PARIS – The other day when I put up that article I did about Marc Villard, the French crime writer, I mentioned that I thought it was about time for me to create a separate space on this blog to hold together all my articles about the French crime writing scene. Sleeping on the idea, I came up with an idea I like even more, which is to create a space on the blog that will group together ALL of the writing on this blog about writers and writing. So it seemed natural to create a menubar, that you see above this post at the top of the browser, called “Writing on Writers and Writing.”
Under that menubar you will find a collection of all sorts of bits and pieces of writing from this blog of stuff about writers and writing, books, bookstores, Not Book Reviews, etc. It is not an exhaustive collection of such writing that I have done over the years, by any means. It is just like the rest of this blog, stuff that I chose at any given time to devote a page to. As a result, I took away some of the articles previously held in certain other parts of the blog – like from “Blog Articles as Opposed to Posts,” and I gave them this their own home.
I am hoping that it will inspire me to contribute regularly to them with many of the pieces of writing on writing and writers that I have done in the past, and perhaps, eventually, I will create subheadings for each area that may grow too big, such as the writings specifically about the French crime writing scene.
Finally, I also decided to add to the Fiction menu the some of the translations that I have done of other people’s fiction, notably the three stories by Marc Villard, and a story by Jean-Hugues Oppel, that appeared in an anthology in the United States, and then later made its way to a BBC radio play, which is where the link goes.
And so it is that under semi-lockdown I have finally found the time to do some long-required housekeeping on this blog! (You will have seen the huge lack of blog items in recent months about playing music in public! And you will not, coronavirus oblige, wonder why!)
PARIS – Everything you ever wanted to know about my life and music but were afraid to ask – or maybe didn’t really want to know! – is now in a 50-minute video just released on Escargot Underground Radio’s site via YouTube and Escargot’s Facebook page. This was a riot to do, and makes up part of a series of such video interviews that these people are doing – all in French, so watch out! – of musicians that are part of their Escargot Underground open mic world in Paris in the last half decade or so….
If you enjoyed the interview, they will be posting more of them in the coming weeks, so check them out. Or go to the Escargot Web Radio pageand give a listen to the people they will be interviewing….
PARIS – I could have created some click-bait for those who do not know who James Thierrée is by adding in the headline of this blog post the words “grandson of Charlie Chaplin.” But James Thierrée, who is the son of Chaplin’s daughter Victoria, made a name for himself long, long ago, and so it is debatable how much value the “Charlie Chaplin’s grandson” moniker still holds today. Thierrée, who grew up performing since he was a child in his parents’ circus, then trained all over the world (including at the Piccolo Teatro in Milan and the Harvard Theater School), and who is adept as a mime, dancer, acrobat, violinist, actor, director among other things, has clearly added several dimensions to the Chaplin identity that he inherited. Of course, the one thing he cannot really do anything about is that he looks almost a dead-ringer for his grandfather – especially the grey-haired version. This last week Thierrée has been putting on a show, called Raoul, at the 13éme Art theater in the place d’Italie in Paris, and Ornella Bonventre and I decided to check it out.
My not-reviews are meant to be blog posts about me going to a show, reading a book, listening to music, eating a meal, and talking about it as a spectator – no “critic” attached. But this time, I decided to explore a slightly different version, and give most of the words over to Ornella, who, as an Italian actress, theater director, playwright and circus artist, I knew had a much better sense of what James Thierrée’s show was all about and could do a better job of talking about it than I can.
So we spoke about it together, and I have decided to run a little Q&A from that talk as my “not review.” Oh, and by the way, just for the sake of context it is important to know that despite our leaving home on time to get to the show by its 20:30 start time, we arrived at least 15 minutes late due to the tragic accident of someone falling – or jumping? – onto the metro tracks on Line 6 at the Quai de la Gare station and causing us to lose nearly half an hour in getting out of the metro and finding a taxi and then having to wait to be taken to seats in the 900-seat theater. As a result of me being placed in a handicapped person’s seating area, my view of the show was not great (would the view have been better from a wheelchair? If not, this is scandalous.), and we missed the beginning of the show, and therefore perhaps some vital information on the game-plan of the spectacle.
The Q & A With Ornella Bonventre Answering Brad Spurgeon on James Thierrée’s Raoul
Ornella Bonventre & Brad Spurgeon Clowning
Question to Ornella from Brad.You were telling me that you enjoyed some of the technical aspects of the show, like the puppets but also James Thierrée’s physical movements. Why?
