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Posts Tagged ‘Geoff Dyer’

In the Zone

I’ve just read and enjoyed tremendously a book about a film I’ve never seen based on a still un-read novel I bought because I knew this book was coming and which doesn’t get much of a mention anyway.  It doesn’t matter, because the book – the first book, the one I’ve just read – is by Geoff DyerZona (Canongate, 2012) is, as it says on the dust jacket (but not on the title page), a book about a film about a journey to a room.  The film is Russian director Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker, the room contains your heart’s desire.  Which is not necessarily what you’re expecting or that easy a concept, Dyer explains, moving well away from the screen.  As usual with him there’s this delicious mix of high and low culture,  throwaway asides rubbing shoulders with deep thought.  There’s a slightly annoying apparatus of footnotes but you get used to it, the tangents.  The book is often as much about the writing of the book as it is about the film – maybe now he can be free of it, after a quarter century creeping obsession, not have to see it again.  Plus:

“I mean, do you think I would be spending my time summarising the action of a film almost devoid of action if I was capable of writing about anything else?”

The film itself is, it would seem,  stark, ineffable, poetic and slow.  And I now desperately want to see it (and no doubt be a bit baffled and bored like the first time Dyer saw it, before it took hold) except – great timing, chaps – the DVD is out of print and only expected in circulation again later this year.

Given my ignorance of the film and the director it sometimes felt like I was reading a novel.  And it works well enough on that basis too.  I thought that before discovering Dyer’s epigraph at the end (is that possible? – his closing shot, anyway): a quotation from a book titled This is not a novel.  It’s certainly a (pardon the expression) journey – the film itself, the making of the film, the history of film, the writing of the book, the making of art.  Nor is it a long book.  But consider this:

We are on the brink, here, of one of the all-redeeming moments of any art form.  It can’t be isolated from what has gone before, it gathers into itself the whole film.  But by ‘all-redeeming’ I don’t just mean in the context of this film.  It redeems, makes up for, every pointless bit of gore, every wasted special effect, all the stupidity in every film made before or since.  Oh well, you think, none of that matters, all of that is worth it, for this.

I just hope I don’t nod off and miss it.

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Just realised I’ve been posting quite a bit of late about street (and canal) art and not mentioned a fine example I see most days just down the road at the junction of the London and Wolverton Roads and Horsefair Green at the south end of Stony Stratford High Street:

It’s a memorial to Toby Jarvis, painted by a relative in 2001 – a panorama of Stony through the ages – and as can be seen, a decade on, it’s showing its age, colours fading and the wall bearing witness to recent hard winters.  It would be a great shame to lose it, though on the other more protected side of the shops, in the passageway through to Horsefair Green, there is a smaller rendition of the scene (pictured below – click on it for an enlargement) incorporated into a much bigger design featuring a house (about one-third scale,) a couple of conifers and, under the arch of a rainbow, the ghost of a house lurking behind clouds in a vivid blue sky.

It was on Horsefair Green last Sunday that we sauntered through the delights and tombolas of the annual Town Fayre, courtesy of the local Lion Club.  There was a rousing Pirates of the Caribbean from the Bradwell Silver Band, who seemed to have put on a bit more oomph than in previous years.  They’ve been going since 1901, originating at the LNWR railway works at Wolverton, and long may they continue. 

Another tradition still working its magic was the Punch and Judy show, ‘Professor’ Des Turner here pictured jigging along to the Silver Band with his little wooden friend.  The kids loved it, sitting entranced then screaming along when bid and witnessing scenes of extreme violence – the baby being thrown out the window was the least of it.

Casual violence is taken for granted as a fact of life  – it’s just a question of when you get mugged or burgled rather than if  – in Brixton in the mid ’80s in Geoff Dyer’s ‘The colour of memory‘ (1989), but there’s a lot more to the life than that.  His first novel is a fictional memoir of – I can’t do better than the Times reviewer quoted on the back cover – the DHSS funded bohemian existence, not so much a novel, more a collection of tableaux, of sweet and sour captured moments, snap shots from the shifting lives of a small group of friends over the space of a year in South London.  It reminded me of Alan Ginsberg’s Sunflower sutra, poetry suddenly there, no rules as to where it can be found.

