Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Clive James - Driftwood Houses

Clive James on poetry, family and illness: “I’m a bit terrified, this really is the mark of the end”
The 74-year-old poet and broadcaster, who is terminally ill, reads a new poem “Driftwood Houses” and reflects on his career, family and the power of “simple, ordinary things”.

by Philip Maughan
28 April 2014 

Clive James is, by some miracle, 74 years old. He was diagnosed with terminal leukemia and emphysema in 2010, and has come close to death a number of times. “I'm in no doubt that everything depends on modern technology,” he said, when we visited him recently in Cambridge, “and the availability of cheap electricity”.

Everybody has a favourite Clive James. He is a poet, broadcaster, critic, author and translator, whose most recent work – his “crowning achievement” – is a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Since arriving from Australia in 1962, he has forged a reputation unlike any other in British public life. Even now he is brimming with ideas. He plans to abandon journalism over the coming months in order to start work on a new book – or two. There’s already one in the bag, however, a book of poetry criticism which will be published this autumn, “even if I drop off the twig, as we say in Australia”.

While we spoke, James’s sentences were punctuated by a violent, rattling cough. “This has exhausted me,” he said as we drew to a close. “But I’ve loved every minute of it.”

As I left, he came out and stood by the gate. He thanked me for my questions, for taking care of the poem and for coming up to visit. “Oh to be starting out,” he said. “What I wouldn’t give to be starting out again.”

Driftwood Houses
by Clive James

The ne plus ultra of our lying down,
Sled-riders face-down see the earth unpeeled
Into their helmets by a knife of light.
Just so, I stare into the racing field
Of ice as I lie on my side and fight
To cough up muck. This bumpy slide downhill
Leads from my bed to where I’m bound to drown
At this rate. I get up and take a walk,
Lean on the balustrade and breathe my fill
At last. The wooden stairs down to the hall
Stop shaking. Enough said. To hear me talk
You’d think I found my fate sad. Hardly that:
All that has happened is I’ve hit the wall.
Disintegration is appropriate,

As once, on our French beach, I built, each year,
Among the rocks below the esplanade,
Houses from driftwood for our girls to roof
With towels so they could hide there in the shade
With ice creams that would melt more slowly. Proof
That nothing built can be for ever here
Lay in the way those frail and crooked frames
Were undone by a storm-enhanced high tide
And vanished. It was time, and anyhow
Our daughters were not short of other games
Which were all theirs, and not geared to my pride.
And here they come. They’re gathering shells again.
And you in your straw hat, I see you now,
As I lie restless yet most blessed of men.

For video of James reading the poem and discussing poetry, family, illness and his plans for the future, see -

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

John Osborne: Radical Larkin - review by Terry Kelly

The Master of Misdirection
Terry Kelly

John Osborne: Radical Larkin - Seven Types of Technical Mastery (Palgrave Macmillan, 2014), 304pp, ISBN 978-0-230-34824-0

John Osborne is one of the handful of really important Larkin critics around today. The Director of American Studies at the University of Hull combines a deep and comprehensive knowledge of and love for the Larkin canon with an agile, capacious, critically assertive intelligence. Radical Larkin could never be accused of underselling, simplifying or pigeonholing Larkin. Rather, by employing a polemical, take-no-prisoners, trailblazing critical style, Osborne seeks to reveal the poet's work in all its dazzling variousness. In Osborne's hands, the former bicycle-clipped Hermit of Hull is reborn as The Intertextual Kid. Far from the lit-cit file on Larkin being open and shut, this closely argued study suggests we may only be at the beginning of a greater understanding of a writer of almost shape-shifting complexity; a highly literary creative artist, whom Osborne defines at one point as a 'master of misdirection.' In one sense, Radical Larkin is a development of ideas explored in Osborne's previous critical study of the poet, Larkin, Ideology and Critical Violence - A Case of Wrongful Conviction (Palgrave Macmillan, 2008). That book was both a defence of Larkin's reputation in the aftermath of the critical furore triggered by the publication of the controversial Selected Letters and Andrew Motion's biography in 1992 and 1993 respectively, but also an agenda-busting bid to place the poet in new, postmodern literary and cultural contexts. Osborne's new book takes that critical re-evaluation one stage further, attempting to liberate Larkin from purely 'biographicalist' readings, to reveal the multi-layered artist beneath what he sees as the often misleading and simplistic literary facade. In Radical Larkin, the 'Parnassian Ron Glum' of Andrew Motion's famous description is remodelled as a truly 21st Century poet, capable of withstanding - and rewarding - any number of postmodern critical interpretations.

Osborne devotes seven chapters to Larkin's art and techniques (what he calls 'seven in-depth demonstrations of the advantages of a text-centred methodology') using theoretical critical language to explore, for example, how the poet uses ellipsis and literary sleight-of-hand in his portrayal of Katherine Lind, the main character in A Girl in Winter, Larkin apparently refusing to define her geographically, whatever the conflicting claims of various commentators. A similar critical approach is employed in Osborne's reading of poems such as 'At Grass' and 'Church Going,' where he again reveals the efforts Larkin made during the drafting process to free the poems from a specific geographical locale. Other chapters analyse the poet's relationship with art as poetic inspiration - or what Osborne calls 'Radical Ekphrasis' - in poems such as 'The Card-Players' and 'An Arundel Tomb,' the handling of poetic structure and plot, Larkin's approach to poetic influence, while there are also close readings of such major works as 'The Whitsun Weddings' and 'Aubade' in a postmodernist light. In fact, each of the chapters presents unique and rewarding stand alone readings of the canon, even separated from the book's larger polemical structure. But what I see as Osborne's overarching critical aim, outlined repeatedly in his dismantling of various rival readings of Larkin's work, is to release the poet from his biographical 'shackles,' in order to grant the work maximum literary, textual and imaginative freedom.

The book's opening introductory broadside, 'A Textuality that Dare not Speak its Name,' which adumbrates many of the ideas explored in greater detail in the main text, sees Osborne taking to task fellow Larkin critics, biographers, and even literary executors - from major critical players like Motion and Anthony Thwaite, to James Booth and Trevor Tolley, plus ancillary commentators like Stephen Regan and Sean O'Brien - for allegedly placing the work within a restrictive autobiographical or biographical, place-specific framework. He feels such critical traditionalists are forced to 'deny the textuality not only of his texts but also of their own,' adding: 'Theirs are scripts that try (and fail) to hide their own inscriptedness.' Taking his cue from the deconstructionist theories of Jacques Derrida, Osborne doesn't accept anything within the Larkin canon on face value, viewing purely biographical readings as 'invariably reductive, often false.' Osborne seeks to undermine the usefulness of secondary texts which have proliferated within Larkinland - including what he calls 'kiss-and-tell memoirs or gossip columns' - arguing that such supposed biographical fixity is actually 'disputed ground.' But Osborne also accepts that Larkin supported and often encouraged a more straightforward, non-theoretical reading of his work, by highlighting the anti-intellectual, man-in-the-street, even 'Luddite' aspects of his public personality. However, following the example of Larkin's literary hero, D.H. Lawrence, Osborne also believes we should never trust the teller, but trust the tale, arguing the poet often filters his resistance to modernism and allusiveness through literature itself, explaining: 'The textuality of the text is never more apparent than when denied.' Further, Osborne notes that despite the poet's avowed distaste for the literary life and his caricaturing of figures such as the campus poet, he chose to spend most of his working life precisely within the milieu of the campus, at university libraries in Leicester, Belfast and Hull. Larkin's apparent contradictory approach to the literary life was further underlined in his support for the Compton Fellowship, which brought a series of contemporary poets to the Hull campus, and as a long-term champion of the collection and preservation of literary drafts.

