Wednesday 31 March 2010

The Drummer

He claimed to be a drummer
just a drummer

though we couldn’t help but notice
the sticks in his hands, the obscenity

the way he’d stare, stare
ahead as he drummed

disturbing with his drums
his drumming the neighbourhood

stirring things up, things
best left unstirred, yes

at times directly polemical
this this this this drummer.

We could break his hands
and we did break them.

Geoff Hattersley

A Beat Classic - Pull My Daisy

When something is broken it's never the same . . .

What remains of that fine boozer the Egypt Cottage

Da Descending

Da is coming into town early on Fair Friday and is heading straight to The Forth for 6pm and on to The Bridge from 7.30pm. Da leaves at 10.30pm. Prompt. No photographs. No interviews. This is a private visit.


Tuesday 30 March 2010

Friday Night at the Royal Station Hotel

Light spreads darkly downwards from the high
Clusters of lights over empty chairs
That face each other, coloured differently.
Through open doors, the dining-room declares
A larger loneliness of knives and glass
And silence laid like carpet. A porter reads
An unsold evening paper. Hours pass,
And all the salesmen have gone back to Leeds,
Leaving full ashtrays in the Conference Room.

In shoeless corridors, the lights burn. How
Isolated, like a fort, it is -
The headed paper, made for writing home
(If home existed) letters of exile: Now
Night comes on. Waves fold behind villages.

Philip Larkin


If war art can ever be 'cool'...

Monday 29 March 2010

Sherman Alexie wins Pen/Faulkner prize

Sherman Alexie wins 2010 Pen/Faulkner fiction prize for War Dances
By Jacqueline Trescott
Wednesday March 24 2010

"War Dances" by novelist Sherman Alexie has won the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, the organizers announced Tuesday.

The prestigious annual award, presented by the Washington-based PEN/Faulkner Foundation, was given to Alexie because of his book's breadth of topics and innovative style, judges said. "War Dances" consists of short stories interspersed with poems.

"That book was the one we all liked immediately," said Kyoko Mori, one of the three judges. "There was something special about the range of characters. It was like watching a dance. I liked how some of the characters were unlikable but compelling."

Alexie was still absorbing the news Tuesday.

"It's so cool. You just look at the list of people who've won and it is legendary," he said. "Just having that status was incredible."

He acknowledged that the book's format is unusual. After publishing the young adult novel "The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian" in 2007, "I wanted to write a book that was a reverse of that," Alexie said. "I wanted to do a weird book and reestablish my independent, small-press roots."

Alexie, 43, likened his writing process to "mixing an old-school music cassette."

"When you construct a mix tape, the first song you come out with has to be a barnburner," he said. "You come out with Marvin Gaye."

Mori, a Washington-based writer, thought the juxtaposition of forms in "War Dances" made it rise above the other entries -- about 350 novels and short story collections this year. "I usually don't like books that combine prose and poetry," she said. "But here the poetry was like listening to an interlude and got you ready for the next story."

Al Young, another judge and the former poet laureate of California, praised the gumbo of story lines. " 'War Dances' taps every vein and nerve, every tissue, every issue that quickens the current blood-pulse: parenthood, divorce, broken links, sex, gender and racial conflict, substance abuse, medical neglect, 9/11, Office Narrative vs. What Really Happened," Young said in a statement.

Alexie, who lives in Seattle, won a National Book Award for Young People's Literature in 2007 and this week, the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Native Writers' Circle of the Americas. He is a Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Indian who grew up on a reservation 50 miles northwest of Spokane. Severely ill as a child, he overcame his conditions and set out for a life of reading and writing. In high school he was the only Native American and became a scholar-athlete, later writing about those experiences in "True Diary."

Many of Alexie's works have been honored, including a story collection, "The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven," which was a PEN/Hemingway Award winner for best first book of fiction. The attention led to a film, "Smoke Signals," which won two awards at the 1998 Sundance Film Festival.

Alexie, who receives $15,000 for the PEN/Faulkner honor, will be saluted May 8 on the 30th anniversary of the program.

The other finalists -- Barbara Kingsolver, Lorraine M. Lopez, Lorrie Moore and Colson Whitehead -- will also be recognized.

Don't try this at home, kids...

Neil Young and Jonathan Demme on Skype

Neil Young Skype Show
by Nick Paumgarten
April 5 2010

SCENE: A conference room in the theatre district. Jonathan Demme, a filmmaker, is seated at a long table, facing a laptop. He is wearing an Argyle sweater and bluejeans. On the laptop’s screen is a pixellated moving image of Neil Young, who is wearing a white panama hat and a loose white button-down shirt. He and Demme are communicating via Skype. Young seems bemused, not only in the way he usually does but also in the way that inexperienced users of Skype often do in the opening moments of a call.

NEIL YOUNG: Can you hear me? Yo, yo!

JONATHAN DEMME: I can see you. Can you see us, buddy?

N.Y.: Hello?

J.D.: Hello, hello.

N.Y.: I can’t see you guys.

J.D.: Why not?

N.Y.: I don’t know.

J.D.: You’re outdoors.

(Young’s expression brightens. He waves at the screen. Contact.)

N.Y.: You guys are very silhouetted. It’s very spooky.

J.D.: Dude, you look good. What the heck. Where are you?

N.Y.: I’m right here.

J.D.: Is there a pool right over your right shoulder?

N.Y.: A pool?

J.D.: A swimming pool. Because it looks like there oughta be one there.

