Journalist: Doesn’t it ever get tiring singing the same song over and over again?
Dylan: No, it doesn’t.
This is a great one stop shop for anyone waJournalist: Doesn’t it ever get tiring singing the same song over and over again?
Dylan: No, it doesn’t.
This is a great one stop shop for anyone wanting to get to grips with the vastness that is Dylan. He’s the most recorded rock artist of all time, maybe excepting Frank Zappa. And 90% of his output is either good or great. (10% is really crap. Ugh.) And even on his worst albums there will be something wonderful (Brownsville Girl on Knocked Out Loaded). Nigel Williamson is a long time British fan and music writer and does an absolutely great job here. The biography section and the albums section go right up to this year, and the albums section at last weaves in to the chronological story all the myriad Bootleg Series & other archive releases.
Also, the photos are great, including the as stoned as it’s possible to be and keep upright 1966 pic on the cover.
Even though I have a ton of other Bob books this is one I will be dipping into many times. I have been dipping away for about three weeks now.
That’s the review. Five stars.
Now comes a bit of a perplexing downer, so you can skip this, but in case anyone’s interested here I go.
There’s a section called I Shan’t Be Released all about bootlegs. If you want to be comprehensive you have to check out bootlegs of Bob, of course. But in this section we find in the list of 15 must-own Bob boots The Gaslight Tapes, The Witmark Demos and the Complete Basement Tapes. Now, these items have been officially released and are reviewed in the albums section.
Oops! Didn’t anyone notice? Or did Nigel Williamson cut & paste this section from an earlier guide, say the 2006 Rough Guide to Bob Dylan which he also wrote, or one of his myriad articles in rock mags? I see that the text is copyrighted 2007 to 2015. And I suspect there may be other cut & pasted sections too, like the books section. It’s not such a big deal, but in a book this meticulous and otherwise excellent it’s a real clanger. Sorry Nigel!
Suze Rotolo : How many verses does this one have Bob? ...more
Andrew Neil, a BBC political tv journo, took off into a magnificent rant last week after the Paris bombings. It was a week, he saiPARIS, CITY OF LIGHT
Andrew Neil, a BBC political tv journo, took off into a magnificent rant last week after the Paris bombings. It was a week, he said,
In which a bunch of loser jihadists slaughtered 132 innocents to prove the future belongs to them rather than a civilization like France. Well I can’t say I fancy their chances. France, the country of Descartes, Boulez, Monet, Sartre, Rousseau, Camus, Renoir, Berlioz, Cézanne, Gauguin, Hugo, Voltaire, Matisse, Debussy, Ravel, Saint-Saëns, Bizet, Satie, Pasteur, Molière, Frank, Zola, Balzac, Blanc. Cutting edge science. World class medicine. Fearsome security forces. Nuclear power. Coco Chanel, Château Lafite, coq au vin, Daft Punk, Zizou Zidane, Juliette Binoche, liberté, égalité, fraternité, and crème brûlée.
Beheadings, crucifixions, amputations, slavery, mass murder, medieval squalor, a death-cult barbarity that would shame the Middle Ages. Well, IS, or Daesh or ISIS or ISIL—whatever name you’re going by, I am sticking with IS, as in Islamist scumbags.
I think the outcome is pretty clear to everybody but you. Whatever atrocities you are currently capable of committing, you will lose. In a thousand years’ time, Paris, that glorious City of Light, will still be shining bright, as will every other city like it, while you will be as dust, along with the ragbag of fascists, Nazis, and Stalinists that have previously dared to challenge democracy, and failed.
How instructive, then – how cruelly instructive – it has been to read the biography of Robespierre, at this time, and to descend into the gruesome maelstrom that was the French Revolution, and rediscover that no nation, however cultured, is immune from the belief that the death of a few thousand of the right people is not only necessary but good.
Jean-Paul Marat : “I believe in the cutting off of heads”.
10 June to 27 July 1793 : 1,376 people guillotined in Paris.
THE GUILLOTINE : A HUMANITARIAN INVENTION
In 1791 Dr Joseph-Ignace Guillotin speaking in the National Assembly, was promoting a new device, not yet perfected:
Now, with my machine, I’ll knock your head off [je vous fait sauter la tete] in the twinkling of an eye, and you’ll never feel it.
Ruth Scurr comments : “At this the deputies collapsed in helpless mirth."
As the acerbic historian John Croker pointed out:
Amongst the laughers there were scores who were destined to be early victims of the yet unborn cause of their merriment.
ROBESPIERRE THE SOCIALLY PROGRESSIVE VISIONARY, NO. 1
Interestingly, at this point Robespierre was arguing for the abolishment of the death penalty, rather than its mechanical improvement.
He was against the death penalty for two reasons : first, its injustice; second, its ineffectiveness as a deterrent. “Someone who butchers a perverse child that he could disarm and punish seems monstrous”.
At the same time he was arguing for the end to all forms of censorship, even for pornography, which was a flourishing underground trade. He also wanted the National Assembly to be housed in a building which would have facilities for up to ten thousand spectators. Ruth Scurr comments
In this way, he anticipated by two hundred years the televising of parliaments in the democratic world.
Nice one, Ruth.
WHO THE HELL WAS ROBESPIERRE?
Robespierre’s life was an odd one. For 31 years he was a provincial buried in a small town called Arras. He became a lawyer. He was quite poor and socially awkward. He was no ladies man. Then he buzzed around and got himself elected to the new Estates General which was where the King had run out of money and has to call this parliament as we might put it to ask them to bail him out.
They bailed his ass all right.
So this shy provincial lawyer arrived in France and after doing very little for 31 years he did everything in the next four years, to the point where he became the living personification of the Revolution. Ruth Scurr, our biographer, gives us two characteristics of Maximilien which eventually turned him into a monster – an “intoxicating paranoia” and a conviction that he was always right about political issues (“He will go far because he believes everything he says” – Mirabeau). Perhaps this is not saying a great deal. Richard Nixon was paranoid, Stalin was paranoid, I dare say Pol Pot was too. If you’re in power, it surely comes with the territory. And well, why would you be in the grisly business of politics in the first place if you didn’t think you were right about the great issues of the day?
