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Philip Roth

I heard on the radio news this morning that Philip Roth has died.

I must confess I have not read much of his work, apart from the (ahem) seminal Portnoy’s Complaint – which I was moved to sample partly because of the attention it received – and My Life as a Man which covered much the same ground. Anything you ever wanted know about living as a young(ish) male Jew in the USA was here.

I do remember being intrigued by a long ago television programme about him which featured, as I recall, his creation Nathan Zuckerman fantasising about Anne Frank surviving the Holocaust and making a new anonymous life for herself in (I think) the US, which may have been another spur to reading him.

I can’t say I much took to what seemed from the evidence of those two books to be his perennial subject matter but he was obviously an important US novelist of the second half of the twentieth century whether I favoured his work or not and his ability as a writer shone through in any case.

Much Later I read his Altered History novel The Plot Against America which I reviewed on this blog here. The impulse behind his decision to write it was admirable – and arguably necessary – but I felt that overall it was an opportunity missed, that the punches the book threw were somewhat pulled.

Sadly that impulse might be even more necessary in today’s political climate than it was when he published it thirteen years ago.

Philip Milton Roth: 19/3/1933 – 22/5/2018. So it goes.

Shocked! Shocked!

The Australian PM is reported to be shocked and disappointed about the recent ball tampering by his country’s cricketers.

Has this guy never heard of sledging? As far as I’m aware it’s an Australian invention – or at least its designation is. And it’s essentially a form of cheating.

I can’t help feeling he’s coming over a bit Claude Rains as Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca.

Stephen Hawking

This is starting to feel like 2016 over again. Now it’s Stephen Hawking who has died.

He was one of the few people in the world who needed no introduction. Certainly the most famous scentist.

His A Brief History of Time brought cosmology to wide audience in accessible terms (though it was nothing like as difficult to follow as some have represented it. Or do I just think that as someone who trained in Science? I believe after I read it I characterised it as “Physics for Dingbats”. [I was perhaps less temperate in those days.])

A diagnosis of motor neurone disease would have devastated most but Hawking obviously had a fierce resolve and determination to make the best of what he had to deal with. That he managed to survive to the age of 76 is a testament to his indominability.

Plus he took Jeremy Hunt to task over the government’s treatment of the NHS and its selective attitude to evidence.

It is not just the scientific world that will miss him.

Stephen William Hawking: 8/1/1942 – 14/3/2018. So it goes.

Ken Dodd

So goodbye, then, Ken Dodd.

He was one of those one-offs. Utterly sui generis. A comedian with more than a touch of the surreal. The diddy men from Knotty Ash and the jam butty mines they worked in were a genius invention, seeming so exotic it was a surprise to discover Knotty Ash was an actual location in Liverpool. But he built an engaging fantasy world out of it.

I’d forgotten till I saw the clip on the news that in the early 60s he had a TV show where the diddy men appeared as puppets.

He managed to survive a brush with the tax man and incorporated the experience into his act without alienating his audience whom he famously gave value for money, playing long shows. It didn’t matter whether you laughed at one of his jokes or not, there’d be another along soon enough and he’d get you with that, or the next.

Not content with “pure” comedy he was also a reasonable ventriloquist while at the same time playing against the form. And he was a chart topping singer.

He had a big hit with Happiness and his recording of Tears was the biggest selling single of 1965 (and the 39th biggest selling single in British chart history.)

The good lady heard one of his songs played in tribute on the radio today and remarked how good a voice he had. I tracked the song down. This is no just-get-by, song-and-dance-man effort. He performs it with total conviction. I wouldn’t have taken to it at the time but I recognise its quality now.

Ken Dodd: Love Me With All Your Heart

A master of his craft.

Kenneth Arthur Dodd: 8/11/1927 – 11/3/2018. So it goes.

Reelin’ In the Years 146: Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone – RIP Dennis Edwards

Dennis Edwards died earlier this week. He replaced David Ruffin in the line-up of The Temptations and was an important part of the new grittier sound which had more chart success in the UK than the band’s earlier incarnation.

An example of one of those less romance-leaning songs is Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone from 1972.

The Temptations: Papa Was A Rollin’ Stone

Dennis Edwards: 3/2/1943 – 1/2/2018. So it goes

Reelin’ In the Years 145: Hold Your Head Up. RIP Jim Rodford, Hugh Masekela and Mark E Smith

What a week this has been. It’s like 2016 came back again.

First Jim Rodford of Argent (and later The Kinks and the re-formed Zombies) then Jimmy Armfield, Hugh Masekela, Ursula Le Guin and Mark E Smith of The Fall.

