Posts Tagged ‘John Lennon’

The topics under consideration are:

  1. Is it necessary to like the characters, or enough of them, in a novel – and I’ll grant just the one is enough – to fully appreciate it?  True: depends how you define ‘appreciate’, but I’m dodging that one except to say that my main enjoyment of literature come from, um, satisfaction in the broadest of senses, rather than from being a literary critic (which I am not).
  2. How stands the state of play for the delineation and punctuation of human speech in the contemporary novel?
  3. Why does it feel like Irish writers sweep the board these days last century for sheer exhilaration?

And here come the books:

Book the First

Tessa Hadley‘s The past (2015), December’s Book Group book, occasioned a split between those who couldn’t warm particularly to any of the middle-aged siblings taking their annual time out together in an old house in the middle of nowhere with family connections, and those who thought that didn’t matter in the matter of how well crafted a novel it was.  I was in the former camp and agreed with the woman of Irish origin who said the whole thing was “too English” – and middle class southerner English to boot.  I thought the arch of the plot was a bit contrived too, though with the right casting it would make great telly.  It has its moments, mind; I’m not dismissing it completely out of hand.

To tell the truth I was struggling from the first paragraph, with its “The noise of their taxi receding, like an insect burrowing between the hills, was the only sound at first in the still afternoon …”  Is it just me, or are you too trying to imagine what the noise of an insect burrowing between hills could be?  Too many similes throughout was my impression.

Anyway, three sisters: Alice, failed actress, who for some reason has brought her ex-lover’s student son along with her; Harriet, ex-radical and worthy, about to discover something about herself; Fran, youngest, teacher and mum – her two weird kids in tandem, but not their father, a musician (what kind? we’re not told) who has ‘forgotten’ all about this annual pilgrimage and has gigs booked.  One brother, an academic philosopher with a media presence talking about cinema, on his third wife, a stunning Argentinian woman who some think has past links with a brutal dictatorship, who is meeting the sisters for the first time, along with his teenage daughter from a previous marriage.  Brother pisses off early, third wife and daughter stick around (yay! teenage sub-plot!).  Bitching, moaning, explorations etc etc and another sub-plot I’ll not go into.  You can see why Fran’s musician husband has ‘memory’ problems.

There’s a time travel middle section where we see Jill and Tom, their mother and father of the sisters and brother (or at least the father of the two born by then – they’re about to split up) visiting her parents (father, Grantham, a forbiddingly remote vicar-poet) in 1968.  Tom is more interested in what’s going on in the streets of Paris and is obviously a waster.  Indeed, the male sex are not well-represented in the pages of this book.  Why, Alice’s ex’s son can even – tempting intertextual fate – come up with:

Alice found Kasim slouching on the window seat on the landing, blankly engaged in nothing. She tried to lend him a novel to pass the time but he gloomily said he didn’t see the point of fiction. – I don’t see what it’s for. Why would you put out any intellectual effort, understanding something that wasn’t true?

But, re-focussing on our initial questions.  What is it about Irish writers?  Maybe that they would not beguile us – I know, it’s a character, but – with something like this one of Alice’s meditations:

She thought she saw a skylark soar up out of the field, streaming with song, balancing on its invisible jet of air – but as soon as she sat up on her elbows she doubted her identification. The bird was just a dot in the sky, too far off to be certain. Surely the skylarks had gone long ago from this part of the country? Everything was in decline. What a compromised generation theirs was, she thought. Materially they had so much, and yet they were haunted by this sensation of existing in an aftermath, after the best had passed.

As far as the punctuation of speech goes, however, Tessa Hadley goes Irish and adopts the James Joycean hyphen – as per A portrait of the artist as a young man – as the speech delineator, and goes further, even, in not employing a new paragraph every time, which I find refreshing.  This little example (from the 1968 section) also bears witness to a humour that I may not have hinted at so far:

‌   – We don’t eat eggs.
   Roland broke the news solemnly.
   – Oh god, said Jill. – I really began to think we’d never get here, that we’d just have to sleep under a hedge or something.  And you’re worrying about a little thing like eggs.
   – You shouldn’t say god, said Hattie. – Grandfather doesn’t like it.
   – He isn’t here, he’s visiting the sick.
   – Thank god for the sick, said Jill. – We can swear until he comes back.

But before we leave The past, one last quotation (again from the 1968 interlude) that more than one of the Group had made a note of (we are not a young group):

Carefully, Sophy ate a cold mouthful of cabbage. She loved poems but easily forgot them, and she only half-listened to her husband’s sermons anyway. This wasn’t exactly because she wasn’t interested. But part of the oddity of marriage, she thought, was in how unwise it was to attend too intently to the other person. This was the opposite to what she had naively imagined, as a girl. To the unmarried, it seemed that a couple must be intimately, perpetually exposed to each other – but actually, that wasn’t bearable. In order for love to survive, you had to close yourself off to a certain extent.

Book the Second

No marriage hints to be had Kevin Barry‘s Beatlebone (Canongate, 2015).  Here’s a sample of how speech is handled, though.  Cornelius, taxi driver and self-appointed guide,  guardian and local mentor of a fictional John Lennon in his fictional journey across Ireland in 1978, out to the island of Dorinish off the Atlantic coast that he bought when he was a Beatle.  They’re hungry so Cornelius fixes a meal with what he got: black pudding.  Which Lennon, so hungry, eats despite being a veggie:

He eats the food.  The spiciness, the mealiness, the animal waft – it’s all there in the history of his mouth, and he is near to fucking tears again.  The tea is strong and sweet and tastes of Liverpool.

