Thursday, September 30, 2010

RIP Arthur Penn, 1922-2010


Arthur Penn, American film director, died 28 September. Pictured: The Missouri Breaks; Mickey One; Little Big Man; Bonnie and Clyde; The Chase and Night Moves.

I haven't mentioned the passing of another favourite director, Claude Chabrol, French suspense master, who died 12 September this year, aged 80.

Monday, September 27, 2010

On the beach at Lyme Regis

Lyme Regis on the south coast of England is one of my favourite places in the world. Most famous for its fossils, its beach and cliffs are part of the Jurassic Coast, a World Heritage Site which runs along Southern England. Unlike other, tackier, coastal towns whose glory days have long gone, Lyme Regis has retained its charm, vitality and history.

I've been fascinated by the place ever since being taken there as a child and searching for fossils and, later, reading the book and watching the film The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles – who can forget Jeremy Irons first seeing Meryl Streep at the end of The Cobb (the famous harbour wall); her piercing, haunted face with the stormy sea as a backdrop? The author John Fowles lived in Lyme Regis from the late 1960s up to his death in 2005. The Cobb, which dates back to at least the 1300s, also features in Jane Austen's Persuasion.

The child's tongue-twister 'She sells seashells on the sea shore' refers to Mary Anning (1799-1847), Lyme Regis's most famous (yet largely unknown) resident. Fossil collector, seller and palaeontologist, her discoveries were some of the most significant the world had ever seen, and changed the way scientists thought about the history of the earth. Though recognised as an expert in many areas, she remained poor. Some of the scientific community of the time doubted Mary's finds and abilities (she was self-taught) – mainly because she was female and poor.

Mary Anning's trusted companion, her dog Tray, died in a landslide. Like much of England's coastline, Lyme Regis's cliffs are constantly being eroded. In 2008, its largest landslide for 100 years occurred along the beach towards Charmouth. Once the site of a rubbish dump, the landslide revealed garbage from over a hundred years ago.

My daughter, up until now, had wanted me to find her fossils. I found lots – you can't help but stumble across tiny ammonites along the beach – but by this time she was more interested in the contents of the ancient rubbish dump: in particular, coloured china and tiles. But the find of the day was possibly a lead toy monkey.

• Tracey Chevalier's novel Remarkable Creatures is a fictional recreation of Mary Anning's life. It's quite good. As part of Mary Anning weekend at Lyme Regis, Tracy Chevalier, among others, will be giving guided tours and talks about Anning's life and work on Saturday 23th and Sunday 24th October.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Record Cover of the Day: Babes Forever

Naked chicks on skateboards (Babes Forever EP by Coolrunnings). How cool is this? Need I say more?

Okay, a bit more. Lots of bands are using amateur 70s-style 'found' photos or Polaroids for their album covers nowadays, such as Vampire Weekend's recent Contra, Wavves' Wavvves, the Dum Dum Girls and Wolf Parade. I guess the Found magazine and website helped make these kind of retro-images cool, so why not use them for album covers? Pitchfork have written an article all about it if you're interested. They cite William Eggleston as a precursor, and indeed his seemingly random snapshots of small town America have been adorning album covers since the 1970s when Big Star used a photo of his for their Radio City cover. Since then his snaps have been used on covers by Primal Scream, Joanna Newsom, Silver Jews, Spoon and more besides... I was going to do a visual post of all Eggleston's album covers but someone's beaten me to it... like over a year ago.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Barbie: She's not there

A recent email from Amazon:

Greetings from Amazon.co.uk,

We've noticed that customers who have purchased or rated I'm Not There [DVD] [2007] have also purchased Barbie - The Magic Of Pegasus - 2D Version [DVD] on DVD. For this reason, you might like to know that Barbie - The Magic Of Pegasus - 2D Version [DVD] will be released on 27 September 2010. You can pre-order yours for just £11.99 by following the link below.

A few things about this system generated email immediately strike me: 1) I can't think of two films more different. It's just so random. Okay, so a parent is a Dylan fan and has a daughter who's a Barbie fan (okay, as it happens, I am a Dylan fan and my daughter is a Barbie fan... but what are the chances?). But this buying another thing as someone else just because we've bought one thing the same... It's like the supermarket sending me an email saying: 'We've noticed that customers who have bought bread have also bought... rat poison/anchovies/laxatives/[insert random item as applicable]'.

2) It's obviously a 2D version if it's a DVD; 3) How have other people bought it if it's not out yet? (Presumably they've pre-booked it but Amazon do use the word purchased); 4) How many other customers have bought it? One? 2,468? Is that all they've bought on Amazon apart from I'm Not There? 4) Is there actually a connection between the two films?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

On seeing the pope


You've got to believe me, this was going to be a great photo; I had a good position and composition, then someone got in the way at the last second – unfortunately my crappy camera has like a two second shutter speed delay. Still, at least you can sort of see him in the mobile phone screen. Sort of.

After Open House weekend on Saturday, my boon companion and I set off across London for a visit to Fopp, only to stumble across an anti-pope demonstration along the way (where we were roughly manhandled by the police). We came across some great placards, including 'DOWN WITH THIS SORT OF THING' which James called 'fantastically vague' (and indeed, if the picture is replaced, it could easily be adapted to be used at any kind of protest).

James had mentioned earlier that if he was with me he was bound to see someone famous (I have a reputation for seeing the famous whenever I'm in London). I gave him the pope on a plate, but apparently this didn't count. His theory goes that to see a famous person it must be a random sighting. We knew the pope was going to be along the Mall, thus the random encounter aspect was void.

My friend Chas seeing the pope going round the Wandsworth one-way system the previous afternoon, however, does count as a famous person sighting as it was random, unplanned. Likewise, I cannot say I've seen Bob Dylan, as I paid money to be there (it was premeditated). However, seeing Roger Daltrey, Anthony Gormley and Bill Nighy at the Dylan concert does count as they were random, unpredicted sightings. His theory seems a bit churlish if you ask me.

