Category Archives: The Golden Country

The Professor of Pop

I think the best term for this musician, this pure artist is the Professor of Pop.

kate bushShe has an almost academic approach to her work. I am talking about Kate Bush. As winter sets in, I find that one of the most luxurious comforts is to laden the fire with logs, light scented candles and allow myself the pleasure of losing an hour with her delightful, epic piece of work, Fifty Words for Snow.

I do not believe in regrets but I must confess one of my failings of 2014 was to secure a ticket to her live show. The descriptions of this total theatre experience have left me envious of those who did manage to attend. It was grating to hear the gutter press moan about the fact she chose not to sing Wuthering Heights. Lambasting her for choosing not to perform a song she did in another lifetime. It is the equivalent of asking Picasso to paint his early pieces or Hockney to re-do his infamous Splash painting.

But what else can you expect from the media, an industry that pushes Simon Cowell’s vehicle for contrived entertainment, to promote a throwaway singer (of sorts), not an artist. I always ask people who even attempt to engage me in conversation about this type of car crash television, who won three years ago? Ninety percent of the time, I am given a complete blank look. Everyone remembers Susan Boyle, but that’s possibly because she defied the conventions of what a pop star should look like, fake body parts, perfect teeth and a saccharine brain. I don’t even think that show was X Factor, but all of this modern coliseum-like entertainment all blends into one. Apologies, I digress, I will get off my soap box and leave Speakers’ Corner for the time being. I must have had ‘Ranty Pops’ for breakfast.

With Kate’s work, there is WORK behind the work. I like the fact that she does not bow down in the digital temple of commercialism, vomiting out album, tour, dvd, album, tour REPEAT. She releases the material when it is ready. One thing she cannot be described as is pusillanimous in her approach. It is all about the process. Graft equals craft!

The work needs to be listened to in one sitting, in its entirety. I encourage readers to listen to the album Fifty Words for Snow this season. An atmospheric, bold, collection of pieces inspired by Winter.

fifty words for snowWhat an idea of genius to have Stephen Fry list off different words that describe snow to a mesmerising soundscape with interjections by Kate, like a musical blizzard, a chilled frost wind.

It may depict the coldness of the season, but it warms the heart.

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The Pope of the Paparazzi

One of the advantages of the internet is that on a winter’s day, you can navigate all around the world and visit the finest art establishments, without even leaving the house. Today in Blighty the wind is howling like a possessed hound. So let’s visit NYC.

Liverpool has its Shakeshaft, Paris its Brassai and New York has Weegee, a self-styled showman who created a pulp fictitious persona, the father of tabloid culture. He would boldly proclaim,

My name is Weegee. I’m the world’s greatest photographer.

Born Arthur Fellig in 1899, the photographer was nicknamed Weegee by the office girls in Acme Newspapers – after the Ouija board – for he had an uncanny way of always arriving at the scene to capture a moment.  Weegee helped to found the tabloid culture that is still apparent today. His images capture humans at their most vulnerable and bare. Photography that produces compositions that incite emotion based on the subject matter alone. Sensationalist and sensual, an acute portrayal of human nature. From two lovers embracing, to a burning building, all of his images transport the viewer into the very heart of the experience.

The summer heat in a New York apartment, forcing the residents to sleep on the fire escape, radiates from the picture.

heatspell HEATSPELL, 1938 (NAKED CITY, SUNDAY MORNING IN MANHATTAN)

You can practically smell the perfumery of two old broads, all war paint and fur, out to enjoy an evening in the city, whilst one onlooker’s envy cannot be hidden:

the criticTHE CRITIC. MRS.CAVANAGH AND FRIEND ENTERING THE OPERA, 1943 (NAKED CITY, THE OPERA)

Never officially trained, he used the darkroom of Acme Newspictures as his university, honing his craft and training his eye whilst working on other people’s images. His pictures of New York and her people are like a carnival of the Electric Jungle. The book Naked City (1945) went on to be exhibited in Museum of Modern Art and helped to shape urban American consciousness.