Would you believe, John, that my father lived in this house till he was eighty-seven years of age?

How’d you get to be eighty-seven up a wet hill in Mayo?

He neither drank nor smoked.

I’m packing away all that myself.

I drink, John.  I smoke.  And I tup women.


When I get the chance.

Yup, just like that.  Not even a dash, let alone speech marks, and no indentations, and a line space between each utterance.  Cynics might say it ups the page count considerably, but I’d say it adds space and resonance to the situation, not the least being Lennon’s struggle to make sense of both what is happening to him, and the rural Irish.  Obviously it’s not going to work universally, but it makes a change.  Elsewhere in Beatlebone Barry adopts a playscript formula, with directions.

On the Irish question posed at the beginning of this post – true, this is not the most scintillating of dialogues – that “wet hill” in Mayo is of relevance.  Last week I was lucky enough to see a performance by Roger McGough (of which more in a later post), in which included a poetic homage to Seamus Heaney, with a kick in the coda to the effect that English poets might be a tad jealous, if not resentful, of the peat bogs etc. available to Heaney on his prize-strewn doorstep.  You might say ‘The grass is always greener’, but then, with Eire, it actually is.  That and the music of the southern accent.  I just find Irish writers more gracious, more generous, more inventive, funnier and more enervating, even when wallowing in misery.  Have I said Kevin Barry is Irish?

Hardback cover

And speaking of misery, the fictional Lennon just wants to get to his exposed island and be left alone to scream – remember Janov’s Primal scream? – for days.  He has songwriter’s block, feels that might free the creative juices.  It becomes a long and arduous journey across Ireland and then out to the island.  I’m not saying much about what happens on the island.  They stay with a scary failing therapeutic community on the way, they have a night in the pub; Lennon thinks a lot about his past throughout (“a dozen years he’s been trying to outrun the fucking sitars”).

Suddenly, with Part Six, in a shocking (not in a bad way)intrusion, Kevin Barry tells of visiting the Dakota Street building in New York, and partaking of the same journey out to Dorinish for himself, of his situation when writing the book, filling in the factual details of Lennon’s purchase of the island, his donating its use to a bunch of hippies for an experiment in communal living, and giving background to life in the west of Ireland in the twentieth century.  Of his Lennon homework Barry says:

Fictional and biographical treatments of John Lennon have tended either towards hagiography or character assassination, and I felt the wisest practice was not to do any traditional research among the texts.

So he listened to that emotionally draining Plastic Ono Band album (A working class hero et al) and watched loads of post-Beatles interviews on YouTube.  What he comes up with sounds pretty good to me.  He doesn’t indulge too much in dropping lyric references into the text though the number 9 is a bit of a theme; how many chapters? yup! – but when he does, ouch: “He is so tired. He hasn’t slept a wink. He has tried so hard this long while to be at home in the world. Baking the bread. Swinging in a papoose the baby. Cozy-as-the-fucking-womb stuff. Captain fucking Domestic.

The novel’s narrative does not, of course, follow the trajectory of Lennon’s real life, though his early memories seem reasonable.  The journey never happened and the album he was working on before he was assassinated is very different to The great lost Beatlebone tape, the recording of which is reported in Part Eight.  Does this whet your appetite? :

JOHN    I mean, have you heard what Scott Walker’s been up to? With his plinkety fucking plink plonk?

CHARLIE    Avant garde, John. Is what it is.

JOHN    My peasant arse. This is going to make Scott Walker sound like the Mamas and the fucking Papas.

Beatlebone is not the easiest or most comfortable of reads.  I had a couple of false starts.  But once in it is relentless, and, gruelling as it is in parts, it also flies, and it sings, and thinks, and it can be very funny.

Lest we forget, this is where Kevin Barry nicked his title from:

Smaller because she’s already had a blog post all of her own not long ago, but she’s Irish and also has something to contribute in the matter of conversation.

Book the Third

What it says in the caption (see Operant discursive rehearsals ).  Absorbing novel from an Irish twenty something.  What she does with conversation is ignore speech marks and dashes altogether, like Barry, but keeping the normal line spacing.  Keeps things moving nicely and no – what I’m beginning to see as visual impediments – speech marks.  Had no problems with what was or wasn’t said.  This is undoubtedly a conversation:

I’m not sure what my role would be in that relationship, I said.
You could write her love sonnets, said Evelyn.
Melissa grinned. Don’t underestimate the effect of youth and beauty, she said.
That sounds like a recipe for disastrous unhappiness, I said.
You’re twenty one, said Melissa. You should be disastrously unhappy.
I’m working on it, I said.

Speech marks

I was going to put another book in here with conventional speech punctuation, but:

  1. I’ve run out of steam
  2. This is way too long and rambling already
  3. And it’s a great book, deserves more, which it might well get in a while
  4. And it’s not written by an Irishman

‘British publishers of late seem to favour the single inverted commas,’ said Lillabullero.
“But we still use the old double a lot,” said an American, passing by, on the bookshelves.













