For my second “Not-Book-Review” I did not premeditate that I would write about the book that a friend gave me a few months ago and that I only got around to reading now. I did not imagine that it would be so much fun, so light, so captivating and so genuine. But when I discovered all that, I decided that I HAD to write about it on this blog – especially because I’ve mentioned its author so often here in the past as a musician: Wayne Standley. The book he wrote is called “The Man Who Looked Like Me.” So check out my “Not-Book-Review” of Wayne’s book. Then see if you can find a copy for yourself to read!!!!
As a reminder: This “Not-Book-Review” is a type of article specific to this blog that the first one of which was my talk about the book of another musician, Neil Young – and his “Waging Heavy Peace”. The idea behind the column is that because it is a blog, and because I believe in Ernest Hemingway’s dictum about writers not criticizing other writers in print as reviewers – “You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” he said – but because I love to read good books and talk about them, the idea is that I am not going to place myself on a critical pedestal and dictate what is righteous or not about a book I read. I am not going to recommend it as a piece of literature or a consumer product. I am not going to fulfill the role of the book reviewer whatsoever. This blog is my space, Brad’s world. So what I will do when I feel compelled, will be to write about books I am reading or have read or feel compelled to write about for any other reason – my “Not-Book-Review.” Something people can read, and should read, only as a reflection of how I felt about the book – not a recommendation that they should or should not read it.
PARIS – Ultimately, my Saturday in Paris yesterday was a very personal thing, but in another way, it belongs entirely on this blog as it started with some themes recently expressed here, and it ended with a surprise musical interlude of the kind I love.
So I went to the Bilipo, thumbed the pages of the mystery magazines from England, France and the U.S. and then I spoke to Catherine Chauchard, the longtime director of the library. It turned out that we shared a passion for the band Moriarty, and ended up talking as much about music as crime literature.
From there I went off towards the Seine and ended up stopping for a salad in the park of the St. Julien le Pauvre church next to the oldest tree in Paris, planted in 1602. This, of course, was right next to Shakespeare and Company, and I decided I must buy a copy of the New York Review of Books. So I went there and started entering this great bookshop only to find a hand and a voice preventing our passage: “Sorry, there is a line up of people here and you’ll have to wait in line before entering.” I turned to see this lineup of around 10 or so people, and I looked in the store to try to see what people were lining up for, and I couldn’t figure it out, so I asked.
“There are currently too many people in the shop, so you have to wait in line until your turn,” was the response.
Huh? I looked in the shop and found that it had fewer people in it than many times I had visited, and fewer than many stores. Clearly, though, the guy at the door did not seem to be wanting to get into a discussion of what this new policy was all about, and the last thing on earth I wanted to do was to wait in line as if I was visiting one of the seven wonders of the world, when in fact I had freely entered the bookshop for 30 years…. So I told the guy I wasn’t going to wait and I went off to the Abbey Bookshop, even if they don’t carry the New York Review of Books. Despite the even more cramped quarters of the Abbey, I’d never been told to wait in line….
So I went to the Abbey, which of course, I spoke about in two recent posts here. The place was buzzing along with business, and rather than being told to wait in a lineup to get into the mausoleum, Brian Spence, the owner, greeted us by saying immediately, “Oh, just in time for a cup of coffee with maple sirup!” So I had a cup of coffee with maple sirup and I explored the bookshop, descending into the cave which Brian referred to as the scene of the crime – in reference to my short story. And while I did not buy an NYRB at Shakespeare and Company, I did decide to ask Brian for some book recommendations, and I left with three (A Steinbeck, a Patrick Leigh Fermor and Paul Auster)…. Now does this not show how effective good customer treatment is in business?!
I moved on to eat a meal at a Thailand restaurant, the Lao Lane Xang. The food was great. Oh, and on the way to the restaurant, I don’t want to forget to mention, I explored some wonderful parts of Paris, including the Chateau de la Reine Blanche, just off the Avenue des Gobelins…. What a city!!
I decided to make a very brief visit to The Quiet Man pub since it reminded me of a similar kind of jam in Montreal that I had attended, the one at Grumpy’s. Whereas Grumpy’s is all about bluegrass, the Quiet Man is all about Irish music…played by French people. They all sit around a table in the basement room every Saturday evening and play jigs and reels, with violins, concertinas, guitars, flutes, etc.