Given it’s Geoff Dyer even the dull moments shine and already the trademark nods of Nietzsche and Rilke are in evidence, though with Rilke, in a nice touch, it’s a book of his that serves well as body armour.  He’s already playing games.  After the quotes and before the novel starts, we get a page consisting of a brief passage in italics: “I read a few phrases at random, flicked through some more pages and then turned back to the beginning and read …”  It’s what you do as a reader, right?  The passage returns at the end, its context – everything – is changed.  It’s a first person narrative, but of all the characters in the book the obvious Dyer character is Freddie, the writer, but that is not to be the case.  Turns out Freddie is the writer; can there be a Barthes-ian death-of-the-author gag going on here?  Not that it matters; this is a young man’s book, but it’s still a Dyer, full of wit, acute observation and compassion.  His generation, a lost generation?

“Every generation wants to think it’s lost.  Take us.  Who could have been more lost than us? We’re so lost we’re virtually extinct,” he said and everyone laughed.  “As far as I can see there are only two things to be glad about.  We are just old enough and just young enough to realise the full joy of short hair.  And we are just about on cue for the jazz revival.”

I could go on quoting the insights, the bon mots (“That’s not a novel: it’s an alibi.“), the bon paragraphs even.  There’s a lovely passage about how a greasy spoon becomes , via a Time Out review, “the sort of place in which a working knowledge of the novels of Jack Kerouac was preferred if not actually required.”  And on it goes.  The thing is, even though you’re given nothing about how they got there, which could be said to be a bit disingenuous of the Oxbridge educated Dyer (‘scholarship boy’ he hastens to add in a bio somewhere), you quickly care about these people.  Enough!

As you might have noticed, I am on a bit of Dyer binge at the moment and I had his third novel,  Paris trance (1998) lined up for next.  But this is how it starts: “When Luke came to Paris with the intention of writing a book based on his experiences […]”  So maybe, I’ll give him a rest, take a break, but I shall certainly return.

And a slight return to the Stony mural.  Here’s a detail from the sheltered side; more blank walls and the people who walk by them every day deserve more of something like this; thanks B.Jarvis.  The street as gallery, let a thousand styles bloom; the slight problem of quality control is surely surmountable.

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You worry about the Geoff Dyer the author Geoff Dyer is writing about, or at least I do.  Is worry the right word?  You wonder about the writer Geoff Dyer and the global travels and wanderings of the Geoff Dyer he  is reporting back on.  Which, in itself, says something about the qualities of the fine, nay prime, example of intellectual gonzo artefact that is Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it (2003) – a great title, by the way, that is right up my street, given that I bought a yoga DVD over a year ago now and so far all I’ve managed – apart from doing a few shapes on Wii Fit – is to remove its cellophane wrapper.  Which may explain why this book is by far the most readily available and the cheapest of Dyer’s books on AbeBooks.  For in the book, doubtless rather rather disappointingly for some, yoga is but a passing source of entertainment for the voyager and his companion; nor is this your average traveller’s tale.

Yoga for people who can’t be bothered to do it pretty much continues where Out of sheer rage, Dyer’s book about not writing a book about D.H.Lawrence, left us, though with seemingly less focus.  His starting point is a quote from Auden about what or where home is.  We then get reports from eleven spots on the globe, some more traditionally hippy-ish than others, in the course of which I was laughing out loud through his miseries and triumphs and even, before you realise it, as he realises he is having a nervous breakdown.  The leitmotif of another failed book project emerges, this one on ruins and antiquity, and we get what I now recognise as trademark citations of Rilke (memo to self: really must open that Selected poems I bought a while ago now) and Nietzsche.  He brings it all – and presumably himself – together beautifully and powerfully in the end with a meditation on the notion of being in the Zone (intensity, peace, a spiritual yet non-religious peak experience of being there) and another nod to Auden.