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Atwood - Oryx and CrakeOryx and Crake

I knew I’d seen it somewhere else recently when I mentioned frogs using drainpipes as echo chambers in my last post, but I’ve only just realised it was in one of the books I did scant justice to here on Lillabullero before going away for a couple of weeks.  In Margaret Atwood‘s Oryx and Crake (2003), old nerd-mate at school Crake is explaining to narrator Jimmy how wasteful and destructive courtship behaviour and notions of romantic love are both to society and the individuals involved.  Jimmy says – to paraphrase – but what about art and poetry? John Donne, Byron and all that – isn’t that worth something?  And Crake tells him about mating rituals in the frog community, where size of male croak equates with his desirability among the lady frogs and the canny male hangs out where his croak croaks loudest: So that’s what art is, for the artist,” said Crake. “An empty drainpipe. An amplifier. A stab at getting laid.

Along with Atwood‘s customary intelligence, sly wit and feel for people, the specific strength of Oryx and Crake is the slow reveal of the nature of a catastrophe unfolding 25 years previously, leaving Jimmy, aka Snowman, quite possibly the last homo sapiens left alive.  All this set in the adventure narrative of his own struggle for survival and his reluctant stewardship of the Crakers (I’m getting to them).  It’s a variation on the mad scientist theme, nuanced by the (also) slow reveal of the changing nature of the friendship of three young people who as adults have significant roles in what plays out.  Basically, the reductionist scientist Crake has given up on homo sapiens’ chances of surviving, let alone solving, the planet’s big problems.  His solution is to create, via a cynically engineered plague (a sub-plot of its own) and genetic manipulation, the kind of society logically envisaged in the John Lennon song, Imagine – a song that has always troubled me if I try to think about it for more than about 30 seconds.  In his Paradice Project, what Crake had really been up to, hidden safely in the deepest core of the drug company RejoovenEsense’s Compound (the compounds – closed elite company communities – are another story) was something way beyond a Wells-ian two-nations super-capitalism:

What had been altered was nothing less than the ancient primate brain. Gone were its destructive features, the features responsible for the world’s current illnesses. For instance racism – or as they referred to it in Paradice, pseudospeciation – had been eliminated in the model group, merely by switching the bonding mechanism: the Paradice people simply did not register skin colour. Hierarchy could not exist among them, because they lacked the neural complexes that would have created it. Since they were neither hunters nor agriculturalists hungry for land, there was no territoriality; the king-of-the-castle hard-wiring that had plagued humanity had, in them, been unwired. […] Their sexuality was not a constant torment to them, not a cloud of turbulent hormones; they came into heat at regular intervals, as did most mammals other than man.

In fact, as there would never be anything for these people to inherit, there would be no family trees, no marriages, and no divorces. They were perfectly adjusted to their habitat, so they would never have to create houses or tools or weapons, or, for that matter, clothing. They would have no need to invent any harmful symbolisms, such as kingdoms, icons, gods, or money. Best of all, they recycled their own excrement. By means of a brilliant slice, incorporating genetic material from …

“Excuse me,” said Jimmy. “But a lot of this stuff isn’t what the average parent is looking for in a baby. Didn’t you get a bit carried away?”

But, but, but.  “The whole world is now one vast uncontrolled experiment – the way it always was, Crake would have said – and the doctrine of unintended consequences is in full spate.”  However,

Crake hadn’t been able to eliminate dreams. We’re hard-wired for dreams, he’d said. He couldn’t get rid of the singing either. We’re hard-wired for singing. Singing and dreams were entwined.

And Jimmy/Snowman may be about to witness the birth of religion.  The Crakers are desperate to know what has happened to Oryx, their teacher (another story, again) and he knows all too well but can’t tell them.  Their speculation “… was like some demented theology debate in the windier corners of chat-room limbo.”  And while he has been away on the journey that the story is constructed around, they have built a facsimile of him from a tin lid and a mop:

Watch out for art, Crake used to say. As soon as they start doing art, we’re in trouble. Symbolic thinking of any kind would signal downfall, in Crake’s view. Next they’d be inventing idols, and funerals, and grave goods, and the afterlife, and sin, and Linear B, and kings, and then slavery and war.

Oryx and Crake is not only a fine novel, it’s an intellectual tour de force that is both compassionate and thrilling.  And Margaret Atwood must have had a lot of fun on the way in its writing.  I look forward to finding the time to fit in the succeeding volumes of the MaddAddam trilogy.

Fiennes - Music roomThe music room

The other book that deserved more attention was William Fiennes‘ memoir of his youth and his damaged elder brother, The music room (2009), which managed with ease to disarm my inner  class warrior. His experiences of his family and growing up in a castle, prep school, public school, Oxbridge are related in vivid, quietly evocative and yet unassuming, spare prose.  This was how it was:

I didn’t question the world as I found it; our wide moat and gatehouse tower, the medieval chapel above the kitchen, the huge uninhabited rooms to the west and the parade of strangers that passed through them each year; the way our house was divided into two parts, one private, the other open to public view. I didn’t question my brother’s seizures or the frightening and unpredictable swings of his mood from gentleness and warmth to opposition and violence – these too were just facts I grew up among, how things were.

Add into this there being film and tv costume drama crews in regular attendance as his parents strove to do what they saw as their duty of stewardship towards their abode, along with various other enterprising ventures.  The surrounding countryside, beyond the moat, is his playground and the dedicated domestic staff are effectively part of a supportive family.  So there’s an innocent wondrousness to Fiennes’ experience that his modest sensitivity and observation allows the reader to share; he never lauds it.  His recollection of his astonishment at the warmth and convenience of normal houses when he visits school friends is delightfully done.

