Thursday, February 27, 2014

Ag cur cuairt Cookham

Chuaigh Léna agus mé ar an traein go Paddington i Londain go dtí an baile Cookham ag imeall an abhainn Thames Dé Sathairn. Iarr muid a fheiceáil an áit a raibh cónái Stanley Spencer ar feadh ar shaol (1891-1959). Ar ndóigh, d'imigh sé go An Domhan Mór, cosúil le fír eile an oiread sin ansin.

Chónaic muid múrmhaisithe móra ag Teach Somerset an lá roimh inné. Mar sin, tá na pictiúr agus líníochtaí ina Dánlann Stanley Spencer níos mó faoi shaol laethúil. Ach, scrúdaigh Spencer an radharc Críostaí triu amharc mistiúl agus umhal, ina tstraide na Cookham féin leis a comharsanaí.

Is féidir leat a fheicéail go leor faoi Cookham ar líne. D'fhoglaim mé go raibh áit an-sean agus ro-stairiúl. Ciallaíon an t-ainm ar siúl "cwch-ium," mar sé "áit báid" i Chéilteach arsa.

Shiúl muid ag timpeall: go siopa tae, go Cora Olney, an eaglais meánaioseach, go bhruach na habainn Thames, An Póna agus móinteach, agus an stáisiún traenach. Thóg Spencer an traen laethúil ag a hocht go Londain a fhreastail An Scoil Slade agus d'fhill sé in am don tae. Bhí mac léinn gan íoc ansin, gan amhras.

Chaill muid an traen, ach bhí maith linn an baile. Gan fírinne, ba mhaith liom a fanacht ansin ar feadh tréimhse níos faide. Mar sin féin, bíonn straidbhaile dara is saibhre sa Bhreatain.

Visiting Cookham. 

Layne and I went by train from Paddington in London to the town of Cookham along the river Thames on Saturday. We wanted to see the place Stanley Spencer lived during his life (1891-1959). However, he went off to the Great War, as so many men of his time then.

We saw the great murals at Somerset House the day before yesterday. Therefore, the paintings and drawings in the Stanley Spencer Gallery are more about daily life. But, Spencer perceived a Christian view through a mystical and humble perspective, in the streets of Cookham itself with his neighbors.

You can see more about Cookham on line. I learned that it is a very old and quite historical place. The place name means "cwch-ium," that is "place of boats" in ancient Celtic.

We walked around: to the tea-shop, to Olney Weir, the medieval church, the banks of the river Thames, The Pound and moor, and the train station. Spencer took the train daily at eight to London to attend the Slade School and he returned in time for tea. He was an outstanding student there, without a doubt.

We missed the train, but we liked the town. Truly, I would like to stay there for a longer time. All the same, it's the second richest village in Britain.

(Píctiúr: Móintéan na Cookham/Cookham Moor, 1937)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Pam Gems' "Stanley": Book Review

This dramatic presentation of the English artist Stanley Spencer (1891-1957) published in 1996 premiered with Anthony Sher in the title role, and it must have been rewarding to watch. (It won a Tony nomination in 1997.) For, in the written form here I review, Gems places Spencer within the tumult of his very tangled relationships with his wife Hilda and his lesbian lover (a long story, thus this play) Patricia and her partner Dorothy. Add his teacher Henry (Tonks), his contemporary Augustus (John), and his agent Dudley (Tooth) among a few others and you learn about the career and personality of quite a figure, a standout even by village characters of this island.

While resisting strenuously the eccentric label, with his canvas toted around his beloved Cookham in a pram, his horned-rimmed circular frames, and his bowl haircut, Spencer courted comparisons. His spiritually intricate, erotically charged, and/or boldly distorted visionary paintings invited acclaim or notoriety. Gems incorporates a lot of biographical material with enough skill, for a short play, not to feel like it's a history lesson. Still, having finished Kenneth Pople's big biography before reading this play, I was glad I had learned about the painter beforehand, for the speed with which much of the expository dialogue flies by demands attention (the one caution I'd share with fellow readers of this rather than viewers or students of Spencer), and perhaps on stage some relationships were clearer.

"I love being in a room and emanating 'Stanley' qualities, throwing out nice bits of me for people to pick up..." (38) So he complains to Hilda, who resists his ministrations and begins to retreat from him while Patricia, back in the village, gloms on to Stanley. Smitten, he buys her extravagances, painting landscapes to pay his way and hers rather than his own personal visions.

In Gems' dramatization, which seems to accord with what is known, Patricia leads him on. Even after he divorces Hilda, leaves his daughters, and marries Patricia, she pushes him off and in turn eggs him on. She assures him that "I'll get them for shall have women, as many women as you want..." (45) While more of a procurer here than in real life perhaps, her connivance does dominate.

Henry, as Stanley later dithers while Hilda declines his return and Patricia wears him out as she retreats from him while still milking him, chastises Stanley: "You court simplicity like a dog after a b[---]ch." (66) His oddity fails to win him as many admirers around him as his fame might bring him. He tries to paint more explicit paintings of both women in his life, but his reputation appears tainted.

In the end, Patricia too divorces him even as she rushes to claim the title of Lady when Sir Stanley is knighted. Hilda goes crazy and then dies (nicely portayed in the latter state by Gems' stage direction). Patricia puts him down: "Everything you paint is deformed...lunatic...all gazing at the world with imbecile stares...Me decked out in all the finery you forced upon me..." (79) She proves sour stuff.

By contrast, the penultimate scenes rescue this downbeat tone with Dorothy, who had also labored long as a painter in Patricia's shadow; their paintings were shown only under the latter's name. Dorothy tells a journalist after the knighthood how "there is a sort of unique human clumsiness about his work--it is deliberate, of course. He paints people trapped, as it were, in their own flesh, pinned down to this earth, and yet they seek to soar and he makes that seem very possible." (85)

Stanley has the last word. In his apotheosis, still madly writing away to Hilda as he had long after their divorce and her death, he insists on the rightness of his righteousness. "God blessed me with a great talent and a great love. Now I'm alone to get on with the work. Sorrow and sadness is not me." (88) He remains the best judge of his work. He looks down at his canvas: "Beautifully done." Packing up, off he goes with his pram, down the streets of Cookham, to his home, amidst his lifelong home.
(Amazon US 1-25-14)

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Kenneth Pople's "Stanley Spencer: A Biography": Book Review

With the attention given the First World War a century later, a look back at one of its greatest if most unpredictable artists, Stanley Spencer, rewards renewed examination. Published in 1991 on the centenary of his birth, drawing on interviews with his two daughters, family and friends, and the Tate Gallery archived writings, Spencer in his first in-depth biography emerges not as the subject of dull critique, but of respect through a diligent effort by Kenneth Pople to let the artist's words speak for themselves. They channel Spencer's interior struggle, evoked and expressed by slow craft or long difficulty. 

While very congenial towards Spencer, Pople provides a skilled interpretation of the rational and genesis for what can often be initially baffling or perplexing art. Painstaking in his observations, he charts Spencer's professional and personal growth in chronological chapters documenting his self-awareness which emerges on canvas, as he sketched and painted from an early age. Pople pauses to offer "suggestions as to their emotional origins" of his art, supported by Spencer's mostly unpublished writings, supplemented by testimony of those who knew him. The sympathy between biographer and subject proves powerful.

Although a readable five-hundred-plus-pages, detail may overwhelm those seeking a précis. Pople doggedly pursues his subject, but rarely distances himself from him. Duncan Robinson's overview rewards readers with enough illustrations and descriptions to begin. After Kitty Hauser's and Fiona MacCarthy's respective monographs, if preceding Pam Gems' pithy play, the still-curious may plunge into Pople for immersion into the steady or turbulent flow between the life and the works. Keith Bell catalogued a necessary survey of hundreds of Spencer's works, but inevitably despite the heft of Bell's contribution, individual paintings cannot all earn the scrutiny that this prolific artist merits.

Therefore, Pople's effort aligns the places and faces of Spencer's beloved village with their spiritual equivalents. As he put it, he walked around Cookham as if he saw heaven. Not that he strolled in heaven, but that he compared what he envisioned there with what he witnessed daily around him. A subtle but necessary distinction, for as Pople explains, Spencer's works attempted to record his own ecstasies, or terrors. "The places are not meant as symbolic or universal. They have no meaning outside of his experience of them. He presumes we all have such places in our memories which evoke similar feelings for us, and that we are able to recognize those that he shows in his painting are but signposts to personal feeling. It is that feeling which he is trying to capture and to universalize." (26) 

He treasured sensory elements of those he knew and settings he passed. Minutes or years later, his prodigious memory, sharp ear, and photographic eye could reproduce the scene or moment he wanted on paper or as a painting. The results may or may not match Cookham, but they usually emanate from it. Pople distinguishes the "observed" landscapes (often considerably sharper in technical execution, if removed of people) or portraits, by which Spencer made a living, from the "visionary" paintings he claims to have preferred, those conflating preternatural events into Cookham's domain. 

