Sunday, June 30, 2013
Saturday, June 29, 2013
Talking to Girls About Duran Duran: One Young Man's Quest for True Love and a Cooler Haircut by Rob Sheffield (Dutton 2010)
THE HUMAN LEAGUE
Around ninth grade, my trusty clock radio began playing something weird. First, it went clink-clank. Then it went bloop-bloop. After the wrrrp-wrrrp kicked in, there came a blizzard of squisha-squisha-squisha noises. It sounded like a Morse code transmission from another planet, a world of lust and danger and nonstop erotic cabaret. What was this? It was the twitchy, spastic, brand-new beat of synth-pop. For those of us who were “Kids in America” at the time, it was a totally divisive sound. You either loved it or hated it. My friends and I argued for hours over whether it even counted as rock and roll. I remember hearing a DJ explain that the Human League didn’t have any instruments. No way—not even a drummer? ” “Not even a guitarist? I was shocked.
I rode my bike to the public library and checked out the Human League’s Dare. This album was a brave new world. The sleeve showed close-ups of their mascara eyes and lipstick mouths on a frigid white background. Nobody was smiling. All summer long, I worked mowing lawns, listening to that tape over and over, taking it on the subway ride to driver’s ed. I spent countless hours trying to fathom Phil Oakey’s philosophy of life.
I was moved by “The Sound of the Crowd,” where Phil urged me to “get around town,” to explore the forbidden places “where the people are good, where the music is loud.” I had never been to a place remotely like this. It sounded awesome. The lyrics were a bit obscure, what with all the arcane cosmetics references (“The lines on a compact guide / A hat with alignment worn inside”—huh?), yet I devoured them. If I cracked his code well, I too would grow up to be a Phil Oakey, getting around the world on an existential quest for love action.
Saturday, June 22, 2013
In Search of Alan Gilzean - The Lost Legacy of a Dundee and Spurs Legend by James Morgan (BackPage Press 2011)
“What happened to you as a footballer?” he asks.
A few training sessions with Bangor and Crusaders. A scout from Reading watched me four or five times.“I was too interested in having a drink and women, but I wasn’t good enough, if I’m honest. My brother was much more dedicated.”
“There was a kid at Spurs, Paul Shoemark. He was an England youth internationalist. Big, big things were expected of him, but he couldn’t make the step up. You get that with some players,” he says to me.
Paul Shoemark made one reserve team appearance for Tottenham. It was significantly closer than I ever got to making it as a footballer.
The talk turns to newspapers. “I haven’t spoken to the press for years,” he says. “A journalist wrote an article one time in which he quoted me as saying that Tottenham were right to get rid of George Graham because he had done nothing at Spurs. The journalist never even spoke to me. So, now, when journalists look for me I tell them I’m not interested. I didn’t really speak to the press as a player. I tell Ian just to say I’m not interested. What did he say to you?”
He’s looking at me directly, now. He doesn’t look much older than he did when he was at Spurs. An advantage, I suppose, of looking older when you’re younger.
“He said that to me, but I think I might have had a bit of leeway because he knew my brother.”
I show Gillie an excerpt from a play about Jock Stein and Bill Shankly which had aired on Radio Scotland a few weeks previously. He is genuinely surprised when I tell him he was mentioned favourably in it. “Was ah?” he asks, his voice once again rising in that peculiarly east coast of Scotland manner.
Stein: Bob’s a good man.
Shankly: He is, yes.
Stein: That team he put together at Dundee, beautiful stuff, the way to play.
Shankly: Gifted players ...
Stein: Great wing-men
Shankly: Playing for the jersey
Stein: And Gilzean ...
Shankly: Aye, what a player ...
I show Gillie print-outs from the SFA Hall of Fame. He expresses surprise that Gordon Smith, his team-mate at Dundee, is not there. I risk a question not related to the nuts and bolts of the book. Ian Ure told me to ask Gillie who his favourite player was. Ian felt sure Gillie would say Dave Mackay.
“Naw, it was Jimmy Greaves. He was a class player. There’s a picture of us playing England and Ian Ure and Jimmy are running for the ball. Every muscle is standing out on Ian’s neck and Jimmy is just starting to move away from him. He was like lightning. He had this lovely style of pushing the ball away from him, just a yard. You know the way Messi just keeps it ahead of him but no-one can get near him? He was the best player I ever played with. Some of the goals he scored were unbelievable. It was a sad day for everyone at Spurs when Jimmy Greaves left.”
We talk for almost two hours, the conversation bouncing about. I ask him about Bill Nicholson and he tells me that he was “just a great man” and that there were three other managers who had impressed him most.
“The first was Tommy Walker, the Hearts manager. He spoke to me once before a game at Dens, before I had broken into the first team. I was gathering up balls during the warm-up and as I came off the pitch he started asking me how I was.
“The second was a Celtic manager, Jimmy McGrory. I remember him standing on the sideline and puffing on this great, big pipe. He was holding court with everyone around him in this real Irish brogue. I’ll always remember what he said: ‘It’s great to see all these people here. We’re really looking forward to the game, I think both teams are going to put on a real show of good football for them.’ And then, as I walked past, he said, ‘Hello there,’ as if I was an old friend. I wasn’t even in the first team at this stage. He didn’t need to do that, but it was a measure of the man.
“And the last manager was Matt Busby. I’d just signed for Spurs and I was walking towards the entrance of White Hart Lane, when all of a sudden, he appeared beside me with his arm outstretched and said, ‘I just wanted to congratulate you on your move and to wish you all the best.’ Those three, as well as Bill Nicholson, will always stand out in my mind because each of them took the time to speak to me at a time when I wasn’t as well known as they were. I didn’t want to go into management. I saw what it did to Bill Nicholson and thought, ‘It’s not for me’. I tried it at Stevenage when I came back from South Africa but I didn’t enjoy it.”
