Archive for November, 2013|Monthly archive page

The Beat Hotel (Day 53 and a half)

Since I’ve been working so hard on the Ginsberg chapter (my model chapter) it was a real pleasure to go find the Beat Hotel while I was in Paris visiting Arte and my old friend Marcelino Truong (whose current book, Une Si Jolie Petite Guerre, is named after Joan Littlewood’s Oh What a Lovely War). The hotel, where Ginsberg stayed and nearly picked up a drug habit thanks to Burroughs and Corso, is a literal stone’s throw from the Seine by Notre Dame and two blocks from Shakespeare & Co. whose owner, Sylvia Beech, is still on my radar (though a long shot) as a potential case study.

The Beat Hotel, rue Git-le-Coeur, Paris 6

I saw the best minds of my generation run out of space

I saw the best minds of my generation run out of space

The Beat Hotel, rue Git-le-Coeur, Paris 6

The Beat Hotel, rue Git-le-Coeur, Paris 6

sign The Beat Hotel, rue Git-le-Coeur, Paris 6

allen ginsberg The Beat Hotel, rue Git-le-Coeur, Paris 6

Ginsberg in the Beat Hotel in the Beat Hotel

Glyptoteknocrat (Day 53)

Glyptotek Copenhagen museum gallery

Starting the day with a meeting about multi-generational space missions in closed loop systems (i.e. intergalactic travel taking many generations to complete, not even hundreds but thousands of years and more) does tend to shift your perspective so left CPH:DOX with headshifted and an ambition to squeeze the most out of my last few hours in Copenhagen. Headed to the Glyptotek which houses the art collection of Carlsberg of brewing fame, on the recommendation of both Toni Arden (who hails from the city although has been living in England since she met Paul on a Scandinavian ferry as a teenager) and Ove Jensen of European Documentary Network.

Glyptotek Winter Garden Copenhagen museum gallery

Glyptotek means a house for sculptures. You know that weird thing where you come across a word for the first time and then it crops up again the same day? Well it happened with Glyptotek – a bit Twilight Zone given how obscure a word it is. I was reading a novel by Philip Kerr, The One from the Other, a detective story set in Nazi Germany, both in the terrace café in the charming Winter Garden of the Glyptotek and again on the plane home, when the hero, Bernie Gunther, a Berlin cop moved to Bavaria after the War, meets a client, a rich blonde in a Porsche, at the Glyptothek (with an H) in Munich.

Any way I set up office in the Glyptotek (without an H), moving from the running water and palm frond tranquility of the glass-domed Winter Garden to the quiet of the antique sculpture lined galleries. More Ginsberg needless to say.

I had a sneak preview of the French painting galleries which open in their renovated form tomorrow (bad timing on my part) – the highlights of the few rooms already open were a couple of Courbets and a large scale painting of a beggar at a bourgeois door by a 19C French artist whose name didn’t ring a bell.

The_Beggar - Jules_Bastien-Lepage (1880)

The Beggar – Jules Bastien-Lepage (1880)

Had a final writing session on a bench beside the idiosyncratic building with its sculptural details of hippo and teeth-bearing ape heads as the sun lowered in a wash of red, then headed for home. Complemented the Chandleresque adventures in post-war Germany with some more research on Peter Cook who I feel is moving out towards the edge of the radar as the Comedy candidate, proving beggars can be choosers.

The Naked Truth (Day 52)

Oscillated in and out of CPH:DOX / SWIM multiplatform documentary conference, using the gaps between meetings to push on with Ginsberg. Set up camp in the park opposite the Danish Film Institute to tap away in the low autumnal sun.

Rosenborg Palace Garden

My office in Rosenborg Palace Garden

At a gathering of documentary-makers in the evening had a chat with mild-mannered Tom Perlmutter, chairman of the National Film Board of Canada, who met Ginsberg in the late 60s when he (Tom) was 21. He went to interview him at a Montreal hotel and when the door was opened to him Ginsberg was standing there stark naked like Dean opening the door to Sal and Carlo (who of course equates to Ginsberg) in On The Road, only chubbier. He carried on in similar state throughout the interview, with Tom trying to act as matter of fact as possible. I’d dropped some material about Ginsberg’s penchant for getting his kit off but this anecdote prompted me to do a Uy and put it in as it’s a good physical expression of Ginsberg’s striving for openness and honesty.

allen ginsberg naked

The naked truth is always better than the best dressed lie.
Ann Landers

Prince of Denmark (Day 51)

hamlet-laurence-olivier

Taking the show back out on the road – this time to Copenhagen for CPH:DOX, the annual documentary film festival, and an emerging sub-set called SWIM which focuses on multiplatform/transmedia for storytelling, distribution and financing. Installed myself on arrival in a lovely room overlooking the 19C University of Copenhagen buildings. It was a drizzly day, much like the last time I visited around four years ago, same time, same place. But I enthusiastically did a super-fast turnaround and was out on the street again in minutes with my Savile Rogue Spurs scarf (a cozy present from the excellent Street League – do go look) and a moderately waterproof coat (though the same can’t be said of the boots). In other words I shifted my normal 9-5 day to make room for some touristing.

