Saturday 31 August 2013

Seamus Heaney RIP

Seamus Heaney: Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney obituary
Irish poet and Nobel laureate whose lines of love and loss took inspiration from his childhood in Derry

Neil Corcoran
The Guardian
Friday 30 August 2013

In 2009, as part of the extensive celebrations in Ireland for his 70th birthday, RTÉ broadcast a documentary about Seamus Heaney. Towards its close, Heaney, who has died aged 74, was asked whether anything in his work seemed appropriate to him as an epitaph. He demurred at first but, when gently prodded, quoted what he had translated from Oedipus at Colonus by Sophocles when his friend the great Polish poet Czesław Miłosz died in 2004. Telling the story of the old king who dies and vanishes into the earth, the play's Messenger says, in Heaney's version: "Wherever that man went, he went gratefully." That, said Heaney, would do for him too.

The gratitude is not so much, surely, for the leaving of life, but for the work well done. Heaney suffered a stroke in 2006 and his volume Human Chain (2010) is painfully shadowed by ageing and mortality. But it is also deeply informed by a spirit of resilience and acceptance and, in the extraordinary love poem Chanson d'Aventure, which describes his ambulance drive to hospital with his wife, Marie, by the sense of renewal and new reward, even at a late stage, in human relationships.

Mortality and domestic relations, affection and obligation, had preoccupied Heaney throughout his work, and were frequently sounded together. One of his most popular poems, Mid-Term Break, from his collection Death of a Naturalist (1966), handles the death of his younger brother Christopher in a road accident in 1953, when Heaney was still a schoolboy; that loss is returned to again in the superb late poem The Blackbird of Glanmore, in District and Circle (2006), which is also concerned with intimations of the poet's own mortality.

The deaths of many in the Troubles feature in numerous Heaney poems, notably in North (1975), where, in the now famous sequence of "bog poems", they are brought into alignment with the iron-age bodies recovered from the bogs of Jutland, which Heaney had encountered in PV Glob's book The Bog People. In the collections Field Work (1979) and Station Island (1984), Heaney encounters ghosts. With these poems, and others, he became one of the great modern elegists.

But Heaney was also an excellent poet of familial love and, notably, of enduring married love. There are numerous poems of filial affection, for both mother and father, and wonderful poems for his children and, latterly, his granddaughter. One of his finest poems, Sunlight, in North, was written for his aunt Mary, who was partly responsible for his upbringing. Chanson d'Aventure marked a late stage in the marital relationship he had vividly portrayed for years after his marriage to Marie Devlin in 1965: from the difficulties evoked in Summer Home (in Wintering Out, 1972), a poem of regret and self-recrimination, through the stabilities, accommodations, supportiveness, sources of strength and erotic tenderness and arousal recorded in such poems as The Skunk and An Afterwards in Field Work (1979), and The Underground and La Toilette in Station Island.

Especially in its bleak treatment of the Troubles, Heaney's poetry is full of broken things, but it is also a poetry of the continuities that sustain us against mortality. His resourceful, disciplined equilibrium finds one of its best expressions at the end of A Kite for Michael and Christopher, in Station Island, when the poet-father hands the emblematic kite on to his sons:

Before the kite plunges down into the wood
and this line goes useless
take in your two hands, boys, and feel
the strumming, rooted, long-tailed pull of grief.
You were born fit for it.
Stand in here in front of me
and take the strain.

The way his work faces the worst but steadies itself against it, too, must be the greatest single reason for Heaney's huge readership. He presumably had his popularity in mind when he called himself, in Station Island, a "poet, lucky poet".

The eldest of nine children of Margaret (née McCann) and Patrick Heaney, a Catholic farmer and cattle dealer, he was born at Mossbawn farm near the village of Castledawson in County Derry. Seamus was an early beneficiary of the 1947 Northern Ireland Education Act, attending St Columb's college in Derry, where his contemporaries included the politician John Hume and the critic and academic Seamus Deane. He studied English language and literature at Queen's University Belfast, graduating with a first-class degree in 1961. He taught for a brief period in Belfast and joined the writers' workshop known as the Group initiated by the poet and critic Philip Hobsbaum, who taught at Queen's. After Hobsbaum left the university, Heaney was appointed to a lectureship in English in 1966 and he became chairman of the Group, whose other members included Michael Longley and Bernard MacLaverty. An important impetus to the burgeoning of poetry in the north, it would eventually also include the poets Paul Muldoon, Medbh McGuckian and Ciaran Carson.

In 1964 Karl Miller published three of Heaney's poems in the New Statesman, where they were noticed by the Northern Irish-born Charles Monteith, one of the directors of the publishers Faber and Faber. When he received Monteith's letter soliciting a manuscript, it was, Heaney said, "like getting a letter from God the Father". Two years later, Faber published Death of a Naturalist. It received exceptional acclaim, and Heaney almost immediately became a poet keenly watched, followed and imitated. By then, he had married Devlin, with whom he would have three children, Michael, Christopher and Catherine Ann.

Heaney took part in some of the first protest marches following the RUC assault on the civil rights march in Derry on 5 October 1968, and he contributed articles on the issue to the Listener.

The Heaneys spent an important year in the US, at the University of California at Berkeley, in 1970-71, and Heaney got to know the contemporary poetry of America's west coast. On their return, he resigned from his post at Queen's, became a freelance writer and moved with his family to the Republic of Ireland. They lived in a rented cottage in a relatively remote, beautiful part of County Wicklow, on what had once been a vast estate owned by the family of the playwright and poet JM Synge. The Glanmore cottage was to prove, both at that time and later, after the Heaneys bought it in 1988, not just a bolthole from a busy Dublin life – it had no telephone – but also a source of poetic power. It was the secluded site of a great deal of often nocturnal and, he once told me, almost trancelike, poetic composition. Glanmore Sonnets and Glanmore Revisited are the most obvious products of that place and state, and appropriate testimony to it.

Inevitably, the move south by a significant Irish Catholic writer from the north was read as having emblematic import; and in Exposure, which appears at the end of North, Heaney figures himself as "a wood-kerne / Escaped from the massacre". He spent several years hosting a books programme on Irish radio and in 1975 took up teaching again, this time at Carysfort College, a Catholic teacher-training college in Dublin. Heaney bought a house in the city – "by a famous strand," he says in a poem: that is, Sandymount, along which Stephen Dedalus walks in an early episode of James Joyce's Ulysses.

In 1980 Heaney published Preoccupations, the first of several collections of critical essays. His literary criticism came to assume great authority. Heaney wrote in richly rewarding ways about Wordsworth, Yeats, Dante, Patrick Kavanagh, John Clare, Sylvia Plath and Elizabeth Bishop.

Developing an international reputation, notably in America, Heaney initiated a long relationship with Harvard University, where he had a visiting professorship in 1979. He held the Boylston chair of rhetoric and oratory there (1985-97), teaching one semester a year, and he then continued the contact in a less formal capacity. He was professor of poetry at Oxford from 1989 to 1994 and the resulting lectures were collected as The Redress of Poetry in 1995. In that year he won the Nobel prize in literature. During his Nobel lecture, he dwelt at some length on the politics of Northern Ireland, condemning both "the atrocious nature of the IRA's campaign of bombings and killings" and "the ruthlessness of the British army on occasions like Bloody Sunday in Derry in 1972". Heaney's other accolades over the years included the TS Eliot, Forward, David Cohen and (twice) Whitbread prizes. In 1996 he was made a commandeur de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres. In 2004 Queen's University opened its Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry.

There is no doubt Heaney took great delight in his success. He was an adept, even charismatic, performer before an audience – as a reader of his own poems in academic auditoriums, as a public lecturer, and as a radio and television broadcaster; and he certainly understood, from very early on, the mechanisms involved in the creation and maintenance of a successful public reputation. In a sometimes envious literary world this led to some cavilling, notably upon the 2008 publication of Stepping Stones in which Heaney, already a much-interviewed poet, discussed his life and career with his friend and fellow poet Dennis O'Driscoll.

