He came and he met us…

How many times can you be ahead of the times? Learning about David Bowie all at once is certainly different to what it must have been like growing up with him. A 70s child had the thrill of wondering what shape his next incarnation might take. I haven’t had that experience. Yet even without the shock of that ‘ta-da’ unveiling, the completeness of Bowie‘s metamorphoses is still incredible and inspiring.

David Bowie was authentic in his artifice. He constructed his characters and carved our worlds for them to live in. His costume changes weren’t the result of some record company brainstorm or shitfaced agent hungry for a headline. They were gateways for his expression. Maybe it was because of this changeability, but I didn’t realise to what extent he’d got under my skin until Monday. Like many, I mourned for the man who carved the masks he wore and I’m sorry that he’s gone. With Blackstar, I got my ‘ta-da.’

My first contact with David Bowie‘s work was through comedy. Bowie was the comedian’s musician. His zaniness and eclectic career inspired the likes of Ricky Gervais, Adam and Joe and Flight of the Conchords. And he was in on the joke, playing along and approving from afar. But for these comedians he wasn’t just material, he paved the way for their alternative creativity. David Bowie made it okay for you to get your weirds out. To just slop your weirds out on the table and say “Look at me, I’m weird and I like it!” His music often plays just like a great joke does: you expect it to go one way and then it goes another way you never saw coming.

He also wrote one of the greatest “wish I was still with you, please come back to me” ballads ever in Letter to Hermione.Adele could do a whole album bemoaning the fact that no one’s ever going to write her a rueful tune as good as that. Now there’s a source of regret she can plunder till the release of 67. At which point people might ask her to go back to the “wish I was still with you, please come back to me” thing. And then they’ll remember Letter to Hermione and they’ll think, “Actually, you know what, don’t bother. Please stop it.”

Dave McCabe: “I wanted to challenge myself, I couldn’t be arsed just making a safe record.”

http://www.getintothis.co.uk/2015/09/dave-mccabe-i-wanted-to-challenge-myself-really-i-couldnt-be-arsed-just-making-a-safe-record/

Back in business with his new band the Ramifications, Getintothis’ Jamie Carragher caught up with Dave McCabe ahead of the release of his new album, Church of Miami.

There haven’t been many records released with Dave McCabe‘s name on them for the last six years or so. Following The Zutons (relatively quiet) split, he’s kept writing songs for the likes of Mark Ronson, which is no surprise given the uber hit that Ronson and Amy Winehouse had with the Zutons hit Valerie.

Finally, he is ready with his new project, Dave McCabe & The Ramifications and their debut album Church of Miami. Those paying attention around Merseyside may have stumbled across one of the band’s live performances, and will therefore be aware of McCabe‘s new approach.

We caught up with him ahead of the album’s release…

Getintothis: Your new album’s coming out September 4. Excited?

McCabe: Yeah, I’m excited. It’s very stop-start at the moment. It hasn’t really kicked in yet that there’s an album coming out.

Getintothis: It’s been a long time in the making.

McCabe: Yeah ’cause it had to be right, there was no pressure on it. It’s not like the world was waiting for a Dave McCabe album so you may as well make it as good as you can make it rather than rushing something out.

Getintothis: The album’s a new direction for you. It’s very electronic.

McCabe: Yeah, it isn’t to me like. I mean, I know it is. But I’ve heard it so many fucking times now, it just sounds like thenext natural step for me. I know everything that’s on it, I know the guitars, I wrote the songs in the house on a guitar. To me it’s just a canvas and you just let them [producers, Viktor Voltage and Mr. Chop] manipulate the sound. But I like that about it. I played a few things on it, but the majority of the synthesising and the programming, I didn’t really do. I found with this record, you’re giving your babies up basically and you’re letting someone else have a go. I think you’ve got to do that, and if you don’t let people do that you’re never going to move on. You’ll probably go back to a four piece band with a fucking saxophone break in the middle of it, but that’s not what I wanted because I’ve done that already. Nothing against The Zutons, like.

Getintothis: So it’s a new way of working for you.

McCabe: I wrote about 40-45 songs. Every time I took stuff in, Mr. Chop and Joe Fearon and Viktor Voltage were saying,  ‘Like that one, like that one, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit, shit.’ That was a wake-up call for me:  someone saying straightway, ‘Nah, that’s shit.’ And I was like ‘Don’t you like this bit?’ and they were like,  ‘Yeahhh…I like that bit. Let’s see if we can use that bit.’

That’s why I think it took a while to do. We had about 6 songs we actually liked. I went away and wrote more and found more. I’ve got loads of songs on my laptop that have just mounted up. To go through them, obviously, most of them aren’t great. I’m not gonna lie. There’s only so many times you can go ‘Fucking hell…’ And then one will just jump out at ya.

Getintothis: You’re very much known as a man with a guitar in his hand but this new album might change all that.