The process, Pople extrapolates from Spencer's accounts and art, depends on what that artist called "memory-feeling" as his imagined experiences became transfigured into the biblical inspirations he then interpreted. For instance, "The Centurion's Servant" (1913-14) halts in freeze-frame, as we see the before and the after of a miracle juxtaposed. Pople avers that Spencer sought to release his own delights or confusions (here he prepares that work as war and his call to duty looms) by setting down scenes which "redeem some bewilderments". (64) By shifting his own catharsis onto a biblical event or spiritual backdrop, he purged himself of confusion by a vivid creation as his, and our, memento.
"Christ Carrying the Cross" (1920) illustrates the maturation of his vision. Chastened by the Great War, back in Cookham he puts Christ on a village street, as workmen pass with their own ladders held aloft in a similar pose to that of the titular figure. All are doing their job, as Spencer observed. Villagers go about their duties, too, and few notice Christ's action. Neighbors who do stretch their necks out from the upper sills of an adjoining house. "The lace curtains blown out by the draught from the open windows on that sultry summer day have been transformed into wings. The onlookers in their silent commiseration have taken on the protectiveness of angels." (90) Neatly if suggestively, the painting's English residents pass by or peer out as if on sunny spring streets of ancient Jerusalem. 

In many of Spencer's works, if ignorant of his title to alert, a spectator may puzzle over a canvas without understanding who the main figure is, as so often a bustling, oddly elongated, or foreshortened depiction of a crowd challenges a facile comprehension of the theme. Instead, a viewer roams about his visionary work by eye, and becomes swept along in the crowd or gathering. Thus, the viewer shares Spencer's perspective, however skewed or off-kilter. Through such an unsettling immersion, an early twentieth-century modernist obsession with meticulous detail mixes with earlier depictions, drawn from Giotto as much as Gauguin, suggesting how faith then or indifference now contend within a contemporary participant, who examines Spencer and encounters his ambiguity. 

Off to war, Spencer followed three of his brothers. He did his job. Small of stature and not allowed into the fighting ranks until mass slaughter had eased entry requirements, he labored as a hospital orderly and with the ambulance corps in Salonika and Macedonia, followed by parched months in the trenches in 1918, Spencer toughed it out, with detachment from the humiliation he suffered and commitment to outlast his tormenters, until malaria sent him home. Only then did he learn, about six weeks before armistice, one brother had died. Spencer's mystical beliefs appear to have altered given the shocks he encountered during his enlistment. Commissioned as a war artist but with little to show for it, Spencer recorded more memorably he routines he followed in a series of post-war murals at the privately endowed Sandham Memorial Chapel, built for his display. He chose not to commemorate the battles but the behind-the-lines chores. He chose in the vast Resurrection painting at Sandham to depict a dramatic scene. Christ is rising, from beneath a heap of plain white crosses, pulled off of Him by soldiers, from both sides, who all climb out from tombs and trenches. This spectacle stretches to the horizon, as crosses pile up and, nightmare over and heaven at hand, bodies shake graves free.

His other great painting of the 1920s shares the theme of resurrection. Placing its imminence in the Cookham churchyard, this also features repetition. But whereas the Sandham murals portray duties as a human necessity, the 1926 Cookham Resurrection duplicates figures of Spencer and his villagers, with a significant addition. Not until his thirties did he experience sexual fulfillment, and his delayed marriage in 1925 to Hilda Carline fueled his belated integration of the erotic and the ethereal which had hovered in his paintings recently and restlessly. The joy of a humanistic scene of revelation, where his early sketches as Pople includes of an austere God give way to the embraces of a triumphant Hilda cradling their firstborn daughter testify to the invigorated perspective of the roused and redeemed male artist. Pople notes, however, how the idealized Hilda in the many archetypes her husband rushed her into, in person and in paint, early on complicated the messier reality of marriage. 

Pople draws deeply upon Spencer's writings, while he cautions that at times "a hurt overcoloured Stanley's reflections" (187). That is, he sharpened slights or smoothed out memories to fit his own recollections, which in turn filtered into his paintings. These grew in his mind into a whole, even if for practical reasons he had to sell of some of their renderings, while as with the Resurrection series he returned to themes again, or as in his larger murals spun off details as their own paintings to market. The totality of his work from the later 1920s on combines the real and the imaginary, the fabled and the factual, inextricably. In ink and by brush, Cookham, his friends, and his lovers recur.

When Patricia Preece entered his life, at first casually as a near-neighbor returned (in 1927 with her companion Dorothy Hepworth) to a place she had known in childhood, her erotic and emotional appeal for Stanley grew. Both she and her partner (Dorothy denied after Patricia's death any "physical relationship"; Patricia called her a "sister") painted; Patricia when seeking patronage or display of her art subsumed Dorothy's art under her own name. Placed as she was, Patricia manipulated a besotted Spencer to gain finery and dress herself in the manner she saw fit, as his reputation brought him a steady income, by requests for landscapes which kept him distracted from his visionary work. Eager for him to earn more, Patricia urged him to produce still lifes and landscapes steadily, instead. Pople estimates that Spencer spent about $60,000 in today's currency attending to her whims during this unstable period when, married to Hilda, he contemplated a ménage à trois. This led to complications.

Class tension between the humbly-born Spencer and genteel Preece has been exaggerated perhaps by some biographers, but the disparity of their perspectives arose early on. Pople cites her 1932 diary: "Now that he has decided to live here, I wish we had not chosen to come, for he is such a nuisance to us, and so jealous and quarrelsome unless one is continually praising his painting." (283) His compulsive energy increased. Pople propounds that for Spencer, Hilda remained his God-image while Patricia became his Cookham-image. He channeled these impulses into his art and his relationships, to join erotic with spiritual searches towards a fulfilled identity, his fundamental quest in the 1930s.

Hilda and he both painted Patricia; Spencer's wife (who "had heard it all before" as Preece recorded at the onset of finding herself the recipient of Spencer's conversation, evidently a constant chatter) found herself playing uneasy go-between. The going deepened, or detoured as Preece maneuvered it, by Preece's ambiguous-or-not relationship with Hepworth. Enticed, Spencer let his fancies loose. 

Pople explains that Spencer longed to break free of what he phrased as the "prison-wall-tapping" keeping people apart. His visionary series (e.g., "Love on the Moor," "Love Among the Nations," "Adoration of Old Men," "Sunflower and Dog Worship") reveled in unbounded lovemaking. His biographer explains the tumult. "He was in the strict sense of the adjective a 'pure' artist--one who in wonder interpreted the mystery of his own experience." Instead of asking our empathy or sympathy, Spencer forces us in the roiling and rotund depictions of freed bodies caught up in passion to accept the awesome miracle of life. In nudes, he painted Patricia unflinchingly as he would along her dimpled, mottled flesh the perspective, in his simile, as if an ant crawled over it. He stared down skin.

For good reason, Pople titles part six of this biography "The Marital Disasters: 1936-1939". Spencer acted boldly under Patricia's spell. He signed over his home to her, to fund her lifestyle. Unable to cope, Hilda and their two daughters left that home, and she filed for divorce. During the aftermath, Patricia continued to influence Stanley. Pople phrases this muddle as clearly as anyone might: "By an astute balancing act, she could arrange affairs to benefit her materially while freeing her from the sexual obligations of marriage, for which Hilda would be available." (361) Assuming marriage to Patricia would be but a "legal formality", Spencer married Patricia as soon as the law permitted. 

The triple arrangement proved stillborn. He importuned his patrons; neither wife wanted him.  Doubling his feminine inspirations for art, he included Elsie, his Cookham maid, and Daphne, a generous friend. Another war drafted Spencer as a commissioned artist. He illustrated Port Glasgow shipyard. He envisioned typically a larger platform for his murals than even that war's duration could fulfill. Meanwhile, he tried to woo faltering Hilda. A devout Christian Scientist, her views never jibed with Stanley's eclecticism. As Patricia pithily put it when Hilda was institutionalized: "God talked to her. It is just that he talked a little more inconveniently than usual." (432) 

He painted two more resurrections, as the end of the war found here a touching depiction in joyful reunions, and in one, a portrayal of Hilda as needing support getting up after her own return from the dead, it seems. In Glasgow, he had met what Pople calls the "last of his major handholders", Charlotte. A married psychiatrist, a German émigré who had studied with Jung, she found Stanley a congenial sort given his mystical bent. After the war, he tried to keep all of his women content, as they came and went in his bachelor life then. He divorced Patricia on grounds of non-consummation, and while he continued to pine for female companionship, unstinting devotion to his art took precedence over his desires. He pursued Hilda, but slowly he convinced himself at last of the futility. 

After her death in 1950, the last nine years of Spencer's life found him feted. For a measure of how far he had progressed, yet how closely he had kept his focus, compare his 1914 self-portrait that graces the cover with the one near its closing pages, painted a few months before he died in 1959. He fixes his eyes upon himself, and he records his features in a direct, composed, and confident manner. 

He continued to work on enormous canvases, leaving as with his last giant epic, "Christ Preaching at the Cookham Regatta" some of the best unfinished. While Pople regards the posture of Jesus as encouraging His listeners, on seeing this depiction for myself recently at the Stanley Spencer Gallery in the converted Methodist chapel in Cookham, I regarded the pose as frightening, as if the Redeemer cowed the little ones, unable to resist His imposing posture or power. Ambiguity accompanies any interpretation of Spencer. Pople, despite his patience, attests to the difficulty of reconciling the underlying philosophy the artist formulated in his heap of largely unexamined and verbose letters and journals with the art itself to full satisfaction. "So personal are the associations that is impossible to follow him with his own degree of excitement into such territories of the imagination." (485)
All the same, this biography stands as the best introduction so far to these territories. Like Dante, Spencer fused a visionary element illuminated by a startling faith, a political critique, a disgust with contemporary cant, and a daring use of analogy. He made it all recognizable by fresh analogies and surprising juxtapositions of people at their best and worst. Spencer tolerated little opposition and his prickly ethics, and his own long battles with conformity, led to his insistence upon integrity. Pople interviewed many who were still alive and their memories of Spencer, along with careful archival research from him and many of his colleagues and teachers and friends, establishes this as essential. 
(Amazon US 2-1-14; Author's website)

Friday, February 21, 2014

Fiona MacCarthy's "Stanley Spencer: An English Vision": Book Review

Having admired Fiona MacCarthy's biographies of bold English artists Eric Gill and William Morris, I anticipated that this shorter overview from a 1997 exhibition of 64 works might reveal insights on a third artist who challenged convention. Fiona McCarthy in sixty pages takes advantage of the larger format to offer an overview which rejects the soft-focus approach even as it accepts that his rounded figures and walled-in "childhood containments" express well Spencer's favorite adjective: "cosy."

