Archive for the ‘love’ Tag

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.

eden-ahbez_frank-sinatra_modern-screen-mag_c-1948

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.

ahbe anna zoma

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.”

eden-ahbez-april-1948-giant-nature-boy-sheet-life-peter-stackpole

April 1948

 

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All Sixes and Sevens

To be “at sixes and sevens” is a British English idiom used to describe a state of confusion or disarray.

6/7: Ten years ago last night I was at a Greek restaurant in Primrose Hill with my Best Man celebrating our native city having been awarded the 2012 Olympic Games. It was a balmy summer night and we were high on it.

I love a man in uniform - me as London 2012 volunteer

I love a man in uniform – me as London 2012 volunteer

Earlier in the day I’d been in a meeting room at Channel 4 with my then boss, Heather Rabbatts, whose husband was a key player behind the London 2012 bid, specifically the use of London’s youth to capture the spirit of the proposition. We stopped mid meeting to switch on the telly and tune into the result announcement. “The International Olympic Committee has the honour of announcing the games of the 30th Olympiad in 2012 are awarded to the city of………. London!” Hugs were hugged, champagne was broached. 7/7: The next morning – a decade ago this morning – I was in the gym in Pimlico before work. I was watching the screens vaguely whilst running and suddenly some kind of power problem seemed to be hitting the tube system. As I jogged on the power surge turned gradually, uncertainly, into something altogether darker… A few hours later saw me walking from Horseferry Road via Camden & Kentish Towns to Muswell Hill. Up to Kentish Town I was with a commissioning editor from Drama, I forget her name after these years but I have a hazy notion of red hair. She lived really near my younger brother off Prince of Wales Road. I’ve no real memory any more how I got from there to Muswell Hill, but I arrived just in time for my older son’s art exhibition which was happening that afternoon and was the object of my cross-London journey. He had created art – the opposite of Hasib Nobody, who was the same age (18) as that son is now when he bombed Londoners. We walked back among other walkers who combined sadness and shock with determination and resilience – an unspoken solidarity which was the opposite of Mohammad Nobody, Shehezad Nobody and Germaine Nobody (age 19). They bombed Londoners caring only for the future of their own black souls, ironic since their only future was ash, alone in their eternal shame. In the wake of their zombie crime no real mark was made on London. Its diverse population just grew. No Muslims were assaulted. It grew into the most popular city on the planet.

A Spitfire Mark 1A  called P9374

A Spitfire Mark 1A called P9374

As I walked home from work tonight I went to have a look at a Supermarine Spitfire mark 1A, the hero of the Battle of Britain alongside the 18 and 19 year olds who flew them, risking their lives to defend their country against Fascism with no thoughts for their own futures. The plane is to be auctioned for charity thanks to a US philanthropist in two days time, the eve of when the Battle of Britain started 75 years ago this month, 10th July 1940. At lunchtime I had popped over to Tate Britain whose walls are pockmarked by the bombs that dropped on our city later that summer as the Blitz began. The cowardice of 7/7 made less impression on this city than those bits of shrapnel that took little bits of stone out of the Tate’s walls. Inside those walls today I saw a work by one of the two greatest artists of the 20th Century – Three Studies for Figures at the base of a Crucifixion. The mouths according to Francis Bacon are of Hitler and fellow Nazis spouting bile and hollow propaganda – the kind of thing ISIL and Al Qaeda pour into the ears and vacuum headspaces of young Muslims and rootless converts. Painted 4 years after the Blitz kicked in it captures the bestial depths humanity can plunge to – but in an act of creation and human brilliance which is the opposite of 7/7. It’s an act of love and – as we all know – love is stronger than death.

The creative process is a cocktail of instinct, skill, culture and a highly creative feverishness. It is not like a drug; it is a particular state when everything happens very quickly, a mixture of consciousness and unconsciousness, of fear and pleasure; it’s a little like making love, the physical act of love.