McCabe: When I was younger, I’d have Kraftwerk and Depeche Mode and Human League and all that on in the background, when I was a kid in the 80s. And then even growing up in the early 90s. And that’s kind of why I went withNirvana and Guns N’ Roses and all that, because I’d been blitzed when I  was a kid. Now as I’ve got older, I’ve started going back towards that. And I’ve always liked Beck or Beastie Boys, that thing of mixing everything together, all the best bits from all the decades of good music.

Towards the end it just started sounding really electronic so we went with it because it had continuity for the record.  

It’s been about 4 albums this. It’s been a slog… When I say slog, that’s probably not a good word. It’s been a journey…

Getintothis: You haven’t just put out the first thing that came into your head.

McCabe: No. I wanted to challenge myself really. I couldn’t be arsed just making a safe record. It’s not safe if you just do the same thing. I think it’s probably dead boring, you’re not really opening anything up, you’re not exciting yourself so nobody else is going to give a shit about it.

I actually like this album a lot more than the album I made before it, which was probably 7 years ago. I actually enjoyed making this record and I’ve enjoyed playing it and I’m shitting myself when playing certain gigs, ’cause I don’t know what to do on the stage so I’ve got to find out what it is I am.

Getintothis: Without the guitar…

McCabe: Without the guitar. Without the constant vibration of loads of amps on stage.

Getintothis: It gives you a lot more freedom on stage and it’s like, what do you do with that freedom?

McCabe: Fucking right, yeah- shit yourself! We’ve only done 7 gigs. They’ve all been festivals. No club runs.

Getintothis: You haven’t had a bedding in period.

McCabe: Not at all. I’m loving it though.

Getintothis: How was Sound City?

McCabe: That gig for me was a fucking nightmare. They always are Liverpool gigs. You see your Nan in the crowd, you see your uncles.

Getintothis: You need to get out your living room.

McCabe: Yeah, it makes you get dead self-conscious. Your Mum and Dad in the crowd, nothing to do with Liverpool. In your living room, in a gig.

Getintothis: But you’ve got your club run in October?

McCabe: I’m looking forward to it, loads. The more gigs we play, the better we become as a band. The more natural it feels.

Getintothis: Speaking of the band, who are the Ramifications?

McCabe: The Ramifications are: Chris Taylor, guitar, dancing. I say dancing because that’s what he does. Ray Durie, keyboards, bass. Scott Jones, keyboards, singing. Carl Povey on the drums.

Getintothis: You played the Kazimier the other week, which is shutting down next year. Thoughts on the closure?

McCabe: It’s shit like. What are they gonna do? Find another place and make that into apartments? They’re just knocking it down so they can claim council tax. I’m not happy that it’s being shut down. I’m happy that we got to play it but we should be able to play it again and again. It’s got loads of character, the Kazimier. It feels different, smells different.

The Kazimier represents everything’s that wrong with the world at the moment. Trying to milk the most out of it. Years ago before the Capital of Culture, that wouldn’t have happened. There’s a lot of people with big money moving to Liverpool to make money.

Getintothis: The Kaz’s downfall fits into the themes of the album. How modern life and progress isn’t necessarily a better situation or improving things.

McCabe: Yeah it does: everyone’s dying! To be honest, when you’re making the album, it’s hard to know what the fuck it’s about half the time, because you’re in it.

Getintothis: And the single, Church of Miami, is about how superficial modern life can be-

McCabe: It’s about cosmetic surgery and religion. Miami represents everything from cocaine to false buildings getting built, wiping out everything that’s real.

It was a piss-take to be honest. It’s all a piss-take. But it’s turned out bang-on. I don’t know where it’s came from. It wasn’t just me. I wrote it with Joe Fearon and Mr. Chop. To me though, when I hear it, I think GTA and Scarface.

Getintothis: It’s a concept album too. There’s a storyline going through it.

McCabe: Yeah, it’s about a fella who’s lonely, who robs a robot from work. He soon realises that he is lonely -he doesn’t know it at the start- and he realises that he needs real mates. It’s about technology getting ahead of spirituality and humanity, and you can’t replace that, no matter how  good a screen is or how fast your computer is. We’re all guilty of it. I’ve got a phone in my pocket, I was on it before you came.

If you were to write something after this album it would be about trans-humanism, where technology and people become one thing. That’s where the world’s going.

Getintothis: With your Google-glasses .

McCabe: Yeah, the glass-holes. Have you got some?

Getintothis: No. [Shh, not now, Siri] But you can imagine in ten-years everyone having them.

McCabe: It’s like mobile phones in school. One lad had a mobile and it was like ‘Wall-Street’ and we all took the piss out of him. Now we’ve all got one.

