iPod Shuffle, October 2015

  • Love Minus Zero/No Limit, Bob Dylan : The Rolling Thunder Revue (1975)
  • Sabu Visits the Twin Cities Alone, John Prine : Great Days
  • Hey, That’s No Way To Say Goodbye, Leonard Cohen : The Songs of Leonard Cohen
  • Doggin’ Around, Alex Welsh Band : Oh, Baby!
  • Useless Desires, Patty Griffin : Impossible Dream
  • Tecumseh Valley, Townes Van Zandt : Live at Union Chapel (1994)
  • Jumpin’ at the Woodside, Count Basie Orchestra : The Jubilee Alternatives (1944)
  • Etta’s Tune, Rosanne Cash : The River & The Thread
  • It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, Stan Tracey : Solo/Trio
  • All the Brave Horses, John Stewart : Lonesome Picker Rides Again

For some reason I’d never really listened to the Rolling Thunder CD, put off in part by all those images of Dylan in white clown make up, partly by the various bits and pieces I’d read about it, most of which seemed keen to talk about it as a succession of “happenings” rather than concentrate on the music. So, when I pulled it down from the shelf not so long ago, I was pleasantly surprised by the contents, in particular a reggae-influenced It Ain’t Me, Babe and this nice breathy, almost intimate and uncluttered version of Love Minus Zero/No Limit, long one of my favourites of Dylan’s songs.

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I can readily remember hearing John Prine’s sad and affectionate tribute to the Indian/American actor, Sabu Dastagir. It was a Saturday morning in 1978 (0r could it have been 1979? or even 77?) and I was travelling down to a Film Studies Day on Melodrama at the University of Leicester (or it could have been Loughborough, the exact location isn’t important). What is definite is that the car was being driven by Professor Charles Gregory, who was spending a year on a lecturing exchange in the American Studies department at the University of Nottingham, where I was studying for an MA.

Greg and I had bonded early on over a number of shared interests, cinematic, literary and musical – more specifically, film noir, hard-boiled crime fiction and what would now be called Americana – country music, folk and blues. I’m not sure what he had been expecting in the UK, musically – not a rigid diet of Englebert Humperdink, George Formby and Gracie Fields, as he was knowledgeable fan of Richard Thompson, John Renbourn, Pentangle and Fairport Convention – but in order to keep in touch with home, and, as he put it, keep himself sane, he had brought with him a cassette of cherished songs, not all of which I remember, though there was certainly Kris Kristofferson singing Sunday Morning Coming Down, Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGhee, some John Stewart, some Rosalie Sorrels, Jimmy Buffett’s He Went To Paris, Dave Bomberg’s version of Mister Bojangles and the aforementioned John Prine. I learned a great deal from Greg on all sorts of front and in all sorts of ways, not least how to belly up to the bar drinking shots of bourbon with water backs and not fall over – at least not till I got up. He was a good friend who died too early and whenever I hear any of those songs just mentioned he comes to mind.

The In Memory Archives of California State University, Sacramento, where Greg taught, begins thus …

Charles T. Gregory, Professor Emeritus of English at California State University, Sacramento, the originator of the campus’s Film Studies Program, a strong supporter of student rights, a campus leader in the student protest movement of the late 1960’s and 1970’s, and a highly regarded specialist in twentieth-century British and American literature, died October 10. He was 70.

and continues later …

Though Professor Gregory was well known for his frank and sometimes blunt criticism during discussions of English Department and campus-wide issues, he was soft-spoken and renowned for his dry wit and keen intelligence. He was much admired by both students and faculty for his courage and honesty.

When asked for a final comment about Professor Gregory, Nelson (Professor Emeritus Charles E. Nelson, friend and colleague) said, I think what Hamlet said about his late father very effectively describes what Greg meant to his family, colleagues and friends: ‘He was a man. Take him for all in all, I shall not look upon his like again.”’

You can read the whole piece here, just scroll down …

http://www.csus.edu/org/retirees/in_memory/2006_mem.html

And thinking of people who died too early there’s Sabu himself, of course. His first film appearance, at the age of 13, was  as The Elephant Boy of the title in Robert Flaherty’s 1937 movie, after which, most notably, he was Abu in The Thief of Bagdad and Mowgli in The Jungle Book.  During WW2, he flew on B52 bombers as a tail gunner and ball turret gunner and was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross for his bravery. After the war, however, his career stumbled and his last significant role was in Michael Powell’s Black Narcissus in 1947. In 1952, mirroring the events in Prine’s song, he went on tour with an elephant act as Sabu, the Elephant Boy, appearing in this country as part of Harringay Circus. Largely forgotten, he died from a heart attack in 1963 at the age of only 39.

