Tuesday, 31 December 2013

Seize the Day

This year has been quite a year for dead writers.  Seamus Heaney, Doris Lessing, Elmore Leonard, Ian Banks, Chinua Achebe...  That's some list.  It's also been a year for late-starters and rediscoveries; suddenly, it seems, everyone is reading Speedboat or Stoner, or publishing first novels late in life.

The writer Paul Torday also died earlier in December.  Who? Torday was a sort of patron saint of late-starters, having published his first novel at the age of 59 in 2006.  That first book was Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, which has (so far) sold 500,000 copies, won various prizes, been a Richard & Judy Book Club recommendation, and been made into a moderately well-received movie starring Ewan McGregor and Emily Blunt.  This, after a working life spent as a successful businessman in the engineering industry.  It's the sort of real-life fantasy that keeps the much-postponed ambitions of so many of us ageing hopefuls alive.

I have to say I've never read any of his books.  There are seven, each in a different genre.  Apparently, after Salmon Fishing, he published one a year, having discovered he was in a particularly one-sided and short race with mortality.  I was surprised to find the news that a minor writer had died quite arresting (a man whom I never knew, had barely heard of, and whose books I had never read), simply because it dawned on me that this is the best I -- we -- can now hope for.  That 20 second slot on the news, those cursory obituaries in the broadsheets might seem an inadequate summation of a decent life's work that ended in a final, splendid, public success, but it's more than most of us will ever get, and it's still something to aim for.  The game is not yet over.

So, come on, Grey Team, let's actually DO IT this year!  Let's all stop sharpening pencils, stop making notes, stop finding other things to occupy our time.  The kids don't need you now, and your partner is already sick of the sight of you hanging around the house.  Remember when, about 35 years ago, someone said to you, as they must have, "This is not a dress rehearsal or a drill, man, this is the real thing"?  Well, they were right.  But you did the right thing, and spent 35 years doing the real thing, rather than conjuring vacuous stuff out of your empty young head.

Of all the great writers who died this year, probably the greatest had this to say about the urge to write:
So many people say, "I'm dying to write".  Well, if you're dying to write, why aren't you writing?  If you're not writing, you're not dying to do it enough.
Elmore Leonard
You don't need me to spell out the connection between "writing" and "dying" here.  For Elmore, the game is over.  But, stand back, you young pretenders, some of us old 'uns have things to say now, after a lifetime spent pondering the nature of the Real Thing we were busily doing. All we have to do is remember what they are.  Where the hell are those notes?  And who's got my pencil?

Though I've already got my opening sentence.  It goes like this:
"Screw you, Elmore Leonard!" he exclaimed drunkenly but assertively.
There, three of Leonard's Rules of Writing broken in one sentence!  Things can only get better...

Have a happy and fulfilling New Year!

Monday, 30 December 2013

Board Game

Sometimes, the world just looks strangely unreal, like a giant game unfolding on a three-dimensional board.  The cows seem to be in a strong position.

Meanwhile, around the side of the board, some sheep are being held in reserve, while ramblers move into play using the snaky-ladder.

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Sunday Morning Sun

Our back garden is rather small, and west-facing (if a pit surrounded by high trees and walls can be described as "facing" any particular direction), so is only penetrated by sunlight at certain times on certain days, like one of those Megalithic structures on the Orkneys.  More often, as this morning, it can be seen blazing over the roof from the east, illuminating the copse beyond our wall.

I quite often gaze at this spectacle absent-mindedly out of the kitchen window as I brew a first pot of tea.  This morning, however, the combination of a slight frost in the garden and the warm beams beyond the wall seemed quite enticing, so I actually opened the back door, and ventured out in the garden half-dressed and with flip-flops on bare feet.  This is as far as I generally go in the direction of suffering for my art. I leave it to others to cover the Antarctic and Alaska.  You'd need to put your socks on for that, I reckon.