Getintothis: We all know we shouldn’t be on them all the time but still…You’d have to go to a country-retreat and go cold-turkey-

McCabe: And be really bored and wank loads. Without your mobile phone you’d actually be wanking more than you would be with your mobile phone. There’s a quote for you.

Getintothis: Let’s finish on an important question. Where did you get this costume from? 

McCabe: I just came up with it with my mate. It’s off a washing machine.

Getintothis: Knew it!

McCabe: One of my mates thought I’d made it with a slinky.

Getintothis: It looks dead techno and then you realise, hang on, it’s a washing machine.

McCabe:  I was going for Space Age Blackadder. You’ve got to play to your strengths.

David Sedaris on organs, rubbish & the House of Commons

http://www.getintothis.co.uk/2015/06/david-sedaris-on-organs-rubbish-the-house-of-commons/

David Sedaris, American humourist and bestselling author, talks to Getintothis’ Jamie Carragher ahead of his show at the Liverpool Echo Auditorium this Saturday.

After three sell-out runs in London, two sell-out Edinburgh Fringe Festival stints and a sell-out UK 2014 tour, American author David Sedaris is today appearing at the Liverpool Echo Auditorium. We caught up with him ahead of his book signing.

Getintothis: David, you’ve been on tour for much of this year. Have you accumulated much material out on the road?

Sedaris: I do get a lot of material out of it… I was so lucky on my last tour of the United States, I just came away with so many weird little encounters and things that I was able to write about and talk about on stage. I get to talk to people and they tell me things sometimes that are just – I don’t know – surprising or funny or shocking.

Getintothis: You’re the non-medical Oliver Sachs. People come to you with their weird stories.

Sedaris: Sometimes people come to me with a story that they want to tell me because they think I’m gonna find it shocking or interesting but usually those are not the stories that I find shocking or interesting.

Have a little conversation with somebody and they can wind up saying something …I was talking to this young man in the United States, he was 16, and I said “Oh, are you gonna have a job this summer?”, and I was signing his book, and he said “No I can’t because I have to spend most of the summer in the hospital because one of my kidneys is dead inside of me and they have to remove it.” And that to me is completely fascinating. That you can have a dead kidney.

Getintothis: Vital organs should always come in pairs.

Sedaris: I met a Mexican kid who donated a kidney to a complete stranger.

Getintothis: Wow!

Sedaris: I think he wanted to become a citizen. I couldn’t believe they didn’t make him one. I couldn’t believe they didn’t move him to the front of the list. Because he came to America, he was in America for two years, and then he gave a kidney to an American. He didn’t send it home to Mexico, he gave it to a complete stranger.

Getintothis: Weren’t you plugging an organ donor charity on your last tour?

Sedaris: Yes: I showed up to a theatre one night, and they were there in the lobby. It’s a group called Love Hope Strength. What they do is they get people to register to donate bone marrow. The reason that I did things with them is because they will let me tell the most outrageous lies about them and they don’t care.

I started telling people that if you donate bone marrow, you get to have sex with the most attractive person in the cancer victim’s family. And that they cannot refuse you. Then I was trying to get more women to donate so I said, “You might not realise this but bone marrow is very dense. A pint of bone marrow weighs 30 pounds.”

Getintothis: If you want to be beach body ready you’ve got to get rid of that bone marrow.

Sedaris: I was getting tonnes of people to sign up, it was great. And then I also said “If you sign up to donate bone marrow you can come to the front of the book signing line.” And that was the real clincher. Because in the United States anyway the book signings can really go on for a long time. And if you have the opportunity to donate a leg and to go to the front of the line then you would do it.

Getintothis: How do you compare doing a book tour to doing a lecture tour?

Sedaris: You sign more books in a book store than you do in a theatre. I don’t care how big the theatre is. The biggest theatre I’ve ever played is in Chicago and it’s 4000 seats and I think the book signing, last time I was there, maybe lasted 4 hours. Whereas I was in a book store in Chicago and signed books for 10 and a half hours.

Getintothis: That’s amazing.

Sedaris: In a book store though, people leave and they go out for dinner and then they come back, or, they leave and they go out to dinner and a movie, or, they leave and they start a family and then they come back. They think ‘Oh, he’ll be there when I come back’ and I always am. 

Getintothis: David let’s talk about your littering bugbear. You live in Sussex and you’re well-known in your local community for picking up litter every day for hours at a time. You’ve even had a bin lorry named in your honour. You were invited to speak in the House of Commons about the problem of litter…

Sedaris: My god. That was the biggest mistake I ever made in my life.

Getintothis: Really?

Sedaris: I was trying to explain the litter: I don’t see people throw rubbish out their window so I was trying to put together a portrait of – who are these people? – I look at the things I find and I’m trying to figure out who this person is – and so some MP tweeted that I said poor people are responsible for rubbish and I never said that.