In his book Weegee on Weegee, the artist frankly lays down the passion for his craft, a love for New York and its people,

My camera… my life and my love… was my Aladdin’s lamp.

His catalogue of work is like a visual love letter between him and the city, a composition of magic.

crook

I had so many unsold murder pictures lying around my room…I felt as if I were renting out a wing of the City Morgue.

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A perfect synergy

Like pretty much everyone on Earth, I love Moleskine notebooks. They are beautifully crafted yet solid enough to survive the punishments of travel. Then they also come with a history that sets them apart from other stationers: the illustrious writers who made their name, and the company that was brought back to life after the original makers went bust.

As you may remember, I also love The Little Prince. So imagine how my heart and wallet was open to this:

image

Nice work, marketing team!

Inside it is mostly the usual Moleskine day-to-page diary that I can’t seem to function without, but there are some sweet little touches here and there. The back cover has a favourite quote from the book, the paper insert features another, as well as passport details for our small royal. Not forgetting the ‘Adhesifs en Edition Limitee’. The eternal child in all of us couldn’t fail to be excited by these limited edition stickers:

image

When I was a child, I remember my mother taking time out of the busy pre-Christmas schedule – usually on a Sunday, it would probably be raining – to copy out the birthdays and important anniversaries from the old diary to the new. I might sometimes sigh over her shoulder at the months and months I had to wait until my birthday, but I loved the ritual of marking the year’s important events. One of those essential yet time-consuming life admin tasks that can fill you with a nerdish glee as they progress.

I haven’t filled out this one yet, but I am very much looking forward to doing so, as well as to seeing what the year held within its pages has to bring.

For some, who are travellers, the stars are guides.
For others they are no more than little lights in the sky.

Pour les uns, qui voyagent, les etoiles sont des guides.
Pour d’autres elles ne sont rien que de petites lumieres.

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It’s all about the Monet

Paris is essentially one massive open air Art Gallery. A canvas that is always changing, through the seasons and the lively interaction between its residents and its dramatic buildings. There are a copious amount of galleries, studio space and lofts to stumble upon. Artists showcase work to which expectant thousands look for their supply of creative pabulum. There are also established galleries that are world renowned.

The Musee de l’Orangerie is one such place. A vestibule designed by Monet to craft a space between the hustle and bustle of the city and his works.

musee de l'orangerie. buildingThe pieces that capture his signature water lilies were essentially his gift to France. On stepping through the doors, you receive an open invitation into a haven of peace.

Stillness!

Monet stated his mission in 1909,

Nerves strained by work would relax in its presence, following the restful example of its stagnant waters, and for he who would live in it, this room would offer a refuge for peaceful meditation in the midst of a flowering aquarium.

Nature provided the source of inspiration, it was the painter’s own ‘water garden’ in Giverny, Normandy. He yearned to try to recreate on bold canvascapes the changing qualities of natural light in his garden. He continued to busy himself on the pieces until his death in 1926.

Monet in his gardenDrifting through the two rooms, scan your retina over the eight panels and it evokes the passing from sunrise to sunset. It is as if the very elements, water, air, sky and earth are merging. The composition drowns the viewer.

The seats in the middle of the viewing space are a necessity as you need to perch for a moment to take in all of the beauty detailed. Shades of purple, iridescent blue, like you have been dropped in the middle of a lagoon. It is quite breath-taking!

Musee de l'orangerieSo when next in Paris, I recommend visiting Monet’s achievement.

The illusion of an endless whole of water without horizon and without shore,

as he so aptly put it. Let the waters wash over you. Drown your eyes in the stillness, a brief respite from the speedy world we live in.

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Sleeping with the Dead

After alighting at the Metro station Gambetta, I walked through a hill garden to gain entrance to the cemetery. Along one of the walls there was a figurine with arms spread out, pushing back the wall, faces surreptitiously appearing, almost fading away. Keeping the souls encased.

Cemetery Figure

An old phrase my Nan used to say came immediately to the forefront of my mind,

You should never fear the dead, it’s the living you should be afraid of.

