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Chuck Berry

Reading his obituary and a piece in the Guardian’s G2 brought home to me how important Chuck Berry was to the development of rock and roll and the music that followed it.

His heyday was in the 50s so I had kind of missed all that by being too young. I must have been aware of him somewhere in the background via the paltry amount of rock music on the radio in those times but I didn’t really come into contact with his music till the mid to late 60s when some of his singles were in the pile beside the record player at a youth club I went to. It’s therefore No Particular Place to Go and Memphis Tenessee I remember most particularly. It wasn’t actually till years later that I discovered No Particular Place to Go was a reworking of a 1957 song, School Day (Ring! Ring! Goes the Bell).

Not the least of his accomplishments was to irritate Mary Whitehouse with his ding-a-ling. (Well, it seems it was Dave Bartholomew’s ding-a-ling, but it was Chuck who annoyed Whitehouse.)

His personal life may not have been unblemished but he certainly has an impressive musical back catalogue, and that’s only the singles.

So here are those two Berry singles the second in a later live version.

Chuck Berry: No Particular Place to Go

Chuck Berry: Memphis Tenessee

Go Johnny go! Tell Tchaikovsky the news.

Charles Edward Anderson “Chuck” Berry: 18/10/1926 – 18/3/2017. So it goes.

Two Today

I know I’ve not yet commemorated Chuck Berry. I’ll do so on Friday.

The news came today that Colin Dexter, creator of Inspector Morse, has died.

Dexter had at one time the distinction of being the author whose books were most donated to charity shops. (At least in England. In Scotland Ian Rankin fills/filled that role.)

Norman Colin Dexter: 29/9/1930 – 21/3/2017. So it goes.

Looking at the news coverage of the death of Martin McGuiness I did wonder whether the UK was the only country in the world whose media reacted with such an emphasis on his terrorist past rather than his conversion to peacemaking and power sharing. Sinner that repenteth and all that.

(In this context I note Norman Tebbit’s characteristically pungent comments on McGuiness’s death. Anyone would think that Tebbit had never done anything in his life that warranted citicism. Some of the policies he supported as a government minister caused grief to tens – hundreds – of thousands of his fellow citizens – and perhaps the premature deaths of some of them. The tone of his comments suggest he feels McGuiness’s adoption of peace was not genuine. Well, Ian Paisley had much more reason to suspect McGuinness of duplicity yet managed to find common ground. Paisley’s son explicitly acknowledged the change in McGuiness’s attitude. Fair enough Tebbit’s wife was severely injured by the IRA so he has a pressing reason for his contumely but she wouldn’t have been in that hotel if she wasn’t his wife. Then again Tebbit has never been known for acknowledging the viewpoint of his political opponents.)

Whatever, McGuiness was one of the most prominent Irishmen of his times.

James Martin Pacelli McGuinness: 23/5/1950 – 21/3/2017. So it goes.

John Surtees

I was sorry to hear yesterday of the death of John Surtees, the only man to win a World Championship both on motor bikes and in F1 Cars.

John Surtees: 11/2/1934 – 10/3/2017. So it goes.

Tommy Gemmell

One of the Scottish footballing giants of my youth, Tommy Gemmell, has died.

Famous for that goal for Celtic in the 1967 European Cup Final which immortalised not only Jock Stein (as Bill Shankly said about the team’s manager) but the entire 11 as Lisbon Lions. It’s impossible to imagine a team composed of 11 players all born within thirty miles of their home stadium achieving anything similar these days. As it was nothing any of them did after that could ever surpass it.

Celtic did reach the European Cup Final again in 1970 and again Gemmell scored but Celtic lost that one in extra time.

Here’s some colour footage of the 1967 game along with interviews with the players from many years later:-

Thomas “Tommy” Gemmell: 16/10/1943 – 2/3/2017. So it goes.

Oscar Fail?

I don’t watch the Oscar ceremony. It’s an event which garners publicity way beyond its actual significance or importance for weeks beforehand and I’m not much into films anyway.

Notwithstanding that I couldn’t avoid the aftermath of this year’s do and its wrong envelope saga. Lead item on both the radio and TV news all day.

So the story that was to be the big thing from the Oscars this year didn’t happen: overshadowed by an apparently inexplicable mistake.