As a counterpoint, early on she asserts: "Stanley Spencer looked like a village eccentric. He was not one. There was nothing of the amateur or dilettante in him. His spiritual and personal struggles were in some sense as painful as Van Gogh's." (5) Tough-minded and not as sentimental as may be surmised, Spencer wrote of inflicting "spiritual rape" on everything he strove as an artist to absorb, and that estimation fits him well. "The most impressive of his paintings have the innate gravity that comes from deeply absorbed experience."

She focuses on his earlier career, and the English vision for her appears to be grounded, after his return to Cookham after the Great War and his marriage unravelled, in a plunge from youthful wonder into mature willfulness. McCarthy labels rightly the predicament which found him playing off the resentment Hilda and the calculation of Patricia "alternating tragedy and farce." (42) Out of it, by the early 1930s, his energies seemed to have been warped. Cookham represented to him less the utopia of his late-Victorian formation and more a melange of an existentialist self-affirmation and a pantheistic blood-lust. "Spencer's creative urges seem to feed on emotional and sexual agitation."

MacCarthy, therefore, delves into this period to explore the candor he evoked in his nudes of Patricia, anticipating in their unrelenting exposure of the sagging and dimpled flesh the eye of Lucien Freud. She documents his time "out in the wilderness" after estrangement from Patricia follows a failed reconciliation with the increasingly despondent Hilda. Presaging as well the tragic figures of Francis Bacon, the paintings of Christ in his own wilderness doubt play off their creator's own 1939 solitude.

Of his later career, MacCarthy judges a drop-off in results, whether the Port Glasgow shipbuilding murals which constituted his contribution to the WWII effort (and she notes how he was one of the very few who painted in both wars on behalf of the Crown in an official capacity), or his portraits and landscapes which by the 1950s constituted much of his way to make a living while he contemplated the "Church House, his temple of eroticism" to all the women he had loved.

About the woman who enticed him the most, in her absence more than her presence, in the long run perhaps, MacCarthy calls it "obsessive. Perhaps it was the only means that Spencer had of recognising their tragic incompatability and his own considerable cruelty to Hilda, recycling her so wonderfully in his mind." (57) He could not stop writing to her from beyond her grave, nor could he end the return he made to her embrace in his sketches and drawings for the ambitious chapel of love.

The 64 reproductions feature as captions some passages gleaned from the three million words of his notes and letters at the Tate Gallery Archive. While the editorial constraints may have compressed MacCarthy's insights into a shorter narrative than ideal (it ends suddenly and parts of his life are not expanded), it provides a thoughtful, brief balance to Duncan Robinson's one-volume large-format introduction, Kitty Hauser's monograph, and a transition to Keith Bell's hefty catalogue of Spencer's oeuvre. (All have been also reviewed by me as has this on Amazon US 12-21-13.)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Kitty Hauser's "Stanley Spencer": Book Review

While a few titles about this iconoclastic English painter introduce him in a short span, Hauser's book combines a convincing thesis with her combination of well-chosen illustrations and incisive, accessible text in this 2001 monograph. She packs a lot in eighty pages, and she places Stanley Spencer firmly within his Cookham village contexts. Neither romanticizing nor distorting his very rooted quality in his native place, Kitty Hauser strives to connect him to his time, his social connections, and his personal experiences during the first half of the twentieth century, more or less.

Of his penchant for integrating the miraculous and the mundane in Cookham, so that Christ, for instance, might blend in with Spencer's neighbors on the high street, so much one may not be able to distinguish Him from them, Hauser emphasizes how subject and purpose joined in Spencer's work from an early age. Even though he appeared when his contemporaries pioneered modernism, Spencer took its elements to blend oddly or juxtapose dramatically with natural and domestic settings. In this "secret topography of Cookham," where railings reveal and cordon off and where skewed angles and foreshortened perspectives reveal angels and curtains as nearly indistinguishable, concealment nestles alongside revelation. From Spencer's walks, his memories stored up from childhood abundantly fertile images, as he took the scenes around him and the figures he passed to populate his canvases.

Hauser shows how in his early biblical paintings "the sacred is perceived in our very midst, as if we might come across the birth of Christ on a walk in the country, or bump into a character from the Old Testament on our way to the shops; as if miracles go on all the time, unregarded, behind the high walls of gardens." (37) The idyll Spencer enjoyed between his stint at the Slade School ending in 1912 and his war service commencing in 1915 appears to have been his happiest time. All he did was wander the village and paint, living at his family's home with no other responsibilities.

The war, of course, changed him, and he returned to Cookham unsettled. Furthermore, after the age of thirty or so, he finally found intimacy with his first wife, Hilda Carline and then the strange obsession with the woman who became his second wife, Patricia Preece. Hauser documents how the latter woman strove to get out of the diligent artist whatever she could in terms of money or frocks, and the subsequent convolutions (as dramatized by Pam Gems in her 1996 play "Stanley), show another aspect in which the transcendental, through sexual obsession and delight and confusion, rubbed up against the quotidian. As Hauser relates in another tie-in, to Spencer's WWI memorial panels at Sandham depicting not battle or slaughter but petty chores of orderlies and a "painter's trick" by which heaven and earth interpenetrate in the unrecognized, uncelebrated duties that consume so much of our lives, the similar blur of insight glimpsed in sex or contemplation of the body, as Spencer's nudes of Patricia unsparingly display, show Spencer's refusal to separate the fleshy tones of his palette from the spiritual suggestions of his themes, enmeshed in the bible, his household routines and/or his neighborhood observations. For, these often conflated into a single expression.

Therefore, his work, where a saint may pop up on the high street and where a house may harbor an evangelical surprise or a naked shock evades the usual modernist rejection of narrative content for formal values. Hauser places Spencer in his material realm, and she concludes that his paintings "are an attempt to demonstrate the double life of things; in a sense they are lessons in seeing." (75)  But this took its toll. What he viewed around him pleased him far more than his lovers could, and he drew contentment from his beloved Cookham best by revisiting it on his canvasses, in his sketches, and in his compulsive letters to the woman he divorced but could never abandon, Hilda, which continued (up to a hundred pages in one example) after she suffered mental illness and then died.

Taking this into account, seeing the costs of Spencer's talent and the impact it had on those around him, Hauser cautions any who would promote him only as a "visionary prophet of love," (76) for only when situating Spencer in his birthplace (where he spent two-thirds of his life) can we understand "the very material contexts that fed him as an artist, the human muddle of bodged relationships, thwarted desires, egotism and social aspirations as well as marsh-meadow visions, religious feeling and domestic bliss." Taking the sordid with the sacramental, the earthy with the ethereal, as Spencer himself for all his failings and pride strove to do, appears the best answer to how we should approach the man in terms of his abundant and sometimes astonishing artistic legacy. (See also Fiona MacCarthy's book with a similar scope and focus. 12-21-13 to Amazon US)

Monday, February 17, 2014

Duncan Robinson's "Stanley Spencer": Book Review

The 1990 printing updates the 1979 version, subtitled "Visions of a Berkshire village"; Duncan Robinson draws upon fellow scholars to offer a valuable introduction in a brisk text to this influential and controversial English painter. Over 100 illustrations provide a look at his work (and sometimes his contemporaries) but some of the monochrome photos are nearly thumbnail. Better are the fifty depictions in color of his neo-Primitive paintings.

Spencer may seem to some one-of-a-kind and to others very much of his early 20c training. Everyone from Giotto to D.H. Lawrence, Burne-Jones to Wyndham Lewis, Gauguin to the Cubists, can be drawn upon for relevant connection, as well as closer contemporaries such as Eric Gill and poets and painters who fought alongside Spencer in the formative experience of the Great War. Robinson notes, however too briefly, Spencer's decision for his art not to emphasize brutality but the redemptive powers of the trenches and hospitals provides a logical extension of his service in the ambulance brigade. His paintings as a form of immersion allow the same odd mixtures of perspective and detail that enliven his village paintings. Both take everyday elements and blend them with the mystical and surreal, creating a dreamlike sensation of the palpable crossing over with the ethereal, obliquely.

The text moves quickly, and the digressions to others in his generation and his predecessors help to place Spencer more in his time than out of it as romantics might have it. The text seems to dip into his life and then draw back from it, but this may be an editorial imposition due to the short length of the text compared to the pictorial content in 128 pages. Robinson's expertise in British art allows him to go back and forth from the contexts intellectually and personally that Spencer navigated in his eccentric life with the greater forces that war and making a living necessitated. While more here on his religious attitude might explain more, the ambiguity of his very distinctive angle on the intersection of local with universal endures.

From his beloved Berkshire village of Cookham, he drew the innovative combination of the everyday faces he knew well in natural and man-made settings. He included his friends, wives, and neighbors into portraits, landscapes, and the religiously bold or even sexually charged imagery. While he had to depict war again, twenty-odd years later, he again chose to use his memorable poses, settings, and elongated or foreshortened figures to commemorate not destruction but energy. You can see in the results here Spencer's love for humanity.

