Monday, 24 September 2018

Sunday, 23 September 2018

Bob Dylan: More Blood, More Tracks...

More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 to Be Released on November 2

20 September 2018

Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14
to Be Released by Columbia Records/Legacy Recordings on Friday, November 2

Eagerly Anticipated New Chapter in Acclaimed Dylan Bootleg Series Unveils Previously Unreleased Studio Performances from 1974’s Mythic Blood on the TracksSessions

Single Disc / 2LP Edition Showcases Revelatory Alternate NYC Versions of All 10 Songs from the Original Album + Unreleased Take of “Up to Me”

6CD Limited Edition Deluxe Set Presents the Complete New York City Recording Sessions + the Five Existing Minneapolis/Sound 80 Recordings in Chronological Order

Columbia Records and Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, will release Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 on Friday, November 2.

The latest chapter in Columbia/Legacy’s highly acclaimed Bob Dylan Bootleg Series makes available the pivotal studio recordings made by Bob Dylan during six extraordinary sessions in 1974—four in New York (September 16, 17, 18, 19) and two in Minneapolis (December 27, 30)—that resulted in the artist’s 1975 masterpiece, Blood on the Tracks. One of the top-selling albums of Dylan’s career, Blood on the Tracksredefined the boundaries and structures of modern pop songwriting (a genre Dylan had virtually invented a decade prior), reached #1 on the Billboard 200, achieved RIAA 2x Platinum status and was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015.

Blood on the Tracks was originally recorded during four days in New York City in September, 1974. Soon thereafter, the album was mastered and review copies began to circulate. A few months later, Dylan felt the album needed a different approach and rerecorded five of the tracks at Minneapolis Sound 80 Studios beginning in late December of that year. While a few of the outtakes from the original New York sessions have been highly prized by bootleggers and collectors, most of these recordings have never been available in any format.

The single disc / 2LP configuration of More Blood, More Tracks assembles 10 of the most emotionally resonant alternate takes of each of the 10 songs appearing the original Blood on the Tracks plus a previously unreleased version of “Up to Me.”

The 6CD full-length deluxe version of Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 includes the complete New York sessions in chronological order including outtakes, false starts and studio banter. The album’s producers have worked from best sources available, in most cases utilizing the original multi-track session tapes.

The only recordings remaining from the Minneapolis Sound 80 sessions are the multi-track masters of the five performances included on the finished Blood on the Tracksalbum. Each of these has been remixed and remastered for the deluxe edition of More Blood, More Tracks.

In his liner notes for More Blood, More Tracks, Jeff Slate observes that, “Dylan cut each of these amazing performances – some of the best he ever committed to tape – one after the other, live in the studio, without headphones, and without the types of overdubs that most performers rely on to make their records sound finished. Instead, on these tracks, we find Dylan – just a singer with a guitar and a harmonica and a batch of great songs – delivering performances that thrill you when they’re supposed to and break your heart when they need to…. The performances are also in the purest state we’ve ever experienced them. During the production of Blood on the Tracks, Dylan asked [producer Phil] Ramone to speed up many of the masters by 2-3%, a common practice in the 1960s and ’70s, especially for records sent to AM radio. It was thought that doing so would give the songs a little extra bounce to better engage listeners. Most of the songs from the New York sessions that previously circulated, officially and unofficially, are the sped-up versions that Dylan requested. On More Blood, More Tracks, for the first time, we’re hearing the songs exactly as Dylan recorded them.”

Bob Dylan – More Blood, More Tracks – The Bootleg Series Vol. 14 will be available in a single disc (or 2LP) configuration showcasing 11 essential tracks from the New York A&R Studio sessions.

Two previous volumes in Columbia/Legacy’s Bob Dylan Bootleg Series have taken home the Best Historical Album Grammy Award for its respective eligibility year: Bob Dylan – The Cutting Edge 1965-1966, The Bootleg Series Vol. 12 in 2017 and Bob Dylan – The Basement Tapes Complete, The Bootleg Series Vol. 11 in 2016.

The deluxe box set is a limited edition. After it sells out, no additional copies will be made. This set includes a hardcover photo book featuring liner notes by rock historian Jeff Slate and a complete reproduction of one of Dylan’s legendary handwritten 57 page notebooks, where you can follow the lyrical development of the songs that would eventually comprise Blood on the Tracks.

Shitty title, though...

Friday, 21 September 2018

Wednesday night's set lists at The Habit, York

Da Elderly in action - though not at The Habit...

Ron Elderly: -
Need Your Love So Bad

Da Elderly: -
Midnight On The Bay
Long May You Run

The Elderly Brothers: -
Sea Of Heartbreak
Things We Said Today
Proud Mary
I Saw Her Standing There

A slow start turned busier later at The Habit open mic. There were a few new players including a young chap who gave us a fine reading of John Martyn's May You Never. I indulged myself with two songs from the 1976 album by The Stills-Young Band. We had two requests for our closing set: one from our host, for Don Gibson's Sea Of Heartbreak and one from a lass in the audience for "some Beatles please". We threw in Proud Mary just for fun.