N.Y.: Well, it is pretty nice here in California. (Young is at home, on his ranch, south of San Francisco.) Actually, I’m in one of my play areas. Where my computer is. And my trains are back there. (In the background, there is a covered pavilion. Behind Young are mounds made of what appears to be driftwood.) Those are a bunch of mountains. It’s a mountain range. If I turn some lights on, you might be able to see it. I’ll make an adjustment. (Young gets up, strolls into the background, and flips a switch. Nothing changes. But the viewer realizes, while waiting for Young to shuffle back to his laptop, that the driftwood mounds are train-set mountains. The background is a giant model-train set.) So, whatchou guys doing?

J.D.: Well, we’re on the tenth floor of 311 West Forty-third Street. That’s where we’re rehearsing this Beth Henley play that I’m directing. We’re on a twenty-minute break.

(A discussion ensues—this Skype chat has been condensed for the benefit of the audience—about “Neil Young Trunk Show,” a film that Demme has just released, which documents a concert that Young and his band gave two years ago, near Philadelphia. It is Demme’s second Neil Young concert film.)

N.Y.: The picture is Jonathan’s. Once again, he’s done what he does, and all of a sudden there it is. He’s made an interesting document of the show, but there’s more to it than just the show, apparently. There’s something else in there, and I love it. (He bobs back and forth, only occasionally glancing up. He picks at bits of lint on his shirt and pants, as one might during a regular phone call.)

J.D.: Neil, you bring a little extra to the party—you trust the camera. You know that the camera loves you, and you’re so at ease with it. You know how to play it.

N.Y.: When you’re there, Jon, and your crew is there, I don’t worry about anything. I just forget about it. I’m going, “I don’t know if they’re on my nose hairs or my butt, and I don’t give a shit, to tell you the truth, because I know they’re professional, and it’ll look beautiful.” (Young sits up straighter and leers at the screen.) It wasn’t an entirely great performance. It was a struggle at times. The struggle to get the beat right on “No Hidden Path” was a long one, and so finally we had to settle for playing it differently. I played it faster than I normally do. Not that it would’ve been longer if I’d played it at the right tempo, but . . . (His performance of “No Hidden Path,” a Hendrixy guitar extravaganza, takes up twenty minutes of the eighty-two-minute film.) That’s the test, the audience test. “How long are these guys gonna play?” It doesn’t matter how long it is, because it’s only convention that dictates how long a song should be. We don’t have to play by those rules. We aren’t competing in that arena. We just play. It goes on for a long time. It’s like jazz, or fusion. I don’t know what the hell it is. It’s what we do, and the older we get the more we do it.

(In the film, a camera mounted on the drums captures Young as he plays the last, distorted notes of a long jam in “No Hidden Path.” Behind him, in the front row, members of the audience look as though they had been robbed of their belongings in the main plaza of a foreign city. Demme has said in the past that he believes no concert film should ever include shots of the audience.)

J.D.: As long as there is a musician in the foreground, it’s O.K. to show the audience.

N.Y.: Yeah, but generally we hate the fucking audience. They disturb the whole thing. (On the laptop screen, Young waves his arms back and forth in the air, in the manner of an enthusiastic concertgoer.) They’ve got people who do that. They have people who wave their hands back and forth in the background. That’s what they do. It doesn’t matter what the music is. It’s a way to make a living, I guess. (Demme looks up at the clock and exchanges a glance with an assistant.) I remember we did a tour, and they had these cranes out in the audience, flying around, casting cones of light down on the audience, so that everyone in the audience had these halos on their heads. I walked out onstage and said to myself, “This is fucked up. I might not even play. This is so wrong.” All night long I was thinking, Why do I have to see people? I’ve never seen them before. I hate looking at them.

(Young faces the camera—eye contact, of a kind. On the laptop, his image breaks apart, and his voice burbles. There is something warm and archaic about Skype’s flaws. A Skype call can feel like a telegram. “It’s so fragile,” Demme says. “It’s sweet.” )

J.D.: Neil, I’d better leave, because Beth Henley and four wonderful actresses are waiting for me downstairs.

N.Y.: You always have a way of doing that. You have four wonderful actresses waiting for you downstairs. That’s tough. Get down there, Jonathan.

J.D.: It’s nice being here with you, even like this, Neil.

N.Y.: Take care.

J.D.: Aloha.

N.Y.: Love you.

J.D.: Love you, man.

N.Y.: Yep.

(The panama hat fills the screen, and then disappears.) ♦

Man of the Moment

Restricted View - Olivia Cole

Olivia Cole

Restricted View is the colourful and highly anticipated debut collection from the award winning young poet and journalist Olivia Cole. From London to New York and Italy, she takes readers on a journey as public as it is private. Like Mr Chatterbox, the gossip columnist who makes things up, it’s impossible to know where the poet’s true feelings lie: in her poems about herself, or in the cast of intriguing characters that she brings to life. The view, encompassing art and history as well as the vivid chaos and cluttered beauty of city life, is as vivid and tantalizing as it is restricted.

"Still in her early twenties at the time of writing, Olivia Cole was born and raised in Kent, educated at Oxford, and now works as a journalist in London. A winner of the Eric Gregory Award, she quickly made her mark as a poet through the unforced romanticism of her conversational rhythms, as if she had found the most disarming possible way of going public with her diary. But there was an additional element that promised something else: an engagement with a history beyond her own. Figures from politics and the arts get into her poetry as characters, populating it with unexpected drama. This combination of a buttonholing personal voice and a curious engagement with a wider world gives her more recent poetry an unusually rich play of tone, a reportorial lyricism that many older poets would find it hard to match. Although the subtle shifts of register are all hers, however, her strategic approach to poetic narrative almost certainly owed something to the late Michael Donaghy, the American grey eminence behind so many of the more startling young poets in London now. His is the instructor’s voice to be heard echoing at the parade of talents in the little anthology Ask For It By Name, featuring, among other products of his boot-camp, Olivia Cole as the youngest in the squad."