FYI: I'm an atheist who just happens to like seeing famous people.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Windows 7 wasn't my idea

The latest Windows TV campaign seems to have been going for years and shows no signs of abating. It consists of random, deluded, 'normal' (though usually cool and good looking – possibly they're actors or models) people claiming they had 'X' idea for a new Windows component – like watching TV on your laptop (couldn't you do this years ago?) or being able to see all your windows at once (didn't Apple do this years ago?).

But what gets me is that these random, normal, deluded people are actually admitting to having a Windows idea. I mean, how embarrassing. Isn't this like admitting you stole a TV, broke a window, voted Conservative or worked for Enron (even if you didn't)?

I mean, Windows is crap, right? It's the ugliest, clunkiest, least-userfriendly operating system ever (even if, ever since its beginnings, it's tried to emulate the Mac OS as near as possible without copyright infringement). And its applications – don't get me started; I hate them all. And these people are admitting/pretending to have had a hand in it. On TV. Shouldn't they be arrested and put on trial for crimes against humanity?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Songs for Bobby

I asked Bobby Dylan
I asked the Beatles

I asked Timothy Leary

But he couldn't help me either

The Who, The Seeker (1971)

According to dylancoveralbums.com there are now over 31,000 individual covers of Bob Dylan songs. But how many songs are there actually about Dylan? Quite a few actually, though most seem to be parodies, along with a couple of open love songs about him (maybe it's easier to mock than to love).

Joan Baez (in perhaps her best original song; she's long said it's not about Dylan but we all know it is) on Diamonds and Rust (1975) refers to Dylan as 'the unwashed phenomenon / The original vagabond'. Joan, usually when covering his songs in the 1970s, would do a pretty good impression of Dylan's voice.

Chan Marshall, aka Cat Power, has never hidden the fact she adores Dylan. She's even on record as saying she wants to have his baby. In Song for Bobby (2007), the best song by far on her Jukebox album, she pleads, 'Can I finally tell you to be my man?'

Dylan was a key early influence on David Bowie, and on Song for Bob Dylan (1971), Bowie sings that Dylan has a voice 'like sand and glue'. Andy Warhol was apparently upset that Bowie put his song about Warhol next to Song for Bob Dylan on his album Hunky Dory. The relationship between Dylan and Warhol was somewhat tempestuous. Perhaps they were two sides of the same coin. Paranoid Warhol famously gave Dylan one of his Elvis prints in the 1960s and wondered what happened to it; according to rumour, Dylan either: used it as a dartboard; gave it away, or swapped it for a sofa. There's an amusing comic strip about the pair called Bob Hates Andy.

Last Man Standing (2005) by Bon Jovi was inspired by the death of another legend: 'When Johnny Cash died, I picked up my guitar and got the idea that Bob Dylan was the last man standing, the last of the real gods,' Jon Bon Jovi says. 'It was for Dylan, Cash, Lennon, Elvis – that's what I was thinking.'

'See those real live calloused fingers / Wrapped around those guitar strings / Kiss the lips where hurt has lingered / It breaks the heart to hear him sing'

Dylan is mentioned in two songs by T-Rex. On Telegraph Sam, 'Bobby's all right / Bobby's all right / He's a natural born poet / He's just outta sight'. And on Ballrooms of Mars, 'Bob Dylan knows / And I bet Alan Freed did: / There are things in night that are better not be behold.'

I'm So Restless, from Roger McGuinn's first solo album (1973) is partly about Dylan, who plays harmonica on the song:

'Hey, Mr. D do you want me to be / A farmer a cowhand an old country boy / To get up in the a.m. and tend to the chores / And leave all my troubles behind a locked door / Layin' with my lady and strumming' on my toy / Oh, I know what you mean and it sounds good to me / But oh, Mr. D. I'm so restless'

McGuinn co-wrote many of the songs from his first album with Jacques Levy, who would collaborate with Dylan a few years later on his album Desire. Of course, with The Byrds McGuinn recorded many Dylan songs, popularising such classics as Mr Tambourine Man and All I Really Want To Do. McGuinn co-wrote with Dylan the theme tune to the film Easy Rider, Ballad of Easy Rider, and in 1975/76 he played with Dylan's Rolling Thunder Revue.

Dylan is mentioned (often in passing and/or for a convenient rhyme) in lots of songs. The Beastie Boys are 'just chillin' like Bob Dylan' on 3 Minute Rule; 'Til Tueday 'sat in the car and listened to a Dylan tape' on Coming up Close; The Beatles sing on Yer Blues 'I feel so suicidal / Just like Dylan's Mr. Jones'; Wyclef Jean's Gone Till November has 'So I'm Knockin' on Heaven's Door like Bob Dylan' and a cameo from Dylan in the video; on Garden Party by Rick Nelson, 'Mr Hughes hid in Dylan's shoes wearing his disguise'; John Lennon in his song God, 'I don't believe in Zimmerman' and The Plastic Ono Band's Give Peace a Chance: ' Everybody's talkin' 'bout / John and Yoko... Bobby Dylan'; Kris Kristofferson's If You Don't Like Hank Williams starts off with 'I dig Bobby Dylan and I dig Johnny Cash...'; Don't Look Back by Belle and Sebastian, 'If they follow you / Don't look back / Like Dylan in the movies', obviously referring to Dylan's Dont Look Back documentary; Hootie and the Blowfish's I Only Wanna Be With You has 'Put on a little Dylan... Ain't Bobby so cool...'; 'And things got weird / And I started growing / Bob Dylan's beard' from Bob Dylan's 49th Beard by Wilco; there's The Lonesome Ballad of Robert Zimmerman by Hogan's Fountain; Phil Ochs, Bob Dylan, Steve Goodman, David Blue & Me by John Wesley Harding, a dream where 'Bob plays harmonica but he plays it all wrong' and Kevin Kinney's MacDougal Blues 'Thought I'd see a million Dylans, maybe a Joni Mitchell or two...'

