Monday, 29 February 2016

Ry Cooder: The 15 best?

Ry Cooder
Ry Cooder: 15 essential songs

20 January 2016
The Telegraph

Ry Cooder described Blind Willie Johnson's 1927 song Dark Was the Night (Cold was the Ground) as "the most transcendent piece in all American music". Cooder first covered the song on his 1970 eponymous debut album and again for the soundtrack to the film Paris, Texas. When the United States sent the two Voyagers into orbit in 1977, musicologist Alan Lomax saw to it that along with Bach and Beethoven, the gold-plated copper discs contained Johnson's eerie masterpiece. Cooder comes as close as possible to recapturing the simplicity and purity of Johnson's playing. "I’ll really tell you," Cooder said once, "Blind Willie Johnson is in the ether somewhere.

VIGILANTE MAN (INTO THE PURPLE VALLEY, 1972) Ry Cooder started out on a four-string guitar his father bought him and the first tunes he learned were by Woody Guthrie. On his 1972 album Into the Purple Valley, Cooder delivers an emotional version of Guthrie's classic ('Why does a vigilante man / Carry that sawed-off shot-gun in his hand?'). Cooder has covered classic songs well during his career, whether in instrumentals (Skip James's Cherry Ball Blues) or powerful protest songs (Leadbelly's Bourgeois Blues).

BOOMER'S STORY (BOOMER'S STORY, 1972) Ry Cooder is a master at breathing new life into old songs. His pulsating and moving version of the 1929 song The Railroad Boomer features Jim Dickinson on piano.

DITTY WAH DITTY (PARADISE AND LUNCH 1974) An inventive cover of Florida blues musician Arthur Blake's song Ditty Wah Ditty, which features some great interplay between Ry Cooder on guitar and jazz legend Earl Hines, then 70, on piano.

IT'S ALL OVER NOW (PARADISE AND LUNCH 1974) It's All Over Now was written by Bobby Womack and Shirley Womack. Cooder says Womack's record was one of the best songs of the Sixties. This version captures Cooder's unerring feel for R&B.

TAMP 'EM UP SOLID (PARADISE AND LUNCH 1974) A wonderful example of Ry Cooder taking an old folk song, believed to be based on what field hands sang while stacking bales of cotton, and reinventing it in a fresh and stirring way.

JESUS ON THE MAINLINE (SHOW TIME, 1976) Jesus on the Mainline was included on the 1974 Paradise and Lunch album, but the more striking version is from his 1976 live album Show Time. Following the entertaining Hawaiian blend of the album Chicken Skin Music, Cooder toured with a group of Tex-Mex musicians, led by the great accordionist Flaco Jiminez, in a band that included soul and gospel backup singers. Show Time was recorded in December 1976 in San Francisco, and Cooder's version of Jesus on the Mainline shows off his dazzling acoustic guitar skills.

THE VERY THING THAT MAKES YOU RICH (MAKES ME POOR) (BOP TILL YOU DROP, 1979) Ry Cooder plays The Very Thing That Makes You Rich (Makes Me Poor) frequently during his live shows. It's from his pop-centred album Bob Till You Drop. The song was written by Sidney Bailey, a Memphis taxi driver whose work was brought to Cooder by musician and band member Jim Dickinson.

LITTLE SISTER (BOP TILL YOU DROP, 1979) Little Sister was written by Doc Pomus and Mort Shuman and originally released as a single in 1961 by Elvis Presley. Ry Cooder's version, sung more as a plea, is bouncy and upbeat.

SENECA SQUARE DANCE (LONG RIDERS, 1980) Seneca Square Dance is from the superb soundtrack album for The Long Riders, a Western directed by Walter Hill and starring David Carradine. Cooder won the Best Music award in 1980 from the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards for this soundtrack and although the title track is lovely, Seneca Square Dance is one of Cooder's most joyful instrumentals.

ACROSS THE BORDERLINE (THE BORDER, 1982) Across the Borderline was written by Ry Cooder, John Hiatt and Jim Dickinson, and was sung by Freddy Fender for the movie soundtrack for The Border, starring Jack Nicholson. Ry Cooder later performed his own version of the song, which is about immigrants trying to cross the Mexican border into America. Cooder said: "To me, that borderline may be inside yourself." Willie Nelson has also recorded a beautiful version of this song, which includes the lines: Up and down the Rio Grande / A thousand footprints in the sand Reveal a secret no one can define / The river flows on like a breath In between our life and death / Tell me who is next to cross the borderline.