My first thought on hearing of what transpired was to wonder if any of this year’s award winners made any anti-Trump comments in their respective acceptance speeches. If they did I haven’t heard a word about them. And naturally it occurred to me that anyone behind the scenes wishing to avoid any discussion that such comments may have caused would have reason to feel very pleased indeed at the actual turn of events.

It may just have been an almighty cock-up (the usual explanation for bizarre occurrences) but if it was a conspiracy to deflect any possible criticism of the recipients and the so-called Academy from T Ronald Dump and his supporters it worked beautifully. I still don’t know the content of any of the winners’ speeches – at least one of which usually makes the news.

If this was a dead cat it was certainly a beezer. Possibly the most dead cat* ever.

Pedant’s corner:- *Yes, I know if a cat is dead, it’s dead and can’t be any more dead. There are no degrees to death after all.

The First Steps

Despite the First Amendment to the US Constitution the new President of that country has set in train a course by which freedom of speech in the US might be going to be curtailed.

This is the way a toddler responds to criticism. And neutering the press, is, of course, the way dictators behave.

It’s a classic tactic. Define an enemy against which your supporters can rally. Even when that so-called enemy represents the bedrock of your country’s system of governance – a system which you have sworn to protect.

Add in the fact T Ronald Dump has already gone for Muslims, Mexicans, transgender people, judges and now the press; who will be left to speak up when he comes for you?

To be clear, T Ronald, just because someone disagrees with you doesn’t make them a traitor to their – and your – country. Arguably it makes them more of a patriot than you are.

My country (or my President) right or wrong is a pernicious doctrine.

In fact in a democracy it is the highest duty of a loyal citizen to point out to his or her government when it is doing something wrong.

Core Values?

In yesterday’s Guardian G2 there was a wonderful scathing article written by the US born comedian Rich Hall dealing with recent events in his home country.

In it he satirises the US penchant for owning, and using on each other, firearms.

A striking sentence concerns the number of terrorist-related deaths carried out by people from the seven countries subject to the, now legally suspended at least till appeal, ban on entry to the US.

That number?

Zero.

(Though Hall does balance this by saying there have been three – thwarted – attacks using knives.)

I don’t suppose such satirising of what Hall characterises as the US core value of gun crime will change anyone’s mind, though.

The Autumn of the Patriarch by Gabriel García Márquez

Penguin, 2014, 233 p. Translated from the Spanish El Otoño del Patriarca, 1975, by Gregory Rabassa.

 The Autumn of the Patriarch cover

It would be difficult to review this book without considering its form and structure, which are not for the faint-hearted, demanding concentration from the reader. There are six sections in all and each one consists of but a single long paragraph containing meandering sentences ranging up to several pages or more in length. Indeed the last section had just one sentence stretching over 45 pages. Within these digressive sentences the narrative viewpoint frequently switches back and forth, neither is there dialogue in the conventional sense, only reports of speech – perhaps interspersed with a “general sir”, or other vocative interpolation, to indicate that the preceding phrase is supposed to have been spoken. But for those viewpoint changes (some of which are in the plural) the prose could almost be described as stream of consciousness – or even stream of unconsciousness as one interpretation is that it represents the patriarch’s last thoughts; his life flashing past him as it ebbs away, “he was condemned not to know life except in reverse,” imagining again the events that brought him to his lonely end.

The autumn of the title is the long period of decay during which the (unnamed and, reportedly, absurdly long-lived,) patriarch retreated into solitude and his power rested on his reputation. The litany of atrocities and sexual peccadillos is what you might expect from a man of this sort, though he is portrayed as having an affection for both his mother, Bendicíon Alvarado, and the woman, Leticia Nazareno, he plucked from being a novitiate to share his bed.

The hall of mirrors that is living under a dictatorship is illustrated by lines such as, “We knew no evidence of his death was final, because there was always another truth behind the truth,” and “a lie is more comfortable than doubt, more useful than love, more lasting than truth,” and “the belief that the less people understand the more afraid they’ll be.” These are lessons always needing to be learned it would seem. There is also an odd passage where we are told the patriarch had had “brought from Scotland eighty-two new born bulldogs …evilly taught to kill by a Scottish trainer.” I wondered why Márquez had chosen Scotland; it’s not particularly known for bulldogs.

