31 December 2008

Summer ear-worm

As much as I like melancholic music, I prefer my pop to come from the sunnier side of the street. I've been playing this song most days for the last couple of months: 'Wraith Pinned to the Mist (And Other Games)' by Of Montreal. From their 2005 album The Sunlandic Twins, on this number Of Montreal are like the Scissor Sisters meet the Beach Boys, but musically they are all over the place. Led by Kevin Barnes, they were originally from Athens, Georgia. Turns out they're visiting New Zealand soon, playing the King's Arms in Auckland on February 25, and Wellington's San Francisco Bath House on February 26. This clip from a recent Letterman show may give an idea of what to expect.

The self-confidence man

Native Wit, by Hamish Keith (Random House, $45)

HKcover Reviewed by Chris Bourke

It is the Summer of Love, 1967, and Hamish Keith is passing through San Francisco on a fact-finding trip funded by the cultural arm of the CIA. He turns on, tunes in, and takes notes. A “witchy folksinger” introduces him to rock sloganeer Country Joe, famous for his Fish and other four-letter words. He asks Keith what he does for a living. Or rather: “What is your bag, man?”

“Art historian.”

“Jeez, man,” says Joe. “What a shit of a way to change the world.”

Keith returns from his four-month trip a changed man, though outwardly everything seemed the same: his job, his family, his ambitions. He has the title of a Colin McCahon painting going through his mind: Tomorrow will be the same but not as this is.

Had the “safe, comfortable and respectably smug art historian” become a hippie? Not quite, but Country Joe’s words were right – and wrong. Keith now realised that art had to “re-enlist” in the world, and he had to engage more effectively with the world using art and culture as his vehicle. As the title of his recent tour-de-force television series suggested, he could see The Big Picture.

His first step was to stand for Labour in the bluer-than-blue seat of Remuera in 1969, to put culture on the political agenda. The manifesto now seems prescient; co-written by ideas-tsunami Gordon Dryden, it championed tourism, electronic education and the “creative industries”.

At the ballot-box the campaign was a failure but it was flamboyant, challenging, good fun and talked a great deal of sense. The same words could describe this memoir, and there is no need for a re-count: Keith has emerged, of course, the winner. Native Wit captures him in full flight, at the dinner table and at the pulpit. One suspects that for this gifted raconteur, the dinner table has always been a pulpit, and we can sit back and enjoy the anecdotes, the aphorisms and the acerbic asides.

The title is just right, capturing his cheek and his nationalism. It comes from a school report, in which his Christ’s College teacher wrote, “Gets by on native wit unsupported by hard work.” It has got him this far, though Keith is self-aware enough to also the dedication to thank “Luck, Pluck and Impudence.”

He often talks about having “a conversation with art”; the good thing about art, or television, or a memoir, is that there is no one to interrupt the flow. Keith has been on the cultural stage a long time, and the solo show is his best format.

HKbeardBut there are walk-on roles for an extraordinary bunch of characters. Drinking partners range from Mama Cass – who helped keep sobriety at bay during an Atlantic crossing – to Colin MacInnes. The English writer of Absolute Beginners stumbled into Keith near Auckland’s Kiwi Hotel, 1960s watering hole to students and aesthetes. Did he know where he could find a drink, and some art? The evening finishes in Keith’s front yard, with the pair watering a lemon tree without a can, alongside Colin McCahon, Eric McCormick, Maurice Shadbolt and others. He hosts a soiree for Germaine Greer, gatecrashed by lesbians with Alsatians. At a London dinner party he pontificates about script-writing then, after a guest departs, asks who that was: he seemed knowledgeable. “Harold Pinter. He writes plays.”

There are scores settled, usually with humour, against bureaucrats, arts cant, vandals, philistinism and the occasional friend who let him down. Mostly he keeps his family out of it; of his first marriage he says, “Honesty is not a licence to wound anyone, but about my part in what happened I can be more forthcoming.” Early on his heart is badly broken, first by a Christchurch debutante who runs into him on her bicycle (“Sorry,” she says, “I was thinking in French”). Later, he is seduced by a flaky bohemian jazz singer: “I was a boy, I was in love”. They have a child, adopted out.

An alter ego emerges, the womanising Captain Macheath: “not a good role model for sustainability.” A hearty participant in the contemporary sexual mores, he rues the hurt caused while also looking back with languor: “I behaved wonderfully badly.”

Besides the repertoire of outrageous stories, the book is dominated by his love affair with art. He shares his enthusiasms – Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, Pat Hanly, Len Lye, Tony Fomison – and his passion is contagious. He speaks about art with such clarity, it is understandable that he has been so prominent as an advocate and agitator. The wilfully obscure arts apparatchiks may resent his high profile as gatekeeper and spokesman (chairman of the Arts Council in the 1970s, and of the futile “Heart of the Nation” exercise in 2000) but one of Keith’s main contributions has been his role as a plain-speaking devil’s advocate. He learnt to enjoy the pleasant sensation of having ideas that annoy people.

This is a life as a moveable feast, with a self-belief and cultural nationalism as its guide. During the journey he takes detours to expound on pet topics: heritage buildings, cars, committees, the vandalism towards Maori art (all that red paint), blockbuster exhibitions, sport as our national brand, state subsidies and also state miserliness. All accompanied by maxims, dropping like petals from a parade: Don’t get too attached to public art. Auckland teaches architecture but destroys it. When vision fails, process remains. Never let a good idea get in the hands of dumb people.

His current favourite epitaph is, “I told you it would happen but not in my lifetime.” Society hates a smart aleck, especially when they are right. Keith exhibits the self-assuredness of the self-made man (for years he has wanted to parody Ronald Hugh Morrieson with the line, “The day my father went bankrupt he enrolled me at Christ’s College”). But there is pathos to being a cultural early-warning system; at one point he asks, “Is anyone listening?”

A true conversation goes two ways, and now that this entertaining and provocative memoir has been produced, some may want a right of reply. That would be the response of a committee, and surely, Keith would argue, we are capable of something more creative.

(First published in the Sunday Star-Times, 14 September 2008. A transcript of Keith interviewing Pat Hanly in 1979 can be read at the Art New Zealand site.)

30 December 2008

Lost in music

charlie and billyThe New York Times edits an elegant sound montage of the musicians farewelled in 2008, and tells the story behind the most famous song by one of them. Lew Spence (below) composed ‘Nice ’n’ Easy,’ best known in its 1960 rendition by Frank Sinatra, although I prefer Charlie Rich's after-hours version from the late 1960s (Rich is seen here with the producer of it, Billy Sherrill). Spence's niece Toni Schulman described her uncle thus:

lew spence “He was very romantic. He loved women his whole life. He threw himself in over and over. When he met a woman he was attracted to, he was a goner. Once he met a woman wearing a green dress. There was no looking back. In the end, all he was left with was his song, ‘That Green Dress.’ My uncle had a very soft side to him, but he was not a cautious person. He was not nice ’n’ easy.”

