Saturday 31 March 2018

Dead Poets Society #71 Ken Kesey: Geometry

Image result for ken kesey poet

Geometry by Ken Kesey

If you draw a line
Precisely safe and parallel to mine,
We can sail together
Clear on past the stars
And never meet.
And since the holes between
These points of distant heat
Are deep and blind,
Sight a course for collision
And hang on tight!
... the precision of our loving
Is the lethal kind.

Thursday 29 March 2018

Last night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Good Year For The Roses
Always On My Mind

Da Elderly: -
One Of These Days
Harvest Moon

The Elderly Brothers: -
Crying In The Rain
Handle With Care
Yes I Will
Bring It On Home To Me

What started looking like a very quiet night in The Habit turned into a busy one, the last hour or so being particularly enjoyable. The duo pictured above gave us Spanish guitar instrumental versions of While My Guitar Gently Weeps and Hotel California. After the Elderlys' set I was joined by regular Chris, who had asked me to accompany him on Birds and Only Love Can Break Your Heart. Deb finished off the open mic with a set including Love Is Like A Butterfly, the theme tune from the late 70s, early 80s TV comedy Butterflies. The after-show jam rolled on as usual and a splendid time was guaranteed for someone nearly said on a Beatles album sleeve.

Saturday 24 March 2018

Wednesday night's set lists

At The Habit, York: -

Ron Elderly: -
Try A Little Tenderness
Just My Imagination

Da Elderly: -
On The Way Home
Laurel Canyon Home

The Elderly Brothers: -
No Reply
24 Hours From Tulsa
Cathy's Clown
Out Of Time
You Got It

While never very busy, The Habit was almost full for most of the evening. There were plenty of players, including a new harmony duo pictured above. The Elderlys delivered an eclectic mix of hits, debuting Gene Pitney's 24 Hours From Tulsa, a Burt Bacharach classic. In the after-show jam we were joined by regular Deb and a harmonica player or two. Great fun and a late finish!

Friday 23 March 2018

Dead Poets Society #70 Gregory Corso: Greenwich Village Suicide

Image result for gregory corso new york suicide
Greenwich Village Suicide by Gregory Corso

Arms outstretched
Hands flat against the windowsides
She looks down
Thinks of Bartok, Van Gogh
And New Yorker cartoons
She falls

They take her away with a Daily News on her face
And a storekeeper throws hot water on the sidewalk

Wednesday 21 March 2018

W. C. Fields: A Biography by James Curtis - review

Image result for james curtis wc fields
He liked his drink, but he also liked kids / W.C. Fields biography explores the comic who laughed through his pain
W. C. Fields: A Biography (Knopf; 593 Pages; $35)
By James Curtis

Reviewed by Tom Nolan
16 March 2003

On his deathbed, W.C. Fields, 66, for decades a relentless consumer of alcohol, confided to old friends: "I've often wondered how far I could have gone had I laid off the booze."

The brilliant comic-actor still managed to travel an amazing distance, despite the drink, in a half-century career that began in a summer casino near Philadelphia in 1898 and ended in 1946 in Hollywood.

Starting as a "tramp-juggler" act, Fields worked his way up through burlesque and vaudeville to the top of the bill; toured Europe, South Africa and Australia at the turn of the century; became a star of the Ziegfeld Follies and a hit on the Broadway stage. His first movies were made in the silent-picture era, but talkies displayed his unique gifts to the fullest; and he became (in Buster Keaton's judgment) one of "the greatest of all film comics." Guest appearances on network radio increased his celebrity. If he hadn't died, Fields might have been a success on TV, which he was looking forward to. And 20 years after his passing, he became more popular than ever as an iconoclastic icon whose appeal spanned the 1960s generation gap.

