Today’s guest post is something a little different. For the first time in the history of Another Kind Of Mind, I’m publishing some fiction – and this is not just any old fiction: this is an exclusive and previously unpublished extract from a brand new novel by Rick Leach, who has kindly let me post it here. Rick is the author of a number of non-fiction books about music, including the Glastonbury Trilogy (you can buy them here, here, here and here), and also contributed a birthday guest post last year too. You can find Rick on Twitter, and check out his blog here.
I don’t know about you, but having read this extract, I really want to know what happens next….
I am sitting alone in the car, by the side of the river. It is night time. I look at my watch to check the time. The clock on the dashboard isn’t working. Actually it is working. It’s just that it’s set to the wrong time and has been for as long as I can remember. I’m not sure if I know how to reset it. Or I can’t be bothered messing around. There is a certain comfort in knowing that it is completely wrong. It seems to jump to a different time every time I start the engine, suddenly leaping forwards ten minutes or so. I think that means that unlike a stopped watch, it’s probably not even correct twice a day. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it does give the right time twice a day. I shrug to myself. I suppose it doesn’t really matter.
I look at my watch. It is a little before 11.00 o’clock. I have a lot of time to spare. There is no need to make a move yet. I stare out of the windscreen and look at the lights from the opposite side reflecting on the water. It is really calm. There is not a breath of wind in the air. The river seems to be barely moving, although I know it must be. The water is as flat as a sheet of glass, just swaying gently. It is like a black mirror. The only thing that I can see moving is a container ship slowly heading off to sea. I wonder where it’s going. Thousands of miles away. Another country.
Regular readers will know that I’m celebrating Another Kind Of Mind’s fifth birthday at the moment by hearing from a number of my favourite bloggers and tweeters. Today’s birthday guest post comes from Rick J Leach, who is the author of Turn Left At The Womble: How a 48 year old Dad survived his first time at Glastonbury and Totally Shuffled: A Year of Listening to Music on a Broken iPod. He also blogs about music over at Turn Left At The Womble and is ever interesting on Twitter. He’s chosen to write about a subject that is very close to this old music geek’s heart (in fact, I may well write a reply post to this at some point). What do you think? Do you agree with him? Feel free to comment…
Is it just me?
Am I getting too old?
Is there something (not) going on?
Music just doesn’t seem significant these days.
I am writing this from the perspective of a 50 year-old music fan and as someone for whom music has played (and still continues to play) a significant part in my life since I was probably 10 or 11 years old. I can’t imagine life without music. I can’t imagine not listening to any and all genres of music and not being excited about what may be coming up, just around the corner. (Although more of that in a bit).
The common cormorant or shag
Lays eggs inside a paper bag
The reason you will see no doubt
It is to keep the lightning out
But what these unobservant birds
Have never noticed is that herds
Of wandering bears may come with buns
And steal the bags to hold the crumbs.
Yes, this silly little ditty (one of the first poems I learned by heart as a child) is apparently* by the very same Christopher Isherwood who wrote Mr Norris Changes Trains (1935) and Goodbye To Berlin (1938) – the novels that were later adapted into the play I Am A Camera (1951) and the 1966 stage musical and cult 1972 film Cabaret. I was irresistably reminded of Isherwood’s nonsense poem when I encountered this beautiful cormorant stretching out his wings in the July sunshine as I walked by the Thames in Richmond last week. Incidentally, you might like to know that cormorants and shags (no sniggering at the back there!) are, although of the same avian family, two totally different types of bird – and there were no bears (with or without buns) to be seen anywhere, rather disappointingly…
*There is some debate over whether the poem is actually by Isherwood at all, but it is certainly widely attributed to him on most poetry websites and in pre-internet poetry collections (of the physical book kind) dating back over a number of decades that I have either personally seen or own.
Here are a few words of wisdom from the pen of a very wise woman:
If you are always trying to be normal, you will never know how amazing you can be.
Never make someone a priority when all you are to them is an option.
My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.
I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.