The point I was trying to make – and I’m sorry I know this is boring – there’s a Waitrose and there’s a Tesco equal distance from me. And I hardly ever find Waitrose bags and I find a lot of Tesco bags. I’m just telling people what I find. I find more Red Bull cans than any other kind of can. I find more Lucozade bottles than any other kind of bottles. I’m just telling you what it is that I’m finding out there.

Anyway so then it turned into this thing and I just wasn’t prepared for that. And I said from the very beginning, “You’re talking to the wrong person, you should be talking to people who throw shit out their window and try to figure out why they do it, otherwise you’re just wasting your time.”

Getintothis: Politicians eh?

Sedaris: What I wish that I’d done, because that politician, he said “So, Mr. Sedaris I see you live in Horsham, very wealthy part of the country, so tell me is somebody throwing a can out their window the biggest problem you’ve got down there?” and for the rest of my life I will regret not saying, ‘Oh God, no – the biggest problem is your mother’s whoring.’

Getintothis: *Big laugh* 

Sedaris: What would they have done if I had said that? Thrown me out??

Getintothis: We think it probably doesn’t comply with Commons’ etiquette… We’re not sure it appears in any of Winston Churchill’s most witty comments in the Commons.  As a guest, maybe you can say what you like.

Sedaris: After that I’ve never got more interview requests in my life – ‘Oh come here and talk’. After the third interview I said “Okay that’s it, there’s nothing I can do to fix this” and to all the people who said “Can you come and talk?”, I said “You know, I’m done talking about it, I’m just going to be at the side of the road picking up rubbish.” That’s the best place for me.

Getintothis: Speaking of politics, did your American tour purposely coincide with the election back in May?

Sedaris: One thing I do like about the United States is when it’s election time, you know who everyone’s voting for. People have bumper stickers on their car, they wear badges on their coats, they have signs in their front yard. My poor sister, Lisa, I went to visit her…and these neighbours who she loved all of a sudden put signs in their yard and it was like finding out your next door neighbour is a Nazi.

Everyone here is much more quiet and you don’t really know who your neighbours are for. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable going to any of my neighbours in Sussex and saying ‘Who you voting for?’ There’s a guy who is with the council who I go out and pick up rubbish with. He’s an elected official and I didn’t know for years even what party he was with.

Getintothis: At this year’s Hay Festival there was a big preoccupation with age and how that affects writing. What’s your take?

Sedaris: I think that as I get older, I think that my writing is better but that could just be me. If I were to look at a paragraph that I wrote last week, I would think that it’s much better than a paragraph than I wrote 20 years ago. But a lot of people don’t notice writing, they just notice the story. A lot of people will say ‘Oh you’re a storyteller’ and it’s like no actually I wrote that 18 times and I was very careful about which word went where. Writers are going to notice that. You can’t expect every reader to notice that and I’m not complaining about that but I think that my writing is better now, but people might enjoy what I wrote 20 years ago more than they enjoy what I write now but I don’t know, I don’t ask them…

Getintothis: You could spend all day wracking your brain about stuff like that.

Sedaris: It’s not a problem for me because I go on tour. The things that one writes about changes, right? Or the circumstances of one’s life changes, because I spend so much time on tour now, it’s kind of my job is to be on tour. And I know the magazine I write for, The New Yorker, doesn’t like me to talk about being on tour but it’s like if I was a doctor I could talk about doctoring. It’s kind of what I do at this point in my life.

Getintothis: Do you think the New Yorker, being so traditional, is scared of writers following the music model, having to make their money from live performance?

Sedaris: Well, I think -and I understand this – it’s like they don’t like you to write about writing. And I don’t like to write about writing, because it draws attention to the writing and then someone’s gonna say ‘Oh my god, you call that writing?’

I generally don’t like doing that either, but there’s a story I’ve been reading on this tour, and I can’t really see how it would work if I left the touring part of it. Because it makes no sense that I’m just telling this story and I’m in this city and then I’m in this city and then four days later I’m in this city. It wouldn’t even make sense if I made it sound like a vacation because if I went on vacation I couldn’t talk to people the way that I talk to people on tour…because I can ask people anything I want.

Getintothis: It’s an odd relationship. You’ve got the power to ask, haven’t you?

Sedaris: Yeah, I asked someone the other night, I was in Belfast, and I said “Are you going away this summer?” and they said “No we just bought a house” and I said “How much did your house cost?” and they told me. Whereas I couldn’t necessarily ask people in a restaurant. You know, if I went to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee and I said to the person behind the counter ‘How much is your rent?’ They don’t know me and they’re just going to think it’s weird and they’re not gonna answer.

Getintothis: Well, we wouldn’t open with it. Quick one: have you written any plays recently?

Sedaris: No I haven’t, it’s been a while. The difference is I used to write the plays but I was never in them. And, then I started going on tour and then I saw what it was like to be the one on stage, and to be the one getting the attention; I loved it and I haven’t written another play since then.

