Friday, August 19, 2011

Coast to Coast

DUCKS DELUXE - Coast To Coast (OGWT, 1974) by newcanadian

I’ve been reading Pete Dexter’s Spooner. I knew Dexter was a brilliant writer……….Deadwood is brilliant (and, if David Milch didn’t read that before making his telly programme, I will eat my hat), Paris Trout is brilliant, and Train is the second best sports book I have ever read. I have read a lot of sports books, but only one about golf; I can’t stand golf, so for a book about a golfer to be my second favourite sport book gives you a hint about how magnificent it is. So it didn’t come as a surprise that I should like Spooner.

What did come as a surprise was the sheer enormity and brilliance of it. I had to spend a few moments alone once I’d finished it, just to gather my thoughts, and, once I had gathered my thoughts, I was pissed off that I had finished it.

I got into Dexter years ago, probably before the internet was invented, certainly before the likes of me had access to it, but, as you do when you really like an author, you find out what you can. What I could find was all a bit bitty and scrappy, but it was clear that he had lived a very interesting life, and is quite a character. What makes Spooner particularly interesting is that it puts substantial meat on the bones of the bits and pieces that you already know. What makes it special is the writing, which is typically deadpan and matter of fact, but which is capable of making you piss yourself laughing and force you to suppress the odd unmanly tear.

I kid you not about the humour. One bit had me reflecting back throughout the day last Friday, and, every time I reflected back, I had a giggling fit………in work twice, and standing in the queue at Sainsburys, once. And again now, typing this. If you buy it, or borrow it, and you would be mad not to, don’t pass over the acknowledgements at the end, they are masterful.

Usually, once I finish a book as good as Spooner, I struggle to get into another one, but this time I had the good luck to pick up Gene Kerrigans “Rage”. This is a compeletely different kind of book, being an Irish thriller, but it is fucking cracking, as Kerrigans books tend to be. I haven’t finished it yet, but is keeping me up nights, with the familiar mantra………”just one more page”. If a Martian descends and want to know about life at is experienced they will gain more insight from seemingly slight thrillers like this than any number of middle class mediations by the likes of Julian Barnes.

The main thing that Kerrigan does well in this book is write a brilliant, page turning thriller. What he also does well is take a long, hard gaze at Ireland in the aftermath of the great crash. The best writers recognise that there are no moral absolutes, and the best writers, write in the genre of crime. In this book, Kerrigan spares the people who milked Ireland dry no mercy, but recognises that they were greedy, flawed human beings, not all bad, not all good. He extends the same sympathy to the more brutal, common or garden, villains, who are given a history and a hinterland and are mot portrayed simple as evil monsters (take note James Lee Burke) and the good guy, the extremely likeable good cop, also exists in a dubious moral universe.

Kerrigan, incidentally, wrote one of the better pieces I read on the riots last week.

Most of my favourite writers at the moment are from, or write about, the margins; the bits that the mainstream either ignores, or demonises. Thank god for the internet, because it doesn’t matter how brilliantly these people write, you are unlikely to see their work reviewed in the weekend supplements.

There is Kerrigan, obviously, and the peerless Ken Bruen as well as others, like Stuart Neville and Brian McGilloway from Ireland, There is Niall Giffiths, who is not from Wales but may as well be and Robert Lewis who is. There is Ray Banks, Tony Black Alan Guthrie and fucking loads of others from Scotland, and there are people like Ron Rash, Daniell Woodrell, Philipp Mayer, and William Gay. There is not a bad writer among that lot, and there are plenty more where they come from. Unfortunately for them, they write uncomfortable truths, from the heartlands and the hinterlands, from the broken towns and valleys that few people wish to hear about, so will remain as marginalised as the people and the towns they write about.

Blues played in Europe last night. Yes. Blues. In Europe. I emphasise it only because it seems to have become compulsory. The great Bluenose Diaspora is beside itself because we played Nacional, in Madeira, in a competition that no one gives a shit about, with a team that, in the main, contributed nothing to us qualifying for the competition. Don’t get me wrong, I am chuffed about it, and it was good to watch, on a slightly dodgy internet feed, but fuck me, lets have a bit of perspective. Every time Blues achieve something our fans lose all sense of reason. First cup final since……….highest finish since……….first European game since…………….on and on it goes. We have been in Europe before, playing and getting good results against serious opposition, I really don’t think there is any need to come over all unnecessary on account of a glorified friendly.

Someone mentioned on a message board that a Portuguese report described us as quality opposition. Interesting word that: quality. Even the most diehard Blues fan would be staring at last nights team sheet for a long time before the word quality sprang to mind. Few of the starters last night, or in any other game so far this season, would even have made the bench last year. Let’s not forget, last year we were shit. Last years lot were frequently excused on the grounds that if they were any good, they wouldn’t be playing for Birmingham City.

So, in terms of the league we find ourselves in, and the league from which we recently and so indecorously departed, our players, with the best of all wills, cannot be described as quality. But, there is a fucking BUT to consider. Despite the lack of innate quality in the individuals, our new manger seems to be intent on getting them to play quality football, and, incredibly, seems to be succeeding. Forget all the lachrymose bollocks about the great European adventure, this seems like a bright new morning for another reason………we are passing the ball………….to each other!

I’m not daft, these players have been offloaded by teams as mediocre as us, so they will make mistakes, miss easy chances, and give away silly goals, but I don’t care. I accept that we are in the shit, but, playing the game with a bit of √©lan and purpose, even if it doesn’t always produce the desired result, makes our predicament a hell of a lot easier to bear.