Answer from Ornella. I enjoyed the entire show from a technical point of view. I was very, very surprised because I wasn’t expecting anything. I wasn’t expecting a comical show, I wasn’t expecting a mime show, I wasn’t expecting him to be doing Charlie Chaplin. I was just expecting something very good – and in fact it was very good. I enjoyed the techniques he used as a director, because the structure of the show was based on principles that I am trying to use as a theater director too. For example, the puppet theater technique, or the use of the lights, the use of the space, the different levels of height he used on the stage throughout.
And I think this is something that James Thierrée had to face as the grandchild of Charlie Chaplin. He cannot just repeat what Charlie Chaplin did. He has to be something else, and probably something more and different and unique in his own way.
Q.What about the mixing of the huge puppets he used occasionally as well, the use of the giant stage set, and trapeze-like things, etc.?
A. I loved that because everything was transformed. Each object had its own life and was transformed into something else. And that’s very magical. And it is always the goal in my theater to obtain this result as well. And they were doing it with very traditional techniques. The puppets were built in a very simple way. And they were moved by people, not with machines, so there was nothing extraordinarily technical, and the materials also were simple, poor materials – like papier maché, simple cloths, etc.
A. Yes. I loved the use of sound in this show, the use of the soundtracks and the noises. And I think that they were necessary because they were also covering the noises of all of the huge machines that were moving up and down on the stage, the things from the floor to the ceiling, and the huge puppets. So the soundtrack was necessary to cover these sounds so that the audience would not be distracted and removed from the spell of the show by the unintended noises. It was very well done.
Q.For me the biggest problem was that I was waiting for, or expecting, a kind of storyline that I couldn’t find. So it was difficult for me to hitch in to the narrative. Was that something you found difficult too?
James Thierrée aloft in Raoul
A. Yes, there was no story…or possibly because we arrived late and we weren’t able to see the beginning of the show, and that might have helped to follow the story more. But even so, for me the story was: “Welcome to a magical world!” A world made of little things in which the objects have their own life, and the objects themselves were actors on the stage. Strange things were happening around this poor character who was reacting to what was happening around him. And he was very tender; he was the typical character of the clown, with the stupefaction, the wonderment about everything; every little thing became something extraordinary. This is the principle of the work that we saw. And it is something that I really adore – the magic of little things.
Q.That makes me think of the fact that I felt the theater was too big for the show! 900 seats! I had the worst seat I ever had in a theater (for the maximum price of 45 euros), with two people right in front of me on the same level, and I could not see clearly the area where Thierrée performed most of the show. It was difficult for me to see the little things and small movements. So I felt I was missing a lot. How was your seat just beside me?
A. My vision was good. It is true that probably the theater was very, very big, but fortunately for Thierrée it was full. It was sold out. And I think that’s why it’s necessary to have a very big theater; in order to contain all of his fans, the whole audience that he brings. It’s true that perhaps this show can work better in a smaller theater, but the reason for such a big theater I think is simply to contain the audience he brings.
But, even so, I was able to follow the details. As I said before, every theater show is made of the details – the movements even of the eyes – and usually you are able to see those things even if you are far away from the stage. Because that’s it, this is theater. The quality is in the details, and even if you are not really able to see clearly the details they touch you in any case.
Q.What did you see that I did not see since I am not an expert on mime, on movement, on dance? Can you tell me what you saw in his skills, in his techniques, that was so exciting for you and that held your attention?
A. Perfection. I never saw such a high quality of movement in all the senses. His movements were so fluid, so organic and so true – above all organic and fluid and it had a high, high quality that I’ve never seen before.
Q.What kind of movements are you talking about in particular?
A. In general. The whole show is based on his movements. There is no wind on stage, for example, but it exists, a very strong wind blowing at 100 kph because you see his body that is acting as if the wind is there. So he is creating a world with his body, just with his body. He is acting as if the wind is there, so for me, the wind was there. I was believing in that.
Q.Some of the funniest, most successful parts were the simplest, most slapstick things, I felt. Like him pouring water into a cup that it is bottomless, and then when he tries to drink it, there is no water in the cup. It’s a gag. It’s an old joke. But for me it was a moment I could really relate to and identify with.
