Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Twangsome is as twangsome does

Who says that modern life is rubbish? This morning on Facebook came the news that the Close Readers’ album Group Hug, previewed here in March, has at last been released. You can buy a download for $US5, or the CD which comes with a free FLAC or 320k MP3 download for $US15. In our money that’s a shade over $18. No-brainer. So five minutes later I was listening to the download while waiting for the postie.

I like it. It has twang, loadsa twang, and also a whole song called “Iris DeMent”, after one of my favourite country singers. All songs were written by Wellington novelist Damien Wilkins, whom I assume is the singer and twanger. Until the postie comes with the CD I won’t know who else is playing on it, but whoever it is they make a nice noise.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What I’m reading

Chad Taylor is back blogging at Chad Taylor Marginalia. He is also available as an e-book of three short stories, Here She Comes Now, which I recommend. Not because it’s dazzlingly cheap ($US1.99) but because it’s dazzlingly good. I don’t have an e-book reader either but you can read these things on your computer. It took me not much more than a minute to figure out what to do, download the tiny Kindle for PC software from Amazon and the tiny e-book file and start reading.

So now I have Chad’s book, Chris Bell’s The Vale of Health and the freebies of Pride and Prejudice, Treasure Island and Aesop’s Fables, all of which are nice to have. It’s a start in this brave new e-book world.
Al Brown blogs about his an hour and a half of terror with AA Gill at the Auckland Writers’ and Reader’s Festival. Sounds worse than my measly hour of terror with Vincent O’Sullivan.

I’m often rude about innumeracy in the MSM so all hail Listener columnist Toby Manhire who is properly sceptical about the alleged figure of two billion viewers for the royal wedding – not in the magazine itself but on its vastly improved website. He concludes:
I’ve just learned that RNZ’s Mediawatch programme ran an item on a similar theme, including an amusing snippet from the TV3 coverage of the wedding, in which the global viewership is estimated to be “heaps, mate”.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Bob Dylan sentence of the day

The great Martin Carthy on what to buy Bob Dylan for a 70th birthday present:
I’d get him a piano and a samurai sword to keep him warm in the winter – when he came to London in 1962 he used a samurai sword to help me chop up a piano to keep us warm while we had a cup of tea after a gig.
Come to think of it, isn’t Martin the perfect name for a folk guitarist.

Everything but the kitchen sink

This is our kitchen bench in the morning. Special effects are provided by the sun and a row of beautiful Garry Nash water glasses, a wedding present from Kevin and Caroline Ireland, lined up on the windowsill.

We make our own fun here in the Waikato.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

An hour of terror with Vincent O’Sullivan

As promised, a report on what I saw at this year’s Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festival 2011. Or, as I call it, the Auckland Writhers’ and Reelers’ Festival.

Where to start? With me, obviously. I arrived late Friday morning and barely had time for a four-hour lunch with Vincent O’Sullivan, Peter Bland, Graeme Lay, Bernard Brown (my old law professor), Mike Mitchell (a visitor from Rarotonga) and AUP poet Sonja Yelich before retiring to my hotel room (the Langham – totally excellent) to finish preparing for my hour-long session with Vincent the next day. I’d already spent most of the week on this, which entailed me interviewing the Greatest Living NZ Writer on stage for an hour, so there was a bit of pressure. He didn’t want to talk about his novels, short stories, plays, libretti, biographies, essays, editing Mansfield’s letters – just the poetry. Ri-ight. So there was a lot of pressure.

Finished prepping. Then at 9:30 after the big AA Gill event in the big room at the Aotea Centre there was a small party – hardly any writers but there were some friends, some acquaintances and the Mega-Rich Major Sponsor of the festival I like a lot because he swears even more than I do.

Saturday morning at 11:30 began the hour of terror with Vincent. He wasn’t nervous at all but Christ I was. Still, we got through it, with me asking random impertinent questions and him batting them away magisterially. A friend had suggested I should ask him why his poems don’t rhyme – but they do, surprisingly often. Apart from all the internal rhymes everywhere, one poem in the new poetry collection, The Movie May Be Slightly Different (VUP, highly recommended), has a strict abba rhyme scheme in every stanza. Well, you can’t go wrong with Abba, can you? So we got talking about his collaborations with the great Wellington composer Ross Harris who is, like me, an Abba fan.

The rest of it is a blur, apart from the bit where I revealed that Vincent is a goth icon because of a song he wrote in his student years called “Graveyard Rock”, which a female goth wants to re-record. I’d buy that.

