Thursday 30 August 2012

Men of the Tyne...

... staring competition. You lose.

Last night's set list

At The Habit, York (with Ron): -

Sea Of Heartbreak
Love Hurts
Wild Horses
To Know You Is To Love You
Dream Baby

Two new songs from the dynamic duo - on a most enjoyable night of musical fun. Other players contributed a couple of excellent Bob songs: Don't Think Twice It's Alright and amazzzingly Mama, You Been On My Mind. Oh the joy of open mic nights - give me more.

Wednesday 29 August 2012

Duquesne Whistle - Bob Dylan (official video)



Last night's songs

At the Waggon & Horses, York included the following Beatles & Stones numbers: -

Wild Horses
In My Life
I'm Looking Through You
Tell Me
And Your Bird Can Sing
Sweet Virginia
I'll Follow The Sun
Drive My Car
Honky Tonk Women
Here, There and Everywhere
Cry Baby Cry
The Long and Winding Road
It's Only Love

Another night of musical fun with just 4 players. Highlights included an a cappella version of Down By The Riverside and various abortive attempts to play a David Bowie song, in fact any David Bowie song - extracts from Space Oddity being the nearest we could muster. Homework for next week!

Tuesday 28 August 2012

Bob Dylan's Tempest - press release

Highly Anticipated Release Of Bob Dylan's Tempest Album To Be Celebrated By Numerous Fan Events Around The World
World Premiere of "Duquesne Whistle" Single And Video, Sound Graffiti and Pop-Up Stores Highlight Exciting Array Of Worldwide Events Marking Release Of Forthcoming Album

By Columbia Records

Published: Monday, Aug. 27, 2012 - 6:09 am

NEW YORK, Aug. 27, 2012 -- /PRNewswire/ -- Leading up to the highly anticipated worldwide release of Bob Dylan's 35th studio album, Tempest, Columbia Records is announcing an international lineup of events that will enable fans to experience the album in advance of its September 11 release date and celebrate with their fellow Bob Dylan enthusiasts around the globe.

On Monday, August 27, the opening track from Tempest, "Duquesne Whistle" will have its world premiere on NPR Online ( The song was recently described by the Los Angeles Times as, "the folky sound of old-time country blues guitar licks quietly unfurling before the full band explodes into a driving big-beat rhythm as rollicking as the train ride the song explores."

Two days later, at 9 a.m. GMT (4 a.m. EDT), the brand new video for "Duquesne Whistle," featuring Bob Dylan, will have its world premiere on the website of The Guardian ( The video was directed by Nash Edgerton, who also directed the clip for "Beyond Here Lies Nothing" from Dylan's 2009 release, Together Through Life.

On Friday, August 31, fans who visit will find a map of locations in the U.S. and nine other countries where selected songs from Tempest will be streamed to mobile devices. The tracks will be randomly streamed only when users are within the Tempest-tagged geographic areas, utilizing the free web-based Sound Graffiti app (which can be accessed directly through In addition to the U.S., other countries in which Sound Graffiti locations will be found include Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Netherlands, Sweden and the United Kingdom. Fans who stream the song will also be given an opportunity to pre-order Tempest from iTunes while they listen.

On Monday, September 10, dedicated Bob Dylan Tempest "pop-up" stores will open for a seven day period in New York City, Los Angeles and London. At these stores, fans can purchase the new album, as well as other Bob Dylan releases and exclusive merchandise commemorating these week-long events, including a limited quantity of CDs hand-signed by Bob Dylan.

Bob Dylan Tempest stores will be open from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. on Monday, September 10 so that fans can buy Tempest a full day in advance of its official release, and will remain open from 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. through Sunday, September 16. Stores will be located at the following U.S. locations:
819 Washington Street, New York, NY 10014
7763 Melrose Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90046
A Bob Dylan Tempest store will also open in London on Monday, September 10 and remain open through Monday, September 17 at the following location:
47 Beak Street, London, W1F 9SE

Additionally, the well-known Dussmann store in Berlin will be dedicated to Tempest and feature special promotions and other activities beginning September 7. Its hours are Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to midnight and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 11:30 p.m.:
Dussmann das KulturKaufhaus GmbH, Friedrichstrasse 90, 10117 Berlin

While detailed reviews of Tempest will not be published by media outlets until next week, early notices have hailed Bob Dylan's 35th studio album as one of his finest works. Neil McCormick of The Telegraph wrote, "It is fantastic to be able to report that popular music's greatest troubadour is still as brilliant and bewildering as ever…. This is an album I can't wait to hear again, the sound of a great artist approaching the twilight of his career with fearless creativity." Author and pop music critic Robert Hilburn wrote, "Dylan set the bar high for himself with the series of rich, engaging albums that began with Time Out of Mind, and he clears the hurdle again gloriously with Tempest. A stunning work." Michael Simmons of Mojo Online wrote, "Tempest is astonishing."

Earlier this year, Bob Dylan was the recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the country's highest civilian honor. He was awarded a special Pulitzer Prize in 2008 for "his profound impact on popular music and American culture, marked by lyrical compositions of extraordinary poetic power." He was also the recipient of the French Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres in 1990, Sweden's Polar Music Award in 2000 and numerous other honors.

Monday 27 August 2012

Bob Dylan - Duquesne Whistle

Bob Dylan - Tempest review in Mojo

Illustration by Juan Osborne (

The perfect storm
Dylan sets sail on his finest album of this century.
By David Fricke.

Bob Dylan

“They battened down the hatches/But the hatches wouldn't hold,” Bob Dylan sings in the title song of his 35th studio album. Tempest is an epic-ballad account of the sinking of the Titanic, rendered by Dylan in a plaintive growl and ballroom-waltz time and mined with blatant fiction. There was no tempest that night; the Titanic hit the iceberg in clear calm weather. We have no evidence to suggest, as Dylan does, that the doomed passengers turned on each other in homicidal panic. And Leonardo DiCaprio, who appears two minutes into the song's quarter-hour, was only on the Titanic in James Cameron's movie.

But the truth of that lyric blows hard, cruel and constant across Tempest, a 10-song storm of trial, envy, obsession, violent retribution and fatal human error, set on scorched terrain and unforgiving seas. Raw memories and bad dreams are daily bread. Judgment comes to all; and there is no appeal. By the time Dylan set sails in Tempest, the penultimate track, he has promised just deserts in Narrow Road (“If I can't work up to you/You'll surely have to work down to me someday”) and Pay in Blood (“I pay in blood/But not my own”). In Tin Angel, a love triangle ends in two murders and a suicide, like the folk-noir carol Matty Groves with dialogue by James M. Cain.

Soon After Midnight starts like something the high-school Dylan would have played with his Hibbing combo the Golden Chords – a ladies' choice laced with the sweet cries of Donnie Herron's pedal-steel guitar. But then Dylan borrows from Howlin' Wolf (“I've been down on the killin' floors”) and issues his own pregnant warning: “I'm in no great hurry/I'm not afraid of the fury/I've faced stronger walls than yours.” If this is love, it will come dearly.