Richard, his elder brother by 11 years, was an epileptic, whose condition had resulted in brain damage:  while his IQ was close to normal “… free will wasn’t granted to him as it was to others.”  He doesn’t know his own strength, one of the less serious consequences of which is that he invariably tightens jar lids beyond the ability of anyone else to easily unscrew them.  On the surface an eccentric, with his suit, waistcoat, bow-tie and pipe smoking he adapts words, so ‘downput‘ is what he calls his “special melancholy.”  His mood swings in the football season rely heavily on how Leeds United have fared.  What makes this particularly poignant – not mentioned in the book – is that we are talking here of the thuggish bunch of cheats of the Don Revie era Leeds.

Throughout all this we are also granted short interludes detailing significant episodes the historical development of scientific knowledge of the brain from the mid-nineteenth century onwards, the moving away from notions of seizures as sinister possession to recognition of the part electricity plays in the way the brain works and later discoveries mapping its functions.  Some of the reading group disliked this structure, found it intrusive but for me it added another dimension of poignancy to what is a moving and extraordinary piece of writing.  A lovely book, indeed.

Further musical and other non-book based adventures

DTBThis was something special.  All three acts used backing tapes, loops and active sampling.  Dear John was duly love-lorn in finest doo-wop fashion, his backing group consisting of three pretty sharp suits, actually, lain over chairs, the picture completed with pork-pie and similar hats and some cool shades; it’s a good joke, though it was a bit loud.  Mrs Pilgrimm sat down unassumingly at her amplified cello and proceeded to spin dramatic swirling magic with said instrument while working effects from various foot pedals and singing simply and unaffectedly songs from the folk tradition; I recall Reynardine in particular.  She finished with a cheerful rhythmic pizzicato piece.  Looked about 20 but I’m told she’s probably double that.  Quite a prelude to the main man.  Elsewhere one has seen David Thomas Broughton described as the missing link between Nick Drake and Tommy Cooper.  I’d also throw some Les Dawson at the guitar too, but mainly a major digital upgrade of John Martyn‘s work with loop tapes and then some.  Oh, and some Ivor Cutler.  Broughton has a beautiful voice (probably  more than one, actually) and is an accomplished acoustic guitarist.  What he does when you throw all the above elements together in a pretty much uninterrupted performance of songs, music, poker-faced jokery and noise – oscillating signals and feedback are part of the canvas too – is remarkable.  Crescendos of multiple layers of guitar and voice and noise are suddenly stilled (at the push of a foot pedal) and we’re straight into another exquisite piece of guitar picking and a new song.  It is an extraordinary experience.  Never mind all the comedy business with the mic stand,  did I say it was incredibly moving?  Yup, that too. (Thanks MF, for the recommendation).

Scribal July 2014July’s Scribal was another goodie.  Vanessa’s 50th birthday poetry dare was highly enjoyable, especially the one about her handbag.  Palmerston, the featured band, were highly accomplished and great fun.  Infectious in a good way.  Who needs drummers?  Some of the songs are so good you wonder who did the originals, except they are originals.  Country rock, with all five of them potential vocalists and enjoying one another’s company, I was taken back to the days of some of my favourite pub rock gigs – Brinsley Schwarz no less.  Last number, I swear they were channeling The Mavericks.  Steve Hobbs did what started as a jokey advice piece on doing spoken word at open mic gigs that morphed into something else when it slowly became apparent he was using his speech at his father’s funeral as his example.  Thoughtful, moving, unsettling and effective.

Icarus by Hendrick Goltzius 1588What else?  Cadences, the new show at MK Gallery, features 40 pieces, most of them – hurrah! – paintings, engravings, or drawings mounted on the walls.  On loan from a Dutch art gallery, the works range from a few Old Masters to a big Bridget Riley (Breathe – not one of her more interesting, I’d venture) and M.C.Escher’s birds, and a few, like the neat Kandinsky, sharing themes of (it says here) “flight, falling, destruction and gravity“; so not a few Icaruses.  ‘Cadence’ also references the fall in the human voice at the end of a non-questioning sentence (or at up until the heinous influence of Australian teen soaps changed that given a bit) or the ending of a piece of music.

Photo filched from the MKG website.

Photo filched from MKG’s good-looking website.

As an exhibition it felt good standing in the centre of the long and middle galleries though individually the pieces did a little less for me.  Despite what I’ve previously said about the walls I think two of my favourite pieces were the ceramics in the display cases in the photo on the left – Chris van der Hoef Tea setChris van der Hoef’s geometrical tea set (from 1926! – illustrated left) and Dick Lion’s more recent Metropolis.  That big lettering thing – this is not a put-down, I quite like it – resembling the final round of BBC4’s fiendish Only connect quiz but with the vowels left in, is from Christopher Wool (1990).