AMY: THE GIRL BEHIND THE NAME?

Amy Winehouse’s voice is so rich that you can’t really believe she’s gone. Like that of Nina Simone, it sounds so pertinent, urgent, that it seems impossible that she’s not around anymore. Appropriately, it’s her vivacious vocals that take centre stage in the new documentary about her life, Amy. Living as she sounds, she is dead and that’s the time-bomb ticking away, always, beneath the highs and lows of this engrossing documentary. Knowledge of her untimely death transfuses tension into every scene. You know it’s coming, wish as you might that it never arrives.

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Director Asif Kapadia (Senna), has, in many ways crafted this documentary in the form of a classical tragedy, as the ending allows. This is no random montage, though that it could be mistaken for one is ultimately the source of its power. By looking and feeling like a home video, charting her life from teenager to superstar, the narrative of Amy gives the illusion of unravelling like life; random moments strung together and ordered by little more than the passage of time. Key turning points of her life and career are peppered within more innocuous periods. Boredom, fun, loneliness. Day-to-day living, playing pool. Unlike the well-worn model of the White-Male-Genius biopic, this film has stakes because not everything is about moving the story along. Time and space is given to appreciating the music and personality of Amy Winehouse, confident that she is nothing if not compelling.

Amy Winehouse is very funny. In her best moments, when she is cogent and sober, she’s wickedly smart and charming. Her impersonation of a Latino cleaner is joyful to behold and her eye-rolling dismissal of the singer, Dido, hilarious. You root for Amy and that’s what’s so dangerous. You remember how watchable she once was, what with her towering hair, big eyes and sloping jaw, features so distinctive that caricaturists around the world, from Leicester Square to Central Park, refuse to let her go.

Amy is above all a great work of synthesis. Kapadia utilises songs, photos, home videos, reality TV footage and more. He pulls together his narrative by splicing audio from interviews, whether pre-existing or conducted by his team, over the top of this collage. In doing so Kapadia has fashioned a comprehensive morality tale, an Icarus for modern times. We are shown her undeniable talent and potential. We are presented with the moment when disaster could have been averted. If she had only gone to rehab then, at that particular time, it might have turned out differently. Potential saviours are identified- her first manager, her childhood friends- all of whom fail in their efforts to save her. That’s the paradoxical heart of tragedy: an inevitable fate that could have all been avoided.

As the years go by, increasing prominence is given to the villains of the Amy Winehouse story. It’s well known that Mitch Winehouse, Amy’s father, is disgruntled by his portrayal in the film. Undeniably, he doesn’t come out well and, to a degree, his dismay is understandable. He inspired Amy to become a musician in the first place and there’s little-to-no room given to such paternal positives. Nevertheless, Mitch did tell her not go to rehab. He did press her to do shows she was not fit to play. He did try and scrape out a personal celebrity on the back of her talent and achievement. Mistakes were made and to see them laid bare on screen must be harrowing (though they are enshrined within her lyrics also). Mitch’s resentment derives from how the particular selection of material emphasises his faults. No doubt the sources could be re-jigged and refashioned to portray him in a more positive light, but if there’s one thing that stands out regarding Mitch Winehouse, it’s that he’s oblivious to how he is perceived by others, including, most devastatingly, by his own doting daughter.

Then there is Blake Fielder-Civil, the singer’s ex-husband, a man so dislikeable as to seem a pantomime villain. From the get-go it’s clear that he’s bad news and his interview excerpts make for repulsive listening. Throughout the documentary, he’s Amy’s personal Satan, mocking her futile attempts to break free from her addictions, enabling each damaging relapse. No amount of spin can save his image.

There are less visible evils that pervade the story, such as the record companies and promoters who constantly exert pressure on the Winehouse moneymaking machine. Those faceless corporates who refused to place her health and wellbeing above everything else, their interest forever fraught with contractual obligations and desire to make cash. Worst of all is the malicious treatment of Winehouse at the hands of the gutter press. Their daily bombardment is shocking to witness. The way in which she is stalked by the paparazzi makes the fans from A Hard Day’s Night look positively casual. Reporters clamber over each other to shove a question in her face, photographers know no boundaries. Yet this is where a great deal of the footage for the documentary comes from, at least towards the latter part of her life. The audience is thus complicit. The existence of such footage is a symptom of the perverse British obsession with rumour and celebrity. Our culture is sick with this ailment, DMO (Daily Mail Online), and this insatiable need for gossip most definitely contributed to the decline of Amy Winehouse.