I stayed there for a half a pint of beer and then headed off to call it a night, oh, and perhaps catch some fireworks for a Bastille Day display, if there were to be any the night before the 14th…. On the walk away from there, however, I suddenly heard someone playing an acoustic guitar and singing, and I heard an accompanying violin, and I turned my head and looked right, into a pub called The Green Linnet. It was another Irish pub, and the man singing finished his song and saw me looking in and invited us in… I asked if it was an open mic, and he said, “No,” but the violinist indicated that maybe I wanted to play, and he asked, and as I was trying to figure out what to do, I noticed a man at the bar waving to me.
I suddenly realized that I had recognized the guy without it really clicking in my head: It was Chris Kenna, an amazing musician from Australia who lives in Paris and performs regularly in bars mostly in around the 11th Arrondissement. I had met him first when he was hosting an open mic in that area. Now he performs quite a bit with a violinist named Melissa Cox, as “Kenna and Cox,” and I suddenly realized this was the woman playing behind the mic with the other singer man (as I had in fact met her before too).
So I stopped for a beer here, and they invited me to go up and play some songs after their break. So I played three songs: “Mad World,” “Borderline” and in order to suit the place, I sang “Raggle Taggle Gypsies,” which I rarely do anywhere. I was fantastically fun to have this impromptu, unexpected moment, and I had a nice conversation with Chris and Melissa. Then Chris and Melissa took to the stage and played a few songs, Chris with his deep, raspy voice that seems tailor-made for the blues, and a few other styles too…. They sounded great together.
I left, and never did see any fireworks, but all in all, I realized, it was the ultimate day in the streets of Paris. How could it have been any better and with more unexpected moments and adventures!!! It felt like the greatest decision to wander about Paris rather than drive three hours to Deauville and three hours back, but I’d still have loved to stick my feet in the sea….
Oh, yes, and if you read this far, you might have also realized that I never did make it to the Musée d’Orsay, and in the end, that matters little. Perhaps all of life’s journey is kind of like this???
PARIS – I had the Abbey Bookshop in mind yesterday when I posted that short story of mine on my new fiction area of my blog. I was readying myself to attend an event at the Abbey for the launch of the latest edition of an online literary magazine called Five Dials, which I have written about in the past, as well as of a book that is published in – at least – English and French and has been nominated for several of the top French literary prizes. But what I least expected to make the whole evening worthwhile for me was the meeting of an optimist.
The Five Dials, to recap on an earlier blog item, is edited by a Canadian named Craig Taylor, who lives in London, and who has done a book about Londoners. Five Dials has been running since 2008, and it is one of the top online only literary reviews. To quote directly from the Five Dials entry in Wikipedia, the review’s “notable contributors include famous authors living and deceased such as Raymond Chandler, Noam Chomsky, Alain De Botton, Zadie Smith, Dave Eggers, Jonathan Safran Foer, Hari Kunzru, J. M. G. Le Clézio and Susan Sontag.” It is published by the respected publisher Hamish Hamilton.
As to the book that was being presented by its author, Eric Reinhardt, it was “The Victoria System,” which the Nouvel Observateur called: “Dark, twisted and devastating. A big novel of amorous adventures in the era of the blackberry. Eric Reinhardt is the new Alexandre Dumas.”
But it was my unexpected meeting with a curious optimist that actually made the evening for me. This was the flower child-looking Marie Deschamps with flowers in her hair whom Brian Spence, the bookshop owner introduced me to. It was not long in our conversation before we realized that we had a point in common. The point was our basic belief in an optimistic approach to life – even when it’s trying to sink you. In fact, Marie told me that she had started a kind of association called “the curious optimists” and they get together once a month in Paris to meet and eat and talk and celebrate about how great life is. She said her Facebook page for the Curious Optimists had just exploded, so much did people want to be optimistic….
Philosopher of Optimism
She also said she was about to leave Paris on a world tour that she will film, trying to meet other optimists and to spread the word. Marie told me her road to this philosophy really came after she did her degrees at Science Po in Paris and the London School of Economics, and she came back to Paris and found a little too much of the opposite of optimism…. I told her that her world tour was a little bit like my world tour and the film I’m working on about it in the world of the open mics and open jams. And, I also told her that she ought to read my interview book called: Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism, as everything she was saying was part of the philosophy of that book.
Could I have asked for a better or more curious or optimistic evening than that at the Abbey Bookshop????
