Alan Cumming (2021) Baggage: Tales From a Fully Packed Life.

I was vaguely aware who Alan Cumming is. For independent film consortiums, Miriam Margolyes seems to be the pensioner of choice to go on adventures and sell the results to BBC, ITV or Channel 4. She’s been sent to America a few times and to Australia. The latest wheeze is Scotland. Yes, Bonnie old Scotland. Who’d have thought of that? Monopoly money for old rope. They flung in Alan Cummings as a guide, and driver of their motorhome. He’s Scottish, I didn’t know that. Stanley Kubrick though he was American, so I’m in good company. I wouldn’t know a good actor from a ham. But my partner who watched bits of the scenery in the Grand Tour said Cumming’s dad was bad to him. That piqued my interest. Now is the time to fling in some quotes about happy families being all the same. We’re off to a flyer. Cumming’s da was a sadistic cunt.

The book starts with discord. He’s in a marriage, I wouldn’t call it unhappy. They’re trying for a child. She’s an old acquaintance from drama school. A few years older. She’s the star turn with the operatic voice. The diva.  He’s the man with a childish face that gets parts playing adolescents. I thought Cumming was gay. So being married to a woman (he later marries a man) was the done thing. And if you’re going to do the done thing, you might as well do it early.

Before he went from the West End of Glasgow (the snobby bit) to Drama school he worked for D.C. Thompson and Company near Dundee, and near his home. He wrote the Astrology bits and pieces. You will find a stranger in Uranus. Not quite, but similar. The Fiction department. A Thompson clone was on ever floor.  When we grew up, Cummings being much the same age as me, they produced The Beano and Dandy, but also The Sunday Post, with Oor Wullie in it, a true Scottish legend. Cummings points out D.C.Thompson had a London address to give their publishing empire legitimacy. No unions, but Unionism and no Catholics were a given. Cummings ticked all the right boxes. Gay men or women, of course, didn’t exist and were too risqué for even the Fictional department.

I knew he’d done the MC in Cabaret. I hadn’t seen him in that, but watched (I suppose like everybody else) the film version with Liza Minelli. I’d read the Christopher Isherwood books, Mr Norris Changes Train and Goodbye to Berlin on which the musical is based. Cumming suggests that Isherwood and W.H. Auden et al weren’t there to fight fascism or do anything highbrow, but simply wanting to escape England and sample cock. No big surprise.

Authenticity:

‘It’s hard to be your authentic self when you don’t know who you really are.’

Cummings was in New York, close enough in his apartment to witness 9/11 and the fall of the Twin Towers. He acknowledges the fear and mistrust of Muslims and those of non-white, pasty, Scottish skin colour that ensued. The finding of a scapegoat and the invasion of Afghanistan, followed by Iraq. And how this all fed into the moron moron’s Trumpism (maybe I’m reading too much into a general observation).

Sean Connery, Billy Connolly, Faye Dunaway, Tina Turner, Tom Cruise, Nicole Kidman, Halley Berry, Gore Vidal…they’re all here (apart from Rod Stewart and Elton John). The book was five years late. Too early for a chapter on Miriam Margolyes and her observations on bowel movements and the howls of laughter that ensures. Ho-hum. Read on.    

The Rise and Fall of a Porn Superstar, Storyville, BBC 4, BBC iPlayer, Director Tomer Heymann


https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/m000frcl/storyville-the-rise-and-fall-of-a-porn-superstar

I missed the first few minutes of this. I expected to see (not that I watch porn) blonde hair and silicon breasts and a solid arse so big it would have shamed a Kardashian and housed half of dancing Africa with bongo drums. Instead I got this guy, who called himself Jonathan Agassi and he was in Berlin. He dressed down to go out in a pair of tight-fitting swimming trunks. He went to a Berlin nightclub to collect an award for the being the best new gay porn star. He won the category, best porn actor, United States.

Fucker, you better believe it. He didn’t live in the United States.  The best, or so he thought. This is the rise part, before the world goes back to being less than a Cabaret tune. ‘Come to the Cabaret my friend, Come to the Cabaret’. Another song set in Cabaret (Berlin of the 1930s Weimar Republic) sets the tone: ‘Money, makes the world go around, the world go around, the world go around. Money makes the world go around…’ It still does. When Agassi is the queen of the porn industry and doing what he’s told, money pours in. The next big thing is always standing behind you.

I found Agassi’s relationship with his mum weird. She’s in Israel. He’s in Berlin. They Skype. He looks for reassurance he’s still beautiful. She gives it.  Then he goes back to visit her in Tel Aviv. There were some uncomfortable moments such as Agassi dressing in fishnets and high-heel shoes and his brother telling him this wasn’t Berlin, but Tel Aviv. In other words, don’t go out like that ya sissy. But he’d went to school there. Threatened suicide, when he was at school and ready to jump from a high window, his classmates shouted, ‘Jump’. I guess Israelites are too busy gobbling up the land of their poor Palestinian neighbours to be overly politically correct.   

We meet Agassi’s dad back in Berlin. Things have turned more difficult. Agassi’s bum is still for sale but the price is dropping out of the market. Worse, his dad is the worst kind of arsehole. Agassi remains fixated on his dad calling him ‘a homo’ when he was twelve. We all know the cure for that from right-wing (let’s call them) Americans who imagine a good shag with a good girl will cure them of that kind of malarkey. That was certainly my da’s view, when his best mate, Jimmy Mac, told him his son was gay.

‘No, Jimmy, yeh, cannae have that,’ were my da’s immortal words.

Agassi’s da went further. When he was twelve he set him up with this then female partner. You know, the good-shag cure, which in other societies would be looked on as paedophilia and procurement, but not here. Not in Berlin.

Later, Agassi and Da meet again. His son is out of his face on drugs most of the time. He’s filmed sleeping on top of a parked car. And admits he hadn’t slept for two days. Worse, his wanger is playing up, gone off solidarity and on strike, he can no longer ejaculate on cue. The money shot is no longer the money shot. Things are slipping.

Da talks about his mum as if he loved her. Maybe he did. But he tells the big lie. Mummy was depressed because she wanted a girl and instead had a boy, Agassi. That set her into depression, perhaps post-natal, perhaps something else. Nudge. Nudge. Wink. Wink. Your mum hated you and it’s your fault for being born.

Mummy soon put Agassi right. She was stuck in New York, penniless and young, with two kids and daddy was out spending what little money that had and whoring. That’s when I got on mummy’s side. Now I kinda liked her. She was spunky.

Agassi dresses mummy up in designer clobber and claims she looks beautiful. The answer here on this side is no, she doesn’t. She looks like an ordinary wee woman. Since we’re on the male gaze, I don’t think Agassi looks anything special either.

He ends up working in a supermarket. The kind of guy you pass every day. Gives lectures to kids about the dangers of drugs. When I watched Louise Theroux’s programme about escorts £200-an-hour seemed to be the going rate. Agassi around $4000 an hour. Must be hard, working on the checkout, minimum wage, made to eat shit. Lack of money does that to you. Porn, like anything else, is an overcrowded market. It eats the young. Hates the old. I’m sure there’s some kind of metaphor waiting to pop up.