Tempest is Dylan's fourth album in the late-blooming streak that began with 2001's “Love and Theft” (not counting the spiked eggnog of 2009's Christmas In The Heart). He now makes records the same way he tours – like he's issuing bulletins from one never-ending session of jump blues, clattering boogie and dead-man-walking shuffles, cut in steady circular arrangements with his railroad-groove road band. After four decades of first-take impatience and hit-and-miss confederates, the studio Dylan has turned into AC/DC comfortable and certain in his formula.

Like his last three albums, Tempest is also a feast of one-liners, Dylan working his turf like a stand-up comic in hanging-judge robes. “I ain't dead yet/My bell still rings,” he boasts in Early Roman Kings, a hard-charging spin on Muddy Waters' Mannish Boy, while that third wheel in the Tin Angel triangle is, “a gutless ape with a worthless mind.” It is songwriting as whirlwind, Dylan stitching his rogues and aphorisms together the same way he edited his films Eat The Document and Renaldo And Clara. “Anything goes,” Dylan recently admitted, describing the album to Mikal Gilmore in Rolling Stone. “You just gotta believe it will make sense.”

And it does, for the most elementary and compelling reason: performance. Tempest is Dylan's best musical album of this century, a vibrant maximising of strict rules and the savaged leather state of that voice. He mostly sticks to his small range, in whispered, menacing close-up, and his band – with guitarist Charlie Sexton back in the line-up – kicks and swings with the same articulate focus. Duquesne Whistle opens with a Jimmie Rodgers flair and rolls like a country-Nuggets express; Pay In Blood comes with a gait and kick that evokes the mid-'70s Rolling Stones (specifically Hand Of Fate).

Tempest seems to end like another album altogether. Compared to his thoroughbred finishes on 2006's Modern Times (Ain't Talkin') and '09's Together Through Life (It's All Good), Dylan's Lennon homage Roll On John is an odd way out, the heart-string mandolin, soft funeral organ and a mash-up of fuzzy history, historical references, Beatle lyrics and William Blake. But there is a strong wind of missing too, the frank mourning of a competitive twin. At 71, Dylan is a most remarkable survivor: still standing, working and confounding. But for the last few minutes here, he sound his age: weathered, weary and alone in his tempest.

Sunday 26 August 2012

Saturday 25 August 2012

From the west unto the east . . . .

Neil Armstrong RIP

Former US astronaut Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon, has died at the age of 82, his family said Saturday.
Armstrong underwent a heart-bypass surgery earlier this month, just two days after his birthday on August 5, to relieve blocked coronary arteries.
As commander of the Apollo 11 mission, Armstrong became the first human to set foot on the moon on July 20, 1969. As he stepped on the dusty surface, Armstrong said: "That's one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind."
Those words endure as one of the best known quotes in the English language.
Neil Alden Armstrong was 38 years old at the time, and even though he had fulfilled one of mankind's quests that had loomed for centuries and placed him at the pinnacle of human achievement, he did not revel in his accomplishment. He even seemed frustrated by the acclaim it brought.
"I guess we all like to be recognized not for one piece of fireworks but for the ledger of our daily work," Armstrong said in an interview on CBS's 60 Minutes program in 2005.
He once was asked how he felt knowing his footprints would likely stay on the moon's surface for thousands of years. "I kind of hope that somebody goes up there one of these days and cleans them up," he said.
James Hansen, author of First Man: The Life of Neil A Armstrong, told CBS: "All of the attention that ... the public put on stepping down that ladder onto the surface itself, Neil never could really understand why there was so much focus on that."
The Apollo 11 moon mission turned out to be Armstrong's last space flight. The next year he was appointed to a desk job, being named Nasa's deputy associate administrator for aeronautics in the office of advanced research and technology.
Armstrong's post-Nasa life was a very private one. He took no major role in ceremonies marking the 25th anniversary of the moon landing. "He's a recluse's recluse," said Dave Garrett, a former NASA spokesman. "Howard Hughes had nothing on him," he said, speaking of the reclusive aviator.
Hansen said stories of Armstrong dreaming of space exploration as a boy were apocryphal, although he was long dedicated to flight. "His life was about flying. His life was about piloting," Hansen said.
He left NASA a year after Apollo 11 to become a professor of engineering at the University of Cincinnati.
The former astronaut lived in the Cincinnati area with his wife, Carol.
"We are heartbroken to share the news that Neil Armstrong has passed away following complications resulting from cardiovascular procedures," the family said in a statement. "Neil was our loving husband, father, grandfather, brother and friend. 

Edward Hopper's Houses...

Halaban's The House in Cleveland Street, Gloucester, Massachusetts; Hopper's Marty Welch's House (1928)

Through Edward Hopper's eyes: in search of an artist's seaside inspiration
Gail Albert Halaban follows in the footsteps of the great American artist, photographing the elegant houses he painted almost 100 years ago from the same vantage point

Killian Fox
The Observer
Sunday 12 August 2012

Gail Albert Halaban has identified 16 houses in Gloucester, Massachusetts, that were painted by Edward Hopper over several summers in the 1920s and she reckons there are a few more that have, as yet, escaped her notice. Over the past three years, Albert Halaban, a fine art photographer whose work has appeared in the New York Times and Time magazine, has been tracking down the Hopper houses in Gloucester, a picturesque city on the Atlantic coast, and photographing them from the same vantage points that the great American artist used to paint them from nearly a century ago.

Albert Halaban was not trying to imitate Hopper's watercolours, nor was she the first to discover the houses – the subject of The Mansard Roof (1923), a large, elegant residence in the city's Rocky Neck area, has had homage paid to it by Hopper enthusiasts for decades. Her interest has more personal motivations – her father grew up in Gloucester and she's been spending summers there since childhood, so was intrigued to see how another artist had responded to the city. "It's given me a fresh set of eyes on something I know very well."

Hopper is a name that crops up regularly in relation to her work, particularly Out My Window, a series of photographs – soon to be a book – in which she portrays New Yorkers at home as viewed from neighbouring apartments. "People kept comparing me to Hopper and I wanted to know where that came from."

She was also keen to make contact with the occupants of houses and find out how living in places of art-historical interest had affected them. "Some were aware of it; others had no idea. I called on one old man in his late 90s and he didn't know his house had been in a Hopper painting. He was very excited because he had lived in another Hopper house in Gloucester as a child and that house had burnt down."
Hodgkin's House, Cape Ann, Massachusetts

At first, she was surprised by the differences between the Gloucester paintings and Hopper's better-known later works. "When I think of Hopper I think of Nighthawks and all those New York paintings. His work is very moody, mysterious and lonely, but the Gloucester pictures are bright and sunny and much less dramatic."

When she photographed the houses, however, she found subtle connections and similarities. "I tried to stand where Hopper stood, to make the composition the same, and was amazed that, for so many of the houses, he picked the least pretty perspective. In Houses of Squam Light, there's this picturesque lighthouse just to the left of frame and he cropped it out. Gloucester is one of the most beautiful places I've ever been to, but he seems to have depicted the more hard-edged, working-class end of it. He turned his back on some of the prettiest places, which is what he did in his New York work."
Houses of Squam Light, Gloucester, Massachusetts

She was also intrigued to discover that Hopper, who is regarded as a realist and who painted the houses in Gloucester with great precision, manipulated one important aspect of what he saw. "He changed the light and shadows in his pictures a lot and combined different times of day so that the shadow might go in two directions – that's how he created his narrative, his drama." Albert Halaban responded to this by taking a more painterly approach to her photographs and manipulating the light as Hopper had done in the 1920s. "The houses that he painted remain, but the narratives he created only exist on his canvases. Standing in the same places, I was inspired to take my own liberties and create narratives that are my own."

