Saturday, January 31, 2015

In praise of Hilary Barry #2

A sequel to a 2011 post. This could become a series.

There has been a brouhaha over the Australian’s obituary for the novelist Colleen McCullough (not online), which began with old-school sexism:
Colleen McCullough, Australia’s best selling author, was a charmer. Plain of feature, and certainly overweight, she was, nevertheless, a woman of wit and warmth.

Cue outrage on both social and MSM media. But someone, figuring it is best to fight stupidity with humour, started the hashtag #myozobituary, where people write the opening sentence of their own obit, Australian-style. TV3 newsreader Hilary Barry’s is unbeatable:  

On 14 November 2014 the New Zealand Herald ran a story that began:
She might not be Bo Derek but in political terms, John Key rates visiting German Chancellor Angela Merkel as high as 10.

Who wrote that sexist sentence? Step forward, Audrey Young, the Herald’s political editor. Oddly, there was no brouhaha about this.

So here is the only song I know of that features the word “brouhaha”: “Elephant Talk” by King Crimson, seen here in 1982. I don’t know which is more surprising: that they performed this live on network television, or that the song was released as a single. Autres temps, les 80s.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Come as your favourite song

My friend Mike, who in January 1998 after our first meeting – a long lunch in the Martinborough Hotel – introduced me to my future wife and that August was MC at our wedding reception in the hotel, turns 60 next month. He is a music nut, so the theme of his birthday party is to come as your favourite song. Yes, it is a fancy-dress party.

My wife was in Martinborough last weekend. On her return she reported that Mike suggested I come as “21st Century Schizoid Man”.

Me: “So I just wear my usual clothes.”

Wife: “That’s exactly what Mike said.”

So here are King Crimson with “21st Century Schizoid Man”:

Sunday, January 25, 2015

What I’m reading #123

More precisely, what I have been reading. I get a week every January when we are en famille in Tutukaka and I can read for pleasure: during the rest of the year I can’t read books while I am editing or assessing manuscripts. Or, occasionally, writing them.

You wait ages for a novel about a South Island vet and then two come along at once. Laurence Fearnley’s Reach and Owen Marshall’s Carnival Sky are by two of my favourite writers. Too many great passages in both to quote unquote: both novels are, if you ask me, their authors’ best yet. Totally recommended. A friend has recently moved to England to be one of the Queen’s vets: I will send him copies of both.

I finished John Eliot Gardiner’s Music in the Castle of Heaven about Johann Sebastian Bach and Phil Gifford’s Loose Amongst the Legends about New Zealand sporty types. Gardiner’s book is the weightier tome and stellar, but Phil’s is much better written and much funnier.

Don Felder wrote the music for “Hotel California” and both the guitar solos which are what made the song famous. His memoir Heaven or Hell is about what it is like growing up dirt-poor in Gainseville, Florida and then becoming a member of the Eagles with all the sex, drugs and money that involved – which was a lot. It’s a great yarn and of interest even to non-Eagles fans (most of us) because it shows a) what it’s like to be in a mega-successful rock band which is corrupted by sex, drugs and especially money and b) what colossal shits Don Henley and Glenn Frey are. Even “loveable goofball” Joe Walsh comes out of it badly: he was just as mercenary as the others. Bah.

Over New Year at Onemana in the Coromandel I read Paul Cleave’s Blood Men, a dark crime novel set in pre-quake Christchurch, TS Eliot’s Selected Poems which just happened to be in the guest bedroom along with the collected Agatha Christie short stories featuring Hercule Poirot, which were much more fun, and Herman Melville’s Moby Dick. The skinny: opening scene was brilliant, closing scene was brilliant, dragged a bit in the middle. This was the Norton edition which at the back had some comments from critics, e.g. Leonard Woolf:
The first thing which must be said of Melville is that he writes the most execrable English. Take a sentence like the following: “That certain sultanism of his brain, which had otherwise in a good degree remained unmanifested; through those forms that sultanism became incarnate in an irresistible dictatorship.” This is a thoroughly bad sentence, and its badness is quite pointless, and there are thousands like it in “Mardi” and “Moby Dick”. (The use of the semi-colon in this sentence is worth noting; it is characteristic of Melville, who bespatters his sentences with semi-colons without regard to meaning or convention.) His second great vice is rant or rhetoric. When he wants to say that a sailor looked angrily at the mate, he describes him as “stabbing him in the eye with the unflinching poinard of this glance.” I cannot see the slightest point in this kind of bombast, and, when it raves on for page after page, I almost pitch the book into the waste-paper basket and swear that I will not read another line, however many people vouch for the author’s genius.  