Thursday, 20 September 2018

Wednesday, 19 September 2018

Carry On Dying...

Liz Fraser: Carry On actress dies at 88

7 September 2018

Actress Liz Fraser, best known for her roles in the Carry On films, has died at the age of 88.

Fraser died on Thursday at London's Brompton hospital as a result of complications following an operation, her agent told BBC News.

Fraser often played one of the Carry On franchise's stereotypical "busty blonde" characters.

Director Michael Armstrong paid tribute, describing her as "one of the greatest comedic actresses of her era".

He wrote: "Her legacy of work will serve as a masterclass for future generations. RIP, dearest Liz. X."

Fraser featured in Carry On films including Carry On Cruising, Carry On Regardless and Carry On Cabby.

She was dropped from the films after reportedly criticising the way in which they were being marketed. But 12 years later, she returned in 1975's Carry On Behind.

The actress later went on to appear in many more films and TV shows and her cousin Lesley Fernandez-Armesto told BBC News she had been working until last year.

Aaron Brown, editor of the British Comedy Guide, said: "Liz was a fabulous comic talent who played the dolly bird support to leading men... but shone in her own regard and, through, dozens of roles, entertained and brought laughter to millions across the last seven decades."

Fraser, whose real name was Elizabeth Joan Winch, grew up in Southwark, south London, and made her film debut in 1955's Touch and Go. It was followed by a role in 1957's The Smallest Show on Earth alongside Peter Sellers.

Her first major film role was in 1959's I'm All Right Jack, playing Sellers' daughter, a role for which she received a Bafta nomination for most promising newcomer.

She acted alongside Sellers again a year later, playing his girlfriend in Two Way Stretch.

Her other film credits included The Bulldog Breed, Double Bunk, The Painted Smile, The Americanization of Emily and The Family Way.

In the 1970s, she appeared in titillating comedies like Adventures of a Taxi Driver and Confessions of a Driving Instructor.

Fraser also had TV comedy roles in Hancock's Half Hour, Dad's Army and The Benny Hill Show, and appeared in straight dramas such as The Avengers and The Professionals.

Fraser was married twice, first to salesman Peter Yonwin and later to TV director Bill Hitchcock, who died in 1974. She had no children.

Obituary: Fenella Fielding

11 September 2018

Actress Fenella Fielding has died at the age of 90 after suffering a stroke.

She was a serious actress remembered for a single, stand-out comic performance.

Fenella Fielding survived a violent upbringing to play Ibsen, Shakespeare and Euripides on stage. As an artist, her sheer versatility captivated both Federico Fellini and Noel Coward. This was a woman of wit and wisdom who kept a copy of Plato beside the bed.

But, for millions, that serious side is long forgotten. Instead, she will forever be Valeria: the camp vamp star of Carry On Screaming - draped on a divan in a skin-tight dress; her voice oozing with sex appeal and sporting eyelashes like upturned claws.

She turned down all future Carry On work but the die was cast. In the public mind, she was the quintessential Sixties femme fatale, delivering double entendres with lashings of false innocence. And sadly, as a performer, her career slowly drifted into obscurity almost as soon as she uttered her most immortal line.

Fenella Marion Feldman was born in Hackney in 1927 - the youngest child of a Romanian mother and a Lithuanian father. The relationship with her parents was never easy, often strained and occasionally violent.

As a toddler, she seemed to speak in gibberish. Her mother and father worried she was failing to develop normal language skills until they chanced upon her in animated conversation with a doll. "I suppose," she later wrote, "I just didn't want to speak to my parents."

The young Fenella harboured a burning desire to perform. She took ballet lessons and gave her youthful talent for comedy free rein in the annual end of year show - once memorably cavorting around the stage to the tune of Nobody Loves A Fairy When She's Forty.

Other mums and dads, she bitterly noted, showered their children with fresh flowers after each performance; her own parents merely offered up the same basket of artificial blooms, year after year. It was hard not to take it to heart.

As she entered her teens, life at home became darker. Her father - who could be charming in public - was a "street angel, house devil", she recalled who "used to knock me about with his fists".

To make matters worse, her mother would actually "egg him on". She thought the violence would pass, but it didn't - at least until she threatened to go to the police.

She left school at 16 and spent a year at St Martin's School of Art. Her parents were appalled that she might see naked men - or even worse, naked women - in class, which was bound to result in pregnancy and drug addiction. There were rows every morning. Eventually, they forced her to leave.

Still wanting to act, Fielding would hang around stage doors in the West End in the hope of brushing against Alec Guinness or Laurence Olivier. She won a two-year scholarship to the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art - which pleased her mother and father greatly until it dawned on them she might actually become an actress.

Her mother began turning up at RADA at lunchtime, making a scene and insisting Fielding leave. "Really, darling", she would say, "these common people!" After a while, the school quietly withdrew her funding.