Clive James

Restricted View
For Martin Amis

Cast yourself into a chair, excuse your limbs,
feet, shoes, as they find a path around and over
the legs of those who sit in a row,

gathered to wait for the writer who takes
the stage with assured caution, tiny, nervous,
practised steps, to speak, between thought

and the lighting of a cigarette, unconsciously
of the writer’s unconscious fear — unable to do
anything but let slip through the blue, a flitter

of anxiety, as he tells of how, ‘the life’s not the
romantic cutting off of one’s ear’ and tenderly
strokes his own — still there — visible through

the pauses that load the swirling air.

Olivia Cole

Sunday 28 March 2010

Barbara Dickson at The Sage - review by Dave Ledingham

Barbara Dickson
The Sage, Gateshead
15 March 2010
By David Ledingham

BARBARA Dickson returned to her folk roots in a stunning and eclectic concert at The Sage.

Opening with Pete Seeger's Turn! Turn! Turn!, the set included a mixture of her popular hits and traditional folk songs.

She revealed the region was her favourite place to perform, sharing early memories of singing at Newcastle's Guildhall in the early '70s.

With fantastic support from her tightly-drilled band, particularly a uilleann pipes player, the set included Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's Alright, James Taylor's Millworker and even a medieval song, Corpus Christi Carol.

For those more accustomed with her more mainstream back catalogue, she delivered impeccable versions of her hit Answer Me and Another Suitcase In Another Hall, from the musical Evita.

Closing with The Beatles' Across the Universe, she left the stage to huge and much-deserved applause.

Patti Smith at The Sage - review by Terry Kelly

Patti Smith
The Sage Gateshead

26 March 2010
By Terry Kelly

PUNK poet Patti Smith played a blinder for her adoring Tyneside fans.

A packed crowd at the venue's more intimate Hall Two rose to its feet as Smith screamed out a full-throated version of Gloria at the close of an often moving two-hour gig.

Combining songs and readings from her new autobiography, Just Kids, about her life with famed photographer, Robert Mapplethorpe, Smith proved a memorable performer, decades since punk's heyday.

And despite being often crudely dubbed 'the Godmother of Punk,' 63-year-old Smith is in fact a much more various artist than that.

Close your eyes and she can sound like a very fine folk or ballad singer, whose voice is as good as when she released iconic albums like Horses, Radio Ethiopia and Easter in the 1970s.

Backed by talented guitarist and pianist Tony Shanahan, Smith moved easily between affectionate anecdotes about Mapplethorpe, her mother, early days starving and scuffling for a living in New York and Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, to bring-the-house-down versions of Dancing Barefoot and Because the Night.

All in all, a memorable night from a stunning performer.

Michael Chabon interview

Michael Chabon: 'I hadn't read a lot by men of my generation and background about being a father – it felt like I was on relatively untrodden ground'
The author of Manhood for Amateurs talks to Christopher Tayler

The Guardian
Saturday 27 March 2010

'You have no tristezza," Michael Chabon was once informed by a friend who liked to get drunk and stoned and tell people their destinies. "And you never will." Only the second part really rankled with Chabon, who was 19 or 20 and willing to admit he'd had few chances to store up deep-seated sadness. As he tells it in one of the essays in Manhood for Amateurs, his newest book, however, his later efforts to get hold of some were not a success. Driving through endless rain during the breakup of his first marriage, a sad song playing, his face wet with tears, he thought of his friend's prediction ("If he could see me now . . ."). Then he stopped for an ice-cream sandwich, listened to a ball game, and realised, to his horror, that he was quite content. Asked if he still worries about his non-melancholic temperament, he says: "I'm tormented by it! That's my only source of tristezza: my lack of tristezza"

Chabon, a screenwriter, occasional essayist and Pulitzer-prize-winning novelist, is one of the least neurotic figures in American letters. "Michael remembers to simply enjoy himself better than any long-term professional writer I know," Jonathan Lethem, a fellow novelist and a friend of Chabon's, says. "And the pleasure is shared by his readers." A comic book fan who discovered his vocation by pastiching Sherlock Holmes stories and science fiction paperbacks, he functions as effectively in Hollywood – his screen credits include work on Spider-Man 2 – as in the pages of such novels as Wonder Boys (1995), The Yiddish Policemen's Union (2007) and The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay (2000). It rarely occurs to anyone to mark him down for championing and dabbling in once-despised genres, chiefly because of his unquestioned stylistic powers. "He never neglects the musical and metaphorical potential of expression as a means of intensifying meaning," the American critic Wyatt Mason says. "His choices at that basic expressive level always feel vital, surprising, alive."

When we meet, Chabon is in London to look in on the filming of John Carter of Mars, a live-action Disney adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs's Martian stories, for which he was hired to do script-polishing work. Wearing a brightly coloured shirt, Chelsea boots and a salt-and-pepper goatee, and with the general air of a long-term resident of northern California, Chabon manages to come across as both an unpretentious professional and a person one could imagine doing bong hits with while discussing HP Lovecraft's prose style. He was once, in fact, a reasonably dedicated pothead, but stopped smoking completely in 2005, thanks partly to the responsibilities of parenthood. He has four children with his second wife, Ayelet Waldman, and as the essays in the new book indicate, he takes his duties as a father seriously.

