The rereading continues. I have recently raced through A Confederacy of Dunces (one of the funniest books ever written), Lolita (a masterclass in style), and Disturbing the Peace (a harrowing account of a man descending into alcoholism and madness).

After all that I took Blonde by Joyce Carol Oates out of the bookshelves, one of the books on the Ten Favourite Books list. Blonde was first published in 2000 and I first read it in 2002. The book was a bestseller and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award. Oates herself thinks that this is one of the two books that she will be remembered for; a serious statement given that she has published over forty novels, as well as plays, short stories, poetry and non-fiction. (Anyone else feel like an underachiever?)

Blonde is a fictionalised account of the life of Marilyn Monroe and it’s a whopper of a novel; the edition I have comes in at almost 1,000 pages. Even the most superficial fan of Monroe knows the history of her life and these familiar events are explored in the book. Oates writes about Marilyn’s chaotic childhood, her film experiences, failed romantic relationships and miscarriages, and above all her desire to break out of her one-note bombshell persona.

Given that this is a fictional memoir, Oates writes from Marilyn’s perspective and this is where the book becomes exceptional. Through Oates’ eyes Marilyn becomes a real person, not just a fluffy sexy two-dimensional film star. Blonde creates a completely authentic reality for Monroe and also shines a light on little known relationships such as the ménage à trois between Monroe, Charles Chaplin Junior and Eddy Robinson Junior. One of the last chapters, ‘Special Delivery, 3 August 1962′, is a powerful imagining of Monroe’s death that sent shivers up my spine the first time I read it.

Blonde could have been a voyeuristic tabloid disaster in another writer’s hands but Oates’ extraordinary talent transforms it into an empathetic exploration of an eternally fascinating woman. Marilyn will be an inspiration for the ages; a woman who was ahead of her time, a tragic figure who craved long lasting love and never seemed to find it, and a talented actress who was just finding her way when she died. Blonde is perhaps one of the best works inspired by her and it’s a phenomenal book on its own terms too.

Here’s a famous interview with the woman herself recorded a month before her death. Monroe is honest on the subjects of sex, fame, and her experiences of the Hollywood system, and I find it interesting that her real life voice is more assured and adult and animated than the breathy child-woman voice we hear in her movies.

As regular readers of the Multiverse know, Alex Gibney is one of my favourite documentary makers and his latest film Going Clear, broadcast last weekend in the US on HBO, has been the subject of much discussion and controversy. The film is based on Lawrence Wright’s book, Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief published in January 2013. Given the fact that 1.7 million people tuned in to watch it last weekend (HBO’s biggest documentary premiere in almost a decade) it would appear that interest in Scientology is huge and for many viewers, including me, this is the first time they have been made aware of the abuse, violence, brainwashing and fraud that the church has been involved in.

Gibney interviews eight former Scientologists, some of whom were high ranking members, and many of their experiences are horrifying. They recount how they got into the church, the methods of mind control, brainwashing and isolation that the church utilises, and their reasons for leaving. The ‘auditing’ process is explained in detail, whereby the church learns each member’s weak spots, secrets and vulnerabilities, and uses this information to keep members in line. 

Gibney also uses footage of Scientology events (some of which look like the Nazi propaganda rallies) and archival footage of two of Scientology’s most prominent members, Tom Cruise and John Travolta, who are used as recruitment tools and as the public face of the religion. Through recruitment of celebrities and crucially the 1993 designation of Scientology as a recognised religion by the IRS and therefore tax exempt, the church is an incredibly rich organisation having amassed billions of dollars in assets and property.

Many of the ex-members speak of misconduct and abuse by church leaders, especially David Miscavige. It is alleged that Miscavige encourages harassment of journalists and ex-members of the church, has humiliated, intimidated, imprisoned and in some cases physically beaten members, and knowingly exploits vulnerable people. Particularly disturbing are the accounts of ‘The Hole’, a facility where dozens of members are imprisoned and subjected to reindoctrination. What this seems to mean is extreme physical and mental abuse, and hours of interrogation with the aim of getting the members to ‘confess’, i.e. relate criticisms of the religion or of David Miscavige, or confess homosexual tendencies and sexual fantasies. It sounds a bit like a POW camp.

