John Fahey was a cumbersome, difficult, curmudgeonly, arrogant, original, enterprising, witty, intellectual, self-lascerating, impossible, monomaniaca...moreJohn Fahey was a cumbersome, difficult, curmudgeonly, arrogant, original, enterprising, witty, intellectual, self-lascerating, impossible, monomaniacal, gracious, kindly, genial, spiteful, burly, unkempt big lumbering grouchy old bear of a man, I met him in 1999, about 18 months before he died, and it's always a nervous thing, meeting your heroes. But it was great. Although his mental health perhaps wasn't all it could be; he was wandering round the world crashing heavily into things, into people's lives, and not much noticing the damage, either to him or them.
I should mention that Fahey was America's greatest steel string acoustic guitar player.
Fahey could write very well, very lyrically - see his lovely liner notes for the album "The Yellow Princess" for instance. But his writing about his own life was anything but lyrical, it was angry, it was hateful, bursting with venom directed towards his parents and the various dreadful (allegedly) bullying friends he had; which is sort of standard misunderstood-genius shtick, but Fahey laid it on with a trowel. He wrote a long autobiographical thing called "Admiral Kelvinator's Clockwork Factory" (terrible title). He couldn't get it published (he sent me a copy of it years ago). Finally parts of it turned up in this collection of rants. These are pieces about either Fahey's early life or about interesting people he knew, like Bukka White or Skip James. It's an odd book from a very odd man. Essential if you're a fan - otherwise, for lovers of American eccentricity.
Note : there's a posthumous follow-up called Vampire Vultures, which I do not recommend (shudder).(less)
Solid account of the Tyson story but it stops half way through, of course, as it was published 12 years ago. I was looking for a different book though...moreSolid account of the Tyson story but it stops half way through, of course, as it was published 12 years ago. I was looking for a different book though, an account of the Tyson phenomenon itself, and this account was a little too tightly focussed for me. (less)
This was a giant art project which took five years to do and is completely charming - it's the sideways-on history of the 20th century in postcards, s...moreThis was a giant art project which took five years to do and is completely charming - it's the sideways-on history of the 20th century in postcards, sort of, a kaleidoscope, "a composite illustrated diary in which 2000 people have made their entries" – what the sender wrote is exerpted below each of the postcard pictures, six postcards per page, four pages per year, 1900-1999. The postcards bump into history with the lunatic buffeting of a pinball, at random, by hazard, and "great happenings are often recounted by humble bystanders and trivial occurrences related by the privileged".
This is such a five star book, big, bountiful, cheerful and harrowing, every page a weird, kitschy or poignant bobbydazzler. But I have to make a disclosure – my old friend Patrick worked on this book, collecting a whole lot of the postcards himself for Tom Phillips, hitch-hiking up and down Britain, ferreting out, chasing down, and generally bucking up Mr Phillips when he began to think the task was too ridiculous to continue.
I don't think anyone sends postcards anymore – please tell me if you still do – but everyone used to. Postcards were the equivalent of texting – there used to be FIVE deliveries of post per day in Britain, and people would send a postcard to a friend in the morning fixing up a meeting that afternoon.
So this is the 20th century refracted and prismed into fragments - pictures and text, the hopeful, whimsical or jocular detritus of the People, "with that authentic inconsequentiality that makes everyday life so difficult to fake". And occasionally you will get one "whose brief message could be the basis for a novel" as TP says. "A whole hinterland of tragedy can be discerned behind a few words". He also admits that as well as funny and beautiful postcards:
There are, of course, cards which seem to be competing in some obscure contest to attain absolute featurelessness as if there was an esoteric plot on the part of the publishers to equal Samuel Beckett in spareness and Andy Warhol in absence of event.
And I really liked this – TP tells us how words expressing enthusiasm about someone or somewhere change as the century bowls along – in order of appearance, they were :
Capital First class Topping Ripping Excellent A1 Grand Top-hole Spiffing Smashing Marvellous Super Stupendous Fabulous Terrific Fab Ace Sensational Brilliant Brill Awesome Wicked
(If this book extended to 2012 I understand that sick would be added to this list. Sick? Sick!)
This being a British book, ther are a number of naughty seaside postcards included – here are a few favourites :
Two storks chatting on a rooftop : Stork 1 : Any business today? Stork 2 : No, but I put the wind up a couple of typists this afternoon.
Girl violinist to friend : My boyfriend has got an electric organ. Friend: Gee, that must be useful in the dark.
Man on street observing young woman comments to his friend : "She's a nice girl. Doesn't drink or smoke and only swears when it slips out."
Sergeant observes army cook crimping a pie with his false teeth : "Haven't you got a better tool than that?
