Anatomy Of A Song


Anatomy Of A Song –
The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits
By Marc Myers
Grove Press/Atlantic – £9.99

Writing about songs and songwriting in general, can on occasion, make for fascinating reading; although so much depends on a number of very important, varying issues: what’s being discussed, what’s not being discussed, the story behind the writing and of course, the actual song itself.

With this in mind, any book of this nature is also utterly dependent on what the artists may or may not have to say. As such, Anatomy Of A Song – The Inside Stories Behind 45 Iconic Hits is a little hit and miss.

The background behind a number of the forty-five songs chosen herein, read like something of an elongated, rather dull biography of some of the artist(s) involved. For instance, the horribly over-rated ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ by Steppenwolf, is a prime example of much ado about fundamentally nothing.

I for one, really couldn’t care less about where the band’s lead singer, John Kay lived, how his band secured a record deal or how he met his girlfriend. I think I’d sooner read about the history of knitting – which, in and of itself, is a pretty dismal pastime if ever there was one. Likewise, a number of the songs discussed: ‘Groovin” by The Young Rascals, ‘White Rabbit’ by Jefferson Airplane and even ‘Carey’ by Joni Mitchell.

All three are hardly stand-out songs; but, so far as this collection is concerned, the stories behind them don’t exactly make for inspired reading.

Yet, luckily for Marc Myers, Anatomy Of A Song does miraculously leap into life towards the final third of its 323 pages, when such far more interesting artists as Jimmy Cliff (‘The Harder They Come’), Elvis Costello ((‘All The Angles Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes’), The Clash (‘London Calling’), and R.E.M. (‘Losing My Religion’) are discussed.

Moreover, it is when the author interviews Stevie Wonder in relation to ‘Love’s in Need of Love Today,’ that the book really comes to life: ”To this day, I never sit down and formally write songs. They emerge from the process of listening to what I’m doing on the keyboard. I just play, and songs sort of happen. Like a painter, I get my inspiration from experiences that can be painful or beautiful. I always start from a feeling of profound gratitude – you know, ”Only by the grave of God am I here” and write from there. I think most songwriters are inspired by an inner voice and spirit. God gave me this gift, and this particular song was a message I was supposed to deliver.”

So yeah, books that essentially traverse and dissect the coming together of songs, are in themselves, reliant on those songs. This goes a long way in explaining why this particular book is, on the whole, linear and lifeless.

David Marx


Race Policy and Racial Americans


Race Policy and Racial Americans
Edited by Kathleen Odell Korgen
Policy Press – £18.39

[…] some argue that multiracial identity has the potential to undo race in the United States as long as it attends to social justice and does not present itself as a racially superior category, while other scholars contend that multiracial identity is supportive of White supremacy and is a throwback to earlier, simplistic, and racist conceptualizations of the American mulatto.

                                                                                    Rainier Spencer

I’m almost inclined to embark on this review with just one word: discuss.

The above is the nigh perfect examination question in relation to that of the book’s title, Race Policy and Racial Americans, wherein it could be said that each of these twelve, exceedingly well-researched and seemingly provocative essays, act as differing answers.

Admittedly, some may home in more than others, simply due to having been written from a different perspective by an assortment of very fine scholars. But all twelve are undoubtedly designed to make one think, perhaps ponder and no doubt deliberate.

For instance, the very opening of the very first essay (‘Multiracial Americans throughout the history of the US) by Tyrone Nagai contends: ”While there are many places that could be used as starting points for a history of multiracial people in the US, perhaps none is better than acknowledging the fact that the presence of multiracial people in what we now call North America pre-dates the formation of the US by at least three centuries.”

If the current US administration – if such it can be referred to – were to actually deign and accept as much as the blatant truth, then the shocking violence that took place in Charlottsville,Virginia last year, might never have happened.

Likewise, such ultimately simplistic, yet subjective thought also traverses the second paragraph of the eleventh chapter (‘Multiraciality and the racial order: the good, the bad, and the ugly’) written by Hephzibah V. Strmic-Pawl and David L. Brunsma: ”Race is a human construction, one whose meanings are debated and defined by society. Thus, the meanings of multiraciality, as a racial category, also vary. Multiraciality is a complex and problematic notion because it both challenges and reifies the socially constructed, but experientially real, notion of race. On the one hand, it directly confronts the power of ascribed monoracial classifications, but, conversely, it still works within the language and ideologies of the racial classification system. We believe mutliraciality is an important social and cultural barometer to watch.”

Indeed, it absolutely is.
Although it cannot be stressed more vigorously enough, the degree to which so many (white) Americans are utterly unaware of said cultural barometer.