Even in the midst of watching the film, one longs for the young Amy, the Amy of old. Back when she laughed the loudest, and was prone to spots, and had teeth that looked like a graveyard following an earthquake. But this is something of a storytelling trick. Amy Winehouse was always a troubled individual, suffering from bulimia and depression at a startlingly young age. By revealing these problems gradually, or downplaying their hold upon her adolescence, the arc of her rise and fall is duly fashioned by Kapadia. Of course, her life-sapping drug and alcohol addictions were the ultimate causes of her demise back in 2011, but this nostalgia for simpler, happy days feels like an emotional glitch. Really, her oscillation could happen within the blink of an eye.

Occasionally, the documentary is guilty of highlighting one portent too many, for lingering on a sad still of Amy for a few seconds too long. There’s only so much foreshadowing we as an audience can take. Hindsight can add poignancy to nearly anything and the director overstretches in his bid to find warning signs. However, one sin that Kapadia never commits is the glorification of Amy’s internal demons, the kind of romanticising that has been all too common with the post-death treatment of Kurt Cobain. Instead, these problems are simply portrayed as the ever-present detriments from which her love of music offered some release.

The film’s tagline, ‘The Girl Behind The Name’, is misleading – there never was a girl behind the name. Amy Winehouse was Amy Winehouse. She could not get away from herself and what’s more she never wanted to. She placed authenticity above all else. In the early days of her career, when her stardom was less self-consuming, Amy Winehouse was heralded for this very quality. What you see is what you get. No airs. Common.  In one interview, she recalls a producer who used “fake” strings and horns on one of her early singles. She quickly declares her hatred for him and his artifice. Her voice quivers with hurt before she snaps out of it, apologising to a Dutch interviewer who is frankly baffled by her candid admission. This need to be the undiluted real-deal affected other parts of her life too. She could not stand the anti-depressants that dulled her personality. When the film stops and the silence descends, you leave the cinema wishing that she had been able to play a role, to separate herself from her name, if only to have some respite from being Amy Winehouse.

The Final Say: School of Rock

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“Give up. Just quit. Because in this life, you can’t win. Yeah, you can try but in the end you’re just gonna lose BIG TIME because the world is run by The Man…

There used to be a way to stick it to the Man, it was called rock and roll. But guess what? Oh no, the Man had to ruin that too with a little thing called MTV!”

Ned Shneeebly (Dewey Finn) — School of Rock

This December, School of Rock The Musical opens on Broadway. Music by Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, book by Lord Julian Fellowes. Hmmm. Sounds a lot like THE MAN is stealing School of Rock. I’d cry “Look out, Broadway!” but it’s far too late for any of that. Like the camel from Buckaroo- despondent, broken and weary of life- Broadway will slink another commercially contrived piece of rubbish over its furry, bruised hump.

Whether or not it’s any good is irrelevant (though, here’s hoping it’s a decanter of defecation). No, the outcome doesn’t matter. The appropriation of School of Rock by Lloyd Webber and Fellowes is a disaster regardless of the result. This classic film about washed-up rocker Dewey Finn becoming a substitute teacher and forming a band with school kids is being hijacked. Hijacked!!

Sadly, I have a feeling that it’ll run for years and years.  The 2003 film is so beloved that to fuck it up would be an extraordinary feat of failure. Of course, that’s why Lloyd Webber bought the rights: to squeeze a hit from a hit, to wring success from a success. His award winning conveyor belt has fallen into disrepair and this is the remedy.

If his motivation, as he claims, is to do justice to the film, then he should plough his money into a Mike White/Jack Black collaboration. At the very least he should have Mike White, the creator of the film, writing the book and not his old pal Fellowes. But it’s a vanity project and he’s doing it because he can.

I can’t begrudge Lloyd Webber and Fellowes liking the movie. I’m all for Thatcherites feeling emotions, smiling, shedding tears etc. It’s good for them; they can be saved. But clearly they weren’t watching closely. The moral compass of School of Rock points firmly away from their worldview. It’s not about winning, it’s about creativity. It’s not about a Darwinian model of culture, it’s about a supportive community. Lloyd Webber has been a major force in creating a West End culture where his name is everything, creation is stifled and challenging art is discouraged. What would Dewey Finn think of that?

But hope never dies. What if it was all a brilliant rouse conjured up by Richard Linklater, the film’s director, most recently lauded for his pioneering work, Boyhood? What if Jack Black, resurrected as Dewey Finn, got word of the musical and was so appalled by the commercialism and trite cynicism behind the project that he enslaved another band of wandering kids. Using this new cohort, he’d burst into the stuffy Broadway theatre and challenge the fake School of Rock to a one-off Battle of the Bands. No doubt the Broadway bunch, made up of kids hothoused since conception, would be technically superior but the moral victory could only ever go one way.

The quest for authenticity has never been harder. Back in the unspecified day, you could spot an artistic fake a mile off. It was like telling the difference between an Inter Milan top and that black and blue knock-off your Mum bought you from a beach vendor. Easy. Now, instead of producing lame replicas, The Man appropriates the things we love in order to wear down our bullshit detectors. The Man convinces Paul McCartney to do X-Factor, The Man puts the Sex-Pistols on credit cards. Indeed, I’d have lost all hope for anything genuine in this world if it wasn’t for my latest Rolex Yacht-Master Watch™. Efficient, reliable, and stylish, it’s every columnist sell-out’s dream.