Fields' remarkable career, and the melancholy private life that accompanied it, are chronicled superbly in James Curtis' vivid and engrossing "W.C. Fields. " There have been other books about Fields, of course, but none seem so richly detailed nor so scrupulously researched. Curtis (author of previous biographies about James Whale and Preston Sturges) had access to Fields' papers and autobiographical notes, and he takes pains to differentiate between actual facts and apocrypha. ("Some of the quips attributed to Fields are best regarded as urban legends," Curtis notes. "I could not, for example, find a credible source for his oft-quoted remark about water.")

In lieu of dubious factoids, Curtis delivers a wealth of fresh information. Fields' story, and the milieux in which it unfolded, come to life as never before, and the truth, out of the rough-and-tumble past, is often more colorful than myth.

Here, for instance, is an incident from the Boston run of the Ziegfeld Follies of 1915, when Fields caught fellow performer Ed Wynn stealing laughs during a poolroom sketch: "Fields . . . found [Wynn] under the table making faces at the audience. Inverting his [pool] cue, Fields brought the butt end down on Wynn's skull with an earsplitting crack and continued the routine as his colleague lay out cold on the floor. Back in their dressing room, Fields, who was too much of a professional to hit Wynn in the face, seized him by the throat and beat his head against the wall. . . . [Later] Fields was in a genial, even conciliatory mood. 'Let's keep [the knockout] in,' he urged. 'It was the biggest laugh we got.' "

When Fields made the jump into movies, Curtis writes, he "had the courage to cast himself in the decidedly unfavorable light of a bully and a con man. He not only summed up the frustrations of the common man -- he did something about them." As a result, his best work has a timeless quality, and he was loved in a way quite different from his peers. Critic James Agee called Fields "the toughest and most warmly human of all screen comedians."

One secret of Fields' comedy was its pathos. "I never saw anything funny that wasn't terrible," he said. "If it causes pain, it's funny; if it doesn't, it isn't."

The pain in Fields' humor was present throughout his life, from his tough childhood in Philadelphia (not as Dickensian as he later sketched for journalists, but bad enough) to his death from cirrhosis of the liver.

Yet, through unpleasant family situations, various romantic entanglements, frequent professional frustrations and many physical ailments, he kept the pain at bay with his singular wit, and (for the most part) he avoided the behavioral excesses of his professional persona. Not at all the child hater many moviegoers assumed him to be, Fields was often gentle and generous to kids, one of whom -- Will Rogers' son Jim -- said: "He was like most all the comedians I have ever known -- men with very deep feelings and tremendous compassion."

Despite the warmth that was banked within, Fields could be cold, distant and suspicious. To Curtis' credit, he has shown Fields in all his aspects. The result is a fully dimensional portrait that does ample justice to its one-of-a- kind subject.

Terrifically illustrated with 100 photographs throughout its text, "W.C. Fields" is a joy to read, a masterful biography, perfectly paced and full of fine surprises. The only thing that could make it better would be a supplementary DVD of Fields' greatest scenes. Maybe one of the cable-TV movie channels will seize this good opportunity to schedule a monthlong W.C. Fields festival.

Saturday 17 March 2018

Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy at The Tate, London

Nude, Green Leaves and Bust, 8 March 1932

Picasso 1932: Love, Fame, Tragedy review – the year of magical painting
Tate Modern, London
In 1932, Picasso embarked on a love affair that led to 12 months of furious creativity, as revealed in this exhilarating show

Laura Cumming
The Observer
Sun 11 Mar 2018

Christmas, 1931. Picasso, at 50, is boxed into a terrible marriage, everything fraying through the day’s festivities. To get away from his wife, Olga, he leaves their grand Paris apartment and goes upstairs to the studio above. Here, in the space of one evening, he finishes a vicious little picture of a woman stabbing her sexual rival through the breast, then starts on a much larger canvas.

The new painting shows a curvaceous girl in an armchair. Her arms are lilac – telltale colour, if only Olga had eyes to see it – and her body softly voluptuous. Her head takes the shape of a heart. Picasso cannot paint her face, for that would give him away; instead she has a flurry of brushmarks that blur the special palette he so often, and so ostentatiously, uses for this sitter. She is Marie-Thérèse Walter, 22 years of age, the artist’s secret lover.