Might this be because multiraciality itself, ”is a complex and problematic notion” that challenges the very social construct it endeavours to solve, if not redeem?

In Trump’s America, this altogether exploratory book ought to be made compulsory reading for everyone working within the sphere of White House. That most are actually incapable of reading, is of course, a different tragedy altogether.

There again, as G. Reginald Daniel of the University of California has since written, Race Policy and Racial Americans is ”a timely and masterful addition to the literature on multiraciality. It counters any argument that growing numbers of mutliracials in the United States are a sign that we are in a post-racial society. The authors argue persuasively that multiracials indicate, rather, the need to adjust current race policies.”

Here. Hear.

David Marx

Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts


Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts – An Edwardian Elite and the Riddle of the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings By Trevor Hamilton

Imprint Academic – £14.95

As noted in this book’s Introduction: ”Why Arthur Balfour’s ghosts and why link his name with the cross-correspondence automatic writings? He is known in the twenty-first century, if at all, as an aristocratic politician of a century ago, and some people may well link him with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which promised a home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Yet, during his long political career, the intimate involvement of his family in the interpretation and construction of the cross-correspondences has not yet been fully explored […].”

Until now that is.

Indeed, these nineteen chapters traverse a psychical playing field that could well be described as standing relatively alone. Or, in the words of Tom Ruffles, Communications Officer with The Society for Psychical Research (SPR):”Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts will be essential reading for anyone wishing to study this most intriguing aspect of psychical research.”

In two Parts (The Development of the Cross-Correspondences from 1901-1936 and Assessing the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings), Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts – An Edwardian Elite and the Riddle of the Cross-Correspondence Automatic Writings makes for surprisingly open and communicative reading.

Given the potential complexity of the actual subject matter itself, it does need to be said that these 279 pages (excluding Preface and Acknowledgements, Appendix, Select Bibliography and References and Index) inadvertently allure the reader into wanting to read more. This might admittedly be because the book’s prime focus is Arthur Balfour – arguably one of the leading Conservative politicians of the early 20th century – and the fact that he was driven to try and communicate with the afterlife. This being the case, due to the death of the love of his life; which, given the fact that Balfour, was in his day, considered something of a rather cold, wet-fish, does lend the book a certain attractive romanticism.

With this invariably in mind, Arthur Balfour’s Ghosts’ further asks if there is any serious evidence of there actually being life after death?

Written by Trevor Hamilton – one of the world’s leading experts on the cross-correspondences that are generally considered the most ”puzzling and for some convincing evidence for life after death” – it does need to be emphasised that this book is thoroughly evaluated from a prime promise and premise of scientific manner.

Whether or not said manner truly makes sense, and in so doing, makes (perfect) sense, is of course, wide open to serried deliberation.

David Marx

Treason’s Spring


Treason’s Spring
By Robert Wilton
Corvus/Atlantic £18.99

The Place du Carrousel is a pool of mud, swirled with the shit of horses and dogs and humans under thousands of feet, as they shift and try to shuffle forwards. Towards the centre of the square the bodies are packed tight. Hands clench and un-clench in reaction to the spectacle, clutch at arms, hover over mouths as if to stifle vomit or a scream, grope, or reach for a pocket. The faces bob and strain for the view, exultant – and alarmed by what their exultation has conjured. There’s only a memory of light in the evening sky, and the windows of the buildings around the square twinkle orange in the blaze of the torches.


It’s interesting to think that the former advisor to the Prime Minister of Kosovo in the lead up to the country’s inevitable independence, Robert Wilton, could and would, feel compelled to write such a fine, literary historical narrative as Treason’s Spring.

Suave, smart and in a way, enchantingly beguiling, these 404 pages regale a time in French/European history that is as seemingly fraught with just as much horror as it is political turmoil.

As such, some might ask: so what’s changed?

All I can say is, read this book for yourself; as in so doing, you might well stumble upon something of an (un)surprising answer.

Reason being, this occasionally thrilling, albeit meticulous panorama of Paris during the French Revolution, will take one a learned and most informed journey – not exactly a hundred miles removed from that of the likes of Hilary Mantel and perhaps Bernard Cornwell.

David Marx

Radioactive Starlings


Radioactive Starlings
By Myronn Hardy
Princeton University Press – £14.95

Like most art, poetry is obviously subjective to personal taste, provision and persuasion.

As such, to all literary intent and home’n’dry poetic purposes, Radioactive Starlings is, to my mind at least, fundamentally governed by one sensational poem: ‘But I Must Forget;’ while much of the remainder suffer from being far too esoteric (therefore, frustratingly closed) for their own good.