The book was clearly intended as the alternative to an autobiography, and if Heaney's way with his readership was absolutely not Samuel Beckett's or even Heaney's friend Brian Friel's ways of withdrawal and silence, the book is, in the event, an exercise not in egotism or hubris but in self-questioning, self-definition, self-analysis, self-evaluation and, only finally, self-justification. As such, it suggests Heaney's conception of his role as a writer always included a strong element of the pedagogic. What he commended in the poet Marina Tsvetaeva – "the good force of creative mind at work in the light of conscience" – can be commended in him too.

When he wrote about Yeats in an early essay – one of many in which Heaney returns to the work of his great Irish poetic forebear – he used the word "exemplary" of that poet's demeanour at a particular point in his life, and Heaney's own life had the character of an experiment that was also available for scrutiny. For all the "luck" of the career, it was a life lived with a strong awareness of social and cultural responsibility. If the even-handedness of some of his explicit political remarks could seem almost diplomatic at times (politicians, including Bill Clinton, have been fond of quoting him), he was also, when the occasion demanded, a forceful articulator of an Irish political conscience before a primarily English audience. This was notably the case at a prizegiving in 1988, at which he chastised the English press for their reporting of Northern Ireland, and in the last of his Oxford lectures, Frontiers of Writing, in which he analysed his perturbed feelings when he stayed in a Tory cabinet minister's room in an Oxford college at the time of the IRA hunger strikes in 1981.

Heaney's major public commitment in Ireland was to the Field Day Theatre Company, of which, along with Friel and Stephen Rea, he became a director. Formed initially to stage contemporary plays outside the commercial theatre, Field Day developed, through various publications, into a controversial agency of agitation in Irish cultural politics. In 1983 it published Heaney's Sweeney Astray, a translation from the medieval Irish tale Buile Suibhne, and in 1990 it staged The Cure at Troy, his version of Philoctetes by Sophocles. Both make clear, if coded, reference to contemporary Irish political life. Heaney published a further dramatic translation, of Sophocles's Antigone, as The Burial at Thebes, in 2004, and it premiered at Dublin's Abbey theatre that year.

Translation was a major element of his later work: notably his outstandingly successful version, published in 1999, of the long Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf, and his version of a Horatian ode, Anything Can Happen, which commemorated the events of 9/11.

Given his eminence, Heaney was exceptionally approachable: gregarious, generous, courteous and convivial. He was a formidably, spontaneously eloquent man gifted with a wonderful verbal memory: he once recited the whole of one of Philip Larkin's less well-known poems to me, and another time several prose paragraphs from the philosopher EM Cioran. Nevertheless, his social manner was entirely relaxed and relaxing. He was a benignly mischievous raconteur and took great delight in telling, and hearing, jokes. He was very funny indeed, and to spend any time at all in his company was to laugh a great deal.

One of my happiest memories is of stopping off at a cinema in the Dublin suburb of Tallaght on the way to Wicklow with him to catch an afternoon showing of Robert Zemeckis's 2007 animated movie of Beowulf, which boldly attempts to sex up the text on which it is somewhat loosely based. The only other audience members were, weirdly, a party of ribald boy scouts. The various incongruities were striking, and hilarious.

Where he encountered envies, resentments and hostilities, Heaney appeared to handle them with equanimity and aplomb, even if the eventual dissolution of some old allegiances clearly caused distress. He was, though, a man of whom it could be said, as Yeats wanted it said of him, "his glory was he had such friends". These included international literary greats, such as Miłosz, Bishop, Ted Hughes, Robert Lowell, Joseph Brodsky and Derek Walcott, but Heaney also had a great deal of time for younger writers, whom he encouraged and quietly promoted.

For all the strength of personality manifest in Heaney's life, it is of course to the poetry that we will return. This is always, as it were, a life altogether elsewhere; and the elsewhere in Heaney is characteristically the life of memory, and specifically the memory of his childhood place, the townlands of his origins whose Irish names – Anahorish, Broagh, Toome, Mossbawn, Bellaghy – are now such an indelible part of English-language poetry, as are their accents, rhythms and people. There is a real sense in which his poetry is permanent homesickness, as the place is returned to again and again, but always with a difference, until its topography becomes the register of an immensely complex psychological, emotional, cultural and political terrain; until the place has become, in fact, in the title of one of Heaney's collections of lectures, the "place of writing".

Crucial to the worldview of that place of origin was an earlier phase of Irish Catholicism, and although the religion itself had for Heaney long given way to the secularism characteristic of his literary generation, his categories of discrimination in writing as well as in ethics – almost, you might say, his categories of consciousness itself – continued always to carry a distinctively Catholic inflection. For all his later secularism, Heaney's imagination continued also to be suffused by images of an afterlife. This is figured most powerfully in his later work by allusions to and evocations of Virgil, and especially of the descent into the underworld in Book VI of the Aeneid, part of which Heaney translated in Seeing Things (1991), and which is conjured, absorbed and refracted in the sequence Route 110 in Human Chain.

In such places, the Aeneid seems to constitute a kind of displaced Catholicism, supplying a supportive mythology for a poet whose secularism continued to require such a thing. In the sequence Squarings, in Seeing Things, however, he finds an image all his own for an afterlife that is the almost miraculously continued life of a County Derry landscape:

At any rate, when light breaks over me
The way it did on the road beyond Coleraine
Where wind got saltier, the sky more hurried
And silver lamé shivered on the Bann
Out in mid-channel between the painted poles
That day I'll be in step with what escaped me.

He is survived by Marie, Christopher, Michael and Catherine Ann, and his grandchildren.

• Seamus Justin Heaney, poet, born 13 April 1939; died 30 August 2013

See also

Thursday 29 August 2013

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron: -
Autumn Leaves
I'll See You In My Dreams

Da: -
I'm Just A Loser
Is It Only The Moonlight?

The Elderly Brothers: -
Crying In The Rain
Things We Said Today
The Boxer
When You Walk In The Room
Walk Right Back

A relatively quiet night punter-wise but no let up in the flow of players coming through the door, including a welcome return by the duo known as Completely Bananas.

The real ales were a sight to behold! White Lady, Flying Herbert and beer of the night - Love Muscle.

Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait - Review by Terry Kelly

Image result for another self portrait bob dylan
Album review: Bob Dylan - Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait (1969-1971)

THIS welcome release, No 10 in The Bootleg Series, captures Dylan at the height of his love affair with country music.

Unlike the wreck his voice would later become in concert, the album showcases a crooning, sweet-toned Dylan, bringing a wonderful vocal tenderness to traditional folk ballads like Pretty Saro, Tattle O’Day and Belle Isle.

In a stripped-down, unplugged musical setting, the album features many tracks which have escaped the clutches of even the most avid bootleggers.

As such, it’s a real gem in the ongoing Bootleg Series.

Serious fans will also want the deluxe box set, which includes the first official release of Dylan’s appearance at the 1969 Isle of Wight Concert.


Wednesday 28 August 2013

J. D. Salinger biography and documentary...

New biography of JD Salinger to be published this September
Shrouded in secrecy, The Private War of JD Salinger promises new details about the reclusive author's wartime life

Liz Bury
Tuesday 20 August 2013
An attempt to piece together the life of the notoriously reclusive Catcher in the Rye author JD Salinger, researched over the course of eight years in strict secrecy and including more than 200 interviews, is to be published as a biography on 3 September. A documentary film about the author will be released in the US the same week.

Arriving three years after Salinger's death at the age of 91, The Private War of JD Salinger promises new insights based on accounts from his "World War II brothers-in-arms, family members, close friends, lovers, classmates, neighbours, editors, publishers, New Yorker colleagues and people with whom he had relationships that were secret even to his own family", according to a description on Amazon. The author's literary estate has remained resolutely silent.

Salinger won immediate success with his 1951 debut novel, Catcher in the Rye, and was critically acclaimed for fiction such as Franny and Zooey and For Esmé – with Love and Squalor. After publishing his last book in 1965, he retreated from New York to live in a remote house in New Hampshire, shunning journalists and publicity. Following his death, the authors Shane Salerno (who is also directing the documentary) and David Shields interviewed people who previously refused to go on the record about their relationship with Salinger.

The war journals of Salinger's friends in the counterintelligence unit in which he served during the second world war, along with subsequent letters by four men who remained friends after the war, offer new details about his writing. "They'd have to pull over on the side of the road so Salinger could write down an idea for a story," Salerno told USA Today.