Saturday, 28 December 2013

On a Stick

As my hands get less steady than they once were, I've conceded the usefulness of a monopod for use with a long lens (I have the Panasonic 45-200 f/4-5.6 -- a very handy Micro Four Thirds lens).  So I asked for a stick for Christmas. In situations like this brief interval of sunshine on a walk yesterday afternoon, I'm sure it will prove invaluable. It doubles as an "Alpenstock", so may find other uses, too (looks just the job for dealing with aggressive farm dogs...)

I like that painterly "where the hell was he standing?" perspective you get from a position 100 yards or more distant from the subject.  A long lens also has an agreeable tendency to flatten the picture planes, something that I realise doesn't appeal to everybody.

I tend to think there are two, complementary philosophies of successful photography.  One regards a photograph as essentially tied to three-dimensional reality, and is concerned with exploring issues like illusions of depth, or composition in receding planes.  3-D people tend to see the image as a "window" onto the world. The other philosophy regards a photograph as an essentially two-dimensional composition, like a painting or a print, and favours similar strategies to those of painters and printmakers.  Issues of tone, colour, shape and balance take primacy over the accurate representation of reality.  For 2-D people, a photo is less a window, more an object of contemplation; to paraphrase Ariel's song, everything suffers a sea-change into something rich and flat.  I seem to find myself in both camps, using the means of one to explore the concerns of the other.  And, of course, the other way round.  Well, it works for me.

Thursday, 26 December 2013

The Idiotic Hat Christmas Address to the Nation

Well, there goes another year!  Where does the time go?  Nobody knows!  Thank you, and good night!

King of Christmas

We've just been battered by violent winds and torrential rain, and more is on the way.  What better excuse to batten down the hatches, put one's feet up with a good book, put a bottle of something expensive within easy reach, and try not to worry too much about the spreading wet patch on the front bedroom ceiling?  And we'll just ignore the wheelie-bins and tree debris careening up and down the street.

Best wishes for 2014 to all readers of this blog, especially to the sturdy band of participant-commenters!

Monday, 23 December 2013

Nobody Knows!

There was (I thought) a very funny sketch on John Finnemore's Souvenir Programme on Radio 4 a while back, in which contestants enter a quiz called Nobody Knows! ("The game where your guess is as good as mine"). The answer to every question is, naturally, "nobody knows!"
Let's meet the contestants! Anne, you're a sleep therapist. Tell me, why do we dream?
Anne: Err... Nobody knows.
Presenter: Nobody knows! Richard! Hi! Why are you?
Richard: Very well, thank you.
Presenter: I said 'why are you?'
Richard: Oh, sorry. Nobody knows.
Presenter: Nobody knows! And Frank! Good to see you! Tell me, when will you die?
Frank: Nobody knows.
Presenter: Nobody knows
Et cetera.  As I say, very funny. But also (slipping into Thought for the Day mode) there's an underlying serious proposition here, as with all the best comedy.  Let's be honest, so much of what passes for intellectual life is little more than a leaden-footed attempt to circumvent that breezy, all-purpose answer to life's mysteries:  nobody knows!  Anyone who has brought up small children will know the vertiginous plummet, in the face of insistent questioning, from omniscience to angry bafflement.  "Because I say so!" is merely the authoritarian cover-version of "nobody knows!"  And much so-called knowledge is nothing more than the cover-story for the cover-version.

Virtually any question starting with "why" is doomed to end up neck-deep in the Slough of Despond, of course.  Religions, I am sure, were invented precisely to fend off annoying and unanswerable questions starting with "why".  The invocation of a Supreme Being -- particularly one with a penchant for smiting -- is the ultimate "Because I say so!"  But not to ask questions of authorities, real or imagined, is to let authorities off the hook too easily.  I think I have quoted Diderot before:  "Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest".  An extreme view, but you can surely see his point.