PARIS, TEXAS (PARIS, TEXAS SOUNDTRACK, 1984) Harry Dean Stanton, who starred as Travis Henderson, said of Paris, Texas: "It's my favourite film that I was in. Great directing by Wenders, great writing by Sam Shepard, great cinematography by Robby Müller, great music by Ry Cooder." The film won the Palme d'Or at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. Cooder's playing was haunting. Kurt Cobain said the soundtrack was one of the best of all time.

CROSSROADS (CROSSROADS SOUNDTRACK, 1986) Ry Cooder loved working for director Walter Hill and the soundtrack album Crossroads featured the great blues harmonica player Sonny Terry and blues musician Terry Evans. Cooder had loved the blues of Robert Johnson since he was a teenager and this spirited version of his classic Crossroads features some great bottleneck guitar playing. As Cooder said: "I am playing Johnson's music the way I know how to play bottleneck, which is to hold the guitar upright, wear a bottleneck on your finger, and fingerpick the thing, and play in the tuning that I’m certain that he used."

DUNMORE LASSIES (THE LONG BLACK VEIL, 1995) Ry Cooder has recorded many excellent collaborations, including with Randy Newman, the late Ali Farka Toure and the Buena Vista Social Club, but an overlooked gem is the instrumental Dunmore Lassies, recorded with Irish folk group The Chieftains in 1995. Matt Molloy plays flute with almost no ornamentation and Cooder's senstive, slow accompaniment create something magical.

GET RHYTHM (GET RHYTHM,1987) Get Rhythm is Cooder’s turbo-charged rendition of the Johnny Cash Sun classic, with production by son Joachim Cooder (above left), who is a drummer.

What? No Why Don't You Try Me?

The writer, whoever he or she may be, has confused Borderline, off the album of that name, with Across the Borderline, which is actually from Get Rhythm - and is the track referred to. And, yes, it's a great song!

Sunday, 28 February 2016

Hieronymus Bosch exhibition at Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch and The Prado, Madrid

The Garden of Earthly Delights

Hieronymus Bosch review – a heavenly host of delights on the road to hell
Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch, Netherlands
An astonishing homecoming for this madly inventive artist sets the grotesque against a deep but compassionate melancholy that burns into your soul

Jonathan Jones
Thursday 11 February 2016

They nibble giant strawberries and cavort inside transparent spheres, naked as newborns. Towers as pink and moist as bodily organs rise above the nude revellers, as they ride unicorns and camels bareback, swim with mermaids or crawl inside an egg. There’s always so much to do in The Garden of Earthly Delights.

At the turn of the 16th century, a Netherlandish painter who signed himself Hieronymus Bosch created one of the world’s most fascinating and confounding works of art. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a triptych, a three-part painting whose side panels can be closed like doors. Between Eden to the left and Hell to the right is Bosch’s vision of naked bliss. But what does it all mean?

I’ve stood in Madrid’s Prado museum, where this late medieval masterpiece hangs, purchased by Philip II of Spain so he had something to brood on besides pitching Armadas against Tudor Britain. I was as baffled as I was astonished. Yet now, in an exhibition that brings the visionary art of Bosch back home to the small Dutch city in which it was created, I think I see what he was getting at.

The Noordbrabants Museum in Den Bosch has put on one of the most important exhibitions of our century. This deeply absorbing and revisionist show is not just an astonishing organisational feat: little-known regional museum borrows almost all Bosch’s greatest works from galleries including the Accademia in Venice and the Metropolitan in New York. It is no exaggeration to say that in this exhibition, Hieronymus Bosch finally steps out from behind his surreal triptychs and speaks to us directly. You feel you are meeting him on the streets of Den Bosch – or ‘s-Hertogenbosch as he knew it – and getting the measure of the man.
Saint John on Patmos (detail) 

There he is, a pair of spectacles balanced on his nose, his piercing eyes gazing out of a gaunt face. That is almost certainly the face Bosch presented to the world, in the corner of a painting of Saint John on Patmos he made for the Brotherhood of Our Lady, the city’s poshest religious fraternity, of which Bosch was a leading member. Clearly he was a respected local citizen whose fellow burghers thought his madly inventive art a great laugh, for he put this bespectacled face on a monster with lizard legs and a bird’s wings.