Unlike some previous criticisms of Scientology, this documentary has real weight and therefore the power to affect change. Alex Gibney is an Academy Award winning documentary filmmaker, someone who is highly respected, someone who has built his reputation on thorough research, not some fly-by-night with a video camera and a grudge. In addition the film was produced by HBO who employed over 150 lawyers to review it before broadcast. Although the church, Tom Cruise, John Travolta and others declined to be interviewed and have denied the claims in the documentary through their lawyers, an injunction was not taken out before broadcast leading us to believe that the film is factually correct, truthful and therefore must be taken seriously.

Hopefully Going Clear will be the catalyst for authorities and the media to investigate Scientology further, the start of which should be the IRS reconsidering the tax free status of the church.

 

Back in February HBO aired a six-part documentary series on Robert Durst, the wealthy scion of the Durst family arrested in March on suspicion of murder. It might seem like the timing of the broadcast and Durst’s arrest was coincidental, but his arrest was in fact partly due to the documentary makers uncovering new evidence and turning it over to police.

Durst is the eldest son of the Durst family who own the Durst Organization, a real estate company in New York City whose holdings include One World Trade Center and the Condé Nast Building on Times Square. He first came to police attention when his wife Kathleen disappeared in 1982. The couple had been fighting in the months before her disappearance, with Kathleen complaining to her friends of increased violence from her husband, even telling them that if anything should happen to her they should investigate Robert. When Kathleen disappeared, her friends suspected Durst of murder but without a body there was little law enforcement could do.

Durst was then arrested in 2001 on charges of murder when his neighbour’s dismembered body was found floating in Galveston Bay in Texas. The body parts were in trash bags which also contained evidence linking the body to Durst. Durst claimed self-defence, and given that he had unlimited wealth to hire the best lawyers, he managed to get off. His most recent arrest is on charges of murdering his best friend, Susan Berman, a woman who may have had information about his wife’s disappearance and who was found shot dead, execution style, in her Californian home in 2000.

There’s a bit too much smoke for it not to be fire, or so it looks at this stage. Certainly Durst does little to help himself in the documentary. He is an odd man, given to facial tics and bizarre statements, and seems obtuse and at times deliberately provocative. He has in the past been diagnosed with Asperger syndrome, but it would seem that some from of sociopathy is at work too, given the emotionless and unsettling way he speaks during the interviews. Even his own brother finds him dangerous and unpredictable and in the past hired a bodyguard to protect himself.

The Jinx is a brilliant documentary series and well worth watching. In particular it reminded me of The Staircase which I reviewed on the blog a while ago, in that it’s in-depth and also illustrates how money can make the difference between an innocent or guilty verdict. It will be interesting to watch Durst’s current legal case as it unfolds in the coming months. Not only was he denied bail earlier this week but police are now looking at Durst in connection to three more women who have disappeared, two in 1997 and one in 1971.

A mate of mine posted this to my Facebook timeline a few weeks ago and to my shame I only got around to watching it today. It’s too funny, so well edited that I’m ordering the box set. (And kudos for lifting this theme tune for extra authenticity!)

Samuel Beckett is one of my favourite Irishmen, one of our four Nobel Prize winners for literature, a writer who combines tragedy with comedy in a uniquely Irish way. It seems appropriate to post this close to Paddy’s Day. I think he’d love it.

 

Before Christmas I had some feedback from an agent regarding my last book, which has resulted in my setting aside the new book I was working on and instead commencing a mega-redraft. Since January, I have been adhering to a fairly strict schedule: lots of writing (which hasn’t included much blogging – mea culpa), healthy food, early nights, and a book at bedtime. Given the fact that I read about a hundred pages in an hour, that has meant that I’ve read over fifteen books this year. I’m not going to review them all (I have a rule about reviewing books I don’t like) but here are three I loved.