 

BUY IT
BUY IT

 

Rapunzel

The warrior beat back the branches with his blade. Sweat on the brow, prayers on the tongue. He felled another branch. Daylight. He prised himself through the gap, emerging into a clearing, a perfect circle of green grass. It was a sanctuary in the middle of the unforgiving, long forgotten forest.

At the centre of the clearing stood a tower constructed from large, grey stone. Where there ought to have been a door, no door could be found. From half way up a meticulous tangle of poison ivy began to wind heavenward uninterrupted save for the turret’s jutting roof and a single, paneless window. Sitting on the windowsill there was a mug that read ‘Hot Stuff!’

The warrior, who had overcame so many arduous challenges to arrive at this advanced stage (the smiting of three dragons, being unable to find his favourite doublet with extra billows), circled the base of the tower.

He listened for the slightest peep from the princess who was surely trapped inside. Now and then he heard a tapping; doubtless the left to right roll of her dainty fingers that so yearned to hold his hand, that so longed for his protection. He wondered where his courage had fled to.

He breathed hard against his gloved hand and the resulting aroma filled his nostrils. He allowed himself a smile for the first time in months. Raw meat.

He shouted up: ‘Rapunzel Rapunzel! Let down your hair!’

A pert blonde stumbled to the window. She wore a white tee that was too large and her brilliant green eyes were underscored by purple shadow. How often she must have wept in her solitude.

‘Hi. Can I help you?’ She asked, pushing a rope’s length of hair behind her ear.

‘I’m here to save you, princess.’

‘Save me?’

‘Yes.’ The warrior was taken aback. ‘Your wicked father has encased you within this tower has he not?’

‘Oh, no! That’s not it.’ She called down suddenly animated. ‘I’m here on a writer’s retreat.’

‘Writer’s retreat?’

‘Yeah. I’m writing my first full length novel.’

‘I see. What’s it about?’

‘Well. It’s hard to explain.’

The warrior could not help but roll his eyes towards the heavens. If she couldn’t pitch it to him, what chance did she have of selling it to impatient, world weary agents who’d heard it all before?

She continued: ‘It’s a non-fiction novel. Like, none of it’s real but all of it’s true, you know?

’Jesus.’

‘Yeah, the Bible’s been a big influence, actually.’

The warrior was beginning to regret the perilous pilgrimage made in order to win this maiden’s eternal, unwavering love. She seemed a little self-involved.

Still, the warrior would not give up so easily. He had needs and he’d forgotten his hairshirt. He really wanted her to give him a leg up when it came to the tower, in a number of ways.

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He steered the conversation elsewhere: ‘So your Christian name’s the same as your surname?’

‘Technically, no. Rapunzel Rapunzel’s my pen name.’

The warrior would not be deterred. He figured that once married she would soon exhaust herself from literary ambition and turn her feeble mind toward domestic duty and motherhood.

‘Beauteous maiden’ He started, ‘Anybody courting you currently?’

‘God no. I’m so busy what with the book and everything. Maybe when I’ve finished it but, honestly- I don’t know. I don’t feel like I need to be seeing anybody right now.’

Inspiration hit the warrior though it was more diabolical in nature than it was divine.

‘I must declare, Rapunzel, I really do covert the latest draft of your non-fiction novel. May I venture up to view it?’

Her eyes became lustrous with pleasure. Her cheeks became flushed with joy. He immediately pictured her double poster. Also, he imagined what her bed was like.

‘You want to read it? Really?’ She asked, barely restraining her ecstatic smile.

‘Really.’ Not really.

Taking the mug, she disappeared into the bedroom to do God knows what.

The warrior fist pumped the air. Finding this not enough, he gathered up the spare slack of his chain mail and twirled it around in celebration whilst making whooping noises.

Then, the unfurling thud from above, as if heaven was falling to earth. However, the sound was not from Rapunzel’s long, luxuriant locks as he had so hoped but from a manuscript tied together. It was massive. The bible comparison now made sense.

‘Okay I’m super grateful but there’s just a few things. First, you’ve got to read it in one sitting.’

‘How many pages?’

‘About 900.’ She readjusted her modest guess, ‘Slightly over.’

The cylinder of chainmail gathered between his hands drooped like a wilting flower.

Crestfallen, the warrior settled down to read her epic, Tis A Pity There’s No Door.

He considered asking her to come down and sign it for him but flicking ahead he saw she already had. The inscription read ‘Live out your dreams. Outlive your dreams. XOXO RR’

Slumped against the tower with the book perched on one knee, he lost heart about the conquest that he had earlier entertained. The only way he might be able to salvage his mission was to get through the book as quickly as possible. He read and he read. The sun was beginning to set when he heard a click.

