Category Archives: Opinion

And Generation X Shall Inherit The Earth

Dateline January 2036 –  New York

So how does it feel now that you’re in your 60s or 70s to finally have thrown off the yoke of the Baby Boomers? Now that they’re all gone. Or mostly.
It started 20 years ago with Bowie. And since then, Spielberg, Scorsese, McCartney, Dylan, Queen Elizabeth and King Charles, (Although I acknowledge the cruel irony of Chazza  surviving  only until the day after his coronation. Still, Wills makes a fine representative of modern monarchy as he cycles each morning, clad in blue overalls, to his job at the Recycling Plant.) the Clintons, Putin, Letterman, Clapton, Cameron and all of the Murdochs in that attack on Chequers in 2020, (That brought about Corbynism of course, the dissolution of the Upper House and the abandonment of hereditary titles and the Honours List. That is why, dear readers, I must now address you as plain, humble Wilson Parking, my knighthood having been rescinded.) Mick Jagger, Rod Stewart, Oprah Winfrey, Stephen Fry, Germaine Greer, Meryl bloody Streep, Bob Geldof and, finally to much relief and global celebration, Bono.
So they’re all, more or less, gone. Keith Richards remains in suspended animation at the Brian Cox Centre for Immunology Research in Weybridge while scientists investigate the strand of alien DNA that was found after a routine examination following yet another accident involving Keef and a palm tree. (More irony. To think that Keef may be the source to the unravelling of that most impenetrable of mysteries; the meaning of life.) There’s a few sports commentators such as Ian Botham, Vince McMahon and, in New Zealand, Keith Quinn who are still hanging on. But mostly they’re gone.
I’m still here of course. Just. As I’ve got older, I have to admit to turning gradually into my opposite. Corbynism was not for me. So I came Stateside. Individuality is still respected and following President Trump’s assassination at an NRA rally in 2018, wealth and privilege are virtues that inform every aspect of life here. Particularly as the NRA is now, by far, the largest political party and Barack Obama is but a distant memory.
That’s our legacy you Gen X questers. You can have it. And when those that remain finally meet the conqueror worm, you can explain it all to Generation Y. Good luck with that.

Wilson Parking

Splat

Now Hear This – Podcast Interview

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Recently I was interviewed by Wellington writer, critic and broadcaster, Simon Sweetman for his Off The Tracks podcast. It was a wide-ranging interview and we covered a lot of ground over a few hours. I think it worked out well and readers may be interested to hear, amongst other things, a first-hand account of 60s London. I’m attaching the link and will take this opportunity to thank you for keeping faith with Wise Blood in the past year and trust that you and those you love enjoy the holiday period that’s fast approaching.

http://offthetracks.co.nz/sweetman-podcast-episode-11-alan-stuart/

TurkeyCartoon

Growing Old Disgracefully

I’m looking forward to reaching the 69th anniversary of my birth. I have no other course than to look forward to it as it falls due next Tuesday. I cannot look back on it or even askance at it as it is out of reach. Getting nearer – but out of reach. So I must look forward.
I have the same choice about next week as when I entered the post-war world of Dulwich Hospital on 13th October, 1946. Although I was extraordinarily bright as a child, I’m fairly certain that my foetal sensibility, even at the hour of delivery, would not have been up to making critical choices about what was to follow – let alone grappling with the complex metaphysics. So I don’t remember being asked, given a choice. Do you want to be born? Who would you like to be? Would you like some siblings? Where do you want to live? Rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief? I wasn’t involved in any of that. At least, not for a while. And thus it will be next Tuesday. No choice. I’ll be 69. Soixante-neuf. Although saying it the French way only serves as an ironic reminder of temps perdu that are unlikely to be recherché.
Getting to be older, no one says old – they’re far too polite, means a number of things. It means changing channels when the incontinence pads advertisements appear on the TV; it means doing the Kevin Spacey thing with your eyebrows when a pollster is asking for your age group; it means desperately trying not to say, ‘When I was your age’ to people aged 50; It means not turning your youth into a memorial.
I like to think about and talk about the 60s. It was mostly a good time. But I didn’t choose to be around when all that stuff happened. I had no choice in the matter. I suppose that I chose to join in, you could say. I’ve never been one to stand on the side lines. So I have some responsibility for what happened. Just the millionth part of an iota of accountability for everything that’s happened since then.
But the God of History is who you need to talk to if you have a beef about One Direction, Global Warming and Terrible Television. She’s the one to see about your sugar addiction, your falling asleep at your day job because your second job at night and your third job on the weekends leaves you overtired and depressed, your failure to maintain a viable erection for longer than thirty seconds, your inability to understand why everyone in the room is laughing at the gag except you. Get her to explain your circumstances. and don’t take any of that ‘gene pool’ crap. It really is all down to her. She gives us the circumstances that provide the illusion of choice. Republican or Democrat? Full fat or reduced? The Embassy or The Roxy? Being born or remaining as a twinkle in the eye of the God of History that disappears as she nods off to sleep?
Yes. I’m looking forward to next Tuesday.

