I wrote an essay on the inimitable Mr. Price, and you can read it here.
“I think every intelligent woman should have a career.” – Bonita Granville in Nancy Drew Detective (1938)
I’m often surprised by my PhD. Last week I sat down to rewrite the introduction to my third chapter (on daughters and domestic space, Penny Serenade and Mr. Blandings) and I ended up singing the praises of Nancy Drew. I’ve only seen the first Bonita Granville movie so far, which is a lot of fun, largely thanks to Frankie Thomas ‘ long suffering turn as Ted Nickerson. That’s Frankie in the picture above with Bonita. He stoically goes along with Nancy’s plans, even when they involve him dressing up as a nurse. And as you’d hope, he gets chatted up by a gangster.
It seems that Nancy continues to be a role model to adventurous girls, at least in books. Did anyone go to see the recent movie? The trailer looks like a fairly lame attempt to appropriate the panache of Clueless, but I’d be willing to give it a shot if anyone wanted to recommend it!
Nancy Drew 2007:
Nancy Drew 1938:
An esteemed academic once shocked me by stating that Amazon had made second-hand bookshops obsolete.
We were at a conference in Edinburgh, and I’d happened to show him the swag I’d picked up from Armchair Books that day (biographies of Maurice Chevalier, Robert Mitchum and John Ford, in case you were wondering!). I argued the point with him and I’m pleased to say he conceded. Still, I’ve never really trusted him, or his work, since.
I’ve spent a good deal of my life browsing the shelves of second-hand bookshops looking for treasures. As a child, I was an omnivorous collector. I’d constantly be seeking that elusive edition that would complete a set of Enid Blytons, or for the photographic covers depicting Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster. I was a Sherlock Holmes completist and, at one time, I would buy any edition of Conan Doyle’s stories that I could lay my hands on. I must have had 50 variants of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes alone.
That desire to accumulate has died somewhat, partly due to living in a small flat. Still, I’m an inveterate book-browser and my eye always strays to certain sections of a shop first. These days, I always hit the ‘Crime’ section first, on the lookout for Ross Macdonald paperbacks with interesting covers! What I said to that wrong-headed academic still stands – the second-hand bookshop always surprises you, leading you to unexpected places and enriching you in a way that a search engine simply cannot.
Bookshop owners are experts, labouring for the love of their wares. I’ve met some Bernard Blacks in my time, but the majority love to chat about your purchase or point you in the direction of something special. For me, browsing has always been as socially stimulating as it is intellectually.
Given all this, I’ve always been disappointed (and a little ashamed) that my town, Leamington Spa, hasn’t had a second-hand bookshop. There used to be two: the wonderfully titled Books Do Furnish a Room (where I once got some bound Strand Magazines containing The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes for £7) and the fondly remembered Portland Books. Both closed down years ago, and they left a void. Waterstones and Oxfam Books just don’t count.
So I was overjoyed when I discovered that Garrett Books had opened up on Clemens Street. Roisin and I have visited a couple of times, and I’ve taken a friend there as well. I’ve never walked away empty-handed, and most excitingly of all, they have a very well-stocked comics section which has added a few gems to my collection!
What’s clear is that Garrett Books have a real interest in becoming part of the community. Inside the door, they’ve set aside space for local artists to display their work and there are plans to hold poetry readings and possibly gigs there too. They’ve got a couple of sofas for you to relax upon, and they serve tea, coffee and cake so you can refresh yourself after a browsing session. Most winningly of all, there’s a baked potato stand out front. I had one last time I was there and it was delicious (cheese, beans and Peri-Peri sauce, YUM!).
I’m so pleased to see them there and I hope they prosper. Leamington needs a place like Garrett Books and Clemens Street really benefits from their presence. Long may they last. I’ll see you down there next weekend for a spud, alright?
I didn’t have a camera with me when I was in Detroit, back in 2009, so I’ve had to lift these photos from Google Images. But it was somewhere here on Clifford Street that I had the idea for a short story. It’s been percolating since then, and I finally got round to writing it for Silkworms Ink’s 50th chapbook.
In Jazz Noir, David Butler writes, “Film noir provides an alluring range of images, situations and meanings with which a potential audience for jazz can attempt to interpret the music.”