An army officer, Salinger participated in the invasion of Normandy and Battle of the Bulge, and during his military tour met war correspondent Ernest Hemingway. "He [Salinger] thought the war was going to be a romantic experience that all writers needed, but it had a profound effect and changed the way he wrote," Salerno said.

The publisher, Simon & Schuster, put the book under a strict embargo until September. Its New York office paid seven figures for the US and UK rights to the 704-page biography, which will be released simultaneously in both territories. The Weinstein Company snapped up the film earlier this year, as did the US television network PBS. Shrouded in secrecy, the film's crew and other collaborators were told only the barest information about the project on a need-to-know basis.

Tuesday 27 August 2013

Paddy McAloon Interview in Uncut

@prefab_sprout From this month's Uncut

A short piece in the current edition to promote Crimson/Red...

Also good to know that promo copies of the CD have been sent out. Have you got one yet, Terry?

Monday 26 August 2013

Salinger - new works on the way...?

J. D.  Salinger: authors claim posthumous works are on the way
Biographers say they have uncovered the secret of what Salinger was working on in his long years as a literary recluse

Associated Press
Sunday 25 August 2013

The authors of a new JD Salinger biography claim they have cracked one of publishing's greatest mysteries: what the author of The Catcher in the Rye was working on during the last half century of his life.

A series of posthumous Salinger releases are planned after 2015, according to David Shields and Shane Salerno, whose book Salinger will be published on 3 September. The Associated Press obtained an early copy. Salerno's documentary on the author is scheduled to come out 6 September.

Providing by far the most detailed report of previously unreleased material, the book's authors cite "two independent and separate sources" who they say have "documented and verified" the information.

The Salinger books would revisit Catcher protagonist Holden Caulfield and draw on Salinger's World War II years and his immersion in eastern religion. The material also would feature new stories about the Glass family of Franny and Zooey and other Salinger works.

The book does not identify a prospective publisher. Spokesman Terry Adams of Little, Brown, which released Catcher and Salinger's three other books, did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Salinger's son, Matt Salinger, who helps run the author's literary estate, was not immediately available for comment.

If the books do come out, they may well not be through Little, Brown. In the mid-1990s, Salinger agreed to allow a small, Virginia-based press, Orchises, to issue his novella Hapworth 16, 1924, which first appeared in the New Yorker in 1965. But after news leaked of the planned publication, Salinger changed his mind and Hapworth was cancelled.

No Salinger book came out after the early 1960s, as the author increasingly withdrew from public life. Over the past 50 years, there has been endless and conflicting speculation over what Salinger was doing during his self-imposed retirement. That Salinger continued to write is well documented. The author himself told the New York Times in 1974 that he wrote daily, although only for himself.

But there is no consensus on what he was writing and no physical evidence of what Salinger had reportedly stashed in a safe in his home in Cornish, New Hampshire. The Salinger estate, run partly by Matt Salinger and Salinger's widow Colleen O'Neill, has remained silent on the subject since the author's death in January 2010. The two did not co-operate with Salerno and Shields.

Until now, neither Salerno nor Shields have been defined by their expertise on Salinger. Salerno is a Hollywood screenwriter whose credits include Armageddon, the Oliver Stone film Savages and a planned sequel to James Cameron's blockbuster Avatar. Shields has written 13 fiction and non-fiction books.

Their 700-page Salinger biography also features many rare photographs and letters; unprecedented detail about the author's World War II years and brief first marriage; a revelatory interview with Jean Miller, who inspired his classic story For Esme With Love and Squalor; and an account of how Salinger, who supposedly shunned Hollywood for much of his life, nearly agreed to allow Esme to be adapted into a film.

Salerno has been promising to make headlines ever since announcing the biography and film shortly after Salinger's death. Earlier this year, he arranged lucrative deals with the Weinstein Company for a feature film, PBS for TV rights and Simon & Schuster for the book. The filmmaker himself has proved as effective as Salinger at keeping a secret, with only a handful of people even knowing of the project's existence during Salinger's lifetime. Salerno spent $2m of his own money and travelled throughout the US and Europe in search of material.

Salinger never authorised a biography, but several unauthorised books have come out over the past 30 years, notably one by Ian Hamilton. In 1987, Salinger successfully blocked release of Hamilton's JD Salinger: A Writer's Life, citing the use of previously unpublished letters. Hamilton described his legal battle in "Searching for JD Salinger, published in 1988.

Sunday 25 August 2013

Bob Dylan - Another Self Portrait review

Bob Dylan: facing the music
Bob Dylan once dismissed his 1970 album Self Portrait as a joke. But newly released recordings from that era suggest that something serious was going on in the singer's mind

John Harris
The Guardian
Friday 23 August 2013

I don't know if I should keep playing this. Nobody's calling in and saying they want to hear it or anything … usually when something like this happens people say, 'Hey, the new Dylan album,' but not tonight." The words are those of an unspecified radio DJ, quoted in a 1970 Rolling Stone review of the album Self Portrait, a collection of 24 pieces of music that completely confounded its audience. The writer was Greil Marcus, who would go on to write some of the best commentary and criticism about Bob Dylan and his art, and whose opening sentence on this occasion eventually made his piece the most famous record review ever written: "What is this shit?"

All musical oeuvres contain duds. Plenty of musicians fall into phases where such things are all they can produce. This was Dylan's fate for much of the 1980s, as owners of such albums as Empire Burlesque and Down in the Groove will know. Self Portrait, though, is rather different: this was a deliberately bad record, apparently created to distance its creator from his public, and earn him some peace and quiet. "The reason that album was put out [was] so people would just at that time stop buying my records, and they did," Dylan later reflected. That explanation came in 1981; three years later, he described Self Portrait as "a joke".

It reached number one in the UK charts, and number four in America. Even now, millions own it – a strange package, fronted by a faux-naif Dylan painting, in keeping with its title. It comprises covers of songs made famous by the Everly Brothers, Simon and Garfunkel, the singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, and more. Plenty of the tracks are smothered in syrupy arrangements, dubbed on to Nashville sessions at which Dylan was not even present. In three songs taken from his 1969 performance at the Isle of Wight festival with The Band, he sounds tired and detached: even the version of that biting countercultural anthem "Like a Rolling Stone" suggests something played by a half-cut cabaret performer.

The whole thing is stretched over 73 minutes, and the idea that it amounts to some kind of neo-Dadaist prank is there in its opening track. The music could soundtrack the opening titles of a spaghetti western, and a chorus of backing singers intones the same couplet 15 times: "All the tired horses in the sun / How'm I s'posed to get any riding done?" The approved version of the lyrics says "riding"; at times, though, it sounds distinctly like "writing".

In the first volume of Chronicles, the memoir he published in 2004, Dylan explained the genesis of Self Portrait thus: "I just threw everything I could think of at the wall, and whatever stuck, released it." He also put it firmly in the context of a time when he was a new father, trying desperately to keep his life simple, while running away from the droves of young Americans who still thought he was their king, and a purveyor of "message songs".

Having recovered from the motorcycle accident he suffered in June 1966, Dylan had remained in the upstate New York settlement of Woodstock, where he was quickly joined by the musical soulmates who would soon call themselves The Band. To his horror, though, Woodstock also became a magnet for exactly the kind of people he was trying to avoid. Attempting to shake himself free, he wrote, he did "unexpected things like pouring a bottle of whiskey over my head and walking into a department store and act[ing] pie-eyed, knowing that everyone would be talking amongst themselves as I left". His image, he resolved, "would have to be something a bit more confusing, a bit more humdrum". Unintentionally, that serves as a pretty good description of Self Portrait, a record both far too ordinary and completely perplexing.

And then, 43 years after it was recorded, there came some unexpected news. In July this year, Dylan's record company announced the 10th instalment of the so-called Bootleg Series, whose sporadic collections of unreleased archive material began in 1991. From those who follow Dylan closely, there were gasps of surprise at what was about to be released: an anthology, available in both standard and "deluxe" versions, titled Another Self Portrait. A four-minute YouTube film told the essential story: in 2012, a tape had been found containing material from the sessions that produced the original album, which had sparked the idea of returning to this period anew. On the face of it, this rediscovered music told the story of a project that Self Portrait travestied – whose working title, according to one of the musicians involved, might have been Folk Songs of America, pointing to two later albums on which Dylan re-explored the folk repertoire, Good as I Been to You (1992) and World Gone Wrong (1993).

