Monday, 17 June 2013

Scuffing, Slapping and Thudding


There was a  review by Terry Eagleton of Paul Morley's new book, The North (And Almost Everything In It), in this week's Guardian.  It's worth reading, especially if you still calibrate your sense of humour by the Monty Python benchmark, and have a suspicion of the Competitive Cult of Authentic Origins.  If the dismissive cry "Luxury!" brings a smile to your face, you'll know what I'm talking about.

I, and a select band of my contemporaries at university, once sat at the feet (occasionally literally) of the esteemed Dr. Eagleton.  We formed the vanguard of a literary Marxist-Deconstructionist revolutionary cadre that, like the intergalactic invasion fleet in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, prepared for war, only to vanish into the yawning maw of the small dog we call Real Life.  Ah, well.  As the other Marx pointed out, inside of a dog it's too dark to read.

But Eagleton knows his stuff, and his strictures -- sometimes good-natured, sometimes not, but always apposite, always amusing -- are worth attending to.  In this case, he shows two yellow cards to Morley.  First, over-writing:
This affectionate piece of anthropology is marred by a tiresomely rhapsodic tone. "I found it, my north," he gushes, "smoking and babbling, battling and loving, scattered and glittering, lush and brisk … rickety and plush, conspiring and crackling." Reticence is not this author's strong point. There is a compulsive use of the couplet: "brilliance and persistence, acceptance and slyness, dirt and glamour". There is also a reference to northerners who speak "with a certain sort of tough, scuffed and striven fluency", preferring the "slap, twist and thud" of their own speech to "the slur, sting and snap of near neighbours". There is certainly a glut of scuffing, slapping and thudding in these extravagantly overwritten pages, in which Ian Brady and Myra Hindley become "charred, trapped scraps of frustrated northern will". It makes them sound even worse than serial killers. Liverpool, predictably, provokes Morley to a bout of severe verbal flatulence: "Liverpool, passion. Liverpool, moving, Liverpool, moving cotton, sugar, slaves, invoices, music, ideas here, there and everywhere …"
 Second, self-obsession:
Yet if some of it suffers from a rather slipshod lyricism, the auto-biographical sections are too flatly naturalistic. It is interesting to know that the Beatles were turned away from the restaurant of Manchester's Midland hotel for being inappropriately dressed, and that Les Dawson was able to pull such grotesque faces because he broke his jaw in a boxing match, but not that Morley used to catch the bus at five past eight so as to be at school by a quarter to nine. He grew up in a part of Stockport called Reddish, and the book's obsession with the place is so relentless that one begins to wonder whether it is meant to be self-parody.
Of course, what Terry doesn't know is that this portentous over-writing is the house-style of music magazines.  Paul Morley bought his media access-all-areas pass with his purple prose in the New Musical Express in the 1970s, but he seems not to have twigged that writing, like people, needs to grow up.  That self-consciously rhapsodic, allusive, swooning style works in small doses, done well, but it's far too much like hard work at book length.  What can possibly be being said that is worth that much of a reader's attention?

Also, Morley, like so many media types today, really does need to get over this obsession with the minutiae of his own upbringing, as if they were the seal on some sort of certificate of authenticity.  No-one cares about bus-stops in bloody Reddish, Paul.  You're a journalist, mate, not David Bowie.

But, hmm, purple prose and self-obsession?  We know all about those things -- and forgive them -- in Blogland!  But if the blogging money's not good enough, here's a thought, maybe he should write some songs of his own...
Vernacular, verbose; an attempt at getting close to where he came from.
In the doorway of the stars, between Blandford Street and Mars...


Ian Anderson, Baker Street Muse
The Barricades of Heaven are as easily found in Reddish as in the hills of Orange County.


13 comments:

Struan said...

I'm going to appropriate "slipshod lyricism" and make it my own.

Eagleton goes up in my estimation for remembering Northumberland. It's odd how 'up north' rarely includes anything beyond the Midlands. Certainly not the Lake District, which by some weird trick of Mobiusation, is usually seen as part of the Home Counties.

Mike C. said...

Yes, the North is a pretty flexible concept -- after all, Manchester is about, what, less than halfway up the whole island, and a good quarter of the length of England south of the Scottish border?

I can feel a "luxury!" coming on... Call that "north"??

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

A blue sky photo? Eegad! We're in blogland, aren't we? So why not? I like the tire tracks...

Mike C. said...

Kent,

Like seeing Elvis in the parking lot, I saw a blue sky at the weekend and grabbed the shot for the record.

Raining again today.

Mike

Kent Wiley said...

Ah, evidence of its existence...

I was startled by the unlikeliness of a blue sky photo posted on the Hat. Not a common occurrence. And I'm certain it has nothing to do with the frequency of this particular meteorological condition.

Rain here too, for the third day in a row.

zythophile said...

The sign by the side of the East Coast railway line that tells you you're halfway between London and Embra is, IIRC, just after York.

National newspaper journos are told never to talk baldly of "the north-east" because, of course, to people above Hadrian's Wall, the north-east is Aberdeen.

Martyn

Brendini said...

I shall ever be indebted to Terry Eagleton for making me laugh out loud while reading his book on Critical Theory. The man has a superb sense of the ridiculous.

Dave Leeke said...

Blimey, Mike, steady on: David Bowie, NME, Ian Anderson and Jackson Browne all in one post. I think I'll have to lie down.

I must admit, for Northern-ness I tend to prefer Maconie to Morley, much funnier.

By the way, point of order, Martyn, is that "baldly" or "badly"?

Mike C. said...

Brendini,

One day, you'd better double-check those jokes -- TE tended not to display his sense of humour in his writing...

Dave,

Not to mention the Marx Brothers, Monty Python and Hitchhiker's Guide... It's all here. No chatting with the other customers, btw.

Mike

Dave Leeke said...

Fair point, Mike but "badly" makes sense . . . only a point of order!

Mike C. said...

Dave,

Points of order -- through the chair, comrade!

Though I doubt Martyn will take offence at any, ah, thinly-veiled reference to his hairline, since he raised the subject himself, recently...

Mike

Brendini said...

I rummaged through the house and found that my memory was a little faulty. The book was Literary Theory: An Introduction. But, he talks about how a structuralist critic would approach a story using two different axes. He finishes by saying "Flushed with triumph, the structuralist rearranges his rulers and reaches for the next story."
Well, it made me laugh.

Mike C. said...

Yes, Terry was always very good on why everyone else was wrong. It's only in recent times that he's addresed the question of what, exactly, he felt that he was so right about. Why literature, why not stamps or football?

Mike