Sunday 29 September 2013

Woody Allen on Blue Jasmine, movies and life...

Woody Allen on Blue Jasmine: 'You see tantrums in adults all the time'Woody Allen is back with a shock masterpiece that brings Greek tragedy to the story of a self-destructive socialite played by Cate Blanchett. He talks about rage, tolerance and some men's misgivings about feminism

Catherine Shoard
The Guardian
Thursday 26 September 2013

Woody Allen does not look like a samurai. He looks, at 77, like a Woody Allen action doll, so tiny and iconic you have to sit on your hands so as not to pick him up and put him on the mantelpiece. His green shirt balloons round his body, baggy slacks winched up high. I'm lucky I have a morning slot, he says, extending dinky fingers – these days, he's snoring by four. He smiles mildly, left eye creased, hearing aid in one ear. The world knows Woody as a lover not a fighter. As he approaches 80, that hasn't changed

And yet it is to a Japanese assassin, a stone-cold swordsman, that his two most recent collaborators compare him. John Turturro, who directed Allen as an unlikely pimp in the forthcoming Fading Gigolo, says it first. "Sure, a samurai," he shrugs. "He's one of the toughest people I've met." Then Cate Blanchett, whom Allen directed in Blue Jasmine. She seizes on the word with something approaching relief. "Yeah! A very little samurai with glasses. I think he'd like that description."

He doesn't. Or, at least, he doesn't recognise it. It takes three takes before he twigs what I'm saying. "A samurai?" he says, finally. "I'd hardly say a samurai." He laughs, aghast. But they're right. Woody is a warrior. He just doesn't know it yet.

The first shock of his new film is its quality. Our critic Peter Bradshaw gave Blue Jasmine five stars and hailed it as his best in 20 years. For the Allen aficionado, accustomed to diminishing returns, it feels less like the oft-hailed "return to form" than a minor miracle.

Its ferocity is the second. Midnight in Paris, his biggest box-office earner to date, might have lulled you into assuming late-stage Allen was pipe-and-slippers stuff. But Blue Jasmine is a bruiser of a movie, a Greek tragedy that dispatches a Park Avenue princess with a massive slap.

The idea came from Soon-Yi, his wife of 16 years, who told him about the friend of a friend – the wife of a financier who imploded after learning her husband was unfaithful and involved in Ponzi-ish fraud. Critics have feasted on the age-of-Madoff topicality. Allen is unconvinced.

"No. I had none of that in mind," he says. "I don't engage with public events any more than I ever did. In real life of course I vote, I campaign for people I like, I'm interested in public events. But in writing I'm not, and I wasn't here in any way. It's strictly accidental."

Jasmine, broke and shaky, goes to stay with adopted sister Ginger (Sally Hawkins) in her boxy San Francisco flat. Doom isn't definite. She scrapes a job as a dental receptionist, attracts a glossy suitor in Peter Sarsgaard. But, in the background, we're drip-fed details of what went wrong before. And, almost as ominous, we see the attempts of shelf-stacker Ginger, under Jasmine's influence, to swap her car-mechanic fiance, Chilli, for a more middle-class model.

OK: it's not topical. And Allen is sceptical about theories that say it's a modern spin on A Streetcar Named Desire. So maybe it's a public service broadcast? A warning for siblings who might egg each other over the precipice? (Allen and Soon Yi have two adoptive daughters of their own, now teenagers.)

Allen shuts the lid politely. "A cautionary fable? No. I just thought it was an interesting psychological situation for a woman to be in. This is not a character I'd have written 40 years ago. I wouldn't have had the skill to do it, and I didn't come in contact with this type of woman until I got older, because I live in an upscale neighbourhood in New York."

Allen's career can be charted through his gender adventures. In his "early, funny" films, women were sexy accessories. Then came the Diane Keaton years and the Mia Farrow era, and a stream of female characters that rank as some of the most richly and compassionately realised ever.Following the Farrow split in 1992, a slide back towards stereotype. The love letters regressed into caricatures. And now, out of nowhere, a masterpiece.

Allen has spoken before about his fondness for "kamikaze women", who destroy you in the fallout; Jasmine is cut from the same cloth, yet untroubled by charm. As the film unfolds, you expect revelations that will heighten your sympathy. What you get is further incriminating evidence. It's a character study. It's also character assassination.

I was surprised, I say, he wasn't more on side with someone who seeks solace in a fantasy world. "Well, you're just asking for trouble, if you do that," he says, concern in his voice. "It's very seductive and I've done it a certain amount, but it does take a terrific toll. If you try and live your life with other people in offices and in the street and in your social intercourse I think it can be brutal."

Jasmine forever protests it is feelings which maketh the man, not hard facts. Again, not total anathema to Allen, you'd think. But he's adamantly anti. "Ninety-nine per cent of decisions are predicated on feelings – instinctive, emotional, fears, conflicts, unresolved childhood problems. They're our dominant motivating factor, not reason or rationality or common sense. And that's why the world is in a terrible, terrible state. Human relations are hard and brutal and painful, and the world is in a dreadful state politically. And that's because feelings govern almost everything in every sphere."

It is in giving in to them that Jasmine seals her fate. At a pivotal moment, she succumbs to what Allen calls, in both script and conversation, a "tantrum". That's what snaps his tolerance. "She could have gotten a divorce, forgiven him, had a talk with him, moved out of the house. But she just hit the ceiling blindly and went on a rampage that brought destruction upon her whole household. She never stopped to think out the consequences of her raging moment. You see tantrums in adults all the time. You're driving on the highway and a car bumps you and the driver gets out and he's ready to tear your head off."

But do some people have a greater propensity for self-destruction? "Yes, absolutely." Why? "Well, I think that's genetic. Or at least somewhat genetic and somewhat nurture. The genetic component works in terms of a proclivity towards tantrums and depending on the kind of childhood they've had, how much rage they assimilate and injustices and terrible things or perceived failure work together on you as you grow up."

Allen may have witnessed such combustions. But he seems forever unflappable. Sure, he plays neurotics, but beneath that twitchy exterior there's a clear head, sturdy heart and – according to Diane Keaton – "balls of steel". He prizes poise, particularly in himself.

"I think he's incredibly disciplined," says Blanchett, backing up that samurai theory. "People talk about how hands-off he is and how he likes to give actors free rein but he knows exactly what he doesn't want. He eats the same thing for breakfast, wears the same clothes every day. I mean, he washes them – but he has 20 of that same Ralph Lauren silhouette."

And such intensity of focus doesn't sit ill with Allen's self-deprecation. The more you really do think that "80% of success is showing up," the more organise your life around arriving on time. The virtues of graft were drummed in by his parents, Nettie, a bookkeeper and Martin, an engraver – so successfully that at 17 Woody was earning more than them both combined, rattling out gags for comedians and columnists. By 19, he was on $1,500 a week and working for Sid Caesar. He still makes a film a year, on time, on budget, like clockwork. (When we first meet in Paris, he's just finished shooting a Riviera romance with Colin Firth and Emma Stone. A fortnight later, we speak on the phone, and he's fresh from finishing the rough cut.)

