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 wishes you all a very merry Christmas! It’s the time for chilling out, sleeping, reading, watching, partying, and debaucherous fun. I hope you all have a wonderful holiday and a well-deserved rest. Here’s some of what I’ll be doing…

I’ll be tackling some of the current pile by my bed. John Niven’s The Second Coming is first on my list. Niven is one of my favourite literary discoveries of 2014; I read Straight White Male in its entirety on the flight home from New York and it made me laugh more than any novel in years.

Also in the pile is Rory O’Neill’s autobiography Panti: Woman in the Making. Panti was one of 2014’s Irish stars. Her speech, ‘Panti’s Noble Call’, in The Abbey Theatre was one of the most powerful things I’ve heard this year, and was described by Fintan O’Toole as ‘the most eloquent Irish speech since Daniel O’Connell was in his prime.’ I couldn’t agree more.

I’m very much looking forward to delving into the best Longform pieces of 2014. For those of you who don’t know the site, Longform provides links to classic and current essays, articles and interviews that are over 2,000 words. It’s one of my weekly reads and well worth checking out.

These inspiring graduation speeches by famous women will provide some food for thought.

I’ll mostly be wearing these new trousers and keeping an eye on this sale.

I’m going to take the time to watch some of 2014’s lauded documentaries and feature films that I haven’t yet seen. Despite all my best intentions I never got to see Interstellar so that’s got to be sorted out. I’m really intrigued by this documentary about one of my favourite songwriters:

 

 

And I can’t wait to see American Sniper. I know it’s a movie that panders to America’s hero complex but it still looks like a great piece of cinema.

 

 

My grandmother was a big fan of Nat King Cole and she always played his albums at Christmas. ‘Stardust’ is one of my favourite songs of his.

 

 

While we’re at it, this Christmas song always puts me in a good mood.

 

 

And if this carol doesn’t bring on the Christmas magic, I’ve lost all hope for you.

 

 

My Christmas tree has become rather crispy and droopy so I won’t disturb you with a photograph of it. Instead I’ll disturb you with a photo from last year which I entitled ‘Mad Santa’! Merry Christmas!

 

Last week I started a thread on Facebook where I asked people what song was guaranteed to get them on the dance floor. It didn’t matter the genre or the decade, it just had to be the one song that would always make them shake their tail feather. The thread is now running at over one hundred comments with songs ranging from ABBA to obscure drum and bass. I’ve been diligently making my way through them and discovering lots of new music in the process.

‘Arp #1′ by Jackson and his Computer Band is a gem of a club tune which was released last year on Warp Records. It’s slightly filthy, very bleepy, and very danceable!

 

 

On a completely different tip, I also checked out someone’s recommendation for this lovely chilled-out hip hop tune from 2008, ‘Life is Better’ by Q-Tip (who can do no wrong as far as I’m concerned) featuring Norah Jones. I love the video too!

 

 

(And please feel free to let me know in the comments what your favourite dancefloor tune is!)

 

If This Is A Man/The Truce were written by Primo Levi, first published in 1979 and first read by me in 2006. Levi was an Italian chemist who is most famous for his accounts of being a prisoner in Auschwitz, the concentration camp synonymous with the Holocaust. After his imprisonment he returned to his profession but also had a successful career as an author. If This Is A Man was his first book, The Truce followed a few years afterwards; both are memoirs, the first detailing his experiences in Auschwitz and the second his long journey home to Italy after the war.

Of all the Ten Favourite Books this was the one that I was least looking forward to re-reading. The first time I read it, I had to put it down several times to cry and to come to terms with what I’d just read. It’s a brave book: honest, unflinching, non-judgmental yet unsparing in its detail of inconceivable atrocities. Levi’s intention was to ‘bear witness'; the facts would speak for themselves, any emotional embellishment was unnecessary, insulting and belitting.

Yet the books that Levi wrote were emotionally devastating. He fully realised his creative objective which was to record events as they happened with the minimum of judgement or hatred. The book details the horror of the Holocaust: the unimaginable cruelty, the daily threat of death, the starvation and sickness, the elimination of hope, the reduction of every human being to their most basic animal instinct. Some survived and felt forever guilty for it, some capitulated, unable to withstand the everyday horror. Nobody won.

Levi died in 1987, forty-one years after the liberation of Auschwitz. Whether he committed suicide or had an accident has been the subject of dispute. In the last pages of The Truce it becomes apparent how Auschwitz affected every day of Levi’s life thereafter. He talks about his ‘dream within a dream': in his dreams he experienced happiness and contentment with his family in ‘the green countryside’ but his idyll collapsed and disintegrated and he was back in the camp, alone in the centre of a chaotic desperate void. In his dreams, his contentment with his family was the dream, and the camp was the reality he could never escape from.

