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Looking Back at Writing “Formula 1: The Impossible Collection” For Assouline During Lockdown

September 17, 2021
bradspurgeon

Formula 1: The Impossible Collection

Formula 1: The Impossible Collection http://www.assouline.com

PARIS – The point of this blog for me is usually to write about things happening right now in my life. For more than a year now, I have kept quiet here about one of the biggest things that happened in my life during most of the Covid period we are still living through. I was so busy first doing it – and keeping my mouth closed and fingers crossed about it – and then once finished, talking about it everywhere except for here, with one published interview or review after another – I will run a list of links of those at the end of this post – that I simply did not find the moment to talk about it here! In short, I am referring to the book that I had the opportunity to write about the 100 great, extraordinary, “impossible” moments in Formula One history, since the series began in 1950 and up to the end of last season. The first 70 years of the world’s most popular auto racing series summed up in words and extraordinary images and published by Assouline, one of the world’s top luxury book publishers. So, I am coming late to it here, but since I also see this blog as a personal record of important moments in my life, I have decided that it is better late than never to talk about it!

This book project was offered to me in August 2020, when I was in Sicily and like everyone, found myself in that momentary lull between waves of the biggest pandemic to hit humankind in a century. And, as many readers of this blog will know and be able to related to themselves, I had one part of my life absolutely wiped out by the pandemic: Performing music and doing my other theatre-related activities in public. The performing arts, as everyone knows, were amongst the worst hit – well, of course, not to mention the restaurant industry, the travel industry, airlines and airports, etc. – since to perform in public was one of the easiest and most natural things to ban. And rightly so.

But that left me, like so many musicians and actors and performers, feeling as if we might not be able to breathe if we came down with Covid, but we were not able to breathe without our moments on stage, either! Fortunately for me, I had spent decades of my life devoted exclusively to my other passion of being closed up in my room – or a media center or newspaper office – and writing. Living through words. Living in the mind and not in the outside world or on a stage.

Formula 1: The Impossible Collection promo video by Assouline (turn up the volume!)

So when in August 2020 I was offered this opportunity of writing a book about Formula One for Assouline’s most prestigious collection – the Ultimate – in the series known as “The Impossible Collection,” I didn’t just jump at it, I instantly stopped feeling any regret, pain or other horror for losing that other aspect of my life, consisting in performing on stage. Here was a fabulous project offered to me by Assouline that thrived off the lockdown isolation as it required intense concentration, research and writing at just the very moment that the second wave of the pandemic came to hit us.

First Hungarian Grand Prix 1986.  Photo Credit:  Bernard Asset

First Hungarian Grand Prix 1986. Photo Credit: Bernard Asset

Suddenly, I came entirely back to life thanks to this project. I also felt a huge sense of responsibility: The task was much bigger than I expected when I said yes. I had to come up with the 100 greatest, iconic, most important, “impossible” moments of Formula One over 70 years. I had been hired for my experience of more than 20 years covering the series for the International Herald Tribune, and The New York Times, and I realized that I had a responsibility for a big book that would sell for 920 euros, and/or $995, not just for an article on a piece of paper that would be used to wrap up fish the next day! My choices of moments have to be as close to perfect as possible.

Responsibility of Choosing the Impossible Moments for Formula 1: The Impossible Collection

It’s not that I doubted my ability to choose those moments. But I knew that Formula One is a series that has millions of fans who are not only passionate, but are often just as knowledgable as many of the journalists who cover it their whole lives. I also knew that any choice for a great moment that I made would also leave out several other possibilities that some other journalist or fan might feel very passionate about and cry foul!

“HOW could you not put in THIS moment!” they might say.

But that is also when I decided that, in any case, any list of 100 moments over 71 seasons that anyone made would have to have an element of personal preference or style to it, and I would have to assume that. Still, it took months to make the final choice of 100 great moments. I narrowed an initial selection down to 150, and then began eliminating, or at the suggestion of my editors at Assouline, in some cases, joining moments together – such as when I did only one moment for the two times that Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost crashed into each other at the Japanese Grand Prix in Suzuka in 1989 and 1990, thus drawing their championship duel to a close.

McLaren Technology Centre team factory.  Photo Credit: McLaren F1 Team

McLaren Technology Centre team factory. Photo Credit: McLaren F1 Team

I also said to myself that it would be absolutely necessary in a series like Formula One to include in the great moments not just sporting moments, but technical ones – the introduction of the Ford DFV engine in the 60s that would dominate for so many years, or the first rear-engine victory, etc. – as well as business advances or reversals, new venues, etc. Formula One has so many different aspects to it, that it would be impossible to do it justice while focusing on just one part of it.

While it was easy to make my first list – I started by working off the top of my head, then I went through several histories, timelines, collections of statistics, etc., to make sure I missed nothing that I might have overlooked – the most difficult thing was really what to cut out of the list. So many things had to go at some point. It was with great regret, for instance, that I did not include Jean Alesi’s sole victory in the series when he drove his Ferrari to win the Canadian Grand Prix in 1995 after Michael Schumacher, who led all but the last 11 laps of the 68-lap race, had to make a pit stop to change his steering wheel, and could not engage the gear, and so handed the lead to Alesi, who kept it until the checkered flag. It was a hugely dramatic moment during a season dominated by Schumacher, and involving the two teams that would exchange those same two drivers for the following year. (Schumacher went to Ferrari the following year, while Alesi and his Ferrari teammate, Gerhard Berger, both went to Benetton.)