This traditionalism can take you aback. It's easy to forget, watching him talk, viewing old films, even seeing him goof about with a gaggle of kids in Fading Gigolo, that Allen is the product of pre-war New York. At one point, I'm disparaging about Jasmine's attempts to coat-tail up the social ladder. But, says Allen, women are entitled to feel entitled.

"I think it's a reasonable feeling, the hope to meet somebody who can give them a life of some security and enjoyment. Someone who'll give them something better than they have – or, in upper-class families, at least as good as what they have. They don't wanna marry down. I imagine that would be not too thrilling a proposition."

He chuckles dryly. Men have long had it more straightforward, he thinks. "They feel they have more control. They'll get a job or they'll steal the money or they'll do something to better their circumstances. They're not dependent on their spouse for improvement.

"Now, of course, feminists changed all of that, which is great. But they didn't change it for every class or for every woman. There are still deep roots women are influenced by. They feel they'll grow up, they'll go to school, they'll meet some guy and he will take over the reins. They may do some work but they're not going to head up a law firm or something – they won't have time, raising the kids. Guys are more used to the business of making their own lives and women have traditionally married men who they feel have an obligation to take care of them in some way."

So how does that make men feel? "I don't think that men have been comfortable with feminist progress," he says, unblinking. "They're used to growing up in a society where women have a role to play and so do the men. Some enlightened men have welcomed and encouraged and supported it. But I'm not so sure if you look deeply even into them that it hasn't been a little bit of an effort to accept women in roles that they're completely entitled to. If you asked most men in the privacy of their own home they might say: I liked it better when a woman got married and took care of the kids and I went out to work and the equation was clearly defined. Women should be free to have anything and everything they want in terms of all of those rights. It should be a given, not be a privilege. But it is undoing a more primitive situation."

So societal structures are struggling to keep up? "That's true. It's happened very rapidly. I think if you look 100 years from now, the situation will be much more graceful. You won't have the old history to fall back on. You'll have a feminist dynamic to refer to."

He frowns. It's not just genes, not just habit. It's class, too. He lives, he says, in the kind of "sophisticated environment" that makes liberal-mindedness easy. "I've never had to go off to a factory and need somebody home to take care of the children."

The compassion is keen. The friendliness sincere. As he gets older, he says, his fellow-feeling only grows. "Over the years you get to see what a struggle life is for most people, how tough it is, how easy it is to be judgmental and criticise and stand outside of situations and impart your wisdom and judgment. But over the decades I've got more tolerant of people's flaws and mistakes. Everybody makes a lot of them. When you're younger you feel: 'Hey, this person is evil' or 'This person is a jerk' or stupid or 'What's wrong with them?' Then you go through life and you think: 'Well, it's not so easy.' There's a lot of mystery and suffering and complication. Everybody's out there trying to do the best they can. And it's not such an easy business."

He grins again, glasses glinting, soft and sweet. He means it. It's just that it's impossible to reconcile such benevolence with the mercilessness of his new movie. But perhaps that's for the good. The day Allen has it all worked out is the day he might stop making movies. Let's just hope he sticks to his guns. Embraces the way of the sword, even.

Saturday 28 September 2013

Carolyn Cassady RIP

carolyn cassady
Carolyn Cassady obituary
American writer and unlikely Beat icon who married Jack Kerouac's wild road companion Neal Cassady

James Campbell
The Guardian
Monday 23 September 2013 

In her book Off the Road (1990), Carolyn Cassady, who has died aged 90, charted her extraordinary life with the Beat writers Neal Cassady, her husband, and Jack Kerouac, her lover. Carolyn was an unlikely, and in many ways an unwilling, Beat icon herself. When she met Neal in Colorado in 1947, Carolyn was a student of theatre design at the University of Denver, having attended a smart east coast ladies' college; he was a car thief, an energetic seducer of women and occasionally men, and possessed of a restless, manic energy that had already bewitched Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. He also had a teenage bride, LuAnne Henderson. Soon after they had begun their relationship, Carolyn crept into Neal's flat one morning to give him a surprise, only to find him asleep with LuAnne on one side and Ginsberg on the other. After Carolyn relocated to San Francisco, Neal followed her. They married in 1948.

Kerouac's novel On the Road (1957) was based on the cross-country dashes he made from New York with Neal (who became the wild-man hero Dean Moriarty in the novel) and LuAnne (who became Marylou, in the passenger seat in the book). Meanwhile, Carolyn – who had stayed at home, raising the first of her and Neal's three children – was portrayed as Camille, the symbol of all that was stable and decent (or, for the youthful madcaps with an interest in Rimbaud and Baudelaire, bourgeois).

Carolyn Elizabeth Robinson was born in Lansing, Michigan, the youngest child of five. Her father was a biochemist and her mother was a teacher. She moved with her family to Nashville, Tennessee, where she went to school, and then went to Bennington College, Vermont, at the time an all-female institution.

Humorous and level-headed about most things, she had a blind spot where Neal was concerned. On a gambling kick, Neal persuaded Natalie Jackson, a girl he lived with in San Fransisco during the late 1950s, to pose as Carolyn and draw out the family savings, which he lost at the racetrack. From almost the moment of their meeting, Neal was unfaithful to Carolyn, sometimes more than once a day. When his adventures – on the road, or in another's bed – had paled, she welcomed his return.

Kerouac, too, she defended against his detractors. Urged on by Neal, she and Kerouac had an affair. Neal had played the same game earlier, with Kerouac and LuAnne, which Carolyn described fondly in Off the Road. By contrast, Carolyn had little liking for Ginsberg whose lifelong claims on Neal (resembling, at times, the claims of a thwarted spouse) she resented deeply.

Carolyn claimed that her association with Neal "made my life", and his boisterous, carnal presence certainly made her book. Yet her memoir is so buoyant even in the darkest troughs of her recollections, or when she is excusing the inexcusable, that it seems a pity she did not write more. Her artistic interests led her towards the theatre, then to drawing and painting, and she took several of the most famous photographs of Neal and Kerouac in the 1950s.

Neal died in 1968, by which time he and Carolyn had been living apart for several years. Her memoir Heart Beat: My Life with Jack and Neal was published in 1976. She wrote the foreword to As Ever: The Collected Correspondence of Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassady (1977). A collection of Kerouac's letters to Carolyn was published in 1983, and Carolyn wrote the introduction to Neal Cassady: Collected Letters, 1944-67, published in 2005.

In the film Heart Beat (1980), written and directed by John Byrum, Sissy Spacek played Carolyn and Nick Nolte played Neal. Some people encountering Carolyn in later life were surprised to discover that she was not more hip, more Beat, more turned-on. By the time I met her in the late 1990s, she was based in a cluttered flat in Belsize Park, north-west London. A quietly spoken grandmother, she enjoyed the cultural aspects of the city and her interest in drugs extended no further than a packet of menthol slim cigarettes. She was a follower of Edgar Cayce, a believer in reincarnation, whose homespun wisdom – "The stronger you are, the tougher the tests" – provided her with support in difficult times.