Radical Larkin persuades us to look at the poetry and prose with new eyes, as Osborne questions and aims to subvert many of the critical truisms which have attached themselves to the canon. For example, the second chapter's examination of such 'ekphrastic' Larkin poems as 'An Arundel Tomb,' 'The Card-Players' and 'Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album' questions the traditional view of the Movement poets as basically anti-art and opposed to the 'myth-kitty' aesthetic. Rather, Osborne sees much Movement poetry as linked to and inspired by paintings and sculptures. (We should also remember that Thom Gunn dismissed the very notion of 'The Movement' as a journalistic fiction). He also suggests Larkin was 'the most art-conscious British poet of the mid-century period,' his oeuvre encompassing sculpture, architecture, illuminated manuscripts, posters, movies, TV documentaries, public monuments and more. For Osborne, a poem such 'An Arundel Tomb' has been misread as embodying fixed emotional or historical messages, but suggests that even Larkin as poetic narrator is unable to bridge past and present in terms of the sculpture's true meaning. While the sculpture may seem historically grounded and culturally fixed, even the stonework is vulnerable to the ravages of time, while the true significance of the artwork remains ambiguous, an ambiguity reflected in the poem's closure: 'Our almost-instinct almost true:/What will survive of us is love.' Osborne believes the poem embodies a wider critical truth about poetic 'meaning,' seeing the relationship between poem and sculpture as 'unfixed, inconstant, subject to historical accident.' In art, as in literary intention, Osborne argues, all is mutability. And his larger critical objection about 'the naive biographical resolution of the Larkin debate,' based on individual poems, remains constant. Similarly, drawing on the critical theories of Walter Benjamin, and showing how the art of photography fundamentally changed the relationship between artist and viewer, Osborne's reading of 'Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album' stresses the 'inauthenticity of the photographic art,' adding, for emphasis: 'Contrary to proverbial wisdom, the camera does lie.' Osborne attempts to 'unhouse' the poem from a purely biographical reading and its supposed flesh-and-blood progenitor, Winifred Arnott. While conceding that such a poem may have been inspired by an actual photograph album, Osborne suggests that it travels so far from specific biographical starting points as 'to vex, even sever, the connection.' Drawing on references ranging from Tennyson to Roland Barthes, and from Partridge's Dictionary of Historical Slang to a possible literary antecedent in C. Day Lewis's 'The Album,' Osborne highlights the poem's inconsistencies and its fluid creative relationship with the now-iconic actual photograph album known to members of The Philip Larkin Society. His reading of the poem also dwells interestingly on the gender divide in how the female form is viewed and the complex and changing role of women in modern society.

Osborne is a sharply perceptive commentator, who rarely misses a trick when it comes to the nuances, subtleties and deceptions of Larkin's work, contextualising the poems and novels with a wealth of references to literature, history, modern critical theory, music, cinema and the visual arts. He is also generous in his praise of the 2012 edition of the Complete Poems, arguing that Archie Burnett's corrected text and highly detailed, 338-page commentary helps undermine 'biographicalist' readings of poems such as 'The Whitsun Weddings,' by revealing 'the falsity' of Larkin's account of the poem's genesis. But Osborne also seems to relish shaking up the critical status quo, being unafraid of falling out with fellow Larkin critics and rarely sparing the rod when it comes to pointed censure. For example, James Booth is accused of 'textual amnesia' for his attribution of certain Larkin poems to this or that former lover, while elsewhere being criticised, along with fellow critic Tom Paulin, for an overly biographical reading of 'The Winter Palace': 'Had Burnett not intervened, there we might have left the battle of the biographicalists, Booth and Paulin contending over 'The Winter Palace' like two bald men fighting over a comb (as Borges has it).' Trevor Tolley, meanwhile, who has already been taken to task by Burnett for numerous textual errors, faces fresh censure from Osborne, who, en passant, chides what he calls 'the old guard' for coming to the critic's defence: 'Of course there are errors in The Complete Poems, just as there will be in the present volume; but there is a glaring difference between ordinary human fallibility and outright negligence.' Tolley's Early Poems and Juvenilia (2005) is similarly slated as 'the nadir' of Larkin editions while, even less charitably, the censured scholar is portrayed as '(a) master of thinking inside the box.' Although he commends aspects of the 1988 Collected Poems edited by Anthony Thwaite - 'it appealed to scholars and lay readers alike' - Osborne also believes the edition had the effect of 'entrenching biographicalism.' But Osborne is much harder on Thwaite's rejigged edition of the Collected Poems: 'Matters were not improved when Thwaite produced a second Collected Poems (2003) which responded to adverse criticism by retracting all the posthumously published material included in the first version (the words genie and bottle come to mind).'But while many Larkin admirers will be persuaded by his estimation of the second edition - 'much the inferior of the two' - some may also find Osborne's point-scoring tone unappealing. There's a contrapuntal aspect to Osborne's criticism, as he repeatedly elevates his own literary theories while simultaneously downgrading those of rival commentators. (A Bob Dylan line from Blonde on Blonde often came to mind while I was reading Radical Larkin: 'You shouldn't take it so personal'). But neutral readers may also discern an occasional irony in this or that rival 'biographical' reading of Larkin being dismantled by Osborne's recourse to yet more biographical detail. And there's surely a case to be made for a critical 'third way' in Larkin studies, in which the traditional or biographical approach runs parallel with postmodernist, desconstructionist or intertextual readings of the poems. Yes, Larkin was a highly literary creative artist, often adept at throwing readers and critics off the scent, but he was also a flesh-and-blood man of his time, and people and places speak loudly in his work. Speaking as a non-academic, my biggest regret is that Radical Larkin is written in the language of modern literary critical theory, which can make the going very heavy and could unfortunately restrict the book to a purely academic constituency. The constant lit-crit jargon often threatens to overtake the clarity of the prose, which can read like hyperactive J.H. Prynne: '...the aporia at the heart of the text problematizes pre-established taxonometric grids and dominant labelling strategies, making unknowability a central theme in a world given over over to identitarian certitudes, many of them murderous.' But I don't wish to close on a negative note. This is an insightful book, which I'll return to again and again. John Osborne remains one of our brightest, most thought-provoking Larkin critics and Radical Larkin contains a rich harvest of illuminating insights.

Monday, 28 April 2014

Cinecittà Studios - 75 Years Old

A Famed Movie Studio That’s Now a Graveyard of Film Memories
Brendan Seibel

Hollywood isn’t the only dream factory. For more than 75 years, Cinecittà Studios has stood on the outskirts of Rome, the backdrop for thousands of films. Today its hundred acres stand nearly abandoned, littered with movie props and empty sound stages.

Italian photographer Luca Locatelli dragged his medium format camera through the studio’s lifeless scaffolding and studios hunting for ghosts of cinema past.

“After a movie it’s like they have to run away because there’s a bomb and they leave everything there,” says Locatelli. “Big set pieces from movies like Gangs of New York, just abandoned completely. I tried to find a way to tell the story of a kind of beauty which was ruined. It was not a beauty that someone started to make. Just abandoned beauty.”

The former tech executive cum photographer spent several weeks there for the Italian edition ofNational Geographic. The magazine wanted pretty architecture and scenery, but Locatelli found himself drawn to discarded set pieces from movies like The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Ben Hur.

Competition from abroad and budget cuts have left Cinecittà in disrepair. Everyone from the set builders to the security guards have been infected with ennui.

“At the beginning they always followed me every step of the way, but we’re in Italy. After two or three days they just got bored of me because I was working hard,” he says. “It was like, ‘Hey, Luca, you think you’ll be staying here long? At four I have to go pick up my daughter.’ Yeah, don’t worry, just go.”

Many workers have been with Cinecittà for decades, and to them the studio died with Federico Fellini. Benito Mussolini’s dreams of a fascist state may have inaugurated the grounds, but the famed Italian auteur put it on the map with a string of renowned films, such as Locatelli’s favorite, La Dolce Vita.

Few films are produced there today. HBO’s Rome resurrected props from classics like Ben Hur and Cleopatra. The Paul Haggis feature The Third Person borrowed the set of Gangs of New York. The occasional big budget feature or television show and post-production work keep the doors open. Much of the lab work is churning out film prints of digital features for older theaters.

“It’s amazing. They’re still running these film laboratories and what they do more is to copy the pizza–they call it a pizza–for projection in theaters that don’t have digital technology,” Locatelli says. “They also do some developing of film but most of the business is to copy a pizza to other hundreds of pizzas.”

Shooting on such famous ground wasn’t exactly a dream come true for Locatelli, who grew up on American TV shows like Happy Days. Becoming a photographer was, however. Taking a rare break from the stresses of running his tech business, he bought his first camera en route to the Amazon. As in the movies, it was love at first sight, pitting his interest in computers against his new obsession for photography.