DESPERATE TIMES DEMANDED OVER THE TOP PONCING AROUND IN THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY
the painter David ran into the middle of the hall, ripped open his shirt and pointing to his bare breast cried “Strike here! I propose my own assassination! I too am a man of virtue! Liberty will win in the end!”
And our guy would say stuff like
I have nothing more to say to you, and I have decided that, unless there is a revival of public spirit, unless the patriots make one last effort, I will wait in the chair of senatorial office, to which the people have raised me, for the daggers of the counter-revolution!”
Boy, you can hear the eye-rolling from here.
ROBESPIERRE WAS NOT A DICTATOR
There was no single person who ruled during the Revolution. But he was so influential, and busy in so many capacities – head of this and that Committee, president of the Jacobins club, constantly speechifying and writing – that he was perceived as a dictator.
They call me a tyrant. If I were one, they would grovel at my feet. … To the nobles they say “He alone persecutes you”. To the patriots they say “Robespierre protects the nobles”. To the clergy they say “He’s the one persecuting you”. To the fanatics they say “He’s the one who destroyed religion”. … “He did all of it!” – “He won’t prevent it!” – “Your fate is in his hands alone!”
The revolution went through major convulsions and became ever more paranoid. On 17 September 1793 the Convention passed the Law of Suspects – you could now be guillotined if your conduct, words or writings showed you to be a supporter of tyranny, of federalism or to be an enemy of liberty. So if some patriot didn’t like the cut of your jib, tough on you. That was when the Terror began in earnest and the tumbrils began rolling every day. During the 9 months which followed around 16,000 people were condemned to death, mostly not in Paris, and there were many lynchings too.
He initiated the law that menaced absolutely everyone, on the most spurious grounds, and without recourse to any form of defence.
Usual amount of time taken between denouncing a citizen for a crime and the execution of the citizen: three days.
ROBESPIERRE THE SOCIALLY PROGRESSIVE VISIONARY, NO. 2
At the very same time as heads were rolling into baskets at the rate, on occasion, of over 60 a day in Paris, to the point where they had to move the guillotine because the amount of blood was becoming offensive to the local citizens and was polluting the water supply, at the same time as all that, Robespierre was setting out his vision of how education should be organised in France :
Free centralised state education of all girls aged 5 to 11 and all boys aged 5 to 12, followed by free secondary education for all who wanted it, the costs to be met by progressive taxation.
Well, he was only around 120 years ahead of his time.
ROBESPIERRE = THE REVOLUTION
He could speak about himself so often because he identified so completely with the Revolution – the two were not separate in his mind. Even more peculiarly, he was surrounded by others who also believed in this coincidence between Robespierre and the Revolution. …The strange combination of his self-centred rhetoric, clean living, clear principles and passionate political commitment made him seem like the Revolution incarnate… and now that the Revolution had become the Terror, he found himself identified with that too
HE WAS NOT AN ATHEIST
Some revolutionaries were, but he was a passionate believer. Here he is denouncing atheist propagandists - you can’t deny he had a way with words:
Who commissioned you to announce to the people that God does not exist? How does it help a man if you persuade him that blind force presides over his destiny, and strikes at random, now at the virtuous, now at the criminal? Does it help him to believe his soul is nothing but a thin vapour that is dissipated at the mouth of the tomb? Will the idea of annihilation inspire him with purer and higher sentiments than that of immortality?... If the existence of God and the immortality of the soul were nothing but dreams, they would still be the most beautiful conceptions of the human spirit.
THE END CAME FAST
He and his faction denounced the Girondists, they were guillotined. They denounced the Dantonists, their heads rolled. The deputies left alive in the National Assembly could see that their number would be up at some point so they got their retaliation in first and denounced Robespierre’s faction. And it was that easy.
Old woman to Robespierre on the way to the guillotine :
Monster spewed up from hell – the thought of your punishment intoxicates me with joy.
Well, Robespierre was a curious beast. You can’t warm to him. You can be amazed at his progressive ideas and then chilled at his ruthlessness. No one was spared, no one was pitied if they got in the way of what he thought the Revolution was. It was to be entirely for the poor, not the rich. His whole political dream was to make life bearable for the poor. It was a good intention and it was one of the many roads to a particular type of hell.
Caption : Robespierre, having guillotined everyone in France, now guillotines the guillotiner.
Bloody hell I kind of want my money back but I don’t really but I do. This book is now the record holder for fastest time between discovering its exisBloody hell I kind of want my money back but I don’t really but I do. This book is now the record holder for fastest time between discovering its existence, ordering it, getting it and reading it. And the part that took the shortest time was reading it. Well, nearly. It took me about 40 minutes and that was because I was draggin it out looking at the lovely pix and admiring the panel design and all the cool detail that Adrian Tomine puts into his exquisite stuff. So like this is a four point five star graphic delight that I am hereby knocking down to a frankly mean 3 stars because it is just too damn short. It’s too short, it really is. If I type any more this review will be longer than the book. Come on Tomine, I like my minimalism as much as the next Steve Reich fan but I think you’re just a tease, a tease is what you are.
Well I only got this today, so these are preliminary remarks, and as with all these guides, it will take some time to read the whole thing and be inspWell I only got this today, so these are preliminary remarks, and as with all these guides, it will take some time to read the whole thing and be inspired by it and cuss it out and so forth. That’s the nature of these things.
There aren’t enough books of book recommendations (compared to movie guides, say) but I can’t say this one has especially thrilled my marrow. There were only 5 choices which surprised me :
Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911) Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926) Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971) The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988) Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990)
I hadn’t heard of those. The other 95 were a really fairly obvious MOR literary playlist – this is a straight-down-the-line big name stuff from Pilgrim’s bloody Progress all the way to Peter bloody Carey.