Cassady later settled in Bracknell, Berkshire. She is survived by her children, John, Jami and Cathy; and her grandchildren and greatgrandchildren.

• Carolyn Cassady, writer, born 28 April 1923; died 20 September 2013

Friday 27 September 2013

Thursday 26 September 2013

Donald Fagen - Why I Write

Why I Write...

By Donald Fagen
Aug 30, 2013

Why I write? Different reasons, I think. But the first time I remember writing something—this was for my high school newspaper—it had to do with revenge, I think.

On rainy days, the phys. ed. teacher, Mr. Burdett, kept the class of maybe 30 boys busy playing a game known as Bombardment, a variation of dodge ball. The class was divided into two teams and each was assigned one side of the gym. The idea was simple: run up to the foul line and try to nail as many opponents as possible with one of the three balls in play—two volley balls and a basketball. The basketball could do the most damage, especially when hurled at high speed by one of the more sadistic and powerful psychopaths who attended South Brunswick High at that time. When a ball missed, it hit the folded-up bleachers, making a loud, resonant thwack. The exploding sound of balls bouncing off the bleachers, the coarse laughter of the bullies, and the screams of the terrified sissy boys lent to the event a vivid sonic aspect.

The smaller, more fragile kids would try to squeeze into the space between the bleachers and the wall, but Mr. Burdett would march over and yank them out, back into the open, to live in this world of pain. I guess he figured that when D-Day came around again, we’d be ready to hit the beaches.

I decided to describe a typical Bombardment session in a feature for the newspaper, only exaggerating for comic effect à la Mark Twain or H.L. Mencken. It was really a pretty dumb bit, as I remember. I transformed the two teams into mythic, Olympian armies and, at the end of the period, wounded heroes lay bleeding out on the gymnasium floor. Nevertheless, a number of parents were apparently appalled by my revelations and complained to the P.E. department.

The next day I was filing out of the cafeteria when Mr. Burdett collared me and, with a hurt look, said, “Why, Don? Why?”

Hmm, I thought, the pen really is mighty. Not knowing how to respond to a conquered adult, I just turned and walked down the hall. The thing was, I actually kind of liked Burdett. I just thought the Bombardment policy was dangerous and unjust. Right? Or was it revenge alone, served cold, pure and simple?

Donald Fagen was born in 1948 and grew up in New Jersey. He is a graduate of Bard College, where he met musician Walter Becker, with whom he formed Steely Dan. His writing has appeared in Premiere, Slate, Harper’s Bazaar, and Jazz Times. His book Eminent Hipsters will by published in October by Viking.

Wednesday 25 September 2013

Bob Dylan - Metal Guru

Bob The Welder

Bob Dylan Mood Swings Exhibition

Halcyon Gallery is proud to present a major exhibition of new works by artist and musician Bob Dylan, which will open this November. Building on the success of his first museum exhibition in Chemnitz, Germany in 2007 and several subsequent exhibitions, Mood Swings will show iron works by Bob Dylan for the first time, alongside original paintings and signed limited editions, all of which will be for sale.

Seven iron gates welded out of vintage iron and other metal parts created by Dylan in his studio will be featured in the exhibition and will be displayed publicly for the first time. These gates and other objects are the outcome of the artist’s lifelong fascination with welding and metalwork.

These raw, industrial artworks often appear representative of a different state of mind; a different place for the artist. The gates are imbued with the stories brought to them by objects from which they are created such as a wrench, a roller skate, a meat grinder and lawn tools. There is even a reference to the artist as musician with the use of musical notes, a treble clef and a guitar among the objects included in the iron works.

Of his new exhibition, Bob Dylan said:

“I’ve been around iron all my life ever since I was a kid. I was born and raised in iron ore country - where you could breathe it and smell it every day. And I’ve always worked with it in one form or another. Gates appeal to me because of the negative space they allow. They can be closed but at the same time they allow the seasons and breezes to enter and flow. They can shut you out or shut you in. And in some ways there is no difference.”

Mood Swings will also include a new collection of original silkscreen works on canvas.

Paul Green, President of Halcyon Gallery, commented: “The forthcoming exhibition will be the most comprehensive and authoritative collection of Bob Dylan’s art to date. While Dylan has been a committed visual artist for more than four decades, this exhibition will cast new light on one of the world’s most important and influential cultural figures of our time. His iron works demonstrate his boundless creativity and talent. As these artworks are made at home, not on the road, they give us a rare glimpse into another part of the artist’s own personal universe.”

The exhibition opens on November 16, 2013 and runs until January 25, 2014.

144-146 New Bond Street, London, W1S 2PF
Opening times: Monday to Saturday 10 am – 6 pm, Sunday 11 am – 5 pm
Nearest Tube: Bond Street
Free Entry
Visitor Information: 020 7100 7144

Monday 23 September 2013

Donald Fagen - Eminent Hipsters

Eminent Hipsters
Donald Fagen. Viking, $26.95 (162p) ISBN 978-0-670-02551-0

Andrew Wylie
29 July 2013

In these entertaining sketches, Steely Dan keyboardist and front man Fagen pays tribute to the “talented musicians, writers, and performers” from beyond the suburban New Jersey of his youth. In one chapter, Fagen recalls his early fascination with now-forgotten jazz singers the Boswell Sisters. He singles out Connie—whose career was affected in some measure by an early brush with illness (likely polio)—and praises her last recording, saying that she sounds like a “toned-down Wanda Jackson or Brenda Lee.” Fagen sends a kind of love letter to Henry Mancini, telling the composer of the theme from the television show Peter Gunn—a theme whose first notes every neophyte guitarist tried to learn back then—that his music continues to be young and fresh. Fagen vivaciously recalls his college days at Bard, meeting his future Steely Dan bandmate Walter Becker, and playing at a Halloween party with Walter and actor Chevy Chase on drums. In 2012, Fagen, Michael McDonald, and Boz Scaggs toured as the Duke of September Rhythm Revue; during the months of the tour, Fagen kept a journal, included in these pages, that’s filled with irony, sarcasm, humor, anger, and flat-out honesty about what it’s like to be on the road playing to houses filled with aging hippies: “Tonight the crowd looked so geriatric I was tempted to start calling out bingo numbers. By the end of the set, they were all on their feet, albeit shakily, rocking.... So this, now, is what I do: assisted living.”

And the very latest is that Donald will do a short promo tour with five dates listed over at the Penguin Group's homepage:

* Tuesday, Oct 22 2013
Location: New York
Upstairs at the Square, Pre-sign books, On stage Q&A

* Thursday, Oct 24 2013
Location: Philadelphia
Pre-sign books, On stage Q&A

* Tuesday, Oct 29 2013
Location: Washington
Pre-sign books, On stage Q&A

* Wednesday, Nov 06 2013
Location: San Francisco
Pre-sign books, On stage Q&A

* Thursday, Nov 07 2013
Location: Seattle
Pre-sign books, On stage Q&A

Not coming to the Lit and Phil, then, Donald?