All That Is by James Salter

Salter has been termed ‘the forgotten hero of American letters’ by the Guardian; certainly I had never heard of him or his considerable reputation before I picked up All That Is, published in 2013 and his first book for thirty-five years. It’s the life story of Philip Bowman: his experiences as a naval officer in World War Two, his career as a book editor in New York, and his various love affairs. Salter’s writing style is beautiful, spare and clean, masterfully describing supporting characters in one perfectly observed paragraph, his dialogue simple leaving the reader to infer the nuances. I am now a Salter convert and have also read his 1975 novel Light Years. Here’s a wee video of Mr. Salter discussing his life and work.

 

 

Worst. Person. Ever. by Douglas Coupland

I love Coupland’s work and Worst. Person. Ever is thankfully a return to form for Coupland after the misstep of Player One. It’s narrated by Raymond Gunt, a loathsome misanthropic cameraman who is hired to work on a Survivor-style reality show on an obscure island in the Pacific. Gunt is a reprehensible person, with no manners, no consideration, no human feeling for anyone. Coupland has huge fun with this character, you can almost see him in his study rubbing his hands with glee as he comes up with new perversions and new depravity for Gunt. It’s a blackly funny character study with some of Coupland’s best writing.

The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz

This book was published in 2007 to huge acclaim, and went onto win the Pulitzer, but it wasn’t until three friends of mine recommended it to me separately over a three month period that I finally read it. It deserves all the love and plaudits it received. Set in New Jersey, the story of Oscar is intertwined with those of his sister and mother, and other members of their Dominican family. The narrator’s style is peppered with Spanish phrases and a uniquely descriptive voice, and poor Oscar is one of the most heart-warming characters I’ve read in recent times. I raced through this one in a night.

One of my favourite recent-ish rock discoveries has been Royal Blood. The band is comprised of two English guys, Mike Kerr (bass, vocals) and Ben Thatcher (drums), both of whom are in their mid-twenties. Though they formed only two years ago, the band already have a fan in none other than Jimmy Page, they’ve had the fastest selling debut rock album in the UK in three years, and they’ve played support for The Pixies and Arctic Monkeys.

I love the album and the lead single ‘Figure It Out’ has been a big hit at gigs. The musical line-up sounds odd I know (what, no guitar?) but they have a huge sound, akin to Zeppelin crossed with The White Stripes. In this interview with MusicRadar, Kerr talks a bit about using a pedalboard and his favourite basses, which goes some way to explaining how a two-piece can have so much power.

Slane is happening on May 30th this year and as I’m sure you know Foo Fighters are headlining. Also on the bill are Hozier (YAAAY) and Kaiser Chiefs (WTF?). Don’t get me wrong, Kaiser Chiefs are a band with some good songs and they have a lot of fans here, but I’d MUCH rather see Royal Blood on this bill. And considering Royal Blood are already supporting Foos in the USA in July and August, I’m at a loss as to why this didn’t happen.

If you haven’t already heard them, get on it!

 

 

When the 2014 Academy Award nominations came out a few weeks ago, I was somewhat surprised to hear Jake Gyllenhaal wasn’t nominated for his performance in Nightcrawler. It was a sleeper hit that I loved, primarily because of the performances of the leads, Gyllenhaal and Rene Russo.

Nightcrawler sees Gyllenhaal as Lou Bloom, a fledgling news reporter whose obsessive ambition and lack of morals leads him to sensationalist tabloid video reporting, a la TMZ. He finds a mentor and champion in Nina Romina (Russo), a producer at a local LA TV station. She recognises in Bloom a ruthless fame-hungry collaborator and she encourages his worst impulses in the name of ratings.

Gyllenhall gives one of his best performances. He looks the part: under-slept, hungry, sunken cheeks and a twitchy demeanour. His portrayal of Bloom is masterful, by turns sociopathic, pitiable, charming, loathsome. And it’s been far too long since we’ve seen Russo on screen. I loved her in In The Line of Fire and her charisma can elevate an OK movie to a watchable one (see: the remake of The Thomas Crown Affair).