Was this, perhaps, further proof of the modern music industry's tendency to wring even its most lifeless assets dry? The opening sentence of the Marcus review still hangs heavy, and the fact that Self Portrait has long been understood as an act of self-sabotage suggested an obvious update: "What is this new shit?"

But Another Self Portrait is not like that at all. A lot of it is revelatory, confirming that Dylan did indeed begin the Self Portrait period with the intention of creating an anthology of songs that would simultaneously tap back into his roots in orthodox American folk music, while also pushing him somewhere new. There are songs written by the Pennsylvania-born singer-songwriter Eric Andersen and Tom Paxton and Bob Gibson, both folk singers whose age and musical style kept them clear of the counterculture that almost buried Dylan under the weight of its expectations.

Dylan returns to the old Scots ballad "The Daemon Lover" – given its American title "House Carpenter", just as it had been when he first recorded it in 1961 – and the American folk standard "Railroad Bill". As with material that eventually made it on to Self Portrait, where it was adorned with drums, bass and strings, all these songs are arranged simply: Dylan's voice and guitar, additional guitar parts by the New York multi-instrumentalist David Bromberg, and his arranger and bandleader Al Kooper on occasional piano.

But most suprising is the quality of Dylan's singing. As part of the build-up to Another Self Portrait, Sony Music put out a video to accompany a version of an 18th-century English folk song titled "Pretty Saro" – and on this recording, among others, his voice seems able to stretch single syllables into miniature melodies. Sight unseen, you would probably not think it was Dylan you were listening to. His approach develops the softened, country tones he used on Nashville Skyline, which can also be heard in exerpts from the Isle of Wight concert, spruced up and included in the "Deluxe" edition. Around eight years later, after he had reverted to the coarser vocal stylings he developed during the 1960s, Dylan's voice began to slowly fade: it is on this material, much of which has never even made it on to illegal bootlegs, that one probably hears him peak as a singer.

And there is more. Amid the Self Portrait material and Isle of Wight recordings are a smattering of pieces that were recorded during sessions for the albums that book-ended Self Portrait: Nashville Skyline and New Morning.(The latter, chiefly because of the reaction to Self Portrait, was acclaimed as a stunning return to form: "his best album in years", wrote Marcus.) Two items stand out: a version of New Morning's euphoric title track, with an added part for horns written by Al Kooper, and a take of "Sign on the Window" to which Kooper added strings, harp and piccolo.

In contrast to the schmaltzy Self Portrait, no Dylan recording has ever sounded so poised, not least when the music drops and he delivers four great lines: "Build me a cabin in Utah /Marry me a wife, catch rainbow trout / Have a bunch of kids who call me pa / That must be what it's all about."

If this period of Dylan's career has one overriding meaning, these lyrics spell it out. Most of his audience surely did not want to hear such things – not when Vietnam was tearing the country apart and some people were still looking to him for a sign. Moreover, although on paper such lyrics might look so hokey as to suggest an ironic put-on, I think he meant every word: in Chronicles, after all, he writes of fantasising about "a nine-to-five existence, a house on a tree-lined block with a white picket fence, pink roses in the backyard".

In the ultimate irony, Woodstock became not just the name of his adopted hometown, but the setting for the festival that traded on his association with the place, and led him to accept the offer to play the Isle of Wight as a means of escape. Again, Chronicles captures his horror at what was afoot: "The events of the day, all the cultural mumbo jumbo, were imprisoning my soul – nauseating me – civil rights and political leaders being gunned down, the mounting of the barricades, the government crackdowns, the student radicals and demonstrators versus the cops and the unions – the streets exploding, fire of anger boiling – the contra communes – the lying, nosy voices – the free love, the anti-money system movement – the whole shebang. I was determined to put myself beyond the reach of it all. I was a family man now, didn't want to be in that group portrait."

Self-evidently, all this was profoundly political. Dylan, after all, could easily be understood as someone now following small-c conservative impulses, founded on a disdain for the tie-dyed degeneracy into which the hippies had tumbled, and a horror at how divided America had become. On Music for Big Pink, the debut album The Band released in July 1968, the four Canadians and a southerner, who dressed like gold-rush prospectors – had made the same thoughts explicit. That album began with "Tears of Rage", a song with Dylan lyrics that surveyed the USA's generational war: "What dear daughter 'neath the sun / Would treat a father so / To wait upon him hand and foot / And always tell him, No?" On the front of the record was another faux-naif Dylan painting; the gatefold featured a photograph in which the group posed with their families, parents in the foreground – a symbol, their leader Robbie Robertson later said, of "rebelling against the rebellion".

The Band had accompanied him on the homemade recordings that were eventually released as The Basement Tapes – evocations of a long-lost America, captured not just in such original pieces as "I Shall Be Released" and "This Wheel's on Fire", but scores of folk songs. In turn, that music was followed by John Wesley Harding, the pared-down Dylan album full of biblical allusions which led on to Nashville Skyline and the music Dylan recorded with Kooper and Bromberg.

Too many accounts of Dylan's progress have characterised this period as a long, fallow spell in which he lost his way: in fact, aided by some of the most capable musicians he ever worked with, fascinating recordings were pouring out of him. This was not pop music. It remains for grown-ups, full of ambiguities and sadness, and a profound sense of American history. How great to hear it at last, removed from the games its author went on to play with it: a self-portrait so improved as to make the first almost irrelevant.

Saturday 24 August 2013

Beach Boys off day?

Dennis Wilson and The Beach Boys - Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again...

A missing track from Surf's Up

Marian McPartland RIP

Marian McPartland obituary
British-born jazz pianist who emigrated to the US and won a huge following with her National Public Radio show

John Fordham
The Guardian
Wednesday 21 August 2013 

The pianist Marian McPartland, who has died aged 95, made the performance of hard music look ridiculously easy. British-born but resident in the US from the end of the second world war, she was performing vivaciously into her late 80s, and still fronting her radio show two years ago. She appeared to lose virtually none of the graceful precision, infectious bounce and eager improvising adventurousness she had shown in her youth: her appearances in Britain late in her 70s saw her breeze unconcernedly through a rich mixture of standards, originals, Billy Strayhorn classics, the odd John Coltrane modal meditation, and even a stately fugue.

Casual listeners might occasionally sideline this offhand virtuosity as just generic mainstream jazz, the kind of thing murmuring distantly through the hubbub of the world's bars most nights of the week. But a moment's closer attention would reveal there were flashing steel fingers inside McPartland's velvet-gloved approach and that her improvising would sometimes echo the bold phrasing and uncluttered modernism of Bill Evans, or even the hollow, ambiguous chords of an experimenter such as Paul Bley. She had a flawlessly accurate ear, could improvise across shifting keys without a blink, loved all kinds of music and was dedicated to inviting the widest possible audience to feel the same way.

McPartland was one of the most skilful and tasteful of players, from her arrival in the US in 1945 as the wife of American GI and trumpeter Jimmy McPartland, whom she had met while playing for the troops in Belgium the previous year. Her career involved solo work, occasional appearances as a classical recitalist, jazz educational work, perceptive writing on music, composing, and fronting the long-running National Public Radio series Piano Jazz, on which she showcased some of the best pianists. She frequently showed what a fine participator she could be with just a bassist and drummer for company, and always encouraged significant contributions from her partners.

Born Margaret Turner, and brought up in Windsor, she was a piano prodigy from the age of three, studying at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, London, before working under the name Marian Page on the British music-hall circuit – to the considerable displeasure of her parents – with Billy Mayerl's Claviers, a four-piano show. But following her emigration and her marriage to Jimmy, she quickly began to build a career as a jazz soloist.

Soon after her arrival, McPartland sought out and befriended the most influential female instrumentalist in bebop – her fellow pianist Mary Lou Williams – and began regularly working from 1952 at the Hickory House, New York, where she led a fine trio including Joe Morello, the percussionist soon to become famous with Dave Brubeck.

In 1955 McPartland began to initiate projects to introduce jazz to schoolchildren and her enlightened work with black students in Washington DC was significantly ahead of the general thinking on educational issues and race in the US at the time. However, she was encountering storms in her marriage and went through a difficult period during the later 1950s and early 60s, which culminated in an unhappy tour with the bandleader Benny Goodman.