To substitute "how" for "why" can be very enlightening, though, and can even lead in the end to genuine knowledge. Nobody may know, but somebody might be able to find out.  Science is clearly more a matter of asking "how" rather than "why", but to a large extent this substitution is also how psychotherapy works.  Rather than endlessly asking oneself, "Why, oh, why do I engage in this self-defeating behaviour?", one is encouraged to ask oneself the question, "How do I engage in this self-defeating behaviour?", and this is the first step on the road to stopping it.  Besides, nobody is going to pay a therapist £50 an hour just to be told, "Nobody knows!"

On the subject of avoiding unanswerable questions, though, the master was Buddha himself.  See my earlier post, Don't Ask Me.  And if, after reading that, you're wondering whether I'm ready to reveal my own third Undetermined Question, then I have to confess I can't now remember what it was.  Nobody knows!

New light on an old subject

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Solstice Squibs

December, by and large, is a pretty dreary month in the Northern Hemisphere, which is why we put bright lights and colours everywhere at this time of year.  It's probably also why some of us get seriously, serially drunk.

We've just gone over the tipping point, and the days will lengthen, very gradually, from now on.  The month does have its own subtle palette, however, and a little sunlight at midday is all it takes to bring it out.

Tis the yeares midnight, and it is the dayes,
Lucies, who scarce seaven houres herself unmaskes,
The Sunne is spent, and now his flasks
Send forth light squibs, no constant rayes ;
The worlds whole sap is sunke :
The generall balme th' hydroptique earth hath drunk,
Whither, as to the beds-feet, life is shrunke,
Dead and enterr'd; yet all these seeme to laugh,
Compar'd with mee, who am their Epitaph.

John Donne, A nocturnall upon S. Lucies day, Being the shortest day.

Saturday, 21 December 2013

More Views of Mount Nuffield

I discovered yesterday I had been walking around for a couple of days with my camera set at 1600 ISO, following some night photography.  You should check these things, obviously, but it's not the first time it's happened, and won't be the last.  It's the digital equivalent of leaving the lens cap on.

What is interesting, however, is how much the high sensitivity suits a certain low-contrast, high-key look I've been favouring lately. 1600 is pushing it a bit -- the graininess is fairly unpleasant -- but I might try 800 for a while.  As people always say, we can often learn more from our mistakes than our intentions.  I'm glad I've got the Noise Ninja plugin for Photoshop to help me out, though...

Thursday, 19 December 2013


Few things are as exhausting as a first baby.  Yes, there's the interrupted sleep, and the endless round of feeding and nappy-changing, but underlying all that there is also the energy-sapping, ever-present anxiety.  I have never felt so nakedly unprepared as the day we brought our son home from the hospital in a brand-new car-seat, plonked him down in the middle of the front room, and contemplated this new, inescapable presence in wordless terror.  What have we done?  What do we do next?  As so many have observed, babies do not come with a handy and informative owner's manual.

In preparation for a certain upcoming 60th birthday, I have been looking back through my pre-digital photo-files, and digging out some of the better images.  This one has alway been a favourite.  I came into the front room one afternoon in that first year, to find my partner fast asleep on the sofa, still wearing a violently-patterned work-top.  The composition and the chinoiserie effect of the clashing patterns seemed perfectly to express the deep opium dreams of utter exhaustion.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Bongo-Bongo Land

I found this old post under the sofa, and thought it would be a shame to bin it:

Over the summer there was a classic Silly Season story.  One of those dinosaurs who have found a congenial home in UKIP made some comment about the way British foreign aid to "Bongo-Bongo Land" is generally used by kleptocrats to buy "Ray-Ban sunglasses, apartments in Paris, Ferraris and F18s for Pakistan".  Cue factitious outrage, and a debate over whether the expression "Bongo-Bongo Land" is, or is not, racist.