Yes sir, but I keeps it for making holes in the doughnuts
And this from 1911 :
Young nurse to friend : I get ten shillings a week and partial board. Friend : Is that all? Why, I get thirty shillings a week and my whole board.
And from 1919 :
Young guy wearing a peaked cap to sports good retailer : I'd like to buy one of those caps with the peak pointing backwards.
(The exact same joke appears in The Wire.)
here's a 1923 postcard featuring a teenage girl lolling in a chair listening to the radio on headphones oblivious to her dad who is bawling his head off next to her. I can confirm that this scene is still contemporary 90 years later.
If I could live my life over again (ah, if only) I would make one simple change. I would remove all the chess and add dancing in its place. In my expe...moreIf I could live my life over again (ah, if only) I would make one simple change. I would remove all the chess and add dancing in its place. In my experience chess is not a good way to meet girls. (less)
Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day Trying to master the Nimzo and the Ruy Lop...moreNOT LOST YET, BUT I'M GETTIN' THERE
(if Bob Dylan played chess)
Shadows are falling and I’ve been here all day Trying to master the Nimzo and the Ruy Lopez Any sense of optimism has gone down the drain Behind every beautiful thing there’s always some kind of pain I’ve been down on the bottom of a world full of lies Now I'm lookin' for hope in Capablanca's eyes Sometimes this gambit seems more than I can bear I've not lost yet, but I'm gettin' there. My favourite variation was refuted - in 1954 These guys are too devious - I can't remember any more My deepest thoughts are their footnotes - it's a bitter pill I know it looks like I’m moving, but I’m standing still None of these dead Russians is my long lost pal Not Korchnoi or Spassky or Alekhine or Tal I don't see how my bishop can go anywhere I've not lost yet, but I'm gettin' there. (less)
In every film scene that involves a chess game, one player gazes at the board and makes a long range move with a q...moreMovie cliche # 17 : the chess game.
In every film scene that involves a chess game, one player gazes at the board and makes a long range move with a queen or bishop which ends up next to the other guy's king, and he - or she - says "Mate".
And the opponent looks suitably amazed or bemused.
This is a wretched lie and would never happen in real life. Okay, it might happen if you're playing a seven year old. Anyone else can see the mate looming at least two or three moves before it happens, and will wriggle and writhe, and will finally accept the inevitable and will resign, with grace or (if your initials are PB) with tetchiness. Unless the mate is particularly elegant (this might happen maybe once every three years), you do not wait for it to be administered. Why would you? By resigning two or three moves before the mate, you are acknowledging your opponent, it is a doffing of your cap, it is respect. And also you are saying to him that you at least had the brains to understood what was about to happen.
Movie directors, especially those crass enough to use chess as a symbol of crafty intrigue and deep thought, do not know this, or if they do, have enough contempt for their audience to assume they don't know this. Movie directors do not think that anyone who watches their movies actually plays chess.
This book really taught me a few things. It was scary the stuff I didn't know. For instance : 25% of lemons are sentient. That should change the world...moreThis book really taught me a few things. It was scary the stuff I didn't know. For instance : 25% of lemons are sentient. That should change the world right there or at least the world of bartending. Here's another one : over 40 recipes die out every day, as the last person to cook them forgets how, or is shot whilst cooking. Fact : all official FIFA footballs are made from the toughened skins of the anaconda, which is the second most endangered snake in all of Uruguay. It was facts like this which put me in such a towering rage I thought about joining Greenpeace for several minutes. Here's another one : women, on average, live to be twice as old as men as do llamas - what's the implication here, that women should marry llamas? I don't think so. Here's another : in Burkina Faso, which is a West African country, money is free. Imagine that! It's because they had a revolution. Contrast that with neighbouring Guinea, where by law everything costs $23!
Each of the 50 facts that should change the world in this book should be taught to every schoolchild who should be made to memorise them and repeat them regularly, especially before buying a pet. You think I'm making this stuff up? Caramel (that brown goo in some sweetmeats) is made from industrial waste - it's printed in small type on the label but only in countries with shockingly low literacy rates. 62% of all household pets purchased in western pet shops are hand-made by children as young as eight (8) in places like Sumatra and Southern India. These are your standard family dogs and cats. (The more exotic pets are all made in China nowadays). So when you buy a lovable kitten or a little waggytailed puppy with big eyes you're inadvertently supporting child slavery. No More Pets!! In China it is illegal to download pictures of raw vegetables - this is due to a mistranslation somewhere and frankly this fact might now be obsolete.
If we could harness the energy from only 40% of the windfarms now operating we could scrap the other 60%.