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All of which doesn’t leave a lot of space to write about the other tracks shuffled up here. I should mention that the Alex Welsh Doggin’ Around is not the better known one from the 1973 album of the same name, with Roy Williams on trombone and Johnny Barnes on reeds, but comes from a 1981 BBC Sounds of Jazz broadcast which has Roy Crimmins back in the band on trombone and – featured heavily here – the excellent and under-rated Al Gay on tenor sax.

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The Townes Van Zandt was recorded live at the Union Chapel in Islington, a concert I happily attended. More happily, certainly, than Townes’ final UK gig at the Borderline, in which he was in too poor a condition to perform in anything but a most perfunctory manner, and, after a lot of brave attempts, finally in no condition to perform at all.

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Killing Them Softly …

“I’ve a bone to pick with you,” S. said. We hadn’t had time even to settle in our seats, shuck off our coats, never mind order the first glasses of prosecco. “Lynn Kellogg,” she said, “killing her off like that. How could you?”

She was not the first and quite possibly, as long as there’s an appetite for the Resnick books, of which Cold in Hand, in which I perform that unspeakable, inexplicable act, is the eleventh, she will not be the last.

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I hadn’t written a novel featuring Charlie Resnick for ten years; had imagined that number ten in the series, Last Rites, would be, well, Charlie’s goodbye. But then circumstances suggested I might write something in which I explored, to some degree, the experience of grief. Three good friends of mine, people with whom I had socialised and worked, to whom, over a period of years, I had become close, had died: Angus Wells, in tandem with whom I had written numerous pulp westerns – the Hawk and Peacemaker series under the pen name of William S. Brady, The Gringos as J. D. Sandon and The Lawmen as J.B. Dancer – and who had latterly come to live in Nottingham; David Kresh, the American poet, who was one of the American editors of Slow Dancer magazine, and who introduced me to areas of jazz – David Murray, The World Saxophone Quartet – I might otherwise have shied away from; and Charles Gregory, whom I first met when he was a visiting lecturer on the American Studies MA course I was following, and with whom I shared many conversations about movies, crime fiction and music – that of John Stewart and Richard Thompson especially – the best of them while sitting up to the bar behind shots of bourbon with water backs. In addition, I had recently read and been strongly affected by Joan Didion’s The Year of Magical Thinking, in which she writes about the sudden death of her husband and the near death of her daughter.

Hence, a return to Resnick, the fictional character I knew best and the best through which to channel and explore those feelings, and, in order to do that, poor Lynn had to die.

“How could you?”

Quite deliberately, constructing the story line for the maximum effect. Centre the opening chapter around Lynn, making it clear her importance as a character, and in that chapter place her in mortal danger, a danger from which she escapes. Whew! That’s all right then.

Maintain that centrality, make the case she’s investigating more important than Resnick’s (This is the beginning, perhaps, of easing Resnick into the background, the role of observer which is largely his in the final novel, Darkness, Darkness.) And then, more or less midway through the novel – and out of the blue – actually the dark of night – throw in a sudden warning. Resnick has been sitting around at home, waiting for Lynn to return from London, passing the time sipping whisky, listening to Bob Brookmeyer – four minutes and twenty seconds of ‘There Will Never Be Another You’.

Through the music he heard the sound of a cab approaching along the narrow, poorly made-up road that led towards the house and a smile came to his face. In his mind’s eye, he saw Lynn leaning forward to pay the driver, exchanging, perhaps, a few words, before getting out and, as the cab drew away again, crossing towards the house. In a moment he would hear the faint clicking of the gate. The cat jumped down from his lap as he rose and moved towards the door.

At first he thought what he heard as he stepped into the hall was the sound of a car backfiring, then knew, in the same breath that it was not.

End of Part One. Title Page: Part Two. Which begins with chapter 22, in which I take us off to a new character, another police officer, Karen Shields, waking, slightly hungover, a hundred or more miles away in North London, close by the Essex Road. It isn’t until chapter 23 that we return to that night in Nottingham, moving backwards in time to find Resnick kneeling beside Lynn Kellogg’s body in the front garden of the house they had shared.

All designed to have the maximum effect on the reader. [What did Henry James call it? The architecture of the novel?] So that when someone says, as did S., still affected by it some six or seven years later, “How could you?”, I know.

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