A. Me too. Welcome to the magical world of the little things. It’s amazing how he had such beautiful tricks and big machines that carry him up and around the stage, but what is working best are those little things. In fact, you asked me about the quality of his movements, and the quality of his actions, and I told you it is amazing. I never saw such perfection. Why? Because I always saw those tricks – the water, or the wind or the body acting in a certain way, mime stuff – because I grew up in circus, in theater, and to me this is my daily life. So I appreciated those little things because they were so well done, they were magical.
Q. So he did old gags in a fabulous way.
Q.What about the advantage or disadvantage of being Charlie Chalplin’s grandson? I think that part of the reason the theater was full was because everyone knows this is Charlie Chaplin’s grandson. But also that can be a negative thing too because you are being compared to Charlie Chaplin, to your grandfather. How do you see this aspect of his identity?
A. I think it is already difficult for everyone to find their own identity. To find our identity is a battle. And so, I think that for him, as for all people who are the “son of,” “grandchild of” or the “daughters of” famous and loved personalities, it is very, very difficult. I think it is a weapon that can turn against you easily if you are not good enough to demonstrate to the audience that you are really unique and great in your own way. So at the beginning it can be something that brings an audience, but if you are not good enough this is also something that can destroy you forever. And I don’t think the theater was full because he is the grandchild of Charlie Chaplin, because he has been on the stage for many years. So probably in the beginning the theaters were full because he was the grandchild of Charlie Chaplin, but today if he wasn’t good enough the theater wouldn’t be full.
Q.Were there areas that disappointed you?
A. I don’t know if “disappointed” is the right word. But one flat point was the story. It is true. I don’t know if it was because we missed the beginning or not. Another thing, and I asked myself this: “Why are you not doing this guy??!” It was a moment when the house lights were turned on over the audience and he stared at us, and I thought, “My God, use this! Now you see us, and you are trying to interact with us. But do this for real. Come to us and use this other part of the space.” In fact, he did do that, but just one time. When he entered from the door and walked directly in front of us. But it was just one time, and it was so quick. Just a moment like that! (Ornella snaps her fingers.) So not disappointment, but…it could have been more.
And also, I think this show was all about teamwork, and I would have loved to see more of the other participants. As well as their names on the posters, etc., being more recognized for their contribution.
But the rhythm of the show was amazing. Because it was a very long show. And without a structured story. So it is difficult to keep an audience seated down like that for 1 hour and 40 minutes. So the rhythm was amazing.
And the meta-theater aspect was interesting too. To show the show being made was amazing.
Q.You mean when they were fake hiding the members of the cast and crew with screens as they came out to set up the props, pretending that they were not there, etc.? But much of the show was “meta” stuff. It is external appreciation of what was being done, as opposed to really entering into the character, no? How much were you involved personally in the character?
A. I can honestly say to you that I was moved. As I am moved every time that I work with Claudio Madia in Milan and he really becomes a child, and the tenderness, and the innocence comes out…. At that moment I am completely with the character and I am moved. Because the theme of the innocence of childhood is personally something that touches me a lot. Was I with the character? Yes.
Q.We are living in a world where anything is technically possible in film, on the internet, in YouTube, and here is James Thierrée’s show with traditional gags, the flesh-and-blood live performance of an individual, and nothing that you can see in the way of the technological achievements that even a knowledgeable home video editor can do. What place does a show like this have in today’s world where our senses have been numbed by anything being visually possible on YouTube?
A. I think, honestly, that shows like this, and not even just this kind in particular, but the theater in general has a very important place in our contemporary world. I really believe that it is the future of this world. Theater is a meeting. But for real it is a meeting. It is a meeting between the audience and the actors and it is a meeting between the daily life of the audience and the life of the show, of the stories of the show. It is a meeting between the audience and the audience. It is work that you do in a team. When you are working in a show you are not alone. Your show depends on other people. So theater is a meeting, and it is made by people for people. And it is the future. And its place in our contemporary world is very, very important. Wherever there are two people in the same spot that want to listen to each other, there is theater. It is up to theater today to save human relationships and humanity.