Then lunch – when in Auckland, do as the Aucklanders do – with Vincent, Geoff Walker, who published Vincent’s novels Let the River Stand and Believers to the Bright Coast (I forgot to say this in the session, but for my money these are two of the greatest NZ novels ever), and festival board chair Sarah Sandley, who must be the only magazine publisher in the world to have a PhD in NZ literature.

That afternoon was a bloggers’ drinks with the old NZBC crew plus Paul Litterick from the Fundy Post, while my wife attended serious literary sessions, followed by dinner at Hanoi with my BFF (best foodie friend).

And then at a bar in Karangahape Road there was the real party for just the writers. It was great. Loads of people from Wellington and elsewhere I only get to see at the festival, more than I could manage to talk to. I also met a nice Dutch publisher who is interested in our crime writers with a view to translation and I was able to tell him that one of my favourite crime writers is Dutch. Janwillem van der Wetering, since you ask.

Sunday was coffee in Mt Albert with Dunedin crime writer Paddy Richardson, whose last three novels I edited (which means I got to read them before anyone else – I’m a huge fan so this was a real treat). Paddy currently has the residency at Monte Cecilia, the beautiful old former nunnery that houses much of James Wallace’s art collection. She showed us through the fellow’s flat which is spectacular, flasher even than the Sargeson flat, with fabulous views in all directions. Over the writing desk is a James Ross painting from his 1977 series of self-portraits. Spookily, I have another from that series (Hand to Mouth No 1) over my writing desk.

Then back into town lunch with Madhur Jaffrey, Lauraine Jacobs and a couple of hundred others. The English-born chap on my left turned out to be best friends with the vicar who ran our latest family funeral here in Cambridge. The Australian-born couple to my wife’s right live in Fiji when not in NZ and are best friends with her Fijian friend who lives in north Yorkshire. There are only ever two degrees of separation.

Later, IIML tweeted:
Great Vincent O’Sullivan session – full of fine & sometimes wicked aphorisms.
After the session there was a long queue of people who had bought Vincent’s new poetry collection, The Movie May Be Slightly Different (VUP, highly recommended), wanting him to sign it. Job done.

Graeme Lay adds:
A close friend of Vincent’s, poet and academic Ken Arvidson of Hamilton, attended the session. This was to be Ken’s last public appearance, as he died one week later. A respected poet and teacher at the Universities of Auckland and the Waikato, Ken was 72.
More on Ken Arvidson here. If the Waikato Times runs an obituary, I’ll link to it when it does.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Unfortunate phrasing

The Sydney Morning Herald reports on Philip Roth winning the Man Booker International award:
The 78-year-old author of “Portnoy’s Complaint” beat off competition from 12 other writers — including two from China — for the 60,000 pound ($97,500) award.
There is a fuller report in the Daily Telegraph. The judges were Rick Gekoski, who was one of the big hits of last year’s Auckland Readers’ and Writers’ Festival and is a top bloke (he is married to my old friend Belinda Kitchin who runs Kiwifruits, the shop in the Royal Opera Arcade behind NZ House in London); novelist Justin Cartwright; and Virago publisher Carmen Callil, who resigned from the panel rather than have her name associated with the decision.
Callil says:
I’ve judged many prizes before and I’ve rarely had my own favourite. We should have discussed everything more but Philip Roth came out like a thunderbolt, and I was too surprised. We took a couple of days to brood, and then I spoke to Justin and said I thought I should give in, if I didn’t have to have anything to do with the winner. So I said I didn’t want my name attached to it, and retired. You can’t be asked to judge, and then not judge.
I’ve judged many prizes too and I think her behaviour is appalling (Toby Young comments here). You win some, you lose some, but it’s like being in the Cabinet – you publicly support the decision whatever your private thoughts. If you couldn’t do that, you shouldn’t have agreed to be a judge in the first place.

I can’t quickly find an online reference to prove it but my memory is that when Peter Jackson’s Braindead won best film, best director and best screenplay in the NZ Film and Television Awards in 1993, two judges – step forward, Albert Wendt and John Cranna – went public with their objections to Jackson winning. Again from memory this was on the grounds that Jackson’s film didn’t show New Zealand culture in a good light and he wasn’t the sort of artist they could support. An unkind person might ask, where are they now and where is Jackson?

In praise of: Hilary Barry

She is one of the funniest people I know. Yesterday on Facebook:
So, Mr Schwarzenegger fathered a child with a member of his household staff. Most of us just call that having kids.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Sentence of the day

When the battery of his hearing aid failed during our lunch, he yanked the earpiece from his ear, looked at it sternly, and said: “F— you.”
From a great piece in the Weekly Standard about playwright David Mamet’s shift from left to right.