I’d used the ambiguously named SAS flight to carry on with the first draft of my commercial creativity  project and to do more Comedy research, focusing on Peter Cook.

Back on the streets of Copenhagen, I headed towards Christiania, the hippy zone I’d set off to visit last time but had got caught in a rainstorm and taken shelter in the Jewish Museum designed by Daniel Libeskind. This time I got all the way to the so-called Green Light Zone where hoodies and beanies of the world unite. I’m too old for that shit. Found myself a quiet candle-lit café for a late lunch of fried herring heralded by a steaming glass of glogg (spiced wine). Throw in a copy of Uncut with a long article about singer-songwriters and that’s me happy.

Headed back to the hotel satisfied and damp. Took off my rain-drenched socks and hit the keyboard big-time, very much in the mood. More work on my model chapter With a Little Help from My Friend centred on Literature and Allen Ginsberg.

Took a few minutes to tidy up plans for a Channel 4 team visit to Arte on Friday in Paris (after which I plan to go check out the Beat Hotel in rue Git-le-Coeur when Ginsberg nearly got hooked on smack, the only time his drugs ever got out of control). And a few minutes thinking about Working Title which Enfant Terrible No. 1 is studying in Media Studies. Then back to business, inspired by the university library opposite, still fully lit towards midnight, walls of colourfully bound books illuminated in the arched windows (perhaps inevitably, no students in evidence).

University of Copenhagen library

This above all: to thine own self be true

richard burton hamlet

M&S (Day 50)

FAC 501 1/2

FAC 501 1/2

Some web research in the morning (a surprisingly minor part of my activity so far) starting with the transcript of an exchange between Brian Eno, who I was considering as a candidate for the Music chapter, and Grayson Perry which touches on the subject of sharing, so I can use it a little bit in the Jeremy Deller case-study. Then some video including a reading by Hettie Jones in memory of Ginsberg with a spirited performance of a powerful Ginsberg poem/song on death, punctuated with the word “bone” [Broken Bone Blues].

Felt a sudden need for a haircut (as one does) so headed up to Drury Lane to lose the fro. Stopped by Forbidden Planet on the way over to my interview to pick up some comics for Enfant Terrible No. 2 who has recently become really taken by them (so fond memories of child&teenagehood triggered). A quick pitstop at Fopp to pick up some electric blues and jazz as compensation for not finding the Nick Lowe LP I was after. Then over to the Union Club in Greek Street to meet my interviewee for the afternoon.

union club greek street london

I found myself in the same warm red room as I had been in four weeks to the day earlier for the cast&crew party for HealthFreaks (of which Episode 4 went out shortly after this interview). The open fire and picture-lined walls gave it a womb-like coziness on a dreary November day.

With the room to ourselves bar the occasional crashing through of a waitress, I interviewed Mike McCarthy about his time working with Joan Littlewood at the Theatre Royal Stratford East. He also lived with Joan and Gerry Raffles in Blackheath during that time in the mid-70s. He worked mainly with the local kids on the wasteland in front of the theatre, arriving as a fresh-faced Northern drama school graduate and leaving as a producer, moving off into the world with his stage adaptation of Planet of the Apes (damn him all to hell for having such a great idea).

Rounded off the day after hours with a phone interview with Steven Lock in Co. Wicklow, Ireland. He kindly approached me through this blog to offer an interview about Tony Wilson whom he produced at Granada in the 80s. I met Steven and his producer wife in Dublin a few years ago – when doing a speaking gig and when trying to set up a pan-Ireland talent development operation respectively. He gave a really good sense of what working with Wilson was wike (Ws weally wock). Steven’s own recent story is equally fascinating – he has set up an agricultural service (Grassometer) in the wake of filming a load of Irish farmers for a TV series and has hooked up with one of Apple’s original designers (Jerry Manock) to deliver the service via app (it’s to do with measuring grass volumes) – just the kind of chain of connections When Sparks Fly revels in, brought about by spotting an opportunity, seizing subsequent funding opportunities, and reaching out to fellow talent.