You can visit the chapel where this jokey self-portrait was once displayed, just down the road from the museum at St John’s Cathedral. In its gothic sanctuary, one thing is clear: Bosch was no heretic, not even an outsider like Vincent van Gogh, who would be born centuries later in this same region. Bosch belonged. This exhibition, rigorously based on the latest research, puts paid to the idea – popular in the 1960s, when he was hailed as a hippy prophet – that he belonged to a covert sect.
The Haywain

But it must have been a very tolerant place, old ‘s-Hertogenbosch, to take him to its heart. There is no avoiding the strangeness of his ideas. In his great painting The Haywain, lent by the Prado, a cart loaded with yellow hay and pulled by rodent-headed creatures is mobbed by people trying to join the lovers carousing on its summit, while others fight with fists and knives. This grotesque progress is headed straight for hell, where in the next panel of the triptych the damned suffer such fates as being hung from a pole and gutted, or hung to roast in the burning sky.

So that’s clear, right? If you sin, you go to hell. Yet there are infinite bizarreries at play in Bosch’s imagination. The left panel of The Haywain tells the story of the Fall, beneath a sky filled with monstrous buzzing creatures flowing out of heaven – the rebel angels, perhaps, descending to exile? On top of the haywain itself though, an angel and a blue trumpet-nosed demon fight over the souls of a pair of lovers. Perhaps love can get you into heaven as well as hell.
The Wood Has Ears, The Field Has Eyes

The public face of Bosch, walking the streets of this little city, was that of a good townsman and Catholic. His private thoughts emerge in the most unexpected and miraculous of all the treasures assembled – his drawings. Twenty survive in the entire world, according to the Bosch Research and Conservation Project, whose findings this exhibition reveals – and 19 of them are on view here. They show us the secret Bosch, a man with a mind full of monsters. One drawing is called The Wood Has Ears, The Field Has Eyes – a saying inscribed as on Goya’s Caprichos. Human ears hang from the trees. Human eyes stare out of the ground. It is like a Magritte. Only much scarier.
Beehive and Witches

Bosch’s drawings reveal that within the respectable citizen with his big house on the market square festered a paranoid mind revolted by much of human behaviour. The darkness of these designs is tangible. Even a brilliantly accurate sketch of an owl’s nest has something hellish about it. A man hides himself inside a basket, with only his arse visible. Out of it he shits live birds, which playful children chase about. When they catch one, they pin it down with unbarbed cruelty: they are no innocents. In another drawing an audience gathers, their faces cold and mean. Perhaps they are watching Christ’s sufferings as in Bosch’s painting Ecce Homo, where a similarly callous crowd contemplates the tortured messiah’s bloodied body.
Ecce Homo

But Bosch is full of the compassion they lack. In a stunning painting of the day after the Flood, he focuses not on Noah’s survival but the sad bodies of the drowned, lying in terrible heaps and awkward poses, soon to be food for the animals emerging from the Ark. 
Noah's Ark after the Flood

The deep melancholia of this medieval artist’s vision burns into your soul. Our earthly life is but a parade of folly and sin. Hell is waiting for those who do not take care for their eternal souls.

Yet perhaps there is a glimmer of hope, a chance of paradise. The Garden of Earthly Delights is represented here by early 16th-century copies – the original is just about the only Bosch masterpiece that has not been lent. But I found myself coming back repeatedly to an anonymous artist’s version, puzzling over Bosch’s freakiest dream of all. Then finally, at the end of the exhibition, is a work that opens the door to paradise.
The Last Judgement

The Last Judgment is a manic revelation of mayhem. Almost everyone is going to hell. And yet the blessed are being ferried to a place where they can play in a colossal fountain while they wait to be carried up to heaven. Nudity is not sinful – it is the clothing of the blessed. The Garden of Earthly Delights is a paradise that foretells the joys of heaven. Bosch holds out hope like a giant flower, naked as innocence.