One thing which really bugs me here is – does this guy Robert McCrum seriously LIKE all these 100 novels? His taste is such that every classic novel is right up his alley, every wildly different type from Tom Jones to Murphy? I have read 58 of the 100 – it would have been more except his choice from an author was different to mine. But really, you can’t like everything! And I must say that I thoroughly hated the following:
The Good Soldier Tropic of Cancer Murphy Under the Volcano Housekeeping Underworld
And he regrets not including The Man who Loved Children which I hated more than the above six put together.
He does – hooray! - confess to disliking the following :
Walter Scott (“I’ve never finished even his best known novels”) Elizabeth Gaskell (“whose appeal I don’t understand”) Norman Mailer Kingsley Amis John Fowles (“has not worn well”) Iris Murdoch (“contrived and artificial”)
A couple of his inclusions like Cold Comfort Farm are trifles. I dearly love Gentlemen Prefer Blondes but it really shouldn’t be keeping Carson McCullers out of the list. I mean, hell’s teeth!
Of the 42 I haven’t read I’m mortally afraid of the following :
Vanity Fair Middlemarch Voss The Golden Bowl The Golden Notebook
And I wouldn’t touch these with your grandmother’s barge-pole:
Clarissa Jude the Obscure Of Human Bondage (sounds way too much like Fifty Shades of Grey)
I think though we have had too many lists of 100 greatest novels since 1650 – what we really need now is 100 (or 200 even) greatest novels since the year 2000. Let’s hear it for new stuff.
HERE IS THE LIST OF THE 100 NOVELS
1.The Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan (1678) (I agree!) 2. Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (1719) (I agree!) 3. Gulliver’s Travels by Jonathan Swift (1726) (I agree!) 4. Clarissa by Samuel Richardson (1748) 5. Tom Jones by Henry Fielding (1749) (I agree!) 6. The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman by Laurence Sterne (1759) (I agree!) 7. Emma by Jane Austen (1816) (I agree!) 8. Frankenstein by Mary Shelley (1818) (I agree just about, but Christ this can be dull stuff.) 9. Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock (1818) 10. The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket by Edgar Allan Poe (1838) 11. Sybil by Benjamin Disraeli (1845) 12. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë (1847) (I agree!) 13. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (1847) (I agree! (I agree!)) 14. Vanity Fair by William Thackeray (1848) 15. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (1850) 16. The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850) 17. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (1851) (I agree!) 18. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll (1865) (I agree!) 19. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (1868) (I’m not sure I agree, when you get down to it The Moonstone is silly) 20. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (1868-9) 21. Middlemarch by George Eliot (1871-2) 22. The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope (1875) 23. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (1884/5) (I agree!) 24. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886) 25. Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K Jerome (1889) (I agree!) 26. The Sign of Four by Arthur Conan Doyle (1890) (I agree!) 27. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde (1891) (I weirdly agree!) 28. New Grub Street by George Gissing (1891) (I agree!) 29. Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy (1895) 30. The Red Badge of Courage by Stephen Crane (1895) (I agree!) 31. Dracula by Bram Stoker (1897) (I agree!) 32. Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad (1899) (I agree!) 33. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (1900) 34. Kim by Rudyard Kipling (1901) 35. The Call of the Wild by Jack London (1903) 36. The Golden Bowl by Henry James (1904) 37. Hadrian the Seventh by Frederick Rolfe (1904) 38. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame (1908) (ah, how could I not agree!) 39. The History of Mr Polly by HG Wells (1910) 40. Zuleika Dobson by Max Beerbohm (1911) 41. The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford (1915) 42. The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan (1915) 43. The Rainbow by DH Lawrence (1915) (I do not agree!) 44. Of Human Bondage by W Somerset Maugham (1915) 45. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton (1920) (I agree!) 46. Ulysses by James Joyce (1922) (I agree!) 47. Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis (1922) 48. A Passage to India by EM Forster (1924) (I agree!) 49. Gentlemen Prefer Blondes by Anita Loos (1925) (I agree!) 50. Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf (1925) (I agree!) 51. The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald (1925) (hmmmmm) 52. Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner (1926) 53. The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway (1926) 54. The Maltese Falcon by Dashiell Hammett (1929) 55. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner (1930) 56. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley (1932) 57. Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons (1932) (nooo!) 58. Nineteen Nineteen by John Dos Passos (1932) 59. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934) (noooo!) 60. Scoop by Evelyn Waugh (1938) 61. Murphy by Samuel Beckett (1938) (again, noooo!) 62. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (1939) (I agree!) 63. Party Going by Henry Green (1939) 64. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O’Brien (1939) (I agree!) 65. The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck (1939) (I agree I think but heck it was a while ago) 66. Joy in the Morning by PG Wodehouse (1946) 67. All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (1946) 68. Under the Volcano by Malcolm Lowry (1947)(ech) 69. The Heat of the Day by Elizabeth Bowen (1948) 70. Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell (1949) 71. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene (1951) 72. The Catcher in the Rye by JD Salinger (1951) (also ech) 73. The Adventures of Augie March by Saul Bellow (1953) (even though I did not finish this, I agree!) 74. Lord of the Flies by William Golding (1954) 75. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (1955) (I agree!) 76. On the Road by Jack Kerouac (1957) (loved at the time, but this is probably more an event than a novel) 77. Voss by Patrick White (1957) 78. To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (1960) (I agree _ I think it’s illegal not to!) 79. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark (1960) (nahhh) 80. Catch-22 by Joseph Heller (1961) (I agree!) 81. The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing (1962) 82. A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (1962) (I agree!) 83. A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964) 84. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote (1966) (I agree!) 85. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath (1966) (I agree!) 86. Portnoy’s Complaint by Philip Roth (1969) (I agree!) 87. Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor (1971) 88. Rabbit Redux by John Updike (1971) 89. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison (1977) 90. A Bend in the River by VS Naipaul (1979) 91. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie (1981) (I agree!) 92. Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson (1981) (ugh) 93. Money: A Suicide Note by Martin Amis (1984) (I agree!) 94. An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro (1986) 95. The Beginning of Spring by Penelope Fitzgerald (1988) 96. Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler (1988) 97. Amongst Women by John McGahern (1990) 98. Underworld by Don DeLillo (1997) (this bloated blimp of preciousness? Nope) 99. Disgrace by JM Coetzee (1999) 100. True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey (2000) (naw – there is so much better stuff than this… nice but not for such a list as this)
Mostly when Woody Allen produces pretty chocolate box movies like Midnight in Paris full of artistic references to only the most obvious Hemingways, FMostly when Woody Allen produces pretty chocolate box movies like Midnight in Paris full of artistic references to only the most obvious Hemingways, Fitzgeralds and Gauguins, the ones everyone’s heard of (so as not to task the audience), or pretty travelogue movies like Vicky Cristina Barcelona or To Rome with Love , and he then stuffs these pretty movies with great looking young actresses who then have to dance to these creaky lascivious rom-commy plots, and everyone coos over the results like they were the last word in how to make a sophisticated modern movie, he’s really easy to hate.