I had a feeling of beginnings and endings last night as I walked down the Rue Princess past the closed up shop of the Village Voice bookstore, which had been on that street for 30 years, and where I went regularly – if much less in recent years than in the early years – during most of that time. I had expected to see a sushi shop in its place, but I was surprised to see the eerie storefront of the bookstore still there, but with the windows whitewashed. In fact, before I arrived on the street, I had suddenly thought that, “Oh hell, maybe the bar I am heading to play at is in what used to be the Village Voice!”
As it turned out, the Little Temple bar was NOT in the place of the Voice, as I mentioned, but slightly up the street and on the same side of the road. I had been invited by Jake Weinsoff, my friendly violin player with whom I played a couple of times in recent weeks. Jake has been hosting a musical evening at the Little Temple bar for a few months (it seems), and while it is not an open mic, Jake opens the mic and invites friends to play occasionally.
So for me, it WAS an open mic. It was also something new! I have not been doing enough new things in Paris lately, so I was keen to try this. It was also “new” because Jake injects new life into the musical evening, and just about everything he plays. I came a little too late to see his singing set in the beginning, and by the time I left to go to an old open mic, he was about to go up again – but I had to move on.
The Little Temple, by the way, is a very cozy Irish pub kind of place, with typical wooden walls, and all sorts of cubby holes and table and tall chairs all over. Very comfortable, and a fun night.
But I had heard that the MC team is changing at the once-per-month Lizard Lounge open mic near the City Hall, and so I did not want to miss it yesterday just in case the thing no longer exists in another month. I was told I need not worry about that, as it turns out the bar owner really wants to keep the open mic running, and there may even be a chance it will run more often than just the first Sunday of the month.
The same team of MCs has been running this open mic for five years, and it actually existed even before that. So this is a real long-running Paris institution of an open mic. I love it too because it takes place in the same basement – cave – room where I did my first ever open mic in Paris, on the Monday night in 2008, when it was run by Earle Holmes. (That one ran simultaneous to the Sunday night event – ie, two open mics on certain weeks.)
I got there a bit late, of course, last night, and so I only saw two or three acts. And I did my own songs. But I thoroughly enjoyed the evening, and was glad I didn’t miss it, and glad to get the news of what the future may hold….
Having recently discovered that the Shakespeare and Company bookstore has recently moved to a new address around the corner from its old one facing Notre Dame Cathedral, I also began thinking about that, of course, on this theme of new and old and changing of the guard, and in the context of the Village Voice. Life changes.
In keeping with my promise to go out to as many “literary events” as I can, I went to a couple last night. There was a gathering at Shakespeare and Company to honor George Whitman, who died a year ago. And there was a little Christmas get together at the Abbey Bookshop, around the corner from Shakespeare and Company. The Abbey is run by Brian Spence, a Canadian whose bookstore on Harbord Street in Toronto I used to sometimes go to when I was at the University of Toronto. Shakespeare and Company, of course, I started going to shortly after that period, when George was already what seemed to me to be an “old man.” And he would go on to live another nearly 30 years.
I made a little film of someone playing piano at Shakespeare and Company, but aside from that, it was really just a question of wandering around and paying respects, and perhaps having a bit of tea or some other drink, which I did not do. Then I went off to the Abbey and there an author was reading out in front of the shop, standing a crate like a speaker at Speaker’s Corner in London, with a large crowd of people standing in the cold beneath him. I think his book’s title has the word “merde” in it, and so I decided to go into the store away from the crowd, where I was warmly greeted – as usual – by the genial Brian Spence, who was preparing goodies for the Christmas toast to follow.
I drank a deadly beverage offered by Brian who had received it from a client, and I read a few first pages of books to see if I wanted to buy any – the one I recall is Borges’ Labyrinths then an AJ Liebling book on boxing, but then the drink went to my head (it was from the Czech Republic or Poland or some equally strong, hardy nation) and I cannot remember the others – and decided I did not want to buy anything. I needed to eat something very quickly if I was to survive the rest of the night and a beer or two.
So I went to a restaurant around the corner, ate some fromage de tête (head cheese), which was as disgusting as it sounds – were it not for the fact that it was excellent quality – and then a terrine de volaille and then ris de veau (sweetbreads, i.e. thymus glands), and some wine, and I was all ready to go off and have some Delerium beer and use up all that delirium and even the tremens, on an open mic.