Hieronymous Bosch: Visions of Genius is at the Noordbrabants Museum, Den Bosch, Netherlands from 13 February to 8 May. Bosch: The Centenary Exhibition will be at the Museo del Prado, Madrid from 31 May to 11 September

Hieronymous Bosch: Visions of Genius is at the Noordbrabants Museum Press Release:

Friday, 26 February 2016

New Paul Simon album 2016

Paul Simon Plans Spring Tour, New Album

Dylan Aycock
23/ February 2016

Paul Simon will kick off an expansive North American tour following a set at the 2016 New Orleans Jazz Festival in April.

Along with the tour, Simon is expected to drop Stranger to Stranger, the follow up to 2011’s So Beautiful Or So What, according to a Rolling Stone report. The tour, which includes stops in Nashville, Los Angeles and Toronto, will wrap up on June 30 at Forest Hills Stadium in New York. This will be the first time Simon’s performed at the stadium since Simon & Garfunkel’s 1970 hometown concert in support of Bridge Over Troubled Water.

Simon performed a new song earlier this month on American Public Media’s A Prairie Home Companion.

Thursday, 25 February 2016

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Make You Feel My Love
Need Your Love So Bad
Wild Horses

Da Elderly: -
Ghosts On The Tyne
I Believe In You
I Don't Want To Talk About It

The Elderly Brothers: -
Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow
I'll Get You
Never Be Anyone Else But You

Another fun-packed night at The Habit, with enough players to fill the whole evening by about 9:30! There were several new performers, including a lass doing her very first open mic, who brought the house down - tremendous stuff. And there was more acoustic merriment afterwards as usual.

Bleary-eyed maybe after a late finish, but The Elderly Brothers made their way to York Station to welcome an old friend on her return to the city.

Wednesday, 24 February 2016

John Lennon's House

The Lennon Visitors

Every year, around 8,000 people from 50 countries pay homage to John Lennon at his childhood home, Mendips. But who are these visitors and what do they seek from an ordinary suburban semi in Liverpool? 
Comedian, Alexei Sayle, took the National Trust tour in 2009 and was so taken with its 1950s charm and with the spirit of it, that he's gone back; this time meeting custodian, Colin Hall and finding out what it's like to live in one of the most famous houses in Liverpool. 
He also talks to some of those who visited the house when John Lennon lived there - John's cousin Mike; Colin Hanton, the drummer in John Lennon's band, the Quarrymen; and Freda Kelly, the Beatles' Club Secretary. And of course just a few of those 8000 visitors.

You've got 29 days from today to listen to the 30 minute BBC radio programme, first broadcast on Radio 4, here: 

Tuesday, 23 February 2016

Elliott Landy: The Band Photographs 1968-1969

Author: Elliott Landy
ISBN: 9781495022517
Format: Hardback 12" by 12"
160 pages

Once in a while a photographer gains the trust of an artist or a band, and his work fuses with that of the artist in such a way that the two become married in the public consciousness. One can think of David Duncan's pictures of Picasso at work or Alfred Wertheimer's pictures of Elvis backstage in 1956. Elliott Landy's chronicle of The Band from 1968-1969 is of similar importance. He was trusted so deeply that this group of photographs is as intimate a portrait of a group of musicians inventing a new music as you are ever likely to come across.

Today we call that music “Americana,” and it is played all over the world. But in 1968, when Elliott first started taking these pictures, it was played by six musicians in the town of Woodstock, New York – Bob Dylan and a group called The Hawks. They later changed their name to The Band. They had been The Hawks for five years when Bob Dylan pulled them out of Tony Mart's dive bar on the Jersey Shore to be his band.

This incredible book catalogues the end and beginning of an era. A time when acid-rock was pushed aside and an amalgam of folk, country, soul and blues inspired everyone from The Beatles and Stones to Fairport Convention and Eric Clapton. It wasn't only the music, The Band went back to the country and donned clothes that turned their back on the garish tone of psychedelia. Landy's photos capture that precise moment of change.

This book is not only an essential addition for Dylan and Band fans it is also a cultural statement reflecting the end of the 1960s.

"In a sense, these pictures are the photographic analogue of The Band's song 'The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down' – harkening back to the formal portraiture of Matthew Brady and other late 19th Century photographers. But these pictures are honest and true. They live in the photographic tradition of Robert Frank's The Americans. Elliott's are a record of a wonderfully creative period in America that won't come again."