She considered going to university but her father told her he'd "rather see her dead at his feet." Instead, she was dispatched to learn shorthand and typing. She found it soul destroying.

In misery, Fielding downed 70 aspirin in a suicide attempt but changed her mind at the last minute. She swallowed pints of mustard water to induce vomiting after calling an all-night Boots to ask how to reverse the effects.

Beautiful butterfly of comedy

Fleeing home, she found digs in Mayfair run by friendly prostitutes. In 1952, she appeared in an amateur production at the London School of Economics alongside Ron Moody - then a mature student - who later found fame as Fagin, in the film version of Oliver!

Moody supported her ambition to become an actress, persuading her not to pack it in and train as a manicurist. She changed her name from Feldman to Fielding, pretended to be seven years younger in order to compensate for her late start in show business and began appearing in comedy revues.

By the end of the 1950s, she had made a name for herself in the musical Valmouth. It was quirky and, for the time, rather lurid - but Fielding's rave reviews led to an awkward reconciliation with her parents. Her mother turned up at the Lyric Theatre bearing a peace offering of sorts: a whole, fried chicken.

Next was Pieces of Eight, a live comedy revue written by the unlikely pairing of Peter Cook and Harold Pinter. Starring alongside her was Kenneth Williams - already firmly established as a household name - who quickly proved to harbour a brittle ego under the thinnest of skins.

When one review called Fielding a "beautiful butterfly of comedy", he exploded. Encouraging her to ad lib, he ruthlessly stole her best lines. He became threatening and bluntly warned her not to steal his limelight.

When Fielding extemporised the end of one sketch with the line "the last one dead's a sissy", there were hysterics. Williams went white and shrieked that she'd "called me a homosexual in front of the whole audience". "It was awful," she later recalled. "I'd never been so frightened in all my life."

Worse was to come as she branched out into film and television. In 1959, she appeared in Follow A Star alongside Norman Wisdom - who she came to loathe. "Not a very pleasant man," she later said. "Hand up your skirt first thing in the morning. Not exactly a lovely way to start a day's filming."

Socially, the 1960s could not have been more glamorous. Vidal Sassoon, personally, did her hair and the bohemian journalist Jeffrey Bernard took her on riotous club nights. She would sit and talk long into the night with the flamboyant artist Francis Bacon and the rest of that decade's rakish beau monde.

Professionally, there were small parts on television in The Avengers, with Patrick Macnee, and regular appearances on the cutting-edge satire, That Was The Week That Was. Her film appearances included working alongside Dirk Bogarde in Doctor in Love and Tony Curtis in Arrivederci, Baby!

On stage, she pursued her love for her first love, drama. The Times newspaper described her performance as Hedda Gabler as "one of the experiences of a lifetime".

The great Italian film director Federico Fellini took her to Claridge's and offered to make a film where she starred as six or seven different incarnations of male desire. Unfortunately, she was already booked to do a season on stage in Chichester so she turned him down - to the great disappointment of her agent.

Camp vamp

Then came the role which made her a legend. Carry On Screaming reunited Fielding with with her old nemesis, Kenneth Williams. The filming took three weeks, made her hugely famous and - in many respects - her career never recovered.

She played Valeria - a thinly disguised Morticia Addams - with every ounce of camp vamp she could muster. Her wig was huge, her eyelashes incredible and her red dress was so tight she was completely unable to bend in the middle. Every scene was done in a single take and, of course, she is remembered for just one.

Reclining on a chaise longue, Fielding entices Harry H Corbett towards her. The eyes flutter and the voice purrs. "Do you mind if I smoke?" she inquires seductively - before vast quantities of dry ice envelope them both.

Half a century later, children would still shout that line at her in the street. She politely declined all invitations to appear in future Carry On films - including Carry On Cabby - partly in an attempt to avoid being typecast by the success of the first. But, for the rest of her life, she struggled to escape Valeria.

The offers dried up and her on-screen career quietly slid away. She did Morecambe & Wise Christmas specials and some voice work for both the cult hit series, The Prisoner, and a Magic Roundabout project - Dougal and The Blue Cat. But she didn't make another film for almost 15 years.

Fielding was rarely completely out of work. She continued on stage - with a string of well-reviewed provincial shows - in which she didn't have to play "either a Lady or a Tart". But, eventually, she struggled for money and was forced to go to the social security office to claim benefits - an experience she found demeaning.

She never married, despite a string of interested male admirers. One possible future husband died, another couldn't get over his alcoholism and had to be abandoned. For 20 years, she maintained two separate lovers and managed to prevent them ever meeting. "I loved them both," she wrote but decided on "never committing; never having a marriage that could have gone awful".

Politically, she was on the left - despising Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s and refusing to help her older brother Bas when he stood for election under the Conservative banner. But they remained close and she was proud of him when, without her help, he became an important figure in the party and eventually entered the House of Lords.

