A Star is Born

I watched this film the other night. The one with Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper. I hadn’t heard of Bradley Cooper and had to google him. Google is a neologism. A Star is Born has been around longer than something we feel about googled, it has been here forever,  but I was pretty pleased with myself, because I remembered the Judy Garland version and the name of her co-star, James Mason and the Barbara Streisand and Kris Kristofferson versions.

I don’t think James Mason was asked to do anything more than be suave, Kris Kristofferson should have been obliged not to sing, but Bradley Cooper, if he wasn’t dubbed, got away with it here.

We all know the story of boy meets girl. One is on the rise, the other on the fall. A see-saw movement in which one star fades, another glows brighter. In A Star is Born women get the lead role. Men are chicklets there for their supposed good looks rather than any innate talent. Role reversal for Hollywood, or any pecker-wood in general.

Women who take the lead role tend to be the divas of their age and when they take on the role of Esther Blodget or the more modern versions and it seems to be the story of their lives. Not exactly beautiful, considered by many to be ugly. Garland had those soulful eyes that came alive when she sung. Streisand had that big hooter that through her face into shadow and a voice that worked out the secret of lyrics and music and what it was to be gloriously alive.  Lady Gaga can carry a tune and perhaps a bit more. Women singers, divas, are always more than the sum of their parts.

Lady Gaga and the scriptwriters make a joke of her supposed ugliness. Her character runs a finger from the tip of her forehead to her chin. She tells Bradley how when she auditioned or played open-mic gigs agents talked about her looks and not her voice.

Ironically, Bradley meets Lady Gaga singing in transvestite club in New York. He’s cruising in his limo, and bang, he needs a drink so badly his hands aren’t far from shaking from his wrists. All shook up.

Gaga makes him go gaga. You don’t often get to use lines like that. Gaga plays seductress, chanteuse, in spangled dress and little bird of Edith Piaff motif.    This is when the film could have got interesting. If Bradley had fallen for another guy it wouldn’t be A Star is Born but something else entirely. Certainly not box-office.

He’s in the up, she’s in the down position. He’s gaga for her. She’s gaga for him.

Bradley is the great star that gives Gaga her break. His fans are going wild and for encore he feeds them Gaga. She wows them, as we know she would. She’s Gaga.

She’s on the up, he’s on the down. He starts back on the drink, goes to AA camp, and she buys him a dog. Life’s kinda perfect in its imperfections a bit like that finger from forehead to chin. Only the last flickering of the light of stardom takes a bit of getting used to for a man. When Gaga offers him a hand, her manager shoves it away, tells Bradley, your day is done. A man’s got to do, what a man’s got to do.

Gaga goes gaga. Alright, I know I need to stop doing that. Inconsolable, Gaga’s still got her music and her dog. Happy ending of sorts. At least I didn’t have to listen to Kris Kristofferson trying to sing.  I do love divas, including Gaga. I’m currently in the down position, growing a beard and open to offers. If Kris Kristofferson can do it…

Elton John (2019) Me

Not many folk get to call their book, Me, and expect you to know who they’re talking about. The Glasgow imperative applies here: Who the fuck dae yeh think yeh are? If the answer is Elton John, you go, oh, aye, that’s alright then. Elton John seems to be everywhere at the moment, BBC 1, BBC 2, BBC 4, Radio Four, Channel 4, but I can’t find him on ITV, which is a bit disappointing. He’s an institution.

I thought I’d have a quick shifty at Reg Dwight’s memoir. We already know his story from gossip columns. His love of Princess Diane (Candle in the Wind) and her children, the little royalings. Throw in the queen mother for lunch and yes, I would have thrown her, but you can see how he’s part of the establishment. Remember Elton’s first wife left at the registry office? Gargantuan drinking and drug sessions with the likes of Rod Stewart. I often wondered how the shagger of tall blonde woman and the gay guy that doesn’t shag tall blonde woman got together. The answer is here. Both of them got their start in the music industry as backing for Long John Baldry as he attempted to conquer the world with Bluesology. Baldry is a footnote in the rise and rise of Elton and Rod, both of whom love football. Elton knocked the name off from a band member and loves Watford -forever- and Rod loves Celtic far longer than he caroused with the latest blonde.