Jimmy Armfield was an almost forgotten member of a certain England football World Cup squad but had a follow-up career as a manager in which he took Leeds United to the European Cup final where they were diddled out of a win by some dodgy refereeing but crowd trouble took some shine off the team’s efforts and later as a commenter on BBC radio’s football coverage.

I’m not much into jazz but was aware Hugh Masekela was an impressive musician, and equally important for his standing in the anti-apartheid movement.

I posted about Ursula Le Guin on Wednesday 24/1/2018. There were two articles about her in yesterday’s Guardian. This one by Alison Flood and Benjamin Lee plus David Mitchell’s appreciation.

The Fall is a band I didn’t follow (they were a bit after my time) but some folks swear by them. By all accounts Mark E Smith was a particularly exacting taskmaster.

Argent’s biggest hit was Hold Your Head Up from 1972. This is a TV performance from 1973.

Argent: Hold Your Head Up

Below are two samples of Masekela in performance.

Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela: Soweto Blues

Hugh Masekela: Bring Him Back Home (Nelson Mandela.)

And here’s The Fall’s cover of the Holland-Dozier-Holland song There’s a Ghost in My House, which gave them their highest UK chart placing.

The Fall: There’s a Ghost in My House

James Walter Rodford: 7/7/1941 – 20/1/2018. So it goes.
James Christopher Armfield: 21/9/1935 – 22/1/2018. So it goes.
Hugh Ramapolo Masekela: 4/4/1939 – 23/1/2018. So it goes.
Mark Edward Smith: 5/3/1957 – 24/1/2018. So it goes.

Ursula Le Guin

I’ve just looked at the Locus website and discovered to my deep sadness that Ursula Le Guin has died.

She was one of the greats of Science Fiction and Fantasy and will be sorely missed.

Probably most famous for her “Earthsea” series of books she first came to my attention in the 1960s. I cannot now remember which book of hers I read first but I think it must have been the acclaimed The Left Hand of Darkness. I went on to scour bookshops for her work. I confess I wasn’t as impressed (in my relative youth) by the even more critically praised The Dispossessed – I probably hadn’t enough life experience then to appreciate it fully – but since those days her fiction has always been the background to my SF reading life, my anticipation of each new book never disappointed by its content.

Most recently I always enjoyed her book reviews for The Guardian, which showed a mind as sharp and incisive as ever.

Tonight the world – the universe – feels like a much smaller place.

Ursula Kroeber Le Guin: 21/10/1929 – 22/1/2018. So it goes.

Friday on my Mind 163: Poupée de Cire, Poupée de Son/Les Sucettes. RIP France Gall

France Gall who has died recently won the Eurovision Song Contest for Luxembourg in 1965. She was French as was the song’s composer Serge Gainsbourg. I blieve this video is of her performance on the night.

France Gall: Poupée de Cire Poupée de Son

Gall was apparently the subject of a particularly cruel trick by Gainsbourg when he persuaded her to record the song Les Sucettes (Lollipops) about whose double meaning Gall claims she was unaware. (Though the Guardian obituary linked to above says that when requested to lick one for a TV performance, she declined.) The film below makes the lyric’s inference obvious.

France Gall: Les Sucettes

This video outlines the story, along with Gall’s viewpoint.

Isabelle Geneviève Marie Anne “France” Gall: 9/10/1947 – 7/1/2018. So it goes.

Something Changed 1: Linger. RIP Dolores O’Riordan

I haven’t previously had a category for 1990s music – the spur for Friday on my Mind, Reelin’ in the Years and Live it Up wasn’t there. I had been thinking of a starting point, but not this one.

I have been shocked into it by the premature demise of Dolores O’Riordan, lead singer of The Cranberries, who first entered the public consciousness in the 1990s. 46 isn’t 27 but it’s still shockingly early. O’Riordan had a distinctive voice which I shall be coming back to.

The Cranberries: Linger

Dolores Mary Eileen O’Riordan: 6/9/1971 – 15/1/2018. So it goes.

Cyrille Regis

I was sad to hear of the death of Cyrille Regis, a stalwart of a West Bromwich Albion side which finished third in the English top division in the late 1970s and fourth a couple of years later. Imagine that happening now!

Prior to his career along with Laurie Cunningham and Brendan Batson (nicknamed the Three Degrees though that seems excessively patronising now) there had been few black players in the British game since its very early days.

Albert Johanesson of Leeds United and West Ham United’s Clyde Best were trail-blazers and the amount of racist abuse all these had to suffer doesn’t bear thinking about.

Regis and the other two degrees helped to show that players like them could, “do it on a wet Wednesday afternoon in Stoke.” Not that that should ever have been doubted.

Regis’s five caps for England is not a true reflection of his abilities and stands as an indicator of the difficulties he faced in forging a career in football.

Cyrille Regis: 9/2/1958 – 14/1/2018. So it goes.

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