Manhood for Amateurs was largely assembled from the columns he used to write for Details, a glossy American men's fashion magazine that "made me an offer I couldn't refuse. There was no brief for the column, and the fact that so many of the pieces ended up dealing with aspects of being a father just came from that being something I confront on a daily basis. And I hadn't read a lot by men of my generation and background about being the father now – maybe the floodgates are opening a little, but it felt like I was on relatively untrodden ground." Waldman took on the job of sifting through his journalism after the idea of a book came up, "and when she came back to me, she had two piles". The second eventually became Maps and Legends, a selection of his pieces on reading and writing from such outlets as the New York Review of Books. Because this book was "kind of a gift", he gave the proceeds to 826 National, a nonprofit organisation founded by Dave Eggers.

Chabon doesn't think that parenthood lends itself to forward planning. "It's like war in that regard," he says. Even so, he gives it a lot of thought. He's alarmed by the fenced-in, safety-helmeted culture around American childhood: "If children are not permitted – not taught – to be adventurers and explorers," he wrote last year, "what will become of the world of adventure, of stories, of literature itself?" And it's a situation, he says, that has "only gotten worse. Getting people to be afraid not just of what will befall your children if you let them out to play, but of all kinds of things, including foreigners and terrorists, is immensely profitable."

In a more equivocal way (one of his chapters on this is called "Hypocritical Theory"), he finds himself worrying about the exploitation of fart-and-snot humour by profit-minded grown-ups. "Tropes and jokes that adults never would have gone near, and would have disdained to traffic in not that long ago," he says, "are now actively employed to snare children's attention, and ultimately their income." What bothers him isn't the jokes and tropes themselves but "the co-opting of kids' consciousness": naughty playground rhymes should be an adult-free zone. Acknowledging various contradictions ("I'm not a media critic, but . . ."), he's also uneasy about the slickness of the entertainment industry's products aimed at children. "A lot more money, talent, craft and intelligence get lavished on things that are ultimately just designed to make a quick killing. In an earlier time, lousy TV shows were made by big movie studios for the networks, but there was a kind of disregard for the whole business that could be inviting in a way. Everything seems much more calculated now."

Doctor Who, to which his family is devoted, is exempted from these strictures; one of his subsidiary missions in London involves stocking up on Who-related merchandise. The show's capacity for inspiring "conversational riffing and Talmudic debate" is part of the appeal: born in 1963, Chabon has warm memories of the more rickety, and therefore more imaginatively inhabitable, entertainments on offer in the early 70s. Growing up in Columbia, Maryland, he had the run of the neighbourhood, as fewer kids do these days. His father, Robert, a doctor and lawyer, introduced him to comics, the Marx Brothers and Star Trek, and Columbia itself – a planned community opened in 1967 – offered the future novelist further lessons. "It began with a blank expanse and a map that said, 'This is what's going to happen.' And it happened. All these streets that had been named came into being, and I was there to witness it. It showed me that the things you could map in your imagination could take on a kind of reality."

Columbia "was one of the first places in that part of the United States to welcome black homebuyers, and you had white families moving there because they believed in that. There were interfaith centres, where Protestants and Catholics shared the facility with Jewish congregations; there were bike paths everywhere – it was distinctive and different and the people who built it really believed in it." In consequence, he was, he says, "ill-prepared" for the gloomier realities of American life, which began to get through to him after his parents' divorce, when his father moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. During his sophomore year at college there, Chabon got a job in a bookshop. "At Christmas, they hired off-duty policemen as security. This one cop would stand by the cash register, and every time a black person came in, he unleashed, sotto voce, this torrent of the most vile abuse. Outside movies or books, I'd never heard anything like that."

Pittsburgh – which Chabon, a fan of British rock bands as well as Monty Python, MR James and Michael Moorcock, describes for English audiences as "sort of like Sheffield" – was his city of experience and early manhood. He first wrote about it in a sustained way, however, while doing a master's in creative writing in California, where his mother, Sharon, a lawyer, moved in his undergraduate years. Having exhausted such literary models as Arthur Conan Doyle and Ray Bradbury, he was absorbing the influence of "probably too many writers to name" – among them Donald Barthelme, Jorge Luis Borges, Gabriel García Márquez, Raymond Chandler, John Updike, Philip Roth and F Scott Fitzgerald. Harold Bloom's notion of "the anxiety of influence" makes little sense to Chabon; as he sees things, "influence is bliss". He remembers being blown away by the opening of Rabbit, Run "and writing something in shameless imitation of Updike after reading it. I just copied the writers whose voices I was responding to, and I think that's probably the best way to learn."

The Mysteries of Pittsburgh (1988), his first novel, which was written as his master's thesis, made him famous in his mid-20s and became a bestseller. (It also briefly got him labelled a gay writer: same-sex desire is no big deal in his work.) For five years afterwards he struggled with a follow-up, a massive novel called Fountain City, which he eventually abandoned. Doubts about the contemporary novel's vitality weren't part of the problem. "I'm not speaking of any particular person's public fretting on the subject, but I think that frequently there's – at least in part – an attempt to globalise an anxiety that all writers feel almost every day: what the hell am I doing? And why? There's a tendency to say, 'Not only do I suck but this whole damn world sucks.' The death of the novel's been proclaimed my whole life. Philip Roth wrote that piece around the year I was born, lamenting the fact that fiction can't compete with American reality . . . I guess I feel that, if it's true, then what's the point of worrying about it? And if it isn't true, then go back to work."