Then there’s the Elton away from all that showbiz glitter, hats and hairweaves. He didn’t screw his lyric writer the way many stars would and claim all the credit and profits. Bernie Taupin is worth around $150 million, but Elton did take £15 for the first gig, since he was playing piano, Bernie got a tenner. Elton, I’d guess, is worth considerably more now. The adopter of Take That renegades and other would-be rock stars that fell off the wagon.  The Elton addicted to AA meetings and Drugs Anonymous, give him a sniff of anything like that and Elton will turn up. Throw in his charity work. Raising tens of millions for AID’s charities. Bringing the homosexual into the Establishment and mainstream in a way that Peter Tatchell never could.  

Then there’s his late fatherhood, two boys (I think) with David (I can’t remember what’s-his-name, [Furnish?] which shows who I think is the one that matters).

So, to recap, I don’t really need to read this book to write about it. I did read the mandatory first 50 pages. I should really turn it into a rant about how Me is muscling out me and other authors scratching a living.  How out of the 1.6 billion books bought in the UK in 2018, I sold one Kindle copy that remains unread. Dead. If you turned that into percentages the book would run several volumes longer than War and Peace and be more interesting. Read chapter 1 here free: 0.000000000000000000000000000000000000000000000…% .

Or I’d be snide and say things like Reg Dwight didn’t really write the book, his kinship to books is like the moron’s moron in the Whitehouse, the book was really written by Alexis Petridis a music critic and if Petridis was really a music critic he should find someone else to work with. I’d probably throw in something that has nothing to do with Elton, David Walliams entering the writer’s club that holds those that made more than £100 million in sales. For some reason I can’t stand Walliams, there’s no logic to it, just gut instinct.  

Reg Dwight, the child prodigy that grew up to be Elton John, I don’t know why, but I kinda like him. Maybe it’s because I don’t listen to music and I’m jumping on the bandwagon. Read on.

The Man Who Saw Too Much, BBC 1, BBC iPlayer presenter, producer and director Alan Yentob and Jill Nicholls.

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bqt9/the-man-who-saw-too-much

The story of 106-year-old Boris Pahor is a eulogy to the twentieth century. The man who saw too much and experienced too much is a testament to man’s inhumanity to man. He wrote a memoir, Necropolis- City of the Dead about his incarceration in a little-know Nazi concentration camp, Natzweiler-Struthhof in the mountainous regions of Alsace, France.

He was also sent to Bergen-Belsen, Dachau, Dora, Harzungen, Ironically, Natzweiler was one of the first concentration camps liberated by the Allies, but it was empty. Prisoners were sent to Dachau, but it was Natwieler he judged to be the most cruel. His account is illustrated by drawings by fellow prisoners.

Pahor’s ability to speak several languages, his native Slovenian, Italian, French and I imagine a bit of German saved him. It allowed him to get a job inside the barracks as a translator for the camp doctor an Austrian, who also trained him to be a diarrhoea nurse. Almost half of the 52 000 prisoners were executed, died of illness or malnutrition or died outside working in the granite quarry in sub-zero temperatures. A mountainous region, each step going up the graded slope to work was recalled as the equivalent of Christ on the road to Calvary.  The camp produced a particular type of red stone favoured by Hitler’s architects who created public buildings in honour of the thousand-year Reich.

Pahor was sent to the camp because he was considered to be an anti-fascist. He was arrested in September 1943.

Fascism comes from the term fasces, a bundle of rods with a projected axe blade, a symbol of the magisterial power in ancient Rome.

The neologism fascism was associated with the rise of Mussolini in Italy, Franco in Spain and Hitler in Germany. A megalomaniac belief in the strong-man theory of history. A contempt for the democratic process and calls for its suspension so the great man can act on behalf of the people.

Pahor, for example, recalls his upbringing in the cosmopolitan Slovenian port city of Trieste with access to the Adriatic being taken over by Italy after the first world war. As a precursor to Kristallnacht, Mussolini’s blackshirts burned down the Slovene cultural centre, closed their schools and banned the speaking of their language in public. School lessons were in Italian. Pahor, the anti-fascist was drafted into Mussolini’s army to fight the anti-fascist Allied forced.

Fascism = Capitalism.

Mussolini, the former Communist and man of the people, had a mandate to rule given by aristocracy, landowners and the moneyed classes. In contemporary terms it was based on deregulation. The bogey men of communism and working men organising themselves into trade unions was outlawed. Deregulation meant no regulation, the whip hand was with the rich and only the poor paid taxes.

King Victor Emmanuel III of Italy’s intervention in the second world war and his late backing of the Allied forces led to the arrest of Mussolini at the end of July, 1943. One fascist force replaced another. The German’s sprung Mussolini from prison and took control of the defence of Italy and split the country among fascist and non-fascist supporters.

