Metaphors On Ice

ICE by Anna Kavan. Picador. 40p.

Inside the cover of this book is a photograph of the author. She leans forward, carefully curled hair, a neat sweater, a heart shaped locket, meticulously made-up and smiling. The sort of woman you see in country pubs on Sunday mornings.

Anna Kavan was a junkie for the last 30 years of her life, and died at 67 in London, 1968.

It is understandable that Ice, considered her best work, should be coloured by her experiences with heroin. In fact she has used ice as a metaphor for heroin. Vast glaciers of ice rapidly overtaking earth.

The plot is Kafka-esque search by a man for the girl he once loved. His search takes him through Northern countries rapidly being brought to a halt by a combination of ice and facism. Time and again he almost finds her, but she disappears or is killed, to be born again and provide the quarry for his hunt.

There is a terrible inevitability to the prose. Search, find, lose, lost – is the rhythm that dominates the book. Altogether a fine metaphysical sci-fi adventure that recalls C S Lewis, and certainly deserves to be read.

Scintillating Rhapsodies – Denis Cohn

THE FIRST SONGSLaura Nyro – CBS 64991

Laura Nyro is raw experience filtered through the swinging prism of sophisticated New York funk. The First Songs, briefly available some years ago, are chronologically first in her relatively small output (5 albums in 7 years). Stylistically, this is perhaps the lushest music she has recorded, and contains three of her most stunning songs – Wedding Bell Blues, Stoney End, And When I Die (all heavily covered by other performers).

Her output of songs is small, but each song is perilously near a classic, and I feel the intensity generated by her records is one of the reasons she has never been taken to the heart of the British public. This isn’t hip muzak, but chamber music pop and demands the sort of total attention and concentration that few people can afford to give.

There’s also a strong element of disturbing truth in most of the songs. Analysis without the analyst. But make no mistake – she swings. The music itself, although based on simple melodic chords, is overlayed by multi-track dubs, and often produces the ‘wall of sound’ often associated with Phil Spector. But in 1966 wasn’t everyone influenced by him?

Laura Nyro is an enigma. Her name often appears in all the right publications, but her private life (except the clues she provides in her lyrics) is her own. No sleeve-notes – just the lyrics, but it’s possible to guess a lot from them.

And the voice. She knows every trick in the book – the squeals, the excitement, the dark, deep soul notes, and the way to skate across a melody lighter, more delicately than anyone I know. Nyro songs often make the charts, but Nyro LP’s don’t. That’s such shame, put it to rights.

Best Of The Paperbacks

THE MAHOUND by Lance Horner. Pan, 40p.

Those of you who have followed the apparently endless priapic saga of the ‘Flaconhurst’ series of novels, written by Horner and his collaborator Kyle Onstott, licked parched lips over that splendid epic of fellatio ‘Child Of The Sun’, wriggled to ‘Santiago Blood’ and ‘The Tattooed Rood’, will not be disappointed by ‘The Mahound’.

If anything the pricks get bigger, the fucking more frequent and more frantic, and the hero and his friend finally capitulate to the erotic pressures of Africa and get their ends (both ends) away with gentlemen! Needless to say Rory Mahound, the staggeringly well-hung Scottish stud of the title is under the influence of a powerful aphrodisiac at the time. But it’s the first time this reader can remember one of Horner/Onstott’s heroes actually enjoying a little bi-sexuality. Who knows where this permissiveness will lead to next!

This is the eleventh in the series of novels written by this phallically obsessed pair, and one of the best. If you’ve got to read trashy erotica, and don’t we all, then you won’t find better than this at W H Smiths. On second thoughts, buy it somewhere else.

PRICKSONGS AND DESCANTS by Robert Coover. Picador, 50p.

Robert Coover’s stories make rather gloomy reading on the whole. A man makes love to his wife, discovers that she’s been dead for three weeks, and has his genitals smashed to a pulp by a disgusted cop etc, etc. In fact savage attacks and mutilations of one limb or another crop up with almost monotonous regularity.

However there are two stories of true brilliant black humour which will probably appear many times in future horror anthologies.

‘The Hat Act’ takes a magician’s stage show to its horrid, illogical conclusion, while ‘The Baby Sitter’ twines the erotic daydreams of six different people and weaves them into a farcical nightmare that ingeniously arrives at a conclusion that has to be read to be believed. I won’t spoil it for you.

DOWN AND OUT IN BRITAIN by Jeremy Sandford. New English Library, 40p.