Sunday 22 September 2013

Salinger by Shields and Salerno - review

Salinger illustration by Sophie Lo: 

Salinger by David Shields and Shane Salerno – review
Sam Leith on an ill-conceived book – but one which has new and fascinating nuggets

Sam Leith
The Guardian
Friday 20 September 2013

This is a vast, silly, boastful, prurient, intellectually incoherent and basically philistine volume – yet about which, unfortunately, it is impossible to say "it is completely worthless". Gosh, what a frustrating hodgepodge it is. Not quite a biography, it is billed on its front cover as "The Official Book of the Acclaimed Documentary Film" – which is a bit previous since the film at the time of writing has been out less than a week and "acclaimed" isn't the natural adjective to describe its reception.

The book junks narrative in favour of a talking heads format which, presumably, mimics the documentary. There's a paragraph from person X, then a paragraph from person Y, and so on. You admire how many voices they've assembled, and – particularly in the early sections in which veterans of the same battles Salinger fought in during the second world war describe the carnage – the pace and attack with which it rattles along. But "rattle" is the word: as in something a baby uses to get attention; the noise made by a large hollow vessel with a couple of small nuggets not properly secured inside it.

There's no index. There are scant descriptions of who these speakers are (and you have to flick to the back to find them), and you are often left dangling as to why we're hearing from them at all. Ed Norton, the actor, isn't the only contributor whose locus standi to speak about Salinger appears to be that he is famous. Nor are the sources of these quotes consistently clear. Some are original interviews with the authors – which I suppose we must take for verbatim, though they don't always read that way. Some are simply lifted from other people's books. Some, even more confusingly, are "combinations of oral testimony and written source".

The endnotes are sometimes not much help. A line from Oona O'Neill (whom Salinger dated as a young man before being thrown over for Charlie Chaplin), is given no more persuasive citation than that it was "quoted in" a 1996 article for People magazine. A long chunk of Salinger's one-time lover Joyce Maynard is sourced just to "Joyce Maynard". Is it lifted from her memoir? An original interview with David Shields and Shane Salerno? We don't know.

To add to the madness, rather than framing and evaluating the evidence they present, Shields and Salerno insert themselves into the text as witnesses: a paragraph of what Shields thinks here; a paragraph of what Salerno thinks there. What they say is seldom tentative – they make impudently categorical assertions about Salinger's state of mind and the relationship of his life to his art – and yet its authority is, perversely, undermined by just being another voice in the gabble.

The format implies that anything that has been said about Salinger, by virtue of its having been said, carries as much authority as anything else that has been said. This at once obviates the difficult and serious part of any biographer's job (getting to the truth), and – happily – allows any amount of hearsay to be presented as fact, circumstantial evidence (the war was awful!) as probative, or speculation as analysis. This will not do.

Yet, as I say, the book isn't worthless. For into this idiotic meat-grinder, the authors have hurled some chunks of prime sirloin. They have spent nearly a decade researching, they have been dogged, and they have enjoyed success. There is new material here: not tonnes, but a nontrivial amount. The authors make a vulgar song and dance about it – "published here for the first time"; "for 60 years she has kept silent", and so on – but they are perhaps entitled to. There are some scoops: many previously unseen letters and photographs and interviews with several people who knew Salinger and have not spoken before.

Absent the testimonies of his widow, his second wife and his children, this book contains most of what is available to know about Salinger the man. Unfortunately, it also contains a great deal of what is not possible to know, presented as if it were. That Salinger was suffering from "undiagnosed PTSD" is at once offered as a revelation of great explanatory force, and as something more or less self-evidencing: we know that Salinger's unit in the second world war fought through some horrendous stuff, and was first into Dachau. From the ungainsayable – that it must have affected him somehow – we leap to the unknowable – that it broke his mind for good and that The Catcher in the Rye was a disguised war novel.

We know that his war buddies became lifelong friends, and we learn a decent amount about his work as a counterintelligence officer. There's interesting, apparently new, material about his first marriage – swiftly annulled – to a German girl he met in the war; the hint is that they broke up because she was a Gestapo informant.

His obsession with becoming a writer, at least, predated any wartime trauma. He was already carrying chapters of Catcher around with him in his knapsack, and pitching work for publication. We hear (though third-hand) that his comrades complained "we always had to stop for Salinger to sit by the roadside, working on short stories or his novel".

We are also told – mostly on the basis of someone who claimed to have heard Salinger tell Hemingway about it – that Salinger had an undescended testicle. This putative monobollock (which didn't seem to harm his sex life much) comes first in the numbered list of "conditions" – a checklist, effectively, of What Made Him All Weird – that stand for a "Conclusion".

God knows, many of Shields and Salerno's speculations – if they were just less thunderously declaimed – are sensible. That Salinger was a selfish, damaged man is undeniable. The great recluse undoubtedly played footsie, too, with the many seekers-after-truth who showed up at the bottom of his drive over the years – though whether this is evidence of calculating hypocrisy, as they come to imply, rather than just confusion and even politeness is more questionable.

Also, they do a good job of persuading us that Salinger had a slightly creepy obsession with teenage girls – romancing several of them and then dumping them once they turned into women. He may not have had sex with Jean Miller until she was 18, and did so at her instigation – but he did start courting her when she was 14 and they shared a bed, Michael Jackson-style, when she slept over.

About Salinger the writer – other than that his writing was more important to him than his life – this book has little or nothing to tell us. His fiction ("iconic", "legendary", "the literary anthem of a generation") is reduced to an epiphenomenon of his trauma: a symptom rather than a work of conscious art. Inane pop psychology ("this is how paranoids, mystics and pedophiles think") and glib formulations abound: "The war broke him as a man and made him a great artist; religion offered him postwar spiritual solace and killed his art." His obsession with Hindu mysticism (suffusing, they argue more or less persuasively, his writing about the Glass family) is used to construct a rigid map of his life.

So tin-eared are the authors that they declare the New York Times "had an almost schizophrenic view" of Catcher on the basis that reviewers for the Sunday and daily editions didn't agree – which would be like accusing Guardian Media Group of having a schizophrenic view of Martin Amis if he got a positive notice in the Review and a stinker in the Observer. A good review in the New Yorker (whose fiction editors hadn't liked the book for serial) is "a startling volte face". How do they think literary journalism works? No matter. They claim to have information that we'll be seeing five posthumous Salinger books between 2015 and 2020. There'll be time enough for schizophrenia then.

Saturday 21 September 2013

David Marks talks about his years with The Beach Boys...

David Marks of the Beach Boys – In His Own Words
Growing Up with the Wilsons & Working with Brian

Ken Sharp

For many years, David Marks, a founding member of The Beach Boys, was a mere footnote in music history, a forgotten figure relegated to an obscure answer in a rock trivia game. A childhood friend and neighbor of the Wilsons—Brian, Dennis and Carl—Marks was a key figure during the formative years. Along with Carl Wilson, he is responsible for creating the group’s trademark surf guitar sound that powered so many of their classic early hits.