To say that life and art are never far apart would be true, but an understatement for Picasso. “The work one does,” he wrote, “is a way of keeping a diary.” And the object of this riveting exhibition is to open that diary for the year 1932, following the artist with such dramatic intensity that you can see what he painted by the week, the day, and even before and after making love with Marie-Thérèse – the impulses of mind and body streaming straight into the art.
Marie Therese Walter
Marie-Thérèse Walter in 1927

Picasso met Marie-Thérèse by chance outside the Galeries Lafayette in 1927; she was 17, he was 45. Photographs show her as short, sturdy and tanned, extremely athletic and addicted to the beach; surely a kind of female counterpart. Marie-Thérèse did not know who he was, but her bourgeois mother did, for Picasso was world-famous, a chauffeur-driven celebrity with a Russian ballerina wife, about to buy a Normandy mansion with a tower for painting and a barn for sculpture. Anyone visiting this show will be amazed that Olga Khokhlova could have seen exactly what we see – over 100 major works from 1932 – and failed to deduce the threat of a rival.

Marie-Thérèse is the central presence here, first to last. The opening portrait is sensational – an odalisque in lavender, blue and gold, head thrown luxuriously back in an armchair. You will recognise her palette all the way through the show, along with her oval eyes, classical nose and radiant crop of blonde hair. Here she is in postcoital bliss, reclining, sleeping, stretching, dreaming, nearly always pictured as if seen in, or from, bed.
Pablo Picasso Nude in a Black Armchair (Nu au fauteuil noir) 1932 Private Collection, USA. Photo Courtesy of Richard Gray Gallery © Succession Picasso/DACS 2018
Nude in a Black Arm Chair, 1932

In January, she appears by silvery moonlight; in August, nude beneath a scorching cobalt sky. She becomes the yellow triangles of her swimming costume, balances a ball seal-like on the beach, curls up like a cat. Picasso sculpts her as a massive head, bulbous and yet somehow beautiful with her ancient Greek profile. The bust reappears in a painting, poised on a classical column in remembered white light, or bursts into the present as a living painting alongside her fascinated maker.

The titles give nothing away – Sleeping Woman, Bather, Nude, always anonymous. Marie-Thérèse was installed in an apartment directly opposite the Picassos by now. But perhaps Olga wasn’t looking; she was, after all raising their son, Paulo, and running a hectic social salon. Life goes torrentially forwards, as indicated in judiciously selected photographs, newspapers, films and letters throughout this show. In February, a Picasso sells for a record-breaking 56,000 francs. In March, editors begin the first catalogue raisonné. He’s in Zurich for a solo show; he’s bulk-buying canvases for a flat-out summer; he’s sleeping with Marie-Thérèse while Olga is away.

Reclining Nude, 2 April 1932

Even if one did not know the affair was clandestine, the paintings might show it. For of course, they are nothing like conventional portraits, where the subject sits before the painter. Marie-Thérèse is often recollected as a hazy purple memory, or her limbs and hands are isolated, then ecstatically reassembled so that one can scarcely make out the figure. In one painting the nose appears priapic, the hands vulval. In another, a sweeping oval of back and hips holds the face and breasts like lush fruit in a dish.

Not the least virtue of this tremendous exhibition is that it emphasises the irreducible strangeness of Picasso. For all the miscegenation of forms, the apparent dissonance of colours – crimson, pistachio, mauve – these paintings are often erotic, even tender. Their beauty is counterintuitive. One begets another in sequence. It feels as if the paintings are talking to each other across the studio, and nowhere more than the majestic group of nudes painted across six momentous days in March, reunited here for the first time since 1932.