‘What are you doing, forsooth?’ He wasn’t sure if he’d used forsooth in the correct context and he immediately regretted saying it, lest she call him out on it.

‘I’m taking a picture of you!’ His hearted fluttered.

‘Caption: My first fanboy!’ His heart nearly stopped.

‘You’re uploading it now?’

‘Yep.’

‘How have you got signal?’

‘I had them install wifi.’ She said, surprised that she had to explain to him.

He shook his head in disbelief, cursing under his breath.

‘No door, no staircase but wifi? Yeah of course. Obviously you get wifi-first thing you do…’

He delved back into the book in order to get away from her. She talked at him anyway, leaning on the windowsill whilst twirling her excessively big hair.

‘I’ve been thinking: you’re right.’

‘Oh?’

‘I’ve been working so hard- I really should let my hair down. I deserve a break, right?’

He ignored her.

He considered his approach to love and wondered why it wasn’t working. Maybe by going on so many quests he was forcing it a touch. Maybe he just needed to let it happen.

He let out an involuntary groan. He felt rotten about the whole ordeal.

Worst of all, against his deepest wishes, the book was pretty good- raw, certainly, but it definitely showed potential. It made him sick to say it, so he never would, but Rapunzel had talent.

Acknowledgements

It is often said that no book is the work of just one man and it is no less the case with this book. Allow me to quickly thank those who have been essential in the creation of this, my first novel.

Gratitude to my father, who in order to demonstrate how important it is to back up my work, tossed the sole original manuscript in the fire. Lesson learnt! Furthermore, for reinforcing the lesson by incinerating the second version, painstakingly remembered, and for stamping on the external hard drive that held the other copy. You’re right, I did endanger us all by not removing the hard drive from the USB port safely, and I’m truly sorry. Quite why, or how, you waged cyber warfare on the dropbox that preserved the third version escapes me but like another Father we all know, love and fear, you move in mysterious ways (usually in the shadows and heavily armed).

Speaking of belief, I tip my cap to my mother, sweet Andrea, for declaring her belief that I did not possess ‘a shred’ of talent, thereby implying I’ve got lots of it. Of course, your Mum’s always going to say that, but still, it’s nice to hear.

To my wife Jennifer, thank you for understanding that writing is essentially a solitary pursuit. Your monastic commitment to not interacting with me has been a tremendous aid to the creative process. Thanks too to Gerry for allowing Jennifer to shelter in your abode for these last few years. Jennifer, you can come home now!

Really. Please come home.

I’ll sign a copy of the book but I won’t sign you know what.

Ah, to the apple of my eye, Liam- or if the deed poll has gone through by time of publication- Rocko. You’ve reached an important, transitory stage in your life, Rocko and I hope you’re adapting well to cell 457D. Your firsthand research of the penal and judicial system on my behalf has been indispensable, if unnecessary given that my book’s not about crime, per se, or at all. Personally, I always thought you’d go down for attempted patricide, so that you’ve made your own choices in life and opted to deliberately drop coins from skyscrapers instead shows an ingenuity and maturity beyond your tender 14 years.

A quick mention for: Pink Steve, Richie Squires, Banana, Hands Duo, Gibbo, Gubs and Tommy Funnel. Only you guys know what you mean to me and what your real names are.

Turning to the professional team that have made this all happen, here’s to my agent, Wilhelm. For those who’ve never met Wilhelm (and you’d remember if you had) he’s the only old school agent still in the game. When he told me he’d never heard of Kindle I took it as a concrete sign of ambition that we’d get the book published in print. In fact, he had never heard of Kindle or its equivalents. He also doesn’t have a fixed address. It wasn’t always plain sailing, was it, Wil? On one memorable occasion Wilhelm arranged a meeting at Random House publishers that turned out to be a meeting at a random house.

It was a dream come true then, when Laurie Lawerenson, my editor and publisher, decided to launch an entirely new company, Books For Reading?, with me as his first published author. As a publisher, your generous advance invoice for printing costs was essential, what with its 10% discount and incrementally increasing interest rates. As an editor, you’ve been extremely judicious, souring my work with a find tooth comb. Hopefully there weren’t to many mistakes in the first place, but if any remain then I claim fully culpability. [[INSERT HERE]]  Your notes were insightful too. I recall sound advice such as ‘have you tried writing in the 5th person?’, ‘more COMMAS all round’ and ‘SUSPENSE ?!?!’ It all seems like such a long time ago now.

Finally, to you, my reader: thanks for the support and for reading this far. I hope you read on, at the very least beyond the title page of my humble opus, Perfect Life: Parental and Marital Fulfilment In The Modern World.

Enjoy!