Even at the height of his art, in the 80s, he was quite easy to hate. Even in his best movies it’s quite easy – who doesn’t feel the queasiness when watching Manhattan with 17 year old Mariel Hemingway hopelessly in love with 44 year old Woody and Woody’s character disingenuously complaining that he just can’t seem to say no to this lovely young thing although he knows he should; and later in Husbands and Wives the now 57 year old Woody nearly having his way with the 19 year old Juliette Lewis. And I must mention a couple of his very bad movies - in Mighty Aphrodite now 60 years old he gets to do a double – his wife is Helena Bonham Carter (age 29) and he gets to have sex with Mira Sorvino (age 28); later still, he puts Larry David in to bat, in Whatever Works , where 22 year old Evan Rachel Wood gets to marry (!) 62 year old Larry David. You don’t need to be the Andrea Dworkin Sex Equality police to find the whole thing grisly.
(I have to say I’d rather see Linda Blair’s head turning round whilst she projectile vomits and gashes herself with a crucifix fifty times before I watch Woody snogging Mira Sorvino again. Noooo – my eyes, my eyes!)
So, of course, before you even get to the movies you could already hate Woody Allen for the two scandals which he’s famous for. But I think you’d be better off sticking to hating him for his movies, or just hate the movies, and leave him out of it completely. Us who snuff up books like others do lines of coke, us who have large and these days quite unnecessary roomfuls of recorded music, us who culture-vulch at any opportunity, we know we are in no position to judge. Once you start judging, you’re going to find those shelves dwindling very fast. First to go : Picasso. Followed by : Ingmar Bergman. Hot on their heels : Philip Larkin, James Brown and Miles Davis. After them : Ted Hughes and Norman Mailer. Stop, stop, you get the picture. Bad people can create great art. We know that. Which still doesn’t make John Wayne Gacy’s prison paintings collectible – sorry.
But in the middle of these crass male sexual fantasies and vomitaceous travelogues for foreign tourist boards, you get stuff which can’t be denied. These are usually the ones we’ve all heard of, because the public isn’t as easily led as some of the critics are. Manhattan, Husbands and Wives, Crimes and Misdemeanors, Annie Hall (just about, but I think it creaks now), Hannah and her Sisters, Manhattan Murder Mystery and lastly Blue Jasmine – that’s seven whole movies you can enjoy. And maybe there are some others amidst the dozens of obscurities which no one has ever seen (September, Matchpoint, Scoop, etc etc).
In the good ones he is really great on the skewering of male vanity – yes, the very thing I am accusing him of perpetrating in his onscreen schmoozing of very young women. Ironic, you might say. But in Husbands and Wives, and Crimes and Misdemeanours , he is pitiless in exposing the monkey on everyone’s back to be our pathetic enslavement to our sexual and emotional desires, our complete haplessness.
Well, he lost his touch. When you get to a movie like Mighty Aphrodite, you have to wonder how an intelligent film-maker can come up with so stupid and borderline-offensive a story. Could be he suffers from the same thing a musician like Dylan or McCartney does – there’s no one around who can possibly say no to him. Hollywood actors queue round the block to be in his films – the actors validate the latter-day stuff even as his enormous impressive 45-film career validates them back. And the actors win Oscars too, which must be a little consideration.
So Woody is a perfect case study for me. He stands alongside those other Americans with long, long careers – Clint Eastwood (no jokes about how great it would be to see Woody Allen standing beside Clint Eastwood please), Bob Dylan, Tom Waits – who are still with us and still chucking the stuff out, forging through their 70s and into their 80s.
This is a great book for all WA fans and non-fans like me. Shone is by no means gaga about all these movies, although a lot kindlier than I would have been. He has some great turns of phrase too – here are a few quotes.
A Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy : Allen’s first attempt at an ensemble picture suffers from a case of the sames. All the women blur into one taffeta-wrapped blur of wispy-voiced, needle-thin nymphomania, while the men are variations on a single satyr.
September : Everyone operates at the highest possible level of indecision, hovering and blurring like hummingbirds.
Another Woman : Right at the point where you’re expecting the plot to thicken, Allen hits us with a stultifying 10 minute dream sequence a la Bergman, in which Marion seeks closure with her various ghosts in stiff, literary language, while Eric Satie’s third Gymnopedie tinkles tastefully in the background. Ads for bathroom freshener should be so tasteful.
Shadows and Fog : ( The studio president views the movie for the first time.) “He looked like he’d been hit by a mallet when he saw it,” said Allen.
Husbands and Wives : crackles and hums with black electricity, with an ashen gravity that is no put-on or aesthetic pose. It’s lighting-struck.
On Julia Roberts in Everyone Says I Love You : She gives off confidence like the Colgate glow, and spends much of her screen time doing an impression of a lioness gamely agreeing not to eat the gazelle that is huffing and puffing in jogging shorts in front of her.
This is also a large, very beautiful book. (I think it has Christmas Present invisibly stamped all over the cover.) Totally recommended.
Most of the time I’m not much for poetry, it’s just so precious and thinks a lot of itself, it swanks around preening and sneering.
Most of the time thMost of the time I’m not much for poetry, it’s just so precious and thinks a lot of itself, it swanks around preening and sneering.