As Robinson reminds us, the pressures of the time made Spencer no less determined to make his individual mark on artistic society. In what he dismissed unjustly as "potboilers" for hire we see him apply no less a fine brush and a careful eye to landscapes and portraits executed, even as he labored on vast canvases full of resurrections and frolic. He gained fame and a knighthood before his death, which barely finds mention herein, which may be somewhat appropriate for a man who tried to bring the joy of salvation down to English earth. (Amazon US 12-11-13 or in Britain, 11-12-13!)

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ag dul go Londain aríst, cuid a trí

Chuaigh muid trí músaeim Dé hAoine. Is maith Léna agus mé ealaine Breataine. Mar sin, iarr muid ag dul beirt is fearr i Londain.

Measaim go bhfuil an Tate Bhreatain is é mó fearr liom. D'fhóghlaim go raibh na deilbh le Jacob Epstein ar am seo. Chónaic mé "Tír gan fír" an deilbh cuimhneachain brúidiúl ó An Cogadh Mór le Charles Sargeant Jagger.

Sheoladh muid suas an Thames ar an bhád farontóireachta chuig Tate Nua-Aoiseach drámatúil. Nílím ábalta fháil ach seomra amháin a cur cuairt, faoi póstaeir propaganda Sóivéadach, áfach ann. Bhí suim agam níos mo i Músaem na Londain na nDugaí.

Tá Na Dugthailte áit plódaithe anois, an-iomhlán leis saibhreas óga agus trádála airgeadais. Ach, ní raibh siad mar mealltach nuair d'oibre na daoine bochta ann ar feadh na gcéadta ann.  B'fhéidir, tháinig mo shinste a obair i bPoplar ansin nó a fanacht anseo.

Thúg muid an traein go Canary Wharf go dtí dinnéar Indiach Theas ag Quilon in aice leis na Chlos na hAlba agus Pálás Buckingham. Ní raibh easca a fháil an bialann ann. Mar sin féin, bhí bia an-blasta againn ansin.

To London again, part three.

We went to three museums on Friday. Layne and I like British art. Therefore, we went to a pair of the best in London.

I think that the Tate Britain is the best. I learned this time about sculptures by Jacob Epstein. I saw "No Man's Land", a brutal memorial plaque of the Great War by Charles Sargeant Jagger.

We sailed up the Thames on a ferry boat to the dramatic Tate Modern. I was not able to find but a single room to visit, about Soviet propaganda posters. I had more interest in the London Museum of the Docklands.

The Docklands is a crowded place now, very full of young wealth and financial trade. But, it was not so glamorous when the poor worked there for many centuries. Perhaps, my ancestors came to work in Poplar there or to leave from here.

We took the train from Canary Wharf to a South Indian dinner at Quilon near Scotland Yard and Buckingham Palace. It was not easy to find the restaurant there. All the same it was a very tasty meal for us there. (Grianghraf/Photo: Thames)

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Laurent Binet's "HHhH": Book Review

This novel's curious title derives from the German initials of the phrase "Himmler's brain is called Heydrich." That is, Reinhard(t), Protector of Bohemia and Moravia, #2 man in the Nazi ranks, and "the Butcher of Prague." While Laurent Binet's topic may be very well-known among students of Middle European history, the Czech lands, and of WWII, the heroism shown by Jozef Gabčík and Jan Kubiš, one Slovak, one Czech, to fight for their nation against tyranny deserves retelling.

As with two recent, massive novels  influences this French author credits, Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones (which he disparages as "Houellebecq does Nazis") and William T. Vollmann's Europe Central, HHhH takes on a modern perspective, plunging a reader into the German mindset and the frenzy of the era, seasoned with a retrospective judgement upon the morality abused or rescued in WWII.

The difference? Binet chooses never to immerse himself into fiction. Most of these three-hundred quickly told pages (a fraction of Littell or Vollmann) treat the subject and how it defies the reversion to fantasy or imagination. That becomes Binet's obsession. Inspired by his two Czechoslovak figures, sent to England to train for their suicide mission behind enemy lines, Binet prefers to examine the historical record and to fill in the gaps, with some dialogue and invented scenes, but only when he cannot make the facts fit his tale. Fewer times, therefore, than expected, we learn how subsequent testimony by survivors accounts for both Nazi and enemy reactions, and from these, juxtaposed with Binet's reading and reactions, the novel slowly accrues.

Operation Anthropoid, as the English termed it with the Czechoslovak resistance, itself decimated under Heydrich, draws us into the antagonist. "It's as if a Dr. Frankenstein novelist had mixed up the greatest monsters of literature to create a new and terrifying monster." (99) Worse, for he kills not on paper but in person and through his minions.

How Binet conveys this may annoy some readers. He makes it personal, and mixes up his "visions with the known facts. It's just how it is." (105) But then, on the same page, he backtracks, and he admits his mistakes as he researches his storyline. He knows "fiction does not respect anything," but he also know that the drama inherent in his subject causes him to imagine what cannot be verified.

Real people are "both greater and more flawed than any fictional character." The chapters #250 + #251 prove gripping, even though--or because--I had visited the crypt in question and seen the place commemorated today in Prague. The climax shows courage amidst absurdity. "I think the world is ridiculous, moving, and cruel. The same is true for this book: the story is cruel, the protagonists are moving, and I am ridiculous. But I am in Prague." (320) In that city of a hundred towers, the power of the predicament that seven Resistance fighters choose in 1942 remains resonant, and poignant. Amazon US 9-25-13

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Milan Kundera's "The Unbearable Lightness of Being": Book Review

I could not recall if I had read this years ago when or before the film. Given my son's interest in both novel and adaptation, I found my wife's own copy and dove in. I realized I had not read it, but recognized early on the significance of Sabina's bowler hat, the 1988 film's icon; the pleasure of the 1984 book as in the successful cinematic version lies in how such symbols and tropes revolve and swirl over time. An intrusive narrator adds far more insights than could a film, however, gleaned from a cultural heritage, as well as such predecessors in the art of storytelling as Stendhal, Sophocles, and Tolstoy.

It's therefore a novel of ideas as well as a love triangle (at least, around Tomas; adding Franz to Tereza and F's wife Marie-Claude we extend the dimensions, let alone Tomas' unnamed hundreds of lovers). One could quote hundreds of passages. Aphoristic, the prose lingers. If you want to see infinity, the teller tells us, close your eyes. Distance between one's life and one's feelings dominates its characters as they struggle to make sense out of the Czech occupation by the Soviets after the failed 1968 demonstrations. The uprising occupies less space than one may anticipate: the aftermath, as Tomas finds in a gripping sequence, brings down many intellectuals, as doctors turn window washers. Still, that affords him more time for seduction.

Unsettled by her inability to conform, Tereza also bristles. In Paris a year or two (note the ambiguity as she reflects on it) after the occupation, she resents the supposition of her French friends that she'd join the local protests against the Soviets. "She would have liked to tell them that behind Communism, Fascism, behind all occupations and invasions lurks a more basic, pervasive evil and that the image of that evil was a parade of people marching by with raised fists and shouting identical syllables in unison. But she knew she would never make them understand." (100)

Sabina aspires to live in truth, but wonders how: "lying neither to ourselves nor to others" she considers "was possible only away from the public; the moment someone keeps an eye on what we do, we involuntary make allowances for that eye, and nothing we do is truthful. Having a public, keeping a public in mind, means living in lies." (112-3) Sabina hates novels that give away the secrets of intimacy; Kundera deepens suspense and builds momentum by state pressure to expose loyalties.

Tereza--in what may seem hyperbole to us as with the French, but to those within a police state riddled with informers, compounded by casual conversations leading to coercion and compromise in the name of Communist conformity, may not seem a literary conceit--cringes. A tableau on Prague's Petrin Hill haunts her. Her mother resembles a wailing jailer. "Almost from childhood, she knew that a concentration camp was nothing exceptional or startling but something very basic, a given into which we are born and from which we can escape only through the greatest of efforts." (137)

All three major characters attempt this liberation. Tereza interrogates herself with the types of questions about her self within her body or without it that a child might raise. "Only the most naive of questions are truly serious. They are the questions with no answers. A question with no answer is a barrier that cannot be breached. In other words, it is questions with no answers that set the limits of human possibilities, describe the boundaries of human existence." (137) Michael Henry Heim's translation shows the clarity of this expression, even as Kundera's non-chronology evades neat order.

Yet the Middle European setting reveals some control over one's mindset no matter who's in charge. The "premeditated quality" of European beauty grounds its inhabitants within "an aesthetic intention and a long-range plan." (101) By contrast, New York City represents a later stage of "beauty by mistake," not intended but a lesser expression before beauty itself perishes from this earth. 

In this grayer time, cemeteries provide peace for Sabina. A reclamation by the urban of a vanished rural presence hovers. In the secular, a deeper longing persists. Kundera evokes an older sense of interior awe within primitive people early on: one must have once marveled at the unseen, before Tomas and his colleagues invaded the body's interior. Heartbeats invisible, a soul lurked within the cage of one's own ribs, and duality turned into identity. Now, "the face is nothing but an instrument panel registering all the bodily mechanisms: digestion, sight, hearing, respiration, thought." (40)

Speaking of the differences between outer and inner, the tensions during part six, "The Great March," address the trouble when the "brotherhood of man" beloved by liberals worldwide forces conformity. Stalin's son, Parmenides' division between heaviness and lightness, Nietzsche's Turin Horse. baby Moses in the bulrushes, Descartes, Plato's Symposium, Adam's naming of the animals: allusions multiply. Kundera seeks to align his novel, with its sprawling approach (we learn in an aside, fifty pages from its end, the fate of two of the protagonists, and the time continues to leap ahead of the events we thought it would remain discussing), to the Western intellectual tradition. This can get messy, as the narrator himself would agree.

