Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Grin to Win (or End in The Bin)

Living in a country where a direct £40 bribe will get me more healthcare and planning permission than any election candidate can ever offer, I’m not normally that interested in politics. But I’m disturbed by this US election thing: what’s with all the grinning straight at the camera?? Everybody’s saying what a nutter Sarah Palin is now they’ve heard her views on creationism and the environment, but couldn’t they’ve discovered that earlier just by looking at her publicity photos?? Everything about the picture above says “I’m going to believe what I believe and use up the world’s oil and make polar bears apologise and I don’t have to give you a reason why”. It’s not really having a grin I object to, it’s the new angle of attack and the lack of psychological restraint that disturbs me. (Even former president Carter the Unstoppable Grinning Machine, circa 1977, seemed to keep a more respectful distance and one ear hidden out of modesty.) Below is a painting by certified Norwegian nutter (and genius) Edvard Munch.

I once heard a psychiatrist explain that in art therapy sessions any patient who draws a self-portrait absolutely head-on is a nutter. I’m pretty sure the chap in the painting is Eddie himself as he paints like this many times. You’d be very well advised to visit the museum dedicated to him in Oslo, but (despite his talents) not to elect him as your vice-president. Here in Romania I'm continually enchanted by wedding photographs from the 1950s and 60s in homes that I visit. Always shot in glorious black-and-white and at a ¾ perspective with the couple looking into the middle distance to the side of the camera. It doesn’t matter how much they’ve come to resemble Albert Steptoe and his sister Dolly, they always look like film stars in the wedding photo. Even Comrade Ceauşescu knew to avert his eyes a little so’s not to scare us. Now, this is deeply unfair, and let us not forget what America has done for us over the last century by way of cartoons and jazz music, but here’s the alternative to Sarah Palin, perhaps just 1 degree better, Joe Biden:

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Les Dawson: A Prophet Unhonoured

Recent scribblings on this blog and others have touched upon Les Dawson - though not in a “bad” way - and made me realise how much I miss the man. If you don’t know, Les was a very fat comedian from the North of England. Lugubrious (a word which may almost mean “very fat and from the North”) was a common description of him. When they could get him sober enough he stood on a stage and told jokes. (Though he also wrote novels, apparently, and was a fine connoisseur of language). He wasn’t considered exactly a modern comedian but I had a secret regard for him, based mainly on the fact that the worse his jokes were – and oh they could be bad – the funnier he was. I thought: anyone who can make me laugh by standing still on a stage telling crap jokes must be a genius. I think it was something to do with the pauses. But, and here’s the important issue now, I paid scant attention to the content of his humour, the staple of which was The Mother-In-Law Joke. Examples:

I wouldn’t say my mother-in-law was fat, but when she got run over the driver said although he had enough time to drive around her he didn't know if he had enough petrol.
I took my mother-in-law to Madame Tussaud's Chamber of Horrors, and one of the attendants said, “Keep her moving sir, we're stock-taking”.
My mother-in-law said “When you die I’m going to dance on your grave!”. “Good”, I said, “I’m being buried at sea!”

Is it coming back to you?? It’s relevant as I’ve had a bit of friction with my own mother-in-law, a fine woman with whom I usually get along famously. It’s all my fault. After all, she survived and kept a family clothed and fed through 30 years of Nicolae “The Genius of the Carpathians” Ceauşescu & co. And I’m just a ponce. I may technically be in the right - “blah..blah..blah” - but in all other respects... I’m still (comparatively) a ponce. I pledged not to wash my dirty laundry in public, but maybe I’d have been better prepared if I’d listened to Les. When I peered at him on the TV screen back in the 70s from under my Brian Connolly fringe his wisdom was wasted on me. In fact, I was the teenager that mothers of girlfriends warm to: nervous, vulnerable, but, crucially, giving off the slight suggestion that in another life I’d have found them as attractive as their spotty, specky daughters. The naivety of youth - I must have thought I could handle women. My mother-in-law and I have more than made up now, and our bond is all the stronger. As it turns out, Les was as inaccurate about my mother-in-law as he was, apparently, about his own. But in his stumbling way he felt burdened with a truth that he knew must be told - may his name be honoured!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Transsexual Transylvania

(Another Warning: Readers of the resolutely meat-and-two-veg, “a man should look like a man” opinion may be disturbed by what I'm about to say, and they are advised instead to look at pictures of Steve Reeves.)