“It’s like when you are with a woman and it’s going okay but you know someone else that you can’t resist and you fall in love,” he says. “It’s not rational to choose another road but it’s not a choice. You have to do it. That’s what happened with me and photography.”

After two years trying to juggle his business and his passion, Locatelli sold off the company and became a full-time photographer. The transition was rough on his wallet.

“It was a really hard time,” says Locatelli. “I was getting used to having money in my pocket and going to the ATM to get money. After one year the ATM was telling me, ‘Hey, fuck off. There’s nothing here for you.’”

The future of Italy’s cinematic powerhouse is unknown. Executives are conjuring projects like Cinecittà World, a long-delayed amusement park. Locatelli finds himself in similarly murky waters hunting for a home where he and his Indonesian wife can use their common language, English. There may be a Hollywood ending waiting in the wings. The photographer recently signed on as a film consultant after his War Games feature ran in The New York Times Magazine.

“When you do a big story in photography you hope to win a grant to continue a project. Maybe get a big agent interested in you, but you don’t expect that a big agent from Hollywood will be calling,” Locatelli says. “That’s what happened. They put me in a business class flight to Los Angeles. We made a deal. So I have a contact as a consultant for a movie treatment of the story of the war competition.“

Cinecitta google doodle
Rome's Cinecittà studios: Google Doodle celebrates 77th anniversary
Facility created by Benito Mussolini was the filming location for several large American film productions including Ben-Hur

Guardian Staff
Monday 28 April 2014

Google's latest doodle marks the 77th anniversary of the establishment of Rome's Cinecittà studios, the 40-hectare (100-acre) facility created by Benito Mussolini, and which became a home from home for Hollywood stars in the 1950s and 60s.
The dictator himself inaugurated the studios on 21 April 1937 in a sprawling complex a few kilometres from the historic centre of Rome under the slogan "Il cinema è l'arma più forte" ("Cinema is the most powerful weapon").

The studios were hit during the bombing of Rome in the second world war, and afterwards saw service for a number of years as a displaced persons' camp both for Italians and citizens of other countries.

However, they were used for film making once again and in the 1950s, Cinecittà was the filming location for several large American film productions such as Ben-Hur, and then became the studio most closely associated with Federico Fellini.

The Italian director described the studios as "my ideal world, the cosmic space before the big bang". Troubles once again returned though and Cinecittà was privatized by the Italian government after a period in the 1980s when it came close to bankruptcy.

A fire erupted in part of the studios in 2007, destroying sets used in a television series about ancient Rome, produced by HBO and the BBC.

Saturday, 26 April 2014

The Beach Boys Party!

Brian Wilson: Sure, Pet Sounds Is Great, But Have You Heard Beach Boys Party!?

By Martin Cizmar
Thursday 27 May 2010

Brian Wilson is not a great interview. Actually, the best quote I can pull from 10 painful minutes of taped conversation between me and my all-time favorite musician is this:

"Print that Brian says: 'Please, come out to my concert.'"

On the surface, that's probably the worst quote any music journalist has ever published. However, it's also maybe the best, because it sums up pretty much everything you need to know in advance of a concert by the legendary genius behind The Beach Boys.

Listen up, everyone: Brian Wilson has asked you, in a fashion both polite and timely, to attend his concert. Are you going to deny him?

You could not — or, at least, you should not — because it's Brian fucking Wilson. The Roman Catholic's current canonization procedure requires but one otherwise inexplicable miracle in a prospective saint's name. Brian Wilson has two: one you know well, one you probably don't.

Pet Sounds, obviously, is Brian Wilson's best-known work. The 1966 masterpiece has been called the best rock record ever made by most of the top British music mags — NME,The Times and Mojo among them. America's top source for all things '60s, Rolling Stone, in a perhaps non-coincidental case of reverse homerism, put it at number two, behind Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Pet Sounds is, of course, the first record the Cameron Crowe character pulls out of the stack under his bed in Almost Famous, the collection of hand-me-down vinyl that will "set him free." I'm not going to write another word about Pet Sounds; chances are you know what you need to about the record.

However, I submit to you that the Beach Boys album preceding Pet Sounds is also a true masterpiece, deserving of enshrinement in the National Recording Registry alongside it's more famous sibling. That record, Beach Boys Party!, is something of an obscurity. Chances are you haven't heard it. Actually, I hadn't even heard it until three years ago, and I'm the music critic making a case for Wilson's sainthood here. Now, though, I tell every Pet Sounds fanboy I know to get a copy. Because while Beach Boys Party! is maybe not equal to Pet Sounds, its certainly the second-best Beach Boys record ever made (sorry, Smile) and is undeniably unique, with a certain magical quality all its own.

In a nutshell, Party! is a faux live record with 12 songs, clocking in at just over a half-hour. Among those songs are several Beach Boys hits, three Beatles covers, a Bob Dylan cover, and versions of a few old rock 'n' roll standards like "Hully Gully" and "Mountain of Love."Party! is all acoustic, and all the tracks are mixed together with between-song dialogue, clapping, and catcalls, to make it sound like one continuous take. The album is a highly stylized imitation bootleg that's almost too fun and loose to be a commercial release, which is probably why it was a surprise hit with curious consumers when it first came out 45 years ago this November.

Moreover, Party! is essentially a genre unto itself: a live acoustic "party" album that functions as the realization of the ultimate fantasy of every dude who picks up his guitar and starts playing by the backyard campfire at a late-fall get-together, or anyone who sits by him to listen, hoping to be blown away.

Actually, the best listening experience I've had with the album (and maybe any other album, for that matter) came when I blared it from my buddy Seth's cabin while our gang of friends hung out around the campfire, talking and drinking. In the dark woods, with a few stiff drinks in me, it was like attending a party where The Beach Boys at their peak were playing inside. If that's not my cornfield in Iowa, I don't know what is.

The record starts with "Hully Gully," a minor hit by The Olympics in 1959, which Wilson pulled off the scrap heap. Like the rest of the record, it's self-consciously lo-fi but actually perfectly mixed by Brian's golden ear at its peak, around the same time he recorded his universally beloved masterpiece. The simple percussion comes from bongos, while Mike Love takes the lead vocals and Brian calls out instructions to his younger brother Carl, the group's lead guitarist. As it unfolds, you can almost see the girls in the crowd — sun-baked California blondes wearing modish miniskirts, I'd imagine — shimmying along.

The second track, a cover of The Beatles' "I Should've Known Better" is where things shift to the next gear. Though some critics have dismissed The Beach Boys' use of three Beatles covers here as a cheap attempt to move records, I find it astonishingly brave. These were, after all, two of the most vital groups of the era, though some fans and critics (who hadn't yet heard Pet Sounds, mind you) seemed desperate to condemn The Beach Boys to the junkpile of other pre-Beatlemania American rock groups who'd outlived their purpose. Looking back now, though, what "Should've Known" and the following track, "Tell Me Why," do is give a priceless sense of time and place. Like everyone, The Beach Boys were listening to The Beatles and playing Beatles songs for each other. Maybe not Mike Love, who was always the proudest Beach Boy and, at 24 years old, probably a little too old for Beatlemania. But certainly the younger Carl Wilson and Al Jardine, who share the lead vocals. Someone hits "record" and we get Beach Boys harmonies and Beatles melodies: The most perfect marriage of '60s-style pop music possible.

After a few more re-treaded doo-wop songs and another Beatles cover, the group takes on Phil Spector's "There's No Other (Like My Baby)" and reprises two of their old hits, "I Get Around" and "Little Deuce Coupe." "I Get Around" is especially fun, with Mike Love joking around by perfectly enunciating every syllable of the first verse in a mock upper-crust accent. The fake crowd, mixed in by Brian Wilson, is heard singing along, even upstaging the singers from time to time. Then, the harmonies snap into place and you remember just what The Beach Boys were capable of at their best.

A cover of Bob Dylan's "The Times They Are a-Changin'" is possibly the most interesting moment. Jardine sings it and, tellingly, you can hear Mike Love and some of the proto-Valley Girls in the crowd mocking the folk anthem, leaving Jardine to perform the song on, more or less, his own.

Again, Party! isn't just what was recorded live — the record is supposed to sound like a one-take bootleg, but it's not — this is what Brian Wilson chose to include. He's addressing the tension within the group and, as the artistic leader who occupies the middle ground between the older and more orthodox Love and the younger, tuned-in Jardine, he lets everyone have his say. This is a tense time, to be sure, and we hear how Brian handles it.

