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.

I’m taking a wee break from the Ten Favourite Books reviews as I bought so many new books that I haven’t had time to reread anything. As I mentioned before Christmas, John Niven was one of my favourite literary discoveries of last year. I bought Straight White Male in Three Lives & Company in New York and read it in its entirety on the flight home from New York. Niven’s writing made me laugh more than anything else I’ve read in a long time.

I decided to buy another of his books with one of my Xmas pressie book tokens and I picked up The Second Coming. When I finished it, I went back to Hodges Figgis the very next day to buy Kill Your Friends. It’s very rare these days that I devour an author’s work in one go. I used to do it when I was a teenager – find a new favourite writer and binge-read their entire output in a week – but that hasn’t happened to me in a while. Niven has published five novels and I’ve now read three, two in the space of forty-eight hours.

Niven is a Scottish writer who started his professional life in major labels in London in the 1990s at the zenith of Britpop. He left the industry in 2002 to write full-time, published a novella in 2005, and his first novel, Kill Your Friends, was published in 2008. Kill Your Friends is set in the music industry and features a thoroughly dislikable, morally reprehensible, Machiavellian, slimy, superior, vicious yet savagely funny main character called Steven Stelfox. Stelfox is an A&R man for a major label and given the excesses of the industry at the time, the book is filled to the brim with sex, drugs and very bad behaviour. (I worked for Sony BMG in London in 2005 and 2006 and recognise much of the industry detail in the book. It’s spot-on and easy to see that Niven was an insider.)

The Second Coming was the third novel Niven published. The brilliant premise of the book is that God (a joint-smoking and profane God with movie-star good looks) takes a week long holiday to go on a fishing trip. Time in heaven passes much more slowly than on earth, so when God left it was the Renaissance, which as he says was all, ‘Art up the wazoo, continents discovered like it was going out of fashion. I mean, yeah, you could already see that we were gonna have to watch the fucking Catholics, but on the whole it was looking promising.’

When God comes back it’s 2011 and the world is, not to put too fine a point on it, fucked. God decides to ‘send the kid back’ and so Jesus returns to earth as a singer and guitarist living in New York City. Jesus realises that the way to get his message out to the largest audience is to go on a reality TV show, American Pop Star, and Steven Stelfox makes another appearance in this novel as a character not unlike Simon Cowell. There are some brilliantly observed scenes in the book, especially those which take place in hell; Hitler is forever doomed to serve rabbis in the cafeteria, G.W. Gordon is sexually assaulted by large black men for all eternity, and the music playing is ‘Hip To Be Square’, ‘My Heart Will Go On’ and ‘I Believe I Can Fly’.

Straight White Male is Niven’s latest book and rather than me talking about it, have a listen to John being interviewed about it here:

 

 

The primary thing I love about Niven’s work is his capacity to make me laugh out loud. Viven Leigh once said with regards to acting that that it is much easier to make people cry than to make them laugh. I think that’s even more true for literature. We all can have empathy for characters and vicariously feel the pain of the trauma they go through, but we are much more subjective and idiosyncratic about the things that make us laugh. Niven makes me laugh. A lot. In fact I’ve read the first sixty pages of The Second Coming numerous times since I bought it, sometimes to just enjoy it and laugh, other times to pick it apart and see how his phrasing, detail or style works.

Niven is a hugely talented writer and there are far too few good comic novelists working today. I’ll be reading his other two books very soon.

The last time I culled my library was when I moved into my house two and a half years ago and I have bought a lot (a very many lot) of books since then. This Christmas my wonderful father gave me a gorgeous leather-bound complete set of the works of Charles Dickens, and I also received book tokens for Hodges Figgis (as regular readers know, it’s my favourite Dublin bookshop) and Amazon (which enabled me to tackle some of my wishlist, currently numbering nine pages).

All this meant that I had to make space on my shelves. And so, in the spirit of giving (which is for life, not just for Christmas), I am offering Multiverse readers free books!

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All of these are up for grabs!

 

I removed eleven books from my library based on the fact that I wouldn’t read them again. Trust me, I was being ruthless and I had to free up much needed real estate; I wouldn’t gift bad books to anyone and these are worth reading. Consider it a New Year pressie from the Multiverse to you!

So if you’d like a book or two, have a look at the list below and let me know in the comments which ones you’d like, then message me your postal address and I’ll send them on. (The only caveat is that you get to choose two books maximum as the postage might be a bit much otherwise!)

If you haven’t heard of the books, I have linked each one to its Amazon page where you can read a bit more about it before making up your mind, and where possible I have linked to the edition you’ll receive.

Happy New Year and happy browsing!

  • Mimi by Lucy Ellman – A New York love story; funny and neurotic. My criticism is that it’s not all that memorable.
  • Charlotte Gray, Engleby and Human Traces by Sebastian Faulks – I am a fan of Faulks’ work but realistically I’m only ever going to reread a couple of his books so these three are up for grabs. All are great novels.
  • Ten Thousand Saints by Eleanor Henderson – A Bildungsroman set in 1980s New York, where two teenagers try to reconcile the death of their friend.
  • Mr. Chartwell by Rebecca Hunt –  Multiverse review here.
  • Confessions of a Failed Southern Lady by Florence King – A witty memoir from a modern woman whose grandmother pushed her to be a traditionally perfect Southern belle with mixed results. As the author rather succinctly puts it, ‘No matter which sex I went to bed with, I never smoked on the street.’
  • Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel – Published in 2010 before her award-winning success with historical fiction (Wolf Hall, Bring Up The Bodies), Beyond Black tells a quirky modern day story of a psychic medium in London.
  • BUtterfield 8 by John O’Hara – Famously adapted into a movie starring Elizabeth Taylor, who won her first Academy Award for her performance as Gloria Wandrous. Check out the trailer here.
  • The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles – A 1930s romp narrated by the captivating Katey Kontent. It’s not entirely successful in terms of great writing but it is an entertaining read.
  • Netherland by Joseph O’Neill – A much lauded book that I found difficult to fully connect with; I think it was the detailed descriptions of cricket that proved a problem. But that’s just me, and like anyone else I can be limited in my tastes, you may find it much more interesting.
  • Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson –  A charming story of a daily maid whose life is transformed after twenty-four hours working for a flighty but charismatic nightclub singer. First published in 1938, it was recently adapted for a film starring Frances McDormand and Amy Adams. Check out the trailer here.

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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Myself and Jim enjoying a long overdue catch-up in The Shelbourne. (And a lil kiss!) Someone had fun with the display in Eason's. It wasn't me! #Easons #Dublin #romanticanimals Possibly one of my favourite pics ever! Me and my niece Tessa having the craic. #funtimes #niece Vicar Street tonight - Choice Music Prize. Only in Ireland is a bar sponsored by God. #ChoiceMusicPrize #VicarStreet #Dublin #onlyinIreland Snapped while DJing in Whelan's tonight. Thanks J! #DJing #Dublin #DJlife #FrendsHeadphones #Frends Spending the day with my Dad who is 70 today! Am so proud and lucky to be his daughter.

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