Again I have to display my ignorance (sarcasm?) and question the point of much video art, and the space it takes up.  The whole of the Cube gallery is given over to showing Catherine Yass‘s Flight (2002).  Shot from a remote-controlled helicopter flying over and around and up and down urban buildings it apparently gives a “sense of dizzying disorientation“; but then so did playing around with the horizontal and vertical holds on old televisions.  Having said that, I shall probably return for the showing of her new commissioned work, Piano falling (from July 19):

Piano Falling is a new film commissioned by MK Gallery. It shows a grand piano being launched off the top of a 27 story building in East London as it falls and crashes dramatically on the ground. Called Balfron Tower, this classic Modernist tower block was designed by the celebrated architect Erno Goldfinger in 1963. The destruction of musical instruments, and pianos in particular, has a long tradition in art history, as an iconoclastic, ‘anti-bourgeois’ gesture. In this instance, the crash and scatter of the piano as it falls will create an unpredictable composition of sound and image. The idea of recording sound during the fall was inspired by Aeolian harps named after Aeolus, the Greek god of wind – whose strings are played by the wind. As it flies through the air, this dark, three-legged object assumes an enigmatic, metaphorical character, echoed in the dragons and angels that fall out of the sky elsewhere in the exhibition.

Looks fun.  Meanwhile in a black video box with headphones attached we have Bruce Nauman‘s Violin film #1 (Playing the violin as fast as I can) (1967/8) in which, “the production of sound is subjected to certain actions that contradict its status as music and performance“; or … roll of drums … the sound and vision are well out of sync.

(c) Jessica Jane Eyre (but mucked about a bit)

(c) JJE (but mucked about a bit)

Nothing out of sync about Naomi “19” Rose‘s usual quality performance at the bijou music venue that is Newport Pagnell’s Rose & Crown pub on Friday.  “Sad songs sung with a smile”, I said, and MG suggested that would make a good album title.  Naomi was actually the support for the multinational Nothing Concrete, who played a wide-ranging mostly good-time set.  Not often you see a line up of cello (second cellist of the week!), mandolin, full size double bass, that box-thing percussion and a self-professed ex-professional busker on lead vocals.

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The autumn of the Egyptian Geese

In August we spotted what we first thought were a couple of obscure ducks.  It was at the weir close to Wolverton Mill, betwixt Stony Stratford and Wolverton, on one of our regular walks along the Ouse .  First sighting was actually the male seeing off the heron that had initially caught our eye, but they were obviously not your common or garden Anglo water bird.  Our books didn’t help; we were baffled, even with the rich brown of those eyes and the colours at the rear.  Next time we went back there were goslings.  Eight at first,we were later told, seven when we first saw them, and down to six the last time, but you have to say … result!

It became a regular jaunt for me, checking on the family’s progress, an important part of my autumn, and occasionally one met others who were doing the same.  It was from one such couple I learned that they were Egyptian geese, almost certainly strays from a collection of decorative exotics.  Under the protective eyes of their parents the goslings prospered and grew, even going native, picking up on the feeding habits of the local ducks and swans and readily showing an interest in potential bread benefactors.

At a certain stage I noticed the male had difficulty walking and though the next time I saw him he seemed a bit steadier on his legs, that was the last time I saw him.  Did he become a victim or – one asks with an element of wishful thinking – do the males just leave the mums to it at this stage in the breeding cycle?  It saddened me.  But the goslings continued to grow.  They even started coming up onto the river bank, by which time they were almost the same size as their mum; it was only the lack of marking around the eyes that gave them away.

I was surprised by the intensity I found in the relationship.  And then they were gone, migrating (presumably) to where?  I do hope they’ll be back next year.

And here’s a thing or two I’ve meant to mention
the past few months but somehow never quite got round to them. 

I love this photo, found on the web, and I’d like to be able to credit it (if indeed, there aren’t any objections to its being here).  It’s Jackie Leven, sitting somewhere entirely appropriate.  I still feel hollow at the thought that I’m not going to be able to see him sing and talk and play again, a unique experience.  A true troubadour, he was special in many ways, not least in his championing poetry, his confidence that enough of us would get it.   We’re fortunate that there is so much music out there to keep returning to.  Today I am floored by his setting of Robert Frost‘s Stopped by woods on a snowy evening, on the Creatures of light and darkness album.  Is there anything more lovely and at peace (though he knows he must move on) than that voice crooning, “The woods are lovely, dark and deep.”

In a previous post I mentioned how Jackie eschewed encores, but I could only précis his words.  This is what he said performing at ‘A Cornish pub in Germany‘ in November, 2005, quoted from an official bootleg of the gig.

I think we’re coming towards the end of our time together. So we won’t be doing an encore; it’s a load of bullshit. I know that, you know that. What is the point of us going and standing through there, while you’ve got to go: “More! More! More! More!” and then we come back. It’s fucking ridiculous. We’re not going to go through that … So this is our last song, and we look forward to seeing you again next year.

A slight return to another JL gone too soon.  Tim Riley’s recent John Lennon bio, reviewed here earlier this year, contains a tale or two about his life with Yoko in the apartment in New York and her reliance on a “coterie of astrologists, psychics and numerologists” – leaving a rather obvious question, which I’ll let lie – up to and beyond choosing a label for the release of Double fantasy, their return to recording.   Label head David Geffen was invited over, after, Riley cites Geffen himself, “she ran “his numbers” (a combination of his birthday, address, phone number, and ‘who knows what’)“.  On the album they used a couple of musicians from the band Cheap Trick, and – I really like this story, which reassures me somewhat – Carlos, one of those musicians, reports of the sessions:

“Yoko’d be in the booth and say, ‘Does anyone want some granola?’ or whatever she had, and it looked like animal feed. And John would be like down the hall with the roadies, you know, sneaking a slice of pizza.”

After reading Riley’s book I hunted out a copy of Double fantasy from my local library and was underwhelmed; any more is best left unsaid, so I’ll leave it at that, I think.