20 December 2008

19 December 2008

Gentle Annie, 1931

GA1Something for those planning a motoring excursion this summer. Earlier this year came news that the notorious “Gentle Annie” road between Taihape and Napier would finally be sealed. In some ways this is a shame, though it has been a torturous, narrow, winding road since pioneering days, with 60km in gravel that doesn't make it any easier. But you are rewarded with wonderful views of the backblocks, where high country stations run to the tens of thousands of acres. And driving west to east - the best way to go - a panoramic vista of Hawke Bay opens up in front of you. Unfortunately some of the “tiger country” aspect of the trip has lost its adventurous feel, as bends get straightened out and plantations of pines at the Hawke's Bay end have covered the rugged, rocky ground where no sheep could ever get a feed. I just came across this account of a road trip from Auckland to Napier over the Gentle Annie in the week of the 1931 Napier earthquake; it's a shame the author is anonymous, and the make of motor vehicle.

A Trip to the ’Quake Area

When news of the Hawke’s Bay earthquake was received in Auckland last Tuesday, a friend of mine who has relatives in Napier telephoned me to say that he was setting out for the devastated area at once. Would I come? There was but one reply. I hurriedly packed a suit of pyjamas, a toothbrush, a bottle of whisky and a loaf of bread into my oldest suitcase, bundled a travelling rug under my arm, for we realised that we might have to sleep out, and off we went.

The whisky, I might explain, was not for the driver’s consumption. It was intended for sufferers in the earthquake area, as was the bread. None we found in Napier was in urgent need of either whisky or bread, but they were not wasted.

We left Auckland on Tuesday afternoon, making for Taupo. At that time no definite news had come through as to the state of the roads, and we hoped to get through the shortest way, by the direct route from Taupo.

GA4 THROUGH THE NIGHT

The powerful car left mile after mile behind her. We maintained a high average speed, as was necessary if, as we proposed, we were to go right through that night. To Taupo in six hours was good going, especially as the Atiamuri road, which we took, is not in the best order. The inevitable stoppages for benzene, oil, and one stop for puncture near Tirau, slowed the rate of speed.

At Taupo the only news from outside regarding the earthquake was coming over the air. We encountered one distracted woman who, while going to dinner at her hotel in Rotorua, had heard the radio announcement of the death of her daughter, a nurse in the Napier hospital. She, like ourselves, was making for Napier but there was no telephone communication beyond Tarawera and advices at Taupo were strongly against attempting the road. As we were debating whether or not to “give it a go,” a Baby Austin pulled into the hotel. Its driver had turned back from Te Pohue. Beyond that point, he said, was chaos. As it happened, he could, as we later found, have got through by way of Rissington side road, but had not known of its existence. We assumed that this, too, was blocked, and decided to attempt the little known Taihape-Napier road, one of the steepest and most picturesque motor runs in the country.

ROUND THE LAKE

After supper and a cup of stimulating tea, we pushed on from Taupo. The change in the route was to add many miles to our journey. From Taupo, the way led round the lake to Tokaanu, across to Waiouru by way of the lonely back road, and on past Hihitahi to the Moawhango turnoff.

A bright moon made driving easier, but it was nevertheless a great strain, as we were making all possible speed. Some parts of the Taupo-Tokaanu road are difficult. Notably the winding descent of the steep-sided fissure known at Earthquake Gully. Owing to the  fords at the southern end of the lake, we decided to wait till daylight, and pulled into the scrub for three hours of fitful sleep (interspersed with vicious slaps at mosquitoes).

In the daylight the driving was easier, but we were a a crumpled and dishevelled looking band when we alighted from the car at Tokaanu. The road on to Waiouru has been much improved of recent years, but here again there are several river crossings, and for several miles out from Tokaanu the roads wind continuously. Near Waiouru some long flat stretches across the lonely, arid countryside allowed us to make up time. On the main road from Waiouru we could at times touch 60 miles an hour, but the turn off to Moawhango, where a heavily-laden signpost showed us the direction to be taken, took us again into the hills.

TOWARD THE EAST

We were now heading eastward for Napier. The country was fairly lofty, but good sheep land. The road continuously twisted and turned. On our left was the 10,000 acre sheep run of TC Lowry, the New Zealand cricket captain. AT length we reached Erewhon station, a very pretty place, and began the descent into the deep valley of the Rangitikei, which is crossed by a modern concrete suspension bridge. We had been rather ga2worried about the bridge, as we feared the earthquake might have brought it down. From the river the road ascends on to the lonely Otupae plateau, consisting of very elevated tussock country. Looking back from one of the many gates, there was a glorious view of Mount Ruapehu, a long line of peaks. The sides of the undulating plateau, several miles away, fell into dark valleys, whence rose steeply-scarped peaks.

Coming off the plateau, the road runs on top of a high saddle, sloping to a river one each side. This river, the Taruarau, joins the Ngaruroro lower down. Winding down the spur, we at length crossed a crazy old bridge, followed grass tracks across a paddock, and immediately rose into the hills again. All this is great deer-stalking country, steep, lonely, and bleak.

GENTLE ANNIE

Through a pretty glen we reached a dangerous looking ford, with a terrific gradient on the other side. A few more miles of this brought us to the crest of Gentle Annie, commanding a wonderful view over the upper Ngaruroro, with the hamlet of Kuripapango down below us. The descent of Gentle Annie, by a corkscrew road round slopes hundreds of feet in depth, was a hair-raising experience. Crossing the Ngaruroro on a bridge high above the water, we stopped for a few minutes at Snelling’s accommodation house, with its wonderful collection of deer heads, and then pushed on over the last of the main ranges.

In the old days Studholme, GP Donnelly, Birch brothers, and others of the old-time squatters packed their wool out by this route. Now it is becoming a passable road for motorists, though not commended for nervous people. After descending the Blowhard, the last big hill, another hour or so took us into Napier. Careful driving was necessary, as the roads were cracked and fissured.

In Napier were many Auckland motorists. We formed a camp with some others in a swaying garage at what had once been one of Napier’s finest private residences. The whisky came in useful, for whenever a marine or other sentry stopped us from traversing a road along which we wanted to go, we simply produced the whisky bottle and it acted as a talisman.

