Thursday, 23 August 2018

MAMMA MIA: HERE WE GO AGAIN ...




The birthday fun continues. The firstborn is thirty-one today, impossibly. I have just been recounting the brutal birth to the assembled troops, and the girls are horrified. That's how it was in those days. Gas and air if you were lucky, a perineum torn from ear to ear (figuratively - they had me in stitches, literally), and a post partum haemorrhage to bring up the rear. As you were, people.
I'd like to write that I was a child bride. There was in fact no such luxury. Her father decided that he didn't want kids after all, and legged it to California. I had choices, and decided to go it alone. With a full-time job on Fleet Street, travelling transatlantically by the week, it wasn't the easiest. Nick Gordon saved my life when he poached me from the Mail to YOU Magazine, in those days a seriously credible rival to the Sunday Times Magazine. Nick was Editor of the Year three times in succession. How I wish he were still alive. 
My dream job there took me from the wings of West Coast stages to Iraqi war zones; from remote South Dakotan farms to Barry White's barbecue in Encino. I interviewed the world, it felt like, at times. Not even Frank Sinatra, who famously never gave interviews, escaped me. And all of it, for the first five years until she had to go to school, with my roving reporter Mia Clementine Jones under one arm. By this time, we were based in LA. The acclaimed movie producer Julia Phillips, who was the first woman to win an Oscar for Best Picture ('The Sting', 1973) and who also won accolades for Scorsese's 'Taxi Driver' and Spielberg's 'Close Encounters of the Third Kind', once offered me $3,000 in exchange for my daughter. True story. Charlton Heston took her to church, Grace Jones had her for lunch (not quite literally), and Billy Idol had her over to play with his little boy Willem. When Mia was offered the role of Macaulay Culkin's little English cousin in 'Home Alone 3', I knew it was time to return to Blighty. Reality check. A normal life beckoned.
We had eight years as a dynamic duo until marriage got the better of me. It was doomed, ultimately. But Mia got out of it the brother and sister she had craved. It has never been boring, not a minute of it, despite everything that went wrong. Eric Clapton once pointed out, a year or so after his little son Connor died so tragically, that there are things you don't get over. You have to find a comfortable place to put them. But they're always there. Despite all the angst and heartache and stress and backbreak of single motherhood - any motherhood - I would do it all again in a beat.
Happy birthday, beautiful firstborn. Keep in mind that life always offers second chances. It's called tomorrow. More than anything, be self-deprecating. You have no choice. When the hecklers get the better of you, get better. I love you, Mia. Love, Mamma.


Saturday, 11 August 2018

I WILL SURVIVE




Definitive anthems of indefatigable womanhood (Philip Norman’s phrase): I’ve been thinking about them. This was prompted by the ‘I Will Survive’ weekend, a wild trip to Sitges below Barcelona for my debut live experience of Disco Queen Gloria Gaynor. How can that be, I wonder? I’ve seen everybody else. I just never got around to seeing Glo. Her globally-cherished self-empowerment classic was a bit of fun during days of wode and karaoke bars. It acquired significance for me while I was trying to get over my divorce. At first I was afraid, I was petrified … but I grew strong, and I learned how to get along. Discerning male music-lovers of my close acquaintance tend to scoff at both Gloria and at her chart chestnuts. Because they’re men, I guess. I can’t think of many artists of any gender who would turn up their noses at ‘Never Can Say Goodbye’, ‘I Am What I Am’ and ‘Survive’ as a hit legacy. Nor at her bank balance.

At sixty-nine, the artist is flagging, physically. But the voice remains rich and powerful. She has a three-sixty stage presence and a spiritual energy that reach to the bleachers, inspiring even the guys to punch the air. But despite the sizeable gay contingent present, this was incontestably ladies’ night. Glo’s entire show was a tense, perfectly-orchestrated build-up to the Freddie Perren/ Dino Fekaris chart-topper, the pièce de résistance, the one we’d all come to hear. She slid into it sensuously, like an aural striptease, dragging out the suspense, bringing us to the brink, then going for the full-on disembogue. We howled, we shuddered.