Splat

In Praise of Disorder

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I’m that variety of mug known as ‘a collector’. I’ve mostly collected music, in the form of records, tapes , CDs and sheet music. There are thousands of these artefacts all around the apartment. The collecting started in my teens and has continued unabated for some 50 years. My golden period was the 90s when Wellington Record Shops owned by such people as Colin Morris and Dennis O’Brien had a large photograph of me in their shop window bearing the legend, ‘If you see this man, please usher him in.’
I like to own what I hear and like. That is, rather than just call it up on the PC. Why? Firstly because I have a fabulous, and hugely expensive so it needs justifying, 2-channel stereo. Secondly because I’m compelled to. Not by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Oh no. But by the gene pool. My parents were collectors. Of anything and everything. Making my way from one side of their living room to the other was like a game of Twister, such was the care needed with placement of limbs, lest I disturb a ten bob resin ashtray adorned by a macaw or a 100 squid oil of a Kentish sunset by someone from the Royal Academy.
There was, of course, music growing up in South London; Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Stan Freberg, Mahler, Beethoven, Pete Seeger. And The Goons. It was all there. Everything.  Everything except Rock and Roll. That I had to get for myself and listen to by myself. The first record I bought with my own money was ‘Hit and Miss’ by The John Barry Seven – the theme song for TV’s Juke Box Jury. The latest arrivals, today, are by BRMC and Tangerine Dream. The beat goes on – as Sonny and Cher once sang, although I do love Patricia Barber’s take on that song. Where was I?
Oh yes. So. Where to put all this stuff. And how to order it? You can go onto websites that will tell you. And I do mean tell, They’re quite didactic about things like sub-genres, chronology, alpha and artist order. When I read the monomaniacal ravings of the nutters that proliferate these places, I can get a little puckish. I like to ask if John Fahey’s ‘Blind Joe Death’ should be considered for filing under American Traditional, Folk, Folk Blues, Guitar or just, you know, John Fahey. ‘Ah. But under J or F?’ I hear you ask. Such fun. And I haven’t even started on Portuguese Fado and whether or not it still counts as Fado if a man is singing.
Then there’s always Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity character, Rob Fleming, who has his music collection arranged to reflect his romantic liaisons. I could do that and have, like, about 120 sections – which would be great to explain to visitors. Then when the visitors leave, rearrange them back into the original 3 sections
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So here’s how I do it. I have lots of wooden CD cases all around the place. Over the years, I’ve played at storing discs by genre/sub-genre/alpha or by amalgamating all the sub-genres into one homogenous lump. The trick is never to finish anything I’ve started. That way, there may be two or three partially organised cases where, say, a Muddy Waters disc may be located. The prospects of finding anything within 10 minutes or so are significantly diminished if I have utterly forgotten  exactly where the genres or amalgamations are in the apartment.  This lack of certainty is greatly compounded by not having bothered at all over the last three years to introduce any semblance of order to recent additions. New arrivals are left in piles on, or by, the stereo, on the bed in the spare room or in places that only The Dark One and his minions know about.
But this chaos is positive. Creating danger out of certainty meets a creative need. I am fatigued – bored by order and safety. The joy of finding something cherished but lost, far outweighs the smug, slight satisfaction of knowing where to find that same thing without let or hindrance. And the pleasure is doubled, maybe trebled, enhanced by relief, when the disc finally goes on the turntable or in the player. I am recreating the first time.
And so I spit on your filing system. It is prosaic. I thumb my nose at your indexing cards. They smack of grey ennui. I pour scorn on your efficiency. It has no soul. Leaving nothing to chance removes the element of surprise. Duplications are evidence of life.