NZ Observer, 12 February 1931

(Maps from the top: Philips' New Comparative Dominion Atlas, 1932; Atlantic Union Oil map, 1932; AARD Motor Services Association, 1932 - the latter two are details from Map New Zealand: 100 Magnificent Maps from the Collection of the Alexander Turnbull Library (Godwit, Auckland: 2006) which is indeed magnificent.)

09 December 2008

Annals of Journalism

1. Playboy Jazz Festival

From today's Associated Press:

NEW YORK (AP) -- Playboy Enterprises says Christie Hefner, the daughter of founder Hugh Hefner, is stepping down as chairman and chief executive. Playboy Enterprises Inc has named director Jerome Kern to serve as interim non-executive chairman while it looks for a replacement.

And, in a radical move for Playboy, Cole Porter has been announced its first gay CEO.

2. Creative writing

"To Kill a Songbird," by the NZ Herald's award-winning columnist Paul Holmes.

Please help. Is this satire, or was that a jazz cigarette?

3. Fortune teller

Why the Times Literary Supplement doesn't have a business page:

"Iceland is a success story, even by Scandinavian standards. It was
ranked first in the world in the most recent table of the United Nations Development Programme's Human Development Index rankings and regularly appears in lists of the world's happiest countries. The abundant geothermal energy and buoyant economic conditions go hand in hand with a well-balanced society whose cultural output belies its small size and population."

- Lucy Dallas, 'Hopelandic glory,' TLS, 11 July 2008

08 December 2008

A love that lasts forever



Graham Reid talks to Yoko Ono and reviews Philip Norman's new biography; Kim Hill talks to the author.

Meanwhile, the dream is over ...

07 December 2008

Aftermath

Gimme_Shelter_poster1. Just a kiss away
I hadn't heard of Baird Bryant but he was responsible for one of the most gripping images in a documentary. There were 20 cameramen at Altamont, but he was the one who filmed Meredith Hunter being murdered by the Hell's Angels. Bryant's footage captured a moment that revealed Hunter was carrying a pistol. In a brilliant idea - which would give a PR agent conniptions now - the editor of Gimme Shelter Charlotte Zwerin suggested they show the clip to Mick Jagger, and film him while he watched it. When the violence broke out at Altamont, Jagger limply said to the crowd, "Who's fighting and what for?" The Angels, who looked like extras from Planet of the Apes on PCP, didn't take a damn bit of notice of the camp limey. Still one of the greatest music documentaries - it has a real, edgy narrative that builds to a climax, and terrific music - Gimme Shelter was the Maysles brothers' masterpiece, and not equalled until Dig. But Bryant, who died recently aged 81, did more than just hold a camera on that day: he shot the folk-rock doco Celebration at Big Sur and also the trippy New Orleans sequence in Easy Rider. In the 1950s he hung out with Ginsberg and Burroughs in Paris, drafted an early translation of The Story of O and wrote erotica. Celebration at Big Sur captures the sun setting on California hippies at a festival in 1969, with early footage of Joni Mitchell and CSNY, plus John Sebastian and Joan Baez; it's cut up into bite-sized portions on YouTube. But here is Bryant's most famous moment ...

2. Standing in the shadows

Elvis at a last supper with greaseball apostles, Little Richard as circus act, Jerry Lee Lewis in all manner of sleazy incarnations, the Beatles taking tea with the Queen ... these unforgettable images were by Guy Peellaert, the illustrator of the classic Rock Dreams, who died recently. His air-brushed, hallucinogenic portraits of the rock'n'roll pioneers said more than 1000 verbose rock critics. The captions were by the master of the one-liner, Nik Cohn, Bob Dylan Guy Peellaert Rock Dreamsand as Paul Rambali said, they were "a reminder that brevity is the soul of pop." A sample: "Sam Cooke. Sam Cooke, shot dead in a motel, was black but dressed up white, sang Soul but wrote Teendreams, wagged his ass but gently, with a certain deference." Peellaert spent three years on the drawings, Cohn just a fortnight on the captions, and it sold a million copies. (What took Cohn so long? His timeless rock history Awopbopaloobop Alopbamboom only took six weeks.) Jagger hired Peellaert to paint the cover of It's Only Rock'n'Roll, Bowie for Diamond Dogs (the dog/man's testicles were later painted out), Scorsese for the poster of Taxi Driver, Wim Wenders for Paris, Texas. Michael Herr (Dispatches) wrote the foreward to a Rock Dreams reissue. For a salon of cynicism, Peellaert was court portraitist. All the images from Rock Dreams are on his website, along with his other books.

3. Woke up this morning
LOWRY_cartoon_415703a

… and wondered who is killing the graphic artists of rock’n’roll? The third to go to the great inkwell in the sky is the NME cartoonist Ray Lowry. Over many years he took the michael out of solipsistic rock musicians and their fans, and thought up endless variations on the opening line of Robert Johnson’s ‘Walking Blues’. But his most famous piece of artwork is the cover of the Clash’s London Calling, for which he took a Pennie Smith photo of Paul Simonon smashing his guitar and turned it into an update of Elvis’s first album.

06 December 2008

Talking Blues

1. New Zild Spoke Here

The Dominion Post's official curmudgeon Karl Du Fresne recently wrote an impassioned post about the decline of the
New Zealand accent. Apparently it is happening very quickly - too fast - and being driven mostly by young women. A few years ago TVNZ made one of those cheap, quickie compilation programmes looking at "The 80s". The most surprising thing about it was the over-elocuted way of speaking used by our public broadcasters such a short time ago. They sounded like aliens from another planet, their speech completely at odds with the population at the time. Much of what Du Fresne says is hard to argue with - TV sports broadcasters in particular make me grimace - but I have a problem with the phrase "misguided egalitarianism". I think I prefer that to the spurious elitism conveyed by those of a previous generation, often from the so-called "better schools". As Du Fresne and I both attended the same Dickensian asylum, 10 years apart, there is no class struggle in my comments. But the argument that broadcasters should reflect their community has been kicked around for a while, as this 1954 piece from Truth shows. It was written just after the first QE2 roadshow; obviously there weren't too many Irish accents on air back then.

accents 5

This last comment [Truth continues] is usually based upon the choice of YA announcers' accents (all emphatically, but not always authentic, BBC). The BBC is a well-regarded institution in New Zealand and, as it has already demonstrated most convincingly during the Coronation, it records and describes British national spectacles most convincingly.
     Critics of NBS announcing accents want to know why more typically New Zealand voices cannot be used when the setting of the spectacle is in New Zealand. The typical New Zealand voice - if there is such a thing - is most definitely not that of most YA announcers.
     If the pronounced New Zealand accent does not come well over the air, there are many varieties of it that do.
     Another criticism is that too many ecstatic adjective were used by some of the NBS announcers. There is no doubt whatever about the enthusiasm of New Zealand crowds and their admiration for her Majesty and the Duke.