I’d bought four blue iris flowers with a lick of yellow in the centre, a fragrant tongue. The rain came down forever, wet arrows bouncing off my grey wool suit. I walked through a narrow entrance in the wall and was totally mesmerised. Death done with panache. Gothic miniature chapels. Stone crafted sculptures. Ancient tree trunks with branches dramatically stabbing the sky. A calm within the core of the City of Light.

Cemetery shrines

The graves were so decrepit and battered by the ages that at times I had to remind myself that these were authentic graves and not fabricated. Four ravens appeared and for a moment I’d assumed I was really in Universal Studios, Florida and not the 20th Arondissement in France’s Capital City.

Oscar Wilde 2

Oscar Wilde’s grave had an Egyptian-like quality, a mini shrine. The tomb had been encased in glass, as admirers had for years glazed it with lipstick. This had not prohibited the ritual. For all over the surface, lipstick-stained kisses re-decorated it. One bold visitor had even puckered a smooch onto the lips of the Sphinx’s head. I placed the flowers on an arm-like ledge and waited for a moment. The rain, birds and stillness added to the atmosphere.

Thinking about the roll call of people buried in this site, I thought imagine what it would be like when the gates are locked at the end of the day. Sleeping with the dead, the site of numerous French luminaries – writers, artists and musicians:

Moliere
Marie Callas
Sarah Bernhardt
Isadora Duncan
Amedeo Modigliani
Edith Piaf
Gertrude Stein
Oscar Wilde
Colette
Frederic Chopin
Eugene Delacroix
Max Ernst
Jim Morrison
Marcel Proust
Marcel Marceau

Imagine the party the spirits could have. Now that would be one big Bohemian Kiki indeed! I guess in the way a Catholic pays homage to their faith by going on a pilgrimage to Rome, a pagan to Stonehenge, a writer or lover of the written word chooses to show their respects to the literary gods.

Cemetery sculpture

Later on in the evening, I danced like an idiot in the Marais. I thought about how laid back the attitude is in Paris. As I saw my sister in the midst of a cluster of bald, bearded bears, an adult version of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, perhaps, it made me smile and I said inwardly, ‘Thanks, Oscar!’

Cemetery Panoramic

Pere Lachaise Cemetery is the largest in Paris (44 hectares/110 acres). It was the first garden cemetery in the capital and contains 3 World War Murals. It opened on 21st May 1804.

Photographs courtesy of Liam Maguire

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The happy insanity of John Waters

Last year I decided to mark 9 November with a new holiday Trashaday, in honour of the granddaddy of trash, Mr. John Waters. On this date, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of possibly the worst ever art house film ever made, BOOM!  A film adaptation of a play by Tennessee Williams. This cinematic treat for the eye stars Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, camping it up on a desolate island. The screening was part of the internationally acclaimed festival Homotopia and was followed by a question and answer masterclass with the director of trash classics, Hairspray, Pink Flamingos and Cecil B. Demented.

I vowed on that day to celebrate the work of this cult genius on a yearly basis and call the day Trashaday. I contemplated hosting a bad taste beauty pageant here in Liverpool this year. A distinctive award for ‘Scally/Scouse girl of the year’ would see girls with hair in curlers, eyelashes like tree branches, layered with mascara and orange face foundation – that would look more fitting on an Oompa Loompa – compete for a trophy. I could also screen one of the many bad taste films in Waters’ back catalogue. Although I would draw the line at recreating the infamous dog poop scene in Pink Flamingos.

Finally I decided to start the day by watching a most disturbing self-help film presented by Dame Angela Lansbury. This may be the stuff of nightmares but it is rich in trash.

I then chose to try to get into the man’s head by dipping into his latest book Carsick. I had read and enjoyed his previous zany scribblings, Role Models and Crackpot. His recent work chronicles a hitchhike from Baltimore to San Francisco. You see the world through the creative insane perspective of JW. A journey into the sublime, with a cast of characters, straight from his screenscape, filthy, trashy, kooky individuals.