This, of course, is a quote from Richard O’Brien’s Rocky Horror Show and not an accurate description of the place where I live, as I shall explain later with the help of two advertisements that have recently come to my attention. Now, I have a theory that countries, regions, ethnic groups, etc can be quickly and irrefutably characterised using very simple metrics. (One such is how they recreate Elvis in their own image - more on that another time.) But here I want to look at how easily a culture can be characterised by its transsexuality. (Yes, it’s a rather sensitive subject; and I hope that you’ll bear with me, and appreciate that the “want” here is a thirst more for sociological enquiry than for sensationalism.) Britain of course has always had the likes of Cissie & Ada, France the more soave La Cages aux Folles, Spain its fatalistic Almodóvar queens, Germany its hard-edged Weimar cabaret, America its street-smart RuPauls, New Zealanders elected “sensible-shoes” Georgina Beyer to their parliament and lovable Mr Entertainment Danny La Rue is Irish. You see, it’s all you need to know about a culture. (Even Bulgaria, for heaven's sake, has Azis, a frightening transvestite gypsy singer, and they’ve named an asteroid after him... who’da thought!)

Now, whether this all makes you feel a bit ill or in the mood for rummaging in your sister’s wardrobe is entirely up to you. I've no pressing need for it myself - though some people remarked that I did look surprisingly comfortable wearing a kilt for the first time at my wedding. But I tend to think, hey, women can wear trousers, and it costs nothing to give a little succour to citizens who feel a bit “Glen or Glenda”. And as a liberal ponce I’d say, “when was the last time, yeah, that a tranny created major problems for ordinary people??” (1924-1972, J. Edgar Hoover, allegedly). But returning to my original idea, I must now take issue with Mr O’Brien. Just like Bram Bloody Stoker before him, he’s never been here, has he! It’s just not like that here. However, if we ignore this gross misrepresentation it is still possible that my thesis holds true. Transylvania has just now made its first tentative step; so, please be brave, take a look at the pictures below, and try not to judge us too unkindly:

Monday, September 15, 2008

Gadjo’s Night at the Concert Hall

(It doesn’t sound so glamorous, does it. Never mind.) As I stated previously, although I enjoy some operas I’m more familiar with other forms of classical music. So to fill the list of 12 that Gyppo Byard has instigated, I’m broadening the perspective, though moving only one step away and considering anything with voices and large-scale instrumentation. For want of a better system, I’m listing these in terms of increasing religiosity (though bear in mind that I understand very little of what’s being sung) so if any of you start feeling your blood rising and your hand instinctively reaching for your Dawkins then you know it’s time to switch to another blog :-)

CARMINA BURANA (Carl Orff, 1937) Yeah, the Old Spice advert!! Set to secular Medieval text about Wine, Women, and Song. I’ve danced to this many times as it was the favourite piece of our movement choir choreographer on the summer school I attended regularly.

DAS LIED VON DER ERDE (Gustav Mahler, 1909) (The Song of the Earth) This is a superbly effecting piece, and as close to Wagnerian as I can comfortably get. Apparently it’s ancient Chinese poetry rendered into German, but it really doesn’t sound as bad as all that.

CURLEW RIVER (Benjamin Britten, 1964) Almost an opera, though Britten never classed it as such, this is fascinatingly “different” piece in many ways. It’s based on a Japanese noh play, and allowed Peter Pears to “drag up” as The Madwoman in honourable onnagata tradition.

GLAGOLITIC MASS (Leoš Janáček, 1926) We pedants know that this is really a secular mass and that “Glagolitic” refers to the alphabet of the Old Church Slavonic text rather the language itself. Great organ solo, edgy and compelling choral arrangements: together with Messiaen’s (vocal-less and therefore inelligible) Turangalîla Symphony, my favourite piece of classical music.