– Francis Bacon

Love in London

Love in London

Me and my friend were walking, in the cold light of morning

Tears may blind the eyes but the soul is not deceived

In this world even winter ain’t what it seems

Here come the blue skies, here come the springtime

When the rivers run high and the tears run dry

When everything that dies, shall rise

Love, love, love

Is stronger than death

– The The

by my old friend Marco

by my old friend Marco

The hero of In Bluer Skies

The hero of In Bluer Skies

As I have loved you

When the evening came, she sat down with them all
Holding court in the sparse bedroom
One by one she comforted them
Giving audience from her bed
As her time was at hand

As she had given life in the Rotunda
As she had given comfort to the sick and dying
Are you right there, Ruby, are you right?
As she had given friendship, given compassion, given care
Given, given, given til she ate away at herself
Like the gnawing cancer
But the hollow always filled
A child’s hole at the seaside
With love

No echoing hollow
No resounding gong
She spoke human, she acted angel
She has love

Love one another
As I have loved you

Some people are crazy
Some are just plain good
The crazy Celt was in search of her people
Lost in the wilderness
Wandering through the book
Joining the dots from Bob to Ruby
And the only Jew in the village
Merry Christmas
Happy Chanukah
Whatever you want
The trail brought her to
The tribe’s pied-a-terre in New York
Spreading loose change behind her
Tokens of love

There weren’t no machine gun big enough
To protect what she loved
But who could protect her
From the black eyed dog at the door?
It shadowed her to the tip of the island
Growling around the cloisters
It hung her head in Bernard Shaw’s village
How to keep yourself clean and bright, GBS
In the rising tide of that NYC disease
The dulling senses of old age, waxy flesh
Boulders of cancer blocking the ducts
Blood, sweat, shit and tears blocking the hospital drains
City grime blackening the hospital panes
I’m the window through which I must see the world
And I’m black as a dog
Sure look pretty now, bitch
My name is Sorrow
And my soul is exceeding sorrowful

Then she bursts through the door
The life and soul
Her skin-tight black catsuit
Draped in the stars and stripes
Wrapped in glory
She plays the numbers game
Adding a second passport
Green
Dark blue
(And secret light blue from the older country)
Soft emerald conjoined with Safad sapphire
North, South, East 14th
East to her former life in Baghdad
Wandering through hollow lands
And the hills of Derry, the black pool of Dublin
Poor towns
Kilburn, a fire in her head
Irish rover and lover

Finally back home in Carlingford
The last Christmas dinner
Bald as Sinead
Nothing compares to her
Rotunda – the circle closing
Bloated as Brando
Full of grace, dressed in white
No horror
No fear
Take, eat, this is my body
And a drop of my favoured red, I’m no saint
The flesh is weakening
But the spirit is high and willing
Merry Christmas
Whatever you want
Yes, the sweet tasting good life

The hour is at hand
Sleep on now, and take your rest
Don’t cry for me
I’ll never leave you
She loved Madonna
Drama queen
Holding court in the bottom bunk
Sister of mercy
She comforted us
At the hour of her death

She loved her own
Until the end

for Una

Fragile

Natasha Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave
Natasha Richardson and her mother Vanessa Redgrave

Delicate beauty

Watching the Six Nations rugby this weekend (the Ireland victory sporting theatre at its best) I couldn’t help seeing the incidents when players’ heads hit the ground (that happened in both the England and Ireland matches, with stretchers sent into action) in a new light, with a frisson emanating from our fragility. Our fragility as spotlighted by the genuinely sad news of Natasha Richardson’s accident and her rapid decline over just half a week.

I only encountered Natasha once, at a recent party of the old friend of mine who I met my wife through. The party was appropriately theatrical, with the historical venue done out like Mandalay (complete with Mrs Danvers), and Natasha appeared in a glittery outfit fitting the surroundings and her star quality. She looked fabulous.

Her poor husband Liam Neeson I’ve also only met once. It was in sad circumstances too. It was at the memorial for another old friend, actor John Keegan, at the Tricycle Theatre, Kilburn. I was introduced to Liam by Adie Dunbar. We had a ridiculous conversation about Dundalk and I found myself talking about the Four Lanterns take-away when what I actually wanted to say was “Liam, I think you did a cracking job with Oskar Schindler.” (It was the reverse of an encounter I had with Ralph Fiennes in the bar at the Almeida where I had the opportunity to say “Ralph/Rafe/whatever you call yourself, I think you did a cracking job with Amon Goeth” – and did.)

What can you take from a tragedy like this? To enjoy each and every day. To cherish the simple pleasures. To be conscious of everything you have, every privilege and happiness.

Watching the first episode of the new series of The Secret Millionaire last night, featuring ex-Rover boss Kevin Morley, you couldn’t help but detect that Kevin’s journey into the dark heart of Hackney has brought him back in touch with what really matters – he came to recognise the true value of his home and family, clearly regretting that his children’s growing up had passed him by while he was in the office. The one thing that seemed to escape him was that things like his collection of sports cars, which he showed off at the beginning of the programme with reference to shiny little models in a cabinet, come at a cost – beyond the readies he shelled out. Someone, somewhere pays for it ultimately. It could be a homeless person in Hackney. Or a starving family in southern Africa. Someone, somewhere always pays.