– Jonathan Taplin,
USC professor and Tour Manager for The Band, 1969-1972

Monday, 22 February 2016

Umberto Eco RIP

Umberto Eco, 84, Best-Selling Academic Who Navigated Two Worlds, Dies

Jonathan Kandell
The New York Times
19 February 2016

Umberto Eco, an Italian scholar in the arcane field of semiotics who became the author of best-selling novels, notably the blockbuster medieval mystery “The Name of the Rose,” died on Friday at his home in Milan. He was 84.

His Italian publisher, Bompiani, confirmed his death, according to the Italian news agency ANSA. No cause was given.

As a semiotician, Mr. Eco sought to interpret cultures through their signs and symbols — words, religious icons, banners, clothing, musical scores, even cartoons — and published more than 20 nonfiction books on these subjects while teaching at the University of Bologna, Europe’s oldest university.

But rather than segregate his academic life from his popular fiction, Mr. Eco infused his seven novels with many of his scholarly preoccupations.

In bridging these two worlds, he was never more successful than he was with “The Name of the Rose,” his first novel, which was originally published in Europe in 1980. It sold more than 10 million copies in about 30 languages. (A 1986 Hollywood adaptation directed by Jean-Jacques Annaud and starring Sean Connery received only a lukewarm reception.)

The book is set in a 14th-century Italian monastery where monks are being murdered by their co-religionists bent on concealing a long-lost philosophical treatise by Aristotle. Despite devoting whole chapters to discussions of Christian theology and heresies, Mr. Eco managed to enthrall a mass audience with the book, a rollicking detective thriller.

His subsequent novels — with protagonists like a clairvoyant crusader in the Middle Ages, a shipwrecked adventurer in the 1600s and a 19th-century physicist — also demanded that readers absorb heavy doses of semiotic ruminations along with compelling fictional tales.

In a 1995 interview with Vogue, Mr. Eco acknowledged that he was not an easy read. “People always ask me, ‘How is it that your novels, which are so difficult, have a certain success?’” he said. “I am offended by the question. It’s as if they asked a woman, ‘How can it be that men are interested in you?’” Then, with typical irony, Mr. Eco added, “I myself like easy books that put me to sleep immediately.”

While Mr. Eco had many defenders in academia and the literary world, critics in both realms sometimes dismissed him for lacking either scholarly gravitas or novelistic talent. “No cultural artifact is too lowly or trivial for Eco’s analysis,” Ian Thomson, a literary biographer, wrote in The Guardian in 1999 in a review of “Serendipities: Language and Lunacy,” Mr. Eco’s collection of essays on how false beliefs had changed history.

And the British novelist Salman Rushdie, in a scathing review in The London Observer, derided Mr. Eco’s 1988 novel, “Foucault’s Pendulum,” as “humorless, devoid of character, entirely free of anything resembling a credible spoken word, and mind-numbingly full of gobbledygook of all sorts.”

Appearing alongside Mr. Rushdie at a literary panel in New York in 2008, Mr. Eco wryly chose to read from “Foucault’s Pendulum.”

As a global superstar in both highbrow and popular cultural circles, Mr. Eco accepted such criticism with equanimity. “I’m not a fundamentalist, saying there’s no difference between Homer and Walt Disney,” he told a Guardian journalist who was exploring his juxtaposition of scholarship and pop iconography in 2002. “But Mickey Mouse can be perfect in the sense that a Japanese haiku is.”

Able to deliver lectures in five modern languages, as well as in Latin and classical Greek, Mr. Eco crisscrossed the Atlantic for academic conferences, book tours and celebrity cocktail parties. Impish, bearded and a chain-smoker, he enjoyed bantering over cheap wine with his students late into the night at taverns in Bologna.

He and his German-born wife, Renate Ramge, an architecture and arts teacher, kept apartments in Paris and Milan and a 17th-century manor once owned by the Jesuits in the hills near Rimini, on the Adriatic Sea. They had two children, Stefano, a television producer in Rome, and Carlotta, an architect in Milan.

Umberto Eco was born on Jan. 5, 1932, in Alessandria, an industrial town in the Piedmont region in northwest Italy. His father, Giulio, was an accountant at a metals firm; his mother, Giovanna, was an office worker there.