In the words of Khaled Mattawa (author of Tocqueville: Poems), Myronn Hardy ”is a citizen of worlds, including the North Africa where he lives and the America where he was born.”

Hmm, that the twain don’t particularly meet or see eye to eye – Lord knows the deplorable Donald Trump has intrinsically put paid to that – really ought not hold any influential sway amid the reading of these fifty-seven poems. But it somehow does; especially within the sphere of that which is neither North Africa nor America. Admittedly, this may be partially due to me not being especially well versed in the daily happenings and goings on in North Africa.

The US meanwhile, is clearly a different matter altogether – for all the wrong reasons might I add. So when Hardy ends his poem ‘The Inescapable Escape’ with the lines:

Know that kind
of defeat that horrific clarity.
The women begin to sing.

he was either inadvertently psychic, or so acutely up-to-date so far as the direction of where Washington politics were/are heading (especially given the many, many thousands of women who marched in protest of Trump’s wholly unethical administration – if such it can be called – last the weekend), that ”horrific clarity” equates with something of a perverse, yet current-day, malignant mantra.

And when such thinking is invariably placed alongside the aforementioned ‘But I Must Forget,’ there’s a whole lot of unforeseen depth to contend with. Indeed, right from the the very outset:

I must travel to a paradise of ashes,
walk among its hidden trees.- Adonis

Although it’s within the actual body of the text itself, where the many variegated particles of political poetry reins home:

[…]They ascend to smoking
towers but still gaze the piles
of themselves the cinders of civilization.
To be civil means to be at peace.
But peace is processed through its opposite.

The mere fact that Hardy claims peace itself, can genuinely be processed; may lend a glimmer of hope to that of a mighty dangerous, contentious world. That he then goes on to assert that ”peace” can only be processed ”through its opposite,” substantiates said potential for hope; but surely, only by way dialogue and dare I say it, intelligence?

Neither of which the odious Donald Trump for one (leader of the Free World!) is capable of understanding.

Let alone embracing:

rather like said poem’s penultimate line:
like them dead in churches?

David Marx


Hue 1968


Hue 1968
A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam
By Mark Bowden
Grove Press/Atlantic – £20.00

According to Karl Malantes – whose astonishing novel Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War (2010) I reviewed upon publication – this book is ”an extraordinary feat of journalism.”

Indeed, with unprecedented access to war archives in both the US and Vietnam, and in conjunction with an array of interviews with participants on both sides, writer, journalist and reporter, Mark Bowden, herein narrates each stage of this crucial battle through a fine literary prism of multiple perspectives.

Played out over twenty-four days of the most harrowing fighting – which ultimately cost somewhere in the region of 10,000 combatant and civilian lives – the Battle of Hue was without any shadow of a doubt, the bloodiest battle of the entire campaign. When it ended, the American debate was never really the same again.

It was no longer about winning the war in Vietnam per se, but how best to leave the country; which for all intents and ideologically political purposes, Bowden brilliantly reconstructs amid these 539 pages (excluding Acknowledgements, Vietnamese Glossary, Source Notes and Index). This ought hardly be surprising given the calibre of Bowden’s writing, whose previous thirteen books include Black Hawk Down and Killing Pablo.

While having been to Vietnam and seen for myself the relatively primitive, albeit deadly, organic means by which the North Vietnamese fought their American foes; I also stumbled upon the broad and inbred trajectory of vast humility. A quality, which, perhaps unbeknown to the Vietnamese themselves, is systematically endemic within the everyday fibre of their being.

As much is candidly brought to bear on numerous occasions throughout Hue 1968 – A Turning Point of the American War in Vietnam; perhaps none more so than in a particularly pertinent if not poignant section of ‘Part Five: Sweeping the Triangle,’ wherein Bowden writes:

””I have something to say,” she said.
Quang asked her to unfold her arms. He was younger than her son.
”I am a wife,” she said. ”And a mother. These two” – she motioned to her husband and son – ”are guilty. It is known. They have done the nation wrong. As a mother and a wife, I am begging you for forgiveness.”
Quang let them go. Both father and son thanked him profusely. Puffed up with his own magnanimity, he told the son, ”Your mother has just given birth to you for the second time.”
Such generosity was the exception, so much so that Quang was later censured for it.
”Since they were aware of their mistakes and reported on their own son, it wasn’t necessary,” he argued in his defense. ”What mother isn’t hurt if her husband and son are in this position? It isn’t about one side or the other, it’s about being human” (my italics).
He forgave the police lieutenant who had nine children. The man had not reported himself; he had been arrested. Under the rules, it meant he had to be sent away. But Quang weighed the fate of his wife and children and told the man, ”You have to live to raise you r children. I forgive you because your nine kids are still too young. Your crimes are way too clear to forgive, but because of your children I here let you go home.”