     Critics think that fewer adjectives and a more factual description of the scenes of enthusiasm would have emphasised this point instead of conveying a faint suggestion of being forced and overdone.
     For instance, it is argued, the best way to demonstrate the enthusiasm of a crowd is not merely to keep on repeating that it is enthusiastic in tones of mounting frenzy, but to describe some of the examples immediately in front of the observer.
     This is a recognised BBC technique and the NBS could copy this, possibly with more effect than by copying the BBC accent.
     But, on the whole, the consensus of opinion is that the NBS is doing well, if according to an orthodox pattern.
2. Having a blow

DR jitterbug headlineA three-day
jazz festival in Wellington next March offers a very approachable but credible line-up, with recent stars the Brad Mehldau Quartet and the acclaimed 14-piece Mingus Big Band from New York, along with bluesmen Otis Taylor and Eric Bibb, vibraphonist Roy Ayers, and some chap called Tomasz Stanko, who is known as the Polish Miles Davis.
     It seemed odd that they are billing this as Wellington's inaugural jazz festival, after the very successful 11-year run of the Wellington International Jazz Festival (I can understand they are unaware of the groundbreaking 1950s jazz festivals). What's in a word? Meanwhile, this crossed my desk, from Wellington's Evening Post in 1966:
The wail of a sad blue note would be the true Wellington jazzman's reply to thoughts on the tenor of the trade here today.
     The city's sound of '66 is the roaring whang of the hirsute breed in their Carnaby-offshoot clothing. Gear that's fab, mod, and the electronic oomph hold domination of the scene.
     Jazz, or what there is of it, has been driven off Main Street. It has slipped itself into the coffee-and-cream costume for the candle-lit environs of the wine and dine, where white-cloaked waiters hover in the background ...
     True jazz, then, in the Capital is currently down. But it's not out. It will come again. This is the way it has always been, for Wellington jazz is one long chapter of rise and decline.

30 November 2008

It's my birthday too, yeah

Rutles It was a special moment when two guests I had booked for a radio programme met in the green room. One was Neil Innes, of Rutles and Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band fame, and Python first cousin. The other was Noel Crombie, who helped put Python into Split Enz, and a man not untouched by the Bonzos. Both men wear their dada-ism lightly and are wry, no-fuss gentlemen whose success never quite managed to reach the polluting level of real fame. After his interview Innes was happy to sit and chat, even about his recently deceased close friend George Harrison (especially his love of gardening).

It's been the 40th anniversary of the Beatles' "White Album" this week, and while the flurry of coverage didn't bring any new insights, just thinking about it is almost synaesthetic. It was the third record I ever owned, and when I received it for my birthday I was so musically naive that it was like learning to read and then being given the Shorter Oxford Dictionary and being told, have fun. Now that music and popular culture is inescapable it's hard to fathom, but it was 18 months before I got another record, so it was just as well it is such a rich album. It can take you in any number of directions from Chuck Berry to Noel Coward to Stockhausen to  Bert Jansch, country, reggae, white blues ... and then there's 'Happiness is a Warm Gun'.

But I've just realised that it's the 30th anniversary of the Rutles' film All You Need Is Cash. When it was first shown in 1978, it was before videos, but so perfect was it as a parody that one instantly knew the best lines forever (without becoming a Python parrot-reciting bore, promise). From the start in New Orleans, meeting an old bluesman ("He's lyin!" says Blind Lemon Peel's wife. "Last week he said he started the Everly Brothers!") to their first manager's mother explaining what her dead son saw in the band ("It was the trousers ... they were ... tight") to their demise with the Let It Rot project ("released as a film, an album and a lawsuit") and their brutish last manager Allen Decline ("a man whose right hand never knew who his left hand was doing"), it was brilliant and unforgettable.

When I met Derek Taylor a few years later - he is parodied as Eric Manchester, and played by George Harrison - he was happier to talk Rutles than Beatles. They were probably more interesting to him by that stage and, besides, he was a director of Rutland Weekend Television. But he was too discreet to mention the then-unknown dark side of the Rutles: Neil Innes was sued for plagiarism of the Beatles' songs by ATV, who then owned Northern Songs (before selling the catalogue to Michael Jackson). This had nothing to do with the Beatles, who had to sell Northern to split up the band, and were actually great friends of Innes and the other Rutles. Harrison saw Python as the Beatles' true successors and one day Innes went around to visit Harrison at his home. Ringo was there, and they greeted Innes with a chorus of 'Ouch!' - the Rutles' parody of 'Help!'. Harrison also helped get the Rutles' film made and - so I read in the December issue of The Word - Lennon was also a fan, even warning Innes that 'Get Up And Go' in the rooftop scene was 'a bit close'. No, this was between lawyers not musicians, and ATV had more cash for lawsuits, so Innes settled by signing over 50 percent of his royalties and relinquishing the right to put his name in the credits. Ironically the Rutles were hugely influential in their own right: without them, no tribute-band industry, and no songs by Oasis, which are like the Rutles devoid of wit, intelligence or much melody. Liam Gallagher thought the Rutles were a real band: is that because the concept was so clever, or he is so fick?

11 November 2008

04 November 2008

John Rowles on Girls

(From the programme for a 1970 Kerridge-Odeon tour)

John Rowles on Girls ... or IF I ONLY HAD TIME!

When deeply engrossed in a hectic recording session or straphanging in a crowded tube on his way to an engagement, John Rowles will suddenly close his eyes, sigh and transfer his thoughts to a golden beach, pretty girls and relaxing.

At 22 John considers he is far too young to think of getting serious with a girl but he loves their company. Holiday time to him is the one big break of the year in which to completely relax physically and mentally and simply refuses to be tied down to one girl during his short time away from the rigours of show business.

"I love being surrounded by pretty girls," he says. "I love girls, all of them. But I never take a girl on holiday with me ... I might meet a nicer one when I get away. Holiday flirtations shouldn't be taken seriously. They are just a giggle to be enjoyed and then forgotten. It's so easy to lose your head when you're on a lovely beach with time on your hands!"

Despite this reluctance to become entangled, John does not see himself as a confirmed bachelor. One day he feels he will settle down - his ideal girl will have long hair, be tall and slim and above all have a lively personality.

Not surprising when not working John will settle for peace and quiet above everything else. John Rowles jogging along on a horse, fishing in a stream or just thinking back over his boyhood in New Zealand and the days of pig and deer hunting is a happy man.