It was Goodman who first sought McPartland out, but he was a notoriously hard man to please and his relationships with musicians were often fractious. Goodman made it abundantly plain that he disliked his new pianist's modernisms and felt she was out of sympathy with his style. McPartland went into therapy at the Menninger Clinic in Kansas after a tour was abandoned following the assassination of President John F Kennedy in 1963 and Goodman expressed nothing but surprise at her need for sympathetic attention.

"I had to tell him he was the reason that was driving me there," McPartland said later, but the treatment turned her life around and led her to conclude with some irony that the curmudgeonly bandleader had done her a favour. She began a parallel life as a jazz broadcaster, discovering she could treat interviews the way she treated small-group improvisation – by knowing when to perform and when to listen.

Growing increasingly independent, McPartland also launched her own Halcyon Records label in 1969 (despite having recorded extensively for big jazz labels including Capitol, Savoy, Argo and Concord in earlier years) and began to tour, play at clubs and give workshops again.

She confirmed her class as a sensitive interpreter on an intimate recorded tribute to the composer Alec Wilder in 1973, and unique reworkings of standard songs, jazz classics by Strayhorn and Benny Carter, and contemporary pieces by Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea flowed from her fingers on memorable sessions in the 1970s and 80s. Though in 1970 she divorced Jimmy, she still threw a 70th birthday party for him seven years later – leading the cornettist to declare his belief "that all married people get divorced and start treating each other like human beings". The couple also performed together at the Newport Jazz festival in 1978.

In June that year, NPR began broadcasting Marian McPartland's Piano Jazz – with the host interviewing her guests from the keyboard, and eventually including practitioners of many instruments, though fellow pianists formed the majority. Artists and performers as different as Dizzy Gillespie, Steely Dan, Studs Terkel and the emerging young star Geri Allen were among the guests.

Through the 1980s, affected by the downturn in jazz's popularity, McPartland returned to classical music, performing Grieg's Piano Concerto across America. She also continued to work tirelessly for jazz education, and turned out to be an eloquent writer on the subject – her engaging pieces were collected in the anthology All in Good Time (1987). She also composed a number of enduring originals, including In the Days of Our Love, With You in Mind and Ambiance.

In the 1990s, the septuagenarian explored the music of John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman, and Lennon and McCartney in the company of the cutting-edge saxophonist Chris Potter; paid a recorded tribute to her old friend Williams; and played an 80th birthday gig at Birdland, New York, as a reunion of her old trio, with the bassist Bill Crow and Morello on drums. For her 85th at Birdland in 2003 (recorded for the Concord label), McPartland was accompanied by a raft of stars but still right at the heart of things, notably in a superb duet with the guitarist Jim Hall.

She went on to win a Grammy in 2004 and was appointed OBE in 2010.

McPartland's ability to make the piano sound soft – even shy – within the most animated of pieces was always a hypnotic aspect of her performances. Her originals deftly bridged the language of Broadway songs with that of more contemporary music.

She once rhapsodically delivered such a solo at London's Pizza on the Park in the 1990s, and – as if anticipating criticism that never came – announced mock-defensively: "I made that record 40 years ago."

"That's when we bought it," declared a couple in the front row.

McPartland kept her friends for a long time. But, for her music and her inclusive spirit, she kept making new ones all through her remarkable life.

• Margaret Marian McPartland, pianist and broadcaster, born 20 March 1918; died 20 August 2013

A Jazz Host Remembered as Inspiration
Norah Jones Remembers the Radio Host Marian McPartland

By Nate Chinen
23 August 2013

Marian McPartland, who died on Tuesday at 95, was an erudite jazz pianist whose career stretched back to the heyday of 52nd Street. But she will be best remembered for “Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz,” the public radio show she hosted for more than 30 years, featuring duets and conversation with an array of musicians.

Some of those guests, like Eubie Blake, were her elders, others her accomplished peers. And some grew up listening to the show. That was the case for Norah Jones, who was an aspiring jazz pianist in Texas before she moved to New York and made her name as a singer-songwriter.

Ms. Jones, 34, first appeared on “Piano Jazz” shortly after releasing her debut album, “Come Away With Me” (Blue Note), which earned eight Grammy Awards. “It made me happy because I had listened to Marian for so long,” she said. “My mom and her ended up becoming friends, writing letters for the last 10 years.”

Speaking by phone from her apartment in Brooklyn, Ms. Jones reflected on both Ms. McPartland and the show. Here are some excerpts:

FIRST LISTEN My first exposure to Marian McPartland actually wasn’t through “Piano Jazz.” When I was 14 or 15, my mom took me to a free concert in Dallas with Marian and her trio. I was already into jazz and going to a performing arts school. But up until then I hadn’t seen a lot of women perform jazz, certainly no women instrumentalists. And to see this lady who was my grandmother’s age up there, playing with a piano trio, was just the coolest thing I’d ever seen.

I went to school that week, and I had a teacher, Kent Ellingson, who had every “Piano Jazz” show on cassette. So I dubbed all the tapes, and listened to almost all of them.

PLAYING WITH HER I was actually on her show twice. I like how she would play one song herself, one of the artist’s songs. She did that with me; she played “Don’t Know Why” and completely reharmonized it. And she’ll let you play something, and then you get to play together.

I was really nervous, but I wasn’t nervous about her not being cool. She was just the most sweet, welcoming, motherly sweetheart: polite, very British, but very warm. I remember her smile after we would finish a tune. You can kind of hear it on the radio. She says something like “Uh! That was marvelous,” and you could see it on her face. It was nice, after hearing those Marianisms on the radio, to be the recipient of one.

My second “Piano Jazz” was at the Tanglewood Jazz Festival in 2003. That show was probably one of the bigger shows we had done at the time. Yesterday I listened to that recording, and I sing so differently now. I still thought of myself as a jazz musician then. I really played that music; I lived it and breathed it, even though my first album was not straight-ahead jazz.

WHAT SHE WAS LIKE A friend was recently telling me about some show that Marian did where the guest wasn’t very respectful, and she took care of business. So maybe we should add that she was a tough broad, too.

Playing jazz as a woman, back in the day, I’m sure it was hard for her. And that fact that she found this thing that she’s so good at, and became really successful at age 60, that’s awesome. I think music can keep you young, if you never stop using your mind in that way. That’s what was so cool about her. She seemed genuinely excited about every guest, even to the end.

Thursday 22 August 2013

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron: -
Autumn Leaves
Need Your Love So Bad

Da: -
I Don't Want To Talk About It
Mind Your Own Business

The Elderly Brothers: -
The Price Of Love
Love Hurts
Crying In The Rain
Let It Be

A strangely quiet night given that it was the the first day of the Ebor Meet. One or two racing types about but not the usual drunken rabble - which was nice!

A musical mixed bag as usual with both original tunes and covers to amuse and confound the casual listener.

This weekend, The Elderly Brothers will be doing a Sunday show at The Habit 4 - 8pm. It's free and there's beer to be drunk, so come on down!

Wednesday 21 August 2013

Elmore Leonard RIP

Elmore Leonard obituary
Crime writer known for Get Shorty, Out of Sight and Hombre whose work served as a barometer of modern America

Nick Kimberley
The Guardian
Tuesday 20 August 2013

When Elmore Leonard's Stick was published in Britain in 1984, one newspaper called it "a fine first novel". At almost 60, the author would have been amused at such an accolade; it was, in fact, his 21st novel, and Leonard, who has died aged 87, had been selling his fiction regularly, occasionally to Hollywood. But the genres in which he chose to work often failed to attract serious critical attention: westerns first, then crime novels set in the contemporary urban hinterlands.

Westerns as a literary genre still lack respectability, but the craft and energy of Leonard's crime novels, which include Get Shorty, Out of Sight and LaBrava, eventually made them impossible to ignore. Still, recognition came late: only in 1992 did the Mystery Writers of America grant him its highest accolade, the Grand Master Edgar. In 2009, his lifetime achievements were recognised by both the Western Writers of America and PEN USA. By then, Leonard's appeal went far beyond generic boundaries. In 1998, Martin Amis, in the course of a somewhat idolatrous interview with Leonard at the Writers' Guild in Beverly Hills, declared him "as close as anything you have here in America to a national novelist". He also revealed that Saul Bellow had Leonard's work on his bookshelves.