And now for something completely different.  After some additions to the list of words that barely exist outside of a 15×15 crossword square, a few more faves from the Guardian cryptic.   When was the last time you saw or heard used in everyday speech or print the words ague, alack, tarry, litotes or stevedore?  Thought so.  And so to some clues that gave pleasure.  As you’ll see, I tend towards the simple life:

  • from Tramp the awesome: Ulterior motive of Haagen-Dazs? (6,6)
  • from Rufus the beautifully simple: It became you (4)
  • and the classic: Lover of Bess in musical heading off for wild party (4)
  • from anon Everyman in the Observer: A motoring offence in Shepperton (6-7)
  • zen from Orlando: Al most (6,3)
  • and the elegant: Effie is in Sheffield but he is in Manchester (4,6)
  • a cringing pun from Araucaria: Don Quixote’s horse, say? (6)
  • and a couple more from Rufus: More than one rock group (6)
  • Metal detector (6)
  • redeemed by: Treatment for refusal to play guitar (7)
  • and the simplicity of:  A round game, perhaps (3.3)
  • the sweet punning of Arachne gives us: Dames popular with sailors (6)
  • but weep at the sheer majesty of Auracaria: Complaint that one could hear Forsyth greeting relative? (11) (which I would never have got without a Warren Zevon song)

Answers at the end of this post …
underneath evidence (well, you’ll have to take my word for it) of one of my great achievements in 2011.  You know how you say of something, That is just fucking im-poss-ible?  I speak of Advanced Heading in the Balance category of WiiFit exercises.  Never mind that it’s told me on occasion I’ve got the body of a 20-year-old and that my movements are full of grace, after months of doing Advanced Heading on WiiFit I managed to avoid all the boots and pandas it could throw at me and successfully made contact with all the footballs and racked up a Perfect Score.  More than once.  Hell of a buzz.

So after all that excitement I leave you with the Crossword answers:

  • from Tramp the awesome: Ulterior motive of Haagen-Dazs? (6,6)
  • from Rufus the beautifully simple: It became you (4) THOU
  • and the classic: Lover of Bess in musical heading off for wild party (4) (P)ORGY
  • from anon Everyman in the Observer: A motoring offence in Shepperton (6-7) Double parking
  • zen from Orlando: Al most (6,3) Nearly all
  • and the elegant: Effie is in Sheffield but he is in Manchester (4,6) City centre
  • a cringing pun from Araucaria: Don Quixote’s horse, say? (6) DONKEY
  • and a couple more from Rufus: More than one rock group (6) STONES
  • Metal detector (6) COPPER
  • redeemed by: Treatment for refusal to play guitar (7) NOSTRUM
  • and the simplicity of:  A round game, perhaps (3.3) CUP TIE
  • the sweet punning of Arachne gives us: Dames popular with sailors (6)  (Norfolk) BROADS
  • but weep at the sheer majesty of Auracaria: Complaint that one could hear Forsyth greeting relative? (11)  BRUCE-(E)LLOSIS !!! (it’s a lung disease of cattle, mentioned in Play it all night long, Warren Zevon’s paen to the farming life, his comment on the getting back to the land hippie fallout movement after the gold-rush, so to speak)

New Year’s wishes to each and all.

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I haven’t exactly kept up with the state of Beatles biography over the years, but they were certainly significant in the biographies of me and my mates at school, and it’s interesting to consider again from almost half a century’s distance, what was going on with them while what they were doing was having such a profound effect on us.  You’ll just have to take my word for it when I say – I was in thrall to the Americans, first LP I owned was The Fabulous Style of the Everly Brothers – that the first time I heard ‘Love me do‘ on 208 Radio Luxemburg (in bed, by torchlight, yea, yea, yea) I just knew something had changed.  And how quickly it continued to do so.  You picked, identified with, one of ’em; a friend who’d long eschewed the first name on his birth certificate, known by all by his adopted middle name, suddenly wanted to be called Paul;  Lennon was my man, rhythm guitarist as I was.

Tim Riley‘s Lennon: the man, the myth, the music – the definitive life (Virgin, 2011) was touted as being special because it took in the story from both sides of the Atlantic.  And boy, doesn’t that show in some hilarious faux pas – but more of that later.  Anyway, dangerous claim that – definitive; one also shared, I notice, by earlier books from both Philip Norman and Ray Coleman that I’m not familiar with.  The American Riley’s is big enough – 661 pages of text, and just over 100 more of references, discography and index – and I would guess that psychologically he’s done a good job on John Lennon, the human being.  By looking mainly at the books published over the years by John’s friends in Liverpool and Hamburg, relatives (ex-wife, father, sister), colleagues and miscellaneous others, he draws together a picture of a complex, intelligent and troubled boy and young man who achieved so much and so quickly, while so much was happening to him on an unprecedented scale; a man who was trying to get a grasp on and to have – what he tried so hard make – a positive impact on his times.