When I first interviewed John Rowles, it was on the phone, and he couldn't have been less interested. But when I met him for an interview 15 years later, he was charming and a good sport. What he said in the later interview was very similar to this one from 2007 in the Howick and Pakuranga Times (and his 1970 philosophy): honest, even disingenuous to a fault. Though looking at the video for what is still his greatest musical moment, I'm a bit doubtful about the recording budgets he quotes.

I'll Take You There




02 November 2008

Piecarts and pie charts

1. What, me worry?

hopelessOur own election has been almost totally eclipsed by the US election, so once theirs is all over - late on Wednesday NZ time - there may be a scurrying to establish points of difference. But one thing is inescapable: whoever wins New Zealand's election on Saturday night is going to present a cabinet of mostly tired faces from the 1980s to 2000s. So while there are just nail-biting polls to come from the States, a last piece of excellent election writing. In "Obama & Sweet Potato Pie" Mark Danner compares small town outdoor election meetings from both camps (from the November 20 New York Review of Books). He covers a lot of political territory with complete ease, and an extended riff on potato pie that comes to a neat conclusion in an encounter with a Republican pie-maker. For light relief, the Village Voice has a slideshow parodying the era-defining Obama "Hope" posters designed by Shepard Fairey. And just in from wacky Canada, Palin is victim of a phone call from pranksters posing as Nicolas Sarkozy.

2. Bus Stop

For an impassioned, clear-sighted explanation of why others should vote the way a black, female Democratic super-delegate is expected to vote, here is Donna Brazille saying "Don't ever put me in the back of the bus!" The clip is from a New Yorker festival panel early in October, in which she stole the show while on stage with a group of campaign strategists from both parties. Warming up, she says that yes, US society has changed since she became politically aware aged eight when Martin Luther King was assassinated:

"This is a more tolerant, open, progressive society. And yet, we're having this conversation because [Obama] is biracial. He spent nine months in the womb of a white woman. He was raised...by his white grandparents...He got out of school and went to Harvard, and all of a sudden he's "uppity" and there's something wrong with him? What is wrong with us?...You can vote against him, but don't ever put me in the back of the bus. I'm not going to the back of the bus! I'm not going to be afraid! My black skin does not make me inferior! And may I add: being a female does not make me dumb!"

3. Dancing to architecture

The extraordinary breadth and usefulness of Graham Reid's Elsewhere is even more apparent - and accessible - since the site's makeover. It acts as a one-stop music and cultural magazine when so many printed on paper are no longer worth picking up, let alone your dollar, and with an RSS feed anything new on Elsewhere is home delivered. Just posted is Reid's account of a 1988 press conference in Wellington with conductor Maxim Shostakovich and cellist Mstislav Rostropovich: I can't imagine anyone else present would have put together something of such substance from the event. It includes this aside from Rostropovich about the acoustic difficulties faced since his audiences had expanded from 200 in a hall to 4000, say, in an events centre:

“It’s significant that modern architects can make a condominium with many apartments and on the 10th floor you can hear anything said on the third. But if the same architect made a concert hall you could not hear anything from some seats. That’s a miracle.”

Elsewhere on his site Reid writes of the pointlessness of press conferences. When we were together at the same events in the 1980s, 90 percent of those present only warmed their seats, five percent asked asinine questions, any good questions had their answers poached, and the Auckland Star's Oscar Kightley could be relied upon to derail pretensions by always asking "Will the Beatles get back together?" I wish I could remember Billy Joel's excellent, cheerful response.

4. Grumpy Old Men

Van pic Ringo Starr recently announced that, 38 years after the demise of the Beatles, he will no longer be giving autographs. Now he can attempt to eat in restaurants and walk through airports in peace (flash V-sign here). A month before, Van Morrison banned alcohol from his concerts because he finds it "off-putting" when fans walk around the venue to visit the bar during his shows. Both understandable, though if you're paying $300 US for a seat at the Hollywood Bowl later this week when Morrison performs and records his legendary Astral Weeks in concert for the first time, you can probably afford table service or a hip flask. The occasion means that Morrison will have control over a version of Astral Weeks, after years of battles which have only added to his bitterness about the music industry. The concert features two of the musicians who played in the original sessions, guitarist Jay Berliner and the great double-bassist, Richard Davis. Yet, even in a rare interview in the LA Times this week - his most extended ever about the album he usually doesn't wish to discuss - Morrison remains churlish while plugging the concert. (And it's odd the interview reveals he didn't know the Astral Weeks arranger Larry Fallon has been dead for some time, yet Morrison's legal team surfs the net daily to check for unauthorised use of his music on YouTube, etc.) Part of the continued attraction of Morrison, apart from the timelessness of his great albums, is the incongruity that for someone so notoriously grumpy and introspective, he has also come up with some of the sunniest moments in pop. Here he is with 'Brown Eyed Girl' - not a pop song, according to the new interview - from the legendary 1973 concert at London's Rainbow Theatre with his Caledonia Soul Orchestra. About time this became a DVD. Update: in today's Observer an excellent essay by Sean O'Hagan backgrounding Astral Weeks.

Meanwhile, here's Ringo making toast:

14 October 2008

Three for the road

1. Attitude

do_the_right_thing I'll never forget being the only white guy in a rundown picture theatre in Astoria the summer of 1989 when the afrocentric Do the Right Thing came out. The papers - well, the Voice - were talking about nothing else (black critic Stanley Crouch panned it). There's an excellent profile of Spike Lee in the September 22 New Yorker which captures his still burning attitude, and how that has hindered his career. It closes with the writer John Colapinto asking Lee why he hasn't directed a TV ad for the Obama campaign: after all, the Obamas went to Do the Right Thing on their first date:

“You gotta be asked to do that stuff,” Lee said. “Look, if they need me, they know where I am. And in a lot of ways they might—” He paused. “You know, that shit could be used against them, too. ‘Spike Lee, the man who said so-and-so and so-and-so. Now he’s doing commercials for—’ ” He shrugged and smiled. “Sometimes you might be a liability,” he said finally. “Just got to lay in the cut.”

Elsewhere, he says that having a black president would change everything, people's psyche, and specifically African-Americans: “They don’t have to be shuckin’ and jivin’—doing the tap dance—to make a living. And I mean that ‘tap dancing’ figuratively, not literally, because no disrespect to the world’s greatest tap dancer, Savion Glover.”

I don't know Savion Glover, but the quote reminded me of a great black variety performer who grew up in the dying days of minstrelsy and ended up being patronised by Sinatra and the rest of the Rat Pack. A while back I came across this clip, in which Sammy Davis Jr paid tribute to a host of other performers, with Harold Arlen's timeless 'One for My Baby'. I must read Davis's autobiography ... that's odd, it was called Yes I Can. He achieved a lot in an era when he couldn't stay in the same Las Vegas hotels in which he was performing. What would he have done in this era?  

