Sunday 31 March 2019

Van Gogh in Britain

Starry Night Over the Rhone, 1888

Squalor, glamour, wealth and cruelty: the Britain Van Gogh saw and loved
He painted prisoners, devoured Dickens and worshipped the London News … ahead of a major show, our writer reveals how Britain changed Van Gogh – and how he transformed its art

Charlotte Higgins
The Guardian
25 March 2019

Vincent van Gogh was the most European of artists. His brief, intense life, before he killed himself aged 37, saw him moving between his native Netherlands, Belgium, England and France. He spent two years in London from 1873 to 1875, employed by an art dealer; in 1876, for shorter periods, he worked as a teacher in Ramsgate and Isleworth. Later, when he was living in Paris, Van Gogh wrote to his brother Theo about seeing a painting that depicted London from Victoria Embankment, by Giuseppe De Nittis. “When I saw this painting,” he wrote, “I felt how much I love London.” The city provided a deep immersion into the bewildering, heady life of a fully industrialised metropolis. This was Dickens’s London, with its squalor, its teeming masses, its glamour, its wealth, its cruelty – and, importantly for his formation, its art galleries.

After his death, the love, at first fitfully, flowed in the opposite direction. When his work was shown at Roger Fry’s famous post-impressionist exhibition in 1910, it changed the course of British art. In 1947, bombed-out, austerity London was given a blast of the golds and scarlets and greens and azure blues of Provence, and Van Gogh’s paintings, by then sanctified into mass popularity, astounded the public once more. 
The Manchester Guardian’s critic, Eric Newton, wrote of that exhibition, held at what is now Tate Britain: “When he painted with reckless courage from a full heart … the results are astonishing. What is more, they will always be astonishing. That kind of genius cannot go out of fashion.” This month, Van Gogh will be returning to the building, as a major new exhibition examines his relationship with Britain – what he drew from it and what he bequeathed to it.

Van Gogh is no longer merely a popular artist, he is a worldwide brand. In 2017, 2.26 million visitors passed through the doors of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, an astounding number for an institution devoted to the work of a single artist. In the shop, sunflowers, irises and almond blossoms emblazon every kind of item from spectacles to suitcases. His home village of Nuenen, on the outskirts of Eindhoven, where he spent important months training himself to be a painter – and where his father suddenly died, his girlfriend drank poison and the Catholic priest urged parishioners to stop sitting for him after one of his subjects became pregnant – is now a place of pilgrimage, with an visitors’ centre and coach-loads of tourists in the summer. The Noordbrabants Museum, in nearby ’s-Hertogenbosch, which holds a small but important collection of early works by the artist, even stocks in its shop a rubber in the shape of a severed ear (an “earaser”, if you please).
The painting that sparked Van Gogh’s love of London: The Victoria Embankment, London, 1875, by Giuseppe de Nittis.

Because of all this, it is hard to separate Van Gogh the global phenomenon from Van Gogh the real young man, tentative, passionate, principled, religious, curious, difficult. His curse and his blessing was his literary ability – and his extraordinary letters, which fleshed out his biography and made him an object of cultish fascination (and subject of plays such as Vincent in Brixton, and of films such as Lust for Life and Loving Vincent). The letters, preserved and promoted by his sister-in-law Jo van Gogh-Bonger, after Theo’s death from syphilis, also contain the material to rescue him from the wilder claims of the many observers who have struggled to separate his work from his mental state.

At the 1910 exhibition, the Observer’s critic, PG Konody, wrote that at least some of his paintings were “merely the ravings of a maniac”. But letters show that whatever his mental illness consisted of, it was not a matter of a madman raging at a canvas, or a lunatic expressing distorted, hallucinogenic visions in paint. When he suffered his most intense periods of sickness, he did not – could not – paint. Perhaps our age, with its gradually increasing sensitivity to the nuances of mental ill-health, can be the one that finally removes the stigma.

Van Gogh lived in London before his momentous decision in 1879 to become an artist. (It is always extraordinary to recall that his active career was a mere decade in duration.) Working in Covent Garden at Goupil’s, as an art dealer specialising in reproductions, and lodging at Hackford Road in Lambeth, south of the river, he took long walks through the city streets, and often visited the National Gallery. A favourite painting in Trafalgar Square was Hobbema’s The Avenue at Middelharnis , which showed a distinctive flat Dutch landscape, with pollarded trees lining a lane that diminishes into the distance. It is the progenitor of many similar views by Van Gogh. According to Carol Jacobi, the curator of the Tate Britain show, it was also his reading of John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress that made the “small figure on a long autumnal avenue” become a “visualisation of life as a journey”.

The Avenue at Middelharnis, 1689, by Meindert Hobbema

He described his own Avenue of Poplars in Autumn, which he made in 1884 in Nuenen, as a scene where “the sun makes glittering patches here and there on the fallen leaves on the ground, which are interspersed with the long shadows cast by the trunks”. Nine years earlier, when living in Britain, he had written out John Keats’s Ode to Autumn, in English, in a letter to Dutch friends.