As a child, Umberto spent hours every day in his grandfather’s cellar, reading through the older man’s eclectic collection of Jules Verne, Marco Polo and Charles Darwin and adventure comics. During the dictatorship of Benito Mussolini, he remembered wearing a fascist uniform and winning first prize in a writing competition for young fascists.

After World War II, Mr. Eco joined a Catholic youth organization and rose to become its national leader. He resigned in 1954 during protests against the conservative policies of Pope Pius XII. But Mr. Eco maintained a strong attachment to the church, writing his 1956 doctoral thesis at the University of Turin on St. Thomas Aquinas.

He went on to teach philosophy and then semiotics at the University of Bologna. He also gained fame in Italy for his weekly columns on popular culture and politics for L’Espresso, the country’s leading magazine.

But it was the publication of “The Name of the Rose” that vaulted Mr. Eco to global renown. The monk-detective of the novel, William of Baskerville, was named after one of Sherlock Holmes’s cases, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” The novel is narrated by a young novice who accompanies William through his investigation at the murder-prone monastery and acts as a medieval Dr. Watson.

In another literary allusion, this time to the blind Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, who set one of his stories in an encyclopedic library, Mr. Eco named the villain of the novel Jorge de Burgos and portrays him as the monastery’s blind librarian. De Burgos and his accomplices carry out their killings to prevent the disclosure of a supposedly lost Aristotle tome exalting the role of humor. The murderers believe the book is an instrument of Satan.

In “Foucault’s Pendulum,” his second novel, Mr. Eco weaves an elaborate conspiracy inspired partly by a pendulum devised by the 19th-century French physicist Léon Foucault to demonstrate the rotation of the Earth. Despite mixing allusions to the Kabbalah, mathematical formulas and Disney characters, the novel also became a worldwide best seller — even though it did not receive the near unanimous acclaim that critics had accorded to “The Name of the Rose.”

The pattern repeated itself with Mr. Eco’s other novels, which were often disparaged by critics but devoured by readers in spite of their dense prose and difficult concepts. Reviewing Mr. Eco’s fourth novel, “Baudolino” (2000), in The New York Times, Richard Bernstein wrote that it “will make you wonder how a storyteller as crafty as Mr. Eco ended up producing a novel so formulaic and cluttered as this one.”

Set amid the religious disputes and wars of the 12th century, “Baudolino” became the best-selling hardcover novel of all time in Germany and a commercial success elsewhere in the world.

Critics were kinder to Mr. Eco’s third novel, “The Island of the Day Before” (1994), in which an Italian nobleman, who cannot swim, survives on his shipwrecked vessel at a point in the tropical Pacific Ocean where the dateline divides one day from another.

“Eco has abandoned his familiar Middle Ages to create an extravagant celebration of the obsessions of the seventeenth century,” a reviewer in The New Yorker wrote, alluding to the author’s many anecdotes and explanations on the philosophy, politics and superstitions of Europe in that era.

Last fall, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt published a new Eco novel, “Numero Zero,” translated by Richard Dixon. The story, set in 1992, revolves around a ghostwriter who is pulled into an underworld of media politics and murder conspiracies, with a suggestion that Mussolini did not actually die in 1945 but lived in the shadows for decades. “This slender novel, which feels like a mere diversion compared with his more epic works, is nonetheless stuffed with ideas and energy,” John Williams wrote in The New York Times Book Review.

Mr. Eco received Italy’s highest literary award, the Premio Strega; was named a Chevalier de la Légion d’Honneur by the French government, and was an honorary member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.

While he continued to make his scholarly peers uncomfortable with his pop culture celebrity, Mr. Eco saw no contradiction in his dual status. “I think of myself as a serious professor who, during the weekend, writes novels,” he said.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Harper Lee RIP

Harper Lee: author battled to reconcile racial justice with a racially unjust society
Writer’s 1960 novel To Kill a Mockingbird – which won a Pulitzer prize – was originally a response to the Montgomery bus boycott four years earlier

Sarah Churchwell
Saturday 20 February 2016

In one of her final interviews, given in 1964, Harper Lee, who has died at the age of 89, explained: “I would like to leave some record of the kind of life that existed in a very small world. I hope to do this in several novels: to chronicle something that seems to be very quickly going down the drain. This is small-town middle-class southern life ... I believe that there is something universal in this little world, something decent to be said for it, and something to lament in its passing.”