MISA CRIOLLA / NAVIDAD NUESTRA (Ariel Ramírez, both 1964) These are two pieces by an Argentine composer based on traditional rhythms of his homeland. They're also “dancing pieces” for me, and the memories still linger.

PASSION AND RESSURRECTION (Jonathan Harvey) “Hurray” for new music!! Harvey has composed a lot for percussion and electronic tape machines, but this is more accessible and has some lovely passages. He was a pupil of Messiaen’s, and it shows.

THE ETERNAL GOSPEL (Leoš Janáček) Janáček composed many and various pieces for choirs, like this one; I just wish I lived in the Czech republic, as I’m sure that I’d never tire of hearing or singing them.

MISSA BREVIS / PSALMUS HUNGARICUS (Zoltán Kodály) Many people seem to consider Kodály at bit 2nd division but I really like his music, and have fallen asleep – in a good way – to these pieces many times.

LITURGY OF SAINT JOHN CHRYSOSTOM (Kyrylo Stetsenko, 1918) I don’t know much about Eastern Orthodox music, except that the old bloke downstairs can ring our local church’s bell on a Sunday morning even when he was lying on a pavement stone-cold drunk the night before. And I don’t select this Ukrainian piece to impress Mrs Boyo - who’ll hate it anyway – but because it’s genuinely a favourite listening experience on a Sunday afternoon.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Gadjo’s Night At The Opera

Following Gyppo Byard’s initiative and further posts by him and No Good Boyo I hereby present my favourite operas. Now, I’m not a massive opera fan: in the realm of classical music I tend to prefer oratorios, lieder and chamber music - or simply banging my head against a wall and shouting “why, why, why!!” in counterpoint - but I do have my favourites. Opera has the reputation of being a most bourgeois and respectable of art forms, so here we go: one by a bloke with a girl’s name, another by a bloke who fancied underage boys, one with a libretto by a gay brother, and one about somebody who shags his mum.

Bluebeard’s Castle (Béla Bartók, 1911)

You must ignore me when I say silly and rude things about Hungarians, for the truth is that I love their music. Bartok does it for me, and I reckon he was a genius. We saw Bluebeard’s Castle in the Hungarian Opera house here – £2 for front row seats, beat that you Covent-Garden-going suckaaas!! – and I was in ecstasy. It only lasts an hour, has only 2 characters, and is rather short on romance. My wife speaks “hospital Hungarian” and could understand a bit, and we’ve had great fun since intoning the “give me the keys” schtick every time we arrive at our front door. Bartok also collected lots of great folk music in the area where I now live and even learned to speak Romanian - so, respect.

Peter Grimes (Benjamin Britten, 1945)

I’m glad that Boyo didn’t pick this one as his Britten opera as it’s my flyaway favourite. Most of Benny’s stories seem to be about little-boys-lost who need protection, but I suppose you’ve got to write about what you know. It has the astringency that I crave and yet gallons of “real music” at the same time. It’s also got the salty tang of the sea, especially in evidence in the interludes. Peter Pears is pretty camp in this clip but it’s a good television version of the opera. I saw it in another wonderful staging by the ENO at London’s Colosseum.

Street Scene (Kurt Weill, 1947)

I greatly enjoy the music of Weill and Hans Eisler (with lyrics often by Bertolt Brecht, of course). I know much of it in recordings by singers such as Dagmar Krause, Ute Lemper, Robyn Archer, etc, but this is the only one of their operatic works – apart from a very poor production of The Threepenny Opera - that I’ve seen on the stage. As Street Scene is from Weill's American period it's perhaps atypical, but it's a very pleasing and unassuming piece, not posing or puffed up like many operas that turn me against the genre, but telling stories with poignancy and some excellent jazz-influenced classical music.