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
Friedrich Nietzsche

PERFORMANCE

Meet, discuss, rehearse
Meet, discuss, rehearse
Repetition
No margins
Keep it inside the box

Meet, discuss, rehearse
The sets
The line-up
The keys
The tempi

Meet, rehearse, discuss
The venue
The audience
The expectation
The performance

Meet, rehearse, discuss
The road trip
The gear
The timing
The outfits

Meet and rehearse
Again
Do it all
Again
So it will be all right on the night

Do it all again
Know the music
Listen to each other
Stay inside the box
So you can step outside on the night

Imagine yourself there
The venue
The audience
The expectation
The performance

Arrive in hope
Set up
Sound check
Set lists
Excitement

Be afraid
Remember your first time
Feel that way now
The audience
The expectation

The performance
The intro
House lights
Applause
1,2….1,2,3,4

This is how it’s meant to be
It wasn’t
Not for them
And so
Not for me

Historic Town Hall and Court House, Martinborough, Wairarapa, North Island, New Zealand

Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits

If you search for saccharine
It isn’t hard to find
I have enough you’ll need a sieve
But if you look for ruefulness
You might as well be blind
I’ve always found it really hard to give

Irony is such an obtuse word
It’s easier to just be blue
Irony is never never heard
Mostly ‘cos I haven’t got a clue

I can try to gull someone
To feel I harmonise
If I pretend to suffer as I grieve
But I haven’t got an honest face
And cannot hide the lies
And in the end it’s just best that I leave

Irony is such an obtuse word
It’s easier to just be blue
Irony is never never heard
Mostly ‘cos I haven’t got a clue

I tried to find a lyric
Tried hard not to offend
All I got was platitudes until the bitter end
Nobody can comfort me
With royalties again
I know I know

There’s nothing deep inside of me
But I’ve never been concerned
There’ll still be nothin’ when I’m gone
I tried to fake sincerity
It wasn’t hard to learn
And so I put it in this song

Irony is such an obtuse word
It’s easier to just be blue
Irony is never never heard
Mostly ‘cos I haven’t got a clue
Splat

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Class Act

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I’ve been watching a few movies at home just recently. A bit of a mixed bag but amongst them, ‘Carlito’s Way’.  (Brian De Palma 1993) I like to think that most people would agree that this is a very fine piece of film making. Al Pacino and Sean Penn play the leads, Carlito Brigante and Dave Kleinfeld. The action takes place in New York’s Spanish Harlem during 1975. Brigante has been released from prison after 5 years of a 30 year term because Kleinfeld, his lawyer, has discovered some technical deficiencies in the original case against him. As we are shown the film’s conclusion right at the beginning of the narrative, we are left in no doubt how it will all end for Carlito.

There’s much skill required from the director and scriptwriter to tell a story this way and still keep the audience wholly involved throughout the film – which is nearly 2 and a half hours by the way. And the direction and script are brilliant. But there’s more to it than that.
What Pacino and Penn bring to the screen is a sense of their characters’ history – their ontological existence if you like. Brigante and Kleinfeld existed before you sat down to watch the movie. What is happening to them now has its origins in the past and the way they have led their lives –  the decisions they have made. These actors have to find a way to convey the full extent of that past and how it impacts on the present in order for us, the audience, to agree to the compact with the film’s makers and suspend disbelief while the story unfolds. Pacino and Penn achieve this brilliantly. Their characters are transparent to us. The actors place nothing between themselves and the audience. Nothing is told but all is revealed. There is art but no artifice.
So we are in safe hands here. We can allow our critical faculties to take a break and use them later to engage with what we’ve seen and heard.

When I see acting of this quality, though, it brings into sharp relief, for me at least, the different types – or styles – of contributions that are made up there on the screen. Not everyone’s an actor. Not everyone can act. And quite often it’s not really necessary that they do. Some perform. And some just do impersonations or impressions of the characters they’ve been asked to play.

For instance, I think that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a performer, not an actor. And that’s okay. The films that he makes are vehicles for his particular talents and his on-screen presence. Hard to imagine ‘The Terminator’ being anyone but Arnie, isn’t it? It’s a matter of degree with performing though. Arnie’s right at the top of that list but there are hundreds of performers who tilt their lance at the windmill of acting. Amongst these notables I count Laurence Olivier, who never, in my experience, was able to impart a sense of an inner life to any of his characters. He seemed to me always to be an empty vessel perpetually in character but with no personal stake in the role. The Peter Sellers of tragedians, far exceeded in talent and capability by Gielgud, Richardson and Scofield from that generation.

Then there are the impersonators. Those who have a trick bag full of affectations, ticks, twitches, half-smiles and phony accents to gull the movie-going audience into believing the sincerity of their impersonation of a character. Meryl Streep is top of that list. From Lindy Chamberlain to Margaret Thatcher, Streep has cobbled together a battery of mannerisms and expressions that have made her utterly unwatchable for me since ‘Kramer vs Kramer’. John Malkovich and Philip Seymour Hoffman are equally as annoying and tiresome. All of these simply cannot stop acting. Their presence is eternally informed by their duty to acting. If they say one thing to me it is, ‘Look at me, Look at me. I’m an actor. I’m acting now.’ They make me want to reach for something with Gene Hackman or Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Lange or Brendan Gleeson. Something like ‘Carlito’s Way’.

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