As Liam Neeson wakes his beloved wife and comforts their children none of the Hollywood glitz adds up to much. As my Irish mother-in-law always says (not a million miles from Liam’s home town of Ballymena): your health’s your wealth. Gandhi, much though I admire him, was more long-winded than Mrs Murphy: “It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.”

This morning I was involved in launching the government’s new White Paper on informal adult learning (doing a case study around Picture This and illustrating how Channel 4 brings motivation, purpose and inspiration to networked media), so with both learning and fragility in mind another Gandhi quote rounds things off: “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

Update 30.iii.09:

Bumped into Adie Dunbar at The Pigalle Club watching an intimate performance by Sinead O’Connor. Adie hails from Enniskillen, not a milion miles from Ballymena, and knows fellow thesps Liam and Natasha well. He underlined the great tragedy here by describing the powerful, positive energy the pair of them radiated together. In the words of the great Matt Johnson: “Love is Stronger than Death.”

In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?

Osama Loves Loved

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama Loves, as previously mentioned in this august organ (dontcha just love both those words?), is a participative online documentary I commissioned last summer from the breath of fresh air that is Mint Digital and Menthol TV. The interactive documentary came about in response to a request from my fellow commissioner at C4, Aaqil Ahmed, who looks after religious and multicultural TV programming. He had commissioned a season of television programmes about the culture (rather than the politics) of Islam, including a flagship primetime doc on The Koran. The underlying theme of the season was that Islam is not a homogeneous culture but a diverse and multifaceted one. Aaqil asked me to come up with an online project which conveyed the heterogeneity of Islamic culture and, after some great conversations with Andy Bell, Jeremy Lee and the MintFolk, Osama Loves was born…

In an interesting iterative dynamic, the interactive documentary which was born of the TV season in turn gave rise to a TV documentary commissioned through Janey Walker, Channel 4’s Head of Education. It’s a beautiful film entitled Osama bin Everywhere (and sub-titled Searching for 500 Faces of Islam). It follows the progress of Farrah Jarral and Masood Khan through the participative Web travelogue that is Osama Loves, on their mission to track down 500 people called Osama in just 50 days. The two intrepid explorers uploaded blog posts, tweets (a relatively early application of Twitter to enable our protagonists to publish by mobile when out of PC-based internet range), photos and videos each day,  asking the public for tips and advice to help them complete their challenge and get the most from the countries they were visiting (including Nigeria, Egypt, Indonesia and Canada). As they backpacked across the Muslim world their search offered a window into the everyday life, culture and belief of the Muslims they met.

They asked each Osama they met “What do you love?” The idea was to transcend clichés about Muslims – the most well known Muslim on the planet being a certain Osama who epitomises these clichés and is not normally linked with Love. So Osama Loves sought out as many other Osamas (previously a popular name in Islamic countries) as they could in the time and showcased the rich diversity of their hopes and beliefs, concerns and perspectives.

When the spin-off TV doc aired again recently in the C4 morning slot it prompted a mass of positive feedback from viewers including:

“I am a Catholic and father to 6 children. Having just watched Osama bin Everywhere, I feel this programme should be shown to every child in every school in the UK regardless of religious belief. How refreshing it was to watch. This young woman deserves public recognition and a national award. The comments made and feelings expressed by all the Osamas were a true insight to Muslim people and the meaning of their religion.”

“Not really a press enquiry but please pass my congratulations onto Farrah – I taught her at school in the 1990s. Watched today’s Channel 4 programme whilst at home recovering from surgery. Very, very proud of what she’s become – but not at all surprised!”

“The programme was a joy to watch and I’d love to see more programmes like it. The presenter should be very proud of the programme – she is a great ambassador for her religion.”

“In a time of ‘reality TV’ which seem to be centered on Channel 4, finally a program that I could call brilliant! I was at work during my break and caught Osama bin Everywhere. I can honestly say I’ve not been so engrossed in anything in such a long time. This was a pleasure to watch.”

“What a fantastic programme! A real eye-opener, but I only saw it because the TV happened to be on when it started. Why was such a positive, heart-warming program hidden away on morning TV? Have you shown this in an evening slot? Please do!”

“I truly appreciate what you set out to achieve. Everytime I watch a programme on the television about Islam, it highlights the “bad apples”. I am only 18 years old, but have lived all my life in Britain. Having only visited Pakistan once, and at a very young age, you have driven me (in the most positive way) to go back to my country of ethnic origin. The programme itself has opened my eyes to how shallow people can be, relating everything bad to one name. I hope one day that I will have the power to enlighten people, just as you have to me. May you have all the health and happiness in the world, Inshallah.”