So I went to the open mic that I reported last week was a little like a literary salon, the one at the Arte Café. After all I had been through, I really did not expect the open mic to live up to my past experiences there, and I fully expected to stay a short time and leave. I thought I would stay long enough to drink the Delerium to digest the animal innards. But the open mic, once again, was really wonderful, and I enjoyed the music, enjoyed playing, and then enjoyed the jam session, and above all, meeting new and interesting people – as always at the Arte Cafe. Thanks again, Arte Cafe!
I have decided to create a new feature type of article on this blog. Because this is a blog, and because I believe in Ernest Hemingway’s dictum about writers not criticizing other writers in print as reviewers – “You cannot run with the hare and hunt with the hounds,” he said – but because I love to read good books and talk about them, I have decided to start this occasional feature. The idea is that I am not going to place myself on a critical pedestal and dictate what is righteous or not about a book I read. I am not going to recommend it as a piece of literature or a consumer product. I am not going to fulfill the role of the book reviewer whatsoever. I’m not even certain I would have the talent, let alone the knowledge, training and authority. This is a blog. It is my space, Brad’s world. So what I will do when I feel compelled, will be to write about books I am reading or have read or feel compelled to write about for any other reason. This “Not-Book-Review,” as I will call the writing, will be something people can read, and should read, only as a reflection of how I felt about the book – not a recommendation that they should or should not read it.
The idea was inspired by the book I just finished, and that accompanied me from Austin, Texas to Sao Paulo to New York’s JFK airport and then back to Paris, all in the last week and a half. I rarely read any 500-page book that quickly. But I did it this time. And I can’t even say that I think this book is some kind of gripping masterpiece. But I really, thoroughly loved reading Neil Young’s autobiography, memoir, tale of his life past, present and maybe future.
Grabbing hold of your own destiny. It feels great when you do it. Last night I went to the Highlander open mic and found it bursting with life, musicians and spectators. So much so that I was around 20th on the list of performers, and I wondered how I was going to make it from around 9:30 PM to 00:30 AM standing, listening, drinking, before I got up to express myself.
After a beer, I decided that I knew no one with whom I wanted to have an extended conversation – despite some great friends present – as I was feeling a little low. I decided that my life is my own, and rather than standing there, I should go out into the evening and take a walk down the street to Shakespeare and Company bookstore to see if they had a recent issue of The New York Review of Books. I would freshen my spirt, and return to the open mic with a different mindset.
So I went. A nice night, sun still, not dark. And when I arrived at Shakespeare and Company I still had an hour there before it closed. I found an issue of the 12 July to 15 August of the NYBR and then decided to look at the books. I found a few that intrigued me, but I bought none. I then heard some piano from the first floor, and applause. Hmm… Life music?
I went upstairs and found the piano room in the library and there were a couple of teenagers, one with a violin and the other on the piano. They also had an electric guitar. There was a nice little audience of five or six people or more, of all ages. The musicians finished playing their song, saw my guitar and asked if I wanted to play. I sure did! So I did “Mad World,” and “Father and Son,” and the pianist and violin player joined me on the first, and the pianist tried to join me on the second too, but they were on the way out the door.
It was a real pleasure to play in amongst the books at this monument of Paris bookstores where you are truly free to roam, read, play and whatever…. When I finished my song, a woman with her boyfriend or husband, said, “Do you play at the Highlander sometimes?” I said I did, and she said she recognized me from perhaps three months before. She and the man had only been to the Highlander once, but she had remembered me. Ouch! That was cool. And it showed what a small village Paris can be sometimes.
Of course, it brightened my spirits massively, and I left Shakespeare and Company feeling as if I had been in control of my life and raising my downer spirit. I returned to the Highlander after barely an hour’s absence and walked in the door to order a beer, and a woman greeted me: “How are you?!? Long time no see. You cracking?” Or something like that. “Ready for some action?” she added. Well, I had to admit, “Yes.” I was ready. What was she proposing?
Anyway, I spent the rest of the evening at the Highlander with her and a friend with her, whom I met and got on with like a highlander on fire. (sorry) I then performed my songs, and they liked it and the stuff went over well, despite me not doing only the usual stuff but trying something new.
The only drawback to what turned out to be a fabulous evening all together, was that I only managed to make three videos of the great musicians present last night. My favorite of the three is the one of Thomas Brun going crazy on the final song of the night with all his electronic toys. It was very cool, and grabbed the spirit of the night.