Most of the time this is my kind of poetry:
There's a tugboat down by the river Where a cement bag’s just a-droopin' on down Oh, that cement is just for the weight, dear Five'll get you ten old Mack is back in town. (Louis Armstrong)
A candy-colored clown they call the sandman Tiptoes to my room every night Just to sprinkle stardust and to whisper “Go to sleep everything is all right” (Roy Orbison)
Well I’m not the world’s most physical guy But when she squeezed me tight she nearly broke my spine Oh my Lola, lo-lo-lo-lo-la Lola (The Kinks)
I get my poetry from the grooves of old 45s, from the howls of old blues, from surfers and hotrodders, punks and acidheads and proggers and cowboys and from the antique antic folk with their 75 verse ballads about some duke who shagged some other duke’s betrothed and got the heat rained down on his ass and his kith’s ass in 1355.
But just occasionally, an actual poet comes and does something completely magical with words. So I’m reading through Philip Larkin’s stuff and finding I really like his sour, defeated, depressed but soldiering-on-anyway voice.
This one that i want to quote here is I suppose his biggest hit but quite right too – it’s really a fantastic piece. Every phrase is a marvel, exactly sketching out all the banalities of an English train journey in the 1950s and now, but then also unearthing a forgotten, almost unnoticed social ritual which is completely a 50s thing, quaint and moving. Nowadays every other couple get married in Barbados or Bali, and the other ones wouldn’t be caught dead using public transport to start their honeymoon with.
Whitsun is the seventh Sunday after Easter. As both are moveable feasts that information is not so useful, but it happens in late May. In these secular times hardly anyone in England would have the faintest idea what a Whitsun was. It was changed into “Spring Bank Holiday” in 1978.
The Whitsun Weddings by Philip Larkin (1958)
That Whitsun, I was late getting away: Not till about one-twenty on the sunlit Saturday Did my three-quarters-empty train pull out, All windows down, all cushions hot, all sense Of being in a hurry gone. We ran Behind the backs of houses, crossed a street Of blinding windscreens, smelt the fish-dock; thence The river's level drifting breadth began, Where sky and Lincolnshire and water meet.
All afternoon, through the tall heat that slept For miles inland, A slow and stopping curve southwards we kept. Wide farms went by, short-shadowed cattle, and Canals with floatings of industrial froth; A hothouse flashed uniquely: hedges dipped And rose: and now and then a smell of grass Displaced the reek of buttoned carriage-cloth Until the next town, new and nondescript, Approached with acres of dismantled cars.
At first, I didn't notice what a noise The weddings made Each station that we stopped at: sun destroys The interest of what's happening in the shade, And down the long cool platforms whoops and skirls I took for porters larking with the mails, And went on reading. Once we started, though, We passed them, grinning and pomaded, girls In parodies of fashion, heels and veils, All posed irresolutely, watching us go,
As if out on the end of an event Waving goodbye To something that survived it. Struck, I leant More promptly out next time, more curiously, And saw it all again in different terms: The fathers with broad belts under their suits And seamy foreheads; mothers loud and fat; An uncle shouting smut; and then the perms, The nylon gloves and jewellery-substitutes, The lemons, mauves, and olive-ochres that
Marked off the girls unreally from the rest. Yes, from cafés And banquet-halls up yards, and bunting-dressed Coach-party annexes, the wedding-days Were coming to an end. All down the line Fresh couples climbed aboard: the rest stood round; The last confetti and advice were thrown, And, as we moved, each face seemed to define Just what it saw departing: children frowned At something dull; fathers had never known
Success so huge and wholly farcical; The women shared The secret like a happy funeral; While girls, gripping their handbags tighter, stared At a religious wounding. Free at last, And loaded with the sum of all they saw, We hurried towards London, shuffling gouts of steam. Now fields were building-plots, and poplars cast Long shadows over major roads, and for Some fifty minutes, that in time would seem
Just long enough to settle hats and say I nearly died, A dozen marriages got under way. They watched the landscape, sitting side by side - An Odeon went past, a cooling tower, And someone running up to bowl - and none Thought of the others they would never meet Or how their lives would all contain this hour. I thought of London spread out in the sun, Its postal districts packed like squares of wheat:
There we were aimed. And as we raced across Bright knots of rail Past standing Pullmans, walls of blackened moss Came close, and it was nearly done, this frail Travelling coincidence; and what it held stood ready to be loosed with all the power That being changed can give. We slowed again, And as the tightened brakes took hold, there swelled A sense of falling, like an arrow-shower Sent out of sight, somewhere becoming rain. ...more
The design and graphic quality of this book is something to behold, it gets 5 stars just for that. And another 5 for digging up some genuine lost 60sThe design and graphic quality of this book is something to behold, it gets 5 stars just for that. And another 5 for digging up some genuine lost 60s singles which I had never heard. And another 5 for writing about them all with humour and vast detailed knowledge.
(Every time you think you know a subject fairly well, somebody comes along and shows you you’re just a beginner and you’ve been just scratching at the surface).
There were a couple which weren’t on Youtube – gasp – but the rest were (note – I have been reading/consulting this book for about 2 years!) . Even such ultra-obscurities as “We Trust in a Better Way of Life” by the Poor Things and “(The Man from) The Marriage Guidance and Advice Bureau” by The Knack were there.
It’s so funny to see groups beginning in 1963 as The Simon Brown Combo, then changing their name to something Mod like The Attack in 1965, then going psychedelic in 1967 with another name change, say Eternity’s Children or The 23rd Turnoff. After the 60s they’d have to change again, probably into a “heavy metal” group called Uriah Gash or something.