Van Gogh was deeply immersed in English (and French) literature. He read easily and quickly in the original languages. Dickens was a solace. When Van Gogh went into an asylum in Provence, late in his life, he bought copies of the novelist’s work in French translation. His famous paintings of empty chairs – his own, simple and rush-seated, and Gauguin’s, a more elegant piece of furniture in polished wood – echoed the touching drawing by Luke Fildes of the novelist’s empty chair made soon after his death. He loved Fildes’s socially aware images of the urban poor, and Gustave Doré’s print series of London scenes. Later on, he copied Doré’s print of prisoners exercising in Newgate, making a solemn, claustrophobic painting of it. He bought Fildes’s print Homeless and Hungry, which had appeared in weekly newspaper the Graphic in 1869.

“I used to go every day to the display case of the printer of the Graphic and London News … the impressions I gained there on the spot were so strong that the drawings have remained clear and bright in my mind,” he remembered later. Eventually, he collected around 2,000 such prints. When he started drawing seriously, he toyed with the idea that he could make a living selling work to such publications. “He was developing his singular, forceful line from the lines used in these etchings,” says Jacobi.
Vincent Van Gogh’s former home in south London

Van Gogh lived in London only three years after Dickens had died. Books such as Hard Times fed his empathy for the downtrodden. One of his late portraits of his friend Marie Ginoux, made in 1890 (and with which Tate Britain’s exhibition begins) shows her with copies of Dickens’s Christmas Stories and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin on the table in front of her. He also adored George Eliot. “Have you read anything good lately?” he wrote to Theo in 1878. “Be sure to get hold of the works of George Eliot somehow, you won’t be sorry if you do, Adam Bede, Silas Marner, Felix Holt, Romola (the life of Savonarola), Scenes of Clerical Life.”

Later he read Felix Holt in Dutch. “It is a book written with great verse, and various scenes are described as Frank Holl or someone similar might have drawn them. The way of thinking and the outlook are similar. There are not many writers as utterly sincere and good as Eliot.” When Van Gogh began drawing in Nuenen, he often made weavers his subjects. Even though industrialised textile-making was taking over in nearby towns such as Tilburg, there were still cottage weavers in the village, scraping a living from their slow, laborious work using a technology unchanged for centuries (in the Nuenen visitor centre, there is a beautiful 18th-century loom, just like the ones in Van Gogh’s drawings).
Marie Ginoux with copies of Dickens’s Christmas Stories and Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin in one of Van Gogh’s L’Arlésienne paintings

He was inspired by Stephen Blackpool, the weaver in Hard Times; and perhaps even more by Eliot’s weaver, Silas Marner. One drawing, from 1884, shows a weaver with a baby sitting nearby in a high chair, rather like one imagines Silas and little Eppie, the child he adopts in the book. Van Gogh saw himself as a weaver of sorts – like “someone who must control and interweave many threads … so absorbed in his work that he doesn’t think but acts, and feels how it can and must work out”.

The threads of Van Gogh’s influence wind their way into British art. Jim Ede, whose home became Kettle’s Yard gallery in Cambridge, and who worked at the Tate before its conservative policies wore him down, persuaded Bonger to part with the great Sunflowers canvas that is now displayed in the National Gallery. (It will move back to Tate Britain for the exhibition.) Those flowers launched a new wave of avant-garde still lifes on these shores, by artists from Frank Brangwyn to Samuel John Peploe to Matthew Smith to Winifred Nicholson. Oddly enough, though, it was the painting The Potato Eaters – a grim, dark-brown scene of hard-bitten village life that was his early masterpiece from the Nuenen years – that the public was especially drawn to.

In a country half-crushed by war, the Van Gogh they needed was the painter of hunger and toil and people of small means. It will be interesting to see what Van Gogh we find ourselves needing in post-Brexit London.

Van Gogh and Britain opens at Tate Britain, London, on 27 March.

Saturday 30 March 2019

Friday 29 March 2019

Wednesday night's set lists at The Habit, York

Ron Elderly: -
Just My Imagination
Streets Of London

Da Elderly: -
I Believe In You
I Don't Want To Talk About It (introduced as "My Brexit song")

The Elderly Brothers: -
When Will I Be Loved
The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Any More
Sylvia's Mother
I Saw Her Standing There

Well, it was another packed house for The Habit open mic night......enough players to keep us going right through until the end and an attentive and enthusiastic audience. The standard of the acts early on was excellent, with a couple of new duos' debut performances. One such (pictured above) delivered an outstanding cover of Paul Simon's Under African Skies. Regular Tony returned after illness with his own unique take on Homer Henderson's Lee Harvey Was a Friend of Mine. Lover of all things West Coast, Dave, surprised us with CSN's Helplessly Hoping.
Host Simon kicking things off

The Elderlys finished off the show including two 'new' songs on their set: a tribute to the recently deceased Scott Walker and a Dr.Hook classic. The acoustic after-show jam completed the evening, aided and abetted by several Neil Young/Elvis fans, who weren't left disappointed.

Tuesday 26 March 2019

Scott Walker RIP

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Scott Walker obituary
Pop singer who rose to fame in the 1960s and went on to become an enigmatic solo artist

Adam Sweeting
The Guardian
Mon 25 Mar 2019

The career of Scott Walker, who has died aged 76, followed one of the most extraordinary trajectories in popular music. It took him from chart-topping 1960s pop star to reclusive creator of albums such as Tilt (1995), The Drift (2006) and Bish Bosch (2012), which were works of experimental strangeness that dared critics to try to define them. Nonetheless they commanded the respect and even awe of other artists. “He’s been my idol since I was a kid,” said David Bowie, while Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, Brian Eno and Jarvis Cocker were similarly inspired.