Michael Schumacher's first win for Ferrari in the wet in Spain in 1996. Photo credit: © Agence de Presse ARC/Mario Luini

Michael Schumacher’s first win for Ferrari in the wet in Spain in 1996. Photo credit: Agence de Presse ARC/Mario Luini

There were countless moments like this that I loved, that were big, important, but it was impossible to use them all. One of the ways that I chose moments, in fact, was to try to choose them for their larger effect on the series. That applied especially, for instance, with the moments that involved fatalities. The early years were so full of fatalities, and each was as tragic as the other. As time went on and safety improved, there were fewer and fewer. But still, while I did not mention the death of Elio De Angelis in 1986 after a testing accident, I could not, clearly, avoid talking about the moment involving the death of Ayrton Senna (with Roland Ratzenberger having died the previous day) at Imola in 1994. Nor could I avoid talking about the death of Wolfgang von Trips and the 15 spectators at Monza in September 1961.

I could not, either, avoid moments that included the great records, Schumacher’s equalling Juan Manuel Fangio’s 5 world titles in 2002, and then beating that record. And how satisfying and beautiful it was for the book to end on the note of Lewis Hamilton equalling Schumacher’s record of seven titles – and beating his number of victories – in the final season that the book covered, 2020, which was unfolding as I wrote it.

Catharsis in Writing the Introduction to Formula 1: The Impossible Collection

It was the work on the moments, both selecting them and writing them – in all their minute detail – that would make up the biggest part of the job. When I took on the project, I had thought it would be the writing of what became a 65-page introduction – with lots of photos – that would be the hardest part. In fact, the introduction was probably the most fun part to do, as I saw it as an opportunity to sum up and focus all of my knowledge about Formula One accumulated over a lifetime of being a fan – the first race I attended was the first Canadian Grand Prix, at Mosport in 1967 – and nearly a quarter century of writing about it professionally. So in a way, the introduction – that even went into the previous era of Grand Prix racing, starting with the precursor auto races sponsored by the founder of my former IHT newspaper, James Gordon Bennett Jr. – was even cathartic, in a way.

It was an incredible bit of unexpected icing on the cake when after I submitted the completed book to the editors, I learned that both Jean Todt, the president of the International Automobile Federation, and Stefano Domenicali, the CEO of Formula One, had written forewords to the book. What an honor. (But just as great an honor was my having been the writer that Jean Todt recommended to do the book when Assouline asked for his advice on who to call.)

When Formula 1: The Impossible Collection Finally Arrives

Me at home with my advance copy of the Formula 1: The Impossible Collection book.  Photo Credit: Ornella Bonventre

Me at home with my advance copy of the Formula 1: The Impossible Collection book. Photo Credit: Ornella Bonventre

But the day my advance copy of the book arrived – all nearly 10 kilograms of it – that was when I saw the reality that I could never truly have imagined for a book that is an absolute “bijou” as the French say for a jewel, and I could see immediately not only why it was being sold for 920 euros, but that it seemed worth much more than that in the paper and hand craftsmanship alone. Printed at a luxury quality printer in Milan (called Grafiche Milani), a favourite of Jimmy Page) with many of the photographs – the photographic research job, as well as many of the photos themselves, was done by Bernard Asset, a top F1 photographic, while the final choices of photos and images was done by Martine Assouline, of the husband and wife team that own the company – were separately glued to the pages. The cover had a soft feel to it, and a wafting sent of the printer’s workshop came emanating from the box when I opened the book. Astounding!

Jimmy Page video of his experience with Grafiche Milani printer of Formula 1: The Impossible Collection

By the time the book was completed, and published in May, I had begun to think about playing music again, and I was, in fact, able to do so at a few places, as the pandemic died out a little where I live, and the vaccination process began – I got my second one at the end of May – and then I returned to Sicily, where I was able to perform a couple of times, and I have done so back home in France since then.

On the other hand, I have also been working all out on another book project in recent months, which I will also only announce when the time is appropriate! (I’m entering a virtuous cycle here!) And again, I can thank this new project for taking me through the third wave!!!

The book “Formula 1: The Impossible Collection,” is available around the world in both Assouline’s own stores, as well as some select shops. It is also available to buy online at Assouline’s site.

Great Press Coverage of Formula 1: The Impossible Collection

Actually, I said the cherry on the cake were the two forewords, but there was another aspect to doing the book that I had not expected to this degree, and that was great coverage by some of the world’s top magazines, some of which involved several interviews with me…that once again showed me how difficult it can be to be on the other side of the journalistic table, as the subject of the interview rather than the interviewer!

Here is a list of a few of the major interviews and reviews of the book:

Robb Report: Assouline’s New $995 Formula 1 Book Was 70 Years in the Making

MAXIM: A LOOK BACK AT FORMULA 1’S MOST MEMORABLE MOMENTS

MAXIM: RACE THROUGH F1 HISTORY WITH THIS HIGH-OCTANE COFFEE TABLE BOOK

BOSS HUNTING: ‘Formula 1: The Impossible Collection’ Is The Ultimate Coffee Table Book For Racing Fans

F1Total.ca : INTERVIEW l Brad Spurgeon and Assouline release ‘Formula 1: The Impossible Collection’, a one-of-a-kind $995 book

Motorsportweek: Feature: Writing the Impossible Formula One book

GQ Australia: 11 coffee table books you actually won’t be able to put back down

L’Automobile Magazine: F1: un livre collection sur les plus grands

L’Equipe: Un livre pour célébrer les 70 ans de la F1

L'Automobile (France)

L’Automobile (France)

Le Figaro Magazine (France)

Le Figaro Magazine (France)

AUTO34_Final_Lap_GR_V2

Quattroruote (Italy)

Bunte (Germany)

The book was reviewed or promoted in many, many other parts of the internet, on many different kinds of sites, making me realize there is a landscape out there for talking about books and products of a size and kind that I had never even suspected existed (the landscape I mean, not the size of the books!). And so it was a fun, learning experience all over to have been blessed with this not impossible dream of writing a book about Formula One’s impossible moments for Assouline.