The 500 lost gems here include buckets of great soul (Um Um Um Um Um by Major Lance, Just One Look by Doris Troy, It’s Over by Erma (sister of) Franklin, Honey Bee by Fontella Bass (has anyone else in the history of the universe been called Fontella?) …… plus girl group mania (Wow Wow Wee by The Angels, The Kind of Boy you Can’t Forget by The Raindrops) …. All the harmony stuff, the weird novelties*, the neat British groups (Wooden Spoon by The Poets), the surf & hot rod anthems
You oughta see her on a road course or a quarter mile This little modified Pon-Pon has got plenty of style She beats the gassers and the rail jobs, really drives 'em why-ee-eye-ild C'mon and turn it on, wind it up, blow it out GTO
and the collapse into horribly overreaching psychedelia. It’s a story of discipline followed by indulgence terminating in decadence. From There’s a Moon Out Tonight by the Capris to Your Mind and We Belong Together by Love.
STORY OF A DECADE IN TWO PICTURES :
REPARATA AND THE DELRONS 1962
(Has anyone else in the history of the universe been called Reparata?)
*My Last Cigarette by Sheila Hancock (1963)
Under my eyes are a couple of bags I blame it all on to a packet of fags But I'll give up the habit I will even yet When I've had just one more cigarette (cough, cough)
My teeth are all yellow and so is my tongue I breathe through a kipper I call it a lung But I'll give up the habit I will even yet When I've had just one more cigarette (cough, cough)
I'll fling the packet away, away Fifty times in a week I say Fling the packet away away When I've had just one more cigarette. (cough, cough) ...more
Turgid, tiresome, tedious and inelegant, hammering metronomically away at three fundamental ideas, this book nevertheless gives the patient reader (yo Turgid, tiresome, tedious and inelegant, hammering metronomically away at three fundamental ideas, this book nevertheless gives the patient reader (you have to be very patient) some great perspectives on the Holocaust.
Prof Snyder kicks off with maybe the best part of the whole dense book which is an analysis of Mein Kampf and Hitler’s mental universe. Hitler was “a warmongering biological anarchist” and it’s a great mistake to think he was a German nationalist. He was way beyond what you might have thought he was. AH believed that all races on Earth must contend for its limited resources in ceaseless struggle. Ceaseless means ceaseless. If the Aryan race succeeds in colonising the vast lands occupied by Slavic subhumans to the East, then so be it. If they fail, as they did, then so be that too. (In the bunker in 1945 Hitler acknowledged Russian superiority and washed his hands of the rubbishy Germans before committing suicide.) Snyder presents Hitler as an apocalyptic radical. I never read an account of Hitler like this. Fantastic stuff.
After that comes the trudge east, through Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic states and into the USSR. The murder of Jews is hardly mentioned for entire chapters. The intricate politics of Poland, a mouse between two ravening tigers, and their deep involvement in the attempts to forge a Jewish state in Palestine are now our subject. It was Polish Jews – Irgun and Stern’s more violent group – who were bringing the argument to the British, who were controlling Palestine at the time. You see the complexities of it right here – the British declared war on Germany in support of Polish independence. Poland was supporting Jewish terrorists in Palestine against the British because if there was a Jewish state, Poland could ship its three million Jews off there. The British were fighting these Polish Jews because they wanted Arab support in North Africa. The snake eats its own tail. Other Holocaust histories begin in Germany with the Nazi state beginning to crush the Jews – excluding them from professions, expropriating their property, making them change their names to Abraham and Sarah, etc. The picture is one of ever-tightening screws applied by the State.
Snyder’s big idea which he beats the reader over the head with all through the book was that it was the LACK of a state which killed Jews. Jews were killed where states had been destroyed. This is why the second section is all about how the Nazis destroyed the states of Austria, Poland and Czechoslovakia. (In order to destroy the state of Poland the first mass killings were of 60,000 educated Polish elite.)
According to Nazi logic, there was no occupation, but rather a colonisation of legally ‘empty’ territory.
The Jews there were rendered stateless. Only at that point could the Nazis do what they wanted with them. He says that throughout the war, Jews with British or American passports were not killed. If that is true, it is a very remarkable thing which I have not read elsewhere.
THE HOLOCAUST BEGAN IN LITHUANIA
In these countries, the Nazi propaganda machine informed the people that they had been liberated from the evil of communism, that communism was a Jewish conspiracy and the USSR was a Jewish empire, and that it was now time for payback. Killing units were formed, which would travel in a bus from village to village, killing Jews and other undesirables like communists, Gypsies and disabled people. The commanders of these units had to improvise. They had to
persuade their own men to kill women and children; and they had to find ways to generate local collaboration as the job became too large and difficult
But it turned out this wasn’t too difficult. Because one of the ways you could prove you weren’t a communist was to kill Jews.
The whole point of anti-Jewish violence, from a Lithuanian perspective, was to demonstrate loyalty before the Germans had time to figure out who had actually collaborated with the Soviets.
The make-up of these Einsatzgruppen units was interesting – the majority were in the age range 16 to 21. So this means 16 and 17 year old boys were driving from village to village killing men, women and children day after day for months.
This first phase of the Holocaust can be compared with the slaughter of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994.
Here’s a sour comment from our author
In other words, Ukrainians who spent the first two years of the war helping the local Soviet NKVD commander (who was Jewish) deport Poles, Jews and Ukrainians shifted to helping the SS kill Jews, Ukrainians and Poles whom they – actual Soviet collaborators – denounced as Soviet collaborators.
HOLOCAUST SECOND PHASE : AUSCHWITZ
Snyder finally crystallised a series of thoughts which had been nagging at my mind for a very long time. I think – and he thinks – that the looming symbol of ultimate awfulness which is Auschwitz is used, unwittingly, to conveniently block out a lot of what happened, to consign the first phase of the Holocaust to a footnote. I don’t mean that Auschwitz blocks out the knowledge of the hundreds of other concentration camps, but of the non-camp killing, which was in fact the greater part of the Holocaust.
Auschwitz has been a relatively manageable symbol for Germany after the Second World War, significantly reducing the actual scale of the evil done. The conflation of Auschwitz with the Holocaust made plausible the grotesque claim that Germans did not know about the mass murder of European Jews while it was taking place. It is possible that some Germans did not know exactly what happened at Auschwitz. It is not possible that many Germans did not know about the mass murder of Jews… which was known and discussed in Germany, at least among families and friends, long before Auschwitz became a death facility.