Walker, whose later work was more likely to provoke comparisons with Francis Bacon’s paintings than with other musicians, professed himself content to walk his own unique path.“I have long since stopped worrying about fitting in in any way,” he told the Observer’s Sean O’Hagan in 2008. “I’m an outsider for sure. That suits me fine. Solitude is like a drug for me. I crave it.”

The contrast between the almost invisible Walker of his later years and his early pop-star self could not have been greater. As a member of the Walker Brothers – three Americans who came to Britain in search of success – he scored three top 10 albums in the UK between 1965 and 1967, Take It Easy With the Walker Brothers, Portrait and Images.

He will be remembered as the resonant, burnished baritone voice on some of the most dramatic singles of the era. The Burt Bacharach/Hal David composition Make It Easy on Yourself (1965) was their first UK chart-topping single, an orchestrated epic of romantic loss and longing created with the arranger Ivor Raymonde and the producer Johnny Franz, the A&R chief from the group’s label, Philips.

The same team took them back to the top of the UK charts the following year with The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine (Anymore), another odyssey of heartbreak. The yearning melodies and his blond good looks established Walker as a pin-up, but he never felt comfortable with the frenzy of teen hysteria that accompanied their success. In 1966 he fled to a monastery for a week.

The group’s hot streak tailed off, Walker had begun drinking heavily, and in 1967 they split up. “Initially, it was fantastic, and I learned so much,” he said in 2018. “I got to work with huge orchestras and good budgets. But after a while, the formula … wore itself out.”

Born Noel Scott Engel in the small mid-west town of Hamilton, Ohio, he was the only child of Elizabeth (nee Fortier), a French-Canadian, and her husband, Noel Engel, a geologist who worked in the oil industry, his work prompting the family to move around a lot. His parents divorced when he was six, and Scott and his mother later settled in California. A child actor and performer, his first stage appearance was in a Rodgers and Hammerstein production, Pipe Dream, in New York when he was 10.

He was initially championed by the singer and TV host Eddie Fisher, who featured him on his show, but after he lost interest, Engel abandoned his singing career to become a session bass guitarist. He teamed up with the guitarist John Maus, a former child television star, and in 1964 the Walker Brothers were born, the name coming from Maus’s false identity card which he used in Los Angeles clubs. Joining forces with the drummer Gary Leeds, who had played with PJ Proby in Britain, the trio recorded the Barry Mann/Cynthia Weil song Love Her at RCA Studios in 1965. John was originally the lead singer, but the song suited Scott’s baritone voice and he became the frontman.

Persuaded by Leeds, who had told his band members about swinging London, the Walker Brothers flew to Britain. They landed at a snowy Heathrow Airport, quickly found a management deal, and saw Love Her become a top 20 hit. Walker was to stay in the UK for the rest of his life, taking British citizenship in 1970.

Following the band’s split, Walker’s solo career got off to a flying start with his first album, Scott, a UK No 3, while Scott 2 the following year reached No 1 and Scott 3 (1969) also reached No 3. All of these successfully mixed original Walker compositions (including such superb songs as Montague Terrace (in Blue) and Big Louise) with those by Belgian songwriter Jacques Brel – whose tales of madness, sex and death fascinated Walker – and other writers, such as Bacharach/David and Tim Hardin. But his fortunes changed abruptly when Scott 4 (also 1969), with all the material written by Walker, failed to chart. When rock was being defined by Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, Walker’s orchestrations and semi-operatic baritone felt out of time.

After sales dried up, Walker left Philips. Following a series of experiments with country and western and showbiz tunes on albums such as ’Til the Band Comes In (1970), The Moviegoer (1972) and Any Day Now (1973), Walker reformed the Walker Brothers in 1975, a reunion that gave them a hit single with a cover of Tom Rush’s No Regrets. Their album Nite Flights (1978) failed commercially, prompting the group’s final collapse, but it contained Walker’s song The Electrician, a disturbing piece that pointed the way ahead. David Bowie later covered Walker’s song Nite Flights on his Black Tie White Noise album.

The group’s disintegration ended Walker’s live career, his last appearance being a stumbling performance in cabaret in 1978. Signed to Virgin two years later, the singer saw his early albums elevated to cult status, but it was not until 1984 that he released Climate of Hunter, which dispensed with the lushness of his previous work in favour of an abstract, ambient approach. Several of the tracks did not even have titles, and in the opening song, Rawhide, the opening line was: “This is how you disappear.” The album did not sell well and Walker temporarily forsook the music industry. He worked as a painter and decorator, undertook a fine art course and made a cameo in a Britvic drinks advert.

However, interest in Walker’s career had begun to grow. As early as 1981 Julian Cope had curated the compilation Fire Escape in the Sky: The Godlike Genius of Scott Walker, and Phonogram released Boy Child: The Best of Scott Walker 1967-70 (1990) and No Regrets: The Best of Scott Walker and the Walker Brothers 1965-76 (1992). Encouraged, Walker signed a deal with Fontana and released the single Man From Reno, which featured on the soundtrack of the French language film Toxic Affair in 1993. Two years later he released Tilt, his first album in 11 years. “On the surface, there couldn’t have been a more unlikely transformation,” the Guardian wrote. “Imagine Andy Williams reinventing himself as Stockhausen.” Harsh and industrial, there were traces of music from Bali or Japan, and in Farmer in the City Walker could have been an operatic tenor singing a cantata.

