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.    

Jimmy Johnstone, Life Stories, BBC Alba

https://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b07xdrv3/jimmy-johnston

James Connolly Johnstone was born on the 30th September 1944. He died on 13th March 2006. We all know who Jinky is. We voted him Celtic’s best-ever player and if you look at the footage of that night, you’ll see a young looking Martin O’Neil and a grinning number seven with dreadlocks called Henrik Larsson. A statue of Jinky is outside Parkhead, but he rests in our hearts. Because Celtic is our religion and he’s one of us.

I’d met Billy Smith in Dalmuir, one of the older guys that used to train our Guild team. He remained remarkably young looking up until he got Motor Neurone Disease.  

‘How you getting on Jake?’ he asked.

‘No bad,’ I said. ‘But I heard you’ve got that thing, like that Fernando Ricksen?’

Fernando Ricksen had been in the Daily Record and the other media. He’d been to his spiritual home at Ibrox, but was in a wheelchair.

Billy was quick to shake his head and correct me. ‘No, no like Fernando Ricksen, like Jimmy Johnstone.’

No statute for Billy Smith, but I understood what he was saying, without wanting to find out what it meant. It’s endgame and part of the Jimmy Johnstone story. Archie Macpherson said it was like being in a room when the walls closed in. But Jimmy didn’t die alone. Agnes, his wife, his son and two daughters were beside him.  His Celtic family were there for him. The team that won the European Cup in 1967 supported him through his illness. Bertie Auld, who was never lost for words, but now, sadly, has dementia visited Jimmy almost every day. When asked why, for once, Bertie was stuck for words. ‘That’s just…who he was,’ he says. Hail, Hail, Bertie.

And a special word, for a special friend, the Rangers winger, Willie Henderson. He was there for Jimmy too. But he said he found it hard. Hail, Hail, Willie Henderson.

My brother Stephen (SEV, may he RIP) told me the story of working for Lawrence and asking this wee labourer to get him some two-by-two planks. Then he realised it was Jimmy Johnstone. Much has been made of Messi’s standoff with Barcelona. The Argentinian was willing to take a pay cut from his annual salary of twenty million Euros (which didn’t include bonuses or image rights). But here was wee Jinky, whom 100 000 Spaniards in the Bernabéu stadium, cried ‘Ole, Ole,’ every time he touched the ball in  Alfredo Di Stéfano’s  testimonial match, following their European Cup win. Jinky, was quite simply, the best player in the world. Yet, here he was working in a building site, after offering to sell all his medals for £10 000 to William Haughey. It’s difficult to imagine Messi doing that.

But it was a different world then. We used to think that guys like Billy McNeil and Dixie Deans would be alright because they had their own pub. They would always have money and an income, we thought.

My brother and Jimmy had something in common. They were both alkies. No pubs for them. One day at a time.  Jimmy’s son, James, shakes his head, when he remembers what his da had become. Anyone that has been to Alcoholic Anonymous meetings know what happens when the guys that at the top table get competitive and start telling stories of their fall from grace. One guy might say he ate a baby seal pup in front of its mother. And the next guy will tell you he did something similar, but didn’t stop with one seal pup. But Jimmy could say he’d held up the European Cup. He’d done a lot of stupid things and played for teams he didn’t want to, but it was a job, and one he could do.

He played in with San Jose Earthquakes, but he couldn’t be doing with all that American stuff as if it was show business. He wanted to get back to Viewpark, and home. He’d spells with Sheffield United and played three times for Dundee. Tommy Gemmill was the manager, and he was being kind when he said he brought him in to do a job. Gordon Strachan remembers getting drunk with Jinky and thinking he’d hit the big time. Jinky played with Shelbourne and ended his career with Elgin City.

His heart remained at Parkhead. He tells the story of crying in the car park, after Jock Stein had let him go. Archie Macpherson said that if Jock had a favourite, it was Jinky, but Jock Stein was ruthless when it came to our team. He cut Jinky loose and the wee man unravelled. Like Benny Lynch, he turned to the drink, and thought he could sweat it off.

Jinky might have been the greatest ever, but he fancied himself a bit of a singer. When Rod Stewart visited he told him to shut up and give him the microphone. He sung a duet with Simple Minds’ Jim Kerr. Jinky’s daughter remembered Billy Connelly sleeping on the floor.

Jinky believed in UFO’s, and John Clark tells a story of how Jinky wanted him to take him to some godforsaken place to hunt for aliens. But Jinky never strayed far from his home in Viewpark. Like another legend, Tommy Burns (also on BBC Alba), he was devout and was buried in his local parish. Jimmy Johnstone was our Messi. But he was just an ordinary wee guy with extraordinary football ability that worked as a labourer, did what we all dreamed of a kid, played for Celtic and loved the club. Hail, Hail. May he RIP.   

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.