Liner Notes to a Formula One Fan’s Song and Video For Daniel Ricciardo’s Monza Victory: “I Can Take Anybody Down,” by Kenna and Cox

September 15, 2021
bradspurgeon

Daniel Ricciardo, of McLaren, celebrates his victory in Monza on the podium.  Photo Credit: McLaren/LAT Images

Daniel Ricciardo, McLaren, 1st position, celebrates on the podium with his trophy. Photo Credit: McLaren/LAT Images

PARIS – Several of my lives and passions came together over the last three days resulting in a personally imposed lock-down thanks to the victory by Daniel Ricciardo at the Italian Grand Prix in Monza, Italy on Sunday. Now if that sentence full of facts gets your head spinning to sort it all out, how about checking out the result of all that passion, which is the video I put together for a song in tribute to Ricciardo, written and performed by a couple of Aussie expats in France who I met during my open mic wanderings: “I Can Take Anybody Down,” by Chris Kenna and Melissa Cox:

The last thing I imagined after watching the F1 race on Sunday – and being at first appalled by the crash between the two series’ leaders, and then ecstatic about Daniel Ricciardo’s victory – was an email from Melissa Cox telling me she had a song from Chris Kenna, and did I by any chance have any photos of Daniel Ricciardo to illustrate it in a video. The last thing I imagined after reading that email was that my next 48 hours and more would be occupied passionately making a video myself for what I feel is an absolutely fabulous, dynamic, and cool song of tribute to one of the finest, nicest, coolest and most deserving drivers in Formula One.

The situation, it turned out, was actually linked to the previous post in this blog, about Elliott Murphy. Melissa Cox and I, who had met at performances of Kenna and Cox a few years ago, got in touch because it turned out that she not only plays violin with Kenna, but she is also part of the regular band playing with Elliott Murphy! So those two worlds suddenly joined.

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

But whenever I had met Chris Kenna in the past in bars around Paris, where he is a mainstay of the Paris music scene, we had always spoken about his love of Formula One – which, of course, has been central to my own life and livelihood. And another passion of mine that then joined up in these last few days.

Well, when I heard this fabulous song for Ricciardo, and Melissa asked for photos, of course, another passion took hold: Making videos, mostly those involving music…but this time, with Formula One as a theme. And so, another passion suddenly joined up here, and little by little I got hooked on making this video.

Of course, time pressed as it seemed this thing should come out as close to Daniel Ricciardo’s victory as possible, while his many millions of fans are hot on the story. So that is where all these merging passions came together to force me into a personal lock-down and finish this thing. It would never have been possible, of course, had I not many friends, colleagues and acquaintances in Formula One who kindly helped me out, including especially Bernard Asset, who is one of the series’ best and most respected photographers – and who I worked with on my book about Formula One published at Assouline (which will be spoken of more in a future blog post), who incredibly selflessly allowed me to use a lot of his photos and even chose a selection, treated them and sent them very quickly. And there was the McLaren team’s media staff as well, who gave me access to their collection and videos; and Steven Tee, who is another of the great F1 photographers, and whose LAT Images is probably the biggest, best database of F1 photos there is.

The Extraordinary Musical Pedigree of Kenna and Cox

It was especially great fun to be able to make a music video for someone else from the Paris music scene, as I have made many for my own songs, but few for other people. And Kenna and Cox are no ordinary other musicians based in Paris. Kenna was a farm boy from south-western Victoria state in Australia, who grew up milking cows and trapping rabbits with his brother before dreaming of being a rock star. He may not be a household name, but got a lot of big tastes of that life and world as in Australia he opened for bands like Midnight Oil, Men at Work, The Church and Ian Moss (Cold Chisel), and then when he later moved to France – for the love of a woman – he not only has lived off his own gigs in small venues and bars ever since, but he occasionally supported big names here too, including for Jeff Beck, Peter Green and Tommy Emmanuel.

Kenna and Cox

Kenna and Cox

He has now been playing with Cox for more than a decade, when the two Australians ran into each other at a gig, and he asked her to play a tune with him. She is from Sydney, where she studied classical violin since the age of 10, but then later got discovered jazz, blues, folk, rock and world music. Although her dream had always been to live in Paris, she first tasted a bit of the rest of the world. To quote from her bio: “Under the name Black Sesame, she released an album of electro-pop songs in between residencies as a jazz singer in Tokyo and Guangzhou. But it was Paris she dreamed of; and an invitation to study film composition at L’Ecole Normale de Musique saw the dream become reality.”

So she got to Paris, and has never left – or rather, the two now live in a remote village and commute for gigs, recording, etc.!

As I write these words in closing, I think about how amazing life is when one thing leads to another in an organic manner that you could never have predicted between the moment of one action – for instance, Ricciardo’s victory, or Kenna and Cox meeting at that gig, me writing the Elliott Murphy item leading to Cox contacting me about the song – and the string of events that it sets in motion! And speaking of motion, and e-motion, check out the video and song now because there is LOTS of motion, locomotion and emotion in this “I Can Take Anybody Down” cry of victory for Daniel Ricciardo and his fans!