Bob and Al were right: The times they were a-changin'. Within a few months The Beach Boys would become part of that, ultimately taking to psychedelics and recording the avant-gardeSmile, an album deemed un-releasable by Capitol Records. Still, the band always had a certain fratty-ness born of their original image as surf-riding, drag-racing, girl-chasing good-timers, and that manifests itself here.

The closing song, "Barbara Ann," is a return to the old classics, and a cherry on top of the malt shop era. The track starts with the guys screwing around, singing the refrain of "Baa Baa Black Sheep," before Dean Torrence of another pioneering surf rock group, Jan and Dean, joins the guys in what would become a fluke hit single.

Brian Wilson's next single, by the way, was "Caroline, No." Released four months later, the slow and complex "Caroline" has been interpreted as a funeral dirge for the surf rock days: "Where did your long hair go? Where is the girl I used to know? How could you lose that happy glow? Oh, Caroline, no."

Despite the success of "Barbara Ann," Party! is largely forgotten today.

Why was the record written off? It's inauspicious origin story probably has a lot to do with that. Party! was, admittedly, recorded as a Christmas season cash-in. As Wilson told me, it was put together in a matter of "two to three days," for the express purpose of re-packaging a few hits with a couple of covers and selling fans the same stuff they'd already bought. This was standard practice back in the day, and it's the sort of gimmick critics love to complain about. Party!, however, transcends its modest purpose in an awe-inspiring way. Truly, only someone with the unique brilliance of Brian Wilson could take such a shameful directive from a record company and turn in something this potent and poignant.

The fact that it hasn't been copied more is what surprises me. Sure, there are a few records like Party! on shelves, but not many, and they all seem to be directly associated with it. Canadian indie-poppers Sloan paid homage with a bonus disc called Live at a Sloan Party! which they included with their 1997 album, One Chord to Another. Also, Weezer's Rivers Cuomo has declared Party! his "favorite summer album" and said it inspired the onstage improvisation on the band's Hootenanny Tour. Considering all the shoddy covers of Blue Album songs I've heard at parties over the years, I'd love to hear Cuomo follow the model exactly. Either way, it's not like I'm the only one who's discovered this record.

Still, this is all I could get Brian Wilson himself to say about it: "That was a great album. That really was a happy album."

Wilson's ambivalence doesn't necessarily mean much, though. He interrupted our opening pleasantries with a terse, "Let's do the interview" and, at the end of the interview, he said, "Bye," like a seventh-grader who'd just been informed the principal was overruling the conviction that condemned him to after-school detention, leaving him free to go.

Wilson seemed a little confused, too, about when his last record, That Lucky Old Sun, came out. Also, he didn't really want to talk much about anything new, since this tour will feature Wilson and an 11-man band playing, in his words, "just Beach Boys classic hits." I'd prefer to hear some new stuff too — but it's unlikely.

Eh, I won't complain. He's still Brian Wilson: the man who made Pet Sounds and Beach Boys Party!

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York - The Elderly Brothers: -

Set 1: -
When You Walk In The Room
If I Fell
Light My Fire
Bring It On Home To Me
Never Be Anyone Else But You
True Love Ways

Set 2: -
All I Have To Do Is Dream
Love Hurts
Crying In The Rain
Bye Bye Love
Sugar Mountain
Make You Feel My Love

A quietish evening player-wise gave The Elderlys a second set with which to close proceedings for the night. Sugar Mountain was not the only Neil song of the night, another player contributing with a rarely heard Wrecking Ball - he also covered ABBA's Dancing Queen!

A note for your diaries, still to be confirmed, but The Elderlys are slated to play The Habit on Sunday 25 May (before the Bank Holiday). Further details to follow.

Wednesday, 23 April 2014

Hugo Williams - I Knew the Bride: review

Hugo Williams: 'I need poems more than they need me'
The poet is best known for writing about his colourful family but a serious illness has led him to darker places

By Sameer Rahim
21 Apr 2014

The poet Hugo Williams lives in a north London house you could describe as un-carefully preserved. Squeezed on the walls are pictures of his father, the actor Hugh Williams; the shelves groan with 50 volumes of personal scrapbooks; and the living room walls retain their dark pink Sixties hue. One thing that has changed drastically is the house’s worth. When he and his French wife Hermine Demoriane bought the place in 1966 they paid just £5,000. “Our neighbours thought we had been ripped off,” he tells me airily. “In the Fifties these houses went for £500.”

I suspect that Williams, now 72 years old, does not care for anything so bourgeois as property prices. The house evokes his parents’ hand-to-mouth bohemian world. His father Hugh was a successful stage actor who appeared in more than 50 films. His mother Margaret Vyner was a model and actress whose alluring picture hangs above his desk. Money troubles meant that Hugo’s Eton schooling was paid for with a loan from Michael Astor.

In Williams’s 1985 collection Writing Home, Hugh is a vivid presence. “I was a lovesick crammer-candidate, reading / poetry under the desk in History, / wondering how to go about my life. / 'Write a novel!’ said my father. / 'Put everything in! Sell the film rights for a fortune! / Sit up straight!’” Williams didn’t write a novel or follow his father into acting. Instead he became a poet.

“I tend to be treated as a biographical subject because I’m so colourful,” Williams tells me. “It’s not particularly relevant though, is it?” But when the poems draw so much from his life, curiosity is surely natural? “People think it’s something to do with self-love or fascination with father or showbusiness. It’s not: I write poems and poems need material. I don’t know how to find material that isn’t mine.” He seems a touch defensive for a poet whose first collection Symptoms of Loss was published when he was only 23; and who won the TS Eliot Prize for Billy’s Rain in 1999. But because of his light subject matter and smooth diction – a far cry from modernism’s jagged edges – his work has not always been taken seriously. “It doesn’t seem to go down very well in the academic world,” he says. He switches tack: “These things are written as a higher form of entertainment,” he admits. “Fred Astaire and all that: if it looks difficult you’re not trying hard enough.”

His new collection, I Knew the Bride, returns to family memories and painful love affairs. (He and his wife take a bohemian attitude to fidelity.) The same titles, lines and places crop up from his previous work. Williams has been accused by the critic Robert Potts of being a “one-club golfer”: writing the same poem again and again. He counters that his poems are attempts to encapsulate common experiences: “Love is a universal theme. You’re already halfway there. The rest is just fiddling with the language.”

One increasing preoccupation is mortality. This book’s title poem is a memorial for his sister Polly, who died in 2004. “At the Pillars” is dedicated to Mick Imlah, with whom he worked at the TLS, and who died in 2009. The Pillars refers to the Soho pub the Pillars of Hercules, where Williams hung out with Imlah and other writers in the circle of the editor Ian Hamilton. His early poems were influenced by Thom Gunn but, he says, “I did get over it by the time of my first collection because Ian Hamilton had got hold of me.” He imitated the “intense sensitivity and shortness” of Hamilton’s poems, though Williams was more prolific than his mentor. “I’ve needed poems more than they’ve needed me.”

Does he feel nostalgic for those days? “I feel nostalgic for everything now that I’m ill,” he tells me. Three years ago Williams was diagnosed with kidney disease and now has dialysis treatment three times a week. He writes about the experience in an 18-poem sequence entitled “From the Dialysis Ward”. Were they hard to write? “It was pretty easy because of all the material rushing in.”

On the way to hospital he cuts through St Pancras Old Church Cemetery, where Thomas Hardy once supervised the removal of bodies. Around an ash tree he placed a series of headstones that look, in Williams’s memorable phrase, “like children listening to a story”. “I got a lot of comfort from that garden,” Williams tells me. “The Beatles went there for a photo shoot, and one of Bach’s sons was buried there. I have an idea that Shelley propositioned Mary on her mother’s grave.”

Other dialysis poems tackle the physical process of having his blood cleaned. One poem opens, “Needles have the sudden beauty / of a first line” – an exquisite analogy between the procedure and the painful release of creativity. Another plays darkly on his own improvised freelance existence: “The beauty of dialysis / is that it saves you the trouble / of planning too far ahead”. Williams is not one for self-pity. “I’m very cold-blooded about the business of writing poetry,” he says, adding quickly, “I’m cold-blooded in the execution but not in the feeling.”