With each new release into the 21st century, Walker pushed boundaries. The Drift (2006) found him experimenting with dissonance and unusual tunings, creating lugubrious soundscapes seemingly intended to evoke some form of purgatory. “It’s just generally big blocks of sound, raw and stark,” he said. Bish Bosch (2012) took the form even further, mixing in everything from Hawaiian folk song to drum loops, heavy metal guitars, a cappella harmonies and a full symphony orchestra in songs that discuss history, philosophy and medical procedures and Attila the Hun’s court jester. For Soused (2014), he paired up with “the shroud-wearing Seattle drone metallers” Sunn 0))), a project that Walker described as “pretty perfect”.

He curated the South Bank Meltdown festival in 2000, the same year he composed two songs for Ute Lemper’s Punishing Kiss (2000). He produced Pulp’s album We Love Life (2002), and in 2003 he received a Q award.

He was commissioned by the South Bank to compose music for the contemporary dance piece And Who Shall Go To The Ball? And What Shall Go To The Ball? (2007), and was commissioned by the Royal Opera House to compose music for Duet For One Voice. Also In 2007 came Stephen Kijak’s documentary, Scott Walker: 30 Century Man. Ten year later he was celebrated at the Proms in The Songs of Scott Walker (1967-70). A selection of his lyrics from six decades, Sundog, was published last year. His most recent musical output was for Brady Corbet’s film Vox Lux, starring Natalie Portman and Jude Law.

He is survived by his partner, Beverly, his daughter, Lee, from his marriage to Mette Teglbjaerg, which ended in divorce, and his granddaughter, Emmi-Lee.

• Scott Walker (Noel Scott Engel), singer and songwriter, born 9 January 1943; died 22 March 2019

Sunday 24 March 2019

Lawrence Osborne on writing Philip Marlowe

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Impersonating Philip Marlowe

By Lawrence Osborne
The New York Times
20 September 2018

In 2016 the great London agent Ed Victor, and the equally formidable Graham C. Greene, a nephew of the novelist, asked me if I would consider writing a sequel to the Philip Marlowe novels that have periodically appeared since Raymond Chandler’s death in 1959. The offer, as you might expect, was gentlemanly. Robert B. Parker and the novelist John Banville would be my only predecessors, having between them published three Marlowe novels between 1988 and the present. The sequels began with Parker’s “Poodle Springs,” a completion of Chandler’s last novel, then continued with the same author’s “Perchance to Dream,” in 1991, and culminated with Banville’s “The Black Eyed Blonde,” published under his pen name Benjamin Black in 2014. I was told that I could do more or less whatever I wanted — within reason. But what was within reason?

My first impulse was to turn the offer down. I revere Banville as a stylist, not to mention Chandler himself, and it seemed hazardous to try to compete with both of them at the same time. I surely couldn’t win that one. Apart from anything else, fans of both would probably be propelled into a tediously predictable state of ire. So what was the upside? There was vanity, of course; and then there was curiosity, the demon that killed the cat. So far, so treacherous. But there were also possibilities. I wrote back to the Chandler estate to ask whether its executors might consider my making Marlowe old, alone and desolately marooned in the year 1988. Would it fly with them, or indeed with Chandler’s fans? Would they mind seeing him in the age of Ronald Reagan and Slash?

I thought to myself that before accepting I would write 40 pages set in Baja in 1988 and see if the resulting Marlowe-in-dotage gave off the delicious sparks that a character must generate if his creator is to stay the course. If the pages worked, I’d accept the commission and stand by the decision. Presented with the whole novel, they could then see if I had wasted my time, and theirs. It was not a small gamble.

But to begin with it was an exercise, a speculative ventriloquy. The cadences of Chandler, the inner world of his knight-errant (a thinly disguised version of the hero knight of Sir Thomas Malory’s “Le Morte d’Arthur”), the quick-stepping wisecracks and beautifully compressed metaphors — all of this could be echoed in some way. But tricks of that kind are bound to weary a reader looking, as all readers do, for authenticity of voice. Little by little, something else has to happen. In the end, you’re condemned to write your own book. A pastiche or historical period piece would never have worked for me anyway. As Salvador Dalí used to say: “Don’t bother about being modern. Unfortunately it is the one thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid.”
Marlowe sizes up The Infinite Pad.
James Garner as the eponymous detective in Marlowe (1969)

I had worked as a small-time reporter on the United States-Mexico border at about that time. Not as a gumshoe, but not dissimilar. The paper was The San Diego Reader. When I arrived there from England, inexperienced, arrogant, penniless, I had no idea where I was. For my first assignment I was sent to the Sycuan Indian casino in El Cajon, where I won $2,000 on the Crazy Bow Tie bingo game televised live from Oklahoma City. It was larger than any check I had ever received from a publisher in London, and I began to wonder if California was really where I was meant to be. Among the books stacked in my 1940s Hillcrest apartment were the seven Chandler novels, which I repeatedly reread because they now seemed so much less fantastical. Above, the shrill blue sky of our little nightmares; below, the San Diego canyons among which Chandler was now buried.