Anyway, here’s one of the comic master Dyer’s basic tricks, distilled right down to its essence, on the edge of the Libyan desert to:

I was so eager to see Leptis Magna that, in the morning, I took a taxi in the opposite direction.

Here it is again, two times, though these times he’s having his nervous breakdown:

I had become so habituated to this state of serial distraction that I scarcely gave it a second thought.

I had drifted to a standstill. I may not have admitted it at the time – if that afternoon was a turning point, then I responded as one invariably does at such moments, by failing to turn –

He can be so funny just in ordinary traveller’s tales adversity too.  The boat journey in Cambodia is a beaut, while the magic mushroom disaster in Amsterdam had me in stitches (here it comes again, well placed, a source of endless joy):

Undeterred – or more accurately, almost entirely deterred – I started again.

This is a funny, powerful and brave book from which this reader emerged glowing.   Beside it, I am afraid, Simon Armitage‘s latest slim volume of poetry is very small beer.  Most of Seeing stars (Faber, 2010) is actually prose, short stories laced with uninspired surrealism that most of the time took me nowhere particularly interesting, or worse, just struck me as silly, the stuff of children’s literature.  Why would a sperm whale have a brother called Jeff who owns a camping and out-door shop in the Lake District?  And just because the text is unjustified does that make it poetry?  Maybe if this stuff had been laid out as blank verse I might be a bit more sympathetic (and those 14 – fourteen – blank pages at the back of the book might have been less, um, empty).  Most of the time wan smiles is the best I can muster; disappointing, because on previous evidence, Armitage’s is a world I inhabit.

In his weariness of travel Geoff Dyer ventures that, ‘ Sunsets impose a heavy burden on the sightseer.’  He continues, in his classic way of turning things on their head:

Waiting for the sunset becomes an activity, an exercise in abeyance. Idleness, doing nothing, is raised to the level of sharply focussed purpose. Expectation becomes a form of sustained exertion. You wait for it to happen even though it’s going to happen anyway. Or not happen. Frank O’Hara was right: ‘The sun doesn’t necessarily set, sometimes it just disappears.’.

We had an experience like that by the walls of Peel Castle on the Isle of Man.  I don’t know if Dyer has ever been; it has its ruins, but the Isle, for all it has to offer, is not a place you’d expect to be in the Zone much.  John Michell – late sacred geometrist, geomancer, astro-archaeologist and earth mysterian of this planet – had various mystical theories about the Isle of Man, as centre point of the British isles no less.  In his book Who wrote Shakespeare (1996) – William Stanley, 6th earl of Derby, one of the Shakespeare ‘claimants’ was Lord of Man from 1610 – he even suggested that the Calf of Man, the small island at the bottom, was the model for Prospero’s island in The tempest.  If John Grimson had known about this – or if he knew but chose to not exclude said knowledge from his readers – it might have spiced up his mighty (576 pages) tome about the island a bit.  As would explaining why the monument in Castletown Square to Colonel Cornelius Smelt, Governor of Man for 27 years from 1805, is only a plinth and a column with a platform; it was a public subscription and there was, I am reliably informed, no money left for a statue.

So The Isle of Man: portrait of a nation (Hale , 2009) is not the book I wanted to read about Man, but it is certainly substantial and you cannot but learn a lot.  There’s nothing else like it currently available.  Grimson, who moved to the island in 1973 (“a come-over” but that’s not a criticism as such) is by turns straight-laced, po-faced, tetchy and folksy in a cosy middle class polite way.  He’s not helped by the book’s three part structure of a potted history, followed by some thematic run-downs and finishing with a detailed tour of the island. So there is repetition in some instances, strange omissions in others.  We don’t hear of the nineteenth century mining industry until the mines had closed; first mention of the famous TT Races – of huge significance to the island – is when they have to be cancelled because of the Second World War.  (Grimson isn’t keen about the TT weeks, which involve shutting of large parts of the island’s road network for a fortnight, and he’s sniffy about what he calls ‘the motorcycle lobby’ while looking for compromise concerning the island’s rather splendid total ban on caravans).  He tells of the armed yacht Penny in Castletown twice, first enticingly: “Inside were a ship’s galley and wine-bins, and all sorts of merry japes went on there. (More of this in Chapter 12)” – only Chapter 12 just tells us more of the same again and no merry japes.  Local involvement in the slavery trade is glossed over whereas the museum in Douglas makes a big deal of it.