This association is, however, largely retrospective. Classical film noir, the film noir of the 1940s, rarely featured jazz prominently.That aural association between private detectives and wailing saxophones came somewhat later, with the TV ‘tecs of the 50s: Johnny Staccato and Peter Gunn.
The first P.I. movie that I ever saw was Harper (1966), and I’ve loved Ross Macdonald ever since. Go figure. I must have been about nine years old and, while Paul Newman’s cruel blue eyes and short-sleeved shirts stayed with me, I misremembered the music.
For years afterwards, I was certain that the film’s theme tune was Dave Brubeck’s Take Five. It must have been Arthur Hill’s glasses that misled me.
A few years later, when I got Harper on video, I paid close attention to Johnny Mandel’s brassy, swinging score. I would whistle it on the way to school, hoping that some of Harper’s cool would rub off on the gawky teenage me (it didn’t). Listening now, Mandel’s music is perhaps a little too self-consciously trendy, a little too eager to draw in the sophisticates (ditto the film’s poster). But I still love it – that West Coast bluster is modish but still fun, nicely evoking the movie’s corrupt sun-drenched world. And when I whistle it, it still makes me want to be Paul Newman.
Thinking about the music of Harper led me to look up John Williams’ music for The Long Goodbye (1973). Very different in terms of glamour, I think Newman’s Harper and Elliot Gould’s Marlowe occupy similar roles, both moving through their mysteries one step removed, both bringing their mysteries to arresting and unexpected conclusions. Gould’s shabby chic is certainly a more achievable look – I was once flattered/appalled to be compared to him by a university friend. Trust me, I’ve cleaned my act up since then.
The throaty growl of Jack Sheldon is such a perfect match for the mood of this movie, all wet neon and dry scotch. He provides the vocals here, but he was a noted trumpeter in his day. And it’s no surprise that Sheldon featured as an instrumentalist on two Tom Waits albums: Foreign Affairs and One from the Heart. Those rambling rhymes with which Sheldon closes seem like a blueprint for the young Waits. However, unlike Waits’ drunken troubadour schtick, this isn’t performance or pastiche; it’s the essence of experience.
A notorious hell-raiser, Sheldon fits the stereotype of the hard-living jazzman to a tee. Born in 1931, he was part of the West Coast scene of the 50s, playing with Art Pepper, Stan Kenton, Wardell Gray, Curtis Counce and Gerry Mulligan, amongst others. Two parts musician, one part raconteur, Sheldon also carved out a career on TV, following an eccentric path that took in Dragnet, The Merv Griffin Show, Schoolhouse Rock and Family Guy. He even had his own short-lived show in the late 60s: Run Buddy Run. He was also a notorious hellraiser.
In 2008, his crazy life was the subject of a documentary entitled Trying to Get Good. I think I need to lay my peepers on that baby, oh yes I do… (fadeout on trumpet and double bass)
At last, it’s here!
To celebrate the publication of Silkworms’ 50th chapbook, we’ve been working away to put together something very special. Today we’re publishing a bumper-sized collection of new work by some of the top names in poetry (and us!). It looks rather spiffy too – gorgeously illustrated throughout and specially designed by Harringman Studios.
Ladies and gentlemen, for your delectation, and entirely free – it’s Silkworms L!
If you like what you see, please post this flyer on your blog, or post a link (http://www.silkwormsink.com/chapbook_50.html/) on Facebook or Twitter. I’d be tremendously grateful – we worked hard on this one!
Blimey, it’s been a long time since I’ve blogged. March was a funny month – I’ve been trying hard to meet PhD deadlines, as well as doing some web writing for my university and trying to secure further work to keep me going until I submit my thesis.
In the past few weeks, I’ve also been feeling the need to do some drawing. When I was young, I used to spend hours filling sketchbooks with comic strips. It’s a habit I’ve fallen out of, and I’m a far less confident draughtsman these days. Still, yesterday I got Ego and Other Tails by Darwyn Cooke out of the library. I’d loved Cooke’s art on New Frontier and it inspired me to get out the pens this afternoon.
You might have noticed there was no tribute to Nicholas Courtney on my blog. I did try, but it was difficult to put my fondness for my favourite Doctor Who character into words.