If we all ate one avocado a day this would enable the building of four separate schools for every child in Paraguay.
Every man woman and child on the planet owes Starbucks $3.25
A third of all international bankers live underwater because of embarrassment.
Every cow in Sweden goes to university and has its own masseur by law.
The Swedish governmant pays all of its citizens to go on holiday. The further they go, the more they get paid.
22% of British 15 year olds regularly intimidate their parents and friends of their parents
There are now more people in cults than there are people who aren't in cults
82% of the world's smokers use 49% of the world's toilet paper (how do they know this? how? how?)
I'd forgotten about this one. It's hilarious, in a grim kind of way, which is how hilarious should be. Expat American infiltrates the notorious Englis...moreI'd forgotten about this one. It's hilarious, in a grim kind of way, which is how hilarious should be. Expat American infiltrates the notorious English football hooligan sub-culture of the late 80s/early 90s, you may remember those horrible violent yobs. These were hard nuts like the Inter-City Firm from West Ham who yould beat the daylights out of you and leave you broken, bleeding and barfing in a back alley but always remember to leave a smartly printed business card in one of your pockets saying
YOU HAVE BEEN SERVICED BY THE INTER-CITY FIRM
Bill Buford got in with Millwall, who were one of the loutiest, and Cambridge United fans too, who weren't much better, and he writes with a fabulous gusto about it all. Recommended for afficionados of British working class culture. Of course it's all now changed, hardly any football violence happens now. It's a problem that's almost been solved. How did they do that, then? Well, two things happened. The first was Hillsborough, a stadium in Sheffield, in which not quite controlled supporters were allowed by panicking police to pile into a fenced-in spectator area to such an overwhelming extent that a crowd crush built up against the restraining fence, and 96 young people died, right there live on television. That was in 1989. It shook the whole nation. The football authorities drew up new rules for every stadium in Britain : no spectator's standing areas (they were called terraces) any more - football will be all-seating from now on. This was the first major change in football for donkey's years. After that came wholesale gentrification and prices of season tickets going through the roof. But the second thing which rendered the gruesome football violence a thing of the past was
Irvine Welsh spins this (to me convincing) theory in his excellent novel Maribou Stork Nightmares. The dance/rave culture that boomed in the early 90s in Britain sucked in all the working class delinquents who had been happily inflicting grievous bodily harm on each other, and infused their bloodstreams with the wonder drug Ecstacy, which was a major component of rave culture. It took a few years but the violence began to melt away. So the all-seater stadiums and the soaring prices, plus the beatific state of mind achievable at 150 beats per minute, solved what had previously been seen as ugly and intractable. Curious how these things work out sometimes.(less)
I just finished watching Dennis Potter's masterpiece tonight and it knocked me sideways just like it did when I saw it first. This is tv magic, assumi...moreI just finished watching Dennis Potter's masterpiece tonight and it knocked me sideways just like it did when I saw it first. This is tv magic, assuming you can take the weirdness, the harping on about sex, the fruity cheesy songs and the
which Dennis the Menace sprinkles like oofle dust under over sideways and down. In the first five minutes, we're introduced to the miserable marriage of Arthur and Joan Parker, he a swarthy, working class salesman travelling in sheet music, as they used to say, this being the mid-1930s, and with a very healthy interest in his wife's underthings, and she a passably pretty but painfully prim study in repression and genteel disapproval. Pretty soon the lighting in the dining room dims and the popular danceband music of the day swells up. Arthur (Bob Hoskins enjoying his finest hour) turns and lip-synchs
I can remember when most every night at ten We sang an old refrain As we wandered in the moonlight Down Sunnyside Lane We heard the merry lark and if the night was dark I'd steal a kiss again As we wandered in the moonlight Down Sunnyside Lane
If we're seeing this brilliant production for the first time we turn to our companions and go "What just happened??" - then five minutes later, he does it again, only when he opens his north and south, out comes the lilting contralto of Elsie Carlisle :
Each little tear and sorrow Only brings you closer to me Just wait until tomorrow What a happy day that will be
Down Lovers Lane together We’ll wander, you and I Goodbye to stormy weather The clouds will soon roll by
The songs of the day make a perfectly playful, heart-rendingly poignant or ironic, even vicious commentary on the melodramatic twists and turns of this few months in Arthur's life, which will involve infidelity, desertion, abortion, prostitution, rape, and, yes, murder too. And along the way a whole lot of pretend singing and real dancing.