Leonard was born in New Orleans. His father was a General Motors executive whose job entailed a nomadic existence. The family spent the first 10 years of Elmore's life travelling the American south and he retained traces of a southern drawl. After second world war service in the US naval reserve, he graduated with an English degree from the University of Detroit. For 11 years, from 1950, he was employed as a copywriter for a Detroit agency, mostly writing car ads. Interviewed years later, he pronounced adverbs in fiction "a moral sin: I used up all my adverbs when I was writing car catalogues for Chevrolet". Getting up at five every morning and writing fiction for two hours before going to work, he maintained a decent output without relying on it for an income.

After he left the agency, he spent several years providing scripts for educational films, including for Encyclopaedia Britannica films. Here, too, he learned something that stayed with him: "Don't say what you see; don't describe what's obvious." That apparent detachment from an authorial point of view was one of the distinguishing characteristics of his fiction. "I don't want you to be aware of me in my books. I'm not ever telling the story. When you're reading a novel, you don't want people telling you things, you want to see it, to hear it."

By 1967 he was selling enough fiction to abandon advertising. He had sold his first story, Trail of the Apache, in 1951. His earliest fictions, whether short stories or full-length novels, were westerns, because, he later confessed, he liked cowboy movies and he hoped to sell to Hollywood. At first it was magazines that bought his work, not only such pulps as Dime Western and Gunsmoke, but also the more respectable Argosy and Saturday Evening Post. His first novel, The Bounty Hunters, appeared in 1953. Other westerns followed, the titles more generic than the stories themselves: The Law at Randado (1954), Escape from Five Shadows (1956), Last Stand at Saber River (1959).

Like most writers of westerns, he relied on movies for much of his imagery, but Leonard had taken the time to do a modicum of fact-finding, about which he would later be characteristically self-deprecating: "I cribbed most of my research. I subscribed to Arizona Highways, a pictorial magazine with stunning shots of the landscape, full of articles about the old west ... Once I'd done my research, I began to sound as if I knew what I was talking about and my stories began to sell." Much later, he would be able to afford to pay professional researchers.

It was not long before Hollywood took note with The Tall T (1957), directed by Budd Boetticher, and 3:10 to Yuma, based on a 9,000-word story published in 1953, and filmed by Delmer Daves in 1957. Dime Western paid him $90 for the piece, and he got $4,000 for the screen rights: a pittance in comparison to the deals that came his way later (not least when the film was remade in 2007 with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale). His 1961 novel Hombre was filmed in 1967 by Martin Ritt, with Paul Newman among its stars, but, although he got $10,000 for screen rights, Leonard realised that the market for westerns was running dry. Surprisingly, given his talent for dialogue, he wrote few movie scripts: among the more notable were The Moonshine War, for Richard Quine in 1970 (he later "novelised" his own screenplay), and John Sturges's Joe Kidd, in 1972. The latter starred Clint Eastwood, a passable incarnation of Leonard's self-contained heroes.

Writing against the grain, he continued to publish westerns, notably Valdez is Coming (1970) and Gunsights (1979). By then he already had a reputation as a writer of distinctly tough crime novels, beginning with The Big Bounce (1969). Others included Swag (1976) and Unknown Man No 89 (1977). These provided Leonard with his true milieu: street-hardened good guys doing battle against mean and fearless bad guys, not in order to restore the moral order, but as the only way to stay alive in the wildernesses of Miami and Detroit, his preferred locations. Later, he broadened his geographical horizons, writing novels set in Cuba and Rwanda, but Detroit and Miami remained his cardinal points.

What his writing always showed was a sense of how notions of law and order are in abeyance when men get desperate; and desperation, albeit infused with gallows humour, was the atmosphere Leonard's characters breathed. The more he wrote, the more a streak of sentimentality began to emerge, in part an inheritance of his cowboy writings. The structural similarity of his crime fiction to his westerns was sufficiently pronounced for City Primeval (1980) to be subtitled "High Noon in Detroit", but the whiff of danger was always stronger than the perfume of romantic love.

I met Leonard when he was on the interview circuit in London in 1997. By then his fiction had made him a millionaire, not only through sales of his books but also through the income derived from movie rights: Burt Reynolds filmed Stick in 1985 (Leonard provided the script but hated the movie), while Quentin Tarantino's 1997 film Jackie Brown was derived from Leonard's Rum Punch (1992). At the time I met him, Leonard had just finished Cuba Libre, and he enjoyed telling me about his (or his researcher's) studies of 19th-century American obscenities: "cocksucker" was a favoured term at the time, he said, though he hadn't much need to use it; on the other hand, he was particularly pleased to find the word "fly", meaning snappily dressed, in O Henry, when he had thought it 1970s black street-talk. Those kind of linguistic details were an important imaginative hook on which he could hang a character.

Leonard proved an affable talker, filling my allotted hour without effort and then calling a halt gracefully. He had precise recall for names and faces and spoke with fond animosity about the rogues, cheats and charlatans he had encountered in Hollywood decades before. He spoke rather less fondly of some of the films made from his books: of The Big Bounce, filmed in 1969 as a showcase for Ryan O'Neal's winsome good looks, he commented, "I used to say that [it] was the second-worst movie ever made, because there's got to be one worse than that, but I don't know what it would be."

Nevertheless he acknowledged that Hollywood had supported his novel-writing for years. He readily admitted benefiting from Hemingway's influence, although not necessarily more than from writing for Encyclopaedia Britannica films. He had a film-maker's eye for setting up a scene and editing the action within it, yet it was his abrasive dialogue that proved his greatest asset: as Tarantino acknowledged, reading Leonard "helped me figure out my style". He had an acute ear for the stops and starts, the detours, switchbacks and inventive obscenities of conversation. If it felt as if he had simply switched on a tape recorder to catch what he called "the rhythm, the beats", it was in fact the work of a finely tuned imagination.

He occasionally used the same character in more than one novel, and admitted to me that his main character was often "the same guy with a different name". That guy was a tarnished hero, usually but not invariably male, unafraid to break the law but with a fundamental sense of decency, if not of legality. Against him ranged the forces, not of law and order, but of chaos and violence. They were invariably embodied in one wrongdoer whose skills in murder, mutilation and mayhem were chillingly refined.

Each of these villains was a kind of diabolus ex machina whose predictably unpredictable behaviour permitted the action to unfold with maximum risk to everyone they encountered. They, too, might be essentially "the same guy", but each had special talents: Bobby Deo in Riding the Rap (1995), for example, was a careful gardener who found unusual uses for his secateurs.

To call Leonard's style a formula would be to cheapen it, but when he departed from it, the results were less convincing: Touch (1987) was a bizarre fable reflecting Leonard's own discovery of Christianity and his abandonment of alcohol, while Cuba Libre (1998) was a kind of Cuban western, although Leonard failed to find much life in the 1898 Spanish-American war. Touch, Get Shorty (1990), Out of Sight (1996) and Be Cool (1999) were all adapted for the cinema; Out of Sight also spawned a TV series, Karen Sisco. The US marshal Raylan Givens, a secondary character who appeared in both Pronto (1993) and Riding the Rap, later became the focus for the TV series Justified, for which Leonard acted as executive producer. The success of the series prompted Leonard to reintroduce Givens in his 2012 novel Raylan, which in turn borrowed characters from the TV series.

He departed from his usual output with the children's novel A Coyote's in the House (2004). It depicted the tough and often violent lives of a gang of coyotes living on the fringes of human society, or at least of Hollywood. The story shared many of the characteristics of Leonard's crime novels: it was written in a version of his familiar hardboiled demotic, and its coyote characters had names such as Antwan and Ramona, the kind that cropped up in his adult fiction.

In 2001, the New York Times published Leonard's Ten Rules of Writing, folksy but well-considered advice, and not only for those who wanted to write like Leonard: "Never open a book with weather", "Keep your exclamation points under control" and so on. He added: "My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I rewrite it." Leonard made it sound easy, but of course it wasn't. He may not have been an innovator, but his best novels were a more accurate barometer of contemporary America than the respectable profundities of "quality" fiction, even if it took the critics 30 years to catch up with him.