An estimated 600 000 joined the anti-fascist resistance movement in Italy, around 70 000 of whom were women. Pahore was caught with a typewriter and accused of producing anti-fascist leaflets. So begins his odyssey in the death camps.

Primo Levi, Italian Jew, in his memoir, If This Is a Man asked a question what is it to be truly human?

Necropolis –City of the Dead is the answer. Them and us.  The ersatz category of subhuman that fight each other over a finger-tip of bread while mining pink-coloured rock that has decorative value. Capitalism in its purest form can be found here. Fascism and the strong man theory of history have made a dramatic comeback. Boris Pahor tells it like it is. He saw too much. We understand too little. This is a Boris you can trust.   

Too difficult for Boris

As you get older the spring of optimism gives way to the winter of pessimism. You know that no matter how hard you try you will never play for Celtic, especially given the fact that you couldn’t get a game for your pub team. Surplus to requirements.

Your bullshit detector, however, gets more refined with age. The charlatan that is Boris Johnson gets short-shrift for everything he says and everything he stands for, for being Boris Johnson, basically.

Boris Johnson is like a Buddhist sutra there are always aspects of his bullshit waiting to be discovered.

His reluctance, for example, to commit to bringing a handful of British children back from Syria because it was too difficult.

We all know about the Kindertransport that saved mainly Jewish, middle-class, children from the Nazi state prior to the beginning of the second world war. That didn’t seem too difficult. We put children on a train and then we put them on a ship.  Around 10 000 of them arrived safely.

Taking soil samples from the surface of Mars needs a larger commitment and to be more organised.

  1. Sending a rocket up into the Earth’s atmosphere to circle our planet.
  2. Sending it on a trajectory to Mars.
  3. Orbit Mars
  4. Land on the Syritis Major region.
  5. Send a robotic vehicle from the hold of the spaceship to collect soil samples
  6. Collect samples of soil from the surface of Mars put it in a metal tube and seal them.
  7. Leave sealed metal tubes on the surface of Mars.
  8. Send a second spaceship to Mars and land it near to the metal tubes.
  9. Send a second robotic-rover across the surface to pick up the metal tubes and bring them back to the craft.
  10. Use a specially designed rocket to send the metal tubes into orbit around Mars.
  11. Send a third spaceship to intercept the orbiter with soil samples on board.
  12. Bring the spaceship back to Earth.
  13. Break through the Earth’s atmosphere.
  14. Release the capsule by parachute to a spot on the Utah desert.

Not really that difficult is it? Now imagine for a minute that you are Boris Johnson and somebody asks you how difficult it would be to bring a handful of children from camps in Syria.

Visiting Time. Poems, essays and stories from behind the walls of HMP Shotts (2019) various authors.


Visiting Time. Poems, essays and stories from behind the walls of HMP Shotts (2019) various authors.

I’m well-disposed to liking this book, as Pat McDaid will tell you. The judge said I was ‘an educated man’ but a ‘danger to society’.

I’d never been called educated before. I was pretty chuffed and my mind jumped to that Tobias Wolff short story when the guy laughs at the bank robbers with guns because they keep talking in clichés. Snobbish, I know. I admitted I was a danger because I kept losing my sobriety and finding my car keys.

The judge didn’t laugh.

Anyway, back to Visiting Time. I like many of the poems, written by Anon, whoever he is. They all seem to rhyme, which is so old fashioned. Outlawed by T.S. Eliot who measured his life in tea spoons.

Six Wishes by Anon.

He wishes things could be more peaceful.

He wishes he’d never done it.

He wishes he was going home to his family.

He wishes he’d stayed at school.

He wishes he had listened to his mother.

He wishes he could turn back time.

It’s an easy enough book to read. I took about an hour. Honesty comes from the heart. Aphorisms and humour, anon, anon.

As Alan Bennett remarked, ‘Reading can feel like a hand reaching out and taking yours’.

Writing can often feel like a slap on the wrist and not for the likes of us.

Think about diegesis and the difference between narrative and plot. The king is dead and the queen died too tells a story. The king is dead, and the queen died of grief, is the plot of a story. It’s got the bounceabilty of a longer narrative, such as, ‘The judge didn’t laugh.’

There are some plays and some songs, but mostly the stories here are simple narratives.  