MILAN – It was a crazy few days of a classic example of performing my unfinished business for my new company called Unfinished Business SAS, created last month and truly starting business next week. But I just had to write about this weekend in Milan, as a perfect example of how my business is now about doing all the different things I ever did or wanted to do in my life, but now, all at the same time! And so it went with me wearing my 41-year-0ld, green and orange sequinned circus costume while acting the role of a glam rocker from the 70s arriving in a special part of heaven – for women only – along with Ornella Bonventre of TAC Teatro at an art exhibition in Navigli on Friday; to a jam Saturday evening on the top floor of a condo to celebrate my birthday; to featuring in a conference to present the second edition of my Colin Wilson book after a 5-actor play presented at a Red Cross event, and taking a side route as the play’s sound and light man when it was discovered that the theater had not booked their person to work that night…. The whole followed by another brief jam at the Spazio Ligera before returning to Paris today…
The weekend was also supposed to include setting up the exhibition about peoples’ dreams – Acchiappa Sogni – that Unfinished Business helped TAC Teatro do a few months ago. It was supposed to be set up for the second time at a local public library, but there turned out to be a problem with scheduling. No problem. That can be done another day. I only mention it to talk about the diversity of this weekend in Milan.
Which was the most fun? That’s my point: It was all equally fun, sometimes nerve-wracking, as well as hugely gratifying. And all of it thanks to my association with TAC Teatro. Ornella Bonventre and I first started rehearsing the Friday night show in the TAC Teatro France space in Asnieres last week. At the time, I couldn’t quite believe it would turn into the wonderful event it did. By now, I can believe anything! The story of Ornella’s one-woman-show, called “Avete mai provato ad essere donne…,” is that of a place in heaven for women who have been beaten and eventually killed by their husbands. It is all about the low opinion people have of women – but all done in good humour, as in the section about how one woman was the fourth girl in a family of no boys, and the huge disappointment of the father….
Anyway. my role turned into that of an androgynous glam rock star from the 1970s – Bowie, Bolan, Glitter, etc. – finding himself in heaven, but not sure where to go. He ends up in this women’s part, and he is accepted there, and is invited to play his music as the various women tell their stories. The role just naturally wrote itself, and the final crowning touch was when I remembered I still had my glam circus costume from my days in the circus in 1976 and it still, somehow managed to fit me! It also turned out that I have a large number of cover songs from the 1970s or earlier, touching on subjects that just fit right in – “Father and Son,” “Cat’s Cradle,” “Just Like a Woman,” etc., as well as some of my own songs that fit in, like the sad one, “Memories,” that we closed the show with.
The exhibition was a series of paintings and sculptures by the Italian artist, Roberta Stifano, who gave us a tour of the artworks in the exhibition, “Dal Tunnel…” and explained how they charted her experience in a relationship with a narcissist pervert, and the resulting road from infatuation to pain to torture to separation, and eventual slow recovery. It was clearly a good marriage between the exhibition and Ornella Bonventre’s monologue, entitled “Avete mai provato ad essere donne…”
And Then Came the Interlude of a Chef From Emilia Romagna
Saturday was supposed to be the setting up of the Acchiappa Sogni exhibit at a public library, and here I post again the video that I helped to make, and I edited, for that project many months ago. TAC Teatro and Unfinished Business plan to continue collaboration on this and other such projects in the future.
Saturday night, it was time for a break, and I was invited to a birthday party in the top floor of an apartment overlooking Milan, with the Duomo glowing visible in the distance. It was a private party just for me, for my very big birthday that actually happened on Pearl Harbour day. The main interest of this party was the invitation of a private chef from the great dining area of Italy, the Emilia Romagna. She prepared a fabulous lasagna typical of the region – making the sauce and the actual pasta herself. We had a roast porc and some fabulous fried potatoes that has herbs and spices that the cool would not reveal but said were a secret recipe of her grandmother. The dessert was a typical Italian tart, filled this time with fabulous fresh prunes.
After the meal, which by the way was watered by two different Italian wines from the chef’s region, I pulled out my guitar and two other guests pulled out some bongo drums, and we jammed for an hour or so. A better, more relaxing evening could not be had….
And from there, to the Binario 7 theater complex for the conference and play of TAC Teatro
The final evening in Milan was the very special one of my first witnessing of the TAC Teatro production of the play called Edipo Rap, written by Angelo Villa, an Italian psychologist who is also the author of many oeuvres. I have not only seen this play in preparation over the last year from auditions to rehearsals, but I have also helped to re-edit the trailer that contains the endorsement by Mogol, the great Italian songwriter. On Sunday, once again I watched a little bit of the rehearsal at TAC Teatro, and gave a little feedback to Ornella Bonventre, the director of the play. But I knew little else about it, and had never seen it performed from beginning to end.
