Don’t You Leave Me Here

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Don’t You Leave Me Here – My Life
By Wilko Johnson
Little, Brown – £18.99

‘I want her back.’ I could not speak or even think these words without breaking down. I would break down in tears in the street and have to find some corner to hide. A song on the radio would hit me like a blow. I walked through crowded places feeling like a ghost in an unreal world, lost to everything but my sorrow. I thought of her every waking moment and of course she haunted my dreams – sometimes those lucid dreams where you know you are dreaming; then I could really be with her and hold her in my arms for precious moments before

     I waked, she fled and day brought back my night.

There are times throughout this provocative and occasionally heartbreaking book, in which Wilko Johnson writes with the most penetrating tenderness (as that depicted above from the book’s seventeenth chapter). The sort of which invariably grips the reader and just won’t let go – because we’ve all been there.

We’ve all broken down in tears on the street; somehow caught in the harrowing slipstream of no longer wanting to continue with this cruel and complex thing we endeavour to call life.

And for such a morass of fraught feeling to be so delicately and densely captured within a book, is wholly commendable; simply because it falls within such (a humanistic) place.

The sort of which, warrants appreciative applause. And respect.

As such, I cannot recommend Wilko Johnson’s Don’t You Leave Me Here – My Life, more highly. It’s real, it’s invigorating, and I should imagine the following excerpt on Glastonbury (on page 207) is excruciatingly spot-on:

”The atmosphere backstage was wretched – the food was as bad as a microwave can warm up, and I swear I waited twenty minutes for a cup of lukewarm coffee that tasted like cardboard. You couldn’t take two paces without somebody hassling you for a pass (Your papers! Your papers!). Two of the festival staff approached me. They said they wanted to deal with my complaint, since I had given the stage manager ‘an emotional mauling.’ They explained how difficult a problem security was, how the vast area of the festival site was a ‘state within a state’ (they got their own Gestapo too), and how it was necessary to do these things to keep order. I listened in disbelief as they expounded this proto-fascism. They were quite unaware of the implications of what they were saying. Did they really believe that I should abandon my civil liberties – liberties that millions had laid down their lives to secure – just for the honour of appearing at this grotesque, overpriced fairground?

Whale-saving Green fascists! I hope they all get eaten by Moby Dick.”

I very much like the fact that Wilko Johnson tells it as it very much needs to be told. Admittedly, I could’ve done with a whole lot more about his former band Doctor Feelgood – his relationship with singer Lee Brilleaux especially – but this book is what it is: tough, heartbreaking, real.

What more could you ask for?

David Marx

The Other Paris

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The Other Paris – An Illustrated Journey Through
A City’s Poor and Bohemian Past
By Luc Sante
Faber & Faber – £16.99

”Before Haussmann’s reconfiguration of the centre, the neighbourhoods were tightly interwoven; afterward they were more separated, but the classes still met on common ground: on the squares and boulevards. It was said that when cafes began to feature open terraces, the poor discovered what and how to eat from passing by and observing the diners as they ate. And the rich always had the opportunity to absorb the culture of the poor from their markets and entertainments. For that matter, the practice of mixite flourished for at least a century: a house of six or seven stories would feature a shop on the ground floor; the shopkeepers’s dwelling on the mezzanine level; a bourgeois family upstairs from the mezzanine, on the, the ‘noble floor’ then each succeeding story would house people of progressively lesser income. People trudged up as few flights of stairs as they could afford, and as a result, every such house was itself a microcosm of society as a whole.”

When one thinks of Paris, for some idiosyncratically odd and perhaps romantic reason, they invariably conjure up many of the images described and photographed throughout this altogether wonderful book.

To be sure, The Other Paris – An Illustrated Journey Through A City’s Poor and Bohemian Past by Luc Sante is somewhat mesmerising in that it immediately transports the reader unto a place we all – for some reason or other – already know so well. The hustle and bustle, the oft referenced ‘seductive couture and intellectual hauteur’ that makes Paris so intrinsically alluring.