In the year since he wrote these poems, Williams’s health has deteriorated. He is waiting for a kidney transplant but soon might be too ill for the operation. His daughter Murphy has set up a Facebook campaign to find him a donor. Williams, in his very English way, downplays the whole thing. “They have tried to dramatise it a bit – though it’s true that if you’re not well you can’t get a transplant.” Without prompting he adds: “Murphy did offer me a kidney but she changed her mind… At the moment three or four people have suggested they might donate. I’ve got a slightly dubious feeling about it all. It seems too good to be true.”

There have been a number of sympathetic comments on the Facebook page – “I’ve always liked your poetry, that kind of thing.” He doesn’t seem comfortable being an object of pity. “All the answers on Facebook are to do with kindness. It’s a bit annoying. I hope this kind of charitableness doesn’t affect the reviews.”

His illness, it seems, has made him even more dreamily obsessed with his past. Before I leave he shows me one of his many scrapbooks. “Whatever happens first is the true thing,” he tells me. “That’s true for everyone.” In one of his dialysis poems, “Zombie”, he speaks of the “friend” who sucks his blood. “He keeps me alive / in the sense that memories are alive.” The friend might be a nurse or a needle; it could just as easily be poetry.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

David Hockney - Yorkshire Spring Drawings

David Hockney's Yorkshire spring drawings
Following a minor stroke, David Hockney almost gave up on his annual Spring drawings. But when he returned to the Yorkshire Wolds, he was as inspired by the landscape as ever

David Hockney
The Guardian
Friday 18 April 2014 10.00 BST

Detail from Woldgate, 6 - 7 February, 2013

I decided to do an arrival of spring in black and white (and greys) at the beginning of 2013. A change from the colour I had used in 2011 for my iPad prints shown at the Royal Academy in 2012. I almost gave up on the 2013 pictures a few times, but persevered and finished them around the end of May last year.
Detail from Woldgate, 30 April, 1 & 5 May, 2013

The Chinese say black and white contains colour, and so it can. They are five separate views of Woldgate, and with each one I had to wait for the changes to happen. Some were too close to the previous ones and I realised I was being impatient. I had to wait for a bigger change. I thought it was an exciting thing to do. It made me look much harder at what I was drawing.
Vandalized Totem in Snow

The totems were drawn immediately on my return from my exhibition in Cologne in November 2012. I drove out on Woldgate and noticed the totem had been deliberately sawn through. A bit before this I was sent photographs of graffiti that had been painted on it. Annoying, but I thought the winter would take them away. I was at first very sad and went to bed for two days a bit depressed by the vandalism. Then I decided to draw it.
Detail from Woldgate, 8 May 2013

I had had a very minor stroke that had kept me in London, and the first drawing afterwards took me two days to do (the days are a lot shorter in November). The stroke only manifested itself in my speech. I found I couldn't finish sentences, and although it came back after about a month I find now I talk a lot less.
Detail from Woldgate, 9 & 12 May 2013

But it did not affect my drawing. I think it even made me concentrate more. I thought, well I'm OK so long as I can draw, I don't really need to say much any more; I thought, I've said enough already.
Detail from Woldgate, 26 May 2013

When I sent the drawings to California, my studio director, Gregory Evans, said straight away he thought there was a difference that he could see. Anyway, all I did for the next six months was draw with charcoal. I made about 25 portrait drawings that took two days each to do, and kept up The Arrival of Spring drawings.

• David Hockney: The Arrival of Spring is at Annely Juda Fine Art, 23 Dering Street, London W1, from 8 May until 12 July 2014. See

Monday, 21 April 2014

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter RIP

Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter's life story is a warning to us about racism and revenge
In 1976, I was a junior lawyer on Rubin 'Hurricane' Carter's retrial defence team. His story has a significance that should outlive his death

Geoffrey Robertson
Monday 21 April 2014

In the summer of 1976, I walked the mean streets of Paterson, New Jersey, with Rubin "Hurricane" Carter – and encountered the raw, bloodshot hate-gaze from the white folks who passed us by. Carter was instantly recognisable: he was as bald and black and muscley as the Michelin man.

"What chance do you give me?" he asked this then-young British lawyer, shrugging his boxer's shoulders. "You can see my verdict in their eyes. In America, nothing has really changed."

On the political surface, it seemed to have changed. In 1966, when Carter – then a top professional boxer – was first convicted by an all-white jury for slaying three of their kind in a local bar, the governor of Georgia was fighting desegregation with a pick-axe. Now his successor, Jimmy Carter, was on the way to the US presidency, preaching racial harmony and quoting Bob Dylan in his campaign ads. Rubin's original 1966 conviction for an apparently motiveless triple murder was based on palpably inadequate evidence and came at a time when he was a contender for the world middleweight title.

Yet Carter was re-convicted on even weaker evidence at his retrial in 1976 and returned to prison. Not until 1985 was this wrongful reconviction overturned. His story inspired one of Dylan's best protest songs and Norman Jewison's fine movie, in which he was played by Denzel Washington. As a warning against possibility of convicting – and executing – the innocent because of prosecutors who play the race card and hide exculpatory evidence, the story of "the Hurricane" has a significance that will outlive his death.

It all began with the riots in Watts and Harlem in the early 1960s, which left 13 black children killed by police bullets. Rubin Carter, who until then had been marching non-violently with Martin Luther King, became a black Muslim and started to talk to the press about fighting back. That made him a public enemy in his home town of Paterson, where he had been arrested at the age of eleven for stabbing a man he said had indecently assaulted him. He was put away in a reformatory for seven years and was not forgiven – even as he began winning boxing titles.

The police officer involved in arresting him as a child, Vincent de Simone, happened to be on duty 18 years later, on a night when two black gunmen walked into the Lafayette Bar and Grill and opened fire, killing three customers before escaping in what some witnesses said was a white Chevrolet. Long after a car of that make had eluded a police chase, Carter and a young friend, John Artis, were pulled over in Carter's white Dodge. De Simone ordered the two brought back to the bar, but no witnesses could identify them as the gunmen. Alfred Bellow and Arthur Bradley, two professional burglars who had seen the gunmen while themselves out to rob the same bar, gave descriptions which were nothing like Carter or Artis.

But de Simone was as implacable as Inspector Javert from Les Misérables. He dragged the suspects to the hospital bedside of a critically-injured survivor who denied that they were the men who had just shot him. So Carter and Artis were released.

The only physical evidence against them was a lead-plated .32 Smith and Wesson bullet, which a policeman claimed to have found in the back of Carter's car. It could have been fired from the murder weapon – but the bullets which riddled the Lafayette victims were all plated with copper. Lead-plated .32 were not in common use ... except in the Patterson police force, where they were standard issue.

Several months later, de Simone persuaded Bellow and Bradley to change their minds and identify Carter and Artis as the gunmen. In return for changing their story, the two burglars were offered a host of inducements – early parole from previous sentences, a $12,000 reward and a blind eye towards the crimes they committed on the night (Bellow had robbed the Lafayette cash register while the victims lay dying). These deals were not disclosed to the defence. The prosecution even suppressed their initial description of the gunmen as "thinly built, both 5'11' in height" (the Hurricane was an unmistakably stocky 5'7").

The prosecution relied on Bellow and Bradley – and unspoken racial prejudice. On the jury table, the blood-stained shirt, trousers, socks and shoes of each victim was carefully laid out. By the shirt collar was set a wedding photo and beneath the shoes was placed a picture of the bullet-ridden body on the mortuary slab. The prosecutor called for the defendants to be sent to the electric chair.

I met Rubin Carter during his release on bail in 1976. He had, quite literally, written his way out of life imprisonment with a memoir, The 16th Round, which revived interest in his case. Selwyn Raab of the New York Times cracked Bellow and Bradley, who confessed to perjury. Bob Dylan, who years before had so movingly mourned the lonesome death of Hattie Carroll, now set the story of "the Hurricane" to a driving, angry beat. Mohammed Ali led protest marches, and an appeals court ordered a retrial.