TRSE 01

TRSE 01

Broken bones O Lord
I’ll give my house away
Broken bones O God
It was never mine anyway
Broken bones O Buddha
Take my skull today
Or take back my skull someday

 

Other Halves (Day 48 and 49)

Mozartkugel Mozartkugeln Austrian sweets

Austria’s greatest contribution to civilisation – Mozartkugeln from Kipferl, Islington

Off to the Angel at the start of Day 48 to catch up with Nicole Yershon of Ogilvy Labs and interview her about creative networking. We caught up at The Breakfast Club (which  I was originally introduced to in D’Arblay Street by Garret Keogh of Telegraph Hill) and did the interview at Kipferl for the quiet (and to pick up a bag of Mozartkugeln). While there we bumped into Neville Brody, whose studio is round the corner. Hooked him and Nicole up so she could arrange for him to visit the 3D Printing show she was working at over in the Business Design Centre opposite, the event a direct, concrete result of her own networking and talent nurturing activities with all kinds of benefits to her organisation (from commissioned creative executions to specialist organisational expertise).

Concluded the week by interviewing Hettie Jones, poet and publisher of the Beat generation, over the phone in New York. We had a good chat and she said she enjoyed the interview as it was different from most and didn’t fixate on parties and sex. She told me a great story of an early meeting with Allen Ginsberg (whose poems appeared in her magazine Yugen) where she helped him, for his major poem Kaddish, get under the skin of the titular prayer by singing it to him – he was from a non-practicing Jewish family and she had childhood ambitions to be a cantor (not technically possible til 1987). We had a good few things in common – from a mixed marriage (she married black writer/dramatist LeRoi Jones [Amiri Baraka], an early American interracial marriage) to a mother of exemplary charitableness – so there was a real connection.

Unusually worked on Day 49 (a Saturday – I’m on a 9 to 5, Mon to Fri regime) as I was in Brighton (with Enfant Terrible No. 2, no Mrs, and three Albanian teenagers, the pals of aforementioned Enfant Terrible) so not far away from Paul Arden’s West Sussex cottage, now home to his widow Toni. As I drove West and slightly North across the county the roads gradually narrowed until I was on a track through beautiful old woodland near the height of its autumn colour. Interviewed Toni, who is originally from Copenhagen (she gave me some tips of what to see of an arty nature for my trip next week), seated beside Paul’s art/photography book collection in elegant grey cabinets and across from his photograph collection, including the Richard Avedon African woman mentioned in It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be . After the interview Toni kindly showed me some highlights from the collection including a large format monochrome contact sheet of Michael Josephs’ shoot for the cover of The Rolling Stones’ Beggars Banquet LP; work by Norman Parkinson, David Bailey and Robert Mapplethorpe; and an amazing black & white shot of a dying horse by Colin Barker where the beast is actually not touching the ground as it crumples after being put down with a bullet. She then gave me a tour of the beautiful 17C cottage behind the gallery/barn where we had been speaking. By the front door was a drawing by Paul’s father, a commercial artist/early advertising creative, drawn in his late 90s. Below the pink and pale green former charcoal burner’s dwelling was a pond Paul had created at the foot of a slope, so an impractical location used to fine aesthetic effect.

On my return to Brighton I was delighted to have a note in direct response to this very blog from a reader based in Dublin who had first-hand experience of one of my other protagonists and who kindly offered to give me an interview. That kind of loop of connection is what the Web – and When Sparks Fly – is all about.

In the depths of West Sussex

In the depths of West Sussex

Spin off (Day 47)

Afro Hair styles for women

Something of a tangential day. Was researching an alternative case study for the Music chapter when I came across a music spin-off which gave me the idea for a simple business proposition/side-line. I discussed it with the friend and former colleague who was having the 70s music discussion with me and then brought a second former colleague from the same era into the Circle of Trust and we gathered on the morning of Day 47 to decide whether we all thought there was something in it and what creative approach to take. Our kick-off venue was the British Library, which is a building I’ve really come to respect for the way it respects the ornateness of the surrounding buildings, especially St Pancras, and for giving a home to a lively studious community.

I was reminded as they set up an exhibition about Georgian Britain (opening today) about coming here last year to see Jack Kerouac’s scroll manuscript of On The Road, a landmark on the way down the track to this book.

I had a pleasant couple of afternoon hours carrying on with the Hettie Jones research outdoors in the large courtyard of the Library site. It’s resonant for me because I came across the play Dutchman, by her husband LeRoi Jones, during a teen-age burst of play-reading and the whole milieu on the memoir reminds me of those enthusiasms of that time in my life. As the milky sunlight turned greyer and the temperature dropped, headed inside beside the wonderful tower of books, a great glass cabinet cutting through all the floors of the building, filled with rare volumes. Found a seat among the stooodents next to a girl with a fro worthy of the East Village and a winning smile. Read some more in the bookish shadow of the tower.