The Autumn of the Patriarch is an exercise in form and experiment bearing few of the easy consolations of a conventional novel. It’s a tour-de-force certainly, but it’s not one for the casual reader.

A word for the translator, Gregory Rabassa. This must have been a particularly tricky book to translate and he has done a magnificent job. Rabassa was credited by Márquez of making the English translation of One Hundred Years of Solitude superior to the original Spanish. Sadly, he died in June 2016. So it goes.

And a warning for those who wish to avoid the n-word, in which case don’t read the next sentence. The phrase “nigger whorehouse” appears in the text.

Pedant’s corner:- nowthat (now that,) bureaus (I prefer bureaux,) convenience’ sake (convenience’s sake,) insignias (insignia. Is insignias USian?)

Hal Duncan Takes Flyte

You may remember me mentioning in my review of Kurt Wittig’s The Scottish Tradition in Literature the practice in mediæval Scots poetry of flyting, defined in the Dictionary of the Scots Language as “the action of quarrelling, scolding, or employing abusive language.”

I have come across a magnificent modern example of the form written in up to date Scots by Hal Duncan in response to a poem inspired by the US Presidential inauguration last month by one Joseph Charles MacKenzie (of The Society of Classical Poets, no less) and subsequently published in the Scotsman.

That poem itself requires some comment.

Line 4: “To snatch from a tyrant his ill-gotten power.”
Snatch? It was an election conducted under rules.
A tyrant? The man who was elected under those self-same rules and who conformed to the requirement to relinquish his post after his allotted time? And who walked away with grace? Hardly the actions of a tyrant.

Line 7: “When freedom is threatened by slavery’s chains”
Slavery? As far as I’m aware only black people in the US have ever been subjected to slavery. But of course, the “tyrant” is a black man so he “must” have introduced slavery in reverse. Is that the logic?

Line 8: “And voices are silenced as misery reigns”
Silenced? I don’t recall the Tea Party being less than vocal in their opposition, nor lacking in publicity for it.

Line 9: “We’ll come out for a leader whose courage is true”
Courage? The courage to insult and degrade? I note here his several bankruptcies leaving others to suffer the financial loss he thereby avoided.

Line 10: “Whose virtues are solid and long overdue”
Virtues? Virtues? Blustering, bullying, braggartry? (And that’s only words beginning with b.)

Line 15: “As self-righteous rogues took the opulent office”
This would be that “tyrant” again I suppose.

Line 20: “Ne’er gaining from that which his hands did not make”
His hands never made a single thing in his life.

Line 22: “He’s enriched many cities by factors of ten”
Tell that to Atlantic City.

Lines 25, 26, 27, 28 “True friend of the migrant from both far and near/He welcomes the worthy, but guards our frontier/Lest a murderous horde, for whom hell is the norm/Should threaten our lives and our nation deform”
His actions have done the exact opposite of what these lines claim. He has only reinforced the notion that the US (and hence its allies) are against Islam, thereby only fanning the flames he claims he is trying to douse. Horde is a wildly hyperbolic exaggeration and the lives of US citizens are many times more threatened from those disturbed people who walk into schools armed with automatic weapons than by terrorists from abroad.

I could go on but I’m getting fed up with the quantity of sheer guff in this so-called poem from a so-called poet. Lickspittle is far too mild a term for the sycophancy on display here.

So take a look at Hal Duncan’s flyting riposte; far more eloquent than mine.

Passages

From the Show Business world of my youth, Mary Tyler Moore.

From the Politics of my young adulthood, asker of the West Lothian Question, hounder of Thatcher over the sinking of the General Belgrano, a real thorn in the side of the establishment, Tam Dalyell. His home The House of the Binns is now in the care of the National Trust for Scotland. The good lady and I visited there a few years ago now and saw Tam at a distance. He looked frail. We did, though, later strike up a conversation with his wife, Kathleen Wheatley, over armorial china of all things, and she seemed a very down to earth person.

Well-known actor, a memorable Caligula in I, Claudius, also The Naked Civil Servant, The Elephant Man and Doctor of sorts, John Hurt.

Mary Tyler Moore: 29/12/1939 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.
Thomas (Tam) Dalyell: 9/8/1932 – 26/1/2017. So it goes.
John Vincent Hurt: 22/1/1940 – 25/1/2017. So it goes.

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