Ian Rankin speaks for all novelists on Twitter:
I’m at that bit* in my new book where I’ve no idea what’s going on or what I’m doing.
*from around page 30 to page 250

Christopher Caldwell in the Spectator writes:
I was talking the other day to a young woman who knows a lot about the history of rock. We shared an enthusiasm for Bob Dylan’s later work — especially Blood on the Tracks (1975). As we talked, it occurred to me that Dylan recorded this ‘late’ effort 40 years ago, only 13 years into his career. So why do we treat it as belonging more to our time than, say, his folk ballads from the early 1960s? Some baby-boomer journalist must have decided around 1970 that something Dylan did in 1965 or 1966 — maybe his switch to electric instruments or his motorcycle accident — marked a critical break in history.
We stupidly accept this view of things: Dylan is now in his sixth decade as a symbol of American youth. But time does keep moving on. Blood on the Tracks is now closer to the reign of George V (1910–1936) than to our day. For that matter, Dylan’s eponymous first album (1962) is closer to the reign of Edward VII (1901–10) than to us. [. . .]
For some reason music always sounds newer than it is, and this is not true just of baby boom music. You might think Madonna’s ‘Like a Virgin’ (1984) is edgy and subversive if you danced to it back in the day, but it now stands at the some chronological distance from Patti Page’s ‘How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?’ (1953) as from the stuff kids are listening to today. The Sex Pistols’ first concert (1975) is closer in time to Rachmaninoff’s Third Symphony (1936) than to us, and Rachmaninoff wrote much of his music in the 19th century.

I remember Patti Page’s “How Much Is That Doggie in the Window” from my toddler years. Silly song but sexy voice, my toddler self thought: I was an early adopter of heterosexuality. As soon as I heard the first bar of Groove Armada’s 1998 song “At the River” I knew who and what they were sampling: Patti Page’s 1957 hit “Old Cape Cod”. What a voice. All together now:
If you’re fond of sand dunes and salty air
Quaint little villages here and there

Thursday, January 22, 2015

In which I grow a beard

My 2015 beard-growing initiative has not been in homage to celebrity beard Francis Wheen, 2013’s Real Organic Santa of the Year, whose birthday we celebrate today, just the standard New Zealand male on holiday can’t be arsed shaving. (Note to readers overseas: New Zealand shuts down from Christmas to the end of January. Nobody works. Nothing gets done. If we are not lolling about on our superyachts we are surfing. Because summer. Which is intensely irritating for those of us who do have to work because freelance = no holiday pay.)

Usually at this time I go a week without shaving but this year I have extended the run. Mainly – no, entirely – to annoy the children, who hate it. As do I. OMG it is itchy. Also, I dislike beards on principle: I want to see a person’s face, not a hairy burqa. OTOH several writer friends have them: Chris Else, Brian Turner, Danyl McLauchlan. Even CK Stead had one years ago. (My nephew Simon who lives in Russia has one. How old do you think that makes me feel, having a nephew with a beard? At least he’s not a hipster.)

Back to my beard: I let it develop wondering how it would develop, hoping for the full Randall Jarrell, my greatest literary hero (pictured above), but I have ended up somewhere between local publishers Fergus Barrowman and Paul Little. Nothing wrong with either of them but neither of them is Randall. And, sadly, it turns out, nor am I.

So the beard will go when the children really can’t stand it any more. Or when high-school starts and I have to meet teachers and present as a normal person, whichever comes first. Until then, here are ZZ Top live in August 2014 with “Rough Boy”: bearded Billy Gibbons on guitar, bearded Dusty Hill on bass and beardless Frank Beard on drums. And beardless guest Jeff Beck:

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Mary McIntyre photobombs Rob Muldoon

This morning I took the children to the Waikato Museum to see the Ralph Hotere/Bill Culbert show, which they loved, and also Pictures at an Exhibition. They recognised from what is on our walls works by Gretchen Albrecht, James Ross, Nigel Brown, Mary McIntyre and Pat Hanly. What surprised me was that I knew/was friends with/had dealings with 18 of the artists shown. Including Mary, who I now realise was a pioneer of photobombing.  

We’ve all seen Benedict Cumberbatch photobombing U2 at the Oscars in March 2014:

Here is Mary in 1984 – thirty years earlier! – photobombing New Zealand’s then-Prime Minister in her painting Mickey Mouse and Robert Muldoon. That’s her as the avenging angel. This painting was based on a photo from the NZ Herald in which Muldoon stood next to Mickey Mouse at Auckland Airport and held a jar of jellybeans: something to do with Ronald Reagan, from memory. It hangs opposite our front door so is the first thing any visitor to our house sees: 

Spectator letter of the month

From the 10 January issue:
Bowled out
Sir: The recent correspondence on the subject of the fatal cricket accident which in 1751 prevented Frederick Louis, Prince of Wales, from succeeding his father George II as king in 1760, has failed to mention that this was the first known instance in cricket history of play stopping reign.
Tim Rice
London SW13

Yes, this is from that Tim Rice.