J. T. Edson on Boot Hill

Long before Laurence James, Angus Wells or myself set out on the trail, another British writer of westerns, J. T. Edson, rode out before us. A collector of replica weapons, with decidedly traditional, not to say extreme right-wing views – in one of his novels he celebrated the Ku Klux Klan as an heroic resistance group – there was a period in the 1960s and early 70s when his westerns – and he wrote just short of 140 of them from his home in Melton Mowbray in the East Midlands – sold well enough for his name to be mentioned alongside that of best-selling American author Louis L’Amour.

J. T. Edson

J. T. Edson

But tastes were changing, and the Edge series of novels, published by New English Library and written by Terry Harknett under the name of George G. Gilman, were more to an emerging public’s taste: violent, sexually explicit and fast-moving, the west that they resembled was that of the Sam Peckinpah and the Spaghetti Western, rather than the more down-to-earth B Movie west peopled on screen by the likes of the baby-faced World War Two hero, Audie Murphy.

In the wake of Edge and another Harknett/Gilman creation, Adam Steele, Laurence James, Angus Wells and myself, writing in a series of combinations and under a variety of pen names, worked on a number of series through the mid- to late-70s, Herne the Hunter, Hawk and The Gringos amongst them. As a publishing phenomenon it was successful if short-lived, though many of the titles are now available against as eBooks through Picadilly Publishing.

Born in Worksop, son of a miner, and educated in Shirebrook, Edson served for four years in the army, afterwards undertaking a number of mundane jobs including that oƒ postman, before turning his hand to writing. Poor health, added to the virtual demise of the western as a popular form, led him to stop writing in the 1990s and from then until the end of his life in July of this year, he had apparently lived as a virtual recluse.

 

Young Vic – “A Streetcar Named Desire”

It took something close to an act of faith to book as far ahead for the Young Vic’s production as we did – other than a vague ‘summer 2014′ there weren’t even any dates when we laid out our cash. We could have been in Croatia or Penwith or just about anywhere … but the promise of Gillian Anderson as Blanche under Benedict Andrews’ direction … Worth a punt, surely?

Surely.

Without being as transformative as the version of The Three Sisters he directed and partly rewrote for the Young Vic in 2012, what Andrews achieves here, by dint of a fairly understated updating, is to remove Tennessee Williams’ play from the baroque cocoon of Southern Gothic and place it in something more contemporary, a study of sexual need and frustration, a portrait of a deteriorating mind.

Played on an open set and a slowly revolving stage that switches both tempo and direction, one of Andrews’ strongest achievements – and one which both rebalances and thickens the texture of the play – is to raise up the role of Blanche’s sister, Stella, to that, almost of an equal, where this is her story as well, her pain and her need, and in Vanessa Kirby (Masha in his Three Sisters) he has an actress with the presence and physicality necessary to claim her place in the story.

Vanessa Kirby

Vanessa Kirby

Gillian Anderson is at her best in the quieter moments, those looking back on the tragedies of her past, while giving Blanche a self-awareness and a brittle sexuality that brings out the occasional humour of the lines even as she shows us the unravelling of her mind. Amongst the other performers, I thought Corey Johnson excellent as Mitch, her would-be suitor, so bravely out of his depth, and only Ben Foster’s Stanley somehow failed to bring the necessary magnetism to his role, diminished here perhaps by the vibrancy of both Blanche and Stella. Not The Three Sisters, but The Two Sisters?

 

At the Movies: “Boyhood”

Richard Linklater is one of those movie directors for whom less is more (witness the way he strung out the Sunrise trilogy) and, with Boyhood, he gives us far more of less than any of us really need.

Filmed over 12 years, in order, presumably, to show its central character – Mason, played by Ellar Coltrane – growing and evolving more naturally than would have been the case had he used actors of different ages – there were times, during the earlier sections especially, when it felt as if it was going to be 12 years in the viewing.

