Down Memory Lane

In a few minutes the last ever match at White Hart Lane, home of Spurs for 118 years, will kick off. Although the new stadium will to some degree encompass the one we grew up with, it is nonetheless the end of an era.

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I first went to Spurs with my step-dad Maurice (who was a season ticket holder) when I was about ten. It was the era of Pat Jennings and Glenn Hoddle, then Ossie Ardiles and Ricardo Villa. We would sit next to a fat man with an unlit cigar and a highlight was always a cup of hot Ribena. An annoyance was Mo’s habit of leaving just before the end to avoid traffic – goals were always scored.

I got my grandfather Nat to take me once to see Tottenham V Leipzig in the EUFA Cup. He was not a regular at First Division  football, preferring the sidelines of Wingate alongside other emigres in camelhair coats with fat cigars. But this was special. Leipzig was his place of birth (and my dad’s) and he still felt an allegiance despite the impact of the Holocaust on his family. He landed in Croydon in May 1938 one step ahead of the Grim Reaper. My dad was an Arsenal supporter who followed his favourite goalie to Man U who Spurs are playing in 14 minutes in this last match there.

On the other side of my family, my other grandfather’s brother, Henry, had a beautiful death starting at the Lane. He went to a match for the afternoon with his son. Headed for home after a victory, did a bit of gardening (his profession), sat down in his armchair, and fell asleep forever. Way to go…

I did a bit of work once at Tottenham Hotspur Learning Centre beside the ground. It was in my early days at Channel 4. The digital project for Culture Online involved the telling of the story of Walter Tull, Britain’s first black outfield professional footballer and first Black army officer to lead troops into battle (during WW1).

It was around that time that I got to go on the pitch and touch the sacred grass, as well as seeing the dressing rooms. It was on a tour related to the Learning Centre work.

Quite often I have enjoyed the cafe lunch before the game as much as the match. When I go with my step-dad the banter is lively as he brings a touch of the old East End to the proceedings. On occasion I have met fans from Northern Ireland who fly over for every home match – how much does that cost a season?!

The last time I went was with Enfant Terrible No. 1, using my younger brother’s season tickets. I always love walking across Brucecastle Park from the car to the Lane. On that last time we walked back along the edge of the park past some beautiful old ecclesiastical buildings bathed in the late afternoon sunlight, a reminder that there’s more to the Lane than Arsenal toilet paper and mindless tribalism.

My other local team (in an allied sport) yesterday won the European Cup – Saracens in rugby union. I have been working in recent months at their new stadium quite a lot, including shooting a pilot live programme there. They used to be based at Southgate, not a million miles from White Hart Lane; then moved to a soccer stadium in Watford; and now reside in a revamped and enlarged stadium at Copthall, Hendon, North London. It was where my school sports days used to be held when I was around ten. The last home match I saw was against Glasgow Warriors a few weeks ago and the vibe was festive. Glasgow fans outside the stadium were sporting fezes (a Saracens tradition) alongside kilts. The one Scottish fan in our section passed round his hipflask of whiskey whilst playfully bantering with the Sarries supporters. After the match the kids ran on to the (artificial) pitch as usual and a spontaneous game of rugby started among the grown-up fans. I wish such a vibe of sportsmanship, friendliness and family on the new White Hart Lane.

 

Story Snippet No. 400 – walking backwards

We are sitting as a family at a spontaneous lunch outside of Amici on the high street (East Finchley). A man walks by. Backwards.

At first we all worry about collisions and him hurting himself, walking into a pole or tripping on an obstacle. We watch him cross at the traffic lights. People turn to watch him wherever he goes.

We are talking about mental health. Enfant Terrible No. 2 wonders if the fella gets a physical kick out of it like the elderly man in the short film Slo-Mo. This backwards walker is getting on in years. We all already know the compulsive runner with a backpack who used to run along this same high street, though has been spotted much less in recent times. And I’ve shown the family one of my favourite shorts, The Edgware Walker by Lee Kern, about another compulsive runner in my childhood high street.

He walks back past us backwards, disappearing down the hill, still turning heads.