Ah, racism!  There are few other topics where hypocrisy comes so easily to so many.  The concealment of uneasy feelings about "race" beneath a veneer of inclusiveness or pretended indifference has become a matter of modern good manners, an updating of the perfect politeness shown by the perfect gentleman even to those he despises.  And rightly so: polite hypocrisy is often a precursor of a genuine change of heart and social advance.  Besides, is there any worse company to find oneself in than the sort of braying saloon-bar philosopher who revels in dragging down these well-meaning but fragile fictions, with tales of "political correctness gone mad", and provocative references to "sluts" who don't clean behind the fridge?*

I was brought up in a context where racism, of an abstract kind, was the default setting. Abstract, because ours was then a predominantly monoracial town.  Small, essentially white-on-white differences -- Irish vs. English, grammar school vs. secondary modern, skinheads vs. longhairs  -- were the stuff of conflict, such as it was.  But casual contempt for the absent "racial other", mainly expressed as jokes, was the norm.  Jamaicans, Jews, Pakistanis... These fabled, seldom-seen creatures each had a characteristic, diagnostic set of amusing or alarming features, like Pokémon monsters, which gave such jokes their point.  It's easy to learn to play that game; much harder to unlearn.

Being a "quick study", I did unlearn my parochial prejudices after I left home for university.  My father -- a decent, fair-minded man, who worshipped Dizzie Gillespie, Count Basie, and Erroll Garner -- would sound hair-raisingly racist to my freshly re-educated ears when discussing his wartime experiences in the Middle East, India and Burma.  I would cringe inwardly when, after a glass or two, he would explain that "wog" ought not to be taken as an offensive word, as it merely stood for "worthy oriental gentleman".  Oh dear... Shades of Bongo-Bongo Land.

Mind you, for him there were good wogs and bad wogs.  Like all British servicemen who came into contact with them, he had massive respect for Gurkhas and Sikhs.  One of his stories concerned driving trucks through the streets of Calcutta with a couple of Gurkha bodyguards leaning out and clearing a swathe through the dense crowds with pickaxe handles and occasional bursts of overhead gun-fire.  The hillmen's contempt for urban Bengalis was, apparently, even more profound than that of the typical British soldier.

image © Library of Congress

Clearly, you don't have to be white to be racist, it seems, though it certainly helps.  But there is another side to this: you don't have to be racist to find certain cultural habits and practices uncongenial.   We needn't go as far out as grotesque genital mutilation or the assassination of little girls who show an interest in going to school. I only have to think of the relish for public hawking and spitting of Chinese men, for example, or the ritual drunkenness of the British sports-fan abroad.

Often, the "anti-racism" of the liberal middle classes -- who generally live in enclaves free from the issues of conflicting cultural practices and values brought about by immigration into the poorer parts of town -- is as theoretical and friction-free as the racism of my childhood.  To live next door to the delightful family of a hospital consultant from Pakistan is not the same as living next door to an ongoing riotous house-party of transient young Poles.  You can trust me on that  (see my post "Trouble").

No, genuine racism is not just a negative reaction to "difference", which is a simple extension of the impulse to despise the inhabitants of the next village.  For what it's worth, I prefer to define racism quite narrowly as a systematic set of false but firmly-held beliefs: in the absolute reality of races as "natural" divisions within humanity; in a person's race as their essential defining property; and in the superiority of one's own race over all others.

This set of beliefs seems, unsurprisingly, always to arise among those who happen -- by whatever contingencies of history and geography -- to be holding Top Dog position at any particular time.  I have yet to hear of an ethnic group who believe themselves to be essentially and eternally inferior to all other groups, though if such a group does exist I'd quite like to meet them.  They may hold the key to humanity's salvation.  Maybe they live in the much-despised Bongo-Bongo Land?

* Same idiot, same summer.

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Night on Mount Nuffield

A couple of days later in the week, and a couple of hours later in the day, and Mount Nuffield is showing a very different face.  It's that time in December when it's a pleasure just to think about getting home and putting your feet up for the evening.  Only slightly marred by the oppressive feeling that yet again you've let Christmas ambush you, like Charlie Brown, Lucy, and the football.  Aaugh!  It's not as if it's not printed in the calendar...