Despite stupid Fast Show stereotypes (I won’t even honour it with a link), there is much of interest about this small nation.  After the geology, we get the neolithic settlers and the iron age Celts; the Romans never bothered to invade, but after a spell of Celtic Christianity the Scandinavians did, and it is to them that we owe the political institution – the longest continuously running parliament – of the Tynwald.  The Scots and the English then contested control and the latter prevailed.  Because there was no aristocracy there was no native landed gentry to lord it over the peasants; obviously there was inequality but Manx society as it developed was more egalitarian than on the mainland.  And guess what set the scene ‘for the most serious constitutional confrontation between the Isle of Man and the United Kingdom in modern times?’  Hey Radio Caroline North anchored of Ramsey Bay in 1964 – now there’s a decent footnote in the annals of UK pirate radio!

I’ll leave the Isle of Man with this quote from page 351.  Grimson is talking about theatre designer extraordinaire Frank Matcham’s work on the Gaiety Theatre in Douglas, IOM’s capital, in 1900, which was restored in the 1990s:

And what a job he made of it. The interior has been described by some as ‘ornately vulgar’. Ornate certainly, but vulgar? – never! To be seated in the body of that magnificent auditorium, surrounded by those swirling, seductive mouldings to ceiling and box-fronts, bathed in their softly lit pastel shades, is to dream of being enfolded within the welcoming embrace of a large, enticing, voluptuous woman – and wishing never to be released. (I regret leaving my female reader to dream up her own fantasy.)

Just the one, John?

Finally, more of Alison Graham, Radio Times tv critic in full flow.  I trust this woman implicitly until proved otherwise:

Sugartown, July 24: After ten minutes of this gormless show you’ll feel as if you’re caught in a dreadful theme-park ride that hurls you through dank tunnels of cliché. You will be left queasy by the sweetly sickly premise: a small northern town’s fight to save its rock factory, and by its warm-hearted northern stereotypes. As for the plot – you’ve seen it all before … [plot summary setting the scene] By the time you’ve got this far you will have lost the will to live.


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First off, let us celebrate the return to the scene of Unstoppable Nature, graffiti artist of this burgh, whose tagged work was last seen by mine eyes about 7 years ago (you can see one of his earlier pieces on the Glimpses page here, about three-quarters of the way down).  It’s been a long time so it may be a copyist at work, maybe a tribute, but strolling by the Grand Union Canal  one day lately I did espy, at Wolverton, on the south side of the bridge just before you get to the rejuvenated Bill Billings train mural on the other side, silver letters proclaiming the job title ‘poet‘ :
The return of Unstoppable Nature
One could riff on this.  The unstoppable poetry of nature, the poetry of unstoppable nature, the nature of unstoppable poetry; never mind unstoppable poets.  I wish someone had stopped Bono trying to sing William Blake’s poem Jerusalem in the course of U2’s set at Glastonbury.   Talk about the perils of channel hopping; I came upon it suddenly out of the blue and I’m still feeling disturbed by the experience.

There was some balm to be had on Saturday, though.  While Bob Dylan famously declared, in his prose poem Tarantula (never a novel – come on!) that Smokey Robinson was “America’s greatest living poet”, Curtis Mayfield can’t have been very far behind at the time.  And it was with a stirring rendition of Curtis’s People get ready that the secular Milton Keynes Community Choir – some friends are members – kicked off their concert in aid of the Advantage Africa charity.  That it didn’t get any better than that is beside the point really – a good evening was to be had, and the inner chorister was stirred (not hard when you’ve been to a few Ray Davies gigs) by a madrigal styled Can’t buy me love and an acapella All shook up.  Strange venue, the Ridgeway Centre – a modern aircraft hangar style warehouse on a business estate taken over by the New Life Church, presumably a gospel tinged assembly, and there was a bit of that vibe to the concert which both stirred and gave this humanist soul a sliver of unease (I never doubted, not that kind of unease).  The posters advertising the event had promised Bridge over troubled water and I thought we’d got away with it when it wasn’t listed in the programme – not one of my favourite songs (to tell the truth I loathe it, along with Imagine) – but lo and behold it closed the evening.  Don’t you just hate orchestrated false encores?