Out My Window is published by Random House

Friday 24 August 2012


Psychedelic Pill will be released in October. It was recorded right after Americana at Audio Casa Blanca. A double-CD and triple-vinyl will be released because of the lengths of many of the songs, some of which were previewed in Crazy Horse's live performances earlier this month. In the spirit of Americana's release, full length videos for each of the songs will be available and previewed. A recommended high resolution 24/192 full fidelity version of the album Psychedelic Pill will be released on Blu-ray and will include all the videos. The low resolution iTunes downloads will also be accompanied by videos.
Courtesy of Neil Young Times 24 August 2012

J. D. Salinger writes to Hemingway

J.D. Salinger's Letter To Ernest Hemingway

The following is an excerpt from "Hello Goodbye Hello" [Simon and Schuster,26.95]:
J.D. Salinger seeks out Ernest Hemingway
The Ritz Hotel, 15 place Vendôme, Paris
Late August 1944

The twenty-five-year-old Jerry Salinger is experiencing a terrible war. Of the 3,080 men of the 12th US Infantry who disembarked with him at Normandy on D-Day, only a third are still alive.

His regiment is the first to enter Paris. They are mobbed by happy crowds. Salinger’s job as an officer in the Counter-Intelligence Corps entails weeding out and interrogating Nazi collaborators. As they go through Paris, he and a fellow officer arrest a collaborator, but a crowd wrests their prisoner away and beats him to death.

Salinger has heard that Ernest Hemingway is in town. A writer himself, with a growing reputation for his short stories, he is determined to seek out America’s most famous living novelist. He feels sure he will find him at the Ritz, so he drives the jeep there. Sure enough, Hemingway is installed in the small bar, already bragging that he alone liberated Paris in general and the Ritz in particular.

To this latter claim, there is a slight smidgin of truth. "It was all he could talk about," remembers a fellow member of the press corps. "It was more than just being the first American in Paris. He said, "I will be the first American at the Ritz. And I will liberate the Ritz.’" In fact, by the time he arrives, the Germans have already abandoned the hotel, and the manager has come out to welcome him, boasting, "We saved the Cheval Blanc!"

"Well, go get it," snaps Hemingway, who then begins slugging it down. Hemingway proceeds to make the Ritz his home. From then on, he can’t be bothered to cover the liberation of Paris, though he lends his typewriter to someone who can. Instead, he spends most of his time drinking Perrier-Jouet in the bar.

Over brandy after lunch on liberation day, a female guest says she wants to go and watch the victory parade.
"What for?" says Hemingway. "Daughter, sit still and drink this good brandy. You can always see a parade, but you’ll never again lunch at the Ritz the day after Paris was liberated."

As the days go by, he continues to hold court in the Ritz, boasting how many Germans he has killed, though no one with him can remember him killing a single one.

Upon Salinger’s arrival, Hemingway greets him like an old friend, saying that he recognises him from his photograph in Esquire and has read all his short stories. Does he have any new work with him? Salinger produces a recent copy of the Saturday Evening Post containing one of his stories. Hemingway reads it and congratulates him. The two writers sit and talk for hours. Salinger (who secretly prefers Fitzgerald’s writing) is pleasantly surprised by the difference between Hemingway’s public and private personas; he finds him "a really good guy."

A few days later, Hemingway tells a friend about meeting "a kid in the 4th Division named Jerry Salinger." He notes his disdain for the war, and his urge to write. He is also impressed by the way Salinger’s family continues to post him the New Yorker.

The two men never meet again, but they correspond. Hemingway is a generous mentor. "First you have a marvelous ear and you write tenderly and lovingly without getting wet... how happy it makes me to read the stories and what a god damned fine writer I think you are."

The chumminess of their single meeting is captured in a letter Salinger writes to Hemingway the following year from the military hospital in Nuremberg where he is being treated for combat stress:
Nothing was wrong with me except that I’ve been in an almost constant state of despondency and I thought it would be good to talk to somebody sane. They asked me about my sex life (which couldn’t be normaler – gracious!) and about my childhood (Normal)... I’ve always liked the Army … There are very few arrests left to be made in our section. We’re now picking up children under ten if their attitudes are snotty. Gotta get those ole arrest forms up to Army, gotta fatten up the Report.
...I’ve written a couple more of my incestuous stories, and several poems, and part of a play. If I ever get out of the Army I might finish the play and invite Margaret O’Brien to play with me in it. With a crew-cut and a Max Factor dimple over my navel, I could play Holden Caulfield myself. I once gave a very sensitive performance as Raleigh in "Journey’s End."
I’d give my right arm to get out of the Army, but not on a psychiatric, this-man-is-not-fit-for-the-Army-life ticket. I have a very sensitive novel in mind, and I won’t have the author called a jerk in 1950. I am a jerk, but the wrong people mustn’t know it.
I wish you’d drop me a line if you can manage it. Removed from this scene, is it much easier to think clearly? I mean with your work.
Around this time, Salinger experiences some sort of nervous break- down fuelled by the horrors he has endured. His biographer Ian Hamilton suggests his chummy letter to Hemingway cannot be taken at face value. It is, he believes, "almost manically cheerful." He is probably right. Years later, Salinger tells his daughter: "You never really get the smell of burning flesh out of your nose entirely, no matter how long you live."

In Greenwich Village in 1946, Jerry Salinger has regained some of his old bravado. To his poker-playing friends he speaks disparagingly of many well-known writers, Hemingway among them. "In fact, he was quite convinced that no really good American writers existed after Melville – that is, until the advent of J.D. Salinger," recalls one.

Hemingway, on the other hand, is happy to name Salinger one of his three favorite contemporary authors; when he dies, a copy of "The Catcher in the Rye" is found in his library. He is neither the first writer with a disciple who turns against him, nor the last.
From HELLO GOODBYE HELLO by Craig Brown. Copyright © 2011 by Craig Brown. Reprinted by permission of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

Thursday 23 August 2012

Alfred Hitchcock - Shadow of a Doubt

My favourite Hitchcock: Shadow of a Doubt

Dallas King
Wednesday 15 August 2012

Alfred Hitchcock has exploited our fear of heights and made us afraid to take a shower, but in his own personal favourite film he was at his most manipulative, making us afraid of our own family.

The horror genre has travelled from the gothic castles of Transylvania in Dracula to the threat from outer space in The Thing from Another World and Invasion of the Body Snatchers until Hitchcock brought it back inside the home with Psycho in 1960.

Yet it could be argued that it had been hiding there all along, behind closed doors, since Shadow of a Doubt in 1943.