His first book's success did, however, put a strain on his relationship with Lollie Groth, a co-student at the University of California, Irvine, whom he married in 1987. They divorced in 1991, and in the stories he wrote as the marriage broke up, "there's a lot of hopeless hovering around the question of the possibility of marital happiness. But I came out of that period. I'm a perpetually disappointed optimist. I don't have any illusions about people's behaviour, and I'm perfectly capable of seeing the worm in the bud and ascribing base motives to my fellow human beings, and to myself. It's not that I think everything happens for the best in the best of all possible worlds. But optimism is just an animal reaction. It's not something I necessarily subscribe to, even; I just can't help it. You could call it denial but – to be hopeful requires a kind of singleminded disregard of everything that would give you reason for despair, and that is a kind of denial, but in a good way."

Another effect of the end of his first marriage was an increase in his interest in Judaism, which eventually led to the Pulitzer-winning Kavalier & Clay, a novel much concerned with Jewish lore and experience. When he was growing up, being Jewish "was part of who we were as a family, but it didn't seem to have any particular use when I was in my teens and 20s." It didn't seem important when he married Groth, who isn't Jewish, but whenever they talked about children, he discovered that he had visceral feelings about their upbringing. "I started trying to reconnect even before I met my present wife. I also got back in touch with some of the more literary heritage of Judaism, and it was very exciting. There were these cables that had just been lying there, and as soon as I plugged them in, this whole new unit that I hadn't been using powered up."

Waldman, an Israeli-born writer and lawyer whose novels include the splendidly titled "Mommy-Track Mystery" Playdate With Death, played a big part in his reconnection too. They married in 1993 and live in Berkeley, California, writing at back-to-back desks when not parenting. A high-profile figure in her own right, Waldman was castigated on The Oprah Winfrey Show after arguing in a 2005 New York Times piece that parents should love each other "even more than they love the children". Combined with their enviable lifestyle, her somewhat uncensored utterances – she is bipolar – concerning their marriage and sex life attract a fair amount of backbiting from New York media blogs. Asked if Berkeley's distance from the East Coast publishing world is one of its attractions, Chabon says emphatically: "Yes. I'm very grateful that I don't try to get work done in that environment, where everyone knows everything about everyone and how much someone got paid for this or that . . . California doesn't have that overheated atmosphere at all."

In the 10 years since Kavalier & Clay, he has been determinedly unsnooty in his work, writing, among other things, a young adult novel, Summerland (2002), and promoting "the great work being done by people who are categorised, or ghettoised, as genre writers". For a while there was talk of his doing a collection of stories along the lines of "In the Black Mill", a horror tale he wrote as "August Van Zorn", his Lovecraft-like alter ego. "It didn't work out because I kept writing things that were too long. One of them was meant to have been a Sherlock Holmes story, but that came out as a novella, The Final Solution. It was the same with Gentlemen of the Road: I couldn't contain my prose sufficiently to generate a collection of short stories." The novel he's currently working on, which he describes as "somewhere between short and massive", is more naturalistic. "So far there's no overtly genre content: it's set in the present day and has no alternate reality or anything like that."

All the same, he's perhaps the only heavyweight novelist going who's as happy to talk about the prose of Larry Niven, a hard science fiction writer he admired in his early teens, as he is to enthuse about Our Mutual Friend. "Maybe if I was going to start a new series of opinions to follow up on this," he says, gesturing at a copy of Maps and Legends, "instead of worrying so much about genre and entertainment, I'd look more at style, and sentence, and voice, because that's what it all boils down to. I'm an avid reader of biography and history, but I would still rather read a great novel about a time or a place – I'd feel like I hadn't really understood it otherwise. So novels are incredibly useful, I think, but whatever other uses they have, primarily their use is to bring pleasure, and they still bring pleasure to a lot of people."

Saturday 27 March 2010

Da plays Neil #3

NYAS gig at The Rifleman, Sevenoaks, Kent 20 Feb 2010.

The infamous hotel lobby session approx 2am

Like a Rolling Stone

The Many Hats of Michael Edward Love

Friday 26 March 2010

Henry Moore at the Tate

Henry Moore at Tate Britain
The sculptor returned again and again to the same subjects but the results are timeless
Rating: * * * *

By Richard Dorment
Published: 11:33AM GMT 23 Feb 2010

The “five-to-10 good years” phenomenon, first articulated by former Tate director Alan Bowness, suggests that virtually all artists do their best work in a relatively short period, whether it was the 10 years Delacroix had between 1824 and 1834, Courbet’s six (1849 -1855) or Munch’s three (1892-95).

After a major artist makes his breakthrough, he will typically turn out work of very high quality for a certain period, but no artist can maintain that kind of creative intensity forever. Eventually their energy flags, ideas dry up and they begin to repeat themselves.

The career of Henry Moore seems to fit this pattern. After the golden years that began in 1928 and continued until the war, came the post-war bronzes he made by handing over small plaster maquettes to be enlarged by studio assistants and cast by his founder – often in generous editions. But what Tate Britain’s important retrospective reveals is that there is an unexpected twist to Moore’s career pattern. He is unusual in that even when his best work was behind him, in every decade he continued to make individual pieces of sculpture as original and powerful as any he had done.

Because the show is being staged in the Linbury galleries, which have no natural light, the selectors have tended to choose pieces conceived on a smaller scale and intended to be shown indoors. The result is a different Henry Moore from the one most of us know through the public sculptures of the 1960s and ’70s.