I love the way a no-nonsense commercial idea has spun out of this project with bookish roots, focused on the pre-digital age. The idea is very digital in that common paradoxical way of being centred on a beautifully designed and made concrete object in the physical world. One of the highlights of the day was seeing our designer’s mind take off the minute he started generating ideas, questioning shape, texture, nothing assumed, everything possible…

70s afro woman female

A soft rain starts a-fallin’ (Day 46)

rainy day window

Another cozy rainy day indoors. Slow start before pushing on with Ginsberg chapter, weaving research notes into the draft. Interspersed this with ploughing through the Hettie Jones book so I’ve it finished before the interview tomorrow evening. Plugged into the rainy mood with some Van and Trane (Born to Sing and Crescent) which played on into Asa’s eponymous debut.

Allen, Bob & Michael McClure

Allen, Bob & Michael McClure

Concluded the day, after latest gathering of the Book Group, with research and thinking for a small business venture I’m kicking off tomorrow with a writer friend and a designer friend from MindGym days, an idea centred on Creative Thinking and which spun out of research I was doing for the Music chapter of the book.

bob dylan and allen ginsberg at jack kerouac's grave

Bob and Allen at Jack Kerouac’s grave

I’m on the pavement thinking about the government (Day 45)

savoy steps location subterranean homesick blues bob dylan

Savoy Steps on 5th November 2013

Started the day off track at a coffee shop meeting inspired by Russell Brand’s interview by Jeremy Paxman a couple of weeks ago. Chris Ward, who gave me some publishing advice on Day 22, gathered together a small bunch of people who were struck by the Newsnight interview to discuss its implications and possibilities. We met up in Somerset House for a couple of hours and kicked about some ideas. This is an appropriate location in that it’s within yards of both The Coal Hole and the site of The Fountain Tavern (home of The Kit-Kat Club) which were places of political gathering and activism in the 17th and 18th Century. Given his increasing activism, Allen Ginsberg would have approved of this tangent.

Having spotted Ginsberg in the background of DA Pennebaker’s Subterranean Homesick Blues promo (shot in 1965) on an ad on Channel 4 the other night (Day 43), and being just a couple of streets away, I decided to seek out the location. And very atmospheric it was. Totally unchanged since 1965 (though the scaffolding has finally gone). Documentary-maker DA Pennebaker came back around 1985 and they were still working on The Savoy building on its left-hand side. The streets and alleys around The Savoy remind you of the rich palimpsest of history and stories that lays over this fabulous city.

I set up office in Westminster Reference Library, the Art bit, and carried on with my current pass at the Literature/Ginsberg chapter. Research-wise I pushed on with Hettie Jones’ memoirs, How I Became Hettie Jones, taking it into the legendary Gaby’s for lunch (it’s as perverse as ever, how many Cash Only restaurants can there be in Central London?)

In the late afternoon I spoke to the Allen Ginsberg Project / Estate in the East Village, NYC who are kindly helping with some interviewees, thanks to documentary-maker Yony Leyser whom I met in Leipzig last week.

{photo cortesy of http://www.popspotsnyc.com}

{photo cortesy of http://www.popspotsnyc.com}

Update 6/11/13

I found out today while researching the Ginsberg chapter that the term “subterraneans” was one Ginsberg coined to describe the intellectual hipsters and hip hedonists who hung out in Greenwich Village bars like the San Remo and Fugazzi’s. Dylan took the term from Kerouac but Kerouac had actually adopted it from Ginsberg.

A River Runs Through It (Day 44)

The Thames at Richmond Bridge

Started the new week with a sunlit trip round the civilised (off-peak) North London line to Richmond where I interviewed Alexandra Taylor, one-time protegee of Paul Arden at Saatchi & Saatchi, a very accomplished Art Director, who, alongside Charles Saatchi, was one of the only two people Arden cited as having inspired him during his career (on receiving his Lifetime Achievement  Award from Creative Circle in 2007). Alex is currently putting together a book of Arden’s photograph collection, making use of his diaries.

From Richmond High Street (well off my manor, little known to me other than as a transit point for getting to the rugby at Twickenham) I jumped on a bus to get to the river. Found myself a perfect spot below Richmond Bridge at which to work, a bench facing into the lowering autumn sun across the Thames just above a path which suddenly disappeared in the high tide, in just a matter of seconds. Boatmen, geese and other passers-by punctuated a mild afternoon of writing more of the Advertising/Arden chapter and reading Hettie Jones’ book How I Became Hettie Jones. Hettie is a magazine publisher and poet who knew Allen Ginsberg and was married to Leroi Jones, the writer/dramatist, author of Dutchman (which I came across and read in a teenage burst of play-reading). He became Amiri Baraka who plays an important role in one of my favourite movies, Bulworth.

I gradually made my way to the BBC in White City, via more Hettie Jones in a caff in Acton Central, for the process of dropping the live interactive insert into tonight’s Health Freaks.

Hettie Jones Portrait

Amiri Baraka in Bulworth movie

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