Indeed it’s all here; these 271 pages (excluding Carte de Paris, Notes, Acknowledgements and Index) vividly convey a city for all its captivating worth: ”What an awakening, silent but alive, happens when this city – its streets, houses, sidewalks, lamposts, trees, urinals – is no longer covered like a skin, like a crust, by that grublike swarm of humans rushing to the job machine, but at night comes back to life, swims back to the surface, washes off it s filth, stands back on its feet, scratches itself, sings to break the silence, makes light to rend the darkness. It stretches, relaxes, spreads itself out before me, the solitary walker, the unknown strider, stranding me among its scattered limbs, a vast labyrinth in which I rapturously lose myself, turning every corner, leaving every boulevard at the first left, catching up with the stream once again or passing it by, hopping on one foot, whistling with a but in the corner of my mouth.”

Inundated with a cornucopia of black and white photographs, drawings and reprints of posters (of a long but not necessarily forgotten era), these twelve chapters are as vivid as they are entertaining as they are at times, highly educational.

As The London Review of Books’ Jeremy Harding has since written: ”A poetic guide to the city’s underworld across six centuries, a threepenny opera with a milling crowd of beggars, gangsters, whores and constables, attended by artists, insurrectionaries and intellectuals.”

In and of itself, quite a wide (and unforgiving) gambit; rather like the stunning city of Paris itself.

David Marx

C.K. Williams on Whitman

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C.K. Williams on Whitman
Princeton University Press

But which of us isn’t a similar jerry-built motion machine? Which of us doesn’t sometimes feel that we’re weird pop-ups of impulses, ambitions, desires, and dreams? But we don’t live in poems, even those of us who are poets; unlike Whitman, we plunge into our poems, but then we emerge: we are the makers of our poems – Whitman’s poems made him; he existed in them in a way he existed nowhere else.

Whether Marc Chagall or Jimi Hendrix. Sylvia Plath or Tom Waits – ought not a similar persuasion be applied to most true artists who essentially live both inside of and with their art? It’s hard to think of any of these artists, including Walt Whitman, in any other way, which, to varying degrees, is exactly what this fine little pocket book addresses.

That C.K. Williams on Whitman is deeply entrenched within the parameters of (fine) poetry, most certainly helps it along its way; and is therefore, all the more readable for it. As Robert Pinsky has written: ”This is the exuberant, true book of a poet, of two poets: a personal, illuminating, and beautiful demonstration of the truest reading.”

That it most definitely is.

From such musicality as:

The carnival of sleighs, the clinking and
shouted jokes and pelts of snowball…

to such colourful and kaleidoscopic revelation as: ”Just reading it, the brilliance of the moments of inspiration are like raw synaptic explosions, like flashbulbs going off in the brain, in the mind: pop, pop, pop. The images, the ideas, the visions, the insights, the proclamations, the stacks of brilliant verbal conjunctions, the musical inventiveness and uniqueness: one after the other, again and again, in a form that reveals them naked, unmodulated, undimmed by any apparent resort to the traditional resources of poetic artfulness.”

Phew., as a lover of poetry and the occasional analysis thereof: what more could one ask for?

David Marx

Images Of England Through Popular Music

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Images Of England Through Popular Music –
Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976
By Keith Gildart
Palgrave Macmillan – £15.99

[…] the Sex Pistols themselves were the personification of particular aspects of Englishness that could be found in working-class radicalism, humour and populism. They shared Orwell’s view that England remained ‘a land of snobbery and privilege, ruled largely by the old and the silly.’

The tension of class, authenticity, stardom and recognition were a constant source of tension between Lennon and McCartney in their formative years and throughout their subsequent career.

And so it came to pass that popular music as we once knew it turned into huge, regular dollops, of mere money-spinning horse manure.

Where once upon a time England actually had exciting, rebellious, inventive artists and rock’n’roll bands (The Beatles, The Who, The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie among many others), we now have far too many wailing tarts with microphones of whom all rather fancy themselves as Etta James; but are in fact, pure hogwash of the first degree (the ghastly Pixie Lott of whom, surely wails at the vanguard).

In essence, the country no longer has a music industry any more.

That there are but three main record companies left in London (Universal, Sony and Warner) should come as no surprise. They all subscribe subscribe to the ideology of Satan himself, Simon Cowell – which is to say, here today, gone tomorrow, who gives a toss about what it sounds like, so long as it generates money – and they all behave in such a way that is detrimental to music as we once knew. As depicted in this very readable book by Keith Gildart.

Its eight chapters capture something of a magical, bygone period in British music, a time when artists and bands weren’t being groomed by accountants, but by musical instinct (and in some instances, intellect).