So it was a moment of extraordinary panic when I found myself at the Teatro Binario 7 just an hour before the show and with Angelo Villa present, and I learned that I had been drafted in as the sound and lighting man! I at first refused, saying that not only can I not speak Italian, but I’ve never seen the play! It turned out that the Binary 7 had not included a technical guy to deal with the sound and light, and no one knew this until the moment the troupe arrived at the theater, just an hour and a half before the show.
But Ornella and TAC and the four other actors of the play are the very definition of theatrical troupers. So I was drafted in to do whatever I could to help, while the other actors filled in on the lighting and sound responsibilities whenever they were not on stage! To my great amazement, I managed to perform the lighting and sound function without a hitch, and when it was not my responsibility, the actors did the same, again without a hitch. No audience member – and there were between 120 and 130 of them in a full-house of the small theater – was aware that anything but a professional, smooth production was underway and went from beginning to end without a hitch.
Such is life in the theatrical lane!
And once my duties as the light and sound man were finished I was then invited up onto the stage in my official role – more unfinished business – in presenting the second edition of my book, “Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism,” to the audience as part of the conference after the play. The other invited guests were two emergency workers of the Red Cross, a psychiatrist and Angelo Villa. So I was among distinguished company.
Edipo Rap, in fact, is a play that deals with the problem of drugs, and ultimately, outsiders from society – which is why there was the connection with my Colin Wilson book – Wilson being a specialist on the theme of the Outsider – and the Red Cross had paid to host the play as part of a show of its new service that it offers to people in trouble with drugs and in need of emergency psychological assistance. This service is offered in Monza and Milan, and the space between.
Yes, it was strange for me to find myself performing all of these functions in Monza! For regular readers of this blog will know that I have been visiting Monza annually since 1998 or so to cover the Formula One race – until this year! And so I was back again, symbolically NOT covering the F1 but taking care of unfinished business, in the way of running a theater performance’s lighting and sound system while then appearing and a special guest author.
The play was fascinating even for someone who understands no Italian! The actors were an eclectic group that includes Ornella, who in addition to directing the play, had a small role that opens and closes the action; Cisky, a well-known Italian rap artist (and former prisoner who turned his life around with theater and music); and Jagorart Marco, who is a fantastic circus juggler trying to turn his life around into that of actor.
After the show came the conference, as I mentioned, with Ornella acting as my interpreter. I was pleased to learn that no one in the audience had heard of Colin Wilson – despite many of his books being translated into Italian – and so I was able to give a very short primer on who he was.
After the conference came a return to our local hangout, the Spazio Ligeria, in via Padova, where over a nice meal of pasta and other things, I took a moment to take part in the ongoing jam session that had been providing the soundtrack all evening.
The weekend left a very strong feeling of no unfinished business. I hope I can have many more like it….
PARIS – It has soon been four years since Colin Wilson, one of Britain’s angry young men of literature in the 1950s, died as a not-so-angry old man – at age 82 on 5 December 2013. The anniversary has provided an impetus for a couple of unfinished projects to finally come to life: A new edition of my interview book with Wilson, called, Colin Wilson: Philosopher of Optimism, and the release of some excerpts from another interview I did with Wilson in the same year of the book publication, in 2006. For the book, it was time to update the story and write about the rest of Wilson’s life after the interview, as well as to write a new preface in which I talk about the strange way this book about optimism came at the time of my life when I needed that sense more than ever before.
For the film, it made sense for this project that has been hibernating for 11 years, to finally see some daylight. So it is that Excalibur Productions of Yorkshire, in the UK, and Michael Butterworth Books of Manchester, all agreed to release some excerpts from that never-before-seen video interview between Wilson and me. For me personally, it was very strange to see myself 11 years later, in another lifetime, and having survived that dark period. For fans of Wilson’s writing and philosophy of life, it is a great moment to see this extraordinary British writer as if coming back to life.
Wilson, for those of you who do not know him, shot to world fame at the age of 25 in 1956 with the publication of his first book, called “The Outsider.” It was a kind of popular introduction to existentialism in the UK, a study of such outsiders as Nijinsky, T.E. Lawrence, Hermann Hesse, William Blake, and many others. It came out at the same time and was reviewed at the same time as the playwright John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger,” and the British press decided to label these writers “Angry Young Men.”