Dylan himself is no stranger to name-checking (usually dead) others in his songs, from Arthur Rimbaud to Napoleon. More recently though he's been 'Thinking about Alicia Keys' (Thunder on the Mountain) and 'listening to Neil Young' (on Highlands). Neil Young, perhaps returning the complement, sings 'You're invisible / you've got too many secrets / Bob Dylan said that or something like that' on his song Bandit some years later.

With Dylan's distinctive nasal whining, he seems an easy target to mock. There's a Bob Dylan Blues by Syd Barrett; Bob by Weird Al Yankovic; Blues in Bob Minor, a Subterranean Homesick Blues parody by Robert Wyatt; Paul Simon's A Simple Desultory Philippic (or How I Was Robert McNamara'd into Submission); John Lennon's Serve Yourself; Richard Belzer's The Ballad of Bob Dylan ('He was a skinny Jew, one of the few from Minnesota, they had a quota'); Protest Song by Neil Innes; Suburban Drone by The Capital Steps... and not forgetting Minutemen's Bob Dylan Wrote Propaganda Songs (though I'm not sure what category it falls into).

Best of all, a few years back, Kevin Ryan put online Dylan Hears A Who (now unfortunately taken down by Dr. Seuss Enterprises), a mash-up album of mid-sixties sounding Dylan singing Dr. Seuss poems. Ryan's nasal twang sounds exactly like Dylan circa. 1965 and apparently Ryan even played all the instruments too. It came complete with 60-style cover artwork. It's very funny and you should be able to find it somewhere on the web quite easily.

On an album of mainly cover versions (Acoustic), Everything but the Girl's Me & Bobby D comes across as a bit mean, though interesting, coming from one who presumably doesn't hero worship the man:

'Me and Bobby D don't get along that easily / You told the world, "Be free, love life" / Tell me, is it true you beat your wife? / You see, me and Bobby D don't get along that easily / You told the world, "Skip rules have fun" / Knocked her from here to kingdom come? / How many girls have you had today? / And how many bottles have you downed today? / And while you're on the skids, who's minding the kids? / Go to sleep Bobby D, here's a kiss / Don't worry your pretty head about this.'

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Fire

Mike walked downstairs and noticed a faint orange glow outside the front door at about 3am one Sunday morning. Opening the door, he saw a small fire on the front steps, followed shortly by two fire engines pulling up and putting it out. Then, a police car and a policeman asking Mike if he'd called the police. Mike replied no, then asked if he could go back to bed. He was told he could, and later, in the afternoon when we looked outside, all that was left was a pile of ashes. The rubbish by the bins had been cleared away, perhaps by the firemen. I don't know why but I thought Brixton Voodoo Curse.

(2002, Brixton)

Monday, September 13, 2010

'Round Clapham

When Jane stepped out of Sean’s two-bedroom council flat, which he shares with eight other people, a mix of French-Canadian, Australian, South African lesbians and even a couple of English, she found herself a bit lost on the mean streets of South Clapham early one Saturday morning.

She approached a black guy to ask him for directions to the nearest tube station. He took one look at Jane then gobbed all over her face. Jane, in a state of shock, asked the man why he did that. He replied, ‘Go get yourself washed girl’. Jane gathered he thought she was a prostitute. She didn’t seem upset or angry when she told us the story, in fact she laughed about it. Around this time a friend of Jane’s was attacked outside Clapham Junction station by a group of eight 11-year-old girls on BMXs.

Sean’s father is presently staying with his mother (Sean’s grandmother). She’s senile and has Alzheimer’s disease. He's an alcoholic Prozac addict. She thinks Sean’s dad (her son) is her husband. She’s been going into his room at night, getting into bed with him, and asking him to smell her.

It's been a busy, emotional week for Sean. He's just split up with his girlfriend, Anna. He was her third boyfriend. Her first boyfriend was an armed robber; her second boyfriend was a drug dealer, and raped her. Her third boyfriend was Sean. They split up last Tuesday. He rang me Thursday evening and told me he was at Big Ben.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

A Mews Me

Interior. Restaurant. Evening.

—But you said you had enough to pay.
—I know I said it. I lied.
—But why did you lie?
—So that we’d have to. We’d have no choice.*
She looks seriously at him, then turns and looks around the busy restaurant. She glances back at him then puts her hands over her face and sighs.
—Someone I know went to prison for doing this.
—Yeah, well, a friend of mine went to prison for smoking dope but that doesn’t stop anyone doing it.
He laughs through his nose as if it’s funny.
—Who do you know?
—Well, no one actually, but it happens. It’s illegal.
She starts laughing, then so does he.
—Look Rachel, think in your head about doing it. Act the entire operation out in your head and—
—God! You’re really going to do it aren’t you?
—Of course I am. It’s no big deal. Think about doing it. Is your heart beating faster? Does it turn you on?
—Why is everything about sex with you?
—I didn’t mean that. I just meant… it’s exciting. I think everyone should do one stupid act a month to stay sane.
—I have to go to the toilet. Don’t go anywhere.
He watches her as she gets up and walks over to the toilet. He makes a roll-up cigarette which takes him about four minutes. He just doesn’t have the knack. But when she comes back his coat is on and he’s smoking the cigarette.**
—Ready?
—No.
—Come on. Let’s go. Now.
—Mark, no I can’t. I can’t run fast in these shoes.
—We don’t run until we’re out of the restaurant. You see that mews over there?
—That what? Where?
—That mews, over the road, to the right.
He points to it.
—Oh. Mews.
—We’ll run over there. As soon as we’re out of the restaurant.
—Mark.
—Come on. I’m walking now. No one’s looking.
He gets up and casually walks out of the restaurant. She picks up her coat, looking around and almost runs after Mark.