What happened to John Lennon as a child is just awful; age 6, on glorious holiday in Blackpool with his usually absent seafaring dad, saying come to New Zealand, a fresh start with me, and then girl-about-town mum with new paramour comes bidding for him back into her new life in Liverpool, where everyone else he’s ever known is,  they say to him, in a Blackpool hotel room: you choose.  On such events history turns.   Riley also delves into his artistically crucial friendship with art school buddy Stuart Sutcliffe and the other losses he endured when young – some of these I knew, but not in this detail.  Similarly the trauma of being a Beatle – why, you really are in the realms of Shakespearian tragedy; he was saved by (genre change to comedy?)  – and whatever else you think of her, this cannot be denied – the love of his life, Yoko Ono.  He does lay the myth that she was the one who split the Beatles; they were in a bad enough way without her (and no wonder given the scale of what they were experiencing), and establishes beyond doubt that Working class hero is not to be taken literally, autobiographically (in Liverpool, “None of the other Beatles had indoor toilets“).

So, as I say, I’m OK with the big picture; I suspect Riley’s done a good job on the man and I’m glad I read it.  I learned a few things it’s good to know.  There are omissions:  I could have done with more about the only briefly mentioned UK package tours after their early singles successes (but then it’s the Ray Davies connections, as per his X-Ray, I’m after); the question of his introduction to marijuana is rather glossed over (the Dylan ‘connection’ not even given status as myth to be rightly debunked);  we don’t hear of his reaction to McCartney’s game changing  Band on the run album; I would have liked to see mention made of John’s much bootlegged sardonic ripostes to Dylan’s Christian period.  I usually say my measure of a book about music or musicians is how much it makes me want to go straight to the hifi for the music.  He did make me think it’s time I gave Sgt Pepper another listen (I don’t own it), though – to tell the truth – not much else apart from The Standell‘s Dirty Water, and certainly not John’s solo career.  I put on my vinyl ‘Rock’n’roll’ album and was disappointed; maybe I need to try the remastered issue.  (For the record, my favourite Beatles album is Hard day’s night, when they were all still mates.)

What I can’t reconcile myself withdefinitive? – is the sheer hilarity and inexcusable naffness of some of the incidental factual errors that abound, in particular with regard to the United Kingdom, which – given he’s obviously spent time over here in the UK – beggar belief, and make you wonder how much further publishing and editorial standards can fall.  It does make you wonder about the main thrust of the book, but, as I say, these are incidentals.  Here’s my list:

  • apparently the Scouse accent is “Often mistaken for London Cockney” (p6).  First time I got on a bus in Liverpool I had to resort to my version of cod Scouse (learnt from the Beatles, of course) to be understood.
  • despite its various spellings, parole is not one of them as far as the entertaining camp gay subculture language (as per Julian and Sandy in the glorious radio show, Round the Horne) goes; he means polari – maybe he can blame his spellchecker (p14)
  • inspiration “pianist Lonnie Johnson” (p46) was actually an influential guitarist, an innovator in blues and jazz circles both before and after the war
  • Huyton is not “across the Mersey from Liverpool” (p74) or “on the peninsular across the Mersey” (p87).  That’s Birkenhead.  Huyton is a suburb of Liverpool bordering on the Borough of Knowsley.  It was also the parliamentary constituency of soon to be Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, he who (realistically) was responsible for giving the Beatles their MBEs (and not, as Riley suggests, the royals) and – here’s the thing, a fascinating link – Stuart Sutcliffe’s mum knew him because she was the minutes secretary of the local Labour Party branch.  Which leads us on to the best of the bunch …
  • Millie Sutcliffe could, her daughter says, in her book about Stuart, “tell the distinctions between a Bevanite and a Gaitskellite as easily as the distinction between an Elvis or Cliff Richard record.”  Riley annotates Bevanite and Gaitskellite as “Scottish accents”; apart from the fact that Aneurin Bevan was Welsh, they were in fact the two main wings in the ongoing debate about the aims of the Labour Party
  • George Harrison’s Cry for a shadow on the Tony Sheridan album made with the early Beatles – “the song veered between Cliff Richard tribute and parody”(p125) – is actually an instrumental.  The clue is there in the title – The Shadows were Cliff Richard’s backing band.
  • He makes far too much of the Beatles appearance on the ’63 Morecambe & Wise Show, citing Lennon’s live on TV ‘disgust’ at Eric Morecambe: “His manner simply dismissed this tired, silly-straight duo as passé.” (p225)  Did M&W take umbrage, as he claims?  I think not; this was a standard performance on their show and I bet the Beatles loved it.  Some things Americans will never understand.
  • Similarly, “Lennon and Dylan began to spar in the British imagination, the antic scouser who always threatened to go round the bend against the oddly prolific American whose epic abstractions quite nearly absolved him of being Jewish.” (p261) This is nonsense; it simply was not like that over here.
  • to throw away the explanation of mod as “a term derived from modern jazz buffs in the late 1950s” (p284) is linguistically correct but just plain inadequate background to a significant grouping in the whole ’60s panorama.  Who?
  • the Carnival of Light Rave, scheduled for the Roundhouse in Kilburn” early 1968 (p337), for which the Beatles produced the fabled and still unreleased (because basically, unlistenable) Carnival of light … The Roundhouse, scene of the famous gig introducing the Jefferson Airplane to London (the Doors wiped the floor with them) is in Chalk farm.  Kilburn to Chalk farm is one hell of tube train journey.
  • something seismic must have happened for John and Yoko’s much publicised bed wedding to be held on the “island of Gibraltar” (p444) given that Gibraltar is still actually firmly attached to the Spanish mainland
  • also geographically, in explaining George’s Concert for Bangladesh (p524), Bangladesh was a breakaway state from Pakistan, and not, as stated, India.