This blog item feels more and more like liner notes, and no liner notes are complete without the lyrics to the album (well, that’s arguable!), so here I am also going to post the lyrics to this song (which you can also find at Chris Kenna’s bandcamp page, with the song:

They call me the honey badger
And I hail from the west,
I’m an animal behind the wheel –
It’s the thing that I do best.
Nothin’ gets me higher,
Higher than the moon,
(Than) when I’m trippin’ major nutsack
On a Sunday afternoon.

When I’m thirsty for a shoey
Then I hardly use the brakes;
If someone holds me back,
Well I just pounce on their mistakes.
When they see that number 3,
With Lando by my side,
Well they know their race is over
So they take the corner wide.

I can take anybody,
I can take anybody down.
I can take anybody (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.

The boys in orange hold their breath
Until their faces all turn blue,
Well I’ll get them on the podium
If it’s the last thing that I do.
All the stallions and the toros
They’re all chafing at the bit,
(And) Mr Hamilton is arguing
With the boss down in the pit.

I can take anybody, (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.
I can take anybody, (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down.

[Uh, watch your back, we’ve got the McLaren on turn 20]
Here comes Danny Ric
[We need to go faster otherwise we let the McLaren pass]
Here comes Danny Ric
Coming up behind you
[Keep pushing – mate, you need to go now]
It’s Danny Ric, oh yeah
Coming up beside you
[Oh shit, he’s got you]
It’s Danny Ric!

I can take anybody (passion and commitment)
I can take anybody down

“Just a Story From America:” Discovering Elliott Murphy – 48 years late – in His Unputdownable Memoir!

September 8, 2021
bradspurgeon

Elliott Murphy

Elliott Murphy

PARIS – I have a confession to make. I thought I knew just about everything there is to know about all the rock, folk, or just any musicians who count that I needed to know about. What arrogance! The last thing I expected to discover now, at my age – don’t ask what that is – was a musician who got his start in 1973 and had albums published by Polydor, RCA and Columbia Records, who was produced by people as astounding and legendary as Paul Rothchild, and who has lived in my backyard – in Paris – for the last 30 years. Of course, I HAD heard of Elliott Murphy for many years. But because I had heard of him as the American musician the French were in love with and who they thought of as an “American” star but I didn’t because I had not heard of him while growing up in Canada, I had brushed him off entirely…having never listened to his music. More arrogance. But that all changed over the last week after I stumbled upon his memoir: “Just A Story From America.”

Not only have I come to his music 48 years late – and keep in mind that even in March 1973, a month before this was released, I was keenly aware and waiting for the latest sounds, coming home one day that month with that month’s release of Led Zeppelin’s “Houses of the Holy” and Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” – but I have also come to the memoir late. Fortunately, not 48 years late! This brilliant memoir was published in English in May 2019, and in French last November. So I am only a little behind on that! And the way I have started this blog post will make me look quite ignorant to the millions who have known and loved Elliott Murphy’s music for nearly 50 years!

As far as I can see, Elliott Murphy’s memoir, “Just A Story From America” is a self-published – or I should say, independently published – book in English, but with a bona fide French publisher in the translated version. And it also came out in a Spanish translation at a publisher in Spain under the title, “The Last Rock Star.” So maybe the promotion and marketing of the English edition was a little lacking. (Unless I am being arrogant again!) In any case, I have now read this memoir as quickly as I read that memoir of Steve Forbert a few years ago, or Terence Rigby’s memoir (by Juliet Ace) a couple of months ago. Forbert, like Murphy, was another of the many “new Bob Dylans” and Rigby was another “supporting role” kind of artist, which you could almost say in some small way Murphy was too. Someone who was never a household name, but played as well as the big guys, and often WITH the big guys. On the other hand, in fact, no. You can only say that the comparison between the great actor of usually secondary roles, and the great musician who was eclipsed in the fame sweepstakes by friends such as Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reed, Billy Joel, and many more, is a great and real act of his own. End of story. So I am writing this blog post today to say to any of the few readers of this blog who do NOT know Elliott Murphy’s music AND Elliott Murphy’s writing, to please, waste no more of your life’s time and get to know him.

While reading the memoir, I went to YouTube and started my searches for his albums, in order of appearance. There are now some 40 of them, so to listen to all of the Elliott Murphy albums will take me some days. But I was immediately astounded upon hearing his first: Aquashow, released in 1973, by Polydor. Here I was listening to a cross between David Bowie, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Billy Joel, and wait for this, Graham Parker and Elvis Costello, all wrapped up into one.

Elliott Murphy performing “Last of the Rock Stars”

But there’s more, much more: At the same time that I discovered the musician I also suddenly discovered Elliott Murphy the writer and journalist, and there will be many more discoveries yet to come: Elliot Murphy has published in Rolling Stone, Spin, Vanity Fair, among other magazines, and written books in addition to the memoir – novels, short story collections and poetry. As a writer, he has as great a voice as he does as a singer. That voice and the story it tells so beautifully makes this memoir a touching work from beginning to end. Extremely touching. It is the highly personal story of a man who confronted the death of his father when he was 16, when his father was 48, and actually witnessed his father’s fatal heart attack, running off to find a doctor to help – too late – and then having his fairly wealthy, Long Island idyllic life disintegrate around him.

Elliott Murphy’s album Acqushow

His father was a show business impresario, having created an amusement attraction called Aquashow, with dancing girls and water shows, that was hugely successful; followed by a successful restaurant that hosted stars and the political elite. His mother dined with Eisenhower, met with Elizabeth Taylor, the world of Elliott Murphy Sr., revolved around high style and success. Until the heart attack showed how flimsy the world really is.