In recent years, Marks has returned to the fold, taking part in last year’s wildly successful 50th anniversary trek. This year, Marks and fellow Beach Boy Al Jardine are touring with Brian Wilson and Jeff Beck.

Rock Cellar Magazine: You lived across the street from the Wilsons in Hawthorne, California. Tell us about the area and the environment inside the Wilson home.

David Marks: The neighborhood bordered between Hawthorne and Inglewood at Kornblum Avenue. I lived directly across the street from the Wilsons. We both had corner houses. My side of the street was a new tract home development and all the houses were exactly the same in terms of floor plan. On the Wilson side, that neighborhood had been there for quite a while. It was run down. There were no sidewalks. The houses were older and the Wilsons lived in a pretty small, modest two-bedroom home. The boys all shared a bedroom. When they got older, Brian started sleeping in the den more and more, which was a converted garage they had turned into a music room. They had a Hammond B-3 organ, an upright piano and a little hi-fi in there.

RCM: Describe the household dynamic.

David Marks: It wasn’t Leave It To Beaver (laughs). It wasn’t Tobacco Road either. It appeared to be a poor household although Murry (Wilson) was successful selling two or three huge machines a year, industrial drill presses and lathes. They were like as a big as a car. He would import them from England and sell those to maintain the household. They weren’t rich by any means. The outward appearance of the household was happy. The boys were always running around doing something and Murry was on the phone and Audree was wearing the apron in the kitchen. It was pretty typical, actually.

There was nothing really unusual about it except people probably don’t imagine the Wilsons crammed in a tiny two-bedroom house in a poor neighborhood.

There was one bunk bed and one cot in the bedroom and it was always a mess. Clothes all over the place. They didn’t really have any material possessions to speak of other than the instruments in the music room. All the stuff that you hear about Murry being a prick, for me it was an average normal household. My dad was a prick too and all the dads in the neighborhood were pricks. The school of parenting for that generation is what I’m describing. It was okay to smack your kid, especially my Dad who was Italian; if you say something out of line you get smacked. If you cause problems you get a beating with a strap.

When I first moved into the neighborhood I was seven years old. Carl and Dennis immediately adopted me. I mostly hung out with Dennis. Dennis was very adventurous and would always recruit me to go out with him. He’d always be up to some sort of mischief. I didn’t start playing guitar until I was ten years old and got one for Christmas. When the guitar thing happened Carl and I began to spend more time together.

RCM: You used to sneak over to the Wilsons’ home and watch Brian practice.

David Marks: I would always be busting in at the house over there every day. Sometimes there wasn’t anyone at home except for Brian and he would be playing the piano and I was fascinated by what he was doing so I would kind of spy on him through a window and watch him in the music room. I watched him quite a few times when he was working out harmonies. He was studying The Four Freshmen.

His method was to play the same three or four notes over and over again on the stereo. When he had it in his head he would take it over to the piano and sing it. Carl and I used the same method Brian did to learn guitar parts by Chuck Berry, The Ventures, Dick Dale, Duane Eddy.

As we were unveiling the statue at the Hawthorne landmark a few years ago, I sheepishly confessed to Brian that as a kid I used to spy on him when he was at the piano working out arrangements. He half smiled and said he knew and that it was okay I was there watching.

I always felt like I was kind of on the outside as far as the Beach Boys go so when Brian told me it was okay with him that I was part of that private musical world of his it finally dawned on me that I spent a lot of time needlessly feeling excluded from those guys.

It really helped me embrace my past and got me into the right frame of mind to work with Jon on my book.

RCM: How did you come to join The Beach Boys?

David Marks: Joining the Beach Boys is kind of an elusive thing because I had been involved with the Wilsons’ musical endeavors as soon as I moved in across the street. The music evolved and I was just normally there every day. The Beach Boys band slowly evolved, it wasn’t an overnight thing. It was like one day Brian was playing the piano and he heard Carl and I playing guitar and he recruited us to play along with what he was playing on piano, which turned out to be Surfer Girl. So he had us doing that little strumming thing on Surfer Girl, he was intrigued that Carl and I were so into Chuck Berry.

The surf instrumental thing was a big thing for us and Carl and I were really into that. Brian wanted to incorporate the reverb unit, big Fender guitar sound that was happening at the time.

RCM: It’s amazing to realize that in early 1962 The Beach Boys were playing small gigs and less than a year later in October of 1962 you were performing onstage at The Hollywood Bowl.

David Marks: Early on, we had a played a couple of local things and played a party at Milton Berle’s house for his daughter’s birthday. Gigging back then was very exciting. Brian had already gone in and experimented in the studio. He was using different people. His mom was even involved in one of the sessions. He did the session for Surfin’ and Luau with Al and that was getting airplay locally in L.A.

In the meantime, Al split. He got a job at an aircraft company. He really wanted to do folk music and he wasn’t into the direction that the Beach Boys were going with the electric sound. They had shopped the acoustic stuff that Brian had done at Candix around to all the labels and nobody was interested. With the incorporation of our electric guitars we did some new demos of Surfin’ Safari, 409 and Lonely Sea and that’s what got Capitol interested in the band, that electric sound. Of course they still had their doubts because they didn’t think surfing was gonna catch on. I think it was the hot rod songs that really made the band go national. As for playing at the Hollywood Bowl, try to imagine yourself at 13 or 14 and you’re just having fun playing and not really thinking that much about it. Then all of a sudden you hear your song on the radio and it’s going national and you’re getting called for all these jobs. Our heads were spinning. It just happened so fast and it was really exciting.

We immediately adapted to it.

RCM: Did this sudden success seem unreal to you or were you feeling this is what should be happening, like ‘we’re gonna be big stars!’?

David Marks: Yeah, exactly. When we walked out on the stage at the Hollywood Bowl it felt like a natural thing. We were excited and proud but we felt like we belonged there. It wasn’t humbling because we were arrogant (laughs).

We had the world by the balls. So when we walked out on the stage at the Hollywood Bowl we were like, “here we are everybody!”

RCM: Did you sense Brian was special back then?

David Marks: Brian was special in that he had leadership qualities from the very beginning. He always recruited the neighborhood kids to play football and do crazy stuff. Everybody looked up to him. When he heard a song in his head he immediately had to get it out. That’s where his genius lies. He was able to manifest the music he heard in his head. He would threaten us if we didn’t help him sing (laughs). “I’m gonna punch you out if you don’t stay here and sing!” We’d say, “But Brian we wanna go out and ride the go-karts” (laughs). Lucky for us that he forced us to stay there and do music. When he started getting successful with his songwriting, he focused entirely on the music. He did exhibit special qualities ever since he was very young.

RCM: How different is the Brian of 1962 to the Brian of 2013?

David Marks: Not very different. He was distracted and with all kind of psychological stuff but Brian was always inside there through all of it. When we were together on the roof of Capitol Records he was his old self, messing with people. Funny and lucid. An older version but basically the same person.

RCM: The innocent image of The Beach Boys collided with the stark reality of life on the road.