So if Auschwitz is a convenient symbol for post-war Germany, it was also convenient for the USSR:
Auschwitz was one of the few parts of the Holocaust to which Soviet citizens did not contribute
Auschwitz is useful for us all – it confines the evil behind the famous gates; we never have to open those gates if we do not wish. We can say well, the Nazis kept it all secret, maybe no one else knew. There would be rumours but no real knowledge. Auschwitz – bitterly ironically – helps us to keep the evil of the Holocaust mentally manageable.
TWO RANDOM THOUGHTS
How many eager participants in the slaughter of Jews were regular churchgoers? Given that almost no one in that time would have described himself as an atheist, we must assume that the murderers could reconcile their murders with their Christianity.
Also : the massive theft of Jewish property in all these various countries would have been a guilty fact for decades after the war. Thousands of people must have ended up living in houses formerly owned by now dead Jews. What did they think of that?
THE HOLOCAUST AS A WARNING
In the last chapter Prof Snyder goes off the rails – he thinks the looming ecocatastrophe of global warming and shrinking resources might ignite Hitlerian lebensraum-style lunacy in the minds of some – and he fingers the Chinese and the Russians under Putin as ones to watch. It does his book no credit at all and causes it to end on a distastefully catchpenny note.
This is not for entry-level horror fans, it’s for your second or third level gorehounds. You can tell this easily because titles of the vast number ofThis is not for entry-level horror fans, it’s for your second or third level gorehounds. You can tell this easily because titles of the vast number of foreign movies given their two pages each aren’t translated – you have to look at the small print in the lower right corner to find out that Quien puede matar a un nino? Asks the disturbing question Would you kill a Child? (Spain, 1975) (Answer : you would if they had all gone insane & were murdering everyone over the age of 15. I guess. Up to you, if you ever find yourself in that situation. ) It turns out that the British title of La novia ensangrentada (Spain, 1972) was The Blood-Spattered Bride. Is that a direct translation?
Also on the subject of titles, this made me laugh – the title of the 1999 New Zealand feature The Irrefutable Truth about Demons was changed for American release to :
The Truth About Demons
You can imagine the meeting with distributors, there the guys from LA would have said – We like the movie, but we don’t like the title. Oh why not? Well…. Americans don’t know what irrefutable means. Oh. Ah. Okay, no problem.
Also you can tell this is not for beginners because Jonathan Rigby really knows his onions and writes delightfully about silent German stuff from 1923 and weirdo indies like Pontypool (Canada, 2008) and all points in between. The only gripe I have is that he goes into trainspotter mode at the drop of a body part:
For all its lividly realised bravura the film deepens its charm via numerous nods to the past. Its literally eye-popping pre-credits sequence puts Herbert West in the same compromising position Boris Karloff was in at the start of The Man they Could Not Hang (1939), after which the fluorescent titles echo Roger Corman’s psychedelic credits sequences, while Richard Band’s music offers a funked-up take on the Psycho theme. Subsequent plot developments recall the Peter Cushing surgical shocker Corruption (1967) and Frankenstein Must be Destroyed (1969).
Jonathan Rigby includes a sprinkling of the big name horror movies – Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Suspiria, Carrie, Halloween, The Vanishing, Let the Right One In – but mostly this is stuff I did not know about.
What a strange genre horror is, attracting the type of throbbing-brained cineastes who seem happy to wade neck-deep in high camp and misogyny, as happy as the day is long. But if you wrote a novel with these characters and this dialogue I think they’d think you were insane.
Variety : No one in his right mind would attend a movie called Frankenhooker and expect to encounter signs of enlightened thinking
Zorro (a character in Frankenhooker ) : They just blew up. Fuckin’ exploded. One minute they’re my bitches, the next there’s pieces all over.
Marie (in Innocent Blood, 1982): I was sad. I was starved. It was time to treat myself. And I thought : what about Italian?
Farmer Vincent (in Motel Hell, 1980) : There’s too many people in the world and not enough food. Well, this takes care of both problems at the same time.
Okay that’s it for this review… if you’re a horror fan and your close family member has no idea what to get you for Christmas, tell them about this. After you’ve eaten your turkey you could read all about movies where people never eat turkeys.
Oh – what’s that? You want to know what the ten best horror films I saw in the last few months were? Oh sure –
Rabid (Early Cronenberg – I was thinking this will not stand up, 1976? Nah – but it did! Excellent stuff.)
The Host (A Korean creature feature – great helter-skelter ride, goes in completely unexpected directions)
Alice Sweet Alice – another old one I wasn’t expecting much from – whammm! I was wrong)
[Rec] and [Rec 2] (terrific Spanish found-footage-style ground zero of zombie outbreak story – you’ve seen all of this before but just like in a pop song, it’s in the grooves what counts)
Requiem for a Dream (not thought of as a horror movie but it is, my God)
V/H/S/2 (a compendium of stories – two are brilliant)
Frontiers (quite insane French nonsense but vastly entertaining)
Inside (even more insane French extreme splatter)
Miss Violence (a very quiet film, with, ironically, almost no actual physical violence – it’s really brutal though, not for the tender-hearted)
You’re Next (some people did not care for this, I thought it was a hoot)
I had to read this, it’s my specialist subject, but it was never fun. There was a book published in 2013 called Yeah Yeah Yeah : The Story of Modern PI had to read this, it’s my specialist subject, but it was never fun. There was a book published in 2013 called Yeah Yeah Yeah : The Story of Modern Pop by Bob Stanley and that one is a five star thing of joy and wonder. Bob starts the story in 1950 and takes 740 pages to tell it. Peter starts the story in 1890 and tells it in 630 pages. So you can see the difference. Peter is trying to get a grip on ALL of popular music, starting with ragtime, then jazz, then musicals, then crooners, then swing, then bop, then backtrack to hillbilly, blues, r&b, and so on. Oh, don't forget the polka craze of the 1940s. Noted!