Truly dreadful, and for a book retailed at £25 inexcusable; I dare say I’ve  missed a few, too.  Did Yoko really go to school with a future Emperor of Japan and novelist Yukio Mishima?  Probably.

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Redecorating my study (well … slapping some paint around the shoebox I’m sitting in) involved moving the filing cabinet, which we tried to do with all the files in it.  So the wooden filing cabinet started to come to pieces.  So of necessity out come the files, crying out for weeding and treasures to find.  Like this gem of a ’70s period piece, a Leeds Postcards card from the late Ray Lowry.  Reproduced here because of an interview heard recently on Radio 4’s Today programme in the wake of the violence that occurred during the first student demonstration against the coalition government’s raising of tuition fees.  The interviewee, a non-student, was refusing , rather inarticulately, to condemn the violence and going on about students and working people coming together in a popular movement against the cuts.  Been through that movie before.  Is it reassuring that Private Eye have resurrected ‘The Alternative Voice’ of ex-student radical Dave Spart too, albeit this time around as Dave Fotherington Spart.

More crossword clues we have loved of late, courtesy of the Guardian.  Answers at the end of this post:

  • Fell having had internal haemorrhage (7) from the mighty Araucaria
  • Where someone lives, say, with lighter garment (6,5) another from Araucaria
  • Time when most strikes occur (6) from Rufus
  • Youthful pastime lost by us oldies (7) from Gordius
  • This is why, say, it’s impious (6) from Paul
  • Very proper request (7) another one of Paul’s
  • Beaten by uncultured Rod Stewart remix (7) from Shed
  • Explorer’s humble dwelling revealed secret (10) Shed again
  • & a nice pair to end with: Everyone expressed satisfaction with God (5) from Araucaria
  • A blessing for Professor Dawkins (7) from Arachne

I meant to mention in my previous post looking at his sort-of-autobiography, that Derren Brown makes great play of promoting individual  acts of kindness as a contribution to making the world a better place – it can spread like a virus.  And just lately there was social science research published saying that kind people are more likely to be happier and even healthier (sorry, no source).  It reminded me of an essay by Kurt Vonnegut arguing that the world would be a much better place if people were just a bit more polite to one another, extending that all the way up through politics and beyond.  Which nobody can deny.  Too easy?

Anyway, nice cup of tea will often serve as act of kindness but certain niceties must be observed.  I’ve (& my mother before me, hence…) always maintained that the milk goes in the cup first because that’s the way to judge the quantity of the milk you’re putting in and I aint gonna change now.  Even if two of my favourite published tea drinkers disagree.  George Orwell‘s famous essay ‘A nice cup of tea‘  (from 1946) goes into the whole process in some detail.

Tenthly, one should pour tea into the cup first. This is one of the most controversial points of all; indeed in every family in Britain there are probably two schools of thought on the subject. The milk-first school can bring forward some fairly strong arguments, but I maintain that my own argument is unanswerable. This is that, by putting the tea in first and stirring as one pours, one can exactly regulate the amount of milk whereas one is liable to put in too much milk if one does it the other way round.

He at least acknowledges an alternative, while Ray Davies, who has actually written a song, in praise of tea as panacea (‘Have a cuppa tea’ on the great ‘Muswell hillbillies) is adamant in this passage from ‘X-Ray’ his “unofficial autobiography”:

I diligently obeyed the ritual of the tea-making ceremony, knowing full well that any slip on my part would bring about the severest of reprimands before the final rejection and eventual dismissal. I poured the hot tea into the mugs, then added just enough milk to bring it to a rich, watery brown. I knew it was important to ensure that the milk was added while the tea was still moving around in a whirlpool. This would guarantee that the milk blended with the tea in a natural flow, rather than with the aid of a spoon. That would have been vulgar, according to Ray Davies’ book. A slip in etiquette. Spoons are only used as a last resort.

No help at all from tea specialists Whittards, whose very fine English Breakfast tea – loose leaves, of course, full of tastes – always kick-starts our day.  Their latest re-packaging sits on the fence:

At least, I thought, there is – surely – a consensus on how the brew starts.  Until I read Yoko Ono’s tribute – ‘The tea maker‘ – to Long Lost John in today’s New York Times.  Wherein she recalls John Lennon insisting that you put the tea bag in the cup first and then poured on the boiling water.  As any normal person would.  But:

One night, however, John said: “I was talking to Aunt Mimi this afternoon and she says you are supposed to put the hot water in first. Then the tea bag. I could swear she taught me to put the tea bag in first, …

Yoko touchingly describes how they laughed.  No John, should have trusted yourself.

Crossword answers to cherish, some delicious wordplay:

  • Tum-bled
  • Summer dress (some address)
  • Twelve (clock striking)
  • Marbles
  • Here’s-y
  • So-licit (shades of Ray Davies singing Apeman – so-phisticated)
  • Worsted (artless anagram)
  • Shack-let-on
  • All-ah
  • Gods-end

Two indispensible websites for stuck cruciverbalists: the site formerly known as Jumble gives you all the possibilities in the spaces left when you’ve only got a few letters filled in (and indeed does anagrams too but I’d call that cheating) and Fifteen Squared (‘never knowingly undersolved’) – aka 225 because of the 15×15 grids of conventional cryptic crosswords – has a dedicated band of top solvers who post solutions for the Guardian, the Indy & the FT with explanations for when you’ve finished it but don’t understand why.  But if you only want to know one clue’s answer, the Guardian, at least, has an online cheat mode …

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