Latterly, there was work with Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson in Guest House Paradiso and a role as an eccentric granny in the gritty teenage drama, Skins. But, for Fenella Fielding, her best work always took place on stage. At the age of nearly 90, the Financial Times described her performance in Euripides' The Trojan Women as "unbearably moving... at the extreme limits of pathos".

For most of the rest of us, however, she is preserved in memory as the camp vamp of Carry On legend. She will forever be "England's First Lady of the double entendre" with a velvety voice and silvery twinkle in her eye.

She was resigned to that professional fate. The autobiography she published in 2017 - inevitably entitled "Do You Mind If I Smoke?" - has little shred of bitterness or regret.

The only thing that rankled was when she met fellow actors - and there were many - who'd been asked to do adverts with a "Fenella Fielding-like" voice.

"Bloody cheek," she would say with perfect comic timing. "Why didn't they ask me?"

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

The Larrikin: Clive James in conversation with Mary Beard...

Image result for clive james with mary beard

In a rare interview with writer, cultural commentator and poet, Clive James talks to Mary Beard about his autobiographical epic poem, The River in the Sky.

Watch it now: - only available for 26 days, so hurry!

Mary Beard:

I learned a new word this week: larrikin. It is Oz-English for a rebellious, boisterous wide-boy. And it is how Clive James (who has a new poetry book out just now, The River in the Sky) describes himself.

I got to find this out because I went round to his house in Cambridge last week to interview him (about the book and himself etc) for the new series of Front Row Late, which started yesterday evening. As I guess almost every reading this blog will know, Clive has been facing down death for many years now (his leukaemia kept in check by wondrous 21st century pharmaceuticals) . . . and in the meantime he has been powering out poetry. This last book is that (now) rare thing, a mini epic in 120 pages, in which he reflects on memory and mortality, family and fun.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Lawrence Osborne on writing Philip Marlowe in Only to Sleep...

Lawrence Osborne on re-imagining Philip Marlowe, Raymond Chandler's iconic sleuth

CBC Radio
14 September 2018

Novelist and journalist Lawrence Osborne writes as adventurously as he lives. Born in England, he's spent time in Mexico, Greece, Italy, France, Morocco, Cambodia and Thailand, and draws on his experience of diverse locations to create rich, vivid settings in his work.

For his latest book, Only to Sleep, Osborne was invited by the Raymond Chandler estate to write a new novel featuring Philip Marlowe, Chandler's enduring private detective. In a unique twist, Osborne sets his story in Mexico, luring an aging Marlowe out of a comfortable retirement for one more investigation.

Osborne's novels often feature European expatriates facing dramatic events in far-flung places — the Moroccan desert in The Forgiven, China's Macau peninsula in The Ballad of a Small Playerand the Greek island of Hydra in Beautiful Animals. His nonfiction includes Paris Dreambook and The Wet and the Dry, a memoir about bar-hopping through the Islamic world.

Osborne spoke with Eleanor Wachtel from his home in Bangkok.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it...

"My first instinct was to not write a Philip Marlowe story. I didn't really want to. This whole idea of a franchise, to me, is something like James Bond. But I thought to myself that if I could make him old and set it in the Mexico where I had lived in 1990, I could do it. That way, it wasn't just a pastiche based on research or what other people had already done — I could draw from my own experience.

"It was a flattering yet dangerous proposition, one where the diehard Chandler fans will sneer at you for not being up to the standards of the master. I don't want to compete with Raymond Chandler. I don't want to compete with other Marlowe writers, like John Banville or Robert B. Parker. With Only to SIeep, I wanted to write my own book. If I had not been able to find my own voice in this, I would not have accepted it."

Chivalry, dead or alive

"There's a medieval, romantic aspect to Marlowe, which I think is what Chandler intended. It's such an anachronism in the culture that we have now. It's maybe even an aspect of outmoded masculinity, which is maybe not outmoded at all, but it's certainly part of a masculinity that no longer has credibility today.

"Masculinity it may be, but it's also gentle and generous in spirit. It's a point to consider whether such virtues are more durable than we like to think, or whether they survive more than we think and are felt by more people than we realize. I think, actually, that it is a kind of eternal aspect of the male character." 
An evocative sense of place

"I think we grow out of the landscapes we grew up in. It was D. H. Lawrence who coined the phrase 'the spirit of place' and I was a great devotee of Lawrence when I was a kid. It was Lawrence who famously arrived in a place and immediately started writing about it, even though he'd never been there before. His idea was that place itself has a kind of mystical electricity, one that you can feel in the animal sense, and you can even describe it.

"Place is a completely enigmatic thing. It's not something necessarily cultural; it's more than that. Landscapes have a kind of energy and a kind of character that is definitely distinct. For example, I go to Mongolia every year because I love archery. There's something about the spirit of place there in the Gobi desert that refreshes me in some way."