Plus all the technical innovations which explode the whole story every 5 years or so – the invention of radio for instance. The arrival of jukeboxes. And the sociology of it all - musician strikes. Zoot suits. How heroin addiction signified authenticity in jazz by the 1940s. Invention of muzak. Invention of teen-agers. I admire his work ethic but Peter slogs through all this with a grit and determination to cover all of this vast waterfront – whereas Bob dances the hully gully through his 60 or so years, and sparkles like a rainbow trout in the spring sunshine as he does so. Bob throws out quotes and instant capsule rave reviews of this or that single on every other page. Peter is maniacally determined to avoid his own opinions and enthusiasms, I think he thinks that’s what he should be doing, this is a proper history not a frolic, but alas, the flavour has seeped out of the pages. So I read up to the point where Bob’s book begins & stopped. (p247.)
RACISM IN EARLY MUSIC
In reading the very early history of popular music (pre-1925) you have to be prepared for a deluge of repulsive racism. This was just normal in those days, when a lot of pop songs were in the minstrel tradition, and blackface was still big. (Even black entertainers had to black up sometimes!) Peter is right, there’s no way round it, you have to acknowledge all this stuff, but it does not make pleasant reading & I will not be quoting any examples. Frequent use of the n word is the least of it. The British press reviews of Louis Armstrong’s first concerts were particularly unbelievable. Oh, and on 212 he says :
As late as 1973, singer-composer Neil Sedaka was still adopting ‘blackface’ as part of his stage show.
Whew – can that be true? I guess it must be.
SOME BITS & PIECES
I liked this :
Typically, the American musician’s union set out to investigate all the cover versions of “Mule Train”, to ensure that on each of them the whip had been handled by a union member.
And I liked this quote from a reminiscing Teddy Boy (British rocker) :
You used to go on the dance floor and say “Lend us your bones, doll"
What a great line… “lend us your bones, doll”. I must remember that. Although the comeback might be “why, do you need a hip replacement?”
And I also liked the small print on the label of “Rock Around the Clock” (1954) :
Around 70% of this short book is about pottery, coins and beards. That may put you off. It must be admitted that when historians peruse these far offAround 70% of this short book is about pottery, coins and beards. That may put you off. It must be admitted that when historians peruse these far off centuries there is very little hard evidence to show what happened. So, we are left with pottery, coins and beards.
Actually this is really NOT a book for the general reader. I found myself in a room where a bunch of specialists in the “Late Antiquity” period were yelling
And Bryan Ward-Perkins was yelling back “Invasion!”
"Yah – your mother smelled of elderberries and your sister had several romances with haddock, flounders and other types of marine life!”
So what’s it all about? The original view put forward by everyone up to 1970 was that the Roman Empire collapsed in ruins during the 5th century as waves of invasions by Germanic tribes with cool names gave them such beatings that their epicurean somnolence could not withstand and they were turfed out. These barbarians were called Goths and Vandals and Visigoths (maybe the latter were just Goths with bad eyesight, the archaeological records do not say). So, pretty straight-forward, right? The Romans were effete and couldn’t get off their sofas without three slaves to help them, and the Goths were all big & brawny and had next to no manners. It was no contest.
The traditional view in which catastrophe destroys the magnificent Roman dinosaur, but leaves a few tiny dark-age mammals alive, to evolve very slowly over the coming centuries into the sophisticated creatures of the renaissance.
In 1970 an alternative to the traditional story was proposed. Decline and fall was replaced with integration, transformation, cultural revolution, where the German tribes were invited in to the Empire and kind of fused with it. The idea was that the narrative of the decline and fall of Roman civilisation implied that what came after was inferior – brutish, unlettered, ignorant, awful. The traditional narrative was on the site of the patrician Romans. It was – well, it was antidemocratic. It had to go. You can see that kind of thinking coming out of the sixties.
It is currently deeply unfashionable to state that anything like a ‘crisis’ or a ‘decline’ occurred at the end of the Roman empire, let alone that a ‘civilisation’ collapsed and a ‘dark age’ ensued.
This new narrative has taken over the history departments, but it’s like the debates about Christianity which the clergy always have – the public are blithely ignorant of it all, and in this case they stick with the traditional view - Rome 0, Goths 1.
So this book is a counter-counter argument, it’s really for the in crowd who can enjoy a good professorial punch-up. It’s not an entirely black & white issue, as you may expect. BW-P accepts that, for instance,
in many regions, despite some expropriation and loss, Roman aristocratic families continued wealthy and influential under Germanic rule
Most of the new rulers ran their kingdoms in a style that closely imitated that of the empire, and that required Roman administrators to make it work
So that sounds like transformation to me, not eradication. But when you think he’s trying to have his cake and eat it, he comes down strongly on the side of cultural decline. This is where the coins, pottery and beards come in. No, the archaeologists do not dig up remains of old beards. The Romans didn’t have them and the Goths did. So in portraits – well, maybe we should stick to the big picture here, not the little ones.
BW-P paints a convincing big picture of the complexity of the Roman economy, with functioning distribution of sophisticated products not just for the elite but the average citizen. After the barbarians (such a pejorative term!) this all stopped. The transformation guys say it was because the imperial power was replaced by local egalitarianism. BW-P says stuff and nonsense – the material level of society plummeted after Rome. E.g. buildings had tiled roofs in Italy as a matter of course in the 5th century. It was 1000 years before that became true again.
It may initially be hard to believe, but post-Roman Britain in fact sank to a level of economic complexity well below that of the pre-Roman Iron Age
He has to explain this – because he says “the invaders entered the empire with a wish to share in its high standard of living, not to destroy it”. But destroy it they did, unwittingly, says the professor. Mainly by removing security, so that trade became difficult, then impossible. The Roman world was highly specialised (like our world is) and without the security of movement and trust in money the complex trade of the empire shrivelled very rapidly. The Goths were the bulls in the Roman chinashop.
One curious point BW-P makes is that his argument sounds like he is defending the concept of an Empire, and as this is as politically unacceptable as possible these days, that’s why his argument is resisted. I am sorry to hear that. I had hoped that scholars were able to find the meanings within words, and not have their thinking blocked by mere syllables.
Note Romans fighting a giant insect on reverse of coin. ...more