Still, the sixth section as it follows Franz into a mercy mission (with media coverage and celebrities) to let medical aid enter Communist Cambodia rouses Kundera to integrate a discussion of kitsch. This pings off of one on excrement, but his point is that glossing over the human with all its flaws leads to emotional falsity. "In the realm of kitsch, the dictatorship of the heart reigns supreme." (252)

It's a "folding screen set up to curtain off death," and the "true function" of kitsch forces upon the viewer a tyranny of giving in to unearned feelings, tired re-creations of easy sentiment. Kundera compares Sabina's explanation of her paintings earlier to Tereza: "on the surface, an intelligible lie, underneath, the unintelligible truth showing through."

In some situations, people may be "condemned to playact. Their struggle with mute power (the mute power across the river, a police transmogrified into mute microphones in the wall) is the struggle of a theater company that has attacked an army." Franz like Tereza distances himself from the posturing, yet like Tomas, he is haunted if he does not do something against the forces of oppression. (268)

Political kitsch, for Kundera's characters, threatens, whether labelled from the left or on the right. "Before we are forgotten, we will be turned into kitsch. Kitsch is the stopover between being and oblivion." (278) Yet, somehow Kundera's seventh section, "Karenin's Smile" in a powerful sequence conveying the decline of Tomas and Tereza's beloved dog, evokes not kitsch but earned emotion. I doubt if anyone who has loved a pet can read this easily.

While the conclusion (which without spoilers shows how the film adaptation differed) did not fully sustain the impact I had expected, the conjuration of the ideal attempted of the pastoral idyll within the Czech lands' occupation sharpens the contrasts Kundera favors between cities the country dwellers cannot wait to move to and the predicament of the intellectuals in internal exile who depart Prague for such places as their last defense against the kitsch and the compromises of its regimes.

Image:  Daisies (Sedmikrasky). Directed by Věra Chytilová. This fits the time and mood perfectly. (7-9-13 to Amazon US)

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Ivan Klíma's "My Crazy Century": Book Review

I've long preferred Ivan Klíma's fiction to his better-known Czech colleague, Milan Kundera. Klíma and Kundera explore the collusions imposed under totalitarianism, and the uneasy compromises chosen as democracy returns and capitalism dominates their fractious post-1989 homeland. However, Klíma emphasizes moral dilemmas in sparer, simpler prose, shorn of the philosophical digressions characteristic of Kundera; as his autobiography demonstrates, Klíma avoids cant or cliché.

His preface warns how "often deceptive goals" lure young idealists towards self-sacrifice. Once Marxism, now Islam, but the moral endures: Klíma opts for sincerity, and he resists conformity, at considerable cost to his career. How he got there brings us back to his ill-timed birth in 1931; this made him, and his family of Jewish descent, a deportee to Terezín.

Klíma adopts subtle reactions to his plight as an adolescent prisoner, from his younger perspective. "Early one morning on a gloomy autumn day--probably in 1943 because Father was still with us--they herded everyone out of town and onto a huge meadow." The vague date combined with the reminder of a fragile family bond blends with his blurred, then sharpened, memory. "The women were wailing that this was the last day of our lives, that they would shoot us or toss a bomb into our midst. And as if to confirm their fears, a plane with a black cross on its wings passed overhead."

Klíma tells his family's survival within this predicament without melodrama or sentiment. He was incarcerated in the infamous show-camp manufactured by the Nazis, who used its inmates to pretend to the Red Cross that all was well with Jewish life in a staged setting. Paper money "for our ghetto" was later distributed. "On the face of the bill was an engraving of a bearded man holding a stone tablet in his arms. Mother explained that this was Moses and that carved on the table were ten laws according to which people were meant to conduct their lives." Ivan's unfamiliarity with Judaism, given his family's Communist ties and his assimilated upbringing, come across in such well-crafted vignettes, and where a lesser talent might have inflated the pathos or irony in the Nazi invention, Klíma exerts emotional control.

This typifies My Crazy Century. "It's a strange world when you are called upon to explain why you weren't murdered as a child." His admission of "having drawn one of the few lucky numbers" in this abominable lottery" of who shall live and who shall die raises uncertainty about why he let alone most of his family survived. given he was no longer considered underage before the end of the war and so as a male inmate he was exposed to the same fate meted out to millions of his neighbors. After liberation, however, his family's status (it appears thanks to two of his mother's Communist brothers who had been executed by the enemy during the war) seems to have risen, if for a while. A putsch in 1948 brought the Communists aligned with Stalin into power, and the Klímas anticipated happiness.

Klíma's cohort, too young to have remembered much of democracy, became the first to be praised by the new regime, for the young could be raised fully indoctrinated in Marxist-Leninist rhetoric. Catching up on the education he had missed behind barbed wire, he tries to seek solace in books, but these are censored; a career as a writer comes with many restrictions. Sent as part of a hapless student brigade to build a foundation for a residence, he discovers the complicity of all involved in the making of the People's Republic in its own inevitable demise. The foreman, after goading and chastising the untrained students forced to labor in rain and mud, shows his own duplicity when it comes to tallying up the pay and the hours "worked": "They were swindling us as much as they were him." "They" stands for the State, and the system against which his own father will be held liable.

His father, with a doctorate in electrical engineering, was told to run a factory full of similarly untrained workers. Production of its motors suffered. Sentenced to prison for a stint under "Paragraph 135 (endangerment of the economic plan)", only the death of Stalin and a relative easing of sentences prevented his father from serving twenty years, or worse, for "sabotage". Chastened, Ivan seeks Party membership anyway, and to his surprise despite the taint upon his long-standing Communist family, he is accepted. Yet, this ties him all the more to his limited options, after a degree purportedly in "literary studies", adulterated by the "official ideology" through which the humanities were taught.

As a cub journalist fired for his insistence to aim for a truer version of what he witnesses than socialist realism, and as a reluctant or crafty magazine and newspaper editor, Klíma struggles to comprehend his country's shift after Stalin's death. Following Khrushchev's speech denouncing his predecessor, Klíma asks his aunt, who had lived in the U.S.S.R., why she did not tell him the truth about Russia. She responds that those who had seen firsthand Stalin's dictatorship were themselves most suspected, and besides, she avers, nobody in Czechoslovakia would have believed her anyway.

Married at twenty-seven and raising two children in early-1960s Prague, Klíma learns about Stalin's evils through a book by Isaac Deutscher. Klíma seeks help in translating damning passages from its English version, through the assistance from another aunt, a survivor of Auschwitz. A dangerous task, but this collaboration emboldens his instinctive need to elevate facts rather than fiction within his own life and calling. But he must express himself, given the scrutiny of the regime, subversively as an emerging playwright and novelist. "I finally realized that in a society in which all means of expressing disagreement are suppressed and every word of doubt is considered grounds for prosecution and subsequent execution, only the despotism of the leader comes to power."

Allegory against such a dire condition, in his early plays and stories, was forced upon him, as with many Czechs from the creative class. Otherwise, censors swooped down. He joins the Writer's Union and relates many instances of more suppression as those who seek inspiration outside approved boundaries find their presses closed down and their submissions unpublished.

Throughout his long career, Klíma strives to keep honest, and pushes against his own limits as well as those from above. "Art obviously does not begin when you succeed in generating form out of formlessness; it begins when you are able to judge the caliber of your creation and not fall into raptures over the sole fact that you have created one of countless paper kites." The bestseller or the hack, Klíma opines, asserts the success of an inferior work, full of tired phrases and hackneyed plots.

The artist worries that his or her creation may not by its merits or their lack survive even its creator's lifetime. Klíma allies himself with those who fuss and worry over words. Under totalitarian regimes, verbal and freed expression may undermine foundations too shoddily built by brigades forced into tasks. Reading this memoir, I speculate that Klíma might urge societies to look to role models such as his father, trained to fulfill their potential at jobs chosen by themselves, and to direct satisfying and productive progress agreed upon by working individuals themselves, rather than by top-down imposition.

Allowed to visit Israel and its kibbutzim and then England (where he meets Deutscher, who ironically from his own perch in a plush London book-lined study counsels book-censored Klíma to praise socialism more), he moves even before the tumultuous year of 1968 towards a dramatic showdown. Rebelling against the constitutionally enshrined "eternal rule" of the Party, Kundera defends the New Wave of filmmakers in their nation, while a fellow writer cites Marx in defense of greater liberty. Klíma denies state lies, for "in the name of some sort of future objectives, the party had deprived the people of freedom, usurped all power, destroyed political life, falsified history, mocked the art of voting, and transformed a free country into a colony". Unsurprisingly, the Party expels him.

Part two (this was originally published in two volumes in Czech; this one-volume abridgement has been carried out by skilled translator Craig Cravens with the author's assistance) opens as Klíma, after fourteen years a card-carrying Communist, is fired from his editorial position. Now a class enemy, he is under surveillance.

Yet a few months later, as 1968 ushers in Alexander Dubček's brief leadership, Klíma and dissidents were reinstated. The right to act by one's conscience was asserted officially. During the "cataclysmic Prague Spring", Klíma reports: "Never before or since have I lived with such haste or intensity." This section thickens, as Klíma documents manifestos by his fellow intellectuals agitating for reform and open elections, but this is a necessary inclusion for readers who will consult this autobiography for a better insight into the forces pushing against the State, and those tanks which pushed back. That August, Soviet forces reminded Czechoslovakians that they had no right to stand up for themselves.