The label would be passed on to many other writers of the time, such as Alan Sillitoe, Arnold Wesker, Kingsley Amis and others. Wilson would be no doubt the most prolific of them all, and he was also the one that was ultimately the most difficult to pin down and label as a writer beyond that initial effort. He would write books covering such a diversity of subjects – crime, the occult, philosophy, psychology, biography, fiction and many other things in over a hundred books through his life – that his reception by the critics and the British literary world in general, went through a permanent roller coaster of a ride between respect and reviling him throughout his life.
“Wilson’s philosophy of optimism runs like a clear thread through all of his varied works,” is how my book’s publisher, Michael Butterworth Books, puts it. “It is at the very battlefront of the fight against the pessimistic world-view. At its core lie the twin concepts of ‘intentionality’ and the ‘peak experience’, which show us that if we open our eyes and direct perception properly we can use our minds in the most positive sense to bring change to ourselves and to the world about us.”
Not long after the book was published, I was invited by the Excalibur people to interview Wilson on camera. This interview too was a long, wide-ranging one that lasted some two hours in total and touched on just about all aspects of his life and writings. Somehow, for many and varied reasons, the film never got released…until now with these excerpts.
So I hope you enjoy this “blast from the past” because it is just as pertinent, or even more so, to our chaotic and difficult present….
PARIS – No I am not in retirement!!! In recent weeks I have bumped into friends and acquaintances who have wondered about my working status as they have been slightly confused by some of my recent blog posts that make them think that I have, or am about to, “slow down” and “retire.” After another such moment at a bar in the Latin Quarter last night, I decided it was time to make clear to readers of this blog one of the biggest changes in my life “situation,” that came about in phases over the end of last year and the beginning of this year. This blog was always linked to a degree to my world travel to F1 races, so while this is a long, drawn-out and personal post that may not even interest many of my friends let alone a casual reader of the site, it seems to make sense to lay down some markers for the future of the blog as well….
While there was a lot of focus from the media – and rightly so – on the death of this long tradition of an American newspaper in Paris, I want to also note that there still remains a staff of some nearly 50 people in the advertising department and other areas of the New York Times International Edition based in Paris, with many of these people having started out decades ago at the IHT. But as far as producing a newspaper in Paris, with its own editorial and production staff, as had been done since 1887, that came to an end last fall, and 69 people were fired. I was one of these 69 people. But my last, long-standing gig at the paper, which was a full-time job reporting on Formula One car racing, was not one of the aspects of the newspaper that they actually wanted to get rid of. But apparently it made sense to management to fire me along with everyone else, and then offer to me that I continue covering Formula One as a freelance.
This, in any case, is what happened. I at first said yes to the proposal to freelance (I had no choice on the firing business!). It seemed fabulous that I could have my cake and eat it too – i.e., I would receive my indemnities, and my unemployment insurance, and the help from various French organizations designed to aid us in our transition back to employment or, as I chose, to start a new company, and I would continue to work as a freelance. (It’s not quite that straightforward a situation, but that’s what it amounts to.)
But then, in early 2017, I learned that the newspaper would massively reduce the number of special reports about Formula One – the backbone in recent years of my work at the newspaper – to the point that the job I had been doing really and truly no longer did exist! Yes, I would have a handful of articles to write, but not enough to make a living or support a career.
To remain a Formula One expert to write those few articles would nevertheless mean being “on” all of the time regarding the series. Being an expert on F1 is a full-time job, a full-time passion and a full-time preoccupation. All of this would in turn mean that I would not be able to focus enough on my more important job of starting the company – my new legal entity – to build a future life and career. I decided to forgo the bits and pieces of freelance. So it was that the day before I received my 2017 full-season accreditation acceptance for Formula One, my F1 reporting career had officially ended.
Henceforth, I would devote myself to the founding of my new company, which I am calling “Unfinished Business,” and which will be launched officially in November. This will be the legal entity for all of the projects that I am passionate about and was never able to focus on seriously enough while working full-time covering Formula One racing. Before that all-consuming job covering F1 – a gig that lasted me nearly 25 years! – I had many other goals, ambitions and passions in life. This included lots of different and disparate writing projects that had nothing to do with racing. (When I decided to become a writer at age 20, it was never in order to specialize on a single subject, but to explore the world.)