*This was possibly written in the days before debit cards; we were poor students and usually paid for things with cash. I've still never had a credit card.

**One could also smoke in restaurants.

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Book Cover: On The Road


Rescued today from the Oxfam bin. A great cover even if it is slightly misleading (I'm not sure the foxy woman has that much to do with the story). Still, a nice pulp illustration from the 1960s – the book above is a Pan books 3rd printing from 1967 (the 1st Pan edition was 1961).

First published in 1957, Jack Kerouac's On The Road was 53 years old last Sunday.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

The many lives of Leonard Cohen

Leonard Cohen has two more live CDs/DVDs being released this month, bringing his total live output up to seven (four in the last two years alone), almost catching up with his studio albums (11):

Songs From The Road (CD/DVD, 2010)
Bird On A Wire (DVD only, 2010)
Live In London (CD/DVD, 2009)
Live At The Isle Of Wight 1970 (CD/DVD, 2009)
Field Commander Cohen – 1979 Tour (2002)
Cohen Live (1999)
Live Songs (1973)

Not that I'm complaining (though it does feel somewhat like milking the barrel), but I am wondering if he's ever going to release another studio album. Cohen's in his 70s now, though near contemporaries such as Dylan and Kristofferson have both released decent studio albums in the last couple of years.

When Dylan and Cohen finally famously met, in a Parisian cafe in the 1980s, an interviewer asked Cohen what they talked about. Bob had asked Leonard how long it had taken him to write Hallelujah: 'four or five years', replied Cohen. Cohen had then asked Dylan how long it had taken him to write I and I: 'about fifteen minutes' replied Bob.

It's a telling insight into their work methods. Dylan has a tendency to churn out songs on the hoof, whether they're perfect or not. Cohen tends to rework songs for years until they're just right.

Hence, Dylan's Bootleg Series number nine is about to released (and one could be released every year for the next fifty years and the well not dry up) whereas Cohen, when his first three albums were remastered a few years back, only managed a few needless outtakes on the end of each one. Dylan has also released at least a dozen live albums and thirty-three studio albums.

But live, they're worlds apart. Dylan mumbles through his songs, apparently reinventing them but sounding more like demolishing them, and has virtually no interaction with his audience. Cohen, who only seems to tour once a decade now (and last year for purely financial reasons – which couldn't really be said for Dylan's Never Ending Tour) is a dapper old-fashioned gentleman and puts on quite a performance, interacting and joking with his audience (though his 1970s concerts were somewhat raggedy).

In a 1975 Rolling Thunder concert in Montreal, Canada, just before he kicks off Isis (back when he did talk to the audience – and by 1979 you couldn't shut preacher Bob up), Bob Dylan shouts out 'This is for Leonard... if he's still here!' He still is. Just.

Previously: Leonard Cohen albums with the word 'Songs' in them.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Random Film Review: Loulou

Dir: Maurice Pialat | France | 1980 | 110mins

“Suddenly there are abrupt changes in tone or rhythm, fleeting occurrences which are not as realistic as all that. They produce emotions of a different order which are, in my opinion, as valid as those arising out of more classical film-making.”
– Maurice Pialat

Loulou is in many ways a typical French film with lots of smoking, drinking, eating, shagging, as well as the ubiquitous Gérard Depardieu and Isabelle Huppert. It's also like a Dogma film, before the term was invented (in 1998). There are no close-ups and a lot of hand-held camerawork and natural light (and darkness). It's so improvised Depardieu laughs and looks at the camera at the end of one scene, unsure what to do next. There's no soundtrack music; the only music heard is source music (radio, musical instrument, a band in a bar, etc).

Eat your heart out Ken Loach and Mike Leigh. In English 'social realist' films (or TV) characters are like pawns in the game – social comment and/or plot comes first, at the expense of character (see the BBC's Mistresses or any soap opera). In Loulou any plot and social concern develops naturally from the characters (rather than vice versa). It's honest, frank, raw and realistic but that doesn't stop it from being lyrical, funny, sexy, touching and tender too.

A lot of the scenes are just one shot; the cameras sole purpose seems to follow the characters around. Scenes and shots sometimes seem to linger too long or cut abruptly. Some scenes don't link together in a conventional narrative as such. But all scenes have the same significance, and carry the same weight, be it a burglary, a fight, sex, or watching TV, smoking a cigarette, eating a baguette.

A fight scene is all one shot – honest, in a way, not fooling the audience with contrived editing and music. It's not exciting, it's just part of life, part of the film. Pialat’s is a modest style (like Bresson's); his characters just regular people trying to get by.

The plot – such as it is – concerns middle-class couple Nelly (Isabelle Huppert) and Andre (Guy Marchand). Nelly leaves him for unemployed loafer Loulou (Gerard Depardieu). The film contrasts deeply personal matters on the one hand and a cinema-verite approach to French society on the other, vis-a-vis the contrast of lifestyles of the two leads (middle class and working class).

The acting throughout is superb. Gerard Depardieu worked with great directors throughout the 1970s and 80s including Bertrand Blier, Barbet Schroeder, Bertolucci, Truffaut, Resnais and Wajda. But with Pialat there's a real naturalness about his performance. Some scenes feel improvised – Depardieu looks at the camera more than once; in one scene he's seen chatting to someone off screen (who has nothing to do with the film).

The credits and opening scene show André (Nelly's husband) walking towards the camera at night. There's hardly any light (it could be a film noir), yet showing Andre in darkness implies he's not central to the film. He sees two lovers kissing and is reminded of Nelly.