Nightcrawler has a lot to say with regards to our society’s attitude towards privacy, the immorality of the tabloid media, when personal tragedy becomes ratings fodder and our own culpability in seeking it out. The film isn’t exactly subtle in its message but I think director Dan Gilroy was reflecting the blunt object shock factor of the media at the heart of the story. The nuances come from the performances, in particular Gyllenhaal’s. To my mind this is a creative high for him, standing alongside Brokeback Mountain as a career defining role.

Jape’s fifth album This Chemical Sea was released on January 23rd and charted at number eight in Ireland. I’ve been listening to it fairly steadily since then and it’s a real grower, more chilled out than previous albums but all the more interesting for it. David Wrench, the producer of the record who’s also responsible for recent hits by Caribou and FKA Twigs, does an excellent job here with crisp production and beautifully layered vocals.

The first single from the album, ‘The Heart’s Desire’, is a stand out track and the video directed by Conor Finnegan is a paint-soaked trippy piece of weirdness.

 

 

The video for ‘Seance of Light’ starts with a scene reminiscent of Spud’s speed-fuelled job interview from Trainspotting, set to a trancey electro tune with Hot Chip influenced vocals. Check it out.

 

 

Jape play the Academy on February 19th and you can grab tickets here.

Blame Whiplash. Blame my unfulfilled ambition to play drums. Blame whatever you want, but I don’t care, yet again I’m going to rhapsodise about Buddy Rich. If I could be anybody else, ANYBODY who ever lived, it would be Buddy Rich. But even if I had all the drum lessons in the world I could never be in the same ballpark as Buddy; people like him are born not taught. He was the exception, the rare genius, the once in a century talent, the James Joyce of drumming. Buddy Rich just had it. From birth.

Buddy was born to parents who were vaudeville performers and his father noticed that aged just one the infant could keep time. Sensing a business opportunity, he put Buddy onstage at eighteen months old, billed as ‘Traps The Drum Wonder’. In common with many child stars, Buddy always felt that he had been robbed of his childhood and felt a lifelong insecurity about his complete lack of formal education.

Buddy transitioned from child star to jazz drummer, taking the drum chair in the Artie Shaw and Tommy Dorsey bands and quickly made a name for himself as a musician who could really swing. In Dorsey’s band he met Frank Sinatra, who went on to back Rich’s first band in 1946. Despite the fact that he famously never practised, Buddy became one of the best (if not the best) drummers of his generation; he had unparalleled technique and speed, an innate sense of perfect time, he knew when to take centre stage and when to pull back to allow a soloist room to play, and his energy and originality could turn a lacklustre band into a band that really cooked.

But Buddy had a dark side. He was cantankerous, harsh, a bully even, and it all came to light when the audio tapes of him berating his band were publicised. Buddy had described himself as a ‘short-tempered man’ (a phrase which tends to understate things just a wee bit) and he did not suffer mediocrity or laziness at all, which when you consider his talent is understandable. His name was on the band, he was up there ‘working my balls off’, he was world-class, and if a member of the band didn’t come up to scratch, he was (in my mind) right to call them on it. Yes, he could be mean but he was the best drummer in the world! Play accordingly, assholes!

I rarely read biographies these days but I’m so fascinated by Buddy Rich that when I saw this book on Amazon, it went straight into my basket. The author Mel Tormé was a renowned jazz singer and a lifelong friend of Rich, and so he has a thorough knowledge of his subject, both as a musician and a man. The book is warm in tone but doesn’t shy away from painting an honest portrait of its subject. Tormé has some great anecdotes to share, both from Buddy himself and the many musicians he worked with, and he also analyses Rich’s playing in an erudite way. For any drummers out there who are fascinated by the technicalities of Rich’s playing, there are some great sections in the back of the book dealing with Rich’s preferred equipment and playing techniques.

If you know nothing about Rich then (aside from stocking up on his albums) check out this great Michael Parkinson interview. Buddy is aged sixty-nine and it was his last interview before his death in April 1987. Parkinson is the consummate interviewer, asking insightful questions which he allows the interviewee to answer fully, no ego, no interrupting. He’s a true facilitator and draws out his subject expertly.