Saturday, 15 September 2018

Dead Poets Society #86 Antonio Machado: The Wind, One Brilliant Day

Image result for antonio machado

The Wind, One Brilliant Day by Antonio Machado

The wind, one brilliant day, called
to my soul with an odor of jasmine.

'In return for the odor of my jasmine,
I'd like all the odor of your roses.'

'I have no roses; all the flowers
in my garden are dead.'

'Well then, I'll take the withered petals
and the yellow leaves and the waters of the fountain.'

the wind left. And I wept. And I said to myself:
'What have you done with the garden that was entrusted to you?'

Friday, 14 September 2018

Wednesday night's set lists at The Habit, York

Da Elderly discussing the possibility of adding Rat in the Kitchen to his set with a man who could tell him a thing or two

Ron Elderly: -
The Air That I Breathe

Da Elderly: -
Love Song
You've Got A Friend

The Elderly Brothers: -
All I Have To Do Is Dream
When Will I Be Loved
Walk Right Back
When I Saw Her Standing There

Busy at times, quiet at of those nights at The Habit open mic. Ron's planned set list was scuppered when our host kicked off with Jealous Guy and 3rd act on, regular Chris, sang Dock Of The Bay! We were entertained by a new chap sporting a great-sounding ukulele, particularly on Labi Siffre's It Must Be Love. The Elderlys finished off the show proper and the after-show jam had folks singing along for another hour or so.

Thursday, 13 September 2018

Tuesday, 11 September 2018

Paul Simon - In the Blue Light - and beyond?

Image result for Paul simon
For Paul Simon On His Retirement — Wisdom From My Grandpa Joe

Dan Epstein
5 September 2018

My grandfather had a surprise for me. Seven years after buying his 1971 Buick LeSabre, he’d finally decided to get with the times and install an eight-track cassette player under the car’s dashboard. This in itself was not surprising, as he was a talented amateur pianist and violinist who genuinely loved music, even if his taste ran hard toward the Mantovani/Lawrence Welk end of the spectrum.

No, what surprised me was the tape that was playing when I climbed inside his car: “Simon and Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits.” Anything that even vaguely smacked of longhaired hippie music (or longhaired hippie anything) was absolutely anathema to Grandpa Joe; and yet, here we were, bobbing our heads in time to the di-di-di’s of “Mrs. Robinson.” “I like these boys,” he said, offering not so much an explanation as a magnanimous proclamation. “They can really sing, and they write beautiful songs. I think they’ve got something there!”

Even though I was only 12 at the time, I knew that Grandpa Joe was a little late to the party on this one, though I certainly wasn’t about to kill the mood by pedantically informing him that Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel had actually broken up when I was still in preschool. Still, until that moment, I hadn’t fully understood the sheer breadth of Simon & Garfunkel’s appeal. My parents and their friends had spun the duo’s records in fairly regular rotation while I was growing up, and songs like “The Sound of Silence,” “I Am a Rock” and “The 59th Street Bridge Song (Feelin’ Groovy)” always sounded to me like poetically composed snapshots from the grim and grimy New York City that my folks had left behind for the green parks of Ann Arbor, Michigan, when I was still a toddler. And as I grew older and began to learn about the tumultuous decade of my birth, songs like “America,” “Scarborough Fair/Canticle” and “Mrs. Robinson” became aural talismans of that era. But as far as I could tell, Grandpa Joe had no particular associations at all with Simon & Garfunkel’s music; he simply liked their voices and liked their songs. That was good enough for him — and, I suspect, for many of the others who have purchased “Simon & Garfunkel’s Greatest Hits” over the years, a record that has sold more than 14 million copies in the United States alone, making it the best-selling album in this country by any duo, ever.

While you couldn’t exactly call Simon & Garfunkel “America’s Beatles” — even if they did create “Bookends,” the closest thing any American recording artist ever got to “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band “— they did occupy a similar position in the musical firmament. S&G and the Fab Four both wrote songs that appealed to everyone, from revolutionaries to retirees, songs that were covered by everyone from Elvis to Aretha; both groups broke up in 1970, leaving us with grandiloquent statements on their way out the door (“Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “Let It Be,” respectively), and both produced stunning bodies of work during the 1960s that cast long shadows over the musical landscape of the 1970s, as well as the subsequent solo careers of the individual former members. Just as a Beatles reunion was the constant subject of conjecture up until John Lennon’s death in 1980, Paul Simon couldn’t make a peep in the 1970s without being asked about a reunion with Art Garfunkel — and every time they did actually reunite (to record the 1975 song “My Little Town,” and for tours in 1982 and 2003–04), the questions would inevitably flare back up as soon as the two men went their separate ways.

Unlike John Lennon and Paul McCartney, though, Simon & Garfunkel were never a straight songwriting partnership; with the exception of “The Boxer,” for which Garfunkel received a co-writing credit, and the traditional “Scarborough Fair,” S&G’s biggest and best songs were all written by Simon. Garfunkel may have had the angelic voice and the groovy Jewfro, but Simon had the serious songwriting chops — and the release of his first three singles (“Mother and Child Reunion,” “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard” and “Duncan,” all from the 1972 “Paul Simon”), made it clear that his pen was far from dry.