Young Charlie (played by Teresa Wright) lives with her "average American family" in the small town of Santa Rosa. The type of place where people leave their front doors unlocked and everyone knows everyone. Life is pretty quiet but excitement arrives when successful, enigmatic relative Uncle Charlie (Joseph Cotten) comes to stay.

Young Charlie's idolisation of her uncle slowly turns to suspicion as she gets the feeling that there might be a secret behind his smile. Hitchcock keeps proceedings deliberately ambiguous, spoon-feeding us clues: a missing newspaper clipping here, a recurring hummed tune there …

The film's best scene takes place around the dinner table where Uncle Charlie tells the family what he thinks about women, specifically rich widows. Seen from young Charlie's point of view, the camera slowly creeps in on his face as he describes them as "horrible, fat, fading women". "But they're alive, they're human beings," she replies. Uncle Charlie turns and looks directly down the camera lens: "Are they?"

One of Hitchcock's first American films, it was a rather personal project (several characters are named after Hitchcock's family members and various details, such as the book Ivanhoe and a childhood bicycle accident, are drawn from his own life) – however, it features many of the elements that would define his film-making style: his obligatory cameo, carefully deployed black humour (two crime-novel-obsessed characters plot various ways to kill each other, blissfully unaware a murderer may be living under their roof) and the way he would shoot and frame staircases to make them relevant story devices.

Like the more famous Psycho, Shadow of a Doubt has a lasting ability to shatter the illusion of safety within our homes, with Uncle Charlie forever responsible for a sense of unease every time our own "fun uncle" comes to visit.

Last night's setlist

At The Habit, York (with Ron): -

Walk Right Back
Crying In The Rain
Sloop John B
Bye Bye Love

Another booze-fuelled night, assisted by the Ebor Festival. A lovely night of free musical mayhem.

Neil does Bob explosively

Wednesday 22 August 2012

Farewell My Lovely/Murder My Sweet

... on BBC 2 Thursday August 23 at 12.40 pm.

Directed by Edward Dymitrick, this is one of the best Chandler movies, with an unexpectedly great performance by Dick Powell as Marlowe, even if he falls short of the author's ideal of Cray Grant and the public's preference for Bogart. Better than the Dick Richards 1975 version with Robert Mitchum, which is also good, but  too self-conscious and with a star iwho is a little too old.  Fans of the Coen brothers' The Big Lebowski will recognise the source material for its hallucinatory scenes!

Set your DVD recorders!

Bob Dylan's Tempest - Review

Bob Dylan's fantastic new album opens with a train song. Given the wrath to come and the often elemental ire that accompanies it, not to mention all the bloodshed, madness, death, chaos and assorted disasters that will shortly be forthcoming, you may be surprised that what's clattering along the tracks here isn't the ominous engine of a slow train coming, a locomotive of doom and destruction, souls wailing in a caboose crowded with the forlorn damned and other people like them.

'Duquesne Whistle' instead, and at odds it will shortly transpire with much we go on to encounter, joyfully evokes the jubilee train of gospel legend, bound for glory; a salvation express full of hopeful halelujahs, its destination somewhere better than here, this sickly place and its trampled sadness, unceasing strife and grief everywhere you look. In ways some distance removed from the things waiting on the rest of the album, Duquesne Whistle is passably carefree, possibly even best described as rambunctious.

It begins fabulously, with a jazzy instrumental preface, reminiscent of 'Nashville Skyline Rag', guitarists Charlie Sexton and Stu Kimball briskly exchanging Charlie Christian licks. It's like turning on the radio and tuning into the past, nostalgically evocative of a more sunlit innocent time. There is too the impression that we have joined the album, somehow, after it's already started and eerily like this music has been playing on a disk that never stops spinning. Then the whole group blows in, the magnificent road band that's backed Dylan, most of them anyway, on everything he's recorded since 'Love and Theft', and so includes Modern Times, Together Through Life and Christmas in the Heart.

They are ablaze here and on fire throughout, and at their jitterbugging point of entry. 'Duquesne Whistle' takes on an unstoppable momentum that may remind you of, say, 'Highway 61 Revisited' or 'Tombstone Blues' (I was also fleetingly reminded of Cat Power's swinging version of 'Stuck inside of Mobile' from the I'm not Here soundtrack. Even as the song is apparently celebrating what's good in the world, something more awry is stirring, clouds gathering. 'Can't you hear that Duquesne Whistle blowin? Blowin like the sky's gonna blow apart' Dylan sings in intimation of shadows about to fall on paradise. In other words, Tempest is not dark yet, but it will be soon enough.

When Dylan convened with his band at Jackson Browne's Groove Masters Studio on Santa Monica, he's said it was his intention to make a 'religious ' album, though he wasn't specific about quite what he meant by this and whether there was any connection between the record he had in mind and his so-called Born Again albums, that trio of disks including Slow Train Coming, Saved and Shot of Love that 30 years ago shocked and confounded his audience, when they were also alarmed by the vengeful sermonising that punctuated his concerts of the time. There are perhaps inklings, though, of the album Dylan originally envisioned on, for instance, the devotionally inclined 'Long and Wasted Years', and the gospel influenced 'Pay in Blood', which follows. The testing of belief in extreme circumstances is a recurring theme.

Long and Wasted Years finds Dylan almost talking his way through the song, in the manner of 'Three Angels' from New Morning, over a slightly churchy organ and a lovely bluesy guitar refrain. 'I think that when my back was turned, the whole world behind me burned', Dylan recites at one point, the charred landscape that so much of Tempest occupies coming into full focus, a forlorn sort of place, populated by the displaced and the lost, to who Dylan gives poignant voice. 'I ain't seen my family in 20 years', he reflects wearily in one of the verses 'They may be dead by now. I lost track of them after they lost their land'. The bereft hopelessness that is evident in many instances on the album is particularly well articulated here, especially in the song's chastening final image: 'We cried on a cold and frosty morn.' Dylan mourns, and there's no other word for it. 'We cried because our souls were torn/So much for tears, so much for these long and wasted years'.

Pay in Blood opens with guitars, piano and a little Tex-Mex swagger over a vaguely menacing chord sequence reminiscent of those great declamatory Warren Zevon songs that Dylan so admires, like 'Lawyers, Guns and Money', 'Boom Boom Mancini' (which Dylan covered in concert several times as a tribute when Zevon died in 2003). There's a hint, too, in the arrangement, of the song's gospel roots, and something of the Stones in Sexton's admirable guitar riff. It's a song in part about the futile notion of suffering being in any way ennobling. 'How I made it back home, nobody knows/Or how I survived so many blows/I've been through hell, what good did it do?' Dylan asks, a bitter question, asked perhaps of God, since he then adds 'You bastard, I'm supposed to respect you? I'll give you justice'. The singer's anger is anger palpably rising, and he is prone to reject communal solace for a life apart, lonely and slightly terrified. 'This is how I spend my days/I take my fear and sleep alone' Dylan sings, following it with the chilling pay-off line, several times repeated 'I pay in blood, but not my own'.