In the first gallery, we encounter the mystery and violence of the hand-carved stone figures from the 1920s and ’30s – pieces like Mother and Child (1924) and Mask (1930), where the young artist didn’t bother to disguise his enormous debt to pre-Columbian art. Elsewhere he is just as open about finding inspiration in Japanese Netsuke and European Futurism. We become as aware as the young Moore was of the textures and colours of different stones, from the raw vitality of brown Horton to the art-deco elegance of verde di prato and the cool irradiance of alabaster. The emotional range of these early works is remarkable, from the clenched fists of a frightening mother and child to the tender intimacy of a suckling infant.

As he moves into mainstream modernism in the 1930s, the work turns dream-like and surrealistic as human figures break up and separate under the influence of Giacometti and Picasso. By the time of the Museum of Modern Art’s 1937 Sculpture made of Hopton Wood stone, surrealism gives way to almost total abstraction. We sense that Moore can go no further in this direction.

Whether his subject is the mother and child, the reclining nude, or the armoured head, he returns again and again to the same themes – the relationship between exterior and interior, flesh and membrane, strength and vulnerability.

One of the revelations of the show is that Moore’s famous shelter drawings were not drawn from life but are actually closely related to memories of his experiences in the trenches during the First World War. This doesn’t surprise me – I never for a moment thought the British people wrapped themselves up like mummies and then lay down in rows like many larvae waiting to hatch. In the post-war period Moore continued to make astonishing works. In Reclining Figure from 1951, an emaciated figure made of plaster and string looks like an oversized piece of scrimshaw. It lies on its back, propped up on its elbows, head tilted upwards as though soaking in the sun or scanning the sky for danger. In general, the more you prune the later work, the better for Moore’s reputation. Whereas his monumental Reclining Figure carved in elm between 1959-64 bears comparison with Michelangelo’s figures of Night and Day from the Medici Chapel, beside them the Rocking Chair series looks trivial.

Moore was unlucky in that the years after his death in 1986 were a period of tremendous innovation in British sculpture. As the careers of Tony Cragg, Richard Deacon, and Anish Kapoor hit their stride, it was hard to look at Moore’s work with a sense of discovery and excitement. Almost a quarter of a century on, we are far enough away to see it in perspective. It no longer looks passé, but eternal.

Henry Moore is At Tate Britain until Aug 8

Until the Cows Come Home...

Udder Madness
by Woody Allen
January 18, 2010

An article published . . . by the Centers for Disease Control [reported] that about 20 people a year are killed by cows in the United States. . . . In 16 cases, “the animal was deemed to have purposefully struck the victim,” the report states. . . . All but one victim died from head or chest injuries; the last died after a cow knocked him down and a syringe in his pocket injected him with an antibiotic meant for the cow. In at least one case, the animal attacked from behind. —The Times.

f my account of the events of the last week seems jumbled, even hysterical, forgive me. I’m usually quite placid. Truth is, the details I’m about to relate are especially unnerving, taking place as they did in such a picturesque setting. Indeed, the Pudnicks’ farm in New Jersey rivals any pastoral tableau by Constable, if not in acreage then certainly in bucolic tranquillity. A mere two hours from Broadway, where Sy Pudnick’s latest musical, “The Flesh-Eating Virus,” runs to packed houses, it is here, amid rolling hills and green meadows, that the celebrated lyricist comes to unwind and re-juice his muse. An avid weekend farmer, Pudnick and his wife, Wanda, grow their own corn, carrots, tomatoes, and a medley of other amateur crops, while their children play host to a dozen chickens, a pair of horses, a baby lamb, and yours truly. To say that for me the days up here are Shangri-La is not to oversell. I can graze, ruminate, and work over my cud, in harmony with nature, and get milked gently on schedule by Wanda Pudnick’s Kiehl’s-moisturized hands.

One thing I’ve particularly relished is when the Pudnicks invite guests to stay over on weekends. What a joy for an intellectually underrated creature like myself to be in proximity to New York’s fabulous glitterati: to eavesdrop on actors, journalists, painters, and musicians, all exchanging ideas and witty anecdotes that may be a bit swift for the poultry, but nobody appreciates a good Anna Wintour story or a freshly minted Steve Sondheim song more than I do, especially when Steve’s playing it. That’s why when included in last week’s A-list was a writer-director in cinema with a long list of credits although I was unfamiliar with the titles I anticipated a particularly scintillating Labor Day. When I heard that this auteur sometimes took the lead in his own pictures I envisioned a filmmaker-movie star as formidable as Orson Welles and as handsome as Warren Beatty or John Cassavetes. Imagine my surprise when I lamped the triple threat I speak of and registered neither a brooding cult genius nor a matinée idol but a wormy little cipher, myopic behind black-framed glasses and groomed loutishly in his idea of rural chic: all tweedy and woodsy, with cap and muffler, ready for the leprechauns. The creature proved a handful from the very first, grumbling to all about the muddled directions that had forced his chauffeur to squander hours driving around in a Möbius route, the expense of tolls and leaded regular, and the unanticipated effect of local mold spores on his precarious adenoids. Finally, I heard him demand that a wooden board be placed under his mattress, which he found too soft to appease a spine clearly en route to osteoporosis. Mr. Pudnick recalled that David Mamet had once mentioned changing planes when he heard this individual was on the same flight. I might add that the character’s incessant carping was done in a kazoolike nasal whine, as were his incessant jokes: a spate of fatal snappers designed to ingratiate but eliciting from all within earshot a columbarium-like silence.