Not much balm to be had from Dylan Moran at the theatre on Sunday.  Two short sets, which on reflection I have no problem with – no support to endure and a certain compact edgy (seemingly hesitant) beauty of observation and scorn.  That was him in Black Books, then.  He was riffing on age, on getting old, which was bit rich given he was only born 1971, but he hit that spot well enough.  Lovely extended riff on all women being Mary Shelley and all blokes the Frankenstein creation they live with, hung on a scathing look at the very idea of ‘the dinner party’.  Very few belly laughs – the biggest cheer came when he hurled a bag of noisy sweets (why do they sell them in the foyer?) demanded by him from a member of the audience in the front row, scattering them on the stage behind him – but an experience; I’m glad we went.  Some tremendous intro and interval music too. A terrific tribute outing on Sonny Boy Williamson’s Help me from Junior Wells and (brave man, Mr Moran, but I saw non-one flinching) the lovely and long Aisha from John Coltrane’s Ole, Eric Dolphy on flute, with Elvin Jones drumming up a storm, McCoy Tyner so lyrically rhythmic and with a bowed double bass in there too.  Which was pleasantly unexpected.

Born 1971 you can reasonably guess who Dylan Moran’s parents named him after.  Wendy Cope is “Sixty-one and on a diet” and for sure she is writing “for each and every hung up person in the whole wide universe” in the 63 pages of poetry in her latest slim volume, Family values (Faber, 2011) – another instance of less is more.  Generally songwriters and poets as they get old, you have to struggle to justify putting the later stuff in with the greatest hits/best of/selected compilations; not so here.  I love the surface simplicity of the poems, the melancholy fun that opens up valleys of feeling, glacial or fluvial, that tell you much more than a 200 page memoir could or would.  This is cradle to the grave stuff (even a poem called My funeral) with love in between.  She’s looking back on an unhappy childhood (reluctant to boarding school) – and wary of age, aware of death, celebrating good and precious things (“love life”, like the graffiti artist says!).  As a storyteller she’s a heart breaker, but I’m sure she’d be good to know.

A Cope sampler, then.  On her mother, from Brahms Cradle Song: “For all that I am grateful / As for the rest, I can begin / To imagine forgiving her.”  From Christmas ornaments: “The mice attacked the Holy family“.  From At Stafford Services (a rumination mid-journey, thoughts of teenage Wimpy Bars): “I could be in an Edward Hopper painting“; she finishes her coffee and leaves the painting.  The chasms of a love and a despair from Uncle Bill: “Mummy’s working class relations / Didn’t get invited to dinner or tea“; he comes through though, in his own way, to the poet’s delight.  And I’ve not even mentioned the delightful verse written around a music performance – players, audience – for performance with the Endellion String Quartet or the fun BBC commission stuff.

I was surprised to discover that Rhoda Janzen, the writer of Mennonite in a Little Black Dress: a memoir of going home  (2009, only just published in the UK) was a poet because there’s little hint of it in her prose, which operates on a whimsical stand-up level most of the time.  It has its moments, I guess, this memoir of a woman academic who in her 43rd year is badly injured in a car smash just a few days after her bi-polar and abusive husband of 17 years has left her for Bob on gay.com and so retires to the non-dancing but peace-loving Mennonite community – the Amish were a breakaway group – she escaped from all those years ago to recuperate.  I saw a good write-up somewhere which suggested much wit and intelligence and so gave it a go; it was a bestseller in the States, so very much a good indicator of the cultural divide.  It has its moments – embarrassing foods from schooldays, her mother’s unremitting half-full philosophy and uncanny ability to shoot off at tangents, a compassionate review of her failed marriage.  Her friends shower her with self-help books and she delivers her own effective 12-Step plan for recovery (“Step Eight: Make imprudent purchases” etc) which made me laugh.  But’s it’s too girlie-chat (and American) for me; I kept thinking, Hang on, you’re a university professor.  I laughed loudest at her t-shirt saying, “I am the grammarian about whom your mother warned you.”