‘Soon After Midnight', meanwhile, sounds at first like a touching, funny country love song, gently crooned, with the languid melody lope of Mississippi. It gives way suddenly, however, to a similar distress-'My heart is fearful/It's never cheerful/I've been down on the killing floor'-and an incrementally vengeful mood that surfaces several times elsewhere, with even greater malevolence. 'Narrow Way', for instance, is seven minutes of wrath, driven by the kind of scalding guitar circulations that propelled 'Dirt Road Blues' on Time Out Of Mind and Modern Times' 'Rollin and Tumblin', both of which also were indebted to Muddy Waters. 'This is a hard country to stay alive in' Dylan sings, in condemnation of the people who have made it thus, adding in warning 'I'm armed to the hilt'.

'Early Roman Kings' is equally livid, an accusatory tirade, again directed at the same people Dylan has pretty much railed against since he first put plectrum to guitar string and started having his say about things. The 'kings' of the song are vividly seen in 'their sharkskin suits, bow-ties and buttons and high top boots' as shyster bankers, corrupt money men who have bankrupted nations, impoverished millions. As Dylan put it, 'The meddlers and peddlers, they buy and they sell/They destroyed your city, they'll destroy you as well'. What Dylan feels about them is akin to the savage hate expressed on 'Masters of War', say 'I could strip you of life, strip you of breath/Ship you down to the house of death' he sings with hostile contempt, nothing particularly equivocal about his point this point of view, which is in a word merciless.

'Early Roman Kings' is the closest thing here to the kind of roadhouse blues that has been a signature of a lot of recent Dylan, especially Together Through Life. David Hidalgo from Los Lobos adds typically gutsy accordion to the band's robust vamping and the track's lurching gait is an absolute gas, its vicious sentiment notwithstanding. The blues continues to be a vital part of Dylan's music, but Tempest on key songs also marks a return to a folk tradition that has latterly not been as much in evidence.

‘Scarlet Town' is notably set to a melody that sounds like it's been passed down the ages and has a courtly mien reminiscent of the Gillian Welch song from last year's The Harrow & The Harvest with which it shares a title. Fiddle and banjo take the lead here, creating a mysterious swirling atmosphere. There are flashes of bawdy humour, too, but the pervasive mood, here as elsewhere, is ultimately of turmoil and unrest. Towards the end of its 7 minute running time, the track is further interrupted by a wraith-like guitar solo that rises out of the mix like something emerging from a fog and adds a particular creepiness to things.

'Tim Angel' sounds similarly as if it could have been lifted wholesale from an anthology of traditional folk songs, where hundreds of such tales must lurk. It's a revenge ballad, nine minutes long, with no chorus, banjo and fiddle again to the fore. The setting is vague. References in one of the latter verses to a helmet and a cross-handed sword suggest a chivalric age. But soon after that, there's a gunfight, the kind of point-black shootout set-piece you used to find in Walter Hill movies, which suggests Dylan at one point may have had a Western setting in mind, perhaps inspired by a recent tour bus viewing of something like 'Duel in the Sun', a torrid oater starring Dylan favourite Gregory Peck. What happens, anyway, is that someone called 'The Boss', which is not a name you probably come across too often in the Child Ballads, one day comes home from wherever to find his wife has gone missing. Whither the Missus? Has she simply left him, or been abducted? Boss upon investigation is tipped off by a faithful retainer that the errant spouse has in fact made off with one Henry Lee, leader of an unidentified clan. Boss orders his men to horse and off they gallop in hot pursuit, his men deserting him along the way. Dogged Boss continues alone. After presumably much travail, Boss tracks down Henry Lee and his wife, bursts in on their amorous coupling and after declaring his love for his wife starts blasting away. Henry Lee's the better shot and soon Boss is dying in his own blood. The missus takes this surprisingly badly and stabs Henry Lee before plunging a dagger into her own heart. The final image of the three of them tossed into a single grave 'forever to sleep' is chillingly unforgettable.

And so to the title track: 45 verses over 14 minutes about the sinking of the Titanic, inspired by Dylan's musing on the Carter Family's 'The Titanic', but at times as much in debt to James Cameron's blockbuster movie (whose leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio, is name-checked twice). The piece starts with what sounds like a string quartet, after which brief overture the song settles into a long unwinding waltz, progressing with stately resolution, verse following verse, like a latter-day 'Desolation Row'. The song vividly describes the panic and confusion as the great ship flounders, a metaphor for the folly of over-reaching ambition; mankind again brought low by God's intervention. The scale of the disaster is enormous, contains 'every kind of sorrow'. Dylan dramatically capturing the dark panic of the moment-the blown hatches, the water pouring everywhere, the ship's smokestack crashing down, humbler passengers trapped below decks-and as in the film, certain characters are given their own scenes, each verse then a gripping vignette. There's for instance someone called Wellington, holed up in his cabin. 'Glass and shattered crystal lay shattered round about/He strapped on both his pistols/how long could he hold out?' And here's Jim Backer: 'He saw the starlight shining/Streaming from the east/Death was on the rampage/but his heart was now at peace.' 'Davy the brothel-keeper' meanwhile 'came out, dismissed his girls/Saw the water getting deeper/saw the changing of his world.' The ship's captain at the moment of its sinking catches his reflection in the glass of a compass and 'in the dark illumination, he remembered bygone years/He read the book of Revelation/filled his cage with tears'.

After such calamity, the sheer tenderness of the closing 'Roll On, John' is as much of a shock as a mere surprise. A belated tribute to John Lennon, the song is as direct and heartfelt as anything Dylan's written probably since 'Sara', whose occasional gaucheness it recalls, as Dylan roams over Lennon's career 'from the Liverpool docks to the red-light Hamburg streets', quoting from Lennon and Beatles songs along the way, including 'A Day In The Life', 'The Ballad Of John and Yoko' and 'Come Together'. The affection expressed for Lennon in the song is tangible, makes it glow like a force-field, and by the end is totally disarming. 'Your bones are weary, you're about to breathe your last' Dylan sings to his dead friend 'Lord you know how hard that bit can be' before moving on to a spine tingling elegaic chorus: 'Shine a light, Move it on, You burned so bright/Roll on, John'.

We must address, I suppose, in closing, the similarity of this album's title to Shakespeare's The Tempest, widely regarded as his last play, and the idea that follows is that this record is likewise some farewell, a summation of sorts, a final rallying of waning creative energies, perhaps the closing act in Dylan's storied career. The idea of Bob as a kind of riverboat prospero is hugely appealing, and he remains, supremely, a story-telling sorcerer, but Dylan has already dismissed the /comparison as simply wrong-headed and therefore pointless. And for all its evident pre-occupation with death and the end of things, Tempest is in many respects the most far-reaching, provocative and transfixing album of Dylan's later career. Nothing about it suggests a swansong, adios or fond adieu.

'I ain't dead yet, my bell still rings' he sings on 'Early Roman Kings', and how loud and bright and strong that clarion toll yet sounds.

Allan Jones
Uncut Magazine

Last night's songs

At the Waggon & Horses, York were many & various, including the following Beatles & Beatles-related choons: -

Norwegian Wood
A Day In The Life
Things We Said Today
When I Saw Her Standing There
I'll See You In My Dreams
Till There Was You
I've Just Seen A Face

The punters seemed to enjoy the show - there were just 4 players on a wet & windy night.