David Marks: We were presented with various temptations and opportunities to be naughty and we took them. We were rowdy kids in the neighborhood before we were the Beach Boys, nothing was gonna change us. It just opened up the door for us to be even more mischievous. When you’re a young teenager and you’re making lots of money, there are a lot of opportunities to drink. There were no drugs around but we did drink. There weren’t really a lot of groupies. Most of the kids that came to the shows were little girls.

Our road manger was the instigator to that one experience with Carl, me, Mike and Dennis going to the hotel with the prostitute. Mike and Dennis dragged Carl and I because they probably thought it was funny, (laughs) ‘cause we were both virgins. But that’s innocent too. That was something that happened 45 years ago. It would have been abnormal for a hit rock and roll band on the road not to have done something like that.

Dennis and Mike were always on the prowl for chicks. They had an apartment together in Manhattan Beach after the band’s first tour. They had their little competition of who could score the most chicks and Dennis won. (laughs) He was quite the charmer. He looked like a movie star and had the personality to go with it.

In those days the tours were grueling. It wasn’t like you jumped into a limo and went to a 5 star hotel and then do your 90 minutes. You had to rent a U-haul truck and a Chevy station wagon and drive 500 miles and you stayed at crappy motels and then you played 4 hours. You did three of four 45 minute sets at the high school dance. For the most part it was really hard work and the accommodations sucked. It wasn’t that glamorous.

RCM: Did Mike Love always seem like an old soul to you? 

David Marks: When we had our first national hit with Surfin’ Safari Mike was already married and he was already bald and he had a kid. So he was an old man already, 21, 22 years old. He was the old man of the group.

RCM: Wasn’t Mike constantly on you about writing to your folks while you were on the road?

David Marks: On the road we were pretty much unsupervised. Murry ended up hiring a guy who was just as bad as us. I kind of suspect that my father took Mike aside and said, “You’re the oldest, take care of him.” Mike was on me about getting up to go to the gigs and write home to my parents. He looked after me and literally saved my life one time in Hawaii and metaphorically after that. We were sitting on a balcony after a show and we were in a hotel three stories up. I was drunk and we were talking to some girls. I was sitting on the actual railing and I went backwards over the railing and he grabbed my ankle and pulled me back up. It would have been disastrous; I probably would have died. When I was in the gutter in the late Nineties he recruited me to go back and play on the road with The Beach Boys.

But even before that through the years he would call and ask me if I was doing alright. The fact that he called out of the blue through the years was impressive. Anyway, Mike kept bothering me to write a letter home to my parents so one day I sat down with the hotel stationary and wrote this letter detailing every woman and drink I had on the tour.

It was filthy, everything you wouldn’t want your parents to know. When Mike read it I never really saw him laugh that hard ever before or since. (laughs) I said to him with a straight face (speaks in innocent voice) “Here’s a note I wrote home to my parents, do you wanna read it?” He started reading it and went down on his knees laughing. He didn’t expect it at all and the irony of it was most of it was true.

RCM: Does Mike get a bad rap as the villain in the Beach Boys saga?

David Marks: Yeah. Mike doesn’t get the credit that he deserves because he’s not a virtuoso on an instrument but when he sings the bass parts to those Four Freshman harmonies, that’s so hard to do. You have to be a really talented musician with a great ear to sing those interval spreads and keep them on pitch with three other people doing three other harmony parts.

The guy deserves a lot of credit for that alone not to mention the hooks and the lyrics that he came up with for Brian’s songs.

Mike also kept the band together through a lot of crises. As far as being the villain, people need a villain and he got chosen. I guess it all started when he was opposed to Brian’s acid-induced artistic period.

RCM: From all accounts, Murry was quite the disciplinarian on the road; you were routinely fined for cussing.

David Marks: The only time that I spent with Murry on the road was when he fired our road manager because it got back to him about our behavior. He fired the guy and took his place in the middle of a tour. He didn’t normally tour with the band. In fact, he got my Dad to come out on a lot of the tours. Murry was a very staunch businessman and a hard-nosed disciplinarian. He had his kids’ best interests at heart and he protected them and was always on their asses. When we hit he saw that it was going to be very big and went into business mode and he didn’t want us to screw it up.

All Dennis and I wanted to do was have fun and screw around. He would always be on me constantly about carrying my amp or smiling onstage. He would come up on the stage some times and turn my volume down or put more treble on the guitar.

RCM: Who came up with the Beach Boys’ look and later the trademark stage movements?

David Marks: All the bands had uniforms. Brian picked out the clothes, and then Carl, and finally Al decided he wanted the band to look like The Kingston Trio so he picked out some striped shirts. As for the dance, that was something called “The Stroll.” The local rhythm and blues bands in Southern California did this cool dance called “The Stroll.” That’s what the surfers took and started calling “The Surfer’s Stomp.”

It was Brian’s idea to do that, that’s what all the kids were doing.

RCM: Set the scene for Beach Boys recording sessions, was it a rush, rush situation where you had three hours and had to cut five songs in a session?

David Marks: We were very practiced and rehearsed but we were also relaxed in the studio. There was no pressure for time except when we went to the Capitol tower to record. There was more pressure then. Nik Venet, their A&R guy was there. They were also required to go through the union therefore there was a time constraint and more pressure.

RCM: How involved was Nik Venet in terms of producing the sessions?

David Marks: Nik went through the motions but he didn’t really do anything. He was very ineffective as far as producing. Brian pretty much ignored him. Carl was funny, he used to make fun of Nik constantly, he’d make fun of his accent or make fun of the fact that he was not doing anything. Murry was just a frustration to Brian. He would try to get his own way because he was a bully but Brian would fight him on it.

When we first did Surfin’ Safari, Surfin’ U.S.A., and Shut Down at Western, I think Murry got his way a few times. He was obsessed with the guitars being all trebly, which actually benefited the sound overall. You’ve gotta give Murry a little credit there but for the most part Brian was very frustrated with Murry interfering with his musical expression. Brian knew what he wanted before he would go into the studio.

We recorded so much stuff in such a short period of time that it started running together a little bit. The memories that I have of those times are not about the music, it was the hang, the camaraderie, hanging out after the sessions and going home listening to the demos. The sessions that stand out for me are Hawaii and Our Car Club because we had Hal Blaine playing drums. Dennis had hurt his leg so a session guy named Frank played on Surfin’ U.S.A. and that was exciting. Hal Blaine played the timbales on Hawaii too.

RCM: Discuss creating the Beach Boys’ classic surf style guitar with Carl.

David Marks: My musical connection to the Wilsons was already pretty established in that Audree would sit me down and teach me boogie woogie on the piano. It’s the same stuff she taught Brian and Carl and Dennis. We didn’t realize it at the time but she was forging a musical connection between the three Wilson boys and myself by teaching us this special boogie woogie piano. You can hear it in the early songs, Carl and I were doing the boogie woogie stuff that Audree introduced us to on guitars.