Picasso - rue de la Boétie, 1933. Photograph by Sir Cecil Beaton ©The Cecil Beaton Studio Archive at Sotheby’s
Picasso - rue de la Boettie, 1933 by Cecil Beaton

Marie-Thérèse lies sleeping below her own classical bust, a theatrical curtain pinned up behind her. Now the leaves of a fig tree look down upon her, as if swooning over her body. And here she is again, a rhythm of undulations multiplied in the glimmering mirror behind, like Velázquez’s Rokeby Venus. The atmosphere runs from midnight to bright day, across the seasons and centuries from some ancient grove to modern-day Paris. She dreams; he conjures the myths.

These paintings appeared in Picasso’s first retrospective in June 1932. Two thousand Parisians attended the opening in evening gowns and tails; photographs show that they weren’t inured to the shock. And it seems that Olga finally realised what was going on, although she did not leave Picasso until Marie-Thérèse became pregnant in 1935. Picasso was absent; he went to the movies instead.

The retrospective is brilliantly condensed in a few works at Tate Modern, giving a full sense of his career so far, from the sorrowful Girl in a Chemise and Blue Period self-portraits to a neoclassical Olga in all her glacial rigidity. Picasso redefines the portrait for each woman. Olga does not appear again, except perhaps in a frightening painting of a black-haired woman, her face a violent black palette, features unrecognisable. Olga was undergoing psychiatric treatment.

The Mirror, 12 March 1932 by Pablo Picasso
The Mirror, 12 March 1932

What did Picasso really feel for either woman? “Love is the only thing,” he once said, but with a hasty qualification, à la Prince Charles, “whatever that means.” His is not an open-hearted art; and there is a fine line between beauty and horror. Marie-Thérèse may be his glorious shining moon, but she can also dwindle to a stick figure scuttling along a beach.

Picasso was so prolific this show could have run to several hundred images. But discerning selection means you are never overwhelmed. A room of black-and-white canvases shows him working with paint as if it were charcoal, drawing then freely erasing, the blackened results presaging abstract expressionism. Another gallery presents Titianesque goddesses reclining to the music of young Grecian flautists – he was always competing with the old masters – and 14 inky crucifixions based on Grünewald’s Isenheim altarpiece. There’s no profundity here, only ramification; Picasso is merely investigating that spiritual masterpiece as a way of practising his own graphic notations.

That he worked quite so intensively in series, image breeding image, is a physical revelation at Tate Modern. Every work is charged with sensational force and desire, the brush moving around his lover’s body like a tongue or hand. Life alters towards the end of the year. Fascism is stirring in Europe, Marie-Thérèse becomes dangerously ill after swimming in a contaminated river. The final works show men desperately trying to rescue drowning women. But still there is a sense of metamorphosis, of episode and emotion becoming myth. Picasso is about to enter the worst period of his life, shifting faithlessly between two women. But Marie-Thérèse never abandons him. Like the classical bust he astutely makes of her, she remains heroic and enduring.

Three stars of the show

The Dream
24 January 1932

Billionaire investor Steve Cohen paid billionaire casino magnate Steve Wynn a record £103m for this trophy in 2013. It had to be repaired in 2006 after Wynn accidentally put his elbow through it. Marie-Thérèse dozes in her chair, dress slipping off to expose one breast, fingers significantly gathered to a point. She is dreaming of Picasso (look closely at the coded forms in that head). A morning of love followed by a single afternoon’s work.

Nude Woman in a Red Armchair
27 July 1932

Of all the hundreds of images Picasso made of his lover, this is surely the most beautiful and tender, painted in high summer not long after her 23rd birthday. Marie-Thérèse is all rhyming curlicues and arabesques, holding her own bosomy beauty together. She has two kissing forms for a face, like the new moon holding the old in its arms, and her silky flesh is bathed in moonlight.

The Rescue
November 1932

Marie-Thérèse became gravely ill after swimming in a polluted river in the autumn of 1932. She lost her brilliant blonde hair. Picasso produced a tide of images of men desperately attempting to rescue drowning women. In this early version, the agony is condensed on a small-scale, the bearded man has classical features and the victim might be a nymph.There is that pale lavender again: Marie-Thérèse’s signature colour.