Absent without leave

Still recovering from the Auckland Writers’ and Readers’ Festival at the weekend. Full report soonest.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Blog comment of the day

Marsoe at the Dim-Post on Kyle Chapman:
White supremacists are generally the least supreme whites.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Blog comment of the day

Nick R at Kiwiblog on this speech by Peter Dunne:
It’s bit rich for Peter Dunne to accuse Labour of having no new faces & no new policies.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Eating media lunch #3

To Wintec for lunch with John Campbell, bloggers Cameron Slater aka Whale Oil, Martyn “Bomber” Bradbury and Phoebe Fletcher aka Tumeke, and about a hundred other people: distinguished elderly media types, current practitioners and students of Wintec’s journalism course. And me.

The invitation was headed “Bringing you the proud media tradition of the free lunch” and promised:
TV3’s John Campbell is one of New Zealand’s best known TV journalists. From Corn Gate to moon men, John Campbell has led current affairs in NZ for over a decade. He will be the first speaker in the Wintec School of Journalism’s ‘Media Bites’ lunch to be held this year on campus, midday Tuesday 10 May 2011. John will be discussing the topic, ‘From moon men to deputy leaders’ homes at 2am – is NZ TV journalism creating heat or light?’ One of the most articulate voices within NZ journalism will passionately defend his craft against multiple criticisms of trials by lazy media. There will be a question and answer session after his speech for students and media groupies alike to bathe in John’s radiant media glow followed by a sumptuous two course lunch.
“Radiant media glow”. I had to see this.

When I arrived Cameron Slater was madly texting while talking to Martyn Bradbury. Phoebe Fletcher was madly texting too. The guy from Radio Samoa who was between them leaned over and said, “I bet they’re texting each other.”

But no, Phoebe was dealing with her students and Cameron was busy pulling the wings off Trevor Mallard, or so it seemed. Even Martyn , who dresses very much to the left, whereas Cameron dresses very much to the right, was aghast at what new folly Mallard had committed. Then Cameron announced he was going duck shooting at the weekend. I made the obvious joke. And hoped that Cameron too was joking.

And so to lunch. John Campbell spoke for an hour to the glory of John Campbell but that’s all right – by the standards of New Zealand television in 2011 his programme is very good and he is a proper journalist, unlike Paul Holmes and Michael Laws whom we endured last year. And John was rightly enthusiastic about what good journalism is and how much fun it is when you’re doing it well. Hard, yes, but fun. He did a fluent hour without notes which was amazing. I did like him talking about how good Carol Hirschfeld was as – not sure whether producer or editor, I don’t know this side of TV – but let’s say a shaper of stories and he said he thought it was because she had been a sub-editor at the Auckland Star and subs learn how to shape stories. I agree. The subs at the Star were brilliant. (At least two of us were. I used to sit opposite Carol. I have had worse jobs.) I have never, ever before heard a high-profile journalist praise the sub-editing function. It was a very generous thing to do.

On a personal note: after lunch, a totally New Zealandy moment. Wouldn’t happen anywhere else, I reckon. A Wintec journalism tutor came up to me, peered at my name-tag and said “Do you remember much of your childhood?” I peered at her name-tag and OMG she was the older sister of my best friend at Greerton Primary, which then was on the rural edge of Tauranga. I spent most afternoons at their house. This is nearly 50 years ago. No, it is 50 years ago. He and I played in the bulrushes in the gully below. I had seen Anne Beston’s byline in the Herald for maybe 20 years and never connected her with Tauranga and my childhood. I think that in New Zealand we should assume that if the name registers, it is the person you think it might be.

And you think you have problems

As mentioned previously, Toby Young has Facebook issues. Breaking news:
I'm feeling guilty about not being able to befriend the people now applying to be my friend cos I’m at the 5,000 limit. Anyone know how you can include an automatic message whereby anyone attempting to befriend you is told you're at max capacity?
Poor Toby. So many friends, so little time.

In praise of: Brent Parlane

Number 7 in a series of praises: #1 was Jenny Morris in March 2010, #2 was Mary McIntyre, #3 was Debbie Reynolds, #4 was Thelonious Monk, #5 was Jeffrey Bernard and #6 was Iain Sharp, last July. So we are long overdue for more enthusiasm.

That’s a slide show for Brent Parlane’s song “I’m Looking Forward to Tonight”, which was a single released in 1972. From memory it was his first and made the Top Ten in Christchurch and has Paul Woolwright on bass. Not sure who was on drums. Brent was 21 at the time.