Clown Brad and Ornella Share a Secret
I also have many other areas of my life that are important to me, that need either finishing or further expansion: Making music, finishing my documentary film about open mics around the world, doing future such documentaries, finishing and selling my memoir book about open mics around the world, selling the saleable novels in my drawers, making music videos, writing new songs and making another CD, selling my skills in making and editing videos, and yes, finally, continuing to write for newspapers and magazines around the world, but on all of the many subjects that full-time F1 writing overshadowed. I also want to expand and develop my reach into magazine and web markets that I still have an ambition to write for, but never made it into before. I intend to continue a few sideline activities as well, like clowning around riding my unicycle and juggling!
So while I am in a phase of starting up my company and putting together decades’ worth of paperwork for the transition to this new life, the concept of “retirement” – i.e., losing my ambition to create and execute personal artistic and journalistic and musical projects and earning money – that some people thought might be my current situation is something I can never imagine happening to me either now or in the future.
Ultimately, my life has little changed since I was fired from the NYT last December: I have always worked on personal creative projects outside of the jobs I have done to earn a living to pay for my – and my family’s – livelihood as I dreamed of the creative projects leading to my future livelihood. In that I have been more successful in some areas than others, but that is the way my career grew. Now, I am continuing exactly the same approach to life, but my financial earnings are simply no longer coming from the payslips of the two newspapers where I worked for more than 36 years. (I began at The Globe and Mail in Toronto in July 1980 to September 1983, when I moved to Paris and joined the IHT in December of that year.)
So, for anyone who might have thought that I am about to shrivel up and the sizzle has gone from my life – and therefore from this blog – I just wanted to let you know that the exact opposite is happening. I’m more creatively active and working harder than ever before on the projects that count most to me. And strangely, after working for 36 years in the precarious business of newspapers – I seem to remember a big wave of layoffs at the Globe in around 1982, and the trend never stopped – I have never been, or felt, so financially secure and been able to look so far ahead in terms of where my livelihood might come from as I can since last December when I was fired. That, of course, is thanks to the French social system that was such a big part of my decision to stay in this country during the several occasions when I thought I might leave – the same social system that is apparently part of the reason some international companies want to leave France…. Merci la France!
MILAN – The idea was only to try out my DJI Osmo 4k camera again and see if I could do a cool atmospheric video of a walk in the park with a bunch of jugglers, musicians, slack-line walkers and other circus arts practitioners at a get together by a lake in Lombardy. Then, thanks to some fabulous serendipity and synchronicity, something quite unexpected and beautiful, it turned into the seventh video of the series of 10 that I have been working on to “illustrate” my 10-track CD, “Out of a Jam.”
I have been working towards finding the best way to record sound with this DJI Osmo and so I again tried out my system of using a Zoom recorder attached to the DJI as a microphone. Without me realizing it, the connection between the two gadgets was bad, and eventually the recorder unplugged itself from the camera, as I was walking around the lakeside park. When I returned to view and listen to the video, I found great images – as usual with this fabulous little camera – but the sound was a disaster. A horrible mess. There was crackling, banging, popping and sometimes no sound at all. It went from silence to hurting the ears – moreover, the level was set too high as well, even when it worked, so it was distorted even when at its best.
I decided to put the video up on this blog as a demonstration, again, of what the Osmo can do, but I would put a music recording over the original sound, so not to distract and hurt the ears of the viewers. For that, I decided to use my song, “Since You Left Me.” Then, after importing to the film editing programming, when I pressed the play button, I saw immediately an uncanny synergy between the content of the video in the park and the music of the song. The musicians playing, and the dancers dancing seemingly to the same beat as my song; the link in the lyrics between seeking out another world, another way to live, and the otherworldly link to the juggling, slack-line walking, and other circus arts; even the view up to the sky at precisely the right moment for the song.
I immediately decided that I had the basis for a video for “Since You Left Me,” and that I would put in either a performance by me of the song, or do some more filming, some kind of dramatic storyline of me acting something out. So I used the performance I did of the same song at the Noctambules bar, edited it all together, and felt lucky for the serendipity, synchronicity, synergy, and luck that all seemed to combine to come up with another video for my CD, and the first with which I have used the 4k camera.
Be warned in advance. This is a rant. It has nothing to do with my usual long-drawn-out descriptions of playing music in bars around the world. But I do hope it will be at least as entertaining as a night at an open mic….
On 6 Dec. after 33 years as an employee of a company, I went freelance. The plan is to continue to do everything I always did – journalism, writing, music, film – but to be accountable only to myself, and the private company I am currently creating, which I will call: Unfinished Business. But, astoundingly, since my official separation from my employer – I was one of 69 people fired – and my decision to work only for myself, I have actually been involved in the most absurd, at times laughable, and always frustrating task of doing other peoples’ jobs for them!