‘Edna The Inebriate Woman’ was shown on television some months ago. It was received with enthusiasm, but nothing like the critical acclaim of his earlier work ‘Cathy Come Home’. The reasons are clear – a homeless family has a more immediate appeal than a meths drinking dosser. And yet this book, the background research Sandford used for ‘Edna’, is an even more horrifying indictment of a Welfare State who can spend billions of pounds on destructive weapons and research, and yet has still failed to come to grips with the problems of thousands of sad, wasted people who have somehow lost control of their lives.

Sandford demonstrates with chilling effect how our legal system, law, police, and welfare authorities can turn the inadequate eccentric into a criminal or madman, and that ‘our society is becoming harder and harder for people to live in, and that those who are unable to cope are often not so much helped as given a kick in the crutch.’ Remember that by conservative estimate, 2,000 people will be sleeping rough tonight, in London alone.

For those who care or want to help, there is a list of organisations included who need all kinds of assistance in their endless therapeutic help to the homeless, the addicted, the unfortunates of this world.

An American Scream

The Room – by Hubert Selby Jr.
Published by Calder and Boyars £2.50.

Now that the Media has tired somewhat with The Permissive Society, just as they took up and dropped Swinging London, Drugs and Decimal Currency as soon as their mileage as circulation boosters faltered, it is possible for a book like Hubert Selby’s The Room to be quietly assimilated into the English literary scene without outraged shrieks from The People or purple prosed editorials from The Sunday Express.

It is his first novel since Last Exit To Brooklyn brought the world wide controversy over obscenity, censorship, and the arts to a head; and although it has been dismissed in some quarters as one of the most unpleasant books ever written, it has strengthened the right of the writer and his audience to choose for themselves.

Briefly, the book once again examines the Kafka-like horror of life in American cities; how life and love can be transformed to death and hate through the enigmatic powers of the Fascist State.

A nameless man is confined to a prison cell, his crime is vague and insubstantial, his trial apparently endlessly lived out in his mind. There are masturbatory fantasies of his early teenage experiments – guilt-ridden finger-fucking ending in joyless orgasm; and sadistic fantasies involving platoons of policemen forced into impersonating performing dogs — begging, fucking, licking each other’s arses in front of an audience of their families and children.

It is a weary and joyless novel, conceived in concern and despair, but it is impossible to deny that Selby’s work is amongst the most vital now being written. This is the age when the novel is arguably dead, with only Mailer, Nabokov, Fowles, Lord Longford’s team and a handful of others even trying to keep it alive, and although The Room is unpleasant, probably obscene (it is not an erotic work), it is important nonetheless. Read it.

Warts And All

Bob Dylan by Anthony Scaduto. Abacus paperback – 6Op

Anthony Scaduto’s biography has attempted a portrait of Bob Dylan, warts and all, and what spoils it from being a definitive history of Dylan from childhood until now, is a scarcely hidden veneration approaching idolatory. But between this book and the autobiography that Dylan is reported as writing (will it take as long to reach us as his novel Tarantula, possibly the most famous underground novel of all, until it was finally published), enough material must now be on record to interpret the myths and enigmas which have always surrounded one of the earliest of the Super Stars. Scaduto appears to have interviewed every known Dylan contact — exhaustively.

And the only trouble is that in his effort to appear completely objective (an effort that fails) large chunks of apparently unedited, uninformative interviews roll endlessly on ie: “When I knew him he was in no way being Jewish. That was something he was absolutely not being at all. Even after he knew that I knew he was Bob Zimmerman from up on the Range, he was not being Jewish. He was saying his mother wasn’t…” And this after many pages dealing with Dylan’s early denial of his heritage.

Dylan appears not only as a ruthless, cruel, unhappy manipulator who’s only aim was the pinnacle which he has now found to be so untenable, but as one of Rock ‘n‘ Roll’s few serious claimants for the ‘Genius’ tag.

Rumours that homosexual or bi-sexual episodes in his life have been removed at Dylan’s ‘request’, tie up with Scaduto’s obviously total involvement and admiration.

Nonetheless, an honest enough attempt to present the truth behind the changing face on the LP covers.

Telling it Like You Know it is

Laura Nyro isn’t everybody’s idea of a good time — at first. But like all good things, she grows with knowing, and if you don’t know her you’re missing a treat. She has the emotional appeal of Garland without the hysteria latent in all Judy’s later work, the sophistication of Streisand minus the supper club associations, and above all she’s got Soul, capital S.

Since 1967, the year of her first record and a disastrous appearance at the Monterey Festival (they just weren’t ready for her recreation of a late 50’s Apollo act) that turned so many names into instant Superstars, she’s been achieving not only an ever widening underground audience, but also creeping into public consciousness through the recordings of her own songs by Barbra Streisand – Stony End; the 5th Dimension – Stone Soul Picnic, Sweet Blindness, Wedding Bell Blues; Blood Sweat & Tears’ And When I Die and Three Dog Night’s Eli’s Comin.