I laughed a lot and loud at Geoff Dyer‘s Out of sheer rage: in the shadow of D.H.Lawrence (1997).  Hard to keep in mind – it is so briefly stated that you might not even catch it  – is that at its heart it’s a tale of depressive breakdown.  It’s beautifully worked, with all the ellipses and eclipses, the contradictions, the excuses,  the self-fulfilling and self-damning circular logic behind this account of a failure to fulfill a long-standing intention to write a book about D.H.Lawrence (the writer who first inspired Dyer to write) except, um, this one.  Just as travelogue following in DHL’s footsteps (and failing to be inspired) it’s a delight, as is his sardonic and long-suffering girlfriend’s take on it all.  I could quote half the book but I won’t.  The title is a quote of Lawrence himself (“Out of sheer rage I’ve begun my book on Thomas Hardy“) and so it carries on.  In the passage of not writing the book we do, of course, learn an awful lot about David Herbert Lawrence.  Dyer can’t bear the thought of actually re-reading the novels and stakes a claim for the diaries (especially the grumpy bits where not much happens) and his poetry as being the real thing – Lawrence’s bad temper, his never being satisfied, his ever moving on, echoed in Dyer’s own narrative.  I’m giving it short shrift with this lowly position in this blog post, but it is, quite simply, a comic work of genius, a book I shall, I am sure, return to again and again  And no, it didn’t make me want to re-read the novels either; this, I suspect, is also a good thing.

Finally, back to unstoppable nature, a bit further north on the Grand Union Canal, part of the old railway works still standing and un-reclaimed at Wolverton:
Unstoppable nature

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That’s two women I’ve fallen in love with this week. First was at the theatre, Genevieve Morin in ‘Traces‘, the show put together by the four man one woman French-Canadian circus skills/dance/comedy/music/acrobatic troupe ‘7 fingers’.  The missing link between Circus Oz and Matthew Bourne’s company?  Exciting and engaging, energetic and yet strangely intimate, there’s an urban edge, often a sense of threat as well as great fun in the routines;  the loose street clothes, no sparkling armour of false sexless glamour, the powerful musics, lift them a universe away from the sawdust and the big top.  They throw some exquisite shapes, achieve more grace than you’ll ever see in an olympic gymnastics competition.  Highlights: Genevieve trying to read a book in an armchair (no really – armchair as gymnastic prop; I was frustrated in trying to work out what the book was) and Antoine weaving in and out of a big spinning gold hoop – a Cyr wheel it’s called, apparently.  But they were all great.  See a sample for yourself.

And the second woman to fall in love with had no name and was only on a screen, one of the seven that were a part of ‘Dawn chorus‘, the tremendous installation that is the major work in ‘Psychopomp‘, Marcus Coates‘ show at Milton Keynes Gallery.  Which makes a nice change from visits there of late; I shall certainly go again before it finishes in early April.  To quote from the programme notes:

Dawn Chorus ‘(2007) is a major, multi-screen installation in which human voices re-create the chorus sung at dawn by birds, including a chaffinch, pheasant and yellowhammer. Together with wildlife sound recordist Geoff Sample, Coates recorded individual birds singing simultaneously on a single morning. Each was slowed down to a human pitch, so that people could be filmed mimicking these lower and slower sounds in their own natural habitats, such as a hotel, osteopath’s clinic or even a bath tub. The films were then accelerated until people twitter like birds and their voices precisely echo the original birdsong.