But meeting up with the woman of long time no see, and meeting the people who had seen me months earlier, it all made Paris feel like a village…. One where it is possible to control one’s destiny – or at least whether you are having fun or not…. 🙂
Hugely mixed emotions yesterday night as I had a couple of literary evenings mixed with music to attend. The first was not mixed with music, in fact, but was the most bittersweet. That was a visit to The Village Voice Bookshop, for a party to “celebrate” the closure of this Paris institution of the last 30 years. The store is closing as it can no longer survive as an independent bookshop in our Internet and ebook world. The second event was a celebration of Bloomsday, at the Swan Bar, where I was invited to play music and to listen to readings of James Joyce prose and other Irish things.
The Village Voice was one of my first Paris hangouts, and I went there in the second year of its existence, starting in 1983. I had seen many readings there, met many people, and got to know Odile Hellier, the woman who started the shop and has run it all these years. She is a fascinating woman who loves American literature, and decided to open a store with the true feel of the American literary expat bookshop in Paris – I guess she is a mixture of both Sylvia Beach AND Adrienne Monnier, who ran their stores only a few blocks away a few decades ago….
When I arrived for the closing celebration, I found that not even my personal invitation to the thing would save me from the impossibility of getting through the doors, so full was the two-floor shop of admirers and book lovers. In fact, they were bursting out into the street. All I could manage to do was glimpse inside and see Odile reading something from the staircase to the throngs below. I made a video of this, to give an idea.
I went off and ate a wonderful pizza dinner at a nearby pizzeria, where I also devoured the London Review of Books that I had bought in Montreal last week. Then I returned, sweating from that hot and spicy pizza, and found that I could now penetrate into the Village Voice. There I found the place now had enough room available for a visitor to wander around, and meet old friends. I started by saying hello to Odile outside the shop, where she was talking with someone and no doubt getting some fresh air after her various readings.
Inside, I found some old friends, including Jim Haynes, the American Paris expat supreme, whom, I recalled, I had met for the first time at the Village Voice in the back room cafe it used to have, in 1984, while I was reading Jim’s very own autobiography, “Thanks For Coming.” Jim and I kept contact over the years, I have been to his famous Sunday dinners at his atelier in the 15th arrondissement, and our lives have criss-crossed occasionally.
I also saw David Applefield, whom I had met at Shakespeare and Company in 1983 in the writer’s room, but whom I had probably seen more often in those early days at the Village Voice. David, at the time I met him, was working on the first Paris issue of his literary review called “Frank,” which would go on to have many more issues and a long life in Paris. Last night he passed on to me a book he has just published, right off the press, in a new imprint, and which was written by another Paris literary alumnus, John Strand.
Strand had started another Paris literary review in the early 1980s, called Exile, or Paris Exile, can’t remember quite. But I do remember him celebrating one of the issues at some kind of evening at the Village Voice in the early 1980s. Strand has gone on to become a multiple prize-winning playwright based in Washington D.C., and his novel is called, “Commieland.” I’m looking forward to reading it, and seeing where Applefield’s imprint, called, Kiwai Media, goes.
Unfortunately, I could stay long at the Village Voice as I had agreed so sing Irish songs at the Bloomsday evening at the Swan Bar, a newer American-culture hangout in Paris. In a brisk walk from the rue Princesse to Montparnasse, I managed to digest that pepperoni pizza and all the desert items – macarons – that I ate at the Village Voice. I arrived to find Sheldon Forrest hard at work accompanying a singer, and the Swan Bar was just brimming full of people.
This bode well, and as I waited to perform my first song, it occurred to me that I had a nice little story to tell about James Joyce, and I could connect it to the build up of my song. It was a story about how the journalist and novelist Eugene Jolas had spoken to Joyce one day and asked him what he accomplished that day, and Joyce responded that he had worked all day and managed to complete a sentence. “Only one sentence??!!!” “Well, yes,” said Joyce. “I knew what the seven words were, but I could not figure out what order I wanted to put them in.” I then told the audience that I had several songs, but did not know what order to sing them in. The one that went down the best, and which I did sing the best, was “Only Our Rivers Run Free,” by Mickey MacConnell.
There were lots of other musicians, lots of readers, and the evening was in general a bigger success – I felt – than last year’s such celebration at the Swan Bar.
I returned home, had a good sleep, got up today and finally, finally, after nearly four years finished the book I have been working on about my first year of musical adventures around the world. I also came up with a new, final, working title: “OUT OF A JAM: An Around-the-World Story of Healing and Rebirth through Music” In the end, I must say, that it felt appropriate to complete the book on such a literary weekend….