Sex, smoking, drinking, eating and love equals life, in a typically French way. The family lunch scene perhaps epitomises French films – food and drink and conversation being la vie. The extended scene comes across like a home movie, though it ends, humorously, in near murder.

The human body in action is at the centre of Pialat's films – lovemaking, fights, deaths (though I guess in this he is not unique). But an early scene in a nightclub emphasises movement, there's an immediacy and spontaneity and the editing has an emotional rhythm. There's an abrupt cut to Loulou and Nelly in bed. Nudity is treated as natural, not erotic or exploitative.

The last shot shows Loulou and Nelly stumbling together, drunk, down a dark alley. There's been a jump cut from ordering drinks to being drunk. Godard famously used jump cuts in A Bout de Souffle, as did many French New Wave films. But in Loulou they're not experimental for the sake of it. Loulou is concise; it focuses on what's important. Again, there are no lights, no sound. The lack of sound makes the shot peaceful and calm – optimistic too; lovers in their own world.

Maurice Pialat died in 2003. He came to film-making late, not making his first feature till the age of 44. He directed ten features since 1969, all of which are worth seeing – my favourites are Sous le soleil de Satan, Cop (both with Depardieu) and Van Gogh. A natural air to Robert Bresson and John Cassavettes, he's unfortunately largely unknown in the UK.

Sunday, September 05, 2010

Year Zero, And Then One

I was supposed to be going to Poland with Alan for new year’s, but his Christmas bonus hadn’t come through like he hoped it would. He told me this on the phone when I was at home, and half an hour later, Casey phoned me. I hadn’t heard from her in a month, thought I never would again, and wouldn’t have minded one way or the other. ‘You need more sustenance,’ she offers, as way of explanation for her silence. But we arrange to go away together, for we both want to be out of London for the millennium. At first it’s Poland, then Naples, Oslo, Copenhagen, Portugal, in fact just about every European country until we have to settle on Dublin; the cheapest fare, and hopefully a cheap stay, for Casey’s dad has a house in Dublin with spare bedrooms. She’d been meaning to see him for the past year (!). I’m none too enthusiastic about Dublin but Casey has promised me visions of children bareback on horses riding through town, Black Velvet, which is Guinness and Champagne, oysters and James Joyce. It sounds good enough.

I don’t hear from Casey for the next week, until she phones me on the Friday before the Saturday we’re going, and tells me, matter-of-factly, that she’s just going to meet her dad in London. So matter-of-factly in fact, that I don’t catch its full implication straight away. Then my brain puts the two and two together. ‘Your dad’s in London?’
‘Yes.’
‘Which means we’re not staying with him in Dublin?’
‘No.’
It also transpires that even if her dad wasn’t in London, he doesn’t actually live in Dublin, but thirty miles away from it.

And so, the following night we arrive in Dublin just like how it should be; late, dark, foggy and freezing, and eventually, after back and forwards between two stationary buses, we find ourselves with a lone lost Pakistani man waiting for a bus which should take us into town.

Said said he didn’t like the food, he didn’t like the weather, his stomach was bad, he had no idea what the food was, he’d been in the airport for three days and three nights, he’d never seen a multiplex cinema before, he wore a cheap tight leather jacket which made him look stiff and vaguely comical, his English was bad and he’d be the only person in this country that I’d find vaguely sympathetic and almost likable.

It had never occurred to me (I mean it was something I’d never thought about) that someone from the developing world would find the west such a culture shock. Secretly, very secretly, this was my revenge and I took a little bit of pleasure in it. Yes. This was payback time for all the stomach upsets I’d got, for all the five-hour late buses and trains, for the all the times stranded in the middle of nowhere. For dengue fever. Of course I felt sorry for him, but I was also secretly smiling. He got off the bus to find a mosque. We got off to find a hotel. We find one in a pub on the south side (everything is north or south).

We went out drinking and it didn’t really stop for three days. We went to all the wrong places, as usual. Just looking for a place with atmosphere. A good cup of coffee. A good pizza, yes, but with the right atmosphere. The atmosphere needed to be right. Atmosphere was everything. I mean, atmosphere is everything. It’s everything. All we’re looking for is things with an atmosphere. A party, yes, but also a city, a coffee shop, a house, a pub, a room, a restaurant. Romance. Like love, you can’t buy it, you can’t sell it, it just happens. I can’t find it in London, or if I can, it’s all wrong, contrived, stupid. And so with Dublin.*

Everyone has a great time in Dublin. But not us. Finally, along Temple Bar area, packed, a vaguely nice looking pizza-ish restaurant, with warmth (on a cold night in a strange city warmth can easily be swapped with atmosphere). I told Casey I’d read her emails (I'd guessed her password). I was racked with guilt. Maybe I was strange, weird. She took it well, with a smile. I paid for the meal. Even though most emails are automatically boring, just because of the notion of them (spontaneous, quick, etc), I was rather intrigued with Casey’s. But I was feeling Catholic guilt. I wanted to atone for my sins. She just looked at me and asked me my password and I told her.

Later, a biker pub downstairs where thrash metal is blasted out (in the next room a Beatles room where young beatniks in suede jackets sing harmonies then make a face at me – what have I done?) and everyone looks like circa. 1987. It is funny. Casey says humans are just a vessel for love. It goes through us, it’s not of our choosing and it’s nothing to do with us. It goes through us from outside. And choices and fate. Two feelings. It’s always the right choice. Casey says you find out the meaning of life with love. And I say no, with death. She smiles.

After: a nightclub (Aquarium?) where we sit down and can’t help but be mesmerised by the dance floor full of the saddest people we have ever seen in our lives. Casey sports black leather motorbike trousers with a red stripe going down the side, white boots and a faded, dirty denim jacket. I wear a fisherman’s coat. On the dance floor is a topless man with long straight hair going down to his arse. It’s head-banging night. He swings his hair around more vainly than a shampoo commercial. Casey says she reckons his hair is long just so he can dance in this nightclub. He adores himself. He adores his hair. People love him. I want to tell him he looks ridiculous. I so badly want to tell him he looks a dickhead.