 

Amici East Finchley

Update 18/5/17 Torrevieja, Spain:

From the balcony of the fourth floor apartment where we were staying I was watching the world going by first thing in the morning. Two Spanish schoolgirls were walking to school together. The one behind, dressed in red and yellow (the Spanish colours), was walking backwards, watching herself reflected in the windows of empty shop units, taking pleasure in reversing the norm.

A cool 100 Million

One of my last commissions at Channel 4 – made with Simon Goodman of Showem Entertainment. Scored over 100,000,000 views in 5 days. Been going up a million every 3 hours today. This cut-down looks like it’s been edited by a monkey but WTF, you can’t have everything. And of course we don’t entirely believe Facebook numbers but 102,000,000 is really big as bogus numbers go.

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Naked & Invisible – the green grocer episode butchered

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Coincidences No. 401 & 402 – time & place

I leave Mint Digital’s offices in Farringdon to walk to the launch of Sheffield DocFest near Russell Square. I walk past a plaque marking the birth of “Benjamin Disraeli, Earl of Beaconsfield“. This spot is 26 miles from Beaconsfield. I was working in Beaconsfield the day before at the National Film & Television School.

18193044_10155074839690867_4979884499563393200_o I’ve been working in Finland recently and kept getting confused by the two-hour time difference – my phone was on one time, my laptop on another. So I decided to dig out an old watch I’d had for years – an art deco style one with two faces so you can operate in two time zones. I got a new pair of batteries put in at Stockmann’s last week, the big Helsinki department store. I’ve been wearing it since. I bought it a long time ago in a small shop in Bedfordbury, Covent Garden – long since gone. It was called Simon Carter (after the maker of the watch).

As I turn off Theobalds Road (where the brown LCC Disraeli plaque is) into Lamb’s Conduit Street I walk past the current iteration of Simon Carter‘s shop. (One of the producers I work with has her office and home in its basement).

Coincidence No. 400 – of Paramount importance

I am heading over to Channel 4 for a meeting from Tottenham Court Road. As I come up to the Circle & District platform on changing at Embankment tube I turn round and spot my friend Scott from Aspen. He is in town for one day only on Paramount Pictures business, flying back to Colorado from somewhere in Northern Europe via London. We get two stops together and mainly talk movies. Small world.

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When I get to my C4 meeting – at The Regency Cafe, one of the best things about the Channel – I join the queue whilst waiting for my old colleague Thom to arrive. I notice just behind me in the line another Tom I know, the son of one of my old college friends. (He lives nowhere near there and doesn’t work in the area when last I heard.) Small town.

 

Story Snippet No. 399 – news commentary

In my local coffee shop, Maurizio’s aka Amici, there is a man who goes in early every day and annotates in biro the cafe’s copies of the newspapers, in particular the Daily Mail, both text and photos. Rumour is he’s a former journalist. By the time I get there the next wave of activity is under way. People are sitting around debating the daily annotations, their author long gone. This morning two middle-aged local women were connecting over the phenomenon, one sitting in the enigmatic author’s habitual window seat. I joined in. The non-window woman referred to the cafe as a “community centre”, celebrating the fact that, prompted by the annotations, you can discuss the news there freely without fear of offending or being offended whilst remaining lively.

I left after my emergency cappuccino and went back to the car, switching on Robert Elms’ bank holiday show on Radio London. He started playing ‘Shout to the Top’ by The Style Council. As the first notes played, especially the piano ones, it prompted this thought and subsequent email to Robert:

From: Adam Gee
Date: 1 May 2017 at 10:11:32 BST
To: Robert Elms
Subject: LA Style
Is it just me or did the beginning of this Style Council track sound like something out of LaLa Land? Do those Hollywoodfolk owe Weller?

Within 60 seconds he was reading it out and launching into his theory of the common roots of the band and the film soundtrack, as well as a brief evaluation of Paul Weller’s career. Always a kick. Gotta love London.

