indeed have passed on, be no more, expired, gone to meet his maker, a stiff, bereft of life, pushing up the daisies, off the twig, kicked the bucket, shuffled off his mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the bleedin’ choir invisible…
When I got back home, a Ginsberg person from the USA had gotten in touch out of the Norwegian Blue.
Canary Wharf in London’s Docklands was the locus of today’s activity. Started with a Channel 4-related meeting with some emerging film talent I met in Leipzig the other week who have a lovely project on the go which deserves some traction and support. Their pitch at Leipzig Dokfest was charmingly English and stood out really favourably in that European context as authentic and bringing beautiful craftsmanship.
Ascended ten floors to interview Rory Sutherland, boss of ad agency Ogilvy, whom I first met earlier on in the process as I got to grips with the Paul Arden/Advertising chapter. We had a thoroughly enjoyable chat at The Ivy, nice and appropriate for the subject-matter, which was a big help as I mapped out the landscape and headed off on the journey. True to form, this time he again not only gave really generously of his time but engaged in an enthusiastic and very well informed manner with illuminating observations from his own industry as well as from his passions beyond.
Spent the rest of the afternoon in Ogilvy’s offices, cracking on with the Tony Wilson stuff.
Ended the day heading due West to BBC in White City for final TX of this launch series of Health Freaks, dropping in the live insert into the pre-recorded show with Dr Pixie on voice-over and the team from Outline Productions.
I’m writing this high above Outline‘s offices (down below in Kentish Town) perched on the top of Parliament Hill. Before me is a beautiful panorama of autumnal trees and Highgate village on the summit opposite, lit in a low yellow sunlight. Behind me is the path my dad took daily in the 50s to his school, William Ellis, as well as the café where he first talked to me about his terminal illness. Beyond the golden trees to my left is the summit where I was born (Whitestone Pond). So I’m feeling right at home. And from up here I can turn round and see Canary Wharf silver-grey on the skyline.
Rounded off the week with a delightful phone conversation with Rosebud Pettet, a long-time, close friend of Allen Ginsberg, who lived with and beside him for over quarter of a century on&off. She was at his bedside when he passed on to the great poem in the sky and wrote a story about that experience which she shared with the likes of Patti Smith, Francesco Clemente and Philip Glass as well as Allen’s brother Eugene and partner Peter Orlovsky. She gave some beautiful insights into life with Allen from their meeting in the 60s when she was a teenager to his final years when he finally moved out of the building they had shared on the Lower East Side for yonks.
At one point in her travels Rose lived in London (not three miles from my end of the call) and at another point she was in Christiania in Copenhagen where I was last week.
I began the day back in the walled kitchen garden of Kenwood researching Sylvia Beach and her relationship with Joyce, with whom she was very close and supportive, not just around the publication of Ulysses but in his Parisian family life too.
In the afternoon I wrote about the legendary 4th June 1976 Sex Pistols gig in Manchester, attended by some 35 people and yet which inspired a great blossoming of music from Manchester including Joy Division and The Fall and their knock-on effects. It’s a good way into exploring the interface of truth and mythology around Tony Wilson, Factory and the Manchester scene of that golden era.
All week I’ve been trying to get in touch with a lead singer from another great band of the time to interview, wracking my brains about who I know who would have worked with him in recent times. Was drawing blanks from that line of inquiry until I was standing at the bread bit of the local supermarket during the weekend when I turned around and there he was. Singer of one of the great singles of all time and a landmark of punk, both of us loaves in hand, both in our silver fox period, face to face over a basket of family shopping. The world works in mysterious ways…
Day got off to a slow start with domestic stuff intruding. The upside was a good chat over lunch at our local favourite with Enfant Terrible No. 1. Putting me in a relaxed frame of mind to kick off the Actual Writing of the Music chapter along the lines that came to me walking down to lunch. I’d been struggling to find the emblematic scene (with which each chapter opens) for Tony Wilson. What finally came to mind was the legendary writing contract in blood scene immortalised in 24 Hour Party People (brought to you by the FineFolk at FilmFour) when Wilson and Joy Division formalise their relationship in a pub one afternoon. I came up with the notion of writing the scene in 3 takes. 1 as captured in the movie. 2 and 3 as told elsewhere by Tony Wilson. Each varies in detail and substance thus capturing the mythologising, self-mythologising and post-rationalisation integral to Wilson and his story. I read it back to Enfant Terrible No. 1 and he liked it.
Then I headed off with Femme Fatale No. 1 to see David and Tom Kelley, founders of IDEO, discuss their new co-written book Creative Confidence at the new Royal Academy buildings beside Burlington Arcade (the old Museum of Mankind, formerly part of the University of London which a distant relative of mine was involved in establishing, a factoid that emerged during a bout of family history research earlier this year). Tom kindly offered to write a blurb for the book (subject to his liking it of course).
The main thing is to write
for the joy of it. Cultivate a work-lust
that imagines its haven like your hands at night
dreaming the sun in the sunspot of a breast.
You are fasted now, light-headed, dangerous.
Take off from here. And don’t be so earnest,
Let others wear the sackcloth and the ashes.
Let go, let fly.