Lee never wrote several novels, of course. But one she did write, To Kill a Mockingbird, sold tens of millions of copies and regularly tops readers’ lists of favourite books.

An instant critical and commercial triumph when it was published in 1960, Mockingbird won the Pulitzer prize and became a beloved film starring Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, the white liberal lawyer who stands up to bigotry and insists that a black man should be treated as an equal citizen under the law, fighting the virulent racism of the Jim Crow south.

Told from the perspective of Atticus’s nine-year-old daughter Scout, the novel is deeply ambivalent; a nostalgic portrait of small-town Alabama in the 1930s and an indictment of its cruelties and dishonesties.

Lee began it in response to the bus boycott up the road in Montgomery in 1956, which helped launch the civil rights movement. Fifty five years later, her novel has helped spread and reinforce the messages of racial and social justice that Atticus teaches his daughter.

The universality that Lee saw in the world she grew up in, and chose to return to – rejecting the blandishments of celebrity authorship – has been widely registered. But the question of its decency is more complicated.

Some have seen in the pages of Mockingbird hypocrisy, accommodationism, apology and justification for some of the racial attitudes the novel ostensibly decries. Lee sets her story squarely against racism, but she was raised in a profoundly racist society, and that is the world whose honour she set out to defend.

It was a tricky proposition, and its difficulties were made clear last year in the publication of Go Set a Watchman, an earlier version of To Kill a Mockingbird set during the fight over desegregation in the 1950s.

Told from the adult Scout’s perspective, with flashbacks to her childhood in the 1930s, it shocked readers by depicting an Atticus who repudiated the moral sentiments of Mockingbird and defended segregationism. The pressure that readers and the media placed on Lee to replicate her success backfired.

She was never able to write another novel, and before long had refused to give any further interviews, famously telling journalists to go to hell. But perhaps it wasn’t only being badgered that made Lee go to ground. The motto of Monroeville, Alabama, is “moving the past forward”. Perhaps Lee felt she’d done as much as she could to reconcile her present beliefs with her society’s past.

Watchman revealed that some of Lee’s characters were on the wrong side of history. But Lee was on the right side, struggling to reconcile her belief in racial justice with the realities of a racially unjust society. What could be more profoundly American than that?

Harper Lee: an American novelist deserving of serious attention
Her contribution to American literature was a singleton, but the reclusive author managed to capture the zeitgeist twice

Elaine Showalter
Friday 19 February 2016

Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird (1960) came out just ahead of the civil rights movement, anticipating its moral fervour and many of its important racial victories.

Based on the infamous Scottsboro case and a rape trial in her home town of Monroeville, Alabama, in the 1930s, and portraying her lawyer father as Atticus Finch, a saintly hero who opposes the racism of his white community even while he understands and forgives it, Mockingbird was an instant classic, winning the Pulitzer prize and selling millions of copies worldwide.

It’s much less often recognised that Lee also anticipated the frustration and gender consciousness of the women’s movement. When Mockingbird was published, women in Alabama could not even serve on juries, a huge irony in light of the novel’s central trial scene of a black man accused of rape. When his young daugher, Scout, is indignant, Atticus Finch brushes it off with a joke: “I guess it’s to protect our frail ladies from sordid cases like Tom’s.” Alabama finally granted women the right of jury service in 1966, among the last three states to do so.

Go Set a Watchman, an early draft of the book recovered by her attorney and published in 2015, showed Atticus more realistically as a white supremacist, shocking devoted readers of Mockingbird, but again uncannily in key with the national mood of angry disillusion over racial progress. In the context of the American rejection of racist symbolism, Atticus became the fictional equivalent of the Confederate flag. It was the right time to take him down, and Watchman too became a massive bestseller.

But Watchman also made gender injustice more central as well. Told from the point of view of a grown-up Scout, it emphasised the confinement of the feminine role, especially in the genteel white South. The “world of femininity” Scout notes, was a “world she despised”. Lee had been a tomboy and a maverick herself, conspicuously ignoring conventions of feminine charm as an Alabama college student (“Everything about her hinted of masculinity,” one classmate recalled); a law student (briefly); and an aspiring writer in New York. It’s not surprising that the novel has been listed as one of the top books about lesbian growing-up.

