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Showing posts from March, 2018

What's Going On: Keeping It New in my Fifties

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Leah Song of Rising Appalachia
Poetry is my vocation but music is my love. Music even gave me poetry, in a sense. I'd read one poem I loved before, but only one: Dryden's 'MacFlecknoe', which succeeded where others failed because it had fart jokes and a reference to people chucking their poo into the Thames in the morning. But listening to the words of Bob Dylan, I woke up to poetry's incredible possibilities. I also first encountered Allen Ginsberg in Dylan's movie 'Renaldo and Clara'.

I don't listen to Dylan anymore. There seems no need, I exhausted my appetite for his take on the world a long time ago. Other musical heroes have faded (Neil Young, for example) while on certain days I still listen to some. When Willie Nelson has a new one out, I always try to hear it. Partly that's because of Willie's amused detachment from the business he's in. He doesn't need fame for personal completion.The other reason is that he doesn't do th…

Discovering India

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This is Gaurav Maurander. I bought a cd of his for 50 pence in a Northampton charity shop yesterday. 'Neemrana: A Musical Journey in India.' I didn't know anything about him, but I liked the image on the front of the disc. It had several people seated on a stage playing traditional Indian instruments: the sitar, the tabla, the sarod, the tampura. There was no evidence anywhere of anything remotely modern or intrinsically Western. It was unlikely, therefore, to be one of those ghastly cds you buy in alternative shops which drown traditional Asian music in soporific synthesisers and rain sounds as a relaxation aid. It was also, as I've already mentioned, only 50 pence, so if I'd guessed incorrectly I wouldn't be too much out of pocket.

The album, I'm happy to report, is a joy, although the liner notes reveal that there's a strong Western connection. The collection of musical pieces that comprised the tour from which 'Neemrana' derives were all comp…

George Orwell: When the Etonian Reared his Head

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Reading Orwell's 'Down and Out in Paris and London' for the second time, I notice something I didn't see the first time around: his upper-crust Englishness. I'm no Orwell expert, but like everyone who grew up in the political Left, I have a certain sentimental view of him as a champion of the working class; as a libertarian; as an egalitarian; as someone who crusaded for the binning of the old world order.

'1984' and 'Animal Farm' certainly show us a man opposed to totalitarianism, and only a dogmatist would believe that was the province of politics in the East. But traditional English values seem to run through Orwell, at least pre-war Orwell, the way a seaside town's name runs through a stick of rock.
You can see the Old Etonian in his generalisations about race. He expresses a peculiar belief, for example, that Americans know nothing about 'good' food:
They would stuff themselves with disgusting American 'cereals', and eat marmal…

The Lynching of Radclyffe Hall

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Radclyffe Hall may be the least remembered of all the Western writers, poets and playwrights whose life and works were pilloried and forced to endure protracted legal battles in the last couple of centuries. Every person with an interest in the arts knows about Oscar Wilde, D.H. Lawrence, James Joyce, Henry Miller, Allen Ginsberg. But Radclyffe Hall? My own guilty confession is that I didn't even come across her name until Ginsberg mentioned her in a BBC interview in 1995 or '96. 
Why is she lower on the literary radar when her book 'The Well of Loneliness' caused a scandal and was prosecuted, and ultimately banned, under the Obscene Publications Act? One answer leaps to mind. Any man whose novel was condemned by the Home Secretary, now or historically, as 'gravely detrimental to the public interest', would be celebrated for all time. Radclyffe Hall was a woman, though, and a lesbian. Or, as she liked to call herself, an 'invert'. The book, which I haven…

David Ogden Stiers

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David Ogden Stiers, who played the fabulously snotty, secretly fragile Charles Emerson Winchester III in M*A*S*H, has died. God, I loved that show with its brilliant word play and unrestrained self-righteous liberalism. Winchester, of all the main protagonists, was perhaps the only unapologetic Republican in the 4077th (Margaret Houlihan started that way, but softened considerably as the show matured); and yet, because of the depth David Ogden Stiers brought to the characterisation, not to mention his fabulous comic tone and timing, he was always my favourite. I saw a little piece of myself in Winchester too, with his habit of taking refuge from the world in music and the sublimities of art. We did it for different reasons, but there were many times when I too would sit alone in the tent listening to Dylan or Ginsberg while people lived and laughed on the other side of the canvas.

Northamptonshire Cuts: Does Anybody Read These Days?

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It was World Book Day on Thursday. People are sceptical about most World-- or International Anything Days, or Months, seeing them as tokenistic or politically motivated. But World Book Day has really caught on. Schools encourage children to dress like their favourite characters from books, which in some at least will foster a connection between reading and fun, perhaps even self-actualisation. The media discusses books on World Book Day as well. It's the one time of the year when reading in the traditional way isn't presented as archaic, the province of social rejects or old people with their lives long behind them.
In Northamptonshire, World Book Day happened to fall in the week when the county council, who have made themselves a national embarrassment by ruining the county financially, announced their new post-calamity budget. Which is worse than a calamity; it's closer to a kind of social Armageddon for the poor, the lonely and the vulnerable. To balance the books the co…