We played together every day and our guitar playing blended not unlike the vocal blend of the Wilson brothers. Our blend and the way we played off of each other sounded like one guy. We would do our little nuances to complement each other. We were trying to play like our heroes but we couldn’t so it came out our own, this raw, garage kind of sound.

When you’re young and you’re trying to emulate someone and you can’t really do it, when it comes out your own style that’s the ideal thing – and that’s what happened with us.

But then we started hearing other people trying to play like us.

RCM: At age 15, what ultimately led you to being ousted from the band?

David Marks: When you’re young you tend to be a little arrogant so I was convinced that I didn’t have to take Murry’s shit anymore and I was pissed off because Brian wouldn’t listen to any of my songs. On that one tour where Murry fired the road manager and came in the middle of the tour, that’s when we really started locking horns. It was in the car on the way from Chicago to New York. He started picking on me. Anyone else would have sat there and said, “Yes sir.” But not me. I had to mouth off. Everybody quit the band but of course the brothers weren’t able to physically leave.

Brian wanted to quit the band from the very beginning and concentrate on being a producer. He didn’t want to be a Beach Boy per se; he wanted to be like Phil Spector.

So when it was my turn to announce that I quit no one took me seriously. Brian actually laughed out loud. On the side I had another group of musicians from the neighborhood and I was writing and doing records with them. I was convinced that my association with the Beach Boys was going to propel my own career. I didn’t really seriously want to quit. It was just a tantrum in the car because Murry was picking on me.

Murry continued to ride me and played upon my arrogance and intimidated me. I finally starting insisting I leave so I could do my own music with my band. When you’re 15 you don’t rationalize that you’re gonna be screwed if you quit the most famous band in the country. Also there was a lot of political stuff behind the scenes. My mother wanted to be involved more with the management and she was suspicious of Murry getting advances from Capitol and withholding touring money.

It was about money and power between the parents and with me it was about wanting to go off and have my own band.

RCM: How did you deal with sudden thrust of fame and then being on outside looking in, watching The Beach Boys become bigger than ever?

David Marks: I didn’t really think about it. I liked Fun, Fun, Fun and Help Me Ronda and Good Vibrations was awesome but by the end of the Sixties that was it for the Beach Boys. I didn’t care, I had no idea what was going on. No disrespect intended, but by that point I was concentrating on my own music career and had left that life behind years before.

Friday 20 September 2013

Thursday 19 September 2013

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron: -
Wagon Wheel
Love Is The Drug
Need Your Love So Bad
Autumn Leaves

Da: -
Too Far Gone
On The Way Home
Only Love Can Break Your Heart
After The Gold Rush

The Elderly Brothers: -
Crying In The Rain
So Sad (To Watch Good Love Go Bad)
Singing The Blues
Things We Said Today

Another quiet evening in The Habit, until 'normal' closing time that is - when it suddenly filled up. Being Freshers' Week there were lots of new faces and players.

As it was quiet we were indulged with 4 song solo spots before the main event. Two 'new' songs from the Elderlys too; one from the self important Mr Leitch and another Everlys classic.

Wednesday 18 September 2013

The Beach Boys - Made in California (2013) reviews

Made in California - The Beach Boys

Jon Falcone
6September 2013

A six-CD box set spanning The Beach Boys' 50-year career is a treat no matter your angle, your fear of corporate milking or even a dislike of the band. There’s something here for you and although only completists need this, as an investment this will have value for even casual fans. As a document, elaborately wrapped in squidgy yearbook book and with pages and pages of band commentary, pictures and articles, this is an achievement and looks beautiful.

It should look beautiful, for it houses six discs of some of the finest music put to record. Maybe it would be fun and preferable to own all the albums individually (on vinyl) but there are an impressive 60 unreleased tracks on Made in California. Some of them are wonderful, although many are radio jingles, slightly tweaked mixes and live tracks.

The collection goes chronologically; the surf sound, Brian’s renaissance, the cracks of uncertainty and drug abuse, the garbled an often stunning attempts to carry on regardless and then the band becoming an institution, both commercially and mentally. The Beach Boys are a history of the music industry, the artist, the band.

The breadth of the collection highlights two noteworthy points. Firstly, despite the change in sounds over the time, the evolution is surprisingly subtle, such is the underpinning strength of the vocal blend. Sure ‘The Night Is So young’ is brilliant and brilliantly ‘power-produced’, but then play it next to ‘Salt Lake City’ and then ‘Sail On Sailor’ and all the tracks can sit next together. Playing it on random setting shows a surprising coherency, which the size of this release points out.

Secondly it shows that Dennis Wilson was a genius equal to Brian. When Brian tired of writing superb surfer ballads and moved on to orchestral masterpieces, Dennis picked up the mantle, adding a sense of wisdom that replaced Brian’s wide-eyed balladry. Discs three and four give Dennis plenty of slots and rightly so. On disc four, from the Surf’s Up/Sunflower/Holland period there is a fantastic composition ‘(Wouldn’t It Be Nice) To Live Again’. It’s Dennis stacked with rugged heartbreak and regret. ‘Be With Me’ shimmers (it was the B-Side to Breakaway’), ‘Celebrate The News’ trips in the verses before plateau-ing beautifully and dramatically and ‘Forever’ has to be considered one of the finest Beach Boys songs.

Similarly on disc six, a disc of rarities, Dennis’s previously unreleased composition of piano and solo vocal ‘My Love Lives On’ is breathtaking. Dennis’s gruffer voice radiates his world weariness, his voice sounds paternal and his instrumental unreleased cut ‘Mona Kana’, recorded in the 20/20 sessions and undoubtedly with a vocal penned, has the finesse of a John Barry composition. The only thing missing from this collection would have been cuts and exclusives of Dennis’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’ (and possibly any alternative versions of Brian’s solo ‘Love And Mercy’).

People will take from this what they will and therein lies its beauty, that so much can be taken away. This collection provides years of Beach Boys fun and suitably celebrates their 50 years.

The Beach Boys - Made In California
Bob Stanley assesses their career-spanning new collection…

9 September 2013 

Someone once wrote that Brian Wilson’s legend was largely based on music almost no one had heard. You could see their point for a long time, but since the release of ‘The Smile Sessions’ box this no longer holds true. In spite of the multitude of abandoned projects and, even now, entire unreleased albums, in 2013 his music is almost universally loved.

A side effect of his elevation to international treasure is that The Beach Boys‘ Story has become the Brian Wilson Story for the last decade, which is maybe not surprising given the continued antics of the saga’s Dick Dastardly, Mike Love – his latest dirty deed was to sack Brian and the rest of the original line-up after last year's 50th anniversary shows.

Still, they are a group: Mike Love’s chief role was as on-stage showman, Dennis Wilson’s as their wild man with a tender heart, and Carl Wilson’s as a white soul singer without equal.

Two decades on from 1993’s ‘Good Vibrations’ box, the six-disc ‘Made In California’, covering 1962 to 2012, is neatly balanced between the various Boys and their different eras.