And here are a few other reactions to Osama Loves from more pressy sources:

Mike Mendoza, BBC Radio 2 website of the day
This is interesting – a Dave Gorman-influenced quest from 2 London-based Muslims (in collaboration with Channel 4), to find and meet 500 people who share the same name. In the process, they hope to change many people’s perception of Islam. Long-standing listeners will know that I like a pointless quest, so it’s nice to see a quest/travelogue which aims to do something a bit more positive.

Islam Online
Islam doesn’t provoke much interest unless they [Muslims] are burning flags or pillaging embassy workers or holding insulting placards. It won’t provoke much interest outside of Muslims, but Muslims worldwide will be grateful for the positive break. Put it this way, at least it’s better than their annual masterpiece, Big Brother.

The Sun
No doubt the FBI will be keeping a close eye on the site – especially for any entrants expressing a love of the Tora Bora caves in eastern Afghanistan.

Toronto Star
None of this is sponsored by the CIA – the aim is to give dignity back to a much abused and reviled name.

Ruby

My late, much lamented sister-in-law, Bronagh Murphy, was in her time a playwright, a nurse, a poet, an actress, a midwife and a highly qualified expert in infertility treatment. She brought people into this world, and ushered them out, she brought poetry into this world in her writing and her actions, and ushered herself out of this world in a way which showed us how to live – she did all this with extraordinary care and compassion. There was nothing ordinary about her. Ruby is  a poem of hers I heard her recite a few times at gatherings of family or friends – it captures a particular moment in her nursing experience when a dying woman’s daughter was unable to get to her in time… (and it says everything about the kind of person the poet was).

French's refrains

French's refrains

RUBY

You lay as on a beach
Spindley legs entwined
Nails bloody red

Waxy flesh, draping brittle bones
Like a golden yellow stole

Courtesy, not of a Floridian tan,
But a boulder of cancer
Blocking the duct

Visions of you in your days of yore
A lusty Jewish broad
Vocals etched with
Sediment of Scotch and tobacco

And as you gasped your last
I begged my God to make it fast
Bereft of drugs to ease your pain
I thought of French’s sweet refrain

As your daughter wrestled with traffic
On the Finchley Road
I climbed in bed and held you tight

And from crazy Celt to dying Jew
I did the only thing I knew
Sang
“Are you right there, Ruby, are you right?”

Crazy Celt

Crazy Celt

Has anybody here seen my old friend John?

Music, love and friendship

Catching the next train home

Wild child

Wild child

I heard Solid Air performed live just last week at a performance of Nick Drake’s songs at Bush Hall in Shepherd’s Bush by Keith James and Rick Foot. It’s such a unusual song in that it’s equally associated with its subject, Nick Drake, and his friend the creator, John Martyn. What really struck me was what a warm, open expression of friendship it is, especially as I imagine the communication was rather one way.

The last time I saw John Martyn live was when he played the whole of the Solid Air album live at the Albert Hall. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the greatest albums ever. I went that night with a friend whose life subsequently took a bit of a nose dive due to drugs – a close-to-home illustration of how delicate we all are with regard to alcohol and the like. Watching JM decline from beautiful boy to one-legged survivor wasn’t easy but his unique voice and experimental energy was an enduring thread through his music-packed life.

The penultimate time I saw him was from a red velvet seat in the front row of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire with Una. The performance had a beautiful later life serenity.

Dyed in the wool Londoner that I am, I’ve never been a big lover of West London beyond occasional quick sorties to the All Saint’s Dinner (sic) and the Hammy Odeon, but West London seems to run as a skein through my life with John. One of the first times I saw him was in the Underworld/Westworld (? darn, what was that place called?) somewhere under the Westway near Portobello market. I just remember it as electric.

I saw him live around a dozen times – the Town & Country Club (Kentish Town), the Jazz Caff (Camden Town), the Mean Fiddler (Harlesden) – he struck a chord with me. We shared a birthday. Cooltide accompanied me down the Nile at sunset. One World has that special vibe of Jamaica which runs deep in me.