The Style Council

The one on the right shares a birthday with me and John Martyn

Update: 4/5/17

I got my second mention on Robert Elms this week. He wanted a suggestion for a ‘fourfer’, a quartet of tracks on a particular theme or by a particular artist which he plays every Friday. This was my suggestion:

From: Adam Gee

Subject: Fourfer suggestion

Date: 4 May 2017 at 11:53:49 BST

To: Robert Elms

Songs with bells in

Not little tinkly bells but full-on big ones

Think AC/DC – Back in Black or Pink Floyd – The Division Bell

He thought the category was too narrow and broadened it to ‘Songs with sound effects’

Simple Pleasures from Helsinki

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Spring sunshine, late afternoon after work. Reading ‘My Promised Land’ in the park above the port. Talking short form video/online video, watching & discussing some of the best. Getting my old dual-time watch fixed at Stockmann. Buying a new work rucksack to take over from Old Faithful which just died (zip failure). Watching the ships go out. Eating salmon tartare. A good hot shower. Bumping into an old colleague totally by chance out at the airport, coming off the same plane (he was heading to China). Trying to protect East Finchley Library (Grade II listed) from vandalism by Barnet Council and/or Capita. Listening to ‘Horses’. Meeting an old, half-Finnish Channel 4 colleague for a coffee. Reading a tatty old copy of Mojo. Teaching. People watching while wandering the streets. The port. The sea and the way out to the open ocean.

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Nature Boy

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This is my favourite couplet from any song – and how come my philosophy on life is derived from George Benson.

I first came across the song ‘Nature Boy’ on the record ‘In Flight’ by jazz guitarist Benson. In time it emerged that it was a cover of Nat King Cole. In more time I became aware that it was written by someone called Eden Ahbez (who I’d never heard of). He turned out to be a proto-hippy and a very interesting character whose extraordinary story gave rise to this fascinating photo:

eden ahbez and nat king cole

The dapper Cole and the Jesus-like Ahbez came to coincide in the wake of Ahbez pushing a dirty, rolled-up manuscript onto Mort Ruby, Cole’s manager, backstage at the Lincoln Theater, LA. On it was a tune and these words:

There was a boy
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far, very far
Over land and sea
A little shy and sad of eye
But very wise was he

And then one day
A magic day he passed my way
And while we spoke of many things
Fools and kings
This he said to me
The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

The greatest thing you’ll ever learn
Is just to love and be loved in return

Beautiful simplicity – as has that fantastic closing couplet.

This happened shortly after World War Two, in 1947. Ahbez at the time was of no fixed abode and unemployed. Cole liked the song and began playing it live to audiences. In 1948 he recorded it but before the recording could be released Ruby needed to track down its writer to secure the rights.

Ahbez was eventually discovered living just below the first L of the Hollywood sign with his family. They slept under the night sky. Ahbez ate vegetables, fruits and nuts. He had shoulder-length hair and a beard, wore sandals and white robes. He studied Eastern mysticism and claimed to live on $3 a week.

‘Nature Boy’ became a No. 1 hit in the US Billboard charts for eight consecutive weeks during the summer of 1948. That same year RKO Radio Pictures paid Ahbez $10,000 for the rights to the song to use it as the theme tune for the movie ‘The Boy With Green Hair’.

Meanwhile he lived a proto-hippy life under the big L of Hollywood. Letters were significant for him. He actually called himself eden ahbez rather than Eden Ahbez as he reckoned only the words “God” and “Infinity” merited capitalisation.

eden ahbez songwriter

During the 30s he lived in Kansas City and worked as a pianist and dance band leader. In 1941 he moved to LA where he got a gig playing piano in Eutropheon, a health food shop and raw food cafe on Laurel Canyon Boulevard, owned by John and Vera Richter. The Richters lived by a philosophy based on ‘Lebensreform’ (Life Reform) and the notion of the ‘Naturmensch’ (Nature Man) which was derived from the ‘Wandervogel’ (Wandering Bird) back-to-nature movement in Germany.

ahbez became part of a California-based group known as the ‘Nature Boys’, prominent among whom was Gypsy Boots (Robert Bootzin). Bootzin is another fascinating character, a hippy decades ahead of the 60s counterculture, with shared elements of ahbez’s background.