2. Mrs Brown's Daughter

The jury is still out on Tina Brown's new site The Daily Beast. Smartly designed, exuding that mix of brains and glitz, you can see why the investors went for it. But so far it feels a little corporate. The Huffington Post probably has similar backing and Rolodex of contacts, but has a guerilla madness about it that gives it an edge. The Huff's shrillness is off-putting, so maybe it's just a left alternative to Fox News; as a Hoboken friend pointed out to me in the 80s, yes the Village Voice has some good stuff in it, but so often it just seems like a smart, far-left answer to the (sensationalist, right-wing) New York Post. But this piece from The Daily Beast is an excellent use of the web: "How McCain Can Still Win". The design is so simple but clever: just by rolling your mouse over the image, you can read a precise of what several well-informed pundits think of McCain's chances. Despite what the polls say in the battleground states, hearing what the more rabid Republicans are saying - the ugly face of a more widespread, hidden racism - I'm not putting my share portfolio on an Obama victory. Oh that's right, I don't have one.

3. Type Cast

RFKset1-1x2_small helveticaMy first awareness of Helvetica was early in 1968 when a quasi-relative in the US sent out some buttons from RFK's doomed campaign. At the time the font seemed so fresh, so bold, so obviously from somewhere else than New Zealand in the era of Holyoake and one-channel TV. If you haven't seen it, the documentary Helvetica is fascinating. Here's a montage.

There are other viruses that we could eliminate first, but the use of Arial is certainly somewhere on the list. It's the rich man's Helvetica - Bill Gates is responsible - but the poor man's sans serif. Minnesota graphic artist and type designer Mark Simonson has an elegant site sharing his knowledge - and love - of classic type faces, and he has a great piece called "The Scourge of Arial":

Arial is everywhere. If you don’t know what it is, you don’t use a modern personal computer. Arial is a font that is familiar to anyone who uses Microsoft products, whether on a PC or a Mac. It has spread like a virus through the typographic landscape and illustrates the pervasiveness of Microsoft’s influence in the world. Arial’s ubiquity is not due to its beauty. It’s actually rather homely. Not that homeliness is necessarily a bad thing for a typeface. With typefaces, character and history are just as important. Arial, however, has a rather dubious history and not much character. In fact, Arial is little more than a shameless impostor.

Also worth checking out is his obsessive take on the errors film designers make when being lazy about the retro type faces they use. And recently he has cast his eye over the type in Mad Men: it must be very distracting looking at everything through a typographer's eye, sometimes you couldn't see the woodblock for the trees.

09 October 2008

07 October 2008

I read it in a magazine

1. Degrees of separation

At the New Yorker they talk about "church and state": the separation between the editorial and advertising departments. In its past life, the magazine kept those involved in the sordid task of paying for it on a separate floor of their building. Even in its current Conde Nast phase, interaction between the two areas is done with discretion and is always apparent to the reader. In an education into the inner workings of glossies I once - briefly - worked for an Australian publisher that almost required its editorial employees to ring the advertising dept to tip them off to product placement in any articles. And if there wasn't any mention of an interviewee's Louis Vuitton handbag, then why not?

NATURE-MAGAZINE-largeBut it is unwise to stay aloof from the advertising dept, even though they - accurately - just see editorial as the stuff in between their work. Last week's pulping of the Star-Times' Sunday magazine is a case in point: "themed advertising and editorial about breast cancer awareness month" does not sit well with a cover story about that burning issue, sunbeds. The answer is a simple mock layout of the magazine's contents with pencilled-in notes of what advertising sits where, before placing the editorial in the grid. But probably go-betweens with pencils don't exist anymore. Still, the Star-Times sensibly quit while they were ahead, so they didn't feel like the publishers of Nature magazine when eating their cornflakes, and spread their mag out to use as a placemat.

2. Raban parses Palin

After his excellent 1992 essay on Bill Clinton's language shifts during that election, I have been hoping that Jonathan Raban would turn his linguistic ear to the Palin phenomenon. He has just done it: in a recent London Review of Books Raban contributes "Cut, Kill, Dig, Drill". He is perfectly placed to do so, having lived in Seattle for nearly 20 years. In that time he has seen the dot-com boom come and go, and witnessed the societal shifts since 9/11, writing two excellent novels based there around those topics. He has perhaps despaired about the Bush administration as only an informed English intellectual in exile could do. From "Cut, Kill":

What is most striking about [Palin] is that she seems perfectly untroubled by either curiosity or the usual processes of thought. When answering questions, both Obama and Joe Biden have an unfortunate tendency to think on their feet and thereby tie themselves in knots: Palin never thinks. Instead, she relies on a limited stock of facts, bright generalities and pokerwork maxims, all as familiar and well-worn as old pennies. Given any question, she reaches into her bag for the readymade sentence that sounds most nearly proximate to an answer, and, rather than speaking it, recites it, in the upsy-downsy voice of a middle-schooler pronouncing the letters of a word in a spelling bee. She then fixes her lips in a terminal smile.

This was written, of course, before the vice-presidential debate, and Tina Fey's parody, which now blurs with the real thing. Negative reaction to the extraordinary governor of Alaska may be past media burnout already, and there could be a backlash at the electoral box-office, though ratings appear to solidifying in this easy-to-understand guide to the battleground states.

3. Cover lines

New-YorkBCThere's something deeply satisfying about picking up a magazine that knows what its doing, when all the elements fall into place: the perfect mix of light and dark, the surprise extra effort that rewards readers for their loyalty. This is one reason The Word continues to give so much pleasure: there is so much thought put into it, right down to its picture captions. And its extremely funny podcasts - basically raves between veteran editors David Hepworth and Mark Ellen - are an "added value" idea that keeps people coming back. (This one, about Ellen accidentally taking Lucinda Williams out to dinner on Valentine's Night, is a classic). There's a great display of the year's best magazine covers up for an award to be decided this week. Although this example (right) perhaps doesn't have instant impact for New Zealand readers - very view of whom would recognise disgraced governor Eliot "Ness" Spitzer - the simplicity of it catches the eye immediately, and for its intended audience, it's perfect.