In a short-story by S, One man’s pain is another man’s laughter, for example, the narrator Stuart gets drunk and attends the wrong funeral. I’ve done that too, although my name isn’t Stuart and I wasn’t drunk, or at least I think I wasn’t drunk. Sit tight or bolt? Then like Stuart, you’ve got everybody lined up, the whole clan waiting to shake your hand, greeting.  What do you do? Tell them you’re no’ really sorry. I never knew the man, or risk getting caught out in the lie? Aye.

rendezvous, another poem by Anon has a wee secret at its heart. It’s an in joke for the alkies.  Only those in the know, nod and wink, know rendezvous is a pub on Dunbarton Road.

sittin in the hoose/bored oot ma heid/telly’s snide/might go back to my bed/then the dog starts to wimper n gee me that stare/get your arse in gear daddy or I’ll shite on the flair/…/arrive at the rendezvous lounge n bar/ plant our weary arses n order a jar.’

Perhaps my favourite story is a fairy-tale. I used to love fairy-tales and big books are just fair-tales too. This a knock-off of a story of auld Nick. You know how there is meant to be seven basic plots, well auld Nick squeezes his way into about three of them. Offhand, think Macbeth, story of the witches.  Rabbie Burns, the Deil and Tam o’shanter.  Walter Scott, Wandering Willie’s Tale.  Robert Louis Stevenson, The Bottle Imp. Oscar Wilde, The Picture of Dorian Gray.  The list goes on. There’s a devil in all of us.

Old Nick and the Lottery Winner (inspired by a Mayan folk tale) by  Anon follows Chekov’s dictum, a short-story should be a glance, with the Scottish believe there should be a bit of a smirk added.

Deal with the devil and you strike a bargain. It’s there in the title.

‘And that’s what he did. That night the clock struck twelve, the man arrived at the crossroads.’

The devil appears in the form of his long dead da.  We know what the devil wants –your soul. The Edinburgh man wants a hundred-million pound Lottery rollover, which isn’t too much to ask.  

Your plots set up, the deal is done, how to end it all in fewer than 1500 words and diddle the devil?

Read on.

Writing is a waste of time? Discuss.

Photo by Jeremy Avery on Unsplash

The networker, John Naughton, Observer, Artificial Intelligence is making literary leaps.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/nov/02/ai-artificial-intelligence-language-openai-cpt2-release

I write stuff nobody much reads. Think of a number below ten and don’t multiply it. There’s a large hole in my idea of normality. I imagine someday, someone, somewhere will pay for my writing and I’ll be in the promised land of earning a living from writing. There’s no evidence to support this assumption. Meanwhile, I just putter along, doing no real harm and getting on with it.  Writing helps me figure out what I think and the odd time gives me joy. Endorphins kick in and I’m on a writer high, conquering the world, word by word.

Anyone that’s being paying attention to the rise and rise of artificial intelligence (AI) knows how the world is going to change. Has already morphed into an existential threat (although the case for that may be overstated).  We know that it is going to do the boring jobs. Then it’s going to do the less boring jobs. AI or pattern-recognition software will be our doctors and nurses our servants and masters a tax on humanity with profits going to the off-shored wealthy.

For us dreamers and scribblers AI seemed a jump too far. I was aware that AI was already performing simple tasks such as writing obituaries and sport columns for mainstream media. Deep Blue pattern-recognition software filtered down to games that challenge novice chess players at different levels. ‘Go’ the board game that seemed to rely on intuition rather than logic seemed a step to far, but the best players in the world were swatted aside by machine learning. I could go on, but I guess you see the pattern emerging.

Write every day, that’s the way, is the kind of crappy mantra I more, or less, adhere to.  What John Naughton is saying here is AI can mimic the way you write. Just the same way that SIRI can listen to what you say and reproduce speech. AI can be you. A different but a better you, with an authentic voice that is yours, but not you.

The myth of the writer in the attic (although I do sit in a cupboard) pondering and pouring out hard copy is hard cheese.  AI can do that quicker and better. Just the same as it can play chess better than you, all the way up to Grand Master level.

We all know how the story of writerly success is promoted. The fairy tale being written in an Edinburgh café by a writer down on her luck. Outliers brought into the mainstream by fate. A fluke of luck, a billion pound industry, resting on the back of a tortoise. Buy a lottery ticket, write that book. You might win.

Lies. Lies. Lies. I sometimes even believe them.

The economics of the creative industries (around 14% of GDP) rely on elasticity of supply.  AI has changed that algorithm.  Why do we need screenwriters when AI can do it faster and better? Why wait for the next great novel when we can just download something very similar?

The slog of writing remain much the same, but the chances of being published and making a writing from living are pretty much gubbed. Oh, well, back to the old-fashioned keyboard. Read on.