For the boy, Elliott, known at the time by his middle name, James – or rather, “Jimmy” – it was, naturally, his whole world that fell apart. As it did for his mother, who at first tried to keep the restaurant going, but it failed eventually. Eventually, she ended up as a salesperson at Tiffany & Co. and stayed there for 20 years.

No wonder Elliott Murphy was angry at life. But it was an anger that he channeled into his touching first album with his new name, his real name: Elliott Murphy. The album being called…Aquashow. Yes, Elliott Murphy’s Aquashow lived on.

Without the backstory, I think that no one could have known where this album came from. Except in the authenticity of the cry of pain.

Watching his life unfold as an artist in this memoir is a lesson in life and career: So much of his life was made by his audacity – and a little arrogance? – as he always went directly to the source of what he hoped would be a launching platform for his career. During a trip through Europe when he was 21, he stopped off at Cinecitta in Rome hoping to finagle his way into acting as an extra in films, arriving decked out in such a way that he thought they would believe his story that he was an actor in cowboy films in the U.S. Fellini took one look at him and offered him a role as an extra – actually something a lot more than that – in his film Roma!

Elliott Murphy today

Elliott Murphy today


Returning to the U.S., he made a demo with his brother of some of the songs he wrote in Europe, and he headed off to Polydor, knocked on the door, said he wanted his demo listened to, and they were invited up immediately into the office of one of the A&R people who listened to it, liked it, and arranged an audition later in the week with the head of A&R. He liked it and they got a deal! Off the street in a company they knew nothing about, except that James Brown was with Polydor, as was guitarist Roy Buchanan.

This kind of thing is repeated again and again throughout his life and career as he found himself scoring deal after deal, moving from Polydor to RCA – where Paul Rothchild produced the album, “Lost Generation,” in 1975, and where he then recorded his “Night Lights” album – then to Columbia, where he recorded his last album for a major label, “Just a Story From America,” the same title as the memoir.

During this period, he lived a life that he turns into a dream read with fabulous anecdotes about meetings with a seemingly endless string of household names in show business, that includes such a diverse cast as Frank Zappa and Liza Minnelli. Zappa invited him into a studio while he was recording an album, Zappa’s guitar amp was in the studio, but Zappa was seated in the engineering booth with the engineer, and playing his guitar from there that was attached to the amp in the studio! Minnelli he met at a party, and the two were encouraged to sing together…but he knew none of her broadway music show tunes, and she knew no pop, rock, folk, Dylan or otherwise! He met Jean-Michel Basquiat, who was just as arrogant about him as I was (until now), who looked away from him while they shared a stretch limousine, and said: “I hear you’re a has-been.” (He regrets now that he was so pissed off at that that he did not buy any of the drawings Basquiat was selling for only a hundred bucks each. Imagine the value today – that would be a very much “living well” kind of revenge.)

Here we see the life of a rock star up close and personal throughout the 1970s, and then the fairly sudden change for the singer songwriters when punk suddenly took over and made them all irrelevant. (How did Forbert come out and thrive at that moment?!!?)

That period coincides in his life with the moment he goes entirely and almost fatally off the rails. Like so many others – not Zappa – he was taking drugs – mostly cocaine – and alcohol as a daily diet. He was in so deep that he did not even know it. In short, he managed to discover his own problem with the help of a freak moment meeting an attractive woman who had herself been an alcoholic, and who took him to a meeting where he discovered he DID have a problem, and he had an epiphany. He never touched a drop of alcohol or drugs again, some 30 years ago now.

Elliott Murphy's father's Aquashow on a billboard in NYC

Elliott Murphy’s father’s Aquashow on a billboard in NYC


In fact, he had fallen so low that after all these successes in the 1970s, he had ended up moving back to his mother’s place, sleeping on a cot, and then working as a secretary in a law firm just to survive! But he had learned a lesson about life that he would never forget, and soon begin to apply: “Looking back, it’s hard to deny that my daily drinking and regular cocaine use had something to do with my bad decisions; what happens when your lifestyle instead of your work becomes your priority.”

That was it. From then on, his work took precedence over his lifestyle. But his lifestyle also improved. He ended up moving to France in around 1989 – a country where he had had quite a big success that he was not even aware of for years thanks to the record company’s keeping it secret from him – and then he met his future wife – Françoise – and then had a son, Gaspard, in 1990. He has lived here ever since, worked on something similar to Bob Dylan’s “never ending tour,” – not to mention getting invited to play with Bruce Springsteen during his Paris visits on several occasions – and he has expanded that writing career too. With this memoir as the latest result. Go out and get it! I have told only a fraction of the fabulous tales this book contains. It’s a real discovery…of course, as I indicated earlier, I’m probably preaching to the converted and I’m the only idiot out here who didn’t know much about Elliott Murphy until now!

Josephine Baker in the Panthéon, as the Hobosapiens Release “Bad Bones” Josephine Baker Song and Vidéo!

August 22, 2021
bradspurgeon

Josephine Baker

Josephine Baker

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – How is that for amazing timing? A friend whom I met during my open mic musical travels just posted an exceptional new song and video, so exceptional that I told him I wanted to spread the news…but after five days sitting on it, I was still not sure how I could do that. What would be the context to talk about his amazing song and the fabulous video he did using footage of Josephine Baker dancing in Paris in 1927? And then, wow, today I suddenly saw the news in France that Emmanuel Macron, the French president, has agreed to enshrine Josephine Baker in the Panthéon in Paris! The first time a black woman has been given such an exceptional honor in France. And how incredibly appropriate that my friend’s song about Baker – whose bones will now rest in the Panthéon – is called: “Bad Bones.”

