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Wednesday, August 20, 2014

When it comes to The Band it's sad stories wherever you look

Saw the Levon Helm documentary Ain't In This For My Health, which was slight but not without interest.

I was particularly interested in Elizabeth Danko, widow of Rick, who's the most forthright interviewee in the film. We see pictures of a sleek rock star wife on board a private jet during the Bob Dylan/Band tour in 1974. Then we see her as an elderly woman living in a not very posh retirement home in Woodstock. Rick had died and there can't have been much income even when he was around. The PRS from the use of This Wheel's On Fire on Absolutely Fabulous wouldn't pay many doctor's bills, particularly if you took as little care of yourself as Rick did.

I went looking for more information about her and found that she died since the film came out. Elizabeth was Danko's second wife. Then I read he had a son Eli from his first marriage. Eli died at the age of 18 in a binge drinking incident at college. The local coroner called the Danko house three times, wishing to speak to the boy's father or mother and tell them about his findings. Nobody got back to him.

Funny how Robbie Robertson talked in The Last Waltz about the road being "a godamn impossible way of life". That was 1976. In truth The Band hadn't toured anything like as much as, say, Jethro Tull, so it's difficult to know quite what he was talking about. It was a good line. For most of them it seems life got a whole lot more impossible once the touring stopped.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Tramps like us, baby, we were born to jump

Jessica Springsteen, daughter of Bruce Springsteen and Patti Scialfa, has been in London this week, competing in the Longines Global Champions show jumping tour.

Other competitors included Sofia Abramovic, daughter of Roman, and Athina Onassis de Miranda, only surviving descendant of Aristotle Onassis.

I'm sure Jessica's very good. Her ambition is to represent the USA at the next Olympics. Best of luck to her.

There's a line in Springsteen's song "The Wish" about "the things that guitar bought us". It always makes you think about cars or jewels. What it should really make you think of is unprecedented social mobility.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

The words "Oscar winner" tell us nothing

This headline from today's New York Times site seems to be the right way to memorialise somebody.

What they were, what they did and then what they won. In that order.

All too often nowadays, in its unseemly haste to have something to say before it's worked out what's worth saying, 24 hour rolling news leads its deaths stories with "Oscar winner" or "Grammy winner" as if that was the thing that made the person notable rather than the (usually belated) recognition of their being of note.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Why I'll never know if The Goldfinch has a good ending

I once walked out of a screening of Pearl Harbour ten minutes before the end. Considering at that point I'd put up with its shortcomings for over three hours you might have thought I would have stayed for that last bit of action. I didn't because it's long- windedness had made me so cross I wanted to strike back in the only way available to me. You may have had my money but I'm damned if you're going to waste another ten minutes of my life.

I've just bailed out of Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch around page 700, which is a hundred pages from the end. I'd been reading it on holiday this week and for most of that time I enjoyed it: good premise, a few excellent characters and lots of educational material about the world of fake antiques. But I fell out with it for the same three reasons I fall out with so many books.

1. The hero goes through a major drugs phase. I'm sure drugs can be enormous fun to take but they're always tedious to read about.

2. It gets violent near the end. Violence has its place in fiction. I think it should be dealt with in a paragraph. If you're expecting me to keep track of who's got the deadliest weapon and which room in the house they're lurking in and expecting me to remember the name of more than one wrong un then frankly you're talking to the wrong reader.

3. In straining for a finish that justifies what's gone before, the book tired me out. It spends the last three hundred pages pumping itself up for a big finish. During that time I lost the thread, lost interest in finding out how it ended and eventually, somewhere under the Channel on Le Shuttle, gave up.

I learned a lot about the endings of stories when we were doing True Stories Told Live. Since having an ending is the thing which distinguishes fiction from real life, it's the bit that the storyteller agonises most about, often to the detriment of the story.

What storytellers fail to realise is that even if we're enjoying things we can't wait for them to end. Films, concerts, parties, novels, it's all the same.

I think it was Oscar Hammerstein who said, give them a good opening number and they'll forgive you anything.

I think it was me who said the best ending is always the one that comes along soonest.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

What my grandparents wore to the beach

I guess this was taken on the beach at Filey in the late 1950s. Left to right: my maternal grandfather Leonard, me, my grandmother Lois (pronounced Loyce.)

That's how my grandparents dressed to go to the seaside. If they were going to be seen in public there was no question of not putting on their best. Leonard wore a shirt (possibly with a stiff collar), tie, stout sweater, equally substantial trousering, golfing socks, highly-polished shoes and his best cap. Lois appears to be wearing pearls and is certainly guarding her best handbag.

I never saw my grandad out in public in a shirt without a tie. The very notion of him owning a pair of shorts would have seemed disrespectful. You could say the same about granny and trousers.

Granny and grandad weren't in any way posh but they were profoundly respectable. The clothes they wore were the outward expression of that respectability. Particularly on the beach.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

When Ralph Coates was traded across the Harry Fenton Line

It's the time of year football clubs shuffle their playing staffs, moving young stars on to bigger clubs, despatching yesterday's stars to Hull.

These days they'll tend to arrive all looking the same, stepping out of blacked-out SUVs in skinny jeans and expensively distressed tee shirts, accompanied by disreputable-looking agents, everyone nervously fondling their mobiles.

If they sign they will swiftly move into the local millionaires' enclave. Once installed behind the security gates with their wife, family and dependent relatives, they need only to establish the route to the training ground, golf club and beauty parlour to be able to pick up life precisely as it was at their previous club a few hundred miles away.

 It's an interesting time to be re-reading The Glory Game, Hunter Davies's definitive inside story of the 1971-72 season at Tottenham Hotspur. It begins with the arrival of Ralph Coates from Burnley for £190,000, at that time a cash record for a British player. When Ralph was first told of the deal he said "no player's worth that", which gives you some idea of his modesty.

He and his wife don't have a house and so the club put them in a first floor flat on Green Lanes in Palmers Green. There's no phone or TV. I've lived near Green Lanes for the last forty years and there's never been a time when you could have imagined it as a suitable place to put a top footballer.  Even though it was widely accepted back then that top footballers were wealthy men, earning in some cases more than £200 a week, the Coateses worry about being able to afford the £15,000 needed to buy a house in the South.

When they get changed for their first pre-season training session, the rest of the squad, who were predominantly Southerners, stare at Coates's pointed shoes and narrow trousers, still the mark of the Northerner who hadn't gone South. They congratulate him on his shirt. He says thanks, not realising they're joking.

1971 was the year the flared trouser began to arrive on every High Street via chains like Take Six and Harry Fenton. After that we were all just as in fashion or out of fashion as each other. Maybe Ralph was the last man to move from the old world to the new.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Was that the most men-against-boys football match of all time

Imagine you were managing an under-13 football team and their star striker got injured before a big cup tie. They might suggest to you that they wanted to take the shirt of the missing player out and hold it up  during the pre-match formalities. It's the kind of idea over-excited small boys have.

You would quietly tell them that you didn't think that was a good idea. You'd be thinking, I want the team concentrating on what they're going to do in the match, not indulging in this gesture of self-pity.

They lost 7-1. The Brazilians were playing a sentimental game in their heads. The Germans were playing an actual game on the pitch. I loved it. Half the fun of football is watching it go wrong for other people. What I liked about it most was the muted German celebrations after each goal. I think we need more of that kind of thing.