Almost as bad is the retard. Well, I call him a retard to Casey and she hits me and goes moody. But he is. He must be all of eighteen. And he’s huge. Tall too. With a bad haircut and bad glasses and an eighties sense of fashion. In fact, no sense of fashion. It’s fair to say he was a geek, a nerd. Which is fine. But here he is dancing really intensely, shouting out lyrics, head-banging (avec shortish hair). Basically, he just looks out of place.

It’s rock metal night but everyone, well almost everyone (retard excluded) is dressed like a goth. It’s also goth night. Casey and I sit and laugh and watch the goth couples who sit together and don’t say a word to each other and look absolutely miserable. I think to myself: this is how a relationship should be: light and fun and just like friends. But what comes first: the friendship or the sex? Or both, or neither? And Casey says to me: she’s glad she’s here with me and not her (new) boyfriend. Having a partner is boring. It does involve sitting around, holding hands, not saying very much. I like Casey because we talk about everything, things you couldn’t talk about with a girlfriend. If I don’t get Casey as a girlfriend, I never want one, I say to myself. Shouldn’t it just naturally evolve from this? The goths are so funny, it’s a joke. And a little scary. And then I see someone who’s really scary.

A man with a bald head apart from a long ponytail. A long black coat. And his eyes. All black! I impulsively grab Casey’s arm. She’s like, oh yeah, black contacts, seen them before. I’m like, Jesus, he looks like an alien.

We meet Kyle and Frank who seem relatively normal, i.e. they could be in London and not be laughed at in public. Casey had been trying to score some dope in every establishment we went in. Which had been a lot. She’d go up to likely looking candidates and ask them if they knew where she could get some. Mostly, in fact totally, she’d been met by ignorance, at best, and shock and disdain at worst. But everyone seemed to concur that it was impossible to get marijuana in Dublin, let alone anything stronger. But Kyle and Frank seem to know where to get some. Hey, they’ve been to London. Casey gets on well with Frank; young, cocky, friendly, a sparkle in his kind eyes, and he likes Casey, and I ignore them both for half an hour, just watching the sad dancing, the shampoo advert and the geek have been dancing non-stop for hours, I’m starting to feel tired and sobering up. Then I’m rude to Frank, but we get to talking, and later he’s like saying to Casey, yeah I like your friend, I really know where he’s coming from, and I’m like to Casey, what’s he talking about, I haven’t told him a thing about myself. He told Casey he was an actor and me he was a milkman. It was time to go. I was bored.

Once back in our room we had a tremendous row. Casey thought I was jealous of Frank. I wasn’t, just trying to explain that he was full of shit and wanted to fuck her. Casey didn’t agree.

What can I say? I’m a selfish bastard and I want her all to myself? No. I can’t stand men hounding women? I’m just so bored of people? I mean, if they were the sort of guy who fancied Casey, I didn’t want to talk to them. If they spoke to her – I didn’t want to speak to them. If they didn’t speak to her – then I wanted to speak to them (!).

The next day we explored Dublin. In the rain, and the fog and the cold. Where the hell was the Dublin of Ryan’s daughter?

Rachel expected Bangkok to be wooden shacks, opium and sex, and Casey promised me Dublin with boys riding horses bareback in the street, oysters and Black Velvet (Guinness and Champagne). The north, where they supposedly drink cider with their Guinness on new year’s eve, is vaguely more interesting than the south. Where the hell was the atmosphere? I remember liking the river Liffey, dividing the city into north and south, just like London. We walked in the rain, then had a cup of coffee in the Habitat coffee shop, exhausted. Went back to bed. Then it was new year’s eve.

The thing about significant dates – new year’s eve 1999, 2001 – is they’re a letdown. The best way to spend a special date is to spend it boring, ordinary, and then it becomes more memorable. What did you do new year’s eve 1999? I was sitting in bed in a small, dark, over-priced sweaty B&B room in north Dublin watching cable TV while Casey coughed in her sleep next to me.

It means nothing that we’ve spent these historic dates together. I mean, I spent four Valentine day’s in a row with Rachel. That should have some meaning, no? Well it didn’t. I never find beautiful women sexy anyway. Like a beautiful painting, I don’t want to shag it, just look at it.

At five to midnight we managed to make it downstairs into the pub of our hotel. I had a Bourbon and Casey a Courvoisier. Midnight struck and I forgot to say happy new year to Casey. I was watching all the happy people singing, smiling and dancing. I nearly had a tear in my eye. Then Casey tapped me on my shoulder and wished me happy new year. We chinked glasses, downed them and went back to bed. My eyes were twitching I was so tired. We were insipid on new year's eve. “Her face had pillow marks on them” (her line).

New year’s day and the day after the papers (The Irish Mirror) were full of death. A 16 year-old girl had been killed along the coast, near Dublin. She had been sledging on her homemade toboggan, crashed and been thrown into a tree. Casey said it must have been a good way to go. Like the guy who’d fallen down drunk new year’s eve and been discovered frozen to death the next day.

‘Woman killed by beach landslide’
‘club chief “murdered by British rower”’
‘Nun, 72, killed in church attack horror’
‘Girl, 15, electrocuted crossing railway line’ (just a few minutes before midnight, new year’s eve)

We check into a hotel on the north side, something we should have done in the first place. Near the Temple Bar area, almost trendy. New Year’s day is nice and empty. Raining and cold.

Sometimes her facial features look so soft and round, melting, inviting, but most of the time they’re hard and chiseled, cold and embittered. Like with Rachel, my cigarette smoke was forever chasing Casey, hounding her, annoying her, getting in her eyes, so to speak.