Day 57 concluded at the Festival Hall where a full-house tribute to poet Seamus Heaney was celebrated. You’ve never seen so many lauded poets in one place at one time. The lines above from Station Island were on the back of the programme, a pretty good thought with which to start a day’s writing (even more so as it has its roots in Donegal). The evening opened with the Big Man himself recorded reading Digging, one of my favourites for its simplicity and rootsiness. Piper Liam O’Flynn played, who I saw perform with Seamus at the Barbican in 1999. His pupil and friend Paul Muldoon read very well, as did the amazing looking Edna O’Brien who is now 82. Seamus’ protegee Charlotte Higgins was the third of the trio of outstanding readers, saying Blackberry-Picking (also simple and earthy, also from Death of a Naturalist). Poet Michael Longley read another of our family’s favourites, Clearances: III (the bit about peeling spuds with the mammy). Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy read as did Ireland’s Professor of Poetry Paula Meehan. Tom Paulin and Simon Armitage added to the rich mix. The Chieftains with Paddy Moloney, Matt Molloy and Sean Keane played. Channel 4 had a kind of presence in actress Ruth Negga of Misfits fame who performed from one of Seamus’ translations of Greek plays. The photographic portraits of Seamus from various times in his adult life projected behind the stage during the linking sections by Andrew O’Hagan were all wonderful, all by different photographers or friends. It’s quite something to make the kind of impact he made on the world by being a Poet in this modern era.
I came to South Bank in the wake of two meetings. The first was with entrepreneur James Laycock, who worked with Richard Branson early in his career and is now getting Central Working up&running as a place from which to grow businesses. I was asking him for advice on the Business chapter as I still haven’t found a subject I’m happy with – though I know they’re out there. As it happened I may have found the right person through the next meeting which was actually about something totally different, about democracy, politics and activism, with writer/marketeer Chris Ward (mentioned on an earlier Day), my friend Steve Moore (who knew Terri Hooley, one of the characters in the chapter I’m currently writing, back in Belfast in college days) and some people new to me who in their different ways are highly committed to trying to make UK politics (and beyond) work better.
In the morning I found the title for my Music chapter in a Joy Division song (albeit the live version which has slightly different words from the record): Take A Chance And Say You Tried – it’s largely about being true to yourself.
A day of two halves (which is more than you can say about the England-Germany match in the evening). First half was located in the walled Kitchen Garden of Kenwood House overlooking the city on a cold but azure day. I began reading about Sylvia Beach and the story of her Shakespeare & Co. bookshop in Paris. She has been on my radar for a good while as a potential publishing casestudy – she’s central to the Ulysses story as its bold and generous publisher and being as it’s my favourite book in the world, a natural for me. I was at the current (not entirely related) iteration of the store last Saturday afternoon when I picked up Beach’s account of its history under her direction.
The weird thing is that as I broached the book, written in the late 50s and published by the University of Nebraska, it emerged that Shakespeare and Company was opened without fanfare on this very day in 1919. I take it as a good sign.
I’ve already done research on Gertrude Stein, looking at her contribution to visual arts in particular, and on publisher Robert McAlmon but haven’t quite been able to pin down who the right subject is among the Lost Generation.
The low yellow light in my office du jour and the perfect blue sky was a delight and I stayed as long as my scarf, gloves and hat allowed. I concluded with a read of Ginsberg’s major poem Kaddish which I also picked up at Shakespeare & Co. last weekend and started reading on the quay just below the Beat Hotel.
On my return to the warmth of home I immersed myself in the world of Joy Division and Factory Records, watching the rest of Grant Gee’s excellent documentary, made with the style and care that characterised the best of Joy Division and the Factory phenomenon. I’m finding Tony Wilson an increasingly difficult subject as the disparity between his surface and his catalytic achievements which spring from his deep passions stretches your sympathy at times, as well as skewing a lot of what is recorded about him.
Tomorrow I’ll start having my first pass at drafting the chapter and see where that takes me. Unknown Pleasures will accompany this first assault…
To the centre of the city where all roads meet, waiting for you
To the depths of the ocean where all hopes sank, searching for you
I was moving through the silence without motion, waiting for you
In a room with a window in the corner I found truth
New week, new chapter. After a lot of focus on the Literature/Ginsberg chapter last week, I felt the need to strike out into new territory so dived into the 24 Hour Party world of Tony Wilson and Factory Records. Where myth begins and reality ends needs a good deal of attention, and in clarifying that I hope to reaffirm that for all the ‘prat’s, ‘cunt’s, ‘wanker’s that were lobbed his way, his enthusiasm, energy and commitment to the music, creativity and city were a significant contribution. I put together the chapter outline around the principle of Being Your True Self whether that’s as an individual creative, a city or an emerging talent from the regions.
Tidying up loose ends from last week I spend some time corresponding with some friends of Ginsberg in New York and his very helpful estate. I rounded off the emailing session by venturing into new realms and contacting a music impresario from Northern Ireland whom I want to interview for this new chapter. All being well, an interviews trip to Belfast will be needed next month.
At lunchtime I sat down to watch Grant Gee’s (no relation) film about Joy Division to get me in the mood. I had a chat with Grant in a lift last week in Copenhagen where he was pitching a film about Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk. He’s also made a documentary about WG Sebald which I’d love to catch (I couldn’t make the screening they did in Aldeburgh on its release much though I would have loved to – Rings of Saturn sits on the Shelf of Honour). I hope to catch up with Grant in the next few weeks at his South coast base (when I’ll also visit Oisin Lunny, who I had the pleasure of meeting on the Subterranean Homesick Blues morning). So the film got me suitably fired up, reminding me of the one time I saw Joy Division live at the Lyceum (a few hundred yards from the Subterranean Homesick Blues cul de sac).
So I got back to the typewriter-substitute, whacked on Atmosphere, and began sketching out the new chapter. One thing I learnt during the afternoon that I hadn’t known was that the band themselves found the source image for the cover of Unknown Pleasures and gave it to Pete Saville to work with. They got it from the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Astronomy of all places. It now deserves a place in the Cambridge Encyclopedia of Creative Alchemy.
I’m starting the Music chapter now and I’m very excited – this is my heart-beat on a reversed-out ECG