Bootzin was born in San Francisco to Russian Jewish immigrant parents. His father was a broom salesman. His mother brought him and his four siblings up as vegetarian. She led the family on hikes in the Californian hills and fed the homeless with her black bread. In the wake of his older brother’s premature death from TB, Bootzin resolved to pursue a healthy, natural lifestyle. He grew his hair long. By 1933 he had dropped out of high school and left home to wander the wilds of California with a group of fellow vagabonds. In the 40s he lived off the land with a dozen other Nature Boys in Tahquitz Canyon near Palm Springs, CA. They slept in caves and trees, and bathed in waterfalls. Long hair and beards were the order of the day.

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Hence ahbez’s Jesus hair and beard, and diet of raw fruits and vegetables. It was at this juncture that he adopted the name ‘eden ahbez’ (ahbe to his friends). He was actually born George Alexander Aberle on 15th April 1908. On subsequent adoption (1917) he became George McGrew. Then George became eden.

ahbez was originally of the East Coast not West. He was born in Brooklyn to a Jewish father and a Scottish-English mother but spent his early years in the Brooklyn Hebrew Orphan Asylum. He was then adopted at the age of 9 by the McGrew family of Chanute, Kansas.

How much of the life of eden ahbez is self-mythologising is difficult to gauge. He claimed to have crossed the U.S.A. on foot eight times by the time he was 35. He settled in L.A., married Anna Jacobsen, with whom he slept in a sleeping bag in Griffith Park. They had a son, Tatha. The family continued living out under the stars, with just a pushbike, sleeping bags and a juicer. ahbez was to be seen on Hollywood  street corners sharing gems of Eastern mysticism.

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eden anna tatha/zoma – January 1948

Having been handed the scruffy  ‘Nature Boy’ manuscript via Ruby, Cole recognised the underlying melody in the song as Yiddish. He decided to add it to his repertoire because he wanted a Jewish song for his act (presumably good for capturing that particular constituency). Cole recorded ‘Nature Boy’ on 22nd August 1947 with an arrangement by Frank DeVol and a piano part written by Cole played by Buddy Cole (Edwin LeMar Cole, no relation).

nat king cole eden ahbez

Despite Capitol releasing ‘Nature Boy’ as a B side, its quality overcame record company cluelessness to quickly hit the #1 spot. Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan and others rushed out cover versions and it remains a much covered song, from David Bowie to John Coltrane, from Ella Fitzgerald to Bobby Darin.

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Frank and eden

ahbez’s relationship to the greenback seems to have been an awkward one. Once ‘Nature Boy’ became a hit, the publishers and composer (Herman Yablokoff) of the Yiddish song ‘Schwieg Mein Hertz’ (‘Shvayg Mayn Harts’/ ‘Be Still My Heart’) claimed that the melody of ‘Nature Boy’ came from their song and sued, subsequently settling out of court with ahbez for a whopping $25,000. ahbez said he had “heard the tune in the mist of the California mountains.” Prior to this, when Ruby and Cole had eventually tracked him down under the L, it turned out that ahbez had given various people different shares of the publishing rights so he ended up with pretty much big fat zero. The happy ending though is that after Nat ‘King’ Cole died in 1965, his wife eventually gave all the rights back to its creator ahbez.

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ahbe anna zoma 1961

In the  wake of ‘Nature Boy’ ahbez continued to write songs for  Cole, including ‘Land of Love’ (covered by Doris Day and The Ink Spots). In the mid 50s he supplied songs to Eartha Kitt, Frankie Laine and others. His composition ‘Lonely Island’ was recorded by Sam Cooke in 1957, his second and final tune to make the Top 40.

He collaborated with jazz singer-songwriter Herb Jeffries, in 1954 releasing the LP ‘The Singing Prophet’ including ahbez’s 4-part ‘Nature Boy Suite’.  In 1959 he started recording his own distinctive brand of instrumental music. He could be seen in beatnik coffeehouses around LA performing on bongos and flute as accompaniment to beat poetry.