A continuously looping 18 minutes of joyful exploration, probably about 20 adults in all of all ages and origin.  Enchantment, fascination, recognition, sympathy, hugely gigglesome this shift of perception – people as birds getting up, getting ready to face the day,  birds as people, having their breakfast, taking their place – you could see it all in the rapidly rising and falling chests, the twitching heads, the rituals of time and place.  And the glorious bird song, none more glorious than that of the bird (sorry) soaking in the bath, the serenity of, the character in, the Mona Lisa smile, the beauty of that face.

And speaking of beauty, I’ve been reading Geoff Dyer‘s ‘But beautiful: a book about jazz‘ (1996), a beautiful piece of writing.  So good you can practically hear them playing.  The book is a factional series of biographical pieces – episodes from the lives of Lester Young, Thelonius Monk, Bud Powell, Ben Webster, Mingus, Chet Baker, Art Farmer, one way or another tragic tales all – with short bursts of Duke Ellington and his long serving musician mate Harry driving across America through the night to a gig, weaving throughout with a nice punchline at the end.  They’re all good but the Art Farmer chapter, the utter degradation of heroin addiction, the fantasy sequence as he’s looking through the prison cell window (which had me taken in completely) is, um, something else.  A moving tribute, one of the best books about music never mind about jazz:

And as they applauded, everyone in the audience, everyone, understood that there must surely be something terrible about a form of music that can wreak such havoc on a man.

And back to the title.  There’s a decent essay at the end about what else happened (Coltrane and all) and the nature and future of jazz that has stood the test of time too.

Spent a couple of hours in the refurbished Ashmolean Museum of Art and Archaeology in Oxford on Sunday – lottery money well spent, I’d say.  Foot weary from so much to take in.  I hadn’t realised what a decent nineteenth and twentieth century art collection they had never mind all the other stuff.   Some good Sickerts.  Oh, and a dreadfully tedious roomful of Dutch & Flemish still lifes which I’m sure is great if you like that sort of thing.  My favourite:

Howard Hodgkin's "Like an open book"

Howard Hodgkin‘s “Like an open book”.  I just love it, the way he’s painted the canvas and the frame, the suggestion of book and the playing with the idea of containment.  Andrea (going to drawing classes) says it’s just a bunch of daubs and swirls and that it’s a waste of a frame and is mystified by why I like it.  Ah, but what strokes, what colour.  It was a busy week.

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I got hold of Geoff Dyer’s ‘Jeff in Venice, death in Varanasi‘ (Canongate, 2009) because it won the Wodehouse Prize for comic writing and I’d liked his stuff – I think it must have been his book about jazz – in the past.  ‘Jeff in Venice’ is a fine piece of work and I’m told by a freelance blagger who’s spent time in India that he’s got them both – the journo’s blag, India – down perfectly.  Dyer takes you there alright,  but for a novel that’s won an award for comic writing it gets a bit, um, bleak.  Even in there, though, there are shafts of great humour.  I like his take on modern art practice – it’s the Venice of the Bienniale is why the character Jeff Atman is there – variously mocking, scornful and appreciative. It’s clever stuff, too, the way the two parts of the book don’t do what is laid out for them to do.  A haunting read, that will stay with me a while, I suspect.

Plent of belly laughs, though, in Jeff Stelling’s celebration of the ‘Soccer Saturday‘ show he fronts on Sky Sports News.  ‘Jellyman’s thrown a wobbly: Saturday afternoons in fron of the telly’ (HarperCollins, 2009) doesn’t exactly come up with anything new if you watch the show – “… watching a programme on the telly, where four blokes are watching football … on the telly” – that is one of the perennial delights of British television, no less.  It all gets a bit repeatitive (which is a lot of the joke on tv) and blokish (there’s no health warnings about the prodigious and probably overplayed drinking, for all that Georgie Best features heavily from a period before I started watching) and you wish he’d stop being so bloody nice and dish a bit of dirt now and then – he must have met some people he didn’t like, surely?  The verbal equivalent of cut and paste and sans serif text, but there’s no begrudging it’s all great fun.  (He’s good on Countdown too, often coming up with better words than the contestants.)  Must mention here, too, I guess, the Arsenal performance on saturday; I reckon this is going to be Bendtner‘s season.

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