Even as the Warsaw Pact troops loomed, Klíma, now having an affair, tries another play in fabulist style. It was rejected. "The criminals who soon took power no longer needed their jesters."

Oddly, he and his mistress first heard that their land was invaded on the radio, from London. The couple had a chance to stay there a few weeks. Meanwhile, his wife was on a kibbutz in Israel; her summer departure had rekindled a short liaison between Ivan and his new companion Olga. But with their children in Prague, husband and wife decided they had to return. Most cars were going in the other direction as Helena and Ivan crossed back into Czechoslovakia. Many of his friends emigrated.

As "healthy forces" in Party jargon regained control, Klíma bristled. He welcomed the chance to teach at Ann Arbor in 1969. On a limited income, he lectures at other universities and spends Christmas in Midland, Texas, sponsored for a week by a local Protestant church. Four days in, he flees to Big Bend National Park. He savors his freedom, as he sneaks across even the Mexican border. He realizes he never had to show anyone his identity card, over two weeks on U.S. highways.

He and his family are summoned back prematurely, as the crackdown at home meant their visas were suddenly terminated at the end of 1969. Neither his dissident colleagues nor his mistress can believe he came back from America. Writers who refused to conform now washed windows or built the metro. Some philosophers and historians are hired by the water board to measure a stream every few hours. Returning to a still more intolerant society, Helena and Ivan have their passports confiscated. 

As he must return to the labor force, he takes on for a few months his allotted two twelve-hour shifts weekly. He logs in part-time as a hospital orderly. "Socialist health care was free, and looked like it." Each socialist workday, he explains, consists of two periods of equal length. Work is followed by a time when "everyone pretended that work took place". 

At forty, Klíma turns from stage productions to writing fiction; his membership in the PEN Club brings about his interrogation. Arthur Miller, William Styron, and Philip Roth visit a few years after Soviet occupation, before the borders are tightened. Klíma confesses astonishment when meeting earnest, deluded Westerners who applaud "Communist propaganda". He and others among over a hundred banned writers lobby for clandestine samizdat distribution at home, for a loophole means that a writer cannot be punished for "a copy made upon an ordinary typewriter". 

After all the searches, arrests, incarcerations, and deaths he had seen, Klíma joked how he'd write a thousand-page novel. Judge on Trial (originally an underground publication in 1978), remains one of his best novels, a look at those who, like its author, did not flee after the blasts ending Prague Spring. 

In the matter of love, Klíma reckoned that people could find some semblance of choice, even under a police state. When "higher goals had been degraded and disgraced" and so much was forbidden, only the "dearth of apartments or money" stood in the way when it came to erotic fulfillment. Yet, he remains discreet about some of his personal affairs. "My wish is not to draw my loved ones into my tale; it's enough that I drew them into real life." 

1977 brings Charter 77, named for an international human rights covenant. This petition predictably brings the wrath of the dictatorship down on opponents of the regime such as Václav Havel, who was imprisoned repeatedly. Klíma, who had foreseen how this charter would play into the State Security police who reacted against "reactionaries", had prevaricated and not signed it. His lack of involvement raises suspicion. Trying to trap him, the Party press reports he in fact has signed. The police wonder if he wants his passport back, Klíma gets to play his own cat-and-mouse game. What loyal citizen, after all, would claim that the paper of record published false information?

These kind of situations beg the term Kafkaesque. (Klíma to his credit avoids the cliché, but it appears apt in Prague offices run by a police state.) His interrogator asks to see his manuscripts. His books being banned, Klíma admits to the colonel: "I had no copies of my books because I didn't want any trouble."  Many pages of such admissions ensue, and earn its wry commemoration as "a crazy century". He quotes this phrase from a samizdat copy of Donella Meadows' The Limits to Growth.

He finds in middle-age himself locked in a ghetto where he too holds now the key. Unbanned writers separated from banned, and the latter, forced into secret meetings to avoid the secret police, chafed. Yet no informers were secured, and Klíma and his comrades told nobody about such gatherings. 

More writers, musicians, and artists are forced to emigrate. Intimidation increases. As his by-now regular interrogator greets him: "Wherever something provocative is going on, we are sure to find Klíma." Suspicions prove founded. As an an unofficial "mailman" he transports such documents as Meadows' along with Czech-language publications, smuggled in from abroad. Later, bored and curious about the opposite of love, he seeks garbage. He becomes a street-sweeper. As he and his wife are "persecuted dissidents against the reigning social order", it's one job nobody can deny him.

Due to bureaucracy, Klíma keeps inventive, and quirky. Although the State employs him as little as possible, Klíma has to find approved employment at least one day for each of two years prior to his retirement, to qualify for a pension. Since his writing prohibits him from making a living as an approved author, he makes do with other tasks. These jobs will provide him with inspiration for his fiction. He finagles another time-killing messenger position. Qualifying for his pension, not needing to work, in homage to Kafka he next requests a stretch as a surveyor's lineman.  At least in this abridgement, Klíma tends towards reticence about his fiction; more about its contents might have enhanced this memoir's appeal to readers, new or old, of his work, often set among everyday people in Prague's streets. His odd jobs there enliven his samizdat novel titled, of course, Love and Garbage and his stories My Golden Trades.

Grandchildren and retirement don't slow him. 1989 ushers in another January of protests in honor of Jan Palich who had burned himself alive in 1969 to protest the Soviet invasion. This year, Havel is arrested again, but unlike past years, protests do not dwindle. Water cannons drench Klíma as he marches. But this spirited year goes more smoothly than 1969. Klíma rallies the PEN Club again. A November strike at his alma mater Charles University confronts the regime, and soon the Communist Parliament unanimously elects Havel as president of the republic. 

This volume appends eighteen essays keyed to many of Klíma's autobiographical chapters, on the impacts of ideology, propaganda, subjugation, state control, and the concept of internal freedom pursued within conditions that limit external liberty. He asserts: "I wrote about the world not the way I was ordered to by the way I perceived and experienced it." His one-page epilogue concludes, after the "heavens of freedom, imperceptible only a short time ago, had finally opened before us." 

As My Crazy Century proves, Klíma in his eighties continues to do what he chose to do, despite the forces rallied for most of his life against him and his fellow marchers and writers and workers in the Czech lands and beyond. Enjoying external as well as internal freedom for the first time in six decades, he confides: "I wanted to keep doing what I knew how, at least a little. To write."
(In shorter form to Amazon US 11-21-13; to Pop Matters as above 12-8-13)

Friday, February 7, 2014

John McMillian's "Beatles vs. Stones": Book Review

The conventional wisdom claims both bands loved each other; any rivalry was only hype. Historian John McMillian marshals evidence, gleaned from chronicles, biographies, interviews, and his own expertise as a scholar of the underground press, that suggests the contrary. While carefully allowing for mutual respect and admiration between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, he reveals that the competition between the perennial "toppermost of the poppermost" and their scruffier, sleazier runners-up motivated the Stones to match the success of pop's lads from Liverpool, who were then driven to keep ahead of those equally calculating London blues-rockers, during much of the 1960s. McMillian examines the creation of the marketing images for both groups, and he demonstrates how they were both, despite denials by members, complicit in their Fab Four models and thug five poses.

He begins with the clichés. They merit qualifications but endure as plausible. The dichotomies emerge. The Beatles as Apollonian, the Stones as Dionysian; one pop, the other, rock; erudite vs. visceral; utopian as opposed to realistic. Sean O'Mahony, publisher of both bands' official fan magazines starting respectively in 1963 and 1964, crafted and softened their public images. He opines: "The Beatles were thugs who were put across as nice blokes, and the Rolling Stones were gentlemen who were made into thugs by Andrew [Loog Oldham, their manager]." McMillian accepts this as closer to the truth than the bands or their fans might admit during the next half a decade.

It took the Beatles years in seedy dockside Hamburg to hone their craft and sharpen their edge in well-known, less wholesome manner than their revamped mop-top makeover for Beatlemania and playing for royalty. McMillian contrasts the rapid rise, within half a year, of the Stones from R&B idolatry and obscurity to a more accessible delivery of a style with limited appeal, the electric blues. What eased the Stones' ascent was a rush to find the next lucrative regional scene, the next Beatles.

The Stones debuted on national British television affably, dressed up in matching houndstooth suits. Yet, the five soon reverted to a more hangdog look on stage. Resenting The Ed Sullivan Show and the Beatles' American breakthrough paralleling their British acclaim for what seemed soppy females from seven to seventy, Oldham began selling the Stones as "the band your parents loved to hate". Not only age but gender mattered. Dick Rowe (whose oft-told sob story--as the Decca executive who turned down that foursome from the Northern hinterlands only to rush down from Liverpool soon after in May of 1963 to see and sign the Stones at the Crawdaddy Club in London on George Harrison's recommendation--gets necessary correction in McMillian's analysis) marveled at the Stones. Not so much for their music, but their marketability. Rarely a girl to be seen in their crowd, yet boys all slavered over the band, and their androgynous singer only added to the Stones' mystique.

The press leaped onto another bandwagon. Future John Lennon biographer Ray Coleman pushed the "Would You Let Your Sister Go With a Rolling Stone?" headline for Melody Maker. Future rock encyclopedist Lilian Roxon peddled the received wisdom: "The Beatles' songs had been rinsed and hung out to dry. The Stones' had never seen soap and water. And where the adorable little wind-up Beatle mop-tops wanted nothing more than to hold a hand, the hateful rasping Stones were bent on rape, pillage, and plunder." Some youths began to drift into a more dangerous, salacious group than one for princesses and schoolgirls to swoon over. The Stones defied any ready-made boy band look.

