Persistence of the Outrageous

“The one thing the world will never have enough of is the outrageous,” said Salvador Dali.

He may be right. But then he had a perfectly waxed, upturned mustache. And I only have a well-maintained beard that sometimes I allow to get unruly.

He was known to wear outlandish clothes like Oscar Wilde. The most extravagant I get is when I put on a cravat with my brogues. Or I sling a brolly over my arm and pretend I’m a New Literary Avenger.

He even rang a bell when he went on a walk so that people would look at him. I sometimes sing a few bars of Bernard Cribbins’ “Hole in the Ground,” hoping people might stare. They don’t. They cross the street.

Interesting fact: The ancient Greek punishment for adultery was to shove a radish up the adulterer’s bum.

I live too near a wood to be scared by owls. That’s a Greek proverb, but it works in Maine, too. Since I, too, live near a wood. But it’s the ticks that scare me.

Currently listening to:

Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys. Western swing at its best.

Sings for Only the Lonely by Frank Sinatra. I’m listening to this on vinyl and the bleak, dark album sounds even richer when the needle hits the record.


A Damn Fine Flick

I will admit to not having a fever pitch for football (the English kind, not the American kind). Although I did grow up supporting Swansea City and Liverpool in an odd courtship of love and loyalty — the love was for Liverpool and Kevin Keegan; the loyalty for supporting a local team that happened to be Swansea City.

But I just watched The Damn United and wished I still had my old Liverpool scarf to knot one more time around my neck.

Michael Sheen gives one stellar performance worthy of an Oscar — or at least free season tickets to every premier English league game. He became Brian Clough, the focus of the film, so much that I had to Google Mr. Clough just to remind myself what he looked like.

The story revolves around the friendship, tough at times, between Clough and Peter Taylor (Clough’s assistant at Derby and later Nottingham Forest), and Clough’s bitter rivalry with Leeds United manager Don Revie (played by the fantastic Colm Meaney).

On one level the film’s about football in 70s England, the muddy pitches and the dirty games (epitomized by Leeds United, Football’s Enemies Division One, according to Clough in the film). It also touches on the approachability of those 70s players, so many from working-class backgrounds who would meet fans at local pubs and had salaries that weren’t that much different from the people they lived among. Not like today when footballers are paid salaries the size of the GNP of small countries and you’d be lucky if they gave you the evil eye.

On another level it’s about Clough and the forked-tailed ambition that drove him to succeed but also to be his own worst enemy; the Achilles heel of his own suffering. But what makes Clough so much more than just an ego-driven madman, with the world as a cup at his own lips, is his love for the game, for his friend Taylor, and his wit and honesty in the face of ridicule and dismissal from others.

In a strange way, Brain Clough was football’s Socrates. Like the Athenian philosopher, Clough was charged with introducing strange new gods to football and corrupting the young.

Currently listening to:

Return to Cookie Mountain by TV on the Radio. This New York band is the best thing since the Thin White Duke.

Get Behind Me Satan by The White Stripes. Oh, Jack, you know how to ring my musical doorbell.

Merriweather Post Pavilion by Animal Collective. I didn’t like this album at first but its freak folk and experimental sound has grown on me like psychedelic moss.

Currently reading:

High Fidelity by Nick Hornby. Hornby writes like the chosen son of Laurence Sterne, Chekhov, and Del Boy and Rodney Trotter. His narrative is so witty and sad and uplifting and sneaky that I feel like I’ve been rolled up in a sweet jam roly-poly. And he has his finger pressed so firmly to the drama between men and women, fingering that wishbone of laughter and forgetting, loving and hating, that I have to keep shaking my head and saying to myself, no, Hornby didn’t  create Adam and Eve, he’s just a writer doing what the best are supposed to do: tell us stories.

It’s A Mod, Mod World

I’ve been a fan of the Mod Father ever since I purchased a vinyl copy of the Jam’s In the City. For a rural living, Welsh boy this was the height of modern living.

But I wouldn’t call myself a bona fide Mod. I never owned a scooter, although I did have a weather-beaten parka with a nice hood for the windy and wet days of my youth. I didn’t wear Fred Perry, but I joined a tennis club. I did, however, have a pair of old-school oxblood Doc Martens that were my pride and joy.