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outside Health Hut, LA

In 1960 (thanks to the prompting of Bob Keane, boss of Del-Fi Records) he cut his only solo record, ‘Eden’s Island’ – “the first ever psychedelic pop classic” according to my pal Doug, and he knows his shit. It combines beat poetry with off-beat jungle exotica arrangements. ahbez promoted the LP by making personal appearances on a coast-to-coast walking tour. (He recorded another similar album, ‘Echoes from Nature Boy’, again containing his poems set to music, which was released posthumously.)

He pops up in various places during the actual Hippy era. Grace Slick, later of Jefferson Airplane, then of The Great Society, covered ‘Nature Boy’ in 1966. Early the next year ahbez was photographed in the studio with Brian Wilson during one of the ‘Smile’ sessions. Later in ’67 Britain’s very own psychedelic pioneer Donovan tracked down ahbez in Palm Springs and the two like-minds communed.

ahbez had his fair share of personal tragedy. His wife Anna died relatively young (47)  of leukemia (in 1963). His son, Zoma (originally named tatha om ahbez) drowned as a 22 year old (in 1971). He himself met an ironically unnatural death at the sharp metallic end of an automobile, succumbing to the injuries sustained in the accident in LA on 4th March 1995. He was 86. The fruit and veg had agreed with him.

On the subject of fruit, ahbez said he once told a cop who was hassling him for his shaggy appearance:  “I look crazy but I’m not. And the funny thing is that other people don’t look crazy but they are.”

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April 1948

 

Artistic Devices: Hockney in London 2017

I was working at Chelsea School of Art in Pimlico recently and took the opportunity, after a meeting about a prospective TV programme, to nick into Tate Britain which is directly opposite and see the David Hockney exhibition.

To mark the occasion of this major retrospective, entertaining if a little rammed, I’d like to dig out my Hockney Picture of the Month, Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices, which is in the show of course.

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices - David Hockney

Portrait Surrounded by Artistic Devices (1965)

And to add an extra something to celebrate the exhibition I’d like to highlight some other artistic devices in evidence in this show. For the significance of ‘artistic devices’ I’ll quote from my earlier post:

The person portrayed is partly obscured by a pile of (obviously painted) cylinders. Above his head is a shelf on which are a selection of large brushstrokes. The cylinders are crude 3D representations, obvious devices or techniques, which stand out as abstract in a still figurative world of suits and rugs and shelves. The shelf is just a 2D line. The strokes on the shelf are more flat, abstract components of painting, exposing the technique and undermining the illusion. The pile of cylinders is actually painted on a sheet of paper glued to the canvas to leave the viewer in no doubt as to the artifice, physical materiality and flatness of the endeavour.

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Sunbather (1964) – water devices (although it’s complicated – Hockney had painted lines on his pool floor)

A Bigger Splash 1967 by David Hockney

A Bigger Splash (1967) – plant devices & more water devices

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Henry Geldzahler and Christopher Scott (1969) – glass devices

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy 1970-1 by David Hockney born 1937

Mr and Mrs Clark and Percy (1970-1) – carpet devices

Coincidence No. 399 – Dictators

14/4/17 Screening of Charlie Chaplin’s ‘The Great Dictator’ at The Barbican cinema, London to mark his birthday (16/4/1889):

Herring (based on Hermann Göring):

We’ve just discovered the most wonderful poison gas. It will kill everybody…

Adenoid Hynkel (based on Adolf Hitler, birthday 20/4/1889):

All right. Later.

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11/4/17 President Trump’s Press Secretary Sean Spicer at his regular press briefing at the White House compared Adolf Hitler to Syria’s Bashar al-Assad

Sean Spicer (based on Josef Goebbels and/or a buffoon):

We didn’t use chemical weapons in World War Two. You had someone as despicable as Hitler who didn’t even sink to using chemical weapons.

If you tell a big enough lie and tell it frequently enough, it will be believed.

Adolf Hitler

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Chaplin and Hitler were born the same year, same month, same week.

While Hitler celebrated his fiftieth birthday in April 1939, backing and speaking at the largest military parade in history,  Chaplin celebrated his birthday working on the script of ‘The Great Dictator’ which included a huge military parade and an extended sequence of a ranting dictator’s speech.

Both Chaplin’s Tramp and Hitler’s dictatorial scamp wore a toothbrush moustache.

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