Born and bred in New York City of Italian/Jewish stock, Laura is the epitome of city soul. Her songs are about life, love, dope, wine, and the streets – the city kid’s environment in fact – and many of them just have to be autobiographical.

Her songs are hard to describe — some are heavy versions of the best of Bacharach/David, others with their broken time signatures could link with Jimmy Webb. But one thing they all have in common – they swing, and none so much as Gonna Take a Miracle (the latest album). For a non-believer this is the record to get into first, the record that proved to the sceptics that she’s been where they were going – rather like Charlie Mingus had to cut Blues and Roots before he was able to record his more complex themes on his own terms. Miracle is the re-creation of the great early 60’s sounds that just hasn’t been bettered. Backed by Patti Labelle’s group Labelle, side one starts with an acapella version of I Met Him On A Sunday – the sort of thing recently you could hear groups of kids singing in New York subways (great for tone and echo) in the middle 50’s. The Bells contains some of the funkiest back up wailing against Laura’s lead vocal you’ll ever hear. Cold sweat music indeed. Dancing m the Street, You Really Got A hold Of Me, Spanish Harlem and Jimmy Mack are recreated and completely renewed without losing any of the urgent vitality of the originals.

It’s one of the funkiest, funniest, saddest, joyful.recreations of a past era ever attempted, and the liner notes (this is all of them) sum it up well;

Nights

in New York

street angels

running down steps

into the echoes of the train station

to sing …

four crazy angels indeed. And one of the most neglected and underestimated records of this or any other year.

On the other three available records – Eli and the Thirteenth Confession, Christmas and the Beads of Sweat and New York Tendaberry (the first record, originally released by MGM, is now deleted but rumoured for imminent re-release) the songs run the gammut from joy – Sweet Blindness, Stoned Soul Picnic, Lucki, Time and Love, to autobiographical songs that have obviously been painful to live through and helped her to write about.

On most of the songs she double-tracks and manages to produce the effect of a very together Motown back-up group.

All these albums are essential listening to anyone sick of the mindless immediate inanities of T. Rex and their ilk. These records will be valid for a long time – they get under your skin and stay there. Listen in a warm room on winter evening (or for that matter in a cool room in summer) with someone you love. Be still, let it come to you. Feel mellow then feel mellower – you know what I mean?

Laura Nyro records have probably never made CBS a fortune, but as a songwriter the royalties are rolling in, and it’s rumoured that a two million dollar contract has been signed.

Laura insisted, and got, complete control of production and packaging, and for once it’s completely justified.

A consummate artist/songwriter doing what she knows is best. Now it’s only up to you to hear and agree.

Thirties Fans Only

19720914-09Cowardy Custard Directed by Wendy Toye, with Patricia Routledge, Elaine Delmar, Derek Waring, John Moffatt. At the Mermaid Theatre.

I went to a marvellous party, and although I paid for my seat, I felt rather like a gate crasher. Tottering dowagers with ga-ga escorts, exquisite young men in pin-stripe suits and immaculate haircuts, aged flappers and drunken ‘cads’, and for God’s sake, I swear I saw Somerset Maugham! The audience were the sort of people you thought had vanished from the face of the earth — but there they were, like an animated Scarfe cartoon.

We settled down, chattered madly through the overture (the overture?!) then sighed and reminisced through a lovely medley of Coward favourites which introduced us to the cast. It was here that doubt began to set in. While the well-known favourites – I’ll See You Again, Play Orchestra Play, You Were There, obviously stood the test of time, there were far too many that didn’t, and it wasn’t until almost definitive versions of I’ve been to a Marvellous Party by Patricia Routledge and The Stately Homes Of England by 4 of the men, that the evening began to show any sign of promise. The first half ended with Why Must the Show Go On? and it was difficult not to ask ‘Why indeed?’.

The London sequence which opened Part 2 with the cast dressed like Pearly Queens on acid, was an extended disaster, and Patricia Routledge almost wiped out her earlier triumph in a dire, sentimental and patronising monologue I’ve Just Come Out From England with which Mr. Coward presumably bored the troops to death during his many overseas tours of the last war.

Elaine Delmar belted her songs loud and clear, but was clearly wrong for Coward’s deceptively fragile melodies, and Una Stubbs managed to be coyer than even her Cliff Richard Show appearances would lead you to believe.

All told, one for those of you only heavily into 30s nostalgia.