“Bad Bones” video by Pete and the Hobosapiens, with footage of Josephine Baker in 1927.

I have spoken about my friend Pete Cogavin in the past, and about his band, The Hobosapiens. But this time I am completely blown away by the video, and I cannot believe the timing. Baker was an American star in the roaring twenties Paris, and not only amongst the artistic expats of the time like Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, et al. She was hugely popular in France, and that right through her life, until her death in Paris in 1975. She was a human rights activist, a women’s rights activist, a civil rights activist – she was from St Louis, Missouri – and had also worked in the French resistance during World War II. She was also known for having adopted 12 children, and one of them – Brian Bouillon-Baker – was involved in making this request to Macron.

In fact, the request to place her in the Panthéon – among the bones of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Victor Hugo, Émile Zola, Jean Jaurès, Jean Moulin, Jean Monnet, Pierre et Marie Curie, André Malraux and Alexandre Dumas and others – was also made by the novelist Pascal Bruckner, the singer Laurent Voulzy, the entrepreneur Jennifer Guesdon, the essay writer Laurent Kupferman. Macron apparently gave his go-ahead on 21 July, but the story has just come out in in the French media overnight.

Above all, or rather, to start with, Josephine Baker was an exceptional performer, famous for her dancing costume of a belt of bananas. As you will see in the video above. (Even if the bananas are not featured in this particular video.)

And while I am at it talking about Pete Cogavin and the Hobosapiens, and while we are also on this French theme in Pete’s music – he is an Irishman who I met while he was living in Nice – I want to draw your attention also to this beautiful rendition he also just did – solo, chez lui – of the famous song by Piaf: La Vie en Rose. He starts off in English, then moves into excellent French! Chapeau Pete!

Peter Cogavin singing La Vie en Rose

A previous request to place Josephine Baker in the Panthéon had been made in 2013 to François Hollande, then president, and he rejected it. Simone Veil, another great woman activist, was accepted amongst the mostly men in the Panthéon three years ago.

Kupferman said this decision regarding Baker was just what was needed in today’s political environment in a statement I translate from French: “It’s a very strong message for universality. Joséphine Baker incarnates that which we all need right now, which is to say, to get together as one. She is the proof that in the French republic, anything is possible. That an equality of opportunities exists. And that next to our rights, we also have obligations.”

A Not-Book-Review cum Memoir Cum autobiography etc. of Terence Rigby and his Memoir by Juliet Ace: Rigby Shlept Here

August 11, 2021
bradspurgeon

Rigby Shlept Here

Rigby Shlept Here

CASTELLAMMARE DEL GOLFO, Sicily – He was one of the greatest British character actors of the end of the 20th century, early 21st century, one of Harold Pinter’s fetish actors and friend, just as adept starring in television, on stage or in cinema – a late career period with along with Julia Roberts and in Color Me Kubrick…the list of achievements go on and on for Terence Rigby. And I am proud to be able to say that for a few months in 1977 to 1978 we were briefly friends, while I was a bartender at The National Theatre in London, and he was acting in various roles as part of the company. In fact, he helped me audition for RADA, where he had started out 20 years earlier. But if my life completely changed after that, I always carried questions about who exactly was this man Terence Rigby. Many others who knew him asked the same questions. How delighted was I last week to discover a Memoir of Rigby’s life was published in 2014 and written by his good friend, the scriptwriter, Juliet Ace. Called, “Rigby Shlept Here,” it is a magnificent tale of an unusual man and a great actor. I have now written a long review-cum-memoir of my own of this book, and about this man. Follow the link here to my page in my Writers on Writers and Writing section about Terence Rigby and Juliet Ace’s memoir “Rigby Shlept Here.

Five Musicians In Search of Nothing: Thriving in a Covid World

April 7, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – One year into the pandemic that has killed live music and the life I spent most of this blog writing about – open mics, bar gigs, jam sessions etc. – and you might think that the musicians of the world would have collapsed and taken their music to heaven by now. That would be to underestimate the spirit that drives musicians onwards: To make music no matter what! In the last few weeks I have seen a sudden harvest of initiatives, sounds, CDs, gigs and things that to me show how so many of the musicians I have met over the life of this blog – 11 years old last month – have taken advantage of the lockdowns in their respective countries to forge onwards in making music and promoting their careers in ways that the gigs can no longer do.

And what a great feeling of pleasure it is to see how they have progressed through the mess that was thrust upon us all, setting the stage for even greater things when the curtain rises again post-Covid trauma. I want to just mention a few of these bits of news from musicians I have met, played with or just heard at open mics over the last decade. I’ve got five examples with five representative videos that I invite you to check out…and why not support them with a buy!

1) I met Greg Sherrod at the Some Girls open mic on rue de Lappe near the Bastille in Paris around a half a decade ago. I came in like any other night, signed up to play, and there was this guy from Connecticut who had just arrived for a short stay in Paris, and as a singer songwriter, and longtime performer with bar bands, had come to Paris with the goal among other things of playing in some jam sessions. It turned out he had been reading this blog for a long time in advance to prepare the trip, and so how fabulous that the first open mic he attended I was there, and he recognised me! So began a mostly long-distance friendship that is still going strong. (Can you believe it that it was Greg in Connecticut who introduced me to the fabulous Netflix series “The Eddy,” that takes place in France?)