Indeed, Images Of England Through Popular Music – Class,Youth and Rock’n’Roll, 1955-1976, not only traverses the musicality of said time period, but also the degree to which class and geography played a part: ”In the post-war period, North West England in particular became closely associated with popular music and produced a multiplicity of groups and solo artists. Some performers retained particularly northern traits in terms of accent, style, humour and an identification with the broader working-class that purchased their records and danced to their rhythms (‘Coal, Cotton and Rock’n’Roll’).

In three parts (‘Teddy Boy England,’ ‘Mod England’ and Glam/Punk England’), the book as a whole casts an intrinsically ideological net, which goes some way in deciphering how and why things came about the way they did.

A good example being John Lennon’s position within all of this, as addressed in the chapter ‘Liverpool, The Beatles and Cultural Politics: ”Lennon’s ambiguous position within the class structure of Liverpool was familiar to a generation of working and lower-middle class children who experienced social mobility through eduction, but retained an affiliation to aspects of working-class structure. His rebelliousness was rooted in his negative reaction to formal schooling and the class nature of the English education system […]. The division between rock’n’roll and jazz was demarcated through class lines in Liverpool and other English towns and cities. Some writers have tended to focus on Lennon’s art school experiences as his entry point into the more esoteric elements of American rock’n’roll […]. Yet they underestimate the resilience of class and locality in the roots of English popular music. Lennon personified the complexity of class identity with his bridging of both working and middle-class cultures.”

To say the above is a mere tip of the literary dissertation that this most worthy critique of (English) youth culture has to offer, is an understatement.

The more it unfolds, the more one is compelled to both read and investigate ever further.

David Marx

Why Wilson Matters

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Why Wilson Matters – The Origin Of American Liberal Internationalism and It’s Crisis Today
By Tony Smith
Princeton University Press – £27.95

If evidence is needed of Wilson’s ability to act decisively on matters of world affairs upon becoming president, and this with respect to his understanding of the virtues of democratic government, his policy toward Mexico should lay any doubts to rest. This observation is especially true of the ”nonrecognition doctrine”that Wilson issued only weeks after assuming the presidency in 1913. Here Wilson acted quickly and decisively, in terms of a policy that had little precedent in America (or indeed European) policy, for it was based on the presumption that Washington would do as best it could to encourage the Mexican Revolution in the direction of stable constitutional democracy.

                                    (‘Democracy Promotion Through Progressive Imperialism’)

Hmm, ”in the direction of stable constitutional democracy.”
Fast forward a hundred years and we find ourselves on the precipice of the world (seemingly) falling apart. While the UK embraces a return to the dark ages, President Trump’s America is antagonising nigh everyone and everything there is to antagonise – including climate change.

Why Wilson Matters focuses on American principles and American policies – where there supposedly could could be ‘no other’ – where, like Wilson himself, it highlights the principles and the policies of forward looking men and women everywhere. Along with every modern nation and every enlightened community.

Key here, is the word ‘enlightened,’ which, for all of Trump’s highfalutin with Putin, would suggest he’s about as enlightened as a piece of discarded bark.

In other words, he absolutely ain’t; although he’d be mighty wise to take note of some of what’s written amid these 289 pages (excluding, Preface, Acknowledgements, Notes and Index). Naturally he won’t, because the likes of the current president would no doubt equate Wilson’s ”principles of mankind […] must prevail” with that of his own twisted, conceited principles: primarily that of his own business empire.

Indeed, the only thing that must prevail in today’s White House, is the colossal continuation of dishonesty.

Much of the above stems from the very same chapter as the opening quote, where, addressing the Senate, Woodrow Wilson called for a worldwide movement toward ”government by the consent of the governed;” further insisting ”I hope and I believe that I am in effect speaking for liberals and friends of humanity in every nation and of every program of liberty.”

As such, Why Wilson Matters renews hope that the United States might again become effectively liberal by returning to the sense of realism that Wilson espoused; one where the promotion of democracy around the world is balanced by the understanding that such efforts are not likely to come quickly and without costs.

Tony Smith – who is the Cornelia M. Jackson Professor of Political Science at Tufts University, and whose books include America’s Mission: The United States and the Worldwide Struggle for Democracy and The Crisis of American Foreign Policy: Wilsonianism in the Twenty-First Century – has herein written a most in-depth analysis of Wilsonian pragmatism.