Forty-eight years after Simon & Garfunkel’s split, Simon has announced that he will be retiring from the road following his current Homeward Bound — The Farewell Tour, which finishes on September 22 with a show at Flushing Meadows Corona Park. In conjunction with the final leg of the tour, the 12-time Grammy winner will also be releasing a new album, “In the Blue Light”; due out September 7, and co-produced with longtime collaborator Roy Halee, the album will feature 10 of Simon’s favorite songs from his back catalog, all rearranged and rerecorded with a stellar cast of musicians, including Wynton Marsalis, Bill Frisell, Jack DeJohnette, John Patitucci and Steve Gadd.

What’s interesting about “In the Blue Light” is that all the songs included could essentially be classified as “deep cuts.” While I do remember occasionally hearing “One Man’s Ceiling Is Another Man’s Floor” (from his 1973 smash “There Goes Rhymin’ Simon”) and “Rene and Georgette Magritte With Their Dog After the War” (from the 1983 underrated “Hearts and Bones”) on FM radio, songs like “How the Heart Approaches What It Yearns” (from the 1980 “One-Trick Pony”), “Can’t Run But” (from the 1990 “The Rhythm of the Saints”) and “Questions for the Angels” (from the 2011 “So Beautiful or So What”) have probably fallen through the cracks for all but the most ardent Simon followers. As Simon is someone who has always taken his songs and songwriting very seriously, it’s not surprising that he’d take the opportunity with “In the Blue Light” to gently tap his fans on the shoulder and say, “Hey, don’t forget about these.”

Even more interesting, perhaps, is what isn’t on “In the Blue Light”: namely, anything from his blockbuster 1986 album, “Graceland.” It could be that Simon simply considers the recordings of “Graceland” to be definitive and feels no need to revisit or remake any of the songs from that LP. But I suspect that this is also his way of deftly shifting the spotlight away from the controversial-yet-commercial colossus that revived his career but ultimately proved impossible to follow.

It’s fascinating to consider how differently Simon’s career might have played out if it hadn’t been for “Graceland.” Much like Paul McCartney, Simon spent the ’70s writing songs that were essentially a straightforward and commercially fruitful evolution of the music he’d made with his previous outfit; though fresh sounding and occasionally even inventive, hits like “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover,”“Slip Slidin’ Away” and “Still Crazy After All These Years” didn’t make anyone gasp incredulously, “Whoa, that’s Paul Simon?” He dabbled a bit in film, demonstrating his little-seen comedic talents as the sleazy record producer Tony Lacey in Woody Allen’s “Annie Hall” (Allen reportedly gave Simon carte blanche to improvise his lines, insisting only that he work the phrase “very mellow” into the dialogue), and portraying a less-successful version of himself in the Robert M. Young-directed “One-Trick Pony,” a beautiful bummer of a film that tanked at the box office in the fall of 1980 — though it did produce “Late in the Evening,” which would be the last top 10 U.S. hit of Simon’s career.

Simon’s next album, the 1983 “Hearts and Bones,” was originally conceived as a Simon & Garfunkel reunion album, to be recorded on the heels of the duo’s massively successful reunion tour — and it might actually have been a hit if Garfunkel had stayed with it up to the finish line. But there wasn’t a big market for a Paul Simon solo album in a world besotted with Duran Duran and Culture Club, and the record’s gently cerebral sound and deeply personal songs about Simon’s unraveling relationship with his second wife, Carrie Fisher (the “one and one-half wandering Jews” of the lovely title track comprised these two), ultimately doomed “Hearts and Bones” to be the least commercially successful record of Simon’s post S&G career, at least up to that point.

If you’d bet then that Simon would bounce back three years later with a multiplatinum album of considerable cultural significance, you’d have been widely mocked — and then, when it actually came to pass, probably been burned as a witch. Certainly, nobody at Warner Bros., Simon’s label at the time, was predicting big things for “Graceland”; the company released the album with little fanfare in the fall of 1986. “It could be that I’ve reached the point in my career where I can’t be a viable commercial force in popular music,” Simon told The New York Times shortly before the record’s release. “But even if the album is not a hit, in the future I don’t plan to modify anything.”

To be fair, an album by an aging singer-songwriter of diminishing commercial power newly besotted with the township music of South Africa probably didn’t look like a slam-dunk to anyone involved at the time, even Simon; certainly, very little on the record sounded like anything he’d done before. But timing is everything, and “Graceland” hit the streets at a moment when interest in South African politics and music was rapidly increasing. Though Simon had violated the worldwide cultural boycott imposed upon the country because of its government’s apartheid policies by recording part of the album in Johannesburg with South African musicians — and though the album still raises thorny questions today about cultural appropriation (and maybe straight-up thievery, since Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin has claimed many times that Simon stole his band’s music for the closing track, “All Around the World or the Myth of Fingerprints”) — there’s no denying the important role that songs like “The Boy in the Bubble,” “Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes” and “Under African Skies” played in bringing South African music to millions of listeners in the United States and elsewhere. Along with Peter Gabriel’s “So” (which came out a few months earlier), “Graceland” inspired countless Western listeners to explore African sounds for the first time.