But the "free Hurricane Carter" campaign outraged the local police department, of which de Simone was by then chief – as well as the judges and politicians of New Jersey. It became a matter of honour to secure Carter's reconviction. The state devoted massive resources to the prosecution: I counted no less than 49 of their lawyers and investigators, ranged against a handful of Carter defenders working for the most part without fee. The state had the money and now it invented a motive by claiming the Lafayette attack was a Black Power revenge killing.

The trial judge permitted this preposterous change of tack. At the pre-trial hearings I attended, he seemed to loathe the out-of-town defence lawyers and, after he allowed the prosecution to play the race card, the feeling was mutual. "What sort of lousy judge would make a ruling like that?" protested the "movement" lawyer Lenny Weinglass (deploying a style of advocacy I made a mental note to avoid when back at the Old Bailey).

Outside court, I observed the downside of press freedom, American-style. The local press were determined to prejudice the trial: in its lead-up, I noted 17 editorials and 320 front page articles in local papers, all hostile to Carter. Half the articles contained inflammatory descriptions, referring to him as a "murderer," "assassin," "criminal" and "killer of white people.

The result was predicable. The prosecutor relied on the new "Black Power" reprisal theory and on attacking the "Madison Avenue Hucksters" like Rabb and Dylan and the New York Times, whose campaign had provoked this supposedly unnecessary exercise. The verdict, once again, was guilty.

So, "the Hurricane" hunkered down for another life term. His release in 1985 was due to a dogged defence lawyer, Myron Beldock, who found the "smoking gun" evidence of prosecutorial misconduct. The judge quashed the conviction on the ground of that misconduct and "the prosecutor"s appeal to racism rather than reason." The real hero of the story was John Artis, who had fatefully offered to drive Carter home on the night of the Lafayette murders. In 1966, he was 19, with an exemplary record and a good career ahead of him. Instead, he wasted the next 20 years in prison. From the outset, the prosecution had offered him plea bargains and freedom deals if only he would implicate Carter. His refusal to do so, especially when threatened with the electric chair, was truly courageous.

"The Hurricane" devoted the rest of his life to projects that secured the release of innocent prisoners and campaigned powerfully against the death penalty – he was, after all, the living embodiment of the argument. He died over Easter in the presence of John Artis, the friend who lost two decades of his own life as punishment for refusing to help the New Jersey police to send Rubin to the electric chair.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Gabriel García Márquez RIP

Gabriel García Márquez, Conjurer of Literary Magic, Dies at 87

By Jonathan Kandell
17 April 2014

Gabriel García Márquez, the Colombian novelist whose “One Hundred Years of Solitude” established him as a giant of 20th-century literature, died on Thursday at his home in Mexico City. He was 87.

Cristóbal Pera, his former editor at Random House, confirmed the death. Mr. García Márquez learned he had lymphatic cancer in 1999, and a brother said in 2012 that he had developed senile dementia.

Mr. García Márquez, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1982, wrote fiction rooted in a mythical Latin American landscape of his own creation, but his appeal was universal. His books were translated into dozens of languages. He was among a select roster of canonical writers — Dickens, Tolstoy and Hemingway among them — who were embraced both by critics and by a mass audience.

“Each new work of his is received by expectant critics and readers as an event of world importance,” the Swedish Academy of Letters said in awarding him the Nobel.

Mr. García Márquez was a master of the literary genre known as magical realism, in which the miraculous and the real converge. In his novels and stories, storms rage for years, flowers drift from the skies, tyrants survive for centuries, priests levitate and corpses fail to decompose. And, more plausibly, lovers rekindle their passion after a half-century apart.

Magical realism, he said, sprang from Latin America’s history of vicious dictators and romantic revolutionaries, of long years of hunger, illness and violence. In accepting his Nobel, Mr. García Márquez said: “Poets and beggars, musicians and prophets, warriors and scoundrels, all creatures of that unbridled reality, we have had to ask but little of imagination. For our crucial problem has been a lack of conventional means to render our lives believable.”

Like many Latin American intellectuals and artists, Mr. García Márquez felt impelled to speak out on the political issues of his day. He viewed the world from a left-wing perspective, bitterly opposing Gen. Augusto Pinochet, the right-wing Chilean dictator, and unswervingly supporting Fidel Castro in Cuba. Mr. Castro became such a close friend that Mr. García Márquez showed him drafts of his unpublished books.

No draft had more impact than the one for “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” Mr. García Márquez’s editor began reading it at home one rainy day, and as he read page after page by this unknown Colombian author, his excitement grew. Soon he called the Argentine novelist Tomás Eloy Martínez and summoned him urgently to the home.

Mr. Eloy Martinez remembered entering the foyer with wet shoes and encountering pages strewn across the floor by the editor in his eagerness to read through the work. They were the first pages of a book that in 1967 would vault Mr. García Márquez onto the world stage. He later authorized an English translation, by Gregory Rabassa. In Spanish or English, readers were tantalized from its opening sentences:

“Many years later, as he faced the firing squad, Col. Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of 20 adobe houses built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”

“One Hundred Years of Solitude” would sell tens of millions of copies. The Chilean poet Pablo Neruda called it “the greatest revelation in the Spanish language since ‘Don Quixote.’ ” The novelist William Kennedy hailed it as “the first piece of literature since the Book of Genesis that should be required reading for the entire human race.”

Mr. García Márquez was rattled by the praise. He grew to hate “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” he said in interviews, because he feared his subsequent work would not measure up to it in readers’ eyes. He need not have worried. Almost all his 15 other novels and short-story collections were lionized by critics and devoured by readers.

Lived With His Grandparents

Gabriel García Márquez was born in Aracataca, a small town near Colombia’s Caribbean coast, on March 6, 1927, the eldest child of Luisa Santiaga Márquez and Gabriel Elijio García. His father, a postal clerk, telegraph operator and itinerant pharmacist, could barely support his wife and 12 children; Gabriel, the eldest, spent his early childhood living in the large, ramshackle house of his maternal grandparents. The house influenced his writing; it seemed inhabited, he said, by the ghosts his grandmother conjured in the stories she told.

His maternal grandfather, Nicolás Márquez Mejía, a retired army colonel, was also an influence — “the most important figure of my life,” Mr. García Márquez said. The grandfather bore a marked resemblance to Colonel Buendía, the protagonist of “One Hundred Years of Solitude,” and the book’s mythical village of Macondo draws heavily on Aracataca.

In his 2002 memoir, “Living to Tell the Tale,” Mr. García Márquez recalled a river trip back to Aracataca in 1950, his first trip there since childhood.

“The first thing that struck me,” he wrote, “was the silence. A material silence I could have identified blindfolded among all the silences in the world. The reverberation of the heat was so intense that you seemed to be looking at everything through undulating glass. As far as the eye could see there was no recollection of human life, nothing that was not covered by a faint sprinkling of burning dust.”

Much of his fiction unfolds in or near Macondo, just as William Faulkner, whom he admired, invented Yoknapatawpha County as the Mississippi setting for some of his own novels.

Mr. García Márquez moved to Bogotá as a teenager. He studied law there but never received a degree; he turned instead to journalism. The late 1940s and early ’50s in Colombia were a period of civil strife known as La Violencia. The ideological causes were nebulous, but the savagery was stark, as many as 300,000 deaths. La Violencia would become the background for several of his novels.

Mr. García Márquez eked out a living writing for newspapers in Cartagena and then Barranquilla, where he lived in the garret of a brothel and saw a future in literature. “It was a bohemian life: finish at the paper at 1 in the morning, then write a poem or a short story until about 3, then go out to have a beer,” he said in an interview in 1996. “When you went home at dawn, ladies who were going to Mass would cross to the other side of the street for fear that you were either drunk or intending to mug or rape them.”

He read intensely — the Americans Hemingway, Faulkner, Twain and Melville; the Europeans Dickens, Tolstoy, Proust, Kafka and Virginia Woolf.

“I cannot imagine how anyone could even think of writing a novel without having at least a vague of idea of the 10,000 years of literature that have gone before,” Mr. García Márquez said. But, he added, “I’ve never tried to imitate authors I’ve admired. On the contrary, I’ve done all I could not to imitate them.”

As a journalist he scored a scoop when he interviewed a sailor who had been portrayed by the Colombian government as the heroic survivor of a navy destroyer lost at sea. The sailor admitted to him that the ship had been carrying a heavy load of contraband household goods, which unloosed during a storm and caused the ship to list enough to sink. His report, in 1955, infuriated Gen. Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, the country’s dictator, and Mr. García Márquez fled to Europe. He spent two years there as a foreign correspondent.