Broken into two distinct sections (The Essential Wilson: Wilson’s Wilsoniasm and Wilsonianism After Wilson), the book’s crystal clear and well considered (political) prognosis sheds new light on an era we might not know too much about, but an era nevertheless, we’d all be wise to take heed of.

David Marx

Berlin Cantata

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Berlin Cantata
By Jeffrey Lewis
Haus Publishing – £12.99

We were up late that night in the inn, quietly with the lights out. Holly couldn’t sleep. Se felt, she said, like a stranger to herself. ”It started sometime in the carols. I though: listen, they singing to me with Christian love? Is this the reality Jews are blind to, that could convert a soul on the spot? I must be weak, I thought. I hear the lovely voices of children, and then.. all I could hear was a lot of my own voice, like static. Telling me to listen. All these words. The music! I wanted to live in the music. But just then I couldn’t.

Initially attracted by the book’s title, these 240 pages are a rather cyclonic read, which, to all intents and inherently jarring purposes, is intense and simultaneously intriguing.

Indeed, throughout, Berlin Cantata, Jeffrey Lewis bequeaths the reader with quite a bit to think about as well as dissect – by way of an array of heterogeneous voices. All of whom are fundamentally fraught and forthright in their own way. All of whom appear haunted by history; which partially explains their search for acute (subliminal) redemption.

For instance, Holly Anholt: ”Everything was stacked high as if you were getting something wholesale, empty suitcases, pairs of shoes, Zyklon B cans, hair. Now there would be a punishment, a just retribution, to have to spend your life counting up every single hair, and if you make one mistake, if you miss one hair, you have to start over. I thought such things. I was alone. And this too: if work can’t make you free, what can? Only God’s grace? Only love? Only luck? (‘Journey’).

There is so much psychologically gruesome information packed into the above few lines, it’s hard knowing where to begin, where to start assimilating. Let alone come to terms with.

It is this veritable coming to terms with which keeps the reader going, yet somewhat vexed. Curious, yet simultaneously perplexed – in an altogether good way might I add.

As the author of Mrs. Darcy and the Blue-eyed Stranger, Lee Smith, has since said: ”Jeffrey Lewis has written a stunning novel, as deep and intriguing as the city itself. The varied cast of characters tell their own stories as they wind their tortured and tortuous way through the dark past toward some kind of understanding, if not atonement.”

David Marx

Only Love Remains

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Only Love Remains – Lessons from the Dying on the Meaning of Life
By Attilio Stajano
Clairview Books – £14.99

Palliative care is the new face of medicine; it incorporates scientific and technological progress while acknowledging interpersonal relationships and the integrity of the person in his or her various dimensions; physiological, mental, emotional and spiritual. It is a new form of medical care that goes beyond the concept of the hospital business model, in which machines are run to correspond to a balance sheet, and where quality is synonymous with productivity rather than humanity.

Hmm, ”where quality is synonymous with productivity rather than humanity;” an honest account of Britain’s current health system, not to mention an unfortunate symptom of the times (which have most certainly been a changin’).

Were one to ask the vile likes of UKIP’s Nigel Farrage, he’d undoubtedly blame the situation on immigration (like he does everything else, including that of his own preposterous personality). While that other wretch of his smugness personified, George Osborne (currently earning a gazillion pounds a week for merely showing up once a week), would invariably blame it on the country’s severe lack of checks and balances – of which he so clearly knows so much about.

That said, Only Love Remains sounds like the song title of a David Gray song, whilst the book’s subject matter isn’t exactly a hundred miles removed either. Reason being, just like a lot of the Stoke singer-songwriter’s actual work, a great deal of what’s written herein is indeed gentle, reflective and approached with a great deal of conviction.

In fact, Only Love Remains – Lessons from the Dying on the Meaning of Life: Euthanasia or Palliative Care?, is, like the secondary title suggests, a most compelling narrative that fundamentally traverses the threshold of choice: ”If we see the terminally-ill as an inconvenience […], we forego the possibility of finding unexpected resources in ourselves: a tenderness, a touch, a readiness to assist that we did not know we were capable of.

Underlying this book is the momentous and very current debate over euthanasia. In a comprehensive appendix, the author reports on the provision of palliative care services and the laws governing euthanasia in European and English-speaking countries around the world, and the varying implications these have for the way we value and care for the dying.”

Concise and clearly written, these 193 pages are something of a sombre, although enlightening read on a subject we will all – sooner or later – need to confront.

David Marx