The writer of these words, Maya Angelou, who has died at the age of 86, was most certainly an amazing person (and, incidentally, she was quite right about “trying to be normal” – there’s no such thing…). Best known as a writer, academic, award-winning poet* and civil rights activist who worked with both Martin Luther King Jr and Malcolm X, she was, at various times and amongst other things, also a successful actress, singer and dancer. Described by her family as “a warrior for equality, tolerance and peace”, Maya Angelou was certainly a woman who lived her life with passion, compassion, humour and not a little style. She will be missed.
As today would have been his 75th birthday…
Amongst all his legendarily Gonzo work, Hunter S. Thompson (1937-2005) is still probably most renowned for his writings on the Nixon era of American politics. He first interviewed the notorious ex-president for a magazine in 1968, meeting Tricky Dicky in a car on their way to the infamous politician’s private campaign jet.
On the airport runway once the interview was over, Hunter said farewell to Nixon and exited the car, immediately going to light a cigarette. Before he could get flame to fag, however, he was rugby tackled from the side and his lighter ripped from his hand:
I thought they had mistaken me for an assassin and they mistook the lighter for some kind of weapon… but the Secret Service agent who tackled me helped me up and began apologising very quickly. It turned out they were fueling the plane and I was standing just a few feet from the gas tank. I could have blown the fucker up and saved this nation a lot of trouble.*
Goddammit Hunter. God. Damn. It. One little cigarette could have changed history….
* ‘Fear and Loathing: The Strange and Terrible Saga of Hunter S. Thompson’ – Paul Perry (New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1993, p.130)
From the 2010 Discworld novel I Shall Wear Midnight, which deals extensively with this theme:
It is important that we know where we come from, because if you do not know where you come from, then you don’t know where you are, and if you don’t know where you are, then you don’t know where you’re going. And if you don’t know where you’re going, you’re probably going wrong.
Regular readers will be aware that I’m not a great fan of politicians generally. However, there are the odd one or two who somehow manage, against all the odds, to stick to their principles and hold firm in the face of our deluded political system, and it is they who have my respect and (in some cases) even grudging admiration.
Michael Foot, whose death at the age of 96 was announced today, was one such who fell into that latter category. A left-wing politician of the old school, who – unlike today’s rabble – was an idealist and a principled man, Foot was one of those rare politicians who did genuinely manage to stick to those principles, right until the end of his long and eventful life.
Like a lot of Labour politicians and commentators of his generation, Foot came from a relatively privileged background. Born into a Liberal and non-conformist family at Plymouth in July 1913, politics were almost a part of his genetic make up; his father was twice elected MP for a Cornish constituency, his three brothers were all involved in Liberal politics, and Foot himself became a Socialist during his time studying at Oxford.
The importance of those Socialist beliefs were forcefully brought home to him after his graduation when he spent some time working as a shipping clerk in Liverpool; an experience which exposed him to the realities of contemporary poverty and the social inequalities that were part of many ordinary people’s everyday lives. It was here, in 1934, that he joined the Labour Party and determined he would stand for Parliament.
Sixty years ago, the world was still a very damaged and fragile place, despite the fact that World War Two had been over for five years and reconstruction was already beginning. Britain had effectively become a bankrupt ex-superpower as a result of the conflict, and the devastation of this world war was still fresh in the collective memory of all those who had lived through it, whether as soldier or civilian.
In cities and towns across the country, bomb sites still scarred the urban environment; acting as a constant daily reminder of the Luftwaffe’s concerted and ultimately unsuccessful attempt to bomb Britain into submission. Many people were still homeless or living in temporary housing.
Food and other essential items were either still rationed or very scarce, resulting in the continuation of the wartime black market in desirable goods and foodstuffs like chocolate or butter. Emotions were still raw; families all over Britain and beyond still mourning the loss of loved ones killed in battle or amid the destruction of the home front. Recovery was a slow process.
And sixty years ago, in the midst of all this, the author of one of the most important and remarkable novels of modern times died. A year earlier, in 1949, this novel had been published, initially to confused and sometimes hostile reviews. Its author was an unusual man who had lived an unusual life, but who had been, at the time of publication and although still only in his forties, dying of advanced TB on a damp and remote Scottish island.