But the album’s unexpected success — it wound up selling an estimated 14–16 million copies worldwide — also painted Simon into a strange corner. Though he’d been working “world music” influences into his songs since the 1970 Simon & Garfunkel hit “El Condor Pasa,” he was now cast as an intrepid musical explorer who traveled the far corners of the globe to discover exotic new sounds and styles for the delectation of Western audiences. I’ll never forget working the counter at a record store when “The Rhythm of the Saints” came out; the mad rush of neighborhood yuppies to grab the follow-up to “Graceland” on its first day of release was something to behold, with many of them picking up extra copies for co-workers back at their offices. “Where is Paul going to take us now?” seemed to be the question that hung in the air.

That time out, Simon was incorporating Brazilian rhythms, instrumentations and musicians into his songs, along with West and Central African dance music. But while certainly tasteful enough, and even interesting at times, “The Rhythm of the Saints” audibly lacked the vibrant joy of “Graceland,” and Simon’s increasingly elliptical songwriting seemed almost like an afterthought to the album’s musical experiments. It was the one time in Simon’s career where he seemed to be chasing his own tail instead of his muse; though the album sold respectably (2 million copies in the United States alone), I wasn’t at all surprised when my record store wound up returning several boxes of the CD to the distributor.

It would be seven years before Simon returned with new music, this time with “Songs from the Capeman,” containing his cast-augmented performances from the Broadway musical he wrote with Derek Walcott on the life of Hell’s Kitchen murderer Salvador Agron. Savagely reviewed by critics, the stage production was a disaster, and the accompanying album didn’t fare much better; still, I couldn’t help but respect Simon for sticking his neck out with the project, and the music’s mixture of gospel, doo-wop, rock and Latin rhythms at least seemed more in his wheelhouse than another world music adventure would have been — even if I had been secretly hoping for an album of Simon songs set to Maori nose flute.

While Simon certainly hasn’t shied away from musical exploration on his subsequent albums — he collaborated with sonic wizard Brian Eno on the 2006 “Surprise,” while the 2016 “Stranger to Stranger” utilized electronic beats from Italian dance artist Clap! Clap! and custom instruments build by the late music theorist Harry Partch — they’ve all come across as overly personal and even whimsical, like the experiments of a mad scientist in his basement. Which is, frankly, why they continue to feel engaging and fresh. “There are a lot of preconceptions [about my new work] because I have been familiar to the public for 50 years,” Simon told Rolling Stone in 2016. “They go, ‘Is it going to be “Graceland”? Is it going to be “Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard”? Simon and Garfunkel? “The Capeman”? To get people to listen with open ears, you have to really make something that is interesting, because people are prepared for it not to be interesting.”

And while he’s calling it quits from the stage, I highly doubt that “In the Blue Light” will be the last we hear from Paul Simon. It may be late in the evening as far as his career is concerned, but all the music is still seeping through. And yes, Grandpa Joe, I think he’s got something there.

Dan Epstein’s most recent book is “Stars and Strikes: Baseball in the Bicentennial Summer of ’76.” He is a frequent contributor to Rolling Stone and the Forward.

Monday, 10 September 2018

Only to Sleep by Lawrence Osborne: the return of Philip Marlowe

Image result for lawrence osborne only to sleep
Only to Sleep 
By Lawrence Osborne
256 pp. Hogarth. $26.

It’s 1988 and Philip Marlowe Is Retired. But Not for Long

By Laura Lippman
The New York Times
17 July 2018

My stepson had read all of J. R. R. Tolkien by age 10, even “The Silmarillion.” Mourning for a world in which there were no more hobbits to follow, he tried to write his own adventure for Tolkien’s characters. I understood the impulse; as a teenager, I wrote short stories based on a relatively obscure novel that had managed to inspire a film and a short-lived television show. (This novel is named in a document in my safe deposit box and will be revealed at my funeral service.) Almost every reader has known this desire for more. The results have ranged from the“Oz” sequels to “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

When these stories emerge from the genre known as fan fiction — noncommissioned, uploaded to the internet for anyone to enjoy — they’re frequently derided. But a fan’s notes are rooted in a passion seldom matched by the authorized versions. The latter, even if better crafted, have a hard time escaping that cash register ka-ching pinging beneath each word. Estates also err on the side of caution. The keepers of the“Gone With the Wind” flame authorized “Scarlett” and fought “The Wind Done Gone”; surely, it should have been the other way around.