On the subject of Island, if I had to pick just one song to take to a desert one, it would be Don’t Want to Know:

I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
Only want to know ‘bout love

Sometimes it gets so hard to listen
Hard for me to use my eyes
And all around the cold is glistenin’
Making sure it keeps me down to size

And I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know about love
I don’t want to know one thing about evil
I only want to know ‘bout love

I’m waiting for the planes to tumble
Waiting for the towns to fall
I’m waiting for the cities to crumble
Waiting til’ the sea a’ crawl

And I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
I only want to know about love
I don’t want to know ‘bout evil
I only want to know ‘bout love

Yes it’s getting’ hard to listen
Hard for us to use our eyes
‘Cause all around that gold is glistenin’
Makin’ sure it keeps us hypnotized

I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know ‘bout love
I don’t want to know about evil
Only want to know ‘bout love

Not much more to say after that. From the words of another great English bard, if music be the food of love, he satisfied us wondrously in his six decades – and I couldn’t love him more for it.

Osama fun in the Currant Bun

The dear old Sun has picked up on Osama Loves today in a full page spread on p22. Naturally enough they’ve brought their own special magic to it – like photoshopping out the male half of our dynamic Muslim duo.

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama of Love global hunt Doctor

Osama Loves

Farrah and MasoodThis morning two young British Muslims, Farrah and Masood, set off on a 50 day mission right across the Islamic world. Their goal: to meet 500 Osamas. Why set out to meet so many people with the same first name? ‘Osama’ conjours up the most prevalent cliches of Islam in the minds of most non-Muslims. By seeking out 500 people with that name – people of all ages, shapes and sizes, backgrounds, hopes and loves – Osama Loves seeks to undermine the cliche and put a human face on Islam, whilst showing the diversity of Islamic culture across the globe.

The project came about when my fellow Channel 4 commissioner, Aaqil Ahmed, came to ask me if I had any ideas about how to give his Islamic culture TV season (The Wonders of Islam) an online dimension. He had commissioned a very special documentary about the Qur’an, a series about the Seven Wonders of Islam and some other programmes, all highlighting the diversity of Muslim culture beyond the Middle East. So that was the brief: show how varied Islamic culture is across the world.

I had been talking to Andy Bell at Mint Digital for a long time about doing a project together but it never quite happened, the right thing hadn’t come along. From chatting to Andy I knew he had recently married a Muslim woman, that he had a strong interest in things spiritual, and that he had insight into both worlds. We bounced a few ideas around, brought in other colleagues from Mint, combined a few themes and merged some ideas until we had the participative journey that is Osama Loves: Searching for 500 Faces of Islam.

So today that journey starts and Farrah and Masood are going to need all the help they can get… If you know an Osama or can help them on their travels in any way please do let them know via the site’s blog comments.

The question came up while we were developing the Ed Spec, what if they find That Osama (the cliche one)? We wrote into the Specification that if that were to happen Mint definitely get a second series with a decent budget 😉

Another important question is why are our young travelers bothering to cross continents in search of names and faces? Let me briefly tell you Farrah’s story. She was doing her medical training in East London when one day she finds herself in an operating theatre into which is wheeled a patient for an amputation. It struck her as odd how young this patient was – usually there are years of artery furring abuse behind an amputation like this. To cut a long and sad story short, the patient that day was one of the victims of the 7/7 bombings in London. Suddenly the reality of that outrage, committed by men with very similar backgrounds to Farrah herself (a fact that quickly struck her), that outrage shook her identity to the core. Now she’s on a mission and this time it’s personal: to prove that That Osama does not represent her community, to explore what Islamic culture and belief really means to her, and to provide insight into the day-to-day realities of Muslim communities, their concerns and hopes, their perspectives and loves. “Osama” and “Loves” are not two words you often hear together, or expect to. This initiative is yoking them together whether That Osama likes it or not.

Talking of Thes and Thats, for now I’ll leave the last words to Matt Johnson of The The. I met him once when I was working with Tim Pope and Pete Goddard who made some of their best promos – Matt made me a cup of tea the first time he came into the office in Marshall Street – tea-making was my realm at that point in my first job so it was a generous gesture which hasn’t been forgotten. Writing the last paragraph punctuated with “Loves” reminded me of this song of his about two people walking away from death and conquering with love:

Me and my friend were walking
In the cold light of mourning.
Tears may blind the eyes but the soul is not deceived
In this world even winter ain’t what it seems.

Here come the blue skies, here comes springtime.
When the rivers run high and the tears run dry.
When everything that dies
Shall rise

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

In our lives we hunger for those we cannot touch.
All the thoughts unuttered and all the feelings unexpressed
Play upon our hearts like the mist upon our breath.
But, awoken by grief, our spirits speak
How could you believe that the life within the seed
That grew arms that reached
And a heart that beat
And lips that smiled
And eyes that cried
Could ever die?

Love love love is stronger than death
Love love love is stronger than death

Shall rise, shall rise
Shall rise, shall rise.

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