The news from Greg is that he is launching a national campaign on June 1 to sell his latest CD, “Do You Feel It?” I loved his CD that he released a few years ago and that I spoke about on this blog, but this new one has even MORE of his energy and bubbling, bursting, addictive feeling! Greg’s really got a unique voice and style, and I implore you to go and check this out on Greg Sherrod’s bandcamp page. It’s really different, and I wish him the best of luck on the national launch.

2) Regular readers of this blog will know the name of Paddy Sherlock. But maybe not the way I am about to talk about him. As his name suggests, Paddy is Irish. But he is also a decades-long Paris expat, and host of the also decades-long music night at the Coolin’ Pub in the Latin Quarter, which sadly, closed a few years ago to make way for an Apple Store (more or less). After that, Paddy hosted an open mic that was exclusively devoted to original songwriters, and started at the Tennessee Bar before moving to O’Sullivan’s Rebel bar. It only ended when Covid started, and I imagine Paddy will be back to hosting it after the pandemic ends.

First single from “Dusk,” the new CD from Paddy Sherlock

If, that is, he is not too famous and in demand thanks to his latest CD, “Dusk,” which not only has been playing regularly on one of France’s top radio stations – FIP – but has also been getting fabulous media coverage, including as I write, being called the album of the week by the French edition of Rolling Stone magazine! A video of one of the songs, “Like a Diamond,” which I link to above, has more than 20,000 views in a short period of time. In short, it has taken the lockdown for Paddy to apparently break out in a big way. Paddy, a multi-instrumentalist, but trombone specialist, is also a very cool songwriter and singer, and actor, and that all comes together on the video, as you will see.

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Misja Fitzgerald Michel

3) The only musician on this short list who I did not meet at an open mic is Misja Fitzgerald Michel, one of France’s top jazz guitarists, whom I met through a mutual friend, a photographer. And what a discovery! I say he is a jazz guitarist, but he is pretty much an all-rounder, and never more so than now that I can tell you about his recent exploit. (Misja did a fabulous CD a few years ago playing guitar along to the singing of Hugh Coltman of cover songs all by Nick Drake. A kind of Nick Drake tribute album that got some great critical reviews.) In fact, he has had two very interesting projects in the past year or so since Covid, one being his CD with a vibrophone player named Franck Tortiller, but the one I wanted to draw your attention to now is astounding!

Making of the Elzbieta Sikora piece with Misja Fitzgerald Michel

Just as the virus began threatening everything, Misja managed to get in a concert in Paris playing along with a symphony orchestra a piece written by the Polish composer, Elzbieta Sikora, based on a piece by Wanda Landowska, and instead of using the piano, chose to use the electric guitar as the lead instrument. It was directed by Marzena Diakun. Playing just before the coronavirus broke out, the intervening time allowed the project to develop both a CD and a video of the performance. I sat mesmerised listening to and watching his performance, in this extraordinary moment that out-Fripps Fripp and that requires all of Misja’s technical knowledge and feeling, in a virtuoso performance of a kind on an electric guitar that I’ve never heard, and an extremely cool idea. Check out the video of the making of the performance to see if you agree!! And you can find out more about the performance on the site of those who put it together. Here is a great description of the CD.

Gaelle Buswel

Gaelle Buswel

4) Researching this next performer on this blog itself, I discover that the first time I ever heard Gaelle Buswel sing was as far back as 2009! It was at the Cavern bar in Paris, at the weekly vocal jam, and I was immediately subjugated by her performance. In fact, I can’t think of a better way to describe her than the way I did on this blog the following year: “Gaelle Buswel has an amazing voice, extraordinary charm and stage presence, and she…gee, she has a little of that Bruce Springsteen quality of looking like she’s loving every minute of the performance and the communication with the audience.”

Title song of Gaelle Buswel’s latest album.

I saw her perform a few times after that, but it was mostly in watching from afar that I have seen Gaelle’s career take off and actually explode. And with good reason. You can add to the above description her untiring work, application and will power! She works ceaselessly from what I have been able to see in receiving her newsletters for years now and following her career. She has opened for Ringo Starr, ZZ Top and Deep Purple; she has played many of the greatest blues festivals in France and elsewhere in the world, including winning prizes at the Cognac Blues festival, and elsewhere, and she has now just put out a new CD in the middle of Covid, and got herself splashed all over the covers of the French music magazines as a result. It just keeps going upward, this career, and damn the virus! Check out the video of the title song from the latest CD above – oh yes, and I forgot to mention that Gaelle, although French, specializes in not only singing all the rock and blues classics of the English-speaking world, but she also writes her own songs in English….

5) I finally got up the courage to apply myself to today’s post when I saw a familiar face looking out at me through a video on my Facebook, and I decided to give a listen. Joe Danger is a fixture of the Nice bar music scene, and I heard and met him too for the first time almost a decade ago. I last saw him a couple of years ago when I was visiting Nice and eating in a pizzeria with Ornella and found myself sitting at a table beside Joe! We never got to know each other very well, because I was never very long in town, and Joe was never very long off stage. Despite his name, and his perfect English accent, Joe hails from Germany! But he has lived in Nice since the 1980s, and he has been eternally attracting masses of young listeners to his various nights playing music in places like Jonathan’s music bar. I’ll never forget the first time I saw him play there, in the cave in the basement: The place was empty. Completely. And then Joe took to the stage, and suddenly, within minutes, the room was bursting at the seams with twenty-somethings, all coming to listen and go crazy to Joe! He was in his mid-to-late 50s! But he had something they loved! And as soon as his set ended, they all deserted the bar….