Unimpressed by Europe

Mr. García Márquez was less impressed by Western Europe than many Latin American writers, who looked to the Old World as their cultural fountainhead. His dispatches often reflected his belief that Europeans were patronizing toward Latin America even though their own societies were in decline.

He echoed these convictions in his Nobel address. Europeans, he said, “insist on measuring us with the yardstick that they use for themselves, forgetting that the ravages of life are not the same for all, and that the quest for our own identity is just as arduous and bloody for us as it was for them.”

Mr. García Márquez lost his job when his newspaper was shut down by the Rojas Pinilla regime. Stranded in Paris, he scavenged and sold bottles to survive, but he managed to begin a short novel, “In Evil Hour.”

While working on that book he took time off in 1957 to complete another short novel, “No One Writes to the Colonel,” about an impoverished retired army officer, not unlike the author’s grandfather, who waits endlessly for a letter replying to his requests for a military pension. It was published to acclaim four years later. (“In Evil Hour” was also published in the early 1960s.)

Mr. García Márquez alternated between journalism and fiction in the late 1950s. (A multipart newspaper series on a sailor lost at sea for 10 days was later published in book form as “The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor.”) While working for newspapers and magazines in Venezuela, he wrote a short-story collection, “Big Mama’s Funeral,” which is set in Macondo and incorporates the kind of magical elements he would master in “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” From 1959 to 1961 he supported the Castro revolution and wrote for Prensa Latina, the official Cuban press agency.

In 1961 he moved to Mexico City, where he would live on and off for the rest of his life. It was there, in 1965, after a four-year dry spell in which he wrote no fiction, that Mr. García Márquez began “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The inspiration for it, he said, came to him while he was driving to Acapulco.

Returning home, he began an almost undistracted 18 months of writing while his wife, Mercedes, looked after the household. “When I was finished writing,” he recalled, “my wife said: ‘Did you really finish it? We owe $12,000.’ ”

With the book’s publication in 1967, in Buenos Aires, the family never owed a penny again. “One Hundred Years of Solitude” was sold out within days.

In following the rise and fall of the Buendía family through several generations of war and peace, affluence and poverty, the novel seemed to many critics and readers the defining saga of Latin America’s social and political history.

Mr. García Márquez made no claim to have invented magical realism; he pointed out that elements of it had appeared before in Latin American literature. But no one before him had used the style with such artistry, exuberance and power. Magical realism would soon inspire writers on both sides of the Atlantic, most notably Isabel Allende in Chile and Salman Rushdie in Britain.

“Reality is also the myths of the common people,” Mr. García Márquez told an interviewer. “I realized that reality isn’t just the police that kill people, but also everything that forms part of the life of the common people.”

In 1973, when General Pinochet overthrew Chile’s democratically elected Marxist president, Salvador Allende, who committed suicide, Mr. García Márquez vowed never to write as long as General Pinochet remained in power.

The Pinochet dictatorship lasted 17 years, but Mr. García Márquez released himself from his vow well before it ended. “I never thought he’d last so long,” he said in a 1997 interview with The Washington Post. “Time convinced me I was wrong. What I was doing was allowing Pinochet to stop me from writing, which means I had submitted to voluntary censorship.”

In 1975 he published his next novel, “The Autumn of the Patriarch,” about a dictator in a phantasmagorical Latin American state who rules for so many decades that nobody can recall what life was like before him. As he had predicted, some critics faulted the work for not matching the artistry of “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” But others raved about it, and it became a global best seller. He called it his best novel.

In “Chronicle of a Death Foretold,” published in 1981, Mr. García Márquez used journalistic techniques to tell a story, apparently drawn from a real incident, in which the brothers of a woman who has lost her virginity murder the man responsible, Santiago Nasar. The brothers announce their intention to avenge their family honor, but because of a variety of odd circumstances, Nasar remains unaware of his impending fate.

“Love in the Time of Cholera,” published in 1985, was Mr. García Márquez’s most romantic novel, the story of the resumption of a passionate relationship between a recently widowed septuagenarian and the lover she had broken with more than 50 years before.

“The General in His Labyrinth,” published in 1989, combined imagination with historical fact to conjure up the last days of Simón Bolívar, the father of South America’s independence from Spain. The portrait of the aging Bolívar as a flatulent philanderer, abandoned and ridiculed by his onetime followers, aroused controversy on a continent that viewed him as South America’s version of George Washington. But Mr. García Márquez said that his depiction had been drawn from a careful perusal of Bolívar’s personal letters.

As his fame grew, Mr. García Márquez — or Gabo, as he was called by friends — enjoyed a lifestyle he would have found inconceivable in his struggling youth. He kept homes in Mexico City, Barcelona, Paris and Cartagena, on Colombia’s Caribbean coast. Recognizable by his bushy mustache, he dressed fastidiously, preferring a white monotone encompassing linen suits, shirts, shoes and even watchbands.

Devoted to the Left

He contributed his prestige, time and money to left-wing causes. He helped finance a Venezuelan political party. He was a strong defender of the Sandinistas, the leftist revolutionaries who took power in Nicaragua.

For more than three decades the State Department denied Mr. García Márquez a visa to travel in the United States, supposedly because he had been a member of the Colombian Communist Party in the 1950s but almost certainly because of his continuing espousal of left-wing causes and his friendship with Mr. Castro. The ban was rescinded in 1995 after President Bill Clinton invited him to Martha’s Vineyard.

Mr. García Márquez’s ties to Mr. Castro troubled some intellectuals and human rights advocates. Susan Sontag wrote in the 1980s, “To me it’s scandalous that a writer of such enormous talent be a spokesperson for a government which has put more people in jail (proportionately to its population) than any other government in the world.”

He attributed the criticism to what he called Americans’ “almost pornographic obsession with Castro.” But he became sensitive enough about the issue to intercede on behalf of jailed Cuban dissidents.

After receiving his cancer diagnosis in 1999, Mr. García Márquez devoted most of his subsequent writing to his memoirs. One exception was the novella “Memories of My Melancholy Whores,” about the love affair between a 90-year-old man and a 14-year-old prostitute, published in 2004.

In July 2012, his brother, Jaime, was quoted as saying that Mr. García Márquez had senile dementia and had stopped writing. Mr. Pera, the author’s editor at Random House Mondadori, said at the time that Mr. García Márquez had been working on a novel, “We’ll See Each Other in August,” but that no publication date had been scheduled. The author seemed disinclined to have it published, Mr. Pera said: “He told me, ‘This far along I don’t need to publish more.’ ”

Dozens of television and film adaptations were made of Mr. García Márquez’s works, but none achieved the critical or commercial success of his writing, and he declined requests for the movie rights to “One Hundred Years of Solitude.” The novel’s readers, he once said, “always imagine the characters as they want, as their aunt or their grandfather, and the moment you bring that to the screen, the reader’s margin for creativity disappears.”

Besides his wife, Mercedes, his survivors include two sons, Rodrigo and Gonzalo.

Mr. García Márquez attributed his rigorous, disciplined schedule in part to his sons. As a young father he took them to school in the morning and picked them up in the afternoon. During the interval — from 8 in the morning to 2 in the afternoon — he would write.

“When I finished one book, I wouldn’t write for a while,” he said in 1966. “Then I had to learn how to do it all over again. The arm goes cold; there’s a learning process you have to go through again before you rediscover the warmth that comes over you when you are writing.”

And a little treat for you all:

Gabriel Garcia Marquez Meets Ernest Hemingway
By Gabriel García Márquez
26 July 1981

I recognized him immediately, passing with his wife Mary Welsh on the Boulevard St. Michel in Paris one rainy spring day in 1957. He walked on the other side of the street, in the direction of the Luxembourg Gardens, wearing a very worn pair of cowboy pants, a plaid shirt and a ballplayer's cap. The only thing that didn't look as if it belonged to him was a pair of metal-rimmed glasses, tiny and round, which gave him a premature grandfatherly air. He had turned 59, and he was large and almost too visible,but he didn't give the impression of brutal strength that he undoubtedly wished to, because his hips were narrow and his legs looked a little emaciated above his coarse lumberjack shoes. He looked so alive amid the secondhand bookstalls and the youthful torrent from the Sorbonne that it was impossible to imagine he had but four years left to live.