Wednesday, 11 December 2013

Mysterious Barricades, Take Two

... and here's one for the square-heads, that has a slightly more graphical appeal.

Now I really must drive to Brighton, and fetch my daughter back from university.  Did someone say something about Christmas?

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Mysterious Barricades

As promised, here is a better view of that mysterious "ladder and barrier" installation at the side of the Nuffield Theatre yesterday.  As was suggested in the comments, this is clearly a ceremonial assemblage: the ladder goes nowhere, and the barriers bar no-one, although their unmistakably apotropaic colour and configuration clearly relate to various folk-beliefs concerning the avoidance of scalar subambulation.  "Mysterious Barricades" indeed (Couperin).

Meanwhile, across University Road, the empty Faraday Building -- home of the Peregrine Falcon, Vodafone masts, and precious little else -- was bathed in a crepuscular glow.

Monday, 9 December 2013

100 Views of Mount Nuffield, cont'd.

You want pretty?  I can do pretty...

Briefly at mid-afternoon today, there was an interval of beautiful, warm-hued, raking sunshine, that shone between an assortment of campus buildings to illuminate the copper-clad hump of the Nuffield Theatre.  Curiously, and something I have never noticed before, it projected onto the Nuffield a triple shadow of the tall, minimalist sculpture in the foreground, actually made of four upright pillars.

Friday, 6 December 2013


I have written before about the mixed blessing of having a talent.  Natural abilities, even if possessed in abundance, are only of use to their possessor if combined with the urge and opportunity to pursue goals in life in which they bestow some advantage.  You might be fast on your feet, but perhaps your dream job involves sitting down.  You might be freakishly good at mental arithmetic, but in a world in which electronic calculators are treated as disposable land-fill, it's hard to think of a suitable career-track for you.

The merely-talented are often left with a nagging sense that they have somehow failed to lead a righteous life.  My own talent, such as it is, is for drawing, and it is one I have surely severely neglected.  People still ask after it, as if it were a relative, or a chronic condition: how's the drawing, these days?  Luckily, the Social Services do not interest themselves in those who under-nourish their abilities.

Curiously, in a jealous world, we are generally quite happy for other people to have major talents.  A cynic might suggest that this is because it lets most of us off the hook of under-achievement -- not enough talent,  you see!  -- but I think it has more to do with a desire to believe in magic and its human manifestation, genius.

Not Vermeer, but my 2009 Christmas card

I was reminded about this by an article on Vermeer's use of optics in, of all places, Vanity Fair (avert your eyes, gents, from those sidebars; some o' they gals there got next to nothin' on...).  I'm never quite sure what people are hoping to prove with this kind of exercise.  I enjoyed David Hockney's book, Secret Knowledge, and found his thesis and examples very convincing.  It seems almost certain that optical devices, of one sort or another, have been used by painters for longer than one might think.  But, in the end, does it amount to anything more than a factitious excitement over the use of the sort of aids to creativity and productivity that any professional uses?  Up to and including the use of more talented (but anonymous) craftsmen, in the case of "conceptual" artists.

Setting aside the main, fascinating discovery by Tim Jenison described in the Vanity Fair article, which may well account for the missing "how" between seeing with optics and doing with paint, I thought the most interesting point made was this:
“One of the things I learned about the world of art,” Teller says, “is there are people who really want to believe in magic, that artists are supernatural beings—there was some guy who could walk up and do that. But art is work like anything else—concentration, physical pain. Part of the subject of this movie is that a great work of art should seem to have magically sprung like a miracle on the wall. But to get that miracle is an enormous, aggravating pain.” To see Vermeer as 'a god' makes him “a discouraging bore,” Teller goes on. But if you think of him as a genius artist and an inventor, he becomes a hero: “Now he can inspire.”
That rings true to me.  The fear of "disenchantment" as a consequence of too much understanding of process (encountered in its extreme form in Creationism) is essentially misplaced.  Vermeer's "genius", if we want to call it that, lay not in his innate ability to draw, or to spontaneously conjure magic onto a canvas, but in his ability to discover new ways of using paint by means of new ways of seeing that both reflected and arose from new ways of living, and new ways of understanding the world.  The thing is, unlike stage magic, knowing how the trick is done takes absolutely nothing away from the spellbinding "magic" of a Vermeer painting.