Look, this isn’t a book that most people will get enjoyment out of, it’s not a feel-good book, it’s certainly not a festive Christmas read and so it’s odd to review it at this time of year, but this is a book that everyone needs to read. After the evidence of genocide in the Second World War came to light, the world was appalled and vowed to never let it happen again, but yet our recent history shows us that we have not learned our lesson: Rwanda, Syria, Palestine, Bosnia. Perhaps if occasionally we decide to read books that are challenging, emotionally disturbing, unpleasant, we can learn something valuable about ourselves and others.

I’ve been watching a spate of crime documentaries recently; as regular readers will know, I adore gangster movies and love documentaries so it’s a perfect match, plus it’s research for my next book. In case you’re also interested, here are some recommendations from the multitude I’ve watched over the last few weeks.

The Central Park Five

In 1989 New York was a very different place; racial tensions were high, violent crime was a fact of daily life, and the gulf between rich and poor divided the city. I was there for the first time in 1990 and the sense of danger was palpable: Port Authority was a no-go area, I was told not to walk around at night, and even Central Park had become notorious. The reason for this was that the previous year the city was appalled when a young female jogger was found raped and brutally beaten in Central Park.

The crime drew widespread media attention and the police force were under tremendous pressure to find the culprits and bring them to justice. Five young black men were eventually tried and convicted of the crime. However the young men’s confessions, the primary prosecution weapon against them, were coerced and they were innocent.

This documentary shows the events that lead to this miscarriage of justice: how the boys were intimidated, repeatedly denied due process, and left to rot in jail. The film also gives a real sense of New York at the time, a completely different city to the sanitised safe tourist attraction it is now. Well worth watching.

 

 

Whitey: United States of America v James J. Bulger

Having spent twelve years on the FBI Ten Most Wanted Fugitives list and sixteen years on the lam, notorious crime boss Whitey Bulger was finally apprehended on June 22nd 2011. In November 2013 Bulger was finally convicted on charges of murder and racketeering and is now serving two consecutive life terms.

Bulger was the head of the Winter Hill Gang in Boston in the 1970s. He was highly intelligent and mercenary, eliminating other criminals, intimidating business owners, shaking down drug dealers, donating money and arms to the IRA, and committing many murders, but all the while seeming not to draw too much attention from law enforcement.

Bulger was famously the inspiration for Jack Nicholson’s character Frank Costello in The Departed, a crime boss who is also an FBI informant. This film goes a long way towards proving that Whitey himself was working with the FBI during his active years and they essentially sanctioned his criminal activities in exchange for valuable information. It show how government departments colluded with a criminal to serve both their interests, although law enforcement officials repeatedly deny this during the film. The film is directed by Joe Berlinger who has previously won acclaim for his Paradise Lost documentary series and it’s riveting.

 

 

The Staircase

The Staircase is an eight part documentary series first aired in 2004 and it covers the trial of Michael Peterson, a Vietnam veteran and author living in North Carolina. Peterson called 911 on the night of December 9th 2001 to say that he had found his wife lying dead in a pool of blood at the bottom of the stairs. When police arrived to check out the scene it looked more like a homicide than an accident and Peterson became their prime suspect.

Initially the accusation seemed unbelievable; by all accounts the Petersons were a very happy couple, they had a large family with three biological and two adopted children, they were successful and monied, and there seemed to be no motive. But as the series progresses, facts come to light that turn everyone’s opinion upside down. Peterson appeared to be leading a double life and there is a suspicious death in his past that may have bearing on his trial.

Over six hours we see the lead-up to the trial, how Peterson’s lawyers put together his defence using focus groups, forensic experts and traveling extensively to interview many people from Peterson’s past. For anyone interested in the law, it’s a fascinating look at the legal process in the US and shows how much money is required to mount a defence, a fact which doesn’t escape Peterson who notes that if he were poor, he would probably have been convicted immediately.

 

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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DJing tonight in Whelan's. #Dublin #DJing #Whelans Spending the day with my Dad who is 70 today! Am so proud and lucky to be his daughter. All set for a certain someone's 70th birthday tomorrow.  #birthday #daughter #70 #BestDad Bo and I swapped glasses. I reckon we both look super stylish! #nephew Bo being cool in his Mickey Mouse shades! Me and Tessa freezing in Phoenix Park!

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