Truth is, very little – one martinet, secret-drinking father aside – that happens to Mason during his pre-teen and early teenage years is of much interest at all; little that we haven’t seen or read in umpteen previous accounts of suburban life in America. Nor does the film succeed in showing – and this is one of my main arguments with it – how the events and emotions of this earlier life turn him into the responsible, emotionally guarded and artistic young man he’s seen to have become. Rather, it’s as if somehow he passes through boyhood relatively untouched, his future determined not by actual life but rather by happenstance – an interest in and talent for photography, for instance, that comes, not from the character but the young actor playing him – and by the demands of a script, however loose, that was based around, one might assume, some kind of fairly idealised version of Linklater himself.

The other flaw for me in the film is the in way it privileges, all too easily, the feckless charm of Mason’s biological, but occasional, father, as played winningly by Linklater favourite Ethan Hawke, here a failed muso turned insurance company actuary who takes the kid bowling and offers poor advice about relationships with girls, against the solid, more predictable presence of Patricia Arquette as the mother, steadily moving herself up the academic ladder while making the worst possible choices in husbands. What she should have done, the film suggests, is to have been more patient with good old Ethan in the first place, let him sew a few more wild oats in Alaska or wherever, and wait for him to become the fairly boring figure he is with his second family.

Most critics, I know – including one or two I trust, such as Nigel Andrews and Anthony Lane – have found a great deal here to admire. I’d like to have joined them, but I can’t.

 

 

 

Harvey Interviewed x 2

Those who were at Harrogate recently for the Theakstons’ International Crime Festival and lucky enough (?) to have been in the audience for the final session of the weekend, in which I was interviewed by Mark Billingham about my crime writing career and why I’m bringing it towards an end, seem to reckon, most of them anyway, that it was a pretty okay occasion.

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For those who missed it, I can offer up, via YouTube,  an earlier interview – conversation, really – with Mark, conducted in the old New Cross police station …

And for those who prefer the written word, here’s an interview conducted with Graham Smith of The Crime Squad earlier on that Sunday morning at Harrogate …

Just a word of warning about the latter – it was early in the morning and I probably had enjoyed one (or two) too many Jameson the night before, so my usual off-the-cuff coherence is not always in evidence.

 

Chandler on Style

The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly,your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.

Raymond Chandler

It goes without saying that my own publisher and agent are exempt from the above, but otherwise I think Chandler’s got it spot on.

Art Chronicles: Mooching Around Tate Britain

Back down in London after a pleasant, eventful and stormy weekend amongst the nation’s crime writers at Theakston’s International Crime Festival in Harrogate – (Sorry, Val McDermid and doubtless others – I should move that apostrophe to the other side of the final S) – and what was I going to with my first morning back in the capital? As it happened, other matters took me out Pimlico way and thus it was more or less decided for me … a visit, far from unusual, to Tate Britain. I was there close enough to opening time to be the first one up the spiral staircase to the newly elevated Members’ Room and the barista’s first flat white of the day, which I enjoyed in peace and tranquility until a fellow member chose to park herself near me and conduct a mobile phone conversation with a presumably deaf friend, detailing the problems, that morning, of changing trains at Wimbledon.

Stopping only to pick up a complaints form, I hightailed it down to the main floor where my eye was caught, quite by chance, by the elongated and superbly controlled explosion of red that is Anthony Caro’s Early One Morning from 1962.

Early One Morning 1962 by Sir Anthony Caro born 1924

‘Early One Morning’ Anthony Caro

Made from steel and aluminium and marking a shift in Caro’s work away from more realistic forms towards abstraction and the strong, flat single colours favoured by the American Abstract Expressionists, it carries with it, nonetheless, echoes of Henry Moore and his sculptures of mother and child.

And this, of course, is one of  the marvels of Tate Britain as it is now hung, step into one of the rooms and an area of British art at a particular period surrounds you; one piece of work leads painlessly, pointedly to another. Beyond the Caro, on the left hand wall, are two of the more famous David Hockneys  – A Bigger Splash and Mr & Mrs Clark and Percy – bisected by a beautiful – joyous, even – John Hoyland, in thrall also to the Abstract Expressionists but none the worse for that, it’s Rothko-like, maybe more Elsworth Kelly-like reverberating red offset by strips of dark green and paler grey.