Thereafter I was dispatched to places like Mexicali, Sonoyta and Tijuana to report on illegal immigration, local crime and the occasional lucha libre wrestling tournament. Then further afield to Mexico City to take the coyote buses that leave from the Terminal Central to the northern border. I learned Spanish, and moved to Baja for a while. But inevitably things went south in more metaphorical ways.

On one assignment I was sent to do a nocturnal police ride-along in the gang-infested desert town of El Centro, right on the border, a place straight out of “Touch of Evil.” I misspelled the name of a cinema over whose roof I reported clambering with a rookie cop while holding his shotgun, and the mayor hauled me in for a blistering rebuke, after which I was fired for misrepresenting “the community.” I think it was fair enough. I also now had a setting that I would never use creatively until Ed Victor made his call: the landscapes of the Anza-Borrego, the half-dead settlements of the Salton Sea, where occasionally I reported stories of con men or real-estate shenanigans, and, of course, the long mapless journeys by bus around Mexico that never had a logical beginning or end.

The Hotel Portales in Colima, the Salton Sea and the saloon bars of El Centro and Mazatlán: These were flyblown places that all remained internally fossilized. But with the excuse of a genre outing, an impersonation of another writer, I found these places suddenly liberated from their bedrock. Far from being an impersonal pastiche of a distant time, my Marlowe novel, “Only to Sleep,” became, during the writing, an act of memoir. Those places came back to life.

What I remembered most from those years on the road was the absoluteness of the loneliness. Every day you wash up alone in some bar or restaurant and take your beer among strangers, talking insanely to yourself, looking out on to squares and streets you don’t know, and then the following day you climb into a bus going somewhere you haven’t yet quite figured out and move in to another bar and restaurant with the same beer and the same flies and the same strangers. I used to think it was a particular kind of madness to which I was prone. But you can’t spend so much time doing what I did for no reason. It must answer a yearning that has no prospectus. All this passed into my Marlowe.

The following year, after the book was finished, I was invited to the Italian home of several of the descendants of Graham Greene, who today manage much of the Chandler estate (a complicated family history entwines the Chandler and Greene families). Alexander Greene and his stepsister, Charlotte Horton, make a magnificent wine in the estate surrounding their Castello di Potentino in the wild hills south of Montalcino. I took the proofs of my book with me to work on during the day, and in my lofty room overlooking the vineyards, I lay in bed dressed in a set of Graham Greene’s brightly striped pajamas, given to me by the family. They fit perfectly, which made me wonder how Raymond Chandler’s pajamas would have fit. Did the family have some of those too? Would they have been too small, would they have been striped? I never learned.

I was surprised by how little I remembered writing any of “Only to Sleep.” Had it come out so automatically, without the usual torments, as if channeled not by the ghost of a dead American writer but by the ghost of my own failed and pathless younger self? Apparently so. Places I had forgotten suddenly alive again in a single paragraph, as if written under hypnosis — the aging Marlowe, stumbling and melancholic, wandering through rooms and streets that only I had stumbled through. You could say that the greatest danger of accepting such a commission is the hubris of the later writer pointlessly emulating the great one before him, and it would be true. But there is also the unexpected deviation, the tale that wouldn’t have happened otherwise — and also, if I may dare to say, the voice that would have remained buried.
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Lawrence Osborne’s latest novel, “Only to Sleep,” came out in July.

I really enjoyed this. It's respectful and evokes Chandler without trying to shoehorn in Chandler-lite similes at every opportunity (a sure sign of imitation rather than good writing). There's also a real touch of Graham Greene to it. 

Saturday 23 March 2019

Michael Chabon - Bookends: Collected Intros and Outros - review

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Are intros and outros the bland bread of a book sandwich? Michael Chabon's 'Bookends' makes them the main course
Michael Chabon's new book "Bookends: Collected Intros and Outros" assembles his pieces that accompany other texts

Stephen Phillips
The Los Angeles Times
11 February 2019

Forewords, prefaces and afterwords rank squarely among literature’s stepchildren — above marginalia and non-David Foster Wallace footnotes perhaps but below prologues and postscripts. For many readers they’re makeweight puffery, eminently skippable, a lot of throat-clearing and flapdoodle. A collection of such squibs might be a tough sell even if its author is acclaimed litterateur Michael Chabon.

Chabon concedes as much in his “meta-introduction” to “Bookends: Collected Intros and Outros.” The proportion of readers prepared to waylay themselves with an introduction approximates the proportion of consumers willing to futz “with user manuals before … powering up the widget,” he suspects. And spare a thought for the humble afterword — literature’s caboose. Who sticks around for that? For a hint of what those of us outside the golden circle of overachievement are missing, Chabon obligingly taxonomizes the merits of felicitous forewords. They may be “transitive: acts of seduction that are at the same time documents of earlier seductions,” or, in a good way, “parasitical,” upstaging “their hosts.” The finest prefaces and afterwords, meanwhile, are “restorative. They unstopper the vial that contains, like some volatile oil, the fragrance of the time in which the prefaced work was engendered, conceived, or written, summoning for writer and reader alike a sensuous jolt of things past.” But does uncoupling such hurrahs, homages, raves and rhapsodies from the works they accessorize and cobbling them together yield a volume that satisfies on its own? Most readers will likely never have heard of much of the arcana eulogized in “Bookends.” Chabon has long channeled his inner fanboy, flaunting obscure passions and inspirations in his novels. And aficionados will find familiar preoccupations — comic books, superheroes, sci-fi, fantasy. But non-heads may blank on Swedish author Frans G. Bengtsson. Stated otherwise: Is “Bookends” strictly for the Chabon completist?