Lee became reclusive and apparently stopped writing – or publishing – after 1960, much to the frustration of her admirers. It’s always been easy for the elite to patronise her. Flannery O’Connor called Mockingbird a book for a child, and other novelists too have scorned it as sentimental YA (young adult) fiction. I would be astonished if any of the Republican presidential candidates had read the book or could comment on it.

But I think Lee was an important American novelist deserving of serious attention. Her contribution to American literature, like Julia Ward Howe’s Battle Hymn of the Republic, or Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With the Wind, was a singleton. But she managed to capture the zeitgeist twice, a remarkable achievement. Now that she has become part of literary history, she may finally get the critical justice she deserves.

Friday, 19 February 2016

Terry Kelly - Anti-Facebook Poem

Anti-Facebook Poem

I love everything about you
Because you love me in return
I think you're gorgeous
And your taste in music divine
Your children are so beautiful
And your left-politics perfect, just like mine
Have you got any more wedding albums
I can admire?
Aren't we clever for not liking poverty,
Racists and child molesters?
Here's my back to scratch -
I'll scratch yours later


Thursday, 18 February 2016

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
You Better Move On
Dock Of The Bay
Dead Flowers

Da Elderly: -
Love Is The Sweetest Thing
You've Got A Friend
Heart Of Gold

The Elderly Brothers: -
If Not For You
All I Have To Do Is Dream
When Will I Be Loved
The Boxer
Then I Kissed Her

After an emotional morning saying farewell, it was only fitting to dedicate my set to Terry. And If Not For You too. It was also good to feel the restorative power of music.

Hundreds pay their respects to Terry Kelly

Terry enjoying a pint with a friend

Hundreds pay their respects to Terry Kelly, the Gazette’s man in Jarrow

Verity Ward
Thursday 18 February 2016

The town turned out to say a final farewell to a Gazette reporter who spent his working life covering Jarrow’s news.

Hundreds of mourners packed St Matthew’s RC Church, in York Avenue, yesterday to pay their respects to Terry Kelly.

Terry Kelly was a keen runner,,,

... no matter the weather

The 57-year-old died at his home in Jarrow on January 13 after spending the last 14 months battling a virus which had attacked his lungs and seen him endure months in various hospitals.

During his 34-year career at the Gazette, Terry made numerous loyal contacts, many of whom turned out to yesterday’s service.

These included South Shields MP Emma-Lewell Buck, the Mayor of South Tyneside, Councillor Richard Porthouse, and literary and media colleagues from across the country.
As well as being a Gazette reporter, Terry was a respected 'Dylanologist'.
The noted Dylanologist

Terry, who was married to Val, and had a daughter Kate, was also an avid poet, a writer for the London Magazine, a ‘Dylanologist’ – which saw him write for Bob Dylan magazine ‘The Bridge’– and a stalwart for the Larkin Society, which charted the works of poet Philip Larkin.

Holding the stage at a Friday Night Boys movie night discussion

Terry’s younger brother Paul, also a former Gazette reporter, gave a touching tribute.

He told the congregation: “Terry was an exceptionally talented man who lived a very happy life.
Terry and several of the Friday Night Boys at a Christmas meal, uncharacteristically drinking lager...

“Throughout his last challenging months, his body may not have been doing what he wanted it to do, but Terry’s intellect – and crucially his sense of humour – remained as sharp as a razor blade.

“I remember ‘Terry the merciless mickey-taker’ back in 2001 when a highly anticipated new Bob Dylan Album was due for release. At the end of an evening out he slipped me a CD, saying it was a pre-release copy of the disc.

Mourners remember Terry at the mini exhibition on his life and works.

“He whispered ‘keep it to yourself’ in a conspiratorial tone. When I got home and played it, it was George Formby singing When I’m Cleaning Windows. He’d done me up like a kipper.

“It’s really tough to say goodbye, But, as the song goes, ‘I’ll be seeing you, in all the old familiar places’.
Terry with Alan Bennett

After the church service, Terry was taken to South Shields Crematorium, where the cortege entered to the track Time Passes Slowly by Dylan.

Then mourners made their way back to St Matthew’s Church hall, where an exhibition of Terry’s life, including his published works, were put on display.

Some of the pictures documenting Terry's life and long career in journalism