I didn’t even have a turntable, but my Dad did. A Sony one with the required rpms and four wooden legs that made it an 80s luxury that could be moved from room to room like a splendid throne of sound.

Of course, I could only play my music between prescribed hours. I could park my album on the turntable and try to play both sides before my Dad’s metre expired and he slipped Barry White or Simon & Garfunkel from their sleeves.

Gradually, though, I required more vinyl than my Dad. And this allowed me to stake out a longer listening time.

I had a more modern sensibility than a Mod persona.

So it was fun to discover this Website:

It gives me the feeling of being the Mod Father’s son, even though I never was or never will be.

But we all need to be someone with his all mod cons in one basket.

Down By Darwin and I Know My Way Around

A Darwin rapper? A hip-hop troubadour who knows his Origin of Species?

Yep. His name is Baba Brinkman.

And he’s no hipster with pretensions of unnatural selection.

He’s witty, sincere, and wants to spread the word to as many as possible about the scope of Darwin’s ideas.

His show is called “The Rap Guide to Evolution.”

Maybe he’ll be selected as the new rap meme.

Fall From Grace

Sometimes I get chagrined because I’ve got what Matthew Arnold called, “the criticism of life.” That feeling of being trapped between the contingent and some longing for destiny, a middle state of poignancy where I’m not so much trying to escape life but feeling existential because I’m not engaging with it enough. Only inching towards its mystery as it keeps leaping away.

You know, it’s not easy to be alive, but it should be glorious.

Otherwise what have you? Property? Money? A flag? Ideology? Religion?

Nothing Comes Easy

I was up bright and early this morning and then I fell fast asleep.

I like this that the writer David Mitchell says about language. He’s a damn fine writer who treats language as if it is a queen but writes it like it’s the workingman.

“I learned that language is to the human experience what spectography is to light: Every word holds a tiny infinity of nuances, a genealogy, a social set of possible users, and that although a writer must sometimes pretend to use language lightly, he should never actually do so  — the stuff is near sacred.”

There is a definite sacredness to language. A certain tone, like when you tap a tuning fork, that must be dealt with if the words are to speak to someone else.

There’s a real history to words, too. Nearly all are older than me! So they deserve respect. But then in the end you have to, if you’re a writer, come to terms with mastering them temporarily for your purposes but then knowing it’s their potency that will have the final power.

I see words as being corralled in a timeless pasture until the moment comes to write and then they are released like wild horses and if you’re a lucky and talented writer you get to charge after the ones you want and they submit to a tether. But it’s always the ones that get away that really inspire and lead you endlessly back to language for a chance at something  grand.

A Work of Staggering Genius

I’m not one to run the flag up a pole every time I read a good book. I tend to let the book in question seep into my every atom and cell and, I guess, tell its own story in a more mysterious way through my own excitements and passions. You could say the good book is the catalyst for the excited me.

But I just finished reading David Benioff’s City of Thieves and this is one book I fucking wished I had written.

And what makes the subjective “good” book?

Well in City of Thieves it’s the fact that I was desperate to get back to the story, the way you get needy for that first spring day after winter, or that one right word to finish a sentence. The book got its claws in me and I wanted to be ripped away from the “cold clockwork world” and into the rich and funny and exciting and madcap one of the Nazis blockade of Leningrad.

The friendship between the two main characters, Lev, the teenage son of a Jewish poet, and Kolya, a Russian soldier, is infectious, and I felt like I was in their company at every pitfall and exhilaration of their adventure to locate a dozen eggs for a colonel of the secret police who wants the eggs for a wedding cake for his daughter.

Benioff writes with the irreverent and droll humour of Woody Allen and the precision for facts and the diligence for research like Peter Ackroyd.

The rapport between Lev and Koyla follows in the crazy footsteps of such literary comrades as the Gray Mouser and Fafhrd and Snufkin and Moomintroll .

Read it and despair. Or else read it and get revisited by the spooky art and get writing like a holy spook.

At least that’s what I’m doing.