Lunch was served on the lawn, and our friend, made bolder, thanks to a certain Mr. Glenfiddich, proceeded to hold court on subjects he hadn’t a clue about. Misquoting La Rouchefoucauld, he confused Schubert with Schumann and then attributed to Shakespeare “Man does not live by bread alone,” which even I recognized as coming from Deuteronomy. Corrected, he became peevish and offered to arm-wrestle the hostess to prove a point. Mid-meal, the insufferable little nudnick beat his glass for attention and then attempted yanking the tablecloth from the table without upsetting the china. I needn’t tell you that this proved to be a major holocaust, forever ruining at least one J. Mendel dress, and catapulting a baked potato into the cleavage of a tony brunette. After lunch, I saw him move his croquet ball with his foot, thinking himself unwatched.

As the accumulation of single malt took its toll on his capillaries, he slurred invective against the New York critics for failing to consider his last movie, “Louis Pasteur Meets the Wolfman,” for honors. By now he had begun eyeballing the comelier types, and, clasping some actress’s hand with his rodent’s paw, whispered, “Little minx, I sense by those high cheekbones that you have Cherokee blood in you.” Tact personified, the woman somehow resisted the impulse to grab his nose with her fist and give it several turns counterclockwise till it made a ratcheting noise.

It was at this point that I decided to kill him. After all, would the world really miss this fatuous little suppository, with his preening self-confidence and emetic cuteness? At first I thought of trampling the bespectacled vontz, but I felt that to do the job properly I’d need about two hundred more head to really stomp him good. There were no rocky cliffs where I could brush against the wretch with a little hip action and send him plummeting. Then it hit me. A nature walk had been mentioned, and all were anxious to participate. All, that is, except for a certain cringing homunculus, who carried on like Duse over the prospect of being in the woods among Lyme ticks and poison oak. He chose to remain in his room and make phone calls to check on the grosses of his new movie, which Variety had said would have limited appeal and suggested should open in Atlantis. My plan was to enter the house, sneak up on him from behind, and strangle the nattering little carbuncle with a sash. With everyone away, it would appear to the police to be the work of a drifter. The thought occurred to plant a fingerprint belonging to Dropkin, the handyman who once gave the Pudnicks one of those diagrams showing the outline of a body like mine and where the best cuts of meat come from.

At 4 P.M. I went to the barnyard and made sure the chickens saw me there. I walked slowly by the stable, clanging the bell around my neck to further establish an alibi. From there I strolled casually to the rear of the house. The doors were locked and I had to enter through a window, causing some carnage to a nearby table bearing a pair of Tiffany lamps. I tiptoed up the stairs, hooves en pointe, having a close call only when Paucity, the maid, came down the hall bearing fresh towels, but quickly I flattened up in the shadows against the corridor wall and she walked right by. Silently, I slipped into my intended victim’s room and waited for him to return from the kitchen, where he was raiding the refrigerator for leftovers. Alone there, he had cobbled together a costly sturgeon-and-beluga sandwich, ladling the bagel with a tsunami of cream cheese, then made his way back upstairs. Hidden in the closet nearest to his bed, I was awash in existential angst. If Raskolnikov had been a bovine creature, a Holstein, say, or perhaps a Texas longhorn, would the story have turned out differently? Suddenly he entered the room, snack in one hand, a vintage port in the other. Gathering all the stealth at my command I nosed the closet door open and silently stood behind him, clutching the sash—not an easy feat for a creature without opposable thumbs. Slowly I raised it and prepared to slip it around his throat and choke the breath of life out of the salivating four-eyed pygmy.

Suddenly, as fate would have it, my tail got caught in the closet door and I let out a loud lowing sound, a moo, if you will. He spun around now and our eyes met, his beady and darting, mine large and brown. Seeing me up on my hind legs about to do him in, he emitted a soprano bleat not unlike a particular note that Dame Joan Sutherland hits in the Pudnicks’ Decca recording of “Siegfried.” The sound alerted the multitude downstairs, who had returned when it began to rain. I panicked and stampeded toward the bedroom door, trying to body-English the stricken little measle out the window as I hustled away. Meanwhile, he produced a cannister of Mace he always carries, which did not surprise me, given the amount of enemies he must make. He tried spraying it in my face but, shmendrick that he is, he held it backward and succeeded only in crop-dusting his own wizened map. By now the household was bounding up the stairs. With a fox’s cunning I grabbed the bedside lampshade, snapped it over my head, and stood immobile while others transported the wailing pustule out the door, into an S.U.V., and off to the nearest hospital.

Later stories around the barn have it that he babbled incoherently all the way, and even a subsequent two nights at Bellevue failed to restore his reason. I know the Pudnicks have removed him from their BlackBerry and poured gasoline on his phone number, setting it ablaze. After all, he’s not just a social grub but a raving paranoid, endlessly mouthing something about attempted homicide by a Hereford.

Thursday 25 March 2010

Joni Mitchell interview from 1967

For your dining and dancing pleasure: Alison Krauss and James Taylor

Friday Night at...

Fitzgerald's. Be there or be late!

Robert Culp RIP

Robert Culp dies at 79

'He was the big brother that all of us wish for,' said his co-star on the show, Bill Cosby. The Emmy-nominated Culp also won plaudits for his role in the 1969 movie 'Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice.'

By Dennis McLellan

March 25, 2010

Robert Culp, the veteran actor best known for starring with Bill Cosby in the classic 1960s espionage-adventure series "I Spy" and for playing Bob in the 1969 movie "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," died Wednesday morning. He was 79.

Culp fell and hit his head while taking a walk outside his Hollywood Hills home. He was found by a jogger who called 911 and was pronounced dead at Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles, said Lt. Bob Binder of the Los Angeles Police Department. An autopsy is pending.

"My mind wants to flow into sadness, but I want to stay above that," Cosby told The Times on Wednesday.