Tuesday 21 August 2012


Django Reinhardt at the Proms...

Django Reinhardt: music, mischief and magic
Django Reinhardt was a Gypsy jazz genius who kept on living in his caravan long after he found fame. Guitarist and devotee Martin Taylor explains why he has written a Prom in his honour

Martin Taylor
Sunday 19 August 2012

I'm always being asked when I first heard Django Reinhardt's music, but it was probably in the womb. My father, Buck Taylor, was a Dixieland bass player and guitarist. His family was Romany like Django's, and he loved that music. When I was about three, I said to my dad: "When he plays the guitar, it's like he's talking to me." I didn't know Django was an illiterate Gypsy from Belgium, who'd kept on living in his caravan long after he'd become a star. I didn't know what it meant to have lost the use of two digits of his fingering hand after a fire and to have retaught himself to play even better – or to be famous enough to have played Carnegie Hall with Duke Ellington. But I knew he moved me, as he did almost everybody who heard him. 

My dad got me a ukulele after that, and then a guitar when I was big enough – at the age of four. I used to play along with Django's records. My dad would say: "Hear that? He's improvising his own melody over the top of the tune." I didn't know anything about musical theory – I played professionally for nearly 20 years before I could read music – but I could hear it. Playing the guitar is the only thing in my life I've ever found easy.

The Spirit of Django Prom comes from an idea that was kicking around for a while but finally came to fruition in 2010. I had been asked by Dave Tracey, who runs the International Guitar festival in Liverpool, to do something special for their 25th anniversary and the centenary of Django's birth. Dave had liked Guy Barker's Amadeus Project – which was a kind of jazz and film noir angle on Mozart – and had asked him if he'd write a concerto for me. I had known Guy since we played together in the Harrow Youth Jazz Orchestra in 1972 (I was 15, he was 12). So we eventually decided on a Spirit of Django suite, using six of my own pieces reflecting Django's work, French life, American jazz and Gypsy music, and his interest in Debussy, too. Guy says he's always fascinated by how Europeans play jazz - how they play it with their own regional accents, even though that language originated in America.

We sometimes say we imagined it being a soundtrack to an old black-and-white movie about a summer in France. I hope it also catches a little of Django's mischievousness. There's a passage of music in the suite dedicated to Jacques Tati. I got the idea for that by watching a very bad unicyclist who kept falling off.

The guitar festival budget gave us 24 strings, a harp and two french horns from the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, most of Guy's Big Band, and my Spirit of Django group. But Guy expanded the piece later for full big band and symphony orchestra combined, for a conservatoire workshop – and it's just as well he did, because that's indirectly how we got to this Prom concert.

I had told Guy in a pub once that my dream was to play this music at the Royal Albert Hall for a Prom. I loved the idea of playing Gypsy jazz at that venue. Then this year, the director of the Proms, Roger Wright, called Guy to ask if he had a jazz piece suitable for the Britten Sinfonia. He says he almost said no, then remembered the suite, and what I'd said to him about my Proms dream. Wright went for it, and we were away. That day in the pub, Guy had said: "Those opportunities turn up once in a blue moon." He tells me now that, on the night of the concert, there really is going to be a blue moon, so maybe the fates are on our side.

Touring with Django's great violinist Stéphane Grappelli, which I did from 1979 until the early 90s, really deepened my understanding of Django. I also got to know Django's family – they formed strong links with Britain in the second world war. They all say how passionate he was about music, that he knew he was great but it didn't stop him being humble around other great musicians. His grandson David also says he was a very modern artist, and would have explored the possibilities of the electric guitar much more if he'd lived longer. If he were around now, he'd be mixing and looping like everybody else.

It's a bit of a cliche to say he was unreliable, although he was totally serious about music. He liked billiards and he liked to gamble. Grappelli told me that when they got offered their first recording in 1934, Grappelli showed up for the date but Django didn't. Grappelli combed the local billiard halls and eventually found him. When asked why he hadn't turned up, Django replied he didn't think recording would ever catch on, and he was happier playing billiards. He changed his mind when they played the recording back to him. He'd never heard himself before. Pretty soon after that, the whole world knew all about him.

• Interview by John Fordham. The Spirit of Django Prom is at the Royal Albert Hall, London SW7, on 31 August. Details:

Monday 20 August 2012

Tonight's set list

At the Fulford Arms, York: -

Tell Me Why
I Am A Pilgrim*
I'm Just A Loser
Till There Was You
Long May You Run
Ambulance Blues**

Been a while, but I gave the Fulford Arms open mic a try tonight. An excellent mix of players including bluesman extraordinaire Colin Rowntree.

* a request from the landlord to "play a sad song" so I gave him a death song
** a request from the landlord to play Ambulance Blues - aborted by me after two lines to give other players a chance.

Another fun night anyway and the Timothy Taylors Landlord was just lovely.

Paul Buchanan - interview and acoustic set on KCRW

Tony Scott RIP

British-born filmmaker Tony Scott jumps to death

by Steve Gorman

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - British-born filmmaker Tony Scott, director of such Hollywood blockbusters as "Top Gun" and "Crimson Tide," jumped to his death on Sunday from a bridge over Los Angeles Harbour, the Los Angeles County Coroner's Office said.

Onlookers saw Scott, who was 68, parking his car on the Vincent Thomas Bridge and leaping into the water below at about 12:30 p.m. local time (1930 GMT), according to Lieutenant Joe Bale, a watch commander for the coroner's office.

Bale said the body was recovered by law enforcement from the harbour shortly before 3 p.m. and was subsequently identified as being that of the filmmaker and younger brother of fellow movie director Ridley Scott.

A note was found in Scott's car that Bale said he believed would turn out to be a suicide note, though he was not familiar with its contents. "Typically, when they find a note in cases like this, it's not a shopping list," he said.

The bridge, the surface of which clears the harbour's navigation channel by a height of about 185 feet (56 meters), connects the port district of San Pedro at the southern tip of Los Angeles to Terminal Island in the harbour.

A spokeswoman for the filmmaker, Katherine Rowe, said in a brief statement, "I can confirm that Tony Scott has indeed passed away," adding only, "The family asks that their privacy be respected at this time."

Scott, born in North Shields, Northumberland, in England, and frequently seen behind the camera in his signature faded red baseball cap, is credited with directing more than two dozen movies and television shows and producing nearly 50 titles.

He was best known for muscular but stylish high-octane thrillers that showcased some of Hollywood's biggest stars in a body of work that dated back to the 1980s and established him as one of the most successful action directors in the business.

He got his start making TV commercials for his older sibling's London-based production company, Ridley Scott Associates, and segued into movies for television and film.

His feature directorial debut - 1983 vampire movie "The Hunger" starring British rocker David Bowie and French actress Catherine Deneuve - was a flop. But he bounced back three years later with the fighter jet adventure "Top Gun," which starred Tom Cruise as a hot-shot pilot and followed that with another big hit, the 1987 Eddie Murphy comedy "Beverly Hills Cop II."