Storyville: One Child Nation, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, director Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang.


https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000bh0j/storyville-one-child-nation

I’ve been pondering the difference between affect and effect. The former is a verb. The latter is a noun and verb. The etymology of affect suggests it has its roots in ‘a little like love’.

The effect of China’s implementation of a one-child policy for couples, men and women, in the early 1980s was nothing like love. It was a top-down, Communist Party, misogynistic policy, based on pseudo-economics, demographics and projections of population growth. This was best summed up by a midwife who conducted tens of thousands of abortions and admitted drowning babies in buckets because she had no other choice. We’d starve and resort to cannibalism, she argued. The Great Famine of 1959-1961 instigated by Chairman Mao’s Great Leap Forward was in living memory so this propaganda drive was an idea that gained consensus.

The reversal of a one-child policy, around six years ago, was also an economic decision. China’s one child policy had the desired effect. It was no longer the most populous nation on earth. Under President Xi Jinping the Great Leap Forward has reached its conclusion. China is where America was before the first world war, a rival power trying to establish hegemonic influence.

But a simple rule of thumb and way to boost a countries GDP is to have more children. The more children the greater GDP. India is an example of this effect. Children also offset another ratio, the proportion of working population measured against the non-working population. In leaping forward, China has come to mirror the West in that it has a growing aging population and less workers to pay for their retirement. China also faces an additional demographic burden in that there are many more men than women. In our country, as I imagine in China, around sixty percent of the lowest paid jobs are done by women. Women’s work is not well-paid. But the misogynistic assumption that we need more women to care for our elderly holds a universal appeal. China’s implementation of a two-child policy is based on simple economics, or so they’d have us believe. The propaganda machine that churned out memes about the virtues of having one child has volte-faced and advocates two or more children as the perfect number. We live in an Orwellian world in more ways than one.

Nanfu Wang, a Chinese American, with her chid in tow, goes back to her homeland to document the one-child policy. She notes the irony that in China and America (Christian fundamentalist rights challenge of Roe v Wade) neither nation allows women to control their own bodies.

Wang returns to the rural village where she was born during China’s one-child policy. Her name tells you something about the villager’s aspirations. It’s a boy’s name. The one-child policy was modified to allow for two children to be born in some rural areas, but only if a five year gap appeared between births. Village elders had some discretionary power.  For those that failed to follow this policy, village elders were instructed to knock the down the house of the pregnant woman and fine them. Here Wang interviews the village elder who was responsible for these actions at that time. Like many in the village, a repeating motif, was that he was doing what he was told. He was powerless. The village elder’s equally elderly wife was however not affected by the same inertia and fatalism. She warned Wang that her mother, who still lived in their village, would pay, if her husband experiences any difficulties.

Pregnant women who nevertheless continued with their pregnancy, one woman, for example, hid in the pigsty, were hunted down and strapped to a stretcher and taken to the midwife.

The midwife Wang interviewed told her she would perform an abortion every ten minutes. And she’d performed thousands of such procedures. Foetuses at eight and nine months were left to die. Those born and breathing, drowned in a bucket. Mothers routinely sterilised.  

A Chinese photographer showed Wang his study of the corpses of aborted foetuses and other neonates lying in the trash.

One consequence of the one-child policy, especially in rural villages was the abandonment of female babies after they’d been born. Wang interviewed her Auntie and Uncle who’d left their daughter in the marketplace hoping someone else would take her and bring her up. They admitted their daughter had been ate by mosquitoes and died. Nobody wanted a female child. The marketplace was a graveyard for other female babies left by their parents.

The market place became just that when opportunities later came to sell children to wealthy foreigners in the United States, Europe and Canada. One American couple admitted adopting three Chinese babies. The prices they paid ranged from $10 000 to $25 000 or more. Female babies were no longer left to die in the market place, but swept up, with the finders paid a fee by State run orphanages from $50 to $200 per baby.

In a warped sense, this could be considered win-win, but with not enough babies and demand from abroad booming the next step was kidnapping infants. Village elders would, for example, visit the poorest members of their community, issue them with a fine and take a daughter for payment, until it was paid. The child would be classified as an orphan. Police officers would sign a form agreeing that the child had been found outside the orphanage, abandoned and the child would be sold to the highest bidder. In many ways it mirrors the scandal of Chinese prisons selling prisoner’s kidney, but is even sicker.

The effect of China’s one-child policy worked too well. The affect is devastation of lives and an increase in corruption from top down to bottom up. One Child Nation is the story of a holocaust.