Leonard married three times, in 1949 to Beverly Cline (the couple divorced in 1977); in 1979 to Joan Shephard, who died in 1993; and later that year to Christine Kent (the couple divorced in 2012). He is survived by the five children of his first marriage, Jane, Peter, Christopher, Bill and Katy. Peter published his first novel, Quiver, in 2008. It bore clear traces of his father's influence, but he was not the only writer who learned from Elmore Leonard.

• Elmore John Leonard, writer, born 11 October 1925; died 20 August 2013

Tuesday 20 August 2013

Orson Welles' Too Much Johnson 'rediscovered'

Early Film by Orson Welles Is Rediscovered
By Dave Kehr
7 August 2013

In 1941, Orson Welles made his debut as a feature film director with “Citizen Kane,” a fact well known to everyone who has ever taken Film 101.

Less well known is that “Kane” wasn’t Welles’s debut as a filmmaker. That distinction belongs to “Hearts of Age,” an eight-minute parody of an avant-garde allegory that Welles, as the world’s most precocious teenager, codirected with a friend, William Vance, at the Todd School for Boys in Woodstock, Ill. Amazingly, that 1934 effort, in which Welles wears old-age makeup that anticipates the elderly Kane, has survived, and can even be seen on YouTube.

But neither was “Kane” Welles’s first professional encounter with the cinema. That happened three years before his Hollywood debut, in the form of about 40 minutes of footage intended to be shown with “Too Much Johnson,” a revival of an 1894 farce that Welles intended to bring to Broadway for the 1938 season of his Mercury Theater.

The cast of “Too Much Johnson” included several members of his Mercury troupe: Joseph Cotten, Arlene Francis, Howard Smith, Edgar Barrier, Mary Wickes and Welles’s wife at the time, Virginia Nicholson, billed under her stage name, Anna Stafford. The music was composed by Paul Bowles (who later wrote “The Sheltering Sky”); legend has it that an aspiring comedian named Judith Tuvim, later Judy Holliday, was one of the extras.

For generations, Welles scholars have been intrigued by “Too Much Johnson,” which would seem to represent Welles’s first real experience composing a film to be seen by a paying public, with the support of a professional cast and a professional crew. But for over 50 years, no print had been known to exist.
Welles never quite finished editing the large amount of footage he shot for “Too Much Johnson,” and when the show folded out of town, after a disastrous preview in Stony Creek, Conn., he set the film aside and forgot about it.

Sometime in the 1960s, as Welles told Frank Brady for an article in the November 1978 issue of American Film, he came across the material again, in his villa in Spain. “I can’t remember whether I had it all along and dug it out of the bottom of a trunk, or whether someone brought it to me, but there it was,” Welles recalled. “I screened it, and it was in perfect condition, with not a scratch on it. It had a fine quality. Cotten was magnificent, and I immediately made plans to edit it and send it to Joe as a birthday present.”

Regrettably, while Welles was away for an acting job, a fire destroyed the villa and most of its contents. “Too Much Johnson,” which had been shot on highly inflammable nitrate stock, had apparently been lost to the ages.

But things have turned out otherwise. “Too Much Johnson” has reappeared — discovered not in Spain but in the warehouse of a shipping company in the northern Italian port city of Pordenone, where the footage had apparently been abandoned sometime in the 1970s. Old films turn up with some regularity under similar circumstances — independent filmmakers aren’t always known for promptly paying their storage bills — but because nitrate becomes even more dangerously unstable as it ages, the usual practice is to junk it as quickly as possible.

This time, though, the movie gods were smiling. Pordenone happens to be home to Cinemazero, a cultural organization that regularly screens classic films, and which each fall partners with the Cineteca del Friuli to present Le Giornate del Cinema Muto, a gathering of scholars and cinephiles with a special dedication to the shadowy corners of film history.

The Cinemazero staff realized what they’d found and turned the footage over to George Eastman House in Rochester, where the work of stabilizing the film and transferring it to modern safety stock is proceeding with support from the National Film Preservation Foundation. “Too Much Johnson” is scheduled to have its premiere in Pordenone during this year’s festival, which begins on Oct. 5, and will be screened at Eastman House on Oct. 16. If the financing can be found, the foundation will offer the film over the Internet later in the year.

In the meantime, the frame enlargements from “Too Much Johnson” that have been released suggest a young filmmaker — Welles was all of 23 at the time — with a striking command of his medium. The images are unmistakably his, with their strong, close-cropped compositions, powerful diagonals and insistent, ironic use of the “heroic angle” — the positioning of the camera to look up at the actor as if he were a statue posed on a pedestal.
There are no heroes in “Too Much Johnson” — only a frantic womanizer from Yonkers named Augustus Billings (played by Cotten). Billings has been carrying on an extramarital indiscretion under the invented identity of the owner of a plantation in Cuba named Johnson — a figure who, inconveniently enough, actually exists, as Billings discovers when he arrives in Santiago, in the company of his wife (Nicholson), his mother-in-law (Wickes) and a jealous husband (Barrier).

Each act of the play — written by the celebrated actor William Gillette as a vehicle for himself — was to begin with a film segment. The first (and most nearly completed in the rediscovered print) was a chase across Lower Manhattan shot in the style of a silent comedy, complete with Keystone Kop-like pursuers, a suffragist parade to barrel through and Cotten tottering on the edge of a skyscraper like Harold Lloyd in “Safety Last.”

Working with Paul Dunbar, a cameraman with Pathé News, Welles shot a large amount of footage for “Too Much Johnson” — some 25,000 feet, nearly four hours’ worth — and apparently had a good time doing it. Home movies of the shoot, taken by a Mercury Theater investor and preserved in the Pacific Film Archive, show Welles wearing a battered straw hat and bellowing orders to his actors, who are splashing around in a flooded Hudson Valley rock quarry meant to represent the Caribbean. Laughing and animated, the slim, young Welles is clearly already under the spell of the apparatus he would call, at the time of “Kane,” “the biggest electric train set any boy ever had.”

For Simon Callow, the British actor, director and Welles biographer (“The Road to Xanadu”), the most important development came next, as Welles sequestered himself with an editing machine in his suite at the St. Regis in Manhattan in a frantic attempt to assemble the film in time for the play’s out-of-town tryout.

“The great thing that happened to him on ‘Too Much Johnson’ was that he discovered editing, and began to see the possibilities,” Mr. Callow wrote in an e-mail from London. “I suspect that at that point he suddenly lost interest in the production altogether and would have loved to have continued his celluloid self-education.”

The education ended abruptly. For reasons that remain unclear — perhaps because a few cast members complained to Actors Equity that they weren’t being paid enough to appear in a film; perhaps because the Connecticut theater couldn’t accommodate a movie projector — the prologue footage was scrapped. The play didn’t make much sense without it, and the decision was made not to take it to Broadway, much to Welles’s disappointment.

“He was a complete tyro,” Mr. Callow wrote, “discovering a new medium and unsure how it would work.”

Come October, we’ll at last be in a position to know if it did.

Monday 19 August 2013

When the boat goes out...

John Charlton - The Women (1910)

When a storm prevented the Cullercoats lifeboat from being launched to go to the aid of The Lovely Nellie in 1861, it was towed overland by horses and villagers and launched three miles up the coast between Whitley Bay and St. Mary's Island. Charlton depicts the women of the village pulling the boat down the bank of the Briar Dene.

Right click on the picture and open in a new window for a larger version.

Sunday 18 August 2013

William McIlvanney and Tartan Noir...

How William McIlvanney invented tartan noir
His Glasgow gumshoe Laidlaw laid the blueprint for Rebus and co – but William McIlvanney became the forgotten man of tartan noir. Crime novelist Doug Johnstone hails the return of the writer who inspired a generation

Doug Johnstone
The Guardian
Sunday 11 August 2013

The messiah has returned. That's the rather odd feeling among the Scottish crime-writing community at the moment – because the so-called "godfather of tartan noir" is back after years in the wilderness.

In case you don't realise, I'm speaking about William McIlvanney. McIlvanney hasn't actually spent years in the wilderness – he's always been an admired writer in his homeland, though his renown hasn't spread beyond the borders in quite the way some of us think it should have.