Stereotypes worked for or against the Stones. Featured on Dean Martin's variety show, the band aired in America on their often disastrous first tour. Dino chortled to his audience: "You're under the impression they have long hair. Nah! Not true at all. It's an optical illusion. They just have low foreheads and high eyebrows." In San Antonio, playing at a rodeo, their supporting act was "a bunch of performing monkeys". It looked as if the British front-runners feared no surprise from behind.

However, Lennon bristled. The instrumental variety and lyrical sophistication of Rubber Soul quickly found a deft response in Aftermath. He brooded: "Everything we do, the Stones do four months later." McMillian champions the underdog, affirming that the Stones often put their diverse instrumentation to "better and more innovative than the Beatles normally did". A statement sure to sustain debates today, but with the flailing Brian Jones still able to show moments of genius on record, and with Jack Nitzsche taking on studio production that began to match that by George Martin, the two bands by 1966 seemed more evenly matched than any would have predicted two years earlier.

Proud and cocky, Lennon and Paul McCartney felt they bettered the five blues fanatics at the polished as well as psychedelic pop game. Spurred on by Sgt. Pepper two months before, the Stones, stoned and mocking, failed to finish "We Love You". Then, John and Paul walked in, quickly restructured the song around their own high backing vocals, and showed the upstarts (as they had when John and Paul tossed their new song, "I Wanna Be Your Man", at a floundering Keith Richard and Mick Jagger two and a half years before to record) how in Oldham's witness "vision became reality. We'd just have another major lesson from the guv'nors as to what this recording thing was all about."

As the Summer of Love faded amid Mick's own drug bust and legal dealings, and as the Vietnam War and social unrest flared the year after, both bands were called to task by young people urging solidarity from their counterculture role models. McMillian handles the controversy around Lennon's "Revolution", as underground papers added to the mainstream media a sharper round of accusations against the Beatles, if usually patience to let the Stones to speak out for the New Left. More than one radical, based on Jagger's Cockneyisms and the band's swagger, believed them proletarian lads. "Street Fighting Man" true to Jagger's equivocal nature played his audience off to his gain. After some Chicago radio stations had boycotted his band, Jagger commented: "They must think a song can make a revolution. I wish it could." His pose at the barricades proved another adroit but fleeting stance. While the immense corporate sponsorships of the Stones on future tours might not have been conceivable for the hippies who loved them, their U.S. tour in 1969 already hinted at compromise.

As for the Beatles in their later phase, their own mismanaged and hapless Apple enterprise seemed to be regarded by its target audience less as a sellout to commerce and more charity towards freaks and schemers. Certainly, intended partly as a "tax-avoidance scheme" and partly as fun, it succeeded in diverting profits away from the band's deep coffers. The failures of Epstein's death, the Maharishi, and Magical Mystery Tour may have made the reclusive Beatles post-touring more visible again for their fans. Joshua Newton's letter to a Detroit paper spoke for many of his generation: "The Beatles' politics are terrible, but they're on our side." McMillian astutely if too briefly sums up the telling transition from an underground press eager to argue, as Newton might, with its idols, versus the alternative papers full of fawning coverage of the bands whose ads filled their pages soon afterwards.

Much of Beatles vs. Stones will be familiar to any fan who follows each band closely. It relies on secondary sources, well-documented and in-depth, and by now, everyone associated with either band has been hunted down and interrogated so often that scholars such as McMillian can sift through massive archives. Augmenting these, he relies on periodicals on microfilm from the underground press, which reveal that the likes of Brian Epstein, O'Mahony, or Oldham cannot manage the reactions of restive, antiwar or revolutionary fans. Without supplication but with veneration, for the Stones and the Beatles are both elevated to deities, radicalized youth fight the Man and yell back at four or five men.

Financial dealings consumed both bands by the end of the 1960s. Fighting not against each other but for their royalties and copyrights, this signals a move from the utopian idealism of flower power into a harder, street-smart attitude to cushion, or boost, their bottom line. In fact, after Epstein died, Jagger and McCartney mooted joining the two bands' business interests. Allen Klein killed off this proposal.

Within Jonathan Gould's and Bob Spitz' respective biographies of the Beatles' cultural impacts (both among the many resources cited here), as they reached Allen Klein and the ensuing managerial bickering that entangled both bands, dissonance clanged out. Any historian must survey this period, but it sobers the fan who favors earlier if never carefree times for each band. With Brian Jones self-destructing and Lennon self-indulging, the energy darkens. Yoko's entry must be acknowledged. Lennon let go of his fraying Beatles bond, as McCartney tugged for control of the weary band against John in favor of the financial direction pushed by Paul's new father-in-law, Lee Eastman. Mick Jagger had introduced Klein to the Beatles to assist Apple. As for the Stones, Klein finagled better deals for them, and for him. While his tenure was brief, Klein kept all profits (the band had signed over its copyrights from 1963-70) on their best-selling LP to date, the double-disc compilation Hot Rocks.

The tracks ending that anthology signaled, in McMillian's estimation, that a zenith had been reached by the Stones. Let it Be was no Let it Bleed. Beggars Banquet arguably bettered a lot of Abbey Road. Post-Beatles, Mick and John continued to spar in interviews. In 1970, Lennon lashed out again. Lennon claimed the lag between "what we did" and what they did was down to "two months after, on every fuckin' album and on every fuckin' thing we did, Mick does exactly the same. He imitates us."

"At least the Beatles didn't break up because they started to suck." So opens McMillian's coda. Forty-three years after the breakup of their friendly rivals, fans continue (for the most part) to cheer on the Stones, if less so for their albums after a vague point in a future now past that Lennon never predicted: when middle-aged men ruled as rock stars. The Stones shone on Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main Street, confirming in that past decade's competition who came in first by the start of the next. I agree with McMillian: after 1972, the Stones' "imperial phase" gave way to at best a few good songs per album from then on, and one good album in 1978. He tallies up the scorecard after one contender remains standing. Touring, the Stones deliver the hits as fans once heard them in a bedroom or dorm on 8-track, cassette, or vinyl. The band lands deals, they sell songs (two dozen compilations after Hot Rocks), and they--if by now even Jagger looks older despite his daily dancing with the devil--still brand that lascivious logo. Starting up on tour in 2012, 50 & Counting, averaged $600 per ticket.

The Beatles never have to worry about reuniting. McMillian does not calculate their accrued earnings, or contrast McCartney's lucrative deals with Jagger's own, but his point sticks. The Beatles, after refusing to come together, linger nostalgically for baby boomers, winners against death itself.
(PopMatters 9-23-13; 11-14-13 as shortened and censored to Amazon US)

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Morrissey's "Autobiography": Book Review

At fifty-four, the memoirs of very few living authors might merit inclusion as a Penguin Classic. Morrissey reportedly demanded that the British publication of his autobiography appear in that august series. Two months later, the American release by Penguin's affiliate Putnam comes out not as a Classic paperback, but as a hardcover keeping the original cover photo and design.

This media backstory plays neatly off of the clever persona and the artful presentation (as with those Smiths LPs adorned with iconic models) Steven Patrick Morrissey has adroitly mastered for his devoted and fiercely loyal audience. Shifting from song to print, he keeps his suave air and deepens, understandably, his cultural allusions. The results, drawn from both popular and erudite sources, may appeal first to his fan base, but this uneven if spirited contemplation of five decades deserves a wide readership. 

Of his birthplace, he begins: "Manchester is the old fire wheezing its last, where we all worry ourselves soulless, forbidden to be romantic." It evokes, from its first rush of images from dank and dim streets where he comes to consciousness doomed as self-aware, the postwar decades when everyday Britons, through pop and rock viewed weekly and played on radio or phonograph, contemplated fantasy in their parlors. Tension between his Irish Catholic heritage and his Northern English residence simmers within him.

"In the midst of it all we are finely tailored flesh--good-looking Irish trawling the slums of Moss Side and Hulme, neither place horrific in the 1960s, but both regions dying a natural death of slow decline." His family, all Dublin immigrants, possesses resilience: "The Irish banter is lyrical against the Manchester blank astonishment." In such measured phrases and careful prose, his childhood unfolds with tyrannical teachers and trudging through warrens of Victorian squalor. As he matures amidst "this race to the grave", the library, a treasured stack of vinyl, and Top of the Pops reveal the influences which broadened his perceptions, and the songs which inspired him, not to play music but to sing. His first 45 is by Marianne Faithfull. He vows to sing or else. "If not, I will have to die."

Sly joshing speckles these revelations. Both the Eurovision song contests and Miss World pageants annually enlivened on air his prepubescent curiosity. "There is no such thing as Mr World, perversely enough." Who knew that not only the dashing debonair secret agents of Department S but the waspish Dr. Zachary Smith (played by Jonathan Harris) of Lost in Space helped make Morrissey circa 1970 aware that "effeminate men are very witty, whereas macho men are duller than death"? 

David Bowie, Marc Bolan, Roxy Music, Mott the Hoople, and especially the "slum of all failures" the New York Dolls enliven Morrissey's teenaged years. Poets, too, play a role: Hilaire Belloc, John Betjeman, W. H. Auden, and Stevie Smith. A.E. Housman and, inevitably, "the world's first populist figure (first pop figure)" Oscar Wilde enlighten him as he flounders at odd jobs and, from the reticence here, suffers a lack of intimacy. 