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Eroded Aura

Big Red Stripe and Tiny Pencil Flag

I was on the South Bank in London a couple of weeks ago, wandering in and out of various galleries.  On any day, at any time, it seems that looking at art in the major London galleries is rather like going to a funfair.  I had hoped to see the Paul Klee exhibition at Tate Modern, but the tickets were expensive and the queues were long, and I find it hard, these days, to share contemplative space with parties of shrieking schoolchildren.  I gave it a miss.  By contrast, I enjoyed the quiet of the Bankside Gallery, home of the Royal Societies of Watercolours and Painter-Printmakers, even though most of the work on show there is kind of stuck in a tasteful "late 20th century decorative" mode.*

I don't know if I'm peculiar in this respect, but I find many modern paintings, encountered directly, disappointing.  Frankfurt School theorist Walter Benjamin is best known for a single essay, "The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction", in which he reflects on the social and aesthetic consequences of widely-available reproductions of works of art, and recordings of music.  I'm not going to discuss this tendentious (and widely misunderstood) essay here, except to refer to Benjamin's idea that the "aura" of a unique work or performance -- its presence in time and space -- is "eroded" by reproduction.  I have to say that, for most post-19th century painting, I have the opposite experience.  Works I have encountered many times in reproduction seem to lose their numinous quality and simply deflate when encountered on the wall.  They become mere bits of wood and canvas with painty marks on.  I become obsessed with the careless and unfinished quality of much brushwork, something which is smoothed out in reproduction, so that the painter's intention is able to shine through the sloppy execution.  But, hey, I'm just a petit-bourgeois skill-fetishist.

In the spirit of the gallery experience, I have given my photos titles, for a change.  After all, is there anything more annoying in a gallery than a work entitled "Untitled", or worse, "Untitled #97"?  Actually, yes, shrieking parties of schoolchildren are much more annoying.

Illumination Respects a Boundary

* A secret for gents of a certain age:  it has excellent toilet facilities (worth knowing if you're exploring the Thames embankment with a camera in a cutting cold wind).

Wednesday, 4 December 2013


I woke up this morning, and I found a tune was running through my head.  No, it wasn't a blues...  It was a bossa nova.  As well as the music, I could smell chlorine, taste chicken soup, and felt profoundly happy.  Not something I often feel at 6:30.

But what was it?  As well as a teasing rhythm and tricksy melody, there was a yearning, whispy saxophone that had to be Stan Getz, and there were the words "Love is like a something something melody".  A little googling uncovered "Desafinado" by Antonio Carlos Jobim, which hit the charts in 1962 in various instrumental and vocal versions.

Back before those watershed years that followed 1963, there was a brief period when cool, jazz-inflected music figured in the pop charts.  West Coast classics with exotic time signatures like "Take Five" by the Dave Brubeck Quartet were to be heard on the radio, alongside the show-tunes, crooners and all-too-occasional rock'n'roll.  While "serious" jazz was going off down its own stony path of self-inflicted exile, this smooth, sophisticated strain found its fullest popular expression in bossa nova.  In rainy Britain, still emerging from the stiff, austere post-war period, it was music that evoked a better, sun-soaked world: one where men in sharp suits and narrow ties wooed exotic women with ironic, gentle songs that deployed achingly subtle chords and the sort of rhythms that angels dance to.