Buddy gives his opinion on many things from rock music, (he doesn’t really rate it, which to me is unsurprising given that he’s technically and creatively far beyond the ability of most rock drummers), the US government’s attitude to jazz and the ‘high arts’, the dedication that jazz takes from both the player and the listener, and his often contentious relationship with Frank Sinatra. He recounts it all with unflinching honesty (listen to his anecdote about Dusty Springfield!), and his great sense of humour. Enjoy!

‘I can’t think of one musician who ever really paid any attention to anybody standing in front of the band with a baton.’ 

Buddy Rich interviewed by Larry King.

 

 

I saw a trailer for Whiplash with my dad when I was in New York last October and was enthralled. We tried to see it while we were there but it only had a small release and we couldn’t find it anywhere. So when it came out last weekend, we were at the lunchtime showing in the Lighthouse, coffees in hand, very excited.

It’s so rare and wonderful when a film exceeds your expectations and Whiplash is one of those films. Set in New York, it stars Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman, a nineteen-year-old drummer in his first year at Schaffer Music School, one of America’s most prestigious music conservatories. Andrew idolises Buddy Rich and dreams of eventually being in the pantheon of great jazz drummers. His aspirations are realised when he is accepted into the Studio Band conducted by Terence Fletcher (JK Simmons). Fletcher encourages Neiman, faking a sense of camaraderie, before ripping him apart and reducing him to tears in front of the band, the beginning of a destructive pattern intended to break Neiman’s spirit and motivate him to become the best he can be.

Dad was the perfect cinema partner for this particular film; he started playing jazz professionally in his teens in 1960s Belfast. Through his gigs and music around the house, I came to love jazz, and that helped me to appreciate certain aspects of the film. When Fletcher fires a player for being out of tune, I knew the player wasn’t, but Fletcher’s point was that if the player didn’t know whether he was out of tune then he had no business being in a jazz orchestra. Fair point, harshly made. And every time Fletcher calls out Neiman, saying he’s dragging or rushing, in each case he’s right. Fletcher may be a bully, a completely unsympathetic character, but he’s an excellent judge of musical ability and technique.

That said, you don’t need an obsessive interest in the drums or any knowledge of jazz to appreciate this film. The relationship between Fletcher and Neiman is complex; it takes many turns from outright abuse to grudging acceptance yet remains mostly believable, and is compelling enough to draw in any cinema fan. If you’ve ever been passionate about something, if you’ve ever been competitive, you’ll relate in some way to Neiman’s ambition and Fletcher’s insistence on excellence.

Each member of the film brings their own element of musical expertise: JK Simmons has a music degree and studied conducting; Miles Teller has been a self-taught rock drummer since he was 16; Director Damien Chazelle drew on his own experiences in a jazz orchestra to conceive, write and direct the film; and most of members of the two orchestras in the film are professional musicians. (And a special shout-out to the editor, Tom Cross, who cut the last drum solo so expertly that even if you were hunting for flaws they’re hard to find.)

This perfect storm of creativity and experience is evident throughout. It’s a fully realised story; well-written, authentic, inspirational, challenging. Although Whiplash is nominated for the 2014 Academy Award for Best Picture, I reckon it’s unlikely that a niche film like this will win. (I’d love to be proved wrong.) However not only will this movie make it onto my must-see list for 2015, I think it will stand the test of time and have a place in my favourite films list from now on.

The Multiverse

is a blog from an Irish writer and DJ which takes in a wide range of subject matter as follows: Monday’s blogs are related to literature and writing; Tuesday is fashion, style and beauty; Wednesday is music; Thursday is TV and cinema; and Friday is a miscellany.

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Thank you Dublin City for another beautiful day! #Dublin #Quays #Liffey #sunset My new favourite mug! #grammarnazi #getitfuckingright Horizontal and vertical stripes in one outfit. I may have confused people today. DJing today and tomorrow at @dundrumtc for #runwayrules fashion shows. Always such a pleasure working with the team here! Bubbles and sunshine... Easter lilies (and roses and daisies and gerberas). A beautiful bouquet from my Daddio!

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