Joe Danger singing his “Let’s Get Rich” song.

I am putting up the video I saw of Joe’s today because I think this song he wrote, “Let’s Get Rich,” speaks totally, completely and perfectly of the feeling of the moment for musicians who make their livings out of playing live music, especially in bars. While it is telling the story of low-down times and lack of money, it is the act of writing and playing – and Joe says he is currently about to record it with a band – that shows the kind of backbone, faith and spirit of fighting on that is really behind all of these musicians at this difficult moment. Way to go Joe Danger! Way to go all of them!

PS, don’t forget to check out my own lockdown effort that I posted about recently, which is my song about our crazy, sick world of the moment on another level: “What’s All This Talk!?!”:

My own song, “What’s All This Talk!?”

Just Hours Left to See Free the Documentary: “Meeting Jim”

March 8, 2021
bradspurgeon

Jim Haynes

Jim Haynes

PARIS – I highly recommend to anyone interested in either Jim Haynes, or a look at the counterculture world from 1959 to 2021 to take a look the documentary “Meeting Jim.” It is still being offered free for another three hours from the time this post goes up today. I saw it last night, and loved it for many reasons, not least of all because of all the reasons I wrote about in my post about the life of Jim Haynes after his death in early January. If you miss the free offer that goes until 7PM Paris-time today, then you can actually pay for it as you would any video on demand – and it’s still worth it. I won’t even go into any details about the film now because I want to get this post up as quickly as possible – suffice it to say that it is a feature-length documentary filmed in 2016 – but with a nice amount of historical footage too – that covers Jim’s whole life, and the above mentioned cultural period that it spanned and that he so fabulously contributed to….
PS, to see the film, when you click on that first link I put above in the second sentence of this post, you will come to a “Meeting Jim” dedicated page. Scroll down the page to see the links to watch the film free from wherever you may be in the world.

The Political World of Jean-Hugues Oppel: Another In-Depth Interview With a French Crime Writer, this Time Talking at Semana Negra

January 23, 2021
bradspurgeon

Jean-Hugues Oppel

Jean-Hugues Oppel

I am absolutely delighted to have found this interview I did with Jean-Hugues Oppel in 1997 at the Semana Negra mystery festival in Gijon, Spain, and to be able to post it on this site in my collection of interviews and articles I did in the 1990s and early 2000s about the French crime novel. This interview is definitely one of the best and widest ranging of them all. I think the environment of the crazy festival helped for it to be so much fun, and so deep. But ultimately, as you will see, it is the depth of Jean-Hugues Oppel’s own knowledge and approach to life and writing that makes the difference here in this interview.

Genesis of All That Talk! An Explication de Song….

January 19, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – With the world no doubt feeling tense over the possibility of an Act II to the riots of D.C. at tomorrow’s inauguration for Joe Biden as president of the United States, and the end of the reign of terror by Donald Trump, I wanted to do a post of a kind I have never done before. It has to do with the writing of my new song, “What’s All This Talk?!” Normally I prefer to leave as many interpretations open as possible for a song I write, since I do believe that sometimes songs can be interpreted even in ways the author did not intend; so why limit it with an explication de texte?

But as you can see from the video that I made for this song – which I will put here below again – I have already decided, by using news footage from several different sources of the riots at the Capitol Building on 6 January to give one interpretation to the song. In fact, I was pretty surprised myself how well those riots seemed to illustrate the meaning. Especially since I wrote the song in late October, early November, just before the 2020 U.S. presidential elections.

And it is true that Trump was first and foremost in my mind when I wrote it. But he wasn’t the only one. I also had Boris Johnson, Bolsonaro, Salvini, Orban and many other world leaders involved in the current trend for populist destruction and manipulation in mind. And I even had past such leaders, like Hitler and Mussolini in mind. But when I saw the riots at the Capitol, I said, crap, this thing is really coming to a head here, and these images are the perfect illustration for this sad protest song “What’s All This Talk?!”

So I decided to try to string them together as a background for the song. For me, personally, it was an interesting project, because pretty much without fail all the songs I have ever composed have had to do with a broken heart, a love story, an emotional relationship with a lover, etc. The old stories. I never thought I could write a protest song about politics.

Then something happened and I only saw it once I made the video. In fact, there were one or two listeners who when I sang them the song wondered if it was about a personal relationship rather than the politics I had intended. But now I know and understand: For the past four years I have been emotionally devastated by witnessing these political populist movements we are surrounded with and by the seeming loss of a world where the highest values are truth and beauty for one where lies and ugliness seem to reign. In other words, I did indeed have an emotional crisis; but not with any particular person, rather with our vanishing world of decency.

So it turns out that this is only just another love song of a broken heart after all. Let’s hope for a clean and peaceful transition of power tomorrow, followed by the whole world coming back to its senses bit by bit.

P.S. I also decided to put up the video on my YouTube channel, so anyone who doesn’t use Facebook, or who wants to link the video somewhere themselves, can have access to it. So here is that link here for “What’s All This Talk?!

“What’s All This Talk?!”

January 17, 2021
bradspurgeon

PARIS – Just a quick post to mention that I have updated my personal music site, Bradspurgeonmusic.com with my new song, “What’s All This Talk?!” This is a new protest song that I wrote just before the U.S. presidential elections last November, and which I decided to make a video for after seeing the attack on the Capitol Building illustrating everything I had been protesting about. I’ll probably do another post to speak more of that in the coming days, but for the moment, I just wanted to note that the song and video are now on my music site under the news section on the opening page, and in the video section. And here, for good measure, is a link to that video here too:

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