I’m not ashamed to admit that this was the song that reminded me to be a bitch. To kick ass. To get up off it and to go again. To rescue my children and celebrate the end of all things bad. Still think about him? Only fleetingly. It’s the negative that surfaces. The smashing up the kitchen, extra-virgin and Merlot running down the walls at breakfast time. The endless lockings in the cellar, the Courvoisier bottle to the head. Who needs? Baby, I’m done. Go on, now, go. Still bitter about the many wasted years? Get outta here. Life begins again. It begins again every morning. All it takes is somebody to love. Miss Ross, I’m still waiting.

But I know so many women in bad relationships. We’re not supposed to be angry, are we. Where-we-are-we-are is not compulsory in the 21st century. Contempt and boredom are life-threatening. There are choices. Come on now, quit. Get out, get happy. Convert your broken heart into a crystal ball for a brand-new life. If I can, anyone can. Digging my clichés?

Empowering women with music is no new thing. Wind back through Beyoncé’s ‘If I Were a Boy’ and ‘Irreplaceable’, Lily Allen’s ‘Smile’, Alanis Morissette’s ‘You Oughta Know’ via Mary J. Blige’s ‘Enough Cryin’’, Dusty’s ‘All Cried Out’, circumnavigating Queen Latifah and Christina, Alicia and Cyndi and Shania, pausing at Janet Jackson’s ‘Control’, Nancy’s ‘Boots’, Aretha’s ‘Respect’. Take it all the way back to Arthur Hamilton’s ‘Cry Me a River’, a hit for Julie London in 1955 but really for Ella, whose version I favour only a little ahead of Crystal Gayle’s (’though Shirley Bassey’s, Dinah Washington’s and Streisand’s takes are hard to beat too); to Loretta, Tammy and Dolly and, ultimately, to blessed Kitty Wells. Who reminds us, in her rendition of Jimmy D. Miller’s killer, that ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’:
      
      '… as you said in the words of your song,
           too many times married men think they’re still single,
           that has caused many a good girl to go wrong.'

Same as it ever was?

‘Ever it was’, actually.




Wednesday, 8 August 2018

NEON GODS: THE SOUND OF SILENCE




NEON, a new play by Patrick Swain,
Presented by Caged Bird Theatre 
Touring production of Exeter, Nottingham and the Camden Fringe Festival 2018



Lawyer Sarah shares her flat with reclusive oddball John, who seems to think that he’s God. Sarah’s psychotherapist girlfriend Jude is counselling an American patient called Thomas, who hears voices and sees visions of a man in his flat. When Jude goes round to Sarah’s and comes face to face with John and his laurel-wreath necklace, connections are made that have far-reaching and sinister consequences.

The theme of ‘Neon’ is religion in both its universal and most personal sense. Which poses questions. Have social media and our obsession with Self replaced the need for faith in a higher power? Or has it made us more dependent on it? Humanity having made gods – false idols – of material things, which we invented ourselves, how do we control their effect on our minds and desires going forward?

This tight, funny, tragic, often devastating piece hinges on a line from ‘the Sound of Silence’, the 1964/65 song by Simon and Garfunkel from their debut album ‘Wednesday Morning, 3A.M.’: ‘And the people bowed and prayed/to the neon gods they made.’ The internet was a world away at that point. Most modern forms of communication were sci-fi fantasies. Did Paul Simon experience premonition, or was he just a kid strumming a guitar and chewing words on the bathroom floor? His reference to neon signs was a comment on advertising and consumerism rather than on social media that did not yet exist. But the message remains relevant. The more technological methods of interaction we create, the less capable we are of communicating with each other in real terms. The less inclined we are towards original thought. You get the picture.

The biblical references are subtle, but also loud and clear. During Jesus Christ’s ministry, ‘followers’ were not the faithful, but were idol-worshipers. What else are we today? Both faith and social media are about people finding their reality and truth in a non-physical dimension. The thought of ‘God’ liaising via Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and blogging in order to preserve and perpetuate faith might seem absurd. Until Swain, inspired, follows the rabbit down the hole, that is, giving us ‘Jude’ and ‘Abraham’, summoning ghosts of Christmases past and yet to come, flinging unpalatable truths in our startled faces and challenging us on the most provocative tenet of all: that it doesn’t really matter what we believe, as long as we believe in something.

Prepare thy table. Belief is a construct, a cultural constant, this precocious young playwright knows. Behold, the shepherd and his sheep. Likewise after supper, he took the communion Capri-Suns.