For a fraction of a second, as always seemed to be the case, I found myself divided between my two competing roles. I didn't know whether to ask him for an interview or cross the avenue to express my unqualified admiration for him. But with either proposition, I faced the same great inconvenience. At the time, I spoke the same rudimentary English that I still speak now, and I wasn't very sure about his bullfighter's Spanish. And so I didn't do either of the things that could have spoiled that moment, but instead cupped both hands over my mouth and, like Tarzan in the jungle, yelled from one sidewalk to the other: ''Maaaeeestro!'' Ernest Hemingway understood that there could be no other master amid the multitude of students, and he turned, raised his hand and shouted to me in Castillian in a very childish voice, ''Adiooos, amigo!'' It was the only time I saw him.

At the time, I was a 28-year-old newspaperman with a published novel and a literary prize in Colombia, but I was adrift and without direction in Paris. My great masters were the two North American novelists who seemed to have the least in common. I had read everything they had published until then, but not as complementary reading - rather, just the opposite, as two distinct and almost mutually exclusive forms of conceiving of literature. One of them was William Faulkner, whom I had never laid eyes on and whom I could only imagine as the farmer in shirtsleeves scratching his arm beside two little white dogs in the celebrated portrait of him taken by Cartier-Bresson. The other was the ephemeral man who had just said goodbye to me from across the street, leaving me with the impression that something had happened in my life, and had happened for all time.

I don't know who said that novelists read the novels of others only to figure out how they are written. I believe it's true. We aren't satisfied with the secrets exposed on the surface of the page: we turn the book around to find the seams. In a way that's impossible to explain, we break the book down to its essential parts and then put it back together after we understand the mysteries of its personal clockwork. The effort is disheartening in Faulkner's books, because he doesn't seem to have an organic system of writing, but instead walks blindly through his biblical universe, like a herd of goats loosed in a shop full of crystal. Managing to dismantle a page of his, one has the impression of springs and screws left over, that it's impossible to put back together in its original state. Hemingway, by contrast, with less inspiration, with less passion and less craziness but with a splendid severity, left the screws fully exposed, as they are on freight cars. Maybe for that reason Faulkner is a writer who has had much to do with my soul, but Hemingway is the one who had the most to do with my craft - not simply for his books, but for his astounding knowledge of the aspect of craftsmanship in the science of writing. In his historic interview with George Plimpton in The Paris Review, (Hemingway) showed for all time - contrary to the Romantic notion of creativity -that economic comfort and good health are conducive to writing; that one of the chief difficulties is arranging the words well; that when writing becomes hard it is good to reread one's own books, in order to remember that it always was hard; that one can write anywhere so long as there are no visitors and no telephone; and that it is not true that journalism finishes off a writer, as has so often been said - rather, just the opposite, so long as one leaves it behind soon enough. ''Once writing has become the principal vice and the greatest pleasure,'' he said, ''only death can put an end to it.'' Finally, his lesson was the discovery that each day's work should only be interrupted when one knows where to begin again the next day. I don't think that any more useful advice has ever been given about writing. It is, no more and no less, the absolute remedy for the most terrible specter of writers: the morning agony of facing the blank page.

All of Hemingway's work shows that his spirit was brilliant but short-lived. And it is understandable. An internal tension like his, subjected to such a severe dominance of technique, can't be sustained within the vast and hazardous reaches of a novel. It was his nature, and his error was to try to exceed his own splendid limits. And that is why everything superfluous is more noticeable in him than in other writers. His novels are like short stories that are out of proportion, that include too much. In contrast, the best thing about his stories is that they give the impression something is missing, and this is precisely what confers their mystery and their beauty. Jorge Luis Borges, who is one of the great writers of our time, has the same limits, but has had the sense not to try to surpass them.

Francis Macomber's single shot at the lion demonstrates a great deal as a lesson in hunting, but also as a summation of the science of writing. In one of his stories, Hemingway wrote that a bull from Liria, after brushing past the chest of the matador, returned like ''a cat turning a corner.'' I believe, in all humility, that that observation is one of those inspired bits of foolishness which come only from the most magnificent writers. Hemingway's work is full of such simple and dazzling discoveries, which reveal the point at which he adjusted his definition of literary writing: that, like an iceberg, it is only well grounded if it is supported below by seveneighths of its volume.

That consciousness of technique is unquestionably the reason Hemingway won't achieve glory with his novels, but will with his more disciplined short stories. Talking of ''For Whom the Bell Tolls,'' he said that he had no preconceived plan for constructing the book, but rather invented it each day as he went along. He didn't have to say it: it's obvious. In contrast, his instantaneously inspired short stories are unassailable. Like the three he wrote one May afternoon in a Madrid pension, when a snowstorm forced the cancellation of a bullfight at the feast of San Isidro. Those stories, as he himself told George Plimpton, were ''The Killers,'' ''Ten Indians'' and ''Today Is Friday,'' and all three are magisterial. Along those lines, for my taste, the story in which his powers are most compressed is one of his shortest ones, ''Cat in the Rain.''

Nevertheless, even if it appears to be a mockery of his own fate, it seems to me that his most charming and human work is his least successful one: ''Across the River and Into the Trees.'' It is, as he himself revealed, something that began as a story and went astray into the mangrove jungle of a novel. It is hard to understand so many structural cracks and so many errors of literary mechanics in such a wise technician - and dialogue so artificial, even contrived, in one of the most brilliant goldsmiths in the history of letters. When the book was published in 1950, the criticism was fierce but misguided. Hemingway felt wounded where he hurt most, and he defended himself from Havana, sending a passionate telegram that seemed undignified for an author of his stature. Not only was it his best novel, it was also his most personal, for he had written it at the dawn of an uncertain autumn, with nostalgia for the irretrievable years already lived and a poignant premonition of the few years he had left to live. In none of his books did he leave much of himself, nor did he find - with all the beauty and all the tenderness - a way to give form to the essential sentiment of his work and his life: the uselessness of victory. The death of his protagonist, ostensibly so peaceful and natural, was the disguised prefiguration of his own suicide.

When one lives for so long with a writer's work, and with such intensity and affection, one is left without a way of separating fiction from reality. I have spent many hours of many days reading in that cafe in the Place St. Michel that he considered good for writing because it seemed pleasant, warm, clean and friendly, and I have always hoped to find once again the girl he saw enter one wild, cold, blowing day, a girl who was very pretty and fresh-looking, with her hair cut diagonally across her face like a crow's wing. ''You belong to me and Paris belongs to me,'' he wrote for her, with that relentless power of appropriation that his writing had. Everything he described, every instant that was his, belongs to him forever. I can't pass by No. 12 Rue de l'Odeon in Paris without seeing him in conversation with Sylvia Beach, in a bookstore that is now no longer the same, killing time until e six in the evening, when James Joyce might happen to drop by. On the Kenya prairie, seeing them only once, he became the owner of his buffaloes and his lions, and of the most intimate secrets of hunting. He became the owner of bullfighters and prizefighters, of artists and gunmen who existed only for an instant while they became his. Italy, Spain, Cuba - half the world is filled with the places that he appropriated simply by mentioning them. In Cojimar, a little village near Havana where the solitary fisherman of ''The Old Man and the Sea'' lived, there is a plaque commemorating his heroic exploits, with a gilded bust of Hemingway. In Finca de la Vigia, his Cuban refuge, where he lived until shortly before his death, the house remains intact amid the shady trees, with his diverse collection of books, his hunting trophies, his writing lectern, his enormous dead man's shoes, the countless trinkets of life from all over the world that were his until his death, and that go on living without him, with the soul he gave them by the mere magic of his owning them.

Some years ago, I got into the car of Fidel Castro - who is a tenacious reader of literature -and on the seat I saw a small book bound in red leather. ''It's my master Hemingway,'' Fidel Castro told me. Really, Hemingway continues to be where one least expects to find him -20 years after his death - as enduring yet ephemeral as on that morning, perhaps in May, when he said ''Goodbye, amigo'' from across the Boulevard St. Michel.

This article was translated by Randolph Hogan of The Times cultural news staff.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

Ash Cottage by Charlie Hedley

A film by Charlie Hedley
Starring Paul Kelly