28. 5. 66 1966 by John Hoyland 1934-2011

’28. 5. 66′ John Hoyland

Continue along the wall and at the furthest end, beyond the arch, is one of Frank Auerbach’s paintings of Primrose Hill – accompanied, it seems, by a persistent bird song that first of all has me looking up at the ceiling to see if one has somehow sneaked in and then draws me through the arch and into the adjoining room, where, beside Michael Andrews’ marvellous Melanie and Me Swimming, a small and old-fashioned looking television screen is showing Gilbert and George’s In the Bush, a blurry piece of video focussed vaguely on said bush, in front of which a figure (or are they figures?) of someone (or ones) seems to be moving. George, perhaps? Or Gilbert? Possibly both. And what are they up to in there? No doubt about the bird though, which, while I can’t identify it’s particular call, just keeps on singing.

'Melanie and Me Swimming'  Michael Andrews

‘Melanie and Me Swimming’ Michael Andrews

Placed just a little further along is Tony Cragg’s Stack, a rectangle of compressed materials – wood, concrete, brick, metal, plastic, textiles, cardboard and paper – which instantly calls to mind  Phyllida Barlow’s gargantuan many-part sculpture, dock, which is currently clambering all over the inside of  the Duveen Galleries – the high-ceilinged, classically proportioned central corridor of Tate Britain – with its wonderfully messy assemblages of timber, card, plasterboard, fabric and polystyrene.

'Stack'  Tony Cragg

‘Stack’ Tony Cragg

Turn away from the Cragg, in fact, step back through the arch and look up past Hoyland and the Hockneys and the Caro and there are the pink, orange and red panels that form one section of Barlows’ work filling the frame and echoing back into the room. Turn again and proceed through the opposite arch,  passing between Richard Long’s A Line Made By Walking and Roger Hilton’s exuberant and de Kooning-like (those Abstract Expressionists again) Oi Yoi You and a visual corridor of magnificent earlier sculptures stretches away – from Henry Moore’s Working Model for Unesco Reclining Figure and Barbara Hepworth’s Corinthos to Epstein’s monumental alabaster Jacob and the Angel.

There. An hour, give or take, mooching about Tate Britain. And what delights, what wonders it contains.

 

More About Charlie – Haden, That Is

Since learning of the death of the superlative American bass player, Charlie Haden, whom I wrote about here …, I’ve been listening to quite a lot of his music, and not only the prized jazz stuff with Ornette Coleman and Keith Jarrett, with Path Metheny and Hank Jones, but also to a 2008 album called Rambling Boy, a collection of bluegrass and country songs dedicated to the memory of his parents with whom, along with other siblings, he performed on the Haden Family Radio Show from – would you believe this? – the age of two. And there’s a short and scratchy sample of his two-year-old yodelling on the CD to prove it.

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The family connections are kept up on the recording, which features vocals by his three daughters, Rachel, Petra & Tanya – separately and together – by his son, Josh, and his wife, Ruth. Pat Metheny plays guitar on most tracks – and an exquisite solo on one, ‘Is This America (Katrina 2005) – and the other superbly accomplished musicians include Jerry Douglas on dobro, Sam Bush on mandolin, Stuart Duncan on fiddle and John Leventhal on guitar. Guest vocalists include Elvis Costello (a great ‘You Win Again’), Vince Gill, Ricky Scaggs, Bruce Hornsby and Rosanne Cash.

As Haden says, his life changed when, at the age of 15 he heard Charlie Parker playing with Jazz at the Philharmonic in Omaha, Nebraska, and knew he had to play not country but jazz. Maybe so, but as this album proves, all those young country radio years never fully went away nor were forgotten.

And if you want to read more about Charlie Haden, there’s a very nice piece by Geoff Dyer in today’s Guardian, and another on Michael Carlson’s excellent blog, Irresistible Targets.