J.R. Moehringer (2005) The Tender Bar: A Memoir.

I did this in the wrong order (if there is such a thing) I watched the film of the book, before reading the book. For J.R.Moehringer, books are holy things. And I know where he lives because I’ve read the book. F.Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby Egg territory. J.R’s hometown, Manhasset, Long Island. Sigourney Weaver took her stage name from the guest list of Gatsby’s fictional legendary parties, which the whole of New York’s well-heeled attended. Gatsby wanted to win back Daisy Buchanan, who hid behind the money and killed somebody when drunk driving, which wasn’t really her fault.

J.R.’s Daisy is Sidney. Sidney is the one. J.R. finds that most of the men in the bar have a Sidney locked away in their soul. In the film, she’s black. But in the book, she’s more Farah Fawcett. Charlie’s Angels were beautiful as could be, but Farah was that level above. Sidney is that level. But we don’t get to her until 200 pages in. She’s waiting to disillusion him at Harvard and not Yale, where they met.

Maya Angelou, Human Family, gets it right:

I’ve sailed upon the seven seas

and stopped in every land,

I’ve seen the wonders of the word

But not one common man

I know ten thousand women

called Jane or Mary Jane

but I’ve never seen two

who really were the same

…We seek success in Finland

are born and die in Maine,

In minor ways we differ,

in major we’re the same.  

Uncle Charlie is a playboy in the film with a fine head of hair. He, it seems, owns Dickens, but in the book, Steve owns Dickens, later called The Publican. It makes little difference. The bar had been there since the end of Prohibition, perhaps earlier. For regulars, it was the place to be. For irregulars, it was the place to be seen. Grandpa’s ramshackle dwelling provided a safety net, but Uncle Charlie and Dickens was home. At eighteen he’d a driving license and that was his entry card for a world he breathed in every day.  

‘We went there for everything we needed. We went there when we were thirsty, of course, and when hungry and when dead tired. We went there when happy and to celebrate, and when sad, to sulk. We went there after weddings and funerals, for something to settle our nerves, and always for a shot of courage, just before. We went there when we didn’t know what we needed, hoping someone might tell us. We went there when looking for love, or sex, or trouble, or for someone who had gone missing, because sooner or later everyone turned up there. Most of all we went there when we needed to be found.’     

Seven-year-old J.R. in 1972 has the gift of wordy-gurdy and is searching for a father-figure. He does make gravity defying leaps for a poor boy, getting into Yale for example, and getting a job, as copyboy, in The New York Times.  Steady as she goes, his life pitches and flings him curve balls. I laughed aloud as his Auntie roared at his nephew McGraw about how he had to get an operation and get back into professional baseball. He was on the lip of achievement and a big money deal, but now he was a loser back in Dickens, with J.R. Every bar has its story and story-tellers. J.R. loves the older guys and they, in turn, revere the owner of the pub, Steve, whose smile brings warmth to their lives. Only later does the reader find out about Steve’s plastic teeth.

We bring back the past by not forgetting it, and forgiving yourself your youth. A coming-of-age drama written with warmth, but also understanding. When the party is over, it’s over. Few of us get the life we deserve. But there’s a poignant note, 9/11 2001. His mum phoned from Arizona. Two adults watching planes crash into the World Trade Center. Peter Taylor, who’d tended bar in Dickens, one of the dead. Another forty-nine from home in the debris of Ground Zero. Amen.   

Rip it Up, BBC 2 9pm, BBC iPlayer, produced and directed by Pete Stanton.

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Rip it Up and Start Again. Rip it Up and Start Again. That’s the lyrics to an Orange Juice song.  I don’t know my contraltos from my tomatoes. Doesn’t matter.  I loved Rip it Up, three hours of nostalgia and the good old days that never existed. My favourites were KLF, the millionaires who burnt a million quid (alledgedly). I forgot how bonkers and how good they were. Watching clips of them made me laugh. I did quite well, in the quiz accompanying the series, which is equally bonkers, out of the five billion vinyl sales of records I bought three albums. Saturday Night Fever, Bat out of Hell and something else, but not with Pan Pipe music. Fuck off Pan Pipes and Fuck off with The Birdy Song.

The last episode ‘Success and Excess,’ was a bit out of my league, it was all about indy music and independent record labels, as a person that doesn’t listen to music and hardly listened to music when I was younger, I’d never heard of them. What it reminded me of was that old trope that anyone can write a book and get it published. There was that self-congratulatory feel from the falling faces of established stars. Guys and girls in their bedroom are going to make music and make it in the music industry.

That’s called the exception to the rule, rule. More commonly known as bullshit.

The first episode ‘Blazing a Trail’ had a more honest narrative appeal. In other words, I liked it. Lulu and Donovan. Nazareth, are a bit like The Jesus and Mary Chain to me, never heard their music but the names have that familiar ring. I’m more a Middle of the Road kinda guy. Here we find they were a precursor to Abba (I liked the blonde one).  And when you listen, it’s all there, under all that hair. Loved it. From the Skiffle of Lonnie Donniegan to the Bay City Rollers.

Now we’re hitting my childhood. My sister fancies Alan because he looked quite quiet. I can see her point. John von Neumann, I think it was who helped to develop Game Theory and had other side-lines in Dangerous Minds, suggested when you were trying to get aff with somebody don’t go for the A* lister, which in my time was Pauline Moriarity, go for the cast off, ugly duckling. Then you’ve got a chance. So logically, my sister fancied Alan because she’d no chance with Les. In the same way I didn’t fancy Farah Fawcett, but the ugly Charlie’s Angel because if we ever met, that was it. The Bay City Rollers sold over 100 million vinyl records. I bought zero. They ended up skint, but that wasn’t my fault. I didn’t get pocket money and if I did I bought a packet of caramels, which lasted longer.  So much for the big music industry.

‘Success and Excess’, the second programme featured that well know band from my neck of the woods, Wet, Wet, Wet. The Clydebank Group hit a virtuous circle, a number 1 hit tied in with the soundtrack of a successful film. That’s international success, and breaks the American market, right away. See Glaswegian  Jim Kerr, Simple Minds and that coming-of-age movie The Breakfast Club. For any band this is called the licence to print money club.

I was talking to my brother about this. Marty Pellow’s brother was called Kojak. That wasn’t his real name. We got into a fight when I was younger and he tried to steal my carry-oot. Nobody puts Baby in the Corner. Really? Yeh, I stole that line from Dirty Dancing, which was the complete opposite of what most of us were doing. Real disco dancing was a bit of awakward-larity elbow movement, looking at your feet and appearing as if you’d just shuffled out of a dark wardrobe and was hoping for a girl to give you directions, preferably a pretty girl. And nobody steals my carry-oot, even Marty Pellow’s brother. Right enough that’s not his real name either. He’s dead now. (RIP) The summer of 1976 was the hottest summer until now and well, when it’s pissing down these programmes take you right back to your childhood. Terrific TV.