Other notable directing credits include the 1990 racing drama "Days of Thunder," which also featured Cruise, the 1995 submarine thriller "Crimson Tide," co-starring Denzel Washington and Gene Hackman, and the 1998 spy thriller "Enemy of the State," which paired Hackman and Will Smith. The 2001 espionage drama "Spy Game" teamed Robert Redford with Brad Pitt.

Denzel Washington became Scott's most frequent star, appearing in four other films by the director - the 2004 vengeance drama "Man on Fire," 2006 sci-fi adventure "Deja Vu," a 2009 remake of "The Taking of the Pelham 1 2 3," a subway hostage thriller co-starring John Travolta, and the 2010 runaway-train blockbuster, "Unstoppable."

Scott and his older brother were executive producers together on two successful prime-time television dramas, "Numb3rs," which ran on CBS from 2005 to 2010, and "The Good Wife," which premiered in 2009 and is still running in CBS.

According to the Hollywood website Internet Movie Database, Tony Scott had been in production as the director of a film called "Emma's War," about a British aid worker in Sudan who marries a warlord seeking to control part of the country.

Scott is survived by his third wife, Donna, with whom he had two children. (Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Editing by Paul Simao and Patrick Graham)

Sunday 19 August 2012

Scott McKenzie RIP

Raymond Chandler: A Life

A Mysterious Something in the Light: Raymond Chandler, A Life by Tom Williams – review
Xan Brooks on the contradictions of the king of hard-boiled pulp fiction

Xan Brooks
Thursday 16 August 2012

In his later years – struggling to care for his ailing wife and smarting from another, losing bout with the Hollywood studios – Raymond Chandler wrote a bleak epitaph for his career. "In every generation there are incomplete writers, people who never seem to get much of themselves down on paper," he concluded. "I guess maybe I belong in there too."

Few novelists were so uneasy with their achievements as Chandler; the sour king of hard-boiled pulp fiction, forever nagged by the sense that he was built for better things. Few, for that matter, present so twitchy and evasive a target for the intrepid biographer. How to square the tough, self-confident American prose that spilled from the typewriter with the frail, repressed English-educated gent who picked at the keys? Here we have the crime and here we have the culprit. The problem lies in connecting the two.

Tom Williams's dogged, diligent biography trails Chandler from his Chicago birthplace through his upbringing in England and schooling at fee-paying Dulwich College. From here he worked as a reporter on Fleet Street before returning to the US to pick apricots and string tennis rackets. He fought in the trenches of Europe and worked as an executive for the Dabney oil syndicate. It was only at the age of 44 – having been fired for alcohol-related absenteeism – that he finally knuckled down to a writing career, rattling off a series of detective yarns for Black Mask magazine.

At least Williams clears up one of the key mysteries of Chandler's life – showing how the author's hide-bound English schooling actually proved instrumental in seeding a new strain of American fiction. "A classical education saves you from being fooled by pretentiousness," Chandler explained. In America "the mystery writer is looked down on as sub-literary merely because he is a mystery writer, rather than for instance a writer of social significance twaddle. To a classicist – even a very rusty one – such an attitude is merely a parvenu insecurity."

Having been "raised in Latin and Greek" (his words), Chandler parlayed his romantic notions of honour and nobility into hard-drinking, tough-talking Philip Marlowe – named after the author's student house at Dulwich but transplanted to the noirish wilds of southern California. Marlowe stood as Chandler's glorious alter-ego, his perfect ambassador through a series of eight novels that began with The Big Sleep and concluded with the unfinished Poodle Springs. The private eye was Chandler's twist on Lancelot or Gawain, tackling the rogue knights of Los Angeles' criminal underbelly or the robber barons up in Beverly Hills. Yet these adventures ditched traditional, high-flown prose in favour of stylised American slang, the pages juggling steel-trap dialogue with silken similes. Along the way, Chandler evoked a modern American loneliness of city streets and rustling palms, where the "jigsaw gothic mansions" have been repurposed as rooming houses, and the old men sit out on the porch, staring at the sun "with faces like lost battles".

According to Paul Auster, "Raymond Chandler invented a new way of talking about America, and America has never looked the same to us since." At the time, however, the author was regarded with a deep ambivalence, relegated to the pulp-fiction ghetto and forced to draw succour from more favourable reviews in his beloved UK. Yet it may be that Chandler fell prey to the very prejudices he railed against. At times he gave the impression of being blithely reconciled to his calling as a writer, on a mission to break the mould of detective fiction and have it recognised as art. At others, he appeared riddled by rage and self-doubt.

What should by rights have been his heyday was hobbled by a combination of heavy drinking and a garbled code of honour that manifested itself as thin-skinned irascibility. He fell out with director Billy Wilder during the production of Double Indemnity and threw the studio into crisis while struggling to complete The Blue Dahlia. Most notoriously, he clashed with Alfred Hitchcock when adapting the script for Strangers on a Train, referring to the film-maker as a "fat bastard". Hitchcock (just as sensitive in his way) could never quite forgive him.

Williams's book paints an intriguing portrait of a man in fragments, a series of sides that won't match up. In its pages we catch glimpses of a quiet, even colourless figure periodically galvanised by alcohol; a rumoured homosexual who married a woman old enough to be his mother; a compromised artist who half-despises the books he writes and yet bridles at the slightest whiff of criticism. Reading his agent's gentle comments on the proof for The Long Good-bye, for instance, was "like being slapped in the face".

In chasing his quarry to the final chapter, the biographer sometimes risks losing the scent, falling back on conjecture and equivocation. "He was probably a bit drunk," Williams writes in one later passage. "Possibly a lot drunk, in fact." In the meantime, the man himself is creeping fast towards the exit door. His wife is dead and his career has stalled. He is dogged by depression and drinking hard to keep the demons at bay. By the end, improbably, he looks at once more vivid and more incoherent than he did in his green, unformed youth.

Still, if Chandler effects a partial getaway, that may well be for the best. Detective fiction, he once argued, was only useful as a springboard, a set of rules to be played with and broken. Character was more important to him than plot, while clear-cut resolutions were almost always a scam. "The ideal mystery," he felt, "was the one you would read if the ending was missing." Incomplete to the last, Raymond Chandler goes out as he came in: contradictory and confounding, an abiding mystery, perhaps even to himself.

A Mysterious Something in the Light: Raymond Chandler, A Life
by Tom Williams
Aurum Press

Saturday 18 August 2012

The Return of Philip Marlowe - part II

John Banville: 'I have not been a good father. No writer is'
John Banville’s Terrible Idea to Write a New Novel on Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe
The acclaimed Irish novelist John Banville will write a new novel based on Raymond Chandler’s iconic private eye Philip Marlowe.

by Malcolm Jones | August 10, 2012

His publisher announced this week that Irish author John Banville will try to bring Raymond Chandler’s fictional detective Philip Marlowe back from the grave. This is a terrible idea.

You can see why someone thought otherwise. Banville is a Man Booker prize–winning novelist who already moonlights as a mystery novelist under the pseudonym Benjamin Black.