CarsickI decided to accompany our hero on his odyssey from the safety of my reading chair. I felt the pain of being stuck hitchhiking in torrential rain, despite knowing that I was only a few seconds away from a strong cup of black coffee.

Carsick-not-psychoHe treks armed with a sign made out of a piece of cardboard with his destination emblazoned and on the reverse,

I’m not psycho

His descriptions of his hike are darkly comic and some of the simplicity in the writing is effective, the heat of the sun is described as ‘the ball of hell’. There is an undercurrent of social satire, railing against the modern world, in all its commercial, fast-paced humdrum sameness. A standout favourite for me was his participation in a modern-day freak show, an alternative cirque du soleil, as a man without tattoos. Before the show, he is petrified at getting naked in his sixties and is advised,

The audience won’t be criticizing your body-they will just be amazed to see you don’t have tattoos in this day and age. You’ll be a triumph.

He also encounters a female sex-fiend desperate to make love to him,

It’s a little late in my life to come in.

Waters is an avid reader, a self-confessed bibliophile. Whilst reading this odyssey I found myself empathising with the comments he made in last year’s lecture,

It wasn’t until I started reading and found books they wouldn’t let us read in school that I discovered you could be insane and happy and have a good life without being like everybody else.

I recommend this book to all those people who yearn to be insane and happy. It is essential reading!

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Whistle And I’ll Come To You

I thought Hallowe’en had come early last week, due to the ghastly media coverage of the mysterious disappearance of Renee Zellweger. The net and press were plastered with images and commentary. The words were downright vulgar and toxic, with one article featuring a microscopic facial autopsy of the plastic surgery supposedly undertaken. It seemed almost barbaric the way people critiqued this individual’s action. It led me to think that perhaps this Hallowe’en there is a new type of mask, that of celebrity.

It used to be the case that theatre held the mirror up to society, to highlight its hypocrisies, double standards and faults. Now it is apparent that the very representative of celebrity, the star him/herself is the mirror to society’s horrors. Essentially the contemporary world, with its fixation on the body and how we look, is the Dr. Frankenstein creating the fame monster. We are, it seems, one step away from the beauty enhancement explored in the dark comedy film, Death Becomes Her, although if Lucifer offered me the elixir of life in guise of Isabella Rossellini, I’d take it.

Collected Ghost Stories of M. R. JamesSo this Hallowe’en, there is no need to wear a zombie/demon/mask of horror, because the so-called ‘natural’ ones that people are choosing to don all year around – paying a surgeon to craft their ideal self – now, that is the real stuff of terror. However, being a traditionalist, on 31st October my choice to scare the bejeepers out of me will undoubtedly be to pick up a book, particularly the short story Whistle and I’ll Come to You by the master frightener, M. R. James.

He was a prolific academic who redefined the ghost story for the 20th Century by scrapping many of the formal gothic cliché’s of his literary predecessors and setting his tales in more realistic contemporary locations. ‘Whistle’ is set in Barnstow, a seaside town on the east coast of England. Published in 1904, this tale focuses on an introverted academic on a golfing holiday, who explores a Knights Templar cemetery on the East Anglian coast. He happens upon an object, a whistle with a mysterious engraving etched on it, Quis est iste qui venit (who is this, who is coming?). Blowing the whistle brings a windstorm and an unwelcome guest.

James is an enigmatic master of the supernatural story. He stated his ambition,

If any of [my stories] succeed in causing their readers to feel pleasantly uncomfortable when walking along a solitary road at nightfall, or sitting over a dying fire in the small hours, my purpose in writing them will have been attained.

There is a fantastic black and white adaptation by Jonathan Miller.  Michael Horden plays the character with grimaces and mutterings. The whole ‘less is more’ approach to the drama creates a chill that strikes up the spinal cord.

James’ writing provides scares that do not just shock, but leave the reader with an aftertaste. Failing that, if his tales do not satisfy your horror fix, another suggestion would be to pick up a tabloid rag, like The National Enquirer and take a peep at the Celebrity Monsters gracing those pages. Fame, oh I would not wish it on my worst enemy!

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