McIlvanney isn't a crime writer per se; he's also written literary novels, short stories, essays and poetry since the 60s. But he did happen to write three crime novels, starting with Laidlaw in 1977, that acted as a hard-bitten blueprint for all Scottish crime fiction to come, inspiring a generation of writers to take on the genre in his wake.

Laidlaw's eponymous detective is an existentially troubled individual with a strong moral compass and a stronger sense of socialist justice. The Glasgow he stalks is a brutal place, rife with depravation and poverty, yet depicted with dark humour and perceptive, poetic prose. The plot reads like a cliche today, but that's because McIlvanney was first to do it. The murderer of a teenager has to be found and, well, that's it. But McIlvanney subverts expectations, and gives away whodunit early on, focusing instead on the psyches of characters that represent different facets of Glasgow, and by extension Scotland. In a time when English crime writers were still copying Agatha Christie, McIlvanney took the hardboiled ethos of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett and applied it to the working classes of the city around him. It was a revelation.

Now, Laidlaw is back. McIlvanney's event at this year's Edinburgh international book festival is entitled The Triumphant Return of Laidlaw. All three of his crime novels have been given a new lease of life by his new publishers Canongate, and he's talking about writing a new Laidlaw book in the not-too-distant future. He's being cannily marketed to the next generation of readers, who may not realise there was life before Rebus.

How did this come about? Rewind two years: at a sold-out event in Edinburgh, McIlvanney reminisced about his career. But though he was as charming and erudite as ever – he has the old-school movie star charisma of Clark Gable or Sean Connery – the evening had an air of winding-down about it. At the end, McIlvanney mentioned offhand that many of his novels were out of print, including the Laidlaw books. Two thoughts came into my head as he said it. The first was: "If Willie is out of print, what the hell are the chances for the rest of us?" The second was: "If I was a publisher, I'd be collaring him outside the venue sharpish.

It turns out there were several publishers in the room with the same idea. The most determined was Francis Bickmore, publishing director at the super-sharp Canongate. Today, you only have to look at the cover of the new edition to see the debt the tartan-noir scene owes to McIlvanney. Cover quotes from Ian Rankin, Val McDermid, Denise Mina, Peter May and Chris Brookmyre, all effusive with praise. Bickmore describes it as "Raymond Chandler meets Albert Camus", which pretty much nails it.

Last year I was in the green room of Bloody Scotland, the country's crime-writing festival. McIlvanney was there, and all the other writers, without fail, were queuing up to shake him by the hand. In fact, he was just about the only thing anyone talked about the whole weekend.

This is, after all, the man who inspired Ian Rankin. Rankin tells the story of attending a reading of McIlvanney's back in the day, and letting him know in the signing queue afterwards that he was trying to write a crime novel set in Edinburgh. "Good luck with the Edinburgh Laidlaw," Willie wrote in Rankin's copy of his novel Docherty.

So William McIlvanney is responsible for tartan noir – though he certainly didn't coin the phrase. That honour goes to James Ellroy who apparently described Ian Rankin as "the king of tartan noir". Ian tells it differently, though, claiming he suggested the phrase semi-jokingly to Ellroy in yet another signing queue, only for Ellroy to then inscribe his book with it.

Whichever way you slice it, us Scottish crime writers are now stuck with the term. Some are ambivalent about the label, suggesting that it sounds flippant. And there is an understandable reluctance by writers to be lumped together. After all, can one single word sum up the biting satire of Chris Brookmyre's Attack of the Unsinkable Rubber Ducks as well as the social critique of Denise Mina's award-winning The End of the Wasp Season? As for myself, I don't even write about detectives solving crimes; my thrillers are set against everyday domestic backdrops. Does that make me tartan noir?

In the end, labels don't matter a toss to writers or readers – only to those marketing books. But maybe there is something that holds us all together: a down-to-earth quality, an unflinching eye on the social context of crime, a focus on the bleakly, blackly comic side of life and death that we learnt from McIlvanney. Or maybe it's just down to the miserable weather.

Saturday 17 August 2013

Woody Allen: What I've Learned...

Interviewed by Cal Fussman
Published in the September 2013 issue of Esquire

My two teenage girls think of me as ancient. But I'm up before them and wake them to go to school.

What people who don't write don't understand is that they think you make up the line consciously — but you don't. It proceeds from your unconscious. So it's the same surprise to you when it emerges as it is to the audience when the comic says it. I don't think of the joke and then say it. I say it and then realize what I've said. And I laugh at it, because I'm hearing it for the first time myself.

Without fear, you'd never survive.

My dad didn't even teach me how to shave — I learned that from a cabdriver. But the biggest lesson he imparted is that if you don't have your health, you have nothing. No matter how great things are going for you, if you have a toothache, if you have a sore throat, if you're nauseated, or, God forbid, you have some serious thing wrong with you — everything is ruined.

A corned-beef sandwich would be sensational, or one of those big, fat frankfurters, you know, with the mustard. But I don't eat any of that stuff. I haven't had a frankfurter in, I would say, forty-five years. I don't eat enjoyable foods. I eat for my health.

Marshall McLuhan predicted books would become art objects at some point. He was right.

My mother taught me a value — rigid discipline. My father didn't earn enough, and my mother took care of the money and the family, and she had no time for lightness. She always saw the glass a third full. She taught me to work and not to waste time.

I never see a frame of anything I've done after I've done it. I don't even remember what's in the films. And if I'm on the treadmill and I'm surfing the channels and suddenly Manhattan or some other picture comes on, I go right past it. If I saw Manhattan again, I would only see the worst. I would say: "Oh, God, this is so embarrassing. I could have done this. I should have done that." So I spare myself.

In the shower, with the hot water coming down, you've left the real world behind, and very frequently things open up for you. It's the change of venue, the unblocking the attempt to force the ideas that's crippling you when you're trying to write.

If you're born with a gift, to behave like it's an achievement is not right.

I love Mel Brooks. And I've had wonderful times working with him. But I don't see any similarities between Mel and myself except, you know, we're both short Jews. That's where it ends. His style of humor is completely different. But Bob Hope? I'm practically a plagiarist.

We took a tour of the Acropolis late in the morning, and I looked down upon the theater and felt a connection. I mean, this is where Oedipus debuted. It's amazing for someone who's spent his life in show business or worked in dramatic art to look down at the theater where, thousands of years ago, guys like Mike Nichols and Stephen Sondheim and David Mamet were in togas, thinking, Gee, I can't get this line to work. You know, I've been working on it all night. And that actor, he doesn't know how to deliver it. Sophocles and Euripides and Aristophanes. The costumes are late, and we gotta go on!

It's been said about marriage "You have to know how to fight." And I think there's some wisdom to that. People who live together get into arguments. When you're younger, those arguments tend to escalate, or there's not any wisdom that overrides the argument to keep in perspective. It tends to get out of hand. When you're older, you realize, "Well, this argument will pass. We don't agree, but this is not the end of the world." Experience comes into play.

Back when I started, when I opened Take the Money and Run, the guys at United Artists accumulated the nation's criticisms into a pile this big and I read them all. Texas, Oklahoma, California, New England... That's when I realized that it's ridiculous. I mean, the guy in Tulsa thinks the picture's a masterpiece, and the guy in Vermont thinks it's the dumbest thing he's ever seen. Each guy writes intelligently. The whole thing was so pointless. So I abandoned ever, ever reading any criticisms again. Thanks to my mother, I haven't wasted any time dwelling on whether I'm brilliant or a fool. It's completely unprofitable to think about it.

You can only do so much, and then you're at the mercy of fortune.

Me sitting down for dinner with Ingmar Bergman felt like a house painter sitting down with Picasso.

It's just an accident that we happen to be on earth, enjoying our silly little moments, distracting ourselves as often as possible so we don't have to really face up to the fact that, you know, we're just temporary people with a very short time in a universe that will eventually be completely gone. And everything that you value, whether it's Shakespeare, Beethoven, da Vinci, or whatever, will be gone. The earth will be gone. The sun will be gone. There'll be nothing. The best you can do to get through life is distraction. Love works as a distraction. And work works as a distraction. You can distract yourself a billion different ways. But the key is to distract yourself.

A guy will say, "Well, I make my luck." And the same guy walks down the street and a piano that's been hoisted drops on his head. The truth of the matter is your life is very much out of your control.