Posts from 23rd November 2003

Nov 03

Deception by Philip Roth

The Brown WedgePost a comment • 377 views

Deception by Philip Roth

There’s something impressive yet still insubstantial in Roth’s work that is at its peak in this very slight book. I’ve read just about everything he wrote, and enjoyed them, but I’ve never been quite convinced by his towering reputation. When people list their pick of the handful of greatest living American writers, he’s always there, but I’m far from persuaded that he’s clearly the superior of (to pick a few I regard more highly who don’t get such mentions at all, that I’ve seen) Hubert Selby Jr or Joyce Carol Oates or Robert Coover.

This is a short novel told, all except a few words, entirely in dialogue, mostly between novelist Philip, explicitly forsaking his Zuckerman avatar, and his mistress. It’s crisply and wittily written, but it’s only at the end, where he piles on the layers of metafiction in addressing how autobiographical this and his other work might be, that I really saw anything that made me smile much here. It’s also not short of self-justifying cheating and disingenuously poor reasoning (especially when it tries to address allegations of misogyny in Roth’s work), though I suppose it’s possible we are supposed to read this novelist called Philip as an unreliable narrator, but this strikes me in the end as a copout, as well as risking making my brain explode (though I usually think that’s a good thing).

So much as I always rather enjoy his work, I’m still at a loss to understand his extraordinarily and apparently unassailably high ranking.

GUY MITCHELL – “Rock-A-Billy”

Popular4 comments • 2,421 views

#58, 12th May 1957

Guy’s fourth No.1 gives me a chance to apologise – I threw my hands up in horror at his first, “She Wears Red Feathers”, and gave it a two. I was wrong: “Red Feathers”, and Mitchell’s work in general, won me over with its rakish joie de vivre. I was pretty new to the Fifties mainstream then – two months on, with even Guy rocking out (well, a bit) and acknowledging that the old game was mostly up, I’m sad to see it pass. Some of the first records that topped the charts were stiflingly boring, and fit very well with the stiff-collared decade of later reputation. But others were charming, or witty, or perhaps touching, and they were often surprising.

“How the fuck did this get to No.1?” is a question each generation must ask anew. But having all but eighty of the 964 number ones on my hard drive I have to say that few periods are more generally bewildering than the early 50s. After that things settle down, patterns emerge. Partly it’s a familiarity thing, but I’d guess the later 50s also saw the UK record industry wise up and realise who was buying the damn things (young people) and what they wanted (whatever was hot). Creating and riding youth trends is a fairly hard game to play but at least it is a game with ever more comprehensible rules.

And at this particular point the rule was ‘Make a rock and roll record’. Guy Mitchell and his team very reasonably interpret this to mean ‘Repeat the word “rock” as often as you can’ in a chorus he attacks with gusto. In between he gives us a handy primer on rockabilly history and tells us to “Wiggle like a trout”, clearly the song’s highpoint. It’s a slick track and will have pulled its dancefloor weight several times over, but it’s a little too hearty to swing, and a little too self-satisfied to delight.


TMFDPost a comment • 235 views

NATION UNITES IN FAINTLY DUTIFUL REJOICING!: Good work our boys etc. etc., and it was all very exciting, but I have to say I can’t detect as yet the mass uplifting of the national spirit that some might have expected. Isabel and I went shopping on Saturday afternoon, and on the way in we listened to the radio. The Capital afternoon DJ was in a state of great excitement and played a pop-reggae version of “Swing Low Sweet Chariot” several times. Not v. good. We switched over to Trevor Nelson. Our Trevor had some exciting news – “I hardly need tell you what’s been dominating the news here all week,” he began. “Yes, Eminem is fighting accusations of racism in his lyrics.” Whaaat? What about DROP IDOL, Trev?

I like Trevor Nelson. He seems an honest fellow and it always sounds like he’s having great fun doing his show. He did, after a while, mention the rugby. What he said struck a bit of a chord. He’d been on the edge of his seat, cheering England on, thought it had been a great game and felt a swell of pride – and then ten minutes later he’d thought, “Right, that’s that then”.

Some writers in the newspapers have been talking up the World Cup as rugby’s Italia ’90 moment, the point when an underappreciated sport breaks through into public consciousness and surges in popularity. I’m not convinced. I grew up in the Home Counties in the 80s and was educated privately for most of that time – classic rugby and cricket territory, but only the sports-mad paid them any attention at all, whereas even the real sportophobes knew something about football. Rugby and cricket still seem to me the blues and jazz of sport – grand important old traditions that everybody is respectfully aware of. They might buy an album or cheer on a team now and then if it’s marketed right, and feel much better for it, but regular long-term interest is the preserve of a committed hardcore.

The least welcoming, most alienating place I have ever eaten in London

Pumpkin PublogPost a comment • 318 views

The least welcoming, most alienating place I have ever eaten in London is the top floor of the Oxford Street MacDonald’s (the branch near Borders). I missed lunch on Friday because of a meeting and didn’t get a chance to eat until 4PM, at which point hunger won out over taste and I headed for the nearest available burger. The McDs in question has recently been refurbished along strictly demographic lines, with three floors of eating experience offered depending on how desirable a customer the McMarketing people think you are. The ground floor is a family area, with the ragged mothers and goggle-eyed brats familiar from branches everywhere. There were too many balloons around for my liking so I went upstairs. My mistake.

Upstairs, you see, is the Sound And Vision Lounge. The “Sound” is mostly big-beat and the “Vision” is free internet access and computer games to play. I was the oldest customer by, I’m guessing, almost a decade. Every other mid-afternoon adult customer had seen sense and turned tail, but I decided to brazen it out. This was the playground of the 16-25 agegroup, the people McDonalds desperately wants to love it, and they will spare no expense to win that love. The kids regarded me (big, bearded, in a suit no less) with amused contempt, the staff with a sullen hostility. I wiped my mouth once with a napkin and it was whisked from my table in under two seconds – the word had clearly gone out, “Fat adult in youth zone! Brand Taint imminent! GET HIM OUT!”.

So where had I been meant to go? On the way down I checked – “Lounge Seating and Toilets” said an arrow. No free interweb down there, I’m guessing – but next time I shall know my place.