We spent all evening trying to get a Black Velvet – Guinness and Champagne, one night too late. But most of the Off Licences were shut and the ones open didn’t sell champagne. SPAR only sells wine. Only one five-star hotel sells Champagne and it’s too expensive. There’s no oysters in sight either. In fact, it’s impossible to get hold of anything. Like: film for cameras, marijuana, basic stuff like that. In south Dublin they settle for cider and Guinness, and that’s fine for me. Casey won’t hear of such a thing. She buys half a bottle of Champers from the five-star hotel. Then we go back to ours.

At the steps of the Blooms hotel, we see some Scots wearing kilts. Casey, pissed, shouts out (embarrassingly), ‘Are you a punk?’ (Why, I don’t know.) She shouted again, and the Scot turned around, sees Casey, and exclaims, ‘Macey Gray!’ She seems to like this (what I think is a) form of racism. Tired of Casey’s ceaseless cravings for attention, I started walking up the stairs, then turned and saw as Casey bursts out laughing, puts her hand over her mouth and points towards the Scot. I walked into the hotel, Casey joined me and said, ‘Did you see that?’ ‘What?’ ‘Did you see his cock? He pulled up his kilt and showed his cock!’ ‘No, I missed that.’ ‘It was big, considering how cold it is.’

Casey turns on the TV in the hotel room and opens the bottle of champagne. Then, finally, without warning, I see her pink knickers (she’d told me about them; I’d fantasied about them), not actually pink for all that, but see-through black, with a pink lining. She shows them to me, from behind, exposing her behind, the pink fraying at the seams.

Then she takes her knickers off, sitting on the side of the bed, and changes into her black leggings and white top. She sits on the side of the bed, gazing dreamily at herself in the mirror. I don’t know what she sees, but finally maybe realises that guys who tell her she looks nineteen when in fact she is thirty-two tell her for one reason and one reason only, and the men who don’t fancy her actually have the guts to tell her she looks her age, and always has. She looks fucked. Maybe in a drunken state she realises this, and dreamily says, more to herself than to me, ‘Maybe I should have babies with James.’

After looking at her face, she goes to her breasts, propping them up with her hands. They’re saggy. She asks me what I think of them. She stands in the centre of the room, holding them up for me. I don’t even look; I’m watching TV, and I tell her they’re fine. What else can you say to a woman? Especially one who doesn’t fancy you? And loves a fat forty-one year old with no lips (who just happens to run a post-production company in Soho)?

But the night goes well, and we laugh and talk, laugh and talk, exercise and kick box. She touched my foot and told me how soft it was, for a man. She went on to caress it, and I pulled it away.

In bed, later, no idea of the time, but drunk, half asleep, exhausted:
I knew it was happening in real life, but I was only half-conscious, and the other half of me was dreaming this, feeling guilty about it: we were in the Irish countryside, the year was 1865, the nights were long and the days were short. We were in a school in a village. I was a teacher. Casey’s big, brown, shiny, naked body was a precursor to Joyce’s Ulysses. She was in the operating theatre, lifeless and naked on a wooden bench. I was reading her body to a class of students, reeling in guilt while doing it, but not stuttering, but knowing every teacher in Ireland will be reading her body (as part of a travelling exhibition), and feeling sorry for her, and stopping. I can’t remember the text on her body, I pulled away fast, before I got into the flow, and woke fast, hand on a buttock still, sober. Anyway, the text was written in a faded old-style manual typewriter manner.

About ten minutes later, drifting in and out of drunken sleep, I touched her face. She woke suddenly, which surprised me. ‘You just touched my face.’ ‘Sorry,’ I said. I thought it strange that she felt my hand on her face but not anywhere else. Maybe her face was more sensitive.

In the morning I decided not to tell Casey my half-dream. I wasn’t sure if she was conscious when it was happening. I mean, she had to be. I mean, she was responding. I mean, at some point she had kissed me. Kissing. What is kissing? A kiss is just a kiss, a miss, a hiss. I should have kissed the Mexican Mac Operator, the Venezuelan whore, the Cambodian princess... but I didn’t. It didn’t seem worth it. Most of the time it’s just not worth it. It makes things more complicated than they need be.

Finally, empty, on New Year’s day, Dublin has a bit of character. No shops are open. There’s no people. Is it just shops and people that makes every city in the western world identical?

The next day, Tuesday, packed with millions of people, the shops open, it could be any place, like London. It feels like London. People walk fast, and we bump into people, and walk the wrong way, feeling like stupid tourists, which we are.

In the cafe of the museum I told her about the two nights where we’d got, well, physical. I wondered why it hadn’t been laughed off in conversation before. I knew it had happened. But I told her, rather too casual, perhaps, too flippant, and she just stared at me unbelieving, an unbelieving smile on her face. ‘What?’ I knew already I had gone past the point of no return. I shouldn’t have told her, but I went on, wanting to put it all to an end, knowing, stuttering...

‘What are you talking about?’
‘—’
Incredulous.
I half thought she remembered, but half knew she didn’t and wanted to hurt her.
From now on, to say the least, things would be a bit strained between us.

On our last day we took the DART train to Sandycove and Glasthule, where Ulysses begins. A miserable day, except for the sky, on the way back. The sky was blue, a shock of blue, so blue, blue, blue, like an ocean, no one looking up but us two – us two freaks from London just looking up at the sky like we’d never seen a sky before. We hadn’t seen a blue sky in Ireland before.

Like on the DART train – one window with a different tint to the rest – making the sea look blue, green, when in fact it was grey, grey. By this point she was sitting at the other end of the carriage, pretending to be engrossed in The Times. She read Tuesday’s The Time’s from cover to cover.