4. Cooke's Tour

A few months ago I mentioned the impact of reading, 11 years after the event, Alistair Cooke's account of being in the room when Robert F Kennedy was shot. The Guardian has just published a selection of his classic talks: the showdown over Cuba, the revulsion over Joseph McCarthy, the cost of the Vietnam War, plus Ronald Reagan v Darth Vader (oh, and Bill and Monica, by which stage it was getting brutally obvious that it was time for the 90-year-old Cooke to close his correspondence). A friend of mine once had the job of editing Cooke for print, and it was the highlight of his week revelling in Cooke's prose to make it suit the written word, in the space available. The Guardian also offers archive audio of Cooke's deeply moving Letter From America just after JFK was assassinated, which explains the shock, and also what was lost when the New Frontier was shut down. In a succinct introduction, David Dimbleby considers the master's idiosyncratic style:

He would almost invariably open his Letter from America for the BBC with an anecdote or a description of the seasons or perhaps a reference to jazz or his favourite game, golf, "the Scottish Torture" or to the World Series. Sometimes these opening passages would last so long they reminded me of langorous days at school studying the similes in Matthew Arnold's epic poem Sohrab and Rustum and wondering, as with Arnold's long passages, where they would lead. They never disappointed, always, however circuitous the journey, finishing at some pertinent point which illustrated and so enhanced one's grasp of how the political system or culture of the United States worked.

5. On the good foot

If Bill Clinton thought he was Elvis - remember his Raybans and sax solo, like a bad Tom Cruise movie - then is Obama channelling Muhammad Ali or James Brown here? Is he showing admirable restraint for a man in a suit? I think the Obama campaign has missed the boat on its campaign song, though: all those earnest wimpy new-folkie types like Jack Johnston and Ben Harper and, who knows, Gwyneth Paltrow and other impact players blending the world into one big melting pot. Sounds like an old Coke ad. With such a perfect slogan, why not get on the good foot with the guy who - as his producer Allen Toussaint said - always sang with a smile on his face. Here's Lee Dorsey, backed by the Meters, with the title track of his great album Yes We Can. It inspired the Band to use horns on Rock of Ages.

01 October 2008

Singing! Shooting! Hypnotism!

Tex Morton book 1. Anzac Country

Tex Morton had more lives than a cat, and was about as cunning. You couldn't make it up: the godfather of country music in New Zealand and Australia was also a sharp-shooter and hypnotist, and would combine all three skills in his stage shows. Born Robert Lane in Nelson, he wandered the backroads of New Zealand in the early 1930s - finding his name on the side of a shed in Waihi - before shifting to Australia. He became a hobo and busker who reached Darwin before getting in trouble with the law. During his decade in the US, he befriended Errol Flynn and Gene Autry, went on tour with Hank Williams and got a PhD (possibly mail-order). Gordon Spittle has been researching the life of Tex for years, and has just published the results in The Tex Morton Songbook. It's actually more biography than songbook, with splendid archive photos that capture - along with the wry, colourful text - what a rich life Morton led. You can read the Dictionary of New Zealand Biography entry on Morton, and order The Tex Morton Songbook here. While there grab a copy of Spittle's 1997 book Counting the Beat: the stories behind New Zealand's most loved popular songs, going from 'On the Ball' all the way to the Muttonbirds. It even includes the chord charts. It's one of the best written and useful books on New Zealand music.

2. Paeroa's other export

Lew edited A friend wrote this week to tell me of the death in May of Lew Campbell, one of New Zealand's most respected jazz musicians. A trumpeter and pianist, he was the kind of unsung hero that remained beneath the radar, probably because he was based in Sydney since the early 1960s. Campbell was one of three Maori brothers from Paeroa who were regarded with awe by their peers and audiences. Phil, the oldest, was regarded as the finest jazz trumpeter we ever produced, and George, a double-bass player, is probably best known for his part in the famous 'Geddes the Dentist' advert. Both George and Lew played behind Dizzy Gillespie when he came to New Zealand in the early 1960s, not a happy experience as there were no real rehearsals and no charts. All three Campbells were in the band of the Kiwi Concert Party, a stellar outfit that entertained the frontline troops in World War II, but tragically Phil was killed by a German shell in Italy towards the end of the war. Afterwards, Lew played in and wrote arrangements for radio bands, on tour with international visitors and in cabarets; he was briefly in the NZSO and spent more than two decades teaching at the Sydney Conservatorium. George and Lew Campbell were profiled, along with other 1950s Maori musicians in Auckland, in an evocative piece by John Berry in the January 1959 Te Ao Hou. (This photo is from there; every issue of Te Ao Hou has been put on-line by the National Library).

3. Bible basher

woody editAuckland, 1 October - MP George Hawkins has a bruised hand after fending off a large Bible which was hurled at him by a man in the audience at a church-run election meeting on Sunday night. The incident shocked about 160 people at the meet-the-candidates event organised by Manurewa Baptist Church. A local man in his 60s was quickly wrestled off the stage by two church members, who escorted him outside ... Mr Hawkins said his assailant's Bible was an 1860s edition and weighed 5kg.

Reading the above story today I couldn't help think of Woody Allen's routine "Bullet in my breast pocket" from his mid-1960s album Woody Allen: Standup Comic. The whole album is on YouTube, in several chunks. Or you can read the text of each piece on-line. In its entirety, "Bullet in my breast pocket" goes:

Years ago, my mother gave me a bullet...a bullet, and I put it in my breast pocket. Two years after that, I was walking down the street, when a berserk evangelist heaved a Gideon bible out a hotel room window, hitting me in the chest. That Bible would have gone through my heart if it wasn't for the bullet.

4. Subterranean blues

Doons editThis week between 60 and 70 jobs were cut from the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age, many of them sub-editors due to the new fashion for out-sourcing. Recently Evolving Newsroom's Julie Starr linked to a "survival guide for sub-editors," originally in the Telegraph. It's full of smart ideas of how to keep the role relevant and your job necessary in the e-news era. Coincidentally a well-known US daily comic strip is dealing with this issue right now, and the lost, betrayed look of the senior journalist made redundant while banalities bombard him is very believable. You can subscribe to this and many other daily comic-strips through your email using the free ArcaMax service; it comes in handy when your local paper doesn't carry a personal favourite. Speaking of beleaguered subs, the punch-drunk look of these subs down in the bunker hiding from Giles Coren also rings true.

5. Grease and oil

Who would have thought: Sha Na Na re-wrote history. I hadn't thought about the late-60s doo-wop parodists for, oh, several decades until a certain broadcaster turned up talking sport with his mouth open. Then a friend sent me this recent think-piece from the Columbia University alumnae mag: "Sha Na Na and the Invention of the Fifties". The group were students from Columbia who just happened to get their act together in time for the Woodstock festival. But wait, there's more: Sha Na Na were actually "meta-historians, theoreticians of cultural history itself". Who would have thought? (Certainly it took the pointy-headed ex-Sha Na Na member who wrote the essay by surprise.) Before them, it was referred to as "the haunted 50s", all McCarthyism and grey-flannel-suits. After them, American Graffiti and Happy Days. Eric Hobsbawm named the concept "the invention of tradition" - it says here - and apparently the Scottish kilt was invented by a fellow who just wanted to sell tartans, and Sir Walter Scott was his ad-man. Next thing they'll be telling me Santa Claus was invented by Coca-Cola.