Black’s mysteries are noirish affairs set in '50s Dublin, where everyone lives guilt-drenched, un-fun lives under the bullying thumb of the Catholic Church. His protagonist, Quirk, is a pathologist who occasionally gets roped into crime solving (roughly as often as Black needs to write another book) and who otherwise lives a lonely life, alienated from society in general and just about everyone in particular.

There are rhymes and echoes here. Marlowe was a loner, a private eye in a one-man operation in Los Angeles during the '30s, '40s, and '50s. Chandler, like Banville (and Black to a lesser extent) was a stylist, self-aware and so assured that he was his own best parodist: “She jerked away from me like a startled fawn might, if I had a startled fawn and it jerked away from me.”

No, even I agree that his vita makes Banville look like the man for the job. If only there were a job. But literary tomb-robbing is no fit occupation for anyone, talented or not. It’s not unethical. It’s just that no good ever comes of it.

For years, publishers and authors have conspired to resurrect a host of characters whose authors have died: Sherlock Holmes, James Bond, Sam Spade, Scarlett O’Hara, the Corleones, Peter Pan, and, in at least two instances, Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe. The perpetrator in the Marlowe cases was the late mystery writer Robert B. Parker, and the results were execrable, but there is justice: someone is now writing “as” Parker and keeping his characters alive in new books.

Alive is the wrong word, of course. I am no fan of zombies in any way, shape, or genre, but here it fits: resurrected fictional characters are the living dead of literature. Everything about them is always at least a little off, like a copy of a copy of a copy.

Philip Marlowe, though, is particularly impossible to replicate. Parker’s efforts were laughable, but even the movies have not had much better luck. Bogart was OK in The Big Sleep, but he completely misses Marlowe’s really rather weird “Cotton Mather in a trenchcoat” moral outrage. Chandler himself thought Dick Powell at least looked the most like Marlowe. Nobody but Robert Altman and Pauline Kael thought Elliott Gould was right for the part. I would go with Robert Mitchum, who gets the character’s weariness and self-loathing just right. Curiously, Mitchum really channels Marlowe in a movie where he’s playing another character—Jeff Bailey, the doomed detective in Out of the Past. But consider how different all these actors are.

Because Marlowe is always the narrator, Chandler never has to tell us what he looks like. He supplies some clues, but in the end, Marlowe isn’t an identifiable type—he’s a collaborative construct between the writer and each reader—true to some extent in any fiction, of course, but extremely so in this case. I have a very firm idea of what Marlowe is like, and my Marlowe, I’ll bet, is very different from yours.

In the press release announcing that Banville would be taking over for Chandler, he is quoted as saying, “I love the challenge of following in the very large footsteps of Raymond Chandler. I began reading Chandler as a teenager, and frequently return to the novels. This idea has been germinating for several years and I relish the prospect of setting a book in Marlowe’s California, which I always think of in terms of Edward Hopper’s paintings. Bay City will have a slightly surreal, or hyper-real, atmosphere that I look forward to creating.” 

Alarm bell should be sounding at least by the time you get to “Edward Hopper’s paintings,” not because they aren’t congruent with Chandler’s vision but because the reference reminds us that mid-20th century California is a second-hand experience for Banville, something he’s read about or seen in pictures. Chandler was describing what he knew, what he saw and felt and smelled and heard (he and his wife moved from one Los Angeles rental to another about 30 times in the space of a couple of decades—he saw a lot of the city up close).

Actually, what Chandler was doing was quite complicated, a sort of double-focus shuffle where he constantly compared L.A. to what it had been a couple of decades earlier, when he first moved there as a young man in the oil business.

“I used to like this town … a long time ago,” Marlowe says in The Little Sister, published in 1949. “There were trees along Wilshire Boulevard. Beverly Hills was a country town. Westwood was bare hills and lots offering at eleven hundred dollars and no takers. Hollywood was a bunch of frame houses on the inter-urban line. Los Angeles was just a big, dry, sunny place with ugly homes and no style, but good-hearted and peaceful. It had the climate they just yap about now. People used to sleep out on porches. Little groups who thought they were intellectual used to call it the Athens of America. It wasn’t that, but it wasn’t a neon-lighted slum, either.”

"The seven novels are really a series of broken-hearted love letters to a city that, by the time he is writing, existed only in the author’s mind. Still, the vividness of Chandler’s prose always draws upon his personal experience of a time and place, and that can’t be counterfeited no matter how good you are. (The same could be said, obviously, about Banville’s skillful evocation of the '50s Dublin of his youth.)

The publisher’s press release also says, “Along with Marlowe, Banville will bring back policeman Bernie Ohls, the gumshoe’s good friend.” This innocuous seeming statement masks a colossal misunderstanding of Chandler and Marlowe, neither of whom had “a good friend.” Ohls is someone Marlowe knew when he was still a cop, and one of the few cops who wouldn’t be completely happy seeing Marlowe dead.

The closest Marlowe comes to a pal in any of the novels is the ne’er-do-well Terry Lennox in The Long Goodbye. In the end Marlowe is betrayed by Lennox (betrayed, in fact, almost as soon as the book begins, but it takes Marlowe the whole book to figure out what happened), so the story isn’t exactly a ringing endorsement for male bonding. Together with “I’ll Be Waiting,” Chandler’s most exquisite short story, this is one of most beautiful descriptions of the failure to connect in American literature.

No, Marlowe is a loner through and through. A man who plays chess with himself wouldn’t know what to do with a sidekick, however gruff and lovable.

Over and beyond the particular wrongheadedness of the Banville–Chandler mashup is the much larger obnoxiousness of sequels generally—and here I am not speaking of sequels such as Gone or The Hours, novels that, whatever you may think of them, are serious attempts to mess with an established title’s legacy, to make us think afresh about the original. No, the kinds of books I’m talking about are books commissioned by publishers to extend a franchise, to take whatever is special or unique about a series and turn it into a brand.

This impulse to keep something going is at best mercenary and at its worst encourages our most craven childishness—clap real hard and buy this book and Tinkerbell and Peter Pan will stay alive. It is also insulting to the novelists whose work is extended beyond the grave, because it denies them, implicitly, the uniqueness that made us treasure them in the first place.

Someone once asked William Faulkner what he thought of the (almost uniformly wretched) film adaptations of his novels. He said he didn’t mind. The Hollywood money was good, and his books were still on the shelves, just as he wrote them.

So no real damage can be done to Raymond Chandler’s work no matter who proceeds with a new Marlowe novel. That doesn’t mean that all this endless sequelizing isn’t a shoddy idea—doomed from the outset, since any sequel is almost bound to be inferior to what inspired it, thus producing, at best, what the world needs least—another not-great book. Equally bad, the sequel racket encourages laziness among publishers. Instead of teasing out the number of 007 titles with inferior imitations, they could be spending that energy cultivating or at least searching for a great, undiscovered crime novelist or spy writer.

No matter how you look at it, it’s a cheap and rather shabby practice, and that matters in this particular case because if there was anything that Chandler railed against, it was anything and everything cheap and shabby.

So please, let’s hang a Do Not Disturb sign on his tombstone and allow Phillip Marlowe to enjoy his big sleep.

Bob Dylan: Scarlet Town

Joe Kubert RIP