The best plan is to find fans-in-waiting, writers with genuine passion and encyclopedic knowledge; Ace Atkins, recruited by Robert B. Parker’s heirs for the continuation of the Spenser series, is a good example. Parker, as it happens, was scouted by the estate of Raymond Chandler to finish a Philip Marlowe book (“Poodle Springs”) and write an additional one(“Perchance to Dream”). Then, as in a fairy tale, the kingdom fell silent for many years. Four years ago, John Banville, albeit under the name of his crime-writing alter ego, Benjamin Black, published “The Black-Eyed Blonde.” Now Lawrence Osborne, an accomplished writer of fiction and nonfiction, has been asked to imagine a new case for Philip Marlowe and — have a smell from the barrel, all you gunsels and able grables — it crackles.

I approached the book as wary as a — forget it, I’m not going to succumb to the urge to match Chandler’s (and now Osborne’s) signature similes. The setup is brisk and disarming. The year is 1988 and Marlowe is a retiree in Mexico — Baja California, which, at the end of the Reagan era, is “what all of California once looked like.” His days are routine, although part of the routine is rather odd. On weekends, he frequents a bar with a machine called El Electrucador — put your fingers on the pad, withstand the shock and get a free shot of mezcal. “I figured the shocks were doing my intestines and hair roots some good. People said I looked much younger when I came back from my weekends. They said I looked ‘returned from the dead.’ At my age, I’ll take any compliment.”

Oh, and he walks with a silver-tipped cane, a cane that hides a blade worthy of the Bride in “Kill Bill.” Do I really need to tell you to keep an eye on that cane?

Weekends in Ensenada’s casinos, weekdays at a hotel called La Fonda, playing cards and eating roast suckling pig — this has been Marlowe’s life for almost a decade. Then two insurance men “dressed like undertakers” walk into La Fonda’s terrace bar. They’ve been told that Marlowe is the “best that money couldn’t buy.” An American named Donald Zinn has died under mysterious circumstances in a remote coastal village, leaving $2 million to his much-younger wife. The insurance men think there might be mitigating circumstances that could affect the payout.

Zinn and his wife, Dolores, had been drowning in debt from bad real estate investments. Surprise, surprise, the widow is gorgeous — and possibly lethal. “She had the level interest in something new that a leopard has. While it decides whether you can be killed or not, its eyes are remarkably gentle and serene.” Still, Marlowe is instantly smitten. He fantasizes about whisking her around a dance floor, preferably to “Begin the Beguine.”

And this is where Osborne comes into his own, only 20 pages in. Dames once literally fell for Marlowe; consider Carmen Sternwood in “The Big Sleep,” collapsing into his arms within minutes of meeting him. She was still doing a variation on this shtick in the 1978 screen version, when Marlowe was played by a careworn Robert Mitchum only a few years out from collecting Social Security. But Osborne’s Marlowe is finished with the romance game, and he knows it. He’s frankly envious that the 71-year-old dead man, so near his age, “had gotten to lie next to this beauty night after night, like Gandhi among his Nereids.”

The best P.I. stories build slowly and keep the stakes relatively small. Osborne, who worked as a reporter along the border in the early 1990s, knows Mexico well and he passes that knowledge along to Marlowe. The former private investigator quickly establishes that the dead man on the beach might not have been Donald Zinn, but some poor patsy with Zinn’s ID. The game is afoot, with just the right amount of reversals and double-crosses. If certain moments seem illogical — well, that too is part of the Chandler oeuvre.

The book’s greatest suspense centers on Osborne’s fealty to Chandler’s Marlowe, especially in the description set out in Chandler’s 1950 essay,“The Simple Art of Murder.” The key passage begins, rather famously: “But down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished nor afraid.” It continues at great length, delineating the man’s — always a man’s, forever a man’s — sexual habits (“neither a eunuch nor a satyr”), his way of speaking, his code.

Chandler was doing what writers often do, making a case for his own brand of art — while taking potshots at writers who did it differently, such as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. As someone who has written P.I. fiction, I don’t always subscribe to Chandler’s dictates, particularly his assertion that “in everything that can be called art there is a quality of redemption.” So I’m wide open to Osborne’s version of Marlowe, which forces us to wonder at times whether he’s still a man of honor.

He’s definitely a man still full of similes and metaphors — about women, the weather, the color of the skies in the dusty Mexican towns he visits. When “Perchance to Dream” was released, Martin Amis, writing in these pages, argued that most readers couldn’t spot the difference between Chandler’s and Parker’s rhetorical flourishes — both had written too many duds. I believe Chandler simply fell back on those flourishes too often, resulting in a low winning percentage. Osborne does it slightly better, although I would still prune a few. (Dolores’s eyes are also likened to “the shiftiness of a vagrant, the ever-moving pupil that reminds you of an apple bobbing in dirty water.” Man, that’s one hard-boiled Halloween party.)

But this is a quibble with a novel that exceeded my expectations, a gripe as petty as —

Naw, I’m still not going to risk it.

Sunday, 9 September 2018