Thursday, June 20, 2013
Toward the middle of the sixteenth century, there lived on the banks of the Havel a horse dealer by the name of Michael Kohlhaas, the son of a schoolmaster, one of the most upright and at the same time one of the most terrible men of his day. Until his thirtieth year this extraordinary man would have been thought the very model of a good citizen. In a village that still bear his name, he owned a farm on which he quietly earned a living by his trade; the children with whom his wife presented him were brought up in the fear of God to be industrious and honest; there was not one of his neighbours who had not benefited from his benevolence or his fair-mindedness—the world, in short, would have had every reason to bless his memory, if he had not carried one virtue to excess. But his sense of justice turned him into a brigand and a murderer.
Friday, June 14, 2013
I had to put Hovis to bed in the end. There was no one else to do it. Our Arthur was at the Cubs, Gran had a promise, Henry was in the cockloft playing with his train set, my Mam was painting her face and my dad had slipped down the Boundary for half a dozen quick ones before they went out. I wouldn’t mind if they were going to Alcoholics Anonymous or something, but they were only going down town on the ale.
After I’d told Hovis ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ and threatened him a couple of times, he seemed to go asleep and I came downstairs. My Mam had followed after my dad, but she’d left thirty pence on the mantelpiece for me. That wouldn’t get much these days, no more than a bag of chips, but it’d still be twenty pence more than the rest of the gang’d have when I saw them, now that their old fellers were on the Social Security. At least mine had still kept his job painting and decorating on the Corporation.
Longest my dad has ever kept in work by all accounts, but he had to after what happened last year when my Mam threw him out and almost got a fancy feller for herself. He’s only back on probation now and there’s no sign of that ending. My Mam makes sure of that. One word out of place and she’s asking him if his bags are packed. She’s alright though, my Mam. She’s dead fair, she’s got no favourites — she’s rotten to the lot of us.
Things are a lot better than they were though. I think our Vera and Tony leaving home made the difference. I was glad to see the back of both of them.
Thursday, June 13, 2013
I always knew I would be famous.
By the time I left school, at seventeen, my life was planned down to the finest detail. I would form a rock band, make a series of epoch-shifting albums, play technologically mind-blowing concerts in the biggest stadiums on the planet until I was universally acknowledged as the greatest superstar of my era. And I would indulge in all manner of diversions along the way: make films, write books, break hearts, befriend my idols . . . oh - and promote world peace, feed the poor and save the planet while I was at it.
You might think I was just another teenage airhead with fantasies of omnipotence. Indeed, there were plenty around me at the time who did their best to persuade me that this was the case. But I wasn't about to be put off by lesser mortals jealous of my talent. Because I knew, deep, deep in the very core of my being, that this wasn't just another empty dream. This was my destiny . . .
So there I was, thirty-five years old, sitting in a shabby, unheated little excuse for an office above a bookie's in Piccadilly, watching the rain drizzle down my single, grimy window, wondering where it had all gone wrong. I'd wanted to be a rock star and wound up becoming a rock critic. To compound my torment, I was suffering from a bad case of writer's block with my newspaper deadline looming and the fucking telephone hadn't stopped ringing all morning with a succession of PRs pestering me about their shitty rock bands, all of whom I secretly resented for, I suppose, just being more famous than me. But at least talking on the phone gave me an excuse for not writing my column.
"It better be good," I snapped into the receiver.
"This is the voice of your conscience," announced my caller in a gravelly, wasted Dublin accent that reeked of smoke, late nights and fine wines.
"Bono," I said in recognition.
"You can run but you can't hide," he laughed.
"The way I feel right now, I don't think I could even run," I sighed.
It was, indeed, Bono: rock legend, international superstar, roving ambassador for world peace and (though it is unlikely to feature prominently on his CV) a schoolfriend of mine from Mount Temple Comprehensive.
Monday, June 10, 2013
Alternate Titles for This Book
Here were some titles for my book that I really liked but was advised strongly not to use.
The Girl with No Tattoo
When Your Boyfriend Fits into Your Jeans and Other Atrocities
The Book That Was Never a Blog
Always Wear Flats and Have Your Friends Sleep Over: A Step-by-Step-How-To Guide for Avoiding Getting Murdered
Harry Potter Secret Book #8
Sometimes You Just Have to Put on Lip Gloss and Pretend to Be Psyched
I Want Dick Nowitzki to Host Saturday Night Live So Much That I'm Making It the Title of My Book
Barf Me to Death and Other Things I've Been Known to Say
The Last Mango in Paris (this would work best if "Mango" were the cheeky nickname for an Indian woman, and if I'd spent any time in Paris)
So You've Just Finished Chelsea Handler's Book, Now What?
Deep-Dish Pizza in Kabul (a touching novel about a brave girl enjoying Chicago-style pizza in secret Taliban-ruled Afghanistan)
There Has Ceased to Be a Difference Between My Awake Clothes and My Asleep Clothes
I Don't Know How She Does It, But I Suspect She Gets Help from Illegal Immigrants
Friday, June 07, 2013
'I wrote SCULLY on the bus shelter as we walked back past the prefabs. I put SCULLY where I can. It's everywhere on our estate. It's me name, see? Coppers see us writing on the walls sometimes. And usually they don't bother. They're just like us, you know - they don't care neither. Most times they just shout at us, or get in their car and pretend to phone for reinforcements or the Marines or something.'