Œdipe (George Enescu, 1931)

You’ll think that I chose this because it’s by a Romanian. Welllll... that fact that I’ve heard it is because it’s by a Romanian, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not any good. On the contrary, it’s excellent. Enescu was a real all-rounder: brilliant musician, renowned teacher (of Yehudi Menuhin, famously) and an interesting composer with a very varied range. Œdipe has been described variously as “a forgotten masterpiece”, “the finest musical interpretation of the Oedipus myth” and “of course is good, is by a Romanian!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Dark Night of the Soul #1

What I’m about to say may disturb readers of a sensitive disposition, and they are advised instead to look at pictures of fluffy kittens until normal service is resumed.

I can feel it creeping over me again: like a cancer, but without the sympathy. Maybe some of you know the feeling (do you?): why am I here; why have I moved away from my friends, my family, my culture, people who listen to me, the food that I like, {your own personal choice here}, and proper comedy. There seem to be three well-trodden paths which can be taken from this juncture:

(1) Shout at the person you’ve given everything up for (not fair as it’s not really their fault)
(2) Go back home (possible, but you know that “home” is just as crap in its own special way)
(3) Get drunk (yes, the one continuing advantage about being abroad is that the beer is cheaper)

However, I’ve just thought of an entirely new solution (4): destroy things!!!! I was in my mid-teens when punk started in the UK – for which I’ve always been assiduously grateful - but I’m afraid I failed to take full advantage of the possibilities thereof. However, as they say, “it’s never too late”. I have fantasies about smashing up the kitchen, the chairs, the telly - anything that’s immediately to hand, frankly - but so far I’ve only succeeded in punching wooden fences and lampposts. Of course, this isn’t the “me” that people want to see, but, well, as they also tell me, “you shouldn’t bottle your feelings up!!” Now, I’m of the type for whom scenario (3) actually prevents rather than precipitates scenario (4), so I’ve got a large plastic keg of beer at my elbow right now so I can finish writing this before I send the computer south - if you don’t hear from me again you know the beer ran out :-) Cheerio!!

Monday, September 1, 2008

The Somechance Film Festival

After the fun many of us had recently presenting our favourite 12 films, I’m starting a festival of films that one would like to be made. Based on Robert Redford’s Sundance festival, this'll be a chance to see offbeat stories that might never get shown in your local multiplex. I hate inaugurating things – simply because they so often fail – but if others would to present their own film wish-lists then please do.

Das Boot: The Musical

It’s getting tense inside U-96 at 280 meters deep with the hull starting to crack, but what better moral booster could there be than a song and dance number! The guys fix the leaks whilst belting out the catchy “Ach mein Gott, das Boot ist bald kaput!”, leaping around and banging their spanners rhythmically on the pipework. Not much romance here for the ladies, you might think, but there’s time for a love duet between Chief Mechanic “I Hate Fresh Air” Johann and the sub’s beautiful Germaniawerft M6V 40 diesel engine.

Gandhi 2

The Mahātmā's back and this time it’s personal!! But unfortunately he’s been reborn as a slug because the Brahmins administrating the reincarnation process are pissed that he tried to subvert the Indian caste system. The new-look Gandhi gets straight back on the campaign trail, organising fellow slugs, snails, and other gastropod mollusks to hustle for a new world order. However, they become seriously “unstuck” when they try to recreate the famous Salt March.

My Right Foot

The Eric Bristow Story. A boy born with 6 toes on his right foot finds solace in the game of darts and overcomes ridicule and adversity when he finds that his “disability” actually gives him extra balance on the ockey. The film follows his rags-to-riches story, the four world titles, the decade of being world no. 1, and culminating in the seemingly de rigueur allegations of domestic assault. Like My Left Foot - the story of the handicapped Irish poet Christy Brown – but in this film the poetry’s all in Eric’s throwing.

Hedd Wyn and the Angry Inch

(I haven’t really done the “storyboard” for this yet, to be honest, as I’ve never seen the musical about transexuality set in an Berlin drag club, nor been able to find many poems in English by the Merionethshire bard killed in the WW1 trenches. But if somebody with less respect than I would like to take up the challenge, please be my guest).