The mid-70s usher in Patti Smith alongside Lou Reed and Iggy Pop as "a proud sign of bad breeding", and Morrissey lines up alongside Ian Curtis and Paul Morley to see the Sex Pistols debut in Manchester. He tries to tough it out in South London but returns, after a slow musical start, in 1982 to join with guitarist Johnny Marr, bassist Andy Rourke, and drummer Mike Joyce as the Smiths. 

He figures if Culture Club can make it, why not him. (Listen to the harmonica-driven hook on one of the Smiths' first songs "Still Ill": it's always reminded me of that other band.)  Morrissey marvels at what they created: their "sound rockets with meteoric progression, bomb-burst drumming, explosive chords, combative bass-lines, and over it I am as free as a hawk to paint the canvas as I wish". 

Signed to a leading if logically marginal indie label, they don't match its eccentric, dodgy roster. "The vinegary spinster face of Rough Trade was no place for anyone seeking public attention, but it worked because the Smiths worked." Work led to rapid success, and five albums in a row entered the British charts at number two. But try harder as they may, their nation's radio ignored them and the little label labored often in vain to keep up with the demand for their records.

Furthermore, Geoff Travis' refusal, at least in public, to dish out not only sufficient praise but stockpiled royalties justifiably annoys Morrissey. Yet, the joy of hits, so quickly, enlivens this tale. Their first LP stayed thirty-three weeks on the charts. Still, that eponymous debut suffers from weak production and prissy arrangements, as Morrissey laments. Its potentially strong songs became much enhanced through their radio sessions, packaged as the follow-up Hatful of Hollow. 

He moves to London and finds hangers-on, famous and otherwise, soon flocking to perplex him. It's a familiar narrative, as Johnny and Steve find themselves as partners musically and as legal co-creators, but outfoxed by the Sire Records suits and thwarted by the Rough Trade hippies. Morrissey harbors from his childhood a suspicion of authority, while legal matters loom and long persist as his nemesis. The managers and accountants endure in the music business, while stars soar and sputter. He ruefully concurs how the "pop artist who complains about anything at all is universally damned as petty". 

That's why he unravels this meandering, often in turn awkward, loutish, or touching, narrative. Nearly four-hundred-and-sixty pages document his story, and after all, many want to hear it. Joining his voice to the familiar litanies of woe from one rich (despite that slow cash flow) and famous, Morrissey on the road and at his many homes as he roams cannot resist the lure of the stage and the lust for the tune. Tours for "misery Mozzo" in Johnny's phrase (shortened to Moz) cannot dim this. 

He cannot square his inner discontent with his mass appeal. He peers at himself as if a specimen.  "Although a passably human creature on the outside, the swirling soul within seemed to speak up for the most awkward people on the planet." Heaven knows he's miserable now. 

A thrashing punch toughens Meat Is Murder. It knocks Bruce Springsteen's Born in the USA off the top British spot. Morrissey praises its clanging title track as a slaughterhouse exposé, and he invites controversy as a vocal vegetarian. (He helped sway me but it took a quarter-century after I bought that LP to summon enough conviction.) He reflects on the delights of being labelled by a hostile press as "bad", as "I sit by a reading light, pawing George Eliot's Scenes from a Clerical Life". 

On this and its follow-up, The Queen Is Dead, Morrissey prefers to relate the fervor of the fans and the fury of the media rather than in-the-studio tidbits. He appears resentful of Travis' incompetence or duplicity, and he chafes at Sire Records' typically conniving bottom-line fine-print machinations. This bitterness will only increase as his autobiography progresses and the impact of the Smiths, oddly at times out of proportion with their album sales (strong as they were) and concert draws, reverberates. 

Lashing out, then caricatured and slandered, Morrissey finds himself the object of bemused contempt. The band struggles to find airplay, labels keep withholding revenue, and his northern-bred loneliness intensifies during the middle of the 1980s. "This, then, was my true nature as the Smiths began: the corpse swinging wildly at the microphone was every bit as complicated as the narrow circumstances under which he had lived, devoid of the knack of thigh-slapping laughter." Johnny, Andy, and Mike jostle and laugh; their shy singer finds few of life's jokes funny in the first place, let alone anymore. 

Feeling pinned and mounted, Morrissey bristles under the spotlight. But he can revel in it onstage. Strangeways, Here We Come benefits from the band's communal spirit, and he considers it the Smiths' "masterpiece". But Johnny wanders off to work with Talking Heads and Bryan Ferry, so the band sputters out, five years on. Nobody else appears quite sure if Marr or Morrissey bears the blame.

The inevitable solo career ensues. Respites from London's grime and noise soften the irritations but even on a trip to Saddleworth Moor near Manchester, the haunted legacy of that expanse where murdered bodies molder and spectral spirits hover jolts him and his friends one horrible night. The "harsher energy" of a natural realm releases its own threats, never far from his habitual urban sprawl.

Within that megapolis, Morrissey tries to comfort. He rescues birds from a marauding cat and releases them in the safety of Hyde Park. Later, he saves a pelican at Los Cabos even as he fears it will wind up on a hotel's dinner plate. He writes passionately about hunted creatures and factory-processed animals too many kill for sport or for sustenance. But this tenderness towards the voiceless and helples jostles against his steady pot-shots at human targets.

Yes, he lets us glimpse his compassion. He finds love at last or first with Jake. (Allegedly a few lines about this relationship have been excised from the Putnam edition compared to the Penguin.) Their affection shimmers for a few paragraphs, shadowed, but then fades discreetly. Moves to London, Los Angeles, and Dublin display his restlessness, and his transatlantic crossings trigger a reader's jet-lag.

Your Arsenal signals the 90s and a crack rockabilly band that backs Morrissey smartly. It sparks violent gigs in "the American madness", as well as "a Beatlemania that dares not speak its name". In Washington D.C., "'Don't let your ego hurt people' shouts one security guard as I pass" but in this rushed telling it's unclear if Morrissey means the moshpit or himself as a recipient of this admonition.

In 1996, Mike Joyce, "a flea in search of a dog", resurfaces to claim a quarter of the earnings from the Smiths, rather than the ten percent Morrissey defends as his proper portion. Making my way through fifty pages of the defense the singer marshals against the drummer (and soon the guitarist and bassist), I thought of Bleak House. A few paragraphs on, Morrissey sagely alludes to that Dickens epic about another case that went on in London's courts even longer. One must admit that despite its value as a celebrity autobiography lacking an "as told to" byline or ghostwriter, one may well counter that Morrissey's pace grinds to its own fact-checked and debate-diligent crawl with his score-settling screed, even if we sympathize. Still, as with Dickens, wry humor leavens this. "Like a well-fed Roman emperor, Andy Rourke took to the witness stand complaining of financial starvation."

Understandably weary, Morrissey leaves England behind. Next door to Johnny Depp in West Hollywood, Morrissey settles down and meets a "lifelong constant", Tina Dehghani. He contemplates having a child with her (we catch this only as an aside, another instance of intimate reserve) but the shocks of 9/11 and Bush's war on terror discourage him. In a destructive decade, he inveighs against violence but brandishes on You Are the Quarry a machine-gun. On the other hand, a few years later on the perhaps or presumably tellingly named Years of Refusal, he cradles a baby.

It's entertaining to hear more about celebrities, renowned musicians, and still more tours, but such musings weigh down the narrative (as they do many who cultivate such memories to regale us) as the years tally. Death among his friends begins to hover, as middle age reminds Morrissey on stage that he's now "avuncular"; he notes the devotion of his Latino fan base in his adopted California and across the border, but he sidles away from any extended self-analysis for this intriguing phenomenon.

Given that the book opened so strongly, with such control, Morrissey's decision to let the flow slacken as his fame grows and the albums accumulate may reflect the verisimilitude of how he views his later life, one more gig, one journalist after another to spar against, one more star to share his sorrows and joys with. The remainder of this narrative runs together in time and space. While this captures the enviable if enervating routine of a celebrity as he jets around the world, it also reveals the tedium that so many rock stars reliably moan about--to their fans.

He faces as he begins one concert "the usual mix of teenage jailbait and superior Smiths scholars". He watches a crowd surge towards him. "Having never found love from one, I instead find it from thousands--at the same time, in the same room." A sweet and tender hooligan, his tenderness jostles against his rueful realization at another venue. "Inside the hall it is Osmondmania, but thankfully with the wasted corpse of Morrissey, in place of the oily Osmonds." Over thirty years at it, he's still ill, this charming man.

As he is driven to a concert, he looks out at his fans in the streets of a small California city. He wonders: "What it must be to be 17 and leading the right life in the right skin." Twenty years famous, Morrissey cannot shake his inhibitions. We close this autobiography knowing less than most of us had surmised about his intimate partnerships, but as with his grandmother and his friendships with an array of celebrated or humbler people, we glimpse his guarded side. The effort he makes will reward us, if we are ready to roll with its harsh or languid flow and rock among its arch, barbed ripostes.

"Finally aware of ourselves as forever being in opposition, the solution to all things is the goodness of privacy in a warm room with books." This elegant reflection demonstrates Morrissey's wisdom, and its grace indicates that, with luck, he may issue a sequel a few decades on for those of us still around.

However, he refuses to remain predictable, let alone sentimental. He ends this boisterous yet often reticent examination of his life in Chicago, on a wintry night. His tour bus awaits in the darkness. A female voice cries out to him after a concert, desperately seeking his attention. Morrissey turns away. (As above to P  ; in shorter and rewritten form to Amazon US 12-19-13)