I’d recommend it for the Chabon greenhorn on up. Chabon has never been precious or stingy with his talent; he’s unspooled it from a single skein, whether in essays, columns, even — for DJ-producer Mark Ronson — liner notes (a species of foreword and reproduced in “Bookends”) or novels. “The primary motivation for writing introductions,” he explains, is of a piece with “everything I write: a hope of bringing pleasure to the reader.” The strongest entries in this compilation emphatically afford this — ignorance of their subjects no object.

“Bookends” reveals in full measure the avid fandom flickering around the edges of much of Chabon’s fiction. Eschewing hermetic analysis, he recounts the sensation of encountering a work of art.

Here, he recollects the feeling of reading Greek myths after millennia “of moralizers, preceptors, dramatists, hypocrites and scolds” have had their way in mediating them for our consumption:

“The original darkness was still there, and it was still very dark indeed. But it had been engineered, like a fetid swamp by the Army Corps, rationalized, bricked up, rechanneled, given a dazzling white coat of cement. It had been turned to the advantage of people trying to make a point to recalcitrant listeners.”

And he makes short work of evoking for the uninitiated the aesthetic of the Ben Katchor comic strip, “Julius Knipl, Real Estate Photographer” — “a dyspeptic, masculine world the color of the stained lining of a hat.”

Elsewhere, he compares ghost-story master M.R. James in his unwitting use of recondite post-modern devices in service of the workaday task of frightening the wits out of his readers to a “casual, gentleman tinkerer yoking a homemade anti-gravity drive to the derailleurs of his bicycle because he is tired of being late to church every Sunday.”
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And prefacing shards from an abandoned early novel, Chabon describes exhuming it from his computer and beholding “a strangely intact record of my life during the time I was writing the book, a bubble of ancient air trapped in the caulked hull of the sunken novel,” before giving up the ghost: “the great brined and barnacled hulk sank back to the silence and dark.”

Then there’s the preface to his novel “Summerland” that detours into a meditation on his “sense,” as a nostalgia fiend (“… who cannot make it from one end of a street to another without being momentarily upended by some fragment of outmoded typography, curve of chrome fender, or whiff of lavender hair oil from the pate of a semi-retired neighbor …,” he writes elsewhere), “of belatedness” — “perhaps … an artifact or hangover of the evolution of consciousness itself, of the descent of homo sapiens from the smooth, continuous flow of animal time into human time, discontinuous and pulsing like a watch-works with the awareness of mortality. Perhaps a child or grandchild of the first hominid to abandon the forest canopy for the forest floor looked up, one ancient African evening, at the sunlight that was fading in the treetops overhead, and felt just the way I felt …”

Besides such numinous musing is dead-eyed observation — for instance, a beloved literary mentor shod in “the kind of tan hybrid of sneaker and Oxford shoe favored by elder-hostlers.”

Corralled between covers for the first time a thread runs through these pieces: In their paeans to formative influences, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young [Nerd]” meets Jonathan Lethem’s “Ecstasy of Influence” refracted through Henry Miller’s “The Books in My Life.”

“Bookends” wobbles and sags in places. Chabon can frustrate as well as beguile. A disquisition on superhero outfits is logorrheic — “Thus, while claiming, on the one hand, a dubiously ahistorical, archetypal source for the superhero idea in the Jungian vastness of legend, we dissolve its true universality in a foaming bath of periodized explanations, and render the superhero and his costume a time-fixed idea that is always already going out of fashion.”

Still, in an age of algorithmic “based on your viewing history” recommendation engines, it offers — with all the serendipity, and redundancy, this entails — the gleanings of an idiosyncratic, omnivorous human mind: a destination unto itself but also a gateway to the work of others.

Friday 22 March 2019

Wednesday night's set lists at The Habit, York

Ron Elderly: -
Always On My Mind
Just My Imagination

Da Elderly: -
Nobody's Fault But Mine
Heart Of Gold

The Elderly Brothers: -
Walk Right Back
Then I Kissed Her
When Will I Be Loved
All My Loving
Surfing USA
I Saw Her Standing There

It would be true to say that the regulars were somewhat surprised at the size and attentiveness of the audience at The Habit. From the off the bar was full and remained so for most of the evening. Sometime visitor, ex-pat Ken, got everyone singing along with 24 Hours From Tulsa and Sweet Caroline. There were several 'new' players too, with excellent skills on show. The Elderly Brothers closed out the show and played on unplugged for another hour with several folks joining in, both playing and singing..... another fun-filled night of Habit mayhem.

Monday 18 March 2019

Dick Dale RIP

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Dick Dale, King of the Surf Guitar, Is Dead at 81

By Emily S. Rueb and Jon Pareles
The New York Times
17 March 2019

Dick Dale, who was known as the King of the Surf Guitar and recorded the hit song “Misirlou,” which was revived on the “Pulp Fiction” soundtrack, died on Saturday at a hospital in Southern California. He was 81.