Brittle as well as immensely (relentlessly) powerful, Hue 1968 traverses the Vietnam War in such a way that’ll make many readers sit-up and think. Not to mention maybe re-read what they’ve just read. Perhaps one of the many reasons being that it brings home what took place in Vietnam in 1968, as if it took place only yesterday – which really isn’t an easy thing to do. Let alone capture.

Replete with maps and a number of sterling black and white photographs, this book is an absolute must read for anyone remotely interested in The Vietnam War.

David Marx

A Glasgow Trilogy


A Glasgow Trilogy
By George Friel
Canongate – £18.00

‘I’m their referee. They rely on me for to see justice done. I’m the lawman. I’m the judge. Cause I stand above it so I can see it. Boys are like Jews, they’re different from the people round about them. And where would the Jews have been if they hadn’t had Moses to give them the Law?’
‘Ach!’ his mother derided him. ‘Playing we’ a lot o’ weans and ye call yourself Moses!’
‘They’re not weans,’ he shouted. ‘They’re innocent children. And Christ has said unless ye become as little children ye shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven.’
‘Oh, it’s Christ now, is it? Cried his baffled mother. ‘You’d gar anybody grue so you would the way you talk. Moses! Christ!’
She returned to the dishes in the basin in the sink.

                                                                   (The Boy Who Wanted Peace)

With a poignant procrastination from the premise of social induced turmoil, loneliness, nigh Dickensian living standards, unemployment and occasional religiosity, A Glasgow Trilogy is without any shadow of a doubt, an acute reflection of today’s (increasingly broken) Britain.

Set amid the tenements of Glasgow, the language is as loose as it is tough as it is inviting for all the right reasons – the quintessential one being: it tells the truth.

What’s more, it tells the truth without having to resort to the usual array of glamorized drug schtick appeal, sticky sex, or that of knee to the bollocks violence; uber liberal qualities of which are so often the case within the parameters of this genre of writing.

That’s not to say it’s only, purportedly reminiscent of Irvine Welsh – who readily subscribes to all of the above – although, as the opening quote does show, there is a fair bit of slightly perplexing Glaswegian patois, cunningly placed amid these three novels (The Boy Who Wanted Peace, Grace and Miss Partridge and Mr Alfred M.A.). Added no doubt, for grit infused, atmospheric sentiment.

Other than his sparkling wit and very evident compassion, what I particularly like about George Friel’s writing, is his most astute and assured way of interweaving social tragedy with comedy.

As such is most evident throughout the second novel, Grace and Miss Partridge, wherein the author takes us on a seemingly understated, albeit roller-coaster ride of literal, dour drama. The likes of which, were it not ever so (occasionally) pleasingly comedic, many might consider harks back to the likes of Alan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or Nell Dunn’s Up The Junction: ”[…] he was so busy talking trivia non-stop in his eagerness to keep her spirits up he never let her get a word in edgeways. If she could only have got him to listen, a confession of her love would have done her a lot more good than listening to him. For all his anxiety to help, Tommy was no use to her. She carried her absurd secret as a burden God had put on her for her salvation and found strength in silence. Yet still she longed to tell her love, love that never should be told. And to whom better than her beloved? […]. Grace had no complaints. She certainly scoffed at once most of the chips from the fish supper and made a spirited assault thereafter on the cakes and biscuits, but she had little conversation. And Shelley, who was meant to provide talk by his running commentary on the party in particular and life in general, was as silent as the backcourt after midnight. The great occasion lacked the atmosphere Miss Partridge had expected it to have; there was no intimacy, no communion, no tender preparation for her confession of love, only a wee girl eating bravely and a bird in his cage snuffling and sniffing, gasping and wheezing, watching them with a melancholy eye, bowing his head to peck at his breast, shivering and flapping to no purpose.”

That’s right, Shelley (as in the great poet) might well be a parrot, but said parrot plays host to a high-octane, highly organised confession in the making.
Or should I say breaking?

That a parrot could be deemed to be ”watching with a melancholy eye, bowing his head to peck at his breast, shivering and flapping to no purpose;” is either bordering on razor-sharp madness or genius.

Either way, it doesn’t really make too much difference, because as a writer, George Friel is as organic and original a writer as fundamental hip morality will surely allow.

Of which A Glasgow Trilogy is a compassionate testament.

David Marx