"Those of us who are the firstborn always dream of that imaginary brother or sister who will be their protector, the buffer, the one to take the blows," Cosby said. "I'm a firstborn, and Bob was the answer to my dreams. He was the big brother that all of us wish for."

Longtime friend Hugh Hefner, who was introduced to Culp by Cosby in the 1960s, said he was "absolutely stunned" by the actor's death.

"He was one of my best friends," Hefner told The Times on Wednesday.

Culp was a regular at a weekly gathering of friends at the Playboy Mansion.

"He was very much like he appeared to be," Hefner said. "He's the one who came up with the tongue-in-cheek motto for when the guys got together: 'Gentlemen, gentlemen, be of good cheer, for they are out there and we are in here.' "

In a six-decade career in which he was best known for his work on television, Culp first came to fame as the star of the TV western "Trackdown," which ran on CBS from 1957 to 1959 and featured Culp as Texas Ranger Hoby Gilman.

He later played FBI Agent Bill Maxwell on the 1981-83 ABC series "The Greatest American Hero."

But for TV fans of a certain age, Culp is best remembered for “I Spy.”

The hourlong series, which ran from 1965 to 1968 and was billed as an "adventure-comedy" by NBC, starred Culp as Kelly Robinson and Cosby as Alexander Scott, American secret agents whose cover was that Kelly was a globe-trotting top-seeded tennis player and Scott was his trainer.

The series, which was filmed on location around the world, made history as the first American weekly dramatic series with a black performer in a starring role.

"When I first heard Bill Cosby was the other half of this team, I said, 'Wait a minute!' " Culp told The Times in 1965. "I knew he was a comedian, but could he act? Then I saw him work in our pilot film, and the guy is brilliant.

"We have a rapport never seen on a screen before. It's a kind of Clark Gable-Spencer Tracy relationship. We're an inseparable team, a kind of Damon and Pythias. Bill and I together form what you will root for in the series."

Culp received three consecutive Emmy nominations for his role in "I Spy" and was beat out each time by Cosby.

But Culp, who also received an Emmy nomination for a script he wrote for the series, said he wasn't jealous over Cosby's wins.

"No," he told the Washington Post in 1977, "I was the proudest man around."

In a 1969 Playboy interview, Cosby said that after he and Culp first read for the series, they got together afterward and talked.

At Culp's suggestion, he said, "we agreed to make the relationship between the white character, Kelly Robinson, and the black man, Alexander Scott, a beautiful relationship, so that people could see what it would be like if two cats like that could get along."

Culp appeared in more than two dozen films, including "PT 109" and "Sunday in New York." He also directed the 1972 crime drama "Hickey & Boggs," starring himself and Cosby.

Most notably on the big screen, however, Culp starred in "Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice," writer-director Paul Mazursky's 1969 comedy-drama about two upper-middle-class Los Angeles couples dealing with the idea of sexual freedom.

Culp and Natalie Wood played Bob and Carol; Elliott Gould and Dyan Cannon were Ted and Alice.

Culp, critic Roger Ebert wrote in his review of the film, "is the essence of the sagging, dissipated early-middle-age swinger."

Mazursky, who was shocked and saddened to hear of Culp's death, said Wednesday that Culp was "terrific" in the film.

It was, he said, producer Mike Frankovich's idea to cast Culp as Bob.

"He said, 'What about the guy from 'I Spy'?" recalled Mazursky. "I met with Bob and liked him and gave him the part, and he was just wonderful."

Gould first met Culp when they did the movie.

"There was always something positive between us," Gould told The Times. "He was very generous and very kind and sensitive, and I felt that he was really a loving guy."

Culp, who was involved in civil rights causes in the '60s, also was active in civic causes.

In 2007, he joined real estate agent Aaron Leider in filing a lawsuit against Los Angeles Zoo Director John Lewis and the city to stop construction of a $42-million elephant exhibit and bar the zoo from keeping elephants there, accusing authorities at the facility of withholding medical care from the animals and keeping them cramped in small spaces.

Last year, after temporarily halting construction on the elephant exhibit amid a fierce debate, the City Council voted to proceed with the project as planned.

Culp was born in Oakland on Aug. 16, 1930. A 1947 graduate of Berkeley High School, he studied drama at a number of colleges.

He left for New York before earning a degree and appeared in off-Broadway productions and live TV anthology series such as "Kraft Television Theatre," "Alfred Hitchcock Presents" and "The United States Steel Hour" before landing his role in "Trackdown."

Culp, who was married five times, is survived by his sons Joseph, Joshua, Jason and daughters Rachel and Samantha; and five grandchildren.

Services are pending.

Times staff writers Andrew Blankstein, Valerie J. Nelson and Greg Braxton contributed to this report.,0,7406812.story

From Mark Evanier's blog:

Robert Culp, R.I.P.

I always liked Robert Culp on I Spy. I liked him on The Greatest American Hero, too. He worked an awful lot and I can't think of anything he was in where I thought he was less than terrific.

But I'll tell you where I really liked him: At strikes. He spoke at a big Writers Guild rally during the work stoppage of '88 and, wow. He gave a wonderful speech that cut to the heart of the labor unrest that year and it was delivered with such passion and clarity of purpose that every writer in the place — must have been upwards of 1500 of us — thought, "Boy, I'd like to have that man read lines I'd written."

And you knew that wasn't at all why Culp gave the speech. I picketed with him during WGA strikes and went over and picketed alongside him at some actors' strikes, as well. I remember him hopping up on a truck and hauling big, heavy tubs of water and Gatorade out, then directing traffic and carrying armloads of signs. There were a lot of stars there but not all were willing to do the heavy lifting and physical stuff. Culp was. Heck of a guy.