His death was confirmed by Dusty Watson, a drummer who played live shows with Mr. Dale. The cause was not immediately known.

Mr. Dale was a surfer, sound pioneer and guitarist whose unusual, percussive playing style and thick, thunderous music earned him the nickname the Father of Heavy Metal, and influenced the Beach Boys, the Cure, Eddie Van Halen and Jimi Hendrix.

Sam Bolle, a bassist who played with Mr. Dale’s namesake band, Dick Dale, for about 15 years, described him as “an aggressive and ferocious” musician who played like one of the lions he raised at his home.

“I played a gig with him about a month ago,” he said, and “he was still slaughtering people with volume.”

Mr. Dale was born Richard Monsour in Boston in 1937. He developed a musical signature that was influenced by the traditions of his Lebanese father and Eastern European mother, and by the flamboyant big-band drummer Gene Krupa.

After moving to California as a child, Mr. Dale defined the sound of surf guitar as a musical expression of the elemental surge of the ocean, with its savage waves, its volatile crosscurrents and its tidal undertow. He played melodies that crisscrossed the beat with the determination of a surfer riding through choppy waves, forging a triumphant path above deep turbulence.

“Surf music is a heavy machine-gun staccato picking style to represent the power of Mother Nature, of our earth, of our ocean,” he told The New York Times in 1994. His almost constant tremolo created friction so intense that it melted his guitar picks and strings as he played.

“The staccato is so fast it heat-treats the strings,” he said. “They turn purple and black and they snap. And when I play, you’ll see a flurry of plastic — it just falls down like snow. I used to think it was dandruff. But I grind so hard that the guitar picks just melt down.”

His quest for a sonic impact to match what he had felt while surfing also led to innovations that would change the technology of electric guitars and amplification.

Leo Fender, one of the electric guitar’s trailblazers, worked closely with Mr. Dale to create a guitar sturdy enough to withstand his style — Mr. Dale called it the Beast — and an amplifier that could crank up loud enough to fill a dance hall.

“Leo and I went to Lansing Speaker,” Mr. Dale said in 1994, “and we said, ‘We need a speaker that will not burn, will not flex, will not twist, will not break.’”

In the fast-changing 1960s, instrumental surf rock reigned briefly on the charts, and the Beach Boys used it as one foundation of their pop songs. Mr. Dale’s brash playing also found a fan in Jimi Hendrix, among many other guitarists, and, decades later, among a generation of indie-rockers who prized his untamed sound.

Chris Darrow, a multi-instrumentalist recording artist who has been in the music industry for 50 years, first saw Mr. Dale perform at the Rendezvous Ballroom in Newport Beach in the early 1960s.

“The intensity and volume of the performances were such that the wooden building seemed to lift off the ground when he played,” Mr. Darrow said in an interview with the music journalist Harvey Kubernik. “Until the Beatles came along there was nothing that drove the audiences as wild like Dick Dale and the Del-Tones. He was boss.”

The only real surf guitarist for me is Dick Dale,” he added. “All the rest are imitators.”

In 1963, Mr. Dale’s music was catapulted onto a national stage when he performed “Misirlou,” an adaptation of a traditional Arabic song, on “The Ed Sullivan Show.” That same song re-entered the mainstream in the 1990s, as the opening anthem for Quentin Tarantino’s blockbuster film “Pulp Fiction.”

Mr. Watson, who played live with Mr. Dale for over a decade, said Mr. Dale had been sick for a while, but that “he’s such a bull,” he thought he would “power through it.”

“He’s an incredible loss for music,” he said.

Mr. Dale’s survivors include his wife and manager, Lana Dale, and his son, Jimmy.

For years, Mr. Dale struggled with health issues, including bouts with rectal cancer and renal failure. But he performed through the pain.

“Don’t worry about yesterday and don’t worry about tomorrow,” Mr. Dale told California Rocker, an online music publication, in 2015. “Don’t worry about yesterday because it’s used. It’s either good or it leaves you feeling bad. And don’t waste time or energy worrying about tomorrow. I could have a stroke and be dead. That’s why they call it the present. It’s a present.”

For him, music was medicine.

“I have to perform to stay alive,” he once said.

Friday 15 March 2019

Last night's set lists at The Habit, York

Da Elderly (1): -
In The Morning Light
Out On The Weekend

Da Elderly (2): -
Oh Lonesome Me
You're Sixty*

Ron is still on holiday. There was another quiet start, but as time went on, there were enough players to get us through to about 11:15. Long time punter and now a player, Dave, gave us an excellent selection of songs: Neil Young's Long May You Run, Graham Nash's Teach Your Children, Steven Stills' Johnny's Garden and John Prine's Speed Of The Sound Of Loneliness. The after-show unplugged jam session went on for about an hour.

* Johnny Burnette's You're Sixteen with more appropriate lyrics

Thursday 14 March 2019

Johnny Cash and the Forgotten Prison Blues

Image result for Johnny Cash and the Forgotten Prison Blues

Danny Robins explores the little known story of Johnny Cash the prison reformer.

Cash's classic albums recorded at Folsom Prison and San Quentin are well known but few are aware that these were just two of many prison concerts he played over decades. Robins discovers how the singer became a passionate prison reformer who donated his own money to the cause, took a prisoner into his home and met Richard Nixon to force the issue.