The real meat of the set, though, is in the main catalogue – this is a proper overview. Just as it has become fashionable to overlook the other Beach Boys, it’s also become easy to underrate the majesty of the pre-‘Pet Sounds’ era, which to the American public is basically their entire catalogue.

Songs as harmonically rich and gorgeous as ‘The Lonely Sea’ (1962), ‘Wendy’ (1964) and ‘In The Back Of My Mind’ (1965, presented here in a clearer, better mix than ever before) are evidence of how this band blossomed after The Beatles arrived in the States, while almost all of their contemporaries withered.

To remind you that their catalogue is far from flawless, ‘Made In California’ includes some clunkers (ecological fingerwag ‘Don't Go Near The Water’, lame-ass kids song ‘Solar System’) at the expense of solid 10-out-of-10s like Carl Wilson’s ‘Long Promised Road’, or Brian’s ‘Still I Dream Of It’, worthy of Rodgers and Hart.

Unreleased tracks for the hardcore? Well, there's still no place for Dennis Wilson’s ‘Carry Me Home’ (covered by Primal Scream on their 1992 ‘Dixie Narco’ EP) or Brian’s lovelorn tribute to Stevie Nicks, the terrific ‘Stevie’.

But there are tracks here that next to nobody has ever heard of, let alone heard – Dennis has a pair of five-star rarities: ‘Wouldn't It Be Nice To Live Again’ and ‘My Love Lives On’, both incredibly sad and quite beautiful, and a match for anything on his sole solo LP, 1977’s ‘Pacific Ocean Blue’. A Brian-written ‘Sunflower’ outtake, ‘Where Is She’, is incomplete but another heart-stopper.

They may have behaved like animals, sometimes resembling a pop equivalent of Lord Of The Flies, and yet The Beach Boys still stir more emotions in me than any other group. This box covers all bases while still leaving enough unfinished business for a 60th anniversary set.

Words: Bob Stanley

Tuesday 17 September 2013

Monday 16 September 2013

Paul Simon's tribute to Seamus Heaney

Another Kind of Music

By Paul Simon
30 August 30 2013

I was in the audience at the Abbey Theater in Dublin on June 9, 1991, when Seamus Heaney read from his new book of poems, “Seeing Things.” I know the exact date because he kindly inscribed his book for me and dated it. But I wouldn’t have forgotten that night, with or without the month and year. Seamus gave a mesmerizing, witty and emotional performance, and it was a rare opportunity for me to hear the sound of his words spoken with their true accent.

Popular culture likes to house songwriters and poets under the same roof, but we are not the close family that some imagine. Poets are distant cousins at most, and labor under a distinctly different set of rules. Songwriters have melody, instrumentation and rhythm to color their work and give it power; poets accomplish it all with words.

Seamus, though, was one of those rare poets whose writing evokes music: the fiddles, pipes and penny-whistles of his Northern Irish culture and upbringing. You can hear it in “Casting and Gathering”:

Years and years ago, these sounds took sides:

On the left bank, a green silk tapered cast
Went whispering through the air, saying hush
And lush, entirely free, no matter whether
It swished above the hayfield or the river.

And later in the poem:

One sound is saying, ‘You are not worth tuppence,
But neither is anybody. Watch it! Be severe.’
The other says, ‘Go with it! Give and swerve.
You are everything you feel beside the river.’

I love this poem and return to it from time to time to hear the “hush” and “lush” of the fishermen casting their rods from opposite banks, like politicians across the Senate aisle. And I like the friendly pep talk Seamus gives himself when self-criticism is about to get the best of him.

It’s frustrating to try to capture even a glimpse of the man, his verbal virtuosity, his wit and Irish charm. Recovering from a stroke in the hospital, he greeted his friend and fellow poet Paul Muldoon with, “Hello, different strokes for different folks.”

I admire the directness and simplicity of his work, a virtue most writers aspire to but rarely achieve. Seamus and I met through our mutual friend Derek Walcott. I visited him in his home outside Dublin, and we continued our conversations at my place in Manhattan. Obviously, I’m a fan even more of the man than the poetry, though there are few poets I would rank as his equal.

Sunday 15 September 2013

Paul Simon and Paul Muldoon

Paul Simon to Participate in Interview Event at New Yorker Festival Next Month

9 September 2013

Paul Simon will be one of the featured guests at the 2013 edition of The New Yorker Festival, a series of events sponsored by The New Yorker magazine that will be held October 4-6 at a variety of locations in New York City. The acclaimed singer/songwriter will take part in a conversation with Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Paul Muldoon, who also is The New Yorker‘s poetry editor.

The 90-minute Q&A event is scheduled for Sunday, October 6, at 5 p.m. ET at the SIR Stage37 venue. Simon is expected to discuss various aspects of his writing with Muldoon.

The New Yorker Festival offers a bevy of discussion and interview sessions with various musicians, actors, writers, filmmakers and other artists. In addition to Simon, this year’s lineup includes country star Brad Paisley, alternative-rock luminary Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and actors Christopher Guest, Ethan Hawke, Michelle Williams, Christophe Waltz and Michael Shannon.

Tickets for the fest will go on sale to the general public on Friday, September 13, at noon ET. For details, visit

Saturday 14 September 2013

Running Man...

The Great North Run: a serious business for fun runners too

THE Great North Run is a serious business.

This year’s event is one of the most anticipated ever.

Double gold medallist Mo Farah is taking to the road alongside 56,000 other competitors.

It will be the first time he has taken on marathon legends Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele.

That trio of superstars guarantees that every inch of the route from Newcastle to South Shields will be packed by spectators and well-wishers.

Aside from the elite runners, there are thousands of amateurs and fun runners counting down the days to Sunday.

Take for example Jarrow-born and bred Jim McCullough.

Tax officer Jim – don’t hold that against him – only took to running a few years ago, but that doesn’t mean he’s a casual competitor. Anything but.

The 55-year-old has a very specific goal – and nothing will stop him achieving it.

Jogging Jim is doing everything in his power to finish the half marathon under the two-hour mark, after narrowly finishing over that time in his two previous attempts in 2010 and 2012.

With ‘old father time’ not on his side it’s an ambition fast turning into an obsession.

In addition to training three times a week, including intense hill sessions, and serious dieting – he’s lost almost a stone since May – Jim has purchased top-of-the-range running shoes.

And on the big day he’ll be wearing a holster to carry a high-carb drink and will be taking energy gels for when the going gets tough.

But his dedication doesn’t end there.

On the basis that every effort counts, he’s had a sharper than usual haircut and is even considering a last-minute leg shave.

In his past two appearances, Jim has stopped close to Haggerston Terrace in Jarrow for a brief chat with family.

This year, he’s asked the clan to stay away. For once family allegiance comes a distant second to achieving his goal.

There’s a lot resting on his success, with failure meaning he will never compete in the famous half-marathon ever again.

Jim and thousands of others are labelled “fun runners” but, for some, nothing could be further from the truth.

In their own way they are just as focused and dedicated as the elite athletes.

And it’s their endeavours which make the Great North Run what it is.

Good luck, Jim.


Friday 13 September 2013