I’ve always liked the song and I’ve always liked Brent. We were at school together, Tauranga Boys’ College. I could beat him at squash but he could sing. Boy, could he sing. I did my first “gig” with him, playing Neil Young’s “Down by the River” at the Tauranga Folk Club, in an upstairs coffee bar a couple of years before “I’m Looking Forward”. I could play Neil Young’s solo because it consists of one hammered-on note, the second-lowest E on the guitar, played more or less like this: nanga-nanga-nanga-nanga, nanga-nanga, nanga-nanga-nanga-nanga, nanga-nanga, ad libitum. There’s a bit more to it but not a lot.

Years later Brent replaced Jenny Morris as the singer in the band I was in, which is why I still know how to play “Desperado” (in G) and sundry other country songs such as “Mama Hated Diesels” (in D). He opened my ears.

Brent has been in Melbourne for years now, making albums, raising a family and winning the Tamworth Gold Guitar for best new talent. (In Australia, Tamworth is the deal in country music. Bigger than Gore, even.) Also, over the years he has opened for Muddy Waters, Fairport Convention, the Eagles, Randy Newman, BB King and Roxy Music. He’s bloody good. This article about him is from 2003; you can hear some of his recent music here.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Me and Osama bin Laden

PopBitch reports, so it must be true, that:
Osama’s favourite TV show when he was growing up was Bonanza.
Same. But that’s probably as far as our commonality goes. Went.

Friday, May 6, 2011

They don’t make poets like that any more

In the February Literary Review, Adrian Tinniswood reviews John Stubbs’ new book Reprobates: The Cavaliers of the English Civil War, which is about the Cavalier poets in particular – Carew, Suckling, Lovelace, Herrick et al. The most colourful was William Davenant:
Born in 1606, he was Shakespeare’s godson, although in later life he often hinted darkly at a closer relationship. While in his twenties he won fame for the court masques he wrote in collaboration with Inigo Jones, and lost his nose to syphilis and the quicksilver used to treat it. (In 1650, when he was facing a treason trial for a plot to export the royalist cause to the Americas, the Commons voted against proceeding with the case. ‘Some Gentlemen, out of pitty, were pleased to let him have the Noes of the House, because he had none of his own.’ My, how we laughed.) By the time he dropped dead at his own theatre one spring evening in 1668, Davenant had succeeded Jonson as poet laureate, fought for the king and been knighted for his ‘loyalty and poet­ry’, written a string of successful masques, acted as a secret agent for Henrietta Maria during her exile in France, staged the first English opera, and, in a mid-life career change, become a successful theatrical manager and masterminded a renaissance in English drama.
Sad to say, the NNDB records that:
His plays are utterly unreadable, and his poems are usually stilted and unnatural. [. . .] his influence on English drama must be condemned as wholly deplorable.
Even so, I bet he was good company.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Oh Happy Day

We must all remember the Law of Unintended Consequences, and the triumphalism we see on the TV news from America is unattractive, but even so this seems like a good day to post a link to this clip of Edwin Hawkins (who wrote the song) with his sister Lynette Hawkins Stephens and the ever-amazing Edwin Hawkins Singers performing the joyous “Oh Happy Day” in 1987. Introduced by Paul Simon. When the choir comes in full-strength at 1:11 the sound is just thrilling.

 There’s an earlier performance here without the choir, but it is worth seeing as a reminder of how sexy gospel can be, not to mention funky.

And here – yes, I spoil you because you are worth it – is a performance of the song by Aretha Franklin and Mavis Staples from the 1987 live album One Lord, One Baptism. There are frustratingly few shots from the actual concert, and Aretha had got a bit mannered by then, and prima donna assoluta, but still – what a voice.

An historical note: when I was a schoolboy in the 60s I owned a 45, aka single, of this song as performed by Hawkins and his choir. (For younger readers, a 45 was like a mini-LP, a circular bit of vinyl that had usually one song on one side and one on the other – and you had to buy it in a record shop. As in pay money for music. Yeah, the 60s were weird.) 

I also had 45s by the Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Love, Frank Zappa, the Band, Jethro Tull, Bob Dylan, the Moody Blues, King Crimson (I am not making this up), Cream and Pink Floyd. Later, in the early 70s, there would be NZ singles by Split Ends (sic) and Brent Parlane, among others. 

What strikes me now is that these records were released in the hope that they might become hits – and radio was so eclectic in those days that you did hear music as diverse and uncommercial as this every day, so it wasn’t an unreasonable hope. I don’t know if the 60s was a golden age for music – I guess every generation thinks its music is the best – but it sure was a golden age for open-minded radio.