I thought we were meant to fly kites on a beach in Japan, eat apples naked, dance through tulips, ride horses bareback through the Brecon Beacons, build our own wooden shack on the coast of Nova Scotia, work (design/film/photography/painting/writing) from home, and raise beautiful babies. Of course, it was never written in stone, and it never happened. Those kind of things rarely do. I ran the gauntlet of emotions to her, for nothing. I never had the guts to tell her all this. She would have just laughed.

Nicky (at Auto Trader magazine; a Mac operator, deeply pretentious) said a man doesn’t become interesting until he reaches thirty. She’s twenty three, and I didn’t ask her what age a woman becomes interesting.

She’s so hard to pin down (in London), I love going away with her. I love having her for the duration of the holiday, knowing (well, half-knowing) that she’s never going to leave my side, she’s mine, all mine, for a weekend, a week. I knew this was going to be our last journey together. I wanted the flight to be delayed, fog, then once we took off, why not, a crash, and I save her. We had a final pint of Guinness, and a final argument.

Jesus, I sat and waited forty-five minutes for her. I thought I was never going to see her again. I went to the toilet. The hotel had a burst water pipe and all the rooms were without hot water. I started to get the fear. Jesus. Maybe I did imagine making out with Casey. Christ. Maybe I was going crazy. Jesus Christ. Maybe I drunkenly dreamt it. What the hell was I thinking? I couldn’t distinguish between reality and fantasy. It had the hallmarks of insanity. I was insane. Weird. A pervert. Jesus Christ. I tried to change the subject and thought about Dublin. Jesus. Jesus was a harpoon.

We both agreed that we both lived 90% of our lives in our minds. Casey said her God, her ideal partner and her life were in her head, and so was mine.

But I don’t know, I don’t know, when I with her, there’s no one else in the whole world, there’s no one else I want to talk to, look at, or be with. Bob Dylan could be sitting at the coffee table next to us, and I’d be like, Bob, could you keep it down a bit. Her body is a Columbian housewife, her mind a little girl and an old spinster, a teenager and mother, all in the space of ten minutes.

But back in London at Heathrow airport, she was a new girl, mobile phone, I wasn’t interested, nor was she, and walked away before she did, to the toilet, a cigarette, a newspaper, change for a ten pound note, a breath of fresh air.

I guess after a few months of Champagne dinners and pizzas without meat or wheat and Woody Allen movies with James, it didn’t matter about the size of his cock or his non-lips or his dull mind or his three children or his... What does it matter? Let it all go.

At least I finally got my books back, slightly tattered.

It took Alan to put things into perspective for me. ‘Look, she’s fucked, flaky and fickle. She’s at the stage in life ... her clock’s ticking ... she needs a man with stability ... she’s been fucked about so much in her life ... she needs someone reliable ... with financial acumen ... okay, so he’s forty-one and ugly ... but he may be a nice guy ... and he does own a post-production company in Soho ... There comes a stage in a woman’s life when she needs stability, not excitement.'

I said to Alan, ‘Man, I’ve got to get rich,’ but it lacked conviction, and he just chuckled. I was never going to be rich.

After a few days back in London I checked my emails in the local cybercafe. My password had been changed, and it took me the next day getting a new one. I had to write to Microsoft twice, and get them to send me a new password to my dad’s email address. At the back of my mind I was thinking, no, it wasn’t Casey, she’s not like that. She’s fickle and fucked, but not vindictive.

When I got my new password, and the Mexican girl at the cafe helped me change the language from German back to English, I realised every email Casey had ever written me had been deleted. I was shocked and shaken, and even got the fear again. Maybe I had never known her. Maybe I dreamt her. This lasted some seconds, then it passed.

At the risk of sounding pretentious, I read that Hemingway could never write about a place until he left it, and I knew I’d never be able to write about Casey until she left me.

I liked her because she had standards. A good cup of coffee. A good pizza. The atmosphere needed to be right. Atmosphere was everything. I mean, atmosphere is everything. It’s everything. All we’re looking for is things with an atmosphere. A party, yes, but also a city, a coffee shop, a house, a pub, a room, a restaurant. Romance. Like love, you can’t buy it, you can’t sell it, it just happens. I can’t find it in London – atmosphere or love, or if I can, it’s all wrong, contrived, stupid, self-conscious.*

What makes stereotypes stereotypes? Truth is what. Ireland is backwards. The people are a bit backdated. It’s true. It’s impossible to get hold of anything. Maybe it’s the time of the year. Of course. Maybe it’s just me.

And you know what? I don’t like Guinness.
‘—’

*Further repetition about atmosphere can also be found here.

(Dublin, Ireland, 2000; you – as well as me – will be pleased to learn that this was the last journey with Casey, and we never got in touch with each other again. Probably for the best. Collectively titled Four Journeys in a Year, here they all are again: The Cherry Tree (a sort of introduction); The Stowaway; Codeine Nights; Still/Rise: The World is Enough; and Year Zero, And Then One (this one). If this blog isn't a form of catharsis, I don't know what is.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Rubinise Me

It's well known that seemingly over-the-hill musicians such as Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond had their careers resurrected by producer Rick Rubin but could he do the same with actors?

Let's take one such has-been: Hugh Grant – once thought to be the modern equivalent of Cary Grant, even though he can't act and has never been in a good film – has been in a bit of slump recently, what with his foppish manner, floppy hair and bumbling charm perhaps now out of date. What's needed is the Rubiniser to breath some life back into his work by suggesting a back to basics approach: a low-budget film shot in England. Rubin will produce and perhaps, why not, put Ken Loach at the helm. Or maybe have Grant as a Kenneth Williams-type in a Carry On film. I'll leave the details to Rick.

Maybe Rubin could extend his range even more and do some life coaching. Perhaps the average Joe needs a bit of Rubinising. We all get a bit bored of ourselves and need a bit of re-inventing once in a while. What better man to do it?