A good man, nay, a great man, asked what I had been listening too lately, and I nevr need a second invite, so here goes, if they are on spotify I will provide a spotify link, but most of these berks aren't millionaires, so it would be courteous to buy a track or three.

Low Anthem: Smart Flesh. Can't really say much about it,more of the same good shit that went before. Not particularly recommended if you need cheering up on a Friday night, not that they are imelancholy, it just sounds like it sometimes

The Felice Brothers: Celebration Florida. Mixed reviews, but there are some fucking classic Felice tracks on there

Gillian Welch: The Harrow and the Harvest: the more you listen, the better it gets

Doug Paisley: constant Companion. Mellow Americana, you have to be in the mood, really.

Mickey Newberry: American Trilogy. Genius at work. Loads of Newberry on spotify, but not this album. Go to his website and you will be able to download 4 tracks, for free.

Danny and the Champions of the World: Hearts and Arrows. A bit of a change of pace and outlook for the Champ. He's gone all pub rock on us, but it's ace. Fucking nothing wrong with a bit of pub rock

Israel Nash Gripka: Barn Doors and Concrete Floors. Ace Americana. Not glum.

Musikanto: Sky of Dresses. Brilliant, low key, quirky Americana

Aiden Moffat and Bill Wells: Everythings Getting Older. Morose but humorous brilliance. Best record I've heard in ages. Not for the delicate.

Robyn G Shiels: The Great Depression. God knows where this bloke has been hiding. Some kind of maverick genius

Mick Terry: The Grown Ups. Found via twitter. Lovely, er cockney troubador stuff, more than worth a listen.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Where Only The Graves Are Real

I recently read “Slipping Into Darkness” by Peter Blauner. I think I paid a pound for it from an Amazon seller. It’s a great book, as all of his are. He recognises that life is generally lived in a grey moral area, he acknowledges that when faced with difficult choices, sometimes wrong choices are made, he recognises that sometimes, we are faced with impossible choices, and he does not shirk from exploring the consequences of them. He recognises that people may do bad things for good reasons, but does not then excuse them from the consequences of their actions. Most of all though, he writes brilliant prose. I’m surprised he is not better known. His writings at his website are well worth a look
I mention it because the first book of his that I read, many years ago, was “Slow Motion Riot”, and, certain parts of our capital city have been subject to some rioting over the weekend. The point Blauner makes in his book, is that when the actuall riot occurs, it is the culmination of series of much smaller events.The particular community had been enduring a slow motion riot, that had gone unnoticed, because no one cared. A community had been steadily brutalised by the indifference of big government, by the actions of the police and by the actions of some of its own members. No one noticed, no one cared, until the headline event.
Like a fool, I listen to 5live and I read football message boards and I see and hear the debate that goes on. It seems that there can only be two viewpoints, either: big government demonstrates a cruel indifference to those on the lower rungs of the ladder and the police are nothing more than oppressors, or, every rioter is nothing more than a thug and a thief, just out enjoying himself.  I don’t think it as simple or as black and white as that. I do think that if the people that rioted felt that they had a chance in life they would be less inclined to burn the place down, but I’m not daft, I realise that there are people who love a good tear will see ‘em at football matches every week. 
What is lacking in this piecemeal national debate is any recognition that all these different acts, by all these different actors, are perpetrated by individuals, with different moral and economic viewpoints, different standards. These riots didn’t just happen, they evolved, over time, as result of all those small actions, good and bad that have happened over time. Injustices visited upon the yoof, real or percieved, economic or otherwise, have, over time, contributed to the explosion of anger that occurred over the weekend. This shit needs to be dealt with. Big government and little government should pay more attention to what the fuck is going on outside its own rarified atmosphere, and someone, somewhere, needs to penetrate the skulls of the seriously disaffected and teach them that, however downtrodden they are, they can make their own choices, and they need to exercise some responsibility for themselves.
The good news is that the football season has started. Blues lost, but the important thing is not the result, the important thing is that the bastard close season is over. Football is back.

There’s little point worrying about Blues. I don’t trust our owners to tell us the truth, but then, what’s new? It is now obvious that we cannot afford to buy anyone to replace all the stars journeymen that have left and will leave, and we are back to giving trials to jobbing Brazilians who seem to make a good living travelling around Europe, making no impression at all. The fact that neither the parachute payment, nor the fees and savings accruing from sales is helping, indicates that we are in some deep shit.
It’s a bit of a shame because Chris Hughton seems to be a manager who isn’t afraid of getting the ball and men forward, and, if he had been in a position to get some quality in, we might have been looking forward to a good season, full of goals and entertainment. It will still be fun, and, by the look of it we will still at least try to create chances, but it looks like it could be a bit of slog. 
Judgement, is of course reserved. I remember Eck coming in with fine talk of changing our style to a passing game, and then, after his first game saying,"they passed it too much". Early indications are that Hughton has a commitment to passing and getting players forward in practice, as well as theory though. He seems to be inclined to change things around early enough to give the subs a chance to make a difference. I have accepted that we aren’t likely to make much of an impression this season, and, on that basis, I’m really looking forward to it

That video up there, it's worth a look, Otis Gibbs is a serious talent. He is touring the UK soon and you would be mad not to go see him. I urge a visit to his website too, it's full of good stuff, including a free stream of his latest, wonderful album.