My father was then in his 40s, and it was music very much to his taste.  In another world -- perhaps the one where he is now -- he would have been sitting with his band in a beachside club, effortlessly sketching those rhythms on the drums, while beautiful people swayed in the long, warm evening.  But, in 1962, he used to take me swimming every Saturday in the newly-opened municipal indoor swimming-pool.  It was probably the closest we had ever been, or ever would be: we both loved to swim, and he would always take a sixpence to throw into the pool for me to dive after and chase to the bottom of the pool.  Afterwards, with our eyes pink and stinging with chlorine, we would drink plastic cups of gritty instant chicken soup from a vending machine.  At least once, "Desafinado" must have played on the PA.  A happy time.

On rediscovering "Desafinado", I watched  a fine solo performance on YouTube by the bossa nova master, João Gilberto.  Portuguese is a beautiful but strange language -- it looks like Spanish but sounds like Russian -- and I don't speak it.  But I distinctly heard the word "Rolleiflex" pass by, which made my ears prick up.  What?  I didn't remember that in the "something something" version I heard in 1962.
Quando eu vou cantar, você não deixa
E sempre vêm a mesma queixa
Diz que eu desafino, que eu não sei cantar
Você é tão bonita, mas tua beleza também pode se enganar
Se você disser que eu desafino amor
Saiba que isto em mim provoca imensa dor
Só privilegiados têm o ouvido igual ao seu
Eu possuo apenas o que Deus me deu

Se você insiste em classificar
Meu comportamento de anti-musical
Eu mesmo mentindo devo argumentar
Que isto é Bossa Nova, isto é muito natural

O que você não sabe nem sequer pressente
É que os desafinados também têm um coração
Fotografei você na minha Rolley-Flex
Revelou-se a sua enorme ingratidão

Só não poderá falar assim do meu amor
Este é o maior que você pode encontrar
Você com a sua música esqueceu o principal
Que no peito dos desafinados
No fundo do peito bate calado
Que no peito dos desafinados também bate um coração
Yes, indeed, there it is...  But why? Call for Google Translate!
When I'm singing, you do not let
And always have the same complaint
Says I of tune, I can not sing
You are so beautiful, your beauty but also can deceive
If you say that I love out of tune
Note that this causes me immense pain
Only the privileged have heard equal to its
I own only what God gave me

If you insist on classifying
My anti-musical behaviour
I argue myself lying
This is Bossa Nova, this is very natural

What you do not know even senses
Is that tune also have a heart
I shot you in my Rolley-Flex
Proved its enormous ingratitude

One can not therefore speak of my love
This is the biggest you can find
You forgot your music with the main
That chest of tune
Deep in his chest beats draft
That chest of tune also beats a heart
 There is clearly a very witty and ironic lyric lurking in there, by Newton Mendonça -- it's far from being some dreamy, sun-kissed love-song.  Put it together with the tune, and there's a suppressed, sublimated anger bubbling under.  It's not "Idiot Wind", but ... Bearing in mind that "desafinado" means "out of tune" or "off key", and with a bit of unpicking, the relevant verse goes like this:
What you don't know and can't realize
Is that people who are "out of tune" also have a heart
I took a picture of you with my Rolleiflex
And all it shows is your huge ingratitude
With a film pun in "show / develop / reveal" -- nice.  Well, of course; in 1960, what could have been cooler than a Rolleiflex?  Though, like jazz and bossa nova, the Rollei was about to be steamrollered, not by the Beatles, but by the 35mm SLR.

James Dean with Rollei, photo by Roy Schatt

Tuesday, 3 December 2013


Do you know Joni Mitchell's song Both Sides Now, from way back at the start of her career?  I'm not generally one for soupy orchestral arrangements, but this one ... works.  Especially if you've known the song for 40+ years, and have come to the conclusion that you, too, really don't know clouds at all.