26 September 2008

Bail Out

The New York Times quote of the day:

"The situation is like that movie trailer where a guy with a deep, scary voice says, 'In a world where credit markets are frozen, where banks refuse to lend to each other at any price, only one man, with one plan can save us'."

-
Jared Bernstein, of the Economic Policy Institute, on the push for a financial bailout.

23 September 2008

Comic hero

1. Ponsonby Graphic
I had heard murmurings of legendary comic artist Barry Linton's magnum opus - a science fiction epic, apparently - so it was good to read of progress, and an explanation, in the latest Listener (27 Sept). It's called Lucky Aki in the New Stone Age, and excerpts will first appear in a Christchurch art gallery. It isn't science fiction, but a "fictional prehistoric geography in which to explore humanity's (and his own) search for understanding the world," beginning 5500 years ago in what became Iraq. Comic historian Tim Bollinger's warm tribute to Linton mentions the sense of place that has always been apparent in Linton's work, especially its portrayal of a Pacific Auckland, and a gritty Ponsonby before it was gentrified. Dylan Horrocks has often championed Linton, who is regarded as a godfather of graphic story-telling by the comix community. He's a national treasure who should get one of those Icon medals, and some cash. Meanwhile, it's worth seeking out the most autobiographical strip that Linton has ever done, in Landfall #180 (December 1991). It's the centrepiece of a special Hamilton issue, guest edited by Alan Brunton, in which Linton looks with humour and wistfulness at his 1950s and 60s Waikato childhood. Horrocks has written his own profile of Linton - graphically, of course, in the anthology Look This Way: New Zealand Writers on New Zealand Artists. (The exhibition is at the Centre for Contemporary Art, Christchurch, until October 12.)

2. Channel Surfing
I am on a D-Day kick. It started with The Big Show, Alison Parr's collection of oral histories of New Zealanders involved in the invasion of Normandy on 6 June 1944. That these are the war stories our fathers never told us goes without saying - they never did - but there is another reason. New Zealand soldiers weren't involved in D-Day: they were too busy in Italy and the Pacific. But here we have first-hand accounts from New Zealand airmen and sailors: farm boys who became pilots dropping parachutists to almost certain death, a radar engineer stranded on the dreaded Omaha Beach, a bomber who survived the Dambusters raid now miles from the action, precisely dropping tinfoil as a diversion. To a man, they are deeply moving. Because they're not men: they're all about 21. To be so young, and watch the doors of the landing craft open, and your peers dive straight into an onslaught ... Parr edits the interviews expertly - some will have required a lot of work to make them flow - and as she says, print cannot convey the emotion of hearing the voices. The stuttering, the pauses. (Related web feature with interview transcripts and audio here.)

3. Dawn Chorus
The next port of call of course was not Saving Private Ryan or The Longest Day, but The World at War, which I re-watched five years ago for the first time since its original screening here in 1974. The fact New Zealand had only one TV channel, and no videos, weren't the only reasons the nation stopped and watched together. This compelling series is still the ultimate example of documentary making, letting the pictures do most of the talking, Larry Olivier providing context in his sparse narration (he made suggestions when he should shut up, though there is the odd camp moment when he should have). The D-Day episode is called Morning and it starts with a shot of an empty Normandy beach, with archival audio from Winston Churchill. He is speaking to the French people in 1940, post-Dunkirk, promising they will be back: "Goodnight then: sleep to gather strength for the morning. For the morning will come." The World at War should be re-run every few years on taxpayer television, but meanwhile it is available cheaply as a boxset from overseas suppliers, with lots of episodes we never saw. Watching it again was another reminder of the travesty that was the mid-1990s series New Zealanders at War: ignorant and sensationalist, even for the arrogant larrikin producer/director Neil Roberts. I hope they kept all the raw interview footage so someone can do a decent job with it one day; the interviewees are almost all gone now.

4. You're Nicked
Staying with the 1970s golden age of television, I was given an episode of The Sweeney. Cultural gatekeepers may be namechecking The Wire, which is indeed excellent: Sopranos without the humour, Deadwood without the swearing, and less violence than both, just credible character and scripts. But what a delight to see John Thaw and Dennis Waterman taking on the crims of the dirty old town in a hotted-up Austin Allegro; the big collars, bad rugs, East End chancers and posh totty. This era has been recently revisited by Roger Donaldson in his entertaining caper flick, The Bank Job. But today I was reading the obit of Harry Challenor, who sounded like a real-life version of Thaw's character, Jack Regan. Challenor was a wartime SAS hero later nicked for being a corrupt cop in Soho (planting evidence). Being a paranoid schizophrenic seems to have had something to do with his courage, and his poor decisions. "I accept I'm mad," he once said. I don't say mentally ill, that's a bloody silly expression. I'm mad and I get on with it."

5. Give the Drummer Some
When a lightbulb blows, you always know that a bunch more will expire within a few days. It's odd, this roll call of R&B legends that have died recently, it's like their batteries just ran out. Two more last week: Norman Whitfield, who wrote 'Papa Was a Rolling Stone' and 'I Heard it Through the Grapevine', and Earl Palmer, the engine room of R&B. Palmer was the drummer on all the early hits that came out of New Orleans, and helped turn R&B into rock'n'roll. His biography was apparently disappointing, but it had the perfect title, Backbeat. He played on 'Tutti Frutti', 'Tipitina', 'Long Tall Sally', 'Lawdy Miss Clawdy', 'I'm Walkin' and countless others. After moving to LA - like many New Orleans musicians, after Harry Connick's dad closed down the clubs - he became a top session drummer, with 'You've Lost that Lovin' Feeling' among his many contributions. His specialty was the shuffle, a primal rhythm that is deceptively difficult to play. The best place to read about him is in The Big Beat, Max Weinberg's fascinating collection of interviews with top drummers. I saw Palmer play once, an old man in a tuxedo, dominating a room full of legends. Also present at the 1994 gig, in an old theatre on Canal Street, was a stunning R&B pianist from the 1950s, Edward Frank. Allen Toussaint put his arm round Frank's shoulders and said, "this is the pianist we all looked up to." He was still playing boogie brilliantly, like four hands taking on 88 keys. The extraordinary thing was, even in his 1950s heyday, Frank was paralysed and could only play with one hand.