DP's marvellous miniseries has many beautiful and astonishing scenes and I will mention just the one, which will involve a bit of a spoiler. Eileen, the young teacher Arthur meets by chance in Gloucester, has been reading a fairy story to the class of 8 and 9 year olds. The kids have caught a whiff that she might be in trouble, that she might have a bun in the oven, and although they like her, they can’t help giggling when some kid asks how the twin boys in the ridiculously romantic tale of Rapunzel got there – where did the twins come from , Miss? Her face gets red, she suddenly, quite uncharacteristically flares out at them “Be quiet – damn you!” Silence. Silence… then suddenly perky music starts up and the kids who had been sitting shocked spring up, produce instruments from everywhere and turn into a comedy orchestra as Eileen shimmies gleefully around the classroom warbling in the wonderfully euphemistic 1930s manner
Love is good for anything that ails you Maybe there is nothing love can't do A kiss will pep you up A little hug will set you up If dreams have kept you up You don’t need pills, you need thrills
At the end of the song all the instruments disappear, the kids return to their seats, and Eileen glowers at them
I got this when me and my mates went to visit Portmeirion - and why did we go? Because we were all big fans of The Prisoner (starring Patrick McGoohan...moreI got this when me and my mates went to visit Portmeirion - and why did we go? Because we were all big fans of The Prisoner (starring Patrick McGoohan of course)... Anyway, my friend Michael brought a movie camera with a tripod and we wanted to get some good shots of the place from the estuary (the same estuary where the big white balloony thing emerges from). And so we did but we didn't realise how FAST the tide comes in and how BITTERLY COLD the water would be, so I was cut off and had to wade through fast flowing icy water which at any moment threatened to knock me off my feet and drown me. This book is called Portmeirion - The Place and its Meaning. The meaning of it for me was clear : love is dangerous. Friends, my love of Patrick McGoohan's surreal television show nearly killed me.It was terrifying. Still, it's a great bizarre (and little) place and this privately published book is by the mad architect who built it. (less)
And now, in response to great public demand (thank you Kate), the answers!
Where did the first part of Moby Dick's name come from? - Melville based Moby...moreAnd now, in response to great public demand (thank you Kate), the answers!
Where did the first part of Moby Dick's name come from? - Melville based Moby on a real live man-eating whale called Mocha Dick. Mocha was the island off Chile where Dick was often encountered. But why Melville changed Mocha to Moby is unknown. My guess is that it was to prevent any lawsuits from Mocha Dick's descendents.
When did the American accent become recognisably American? - British pronunciation has since the 19th Century been progressively colonised by the Home Counties (let's say the posh South of the country) whereas American pronunciation has not, they retained all the original features. So as this happened in England, and definately by the last half of the 19th century, American accents became to British ears markedly different.
What happens to spiders washed down the plughole? - Alas, they drown. They don't have special spider powers.
How did the newt, a graceful and agile creature, come to be regarded as an index of inebriation? - referring to the phrase "pissed as a newt". Answer is obscure but perhaps a) in medieval times various small creatures were added to beer during the beer brewing process for extra flavour (ew!) and eventually it was thought that newts, being amphibious, would be able to last long enough in the brewing beer so that by the time they did drown their demise would be a matter of indifference; not so with mice or weasels; and therefore a newt was a more merciful addition to your brewing process. Or if that seems fanciful, b) refers to Abraham Newton (1631-98), author of the first medical treatise on the medicinal properties of beer.
Why are dusters yellow? - This is not definitively known, but a) it's perhaps because early manufacturers wished to identify their dusters with the beeswax which was formerly used in the polishing & dusting process; or b) it's a marketing device to associate dusters with sunshine and spring cleaning. How strange that there must be a number of manufacturers who make dusters who go to the trouble of dying them a strong yellow but don't know why they're doing it.
What are the longest Shakespearean roles? 1. Hamlet. 2. Falstaff. 3. Richard III.
Why are British elections always held on Thursdays? - it's the day before pay day, and therefore you had better have the election on the day before your voters will be pissed as newts and not be able to find their way to the voting stations.
Why aren't there any lamb sausages? - they're too expensive to make (but see message below)
White, Black, Green and Brown are common surnames – why aren't there any Reds, Blues and Yellows?
- they're still there but have been changed - red became Reed, Rudd and Russell; blue became Bluett, Blewitt and Blowe. Oh, yellow did disappear, mysteriously.
Who lives an No 9 Downing Street? - nobody.
Do the living now outnumber the dead? - this is a 1990 answer : no, the living comprise about a tenth of all the humans who have ever lived.
What was the first record with a fade out and why do records fade out anyway?
- leaving aside Gustav Holst's last movement of his Planets suite where the singers are asked to walk slowly into the distance still singing; it could be Duke Ellington, Showboat Shuffle, 1935. The practise began as jazz players were still blasting away as the time limit of 3 and a half minutes was reached.(less)