Away from the spotlight of Folsom and San Quentin, Robins uncovers two neglected prison concerts. In Arkansas, he discovers a forgotten concert from one of the worst prisons in America at the time, Cummins Penitentiary. We go inside the prison, a place only few journalists have been allowed, and discover footage of Cash performing there. Robins looks at instruments of torture and meets one of the few men still alive who was at the concert, to discover what daily life was like in the prison a federal judge called "a dark and evil place".

He also unearths a prison album recorded at a Swedish prison in 1972, the only prison concert Cash ever performed outside America. Whereas Cummins represented everything Cash wanted to change about American prisons, Stockholm's Österåker prison represented everything he hoped they might become. Life at Österåker in the late 1960s and 70s was as liberal as Cummins was harsh, but was the Swedish way any more successful when it came to rehabilitating criminals?

Producer: Jo Wheeler
A Unique production for BBC Radio 4.

Listen now (or for the next 28 days): 

Tuesday 12 March 2019

Hal Blaine RIP

Image result for hal blaine al jardine
Hal Blaine was the sound of The Beach Boys and now a big part of that has left us. He was a great man and a great teacher who really knew his stuff. He was the leader of the Wrecking Crew who organized all the musicians, paperwork and charts. We were the idea guys and he was the professional who put it all together and harnessed so many of Brian Wilson's musical ideas and helped put them down on tape. In the studio, he was the conductor in charge of all the musicians and made sure everyone showed up! When we were recording Loop de Loop, Hal helped me immensely by organizing all the players and giving the song that big drum sound. I admired his stoic professionalism and nervous energy and he gave me confidence in his presence. He also said I was his favorite rhythm guitarist but I'm sure he was misquoted…lol. We couldn't have done it without you, Hal ❤️ RIP

- Al Jardine on Facebook

Image result for hal blaine with the monkees

Hal Blaine, drummer who dominated mid-century pop, dies aged 90
Drummer behind iconic Be My Baby rhythm as well as hits by Frank Sinatra, Elvis Presley and Simon & Garfunkel described as ‘greatest ever’ by Brian Wilson

Ben Beaumont-Thomas
The Guardian
Tue 12 Mar 2019

Hal Blaine, one of pop music’s most prolific and brilliant drummers, who played with Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, the Beach Boys and more, has died aged 90.

The news was announced on his Facebook page, where he was described as a loving father and grandfather, “and inspiration to countless friends, fans and musicians … May he rest forever on 2 and 4. The family appreciates your outpouring of support and prayers that have been extended to Hal from around the world, and respectfully request privacy in this time of great mourning.” Son-in-law Andy Johnson said that Blaine died of natural causes.

The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson paid tribute, saying Blaine “was such a great musician and friend … Hal taught me a lot, and he had so much to do with our success – he was the greatest drummer ever. We also laughed an awful lot.” As a session musician, Blaine played drums on the band’s album Pet Sounds, as well as hits including I Get Around and Good Vibrations.

Mickey Dolenz of the Monkees said he was “deeply saddened … Hal played drums on the soundtrack of our lives for many of us”, while country singer Margo Price called him “one of the most talented and prolific drummers to ever live”.

Born in Massachusetts in 1929, Blaine learned drums as a teenager and found work playing big-band jazz with Count Basie. He quickly made the jump to rock’n’roll once the new scene began to flourish, and joined the Wrecking Crew, a collective of session musicians named by Blaine for the way they were seen by older players to be “wrecking” music.

Blaine ended up performing on US No 1 songs from a huge range of stars, including Can’t Help Falling in Love With You by Elvis Presley, Something Stupid by Frank and Nancy Sinatra, I Got You Babe by Sonny & Cher, Mr Tambourine Man by the Byrds, and The Way We Were by Barbra Streisand.

Of the Byrds, he once said: “I don’t think they even mentioned me on any of the albums. In those days they didn’t do that … It was considered a scandal that the Monkees didn’t make their own records. It broke to the world in all the trades and movie magazines that, not only the Monkees didn’t – nobody did!”

Some of his most celebrated performances are with Simon & Garfunkel on songs like Bridge Over Troubled Water, The Boxer and Mrs Robinson.

But perhaps his most significant contribution to pop music was on the Ronettes’ song Be My Baby: its opening four-beat drum pattern became one of the iconic sounds of 1960s pop, and ended up appearing on countless other songs by artists including the Jesus and Mary Chain and Manic Street Preachers. It was one of many songs Blaine played for Phil Spector as Spector perfected his maximalist “wall of sound” production style.

In a 2015 interview with the Guardian, Blaine admitted the Be My Baby rhythm was a mistake. “I was supposed to play the snare on the second beat as well as the fourth, but I dropped a stick. Being the faker I was in those days, I left the mistake in and it became: ‘Bum-ba-bum-BOOM!’ And soon everyone wanted that beat.”

Blaine played on fewer recordings from the 1980s onward and following an acrimonious divorce, he took work as a security guard in Arizona. But in 2000 he, along with the rest of the Wrecking Crew, was inducted in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. According to the Hall of Fame, Blaine “has certainly played on more hit records than any drummer in the rock era, including 40 No 1 singles and 150 that made the Top 10”.

Blaine’s family said he is survived by daughter Michelle and seven grandchildren.