For the last two months, almost every time I have had to deal with people employed to serve me – through me paying them for a service, or through government agencies, public positions, private businesses etc. – the employed individuals have not quite done their jobs correctly, not paid attention to essential details, which has in turn led to infuriating situations of me working overtime trying to resolve the consequences from the lack of attention to those details. Ultimately, it has felt at times like this has become my new full-time job.
If you think I am exaggerating or have unrealistically high ideas of a work ethic, just take a look at this incredible string of events over the last two months, this unfortunate list of 15 excruciating events that has occupied me in near full-time employment unravelling jobs-not-well-done, and let me know if you can relate to this – or worse, have your own excruciating list of such events:
The annual, so-called “check-up” for my apartment’s heater turned into a one-week ordeal of emails, telephone calls, early morning meetings with a technician over the machine that had heated my home and water perfectly for years after it broke down the night following the technician’s visit since he destroyed a regulating valve during the check up. One week to get them to repair the damage, and accept that I did not have to pay an extra fee for the valve they broke.
Three hours lost – instead of 15 minutes – and several days of stress created over a government official’s lack of attention to a detail sending me the wrong form letter invitation to a vitally important meeting that was supposed to be done by phone, but for which due to the incorrect letter, I was obliged to show up at the office of the agency, where I was unwanted.
An hour wait for both me and for the doctor at a check up, due to an error by one receptionist who failed to send the doctor the message and a lie by her replacement when I asked 30 minutes into the wait if it was normal, and she said, “Yes,” claiming without knowing it that the wait was entirely normal as the doctor was delayed, when in fact the doctor was just waiting for me in frustration.
Several days of email communications, stress, and confusion over the sending of official documents to various government agencies after a staff member went on sick leave while preparing important documents for me which then lay in limbo for weeks.
Due to a Paris metro trip from my home to the Gare de Lyon taking 1 hour 13 minutes instead of 25 minutes thanks to a so-called suspicious object, I missed a train to Milan from Paris and lost the 38-euro cost of the train ticket and was obliged to buy a 114-euro ticket for the next train that left 4-hours later.
That delay led to me going into a nearby Fnac store where I ended up paying 500 euros for the wrong handheld steady-cam thanks to a salesman not giving me correct information about the model of the camera – and loss of time and money in an international call over this error.
Endless visits to the ticket office of the Paris metro, missed metros, and sometimes lost tickets, due to some Metro employee’s new, poor choice of cardboard for the Paris metro tickets, which is ultra-sensitive to whatever happens to be in my pockets – like keys, credit cards or lint – that then demagnetizes the tickets.
Spending 1125 euros on new eyeglasses that do not work correctly as they were either poorly mounted or poorly prescribed; with the even worse insult of two months’ occupation in sending documents, emails, return visits, and debates, due to a poor job of filing the papers by the optician as I try to be reimbursed for at least part of the cost of these glasses from the Social Security and private health insurance.
A failed battle to receive an adequate sick leave note from a house call doctor for the horrendous case of the flu of my son – which lasted nearly a week.
The subsequent more than an hourlong battle to find a pharmacy open on the Sunday to buy his medication after the officially assigned pharmacy for that Sunday’s opening was closed for no apparent reason, despite its legal requirement to be open.
Having to pack up and carry internationally across Europe from Milan to Paris and then Paris back to Milan an electric moka machine that I bought in Milan and found defective once I got it back to Paris.
Returning from Milan earlier than I wanted to in order to attend a meeting at my bank in France only to have the meeting cancelled at the last minute, thus robbing me of my time in Milan and causing extra work to set up a new meeting.
Paying 23 euros, plus 2 euros tip, for a very bad, rushed, haircut so inadequately done that it required another haircut to make up for it, despite having previously discovered a great place where I can get my haircut just fine for 10 euros, plus tip, but deciding to be loyal to the more expensive place as a good client.
A more than weeklong battle with The New Yorker to be reimbursed for having accidentally taken out two 146-euro annual subscriptions from the web site because there was no adequate confirmation that my first subscription had been registered.
Repeated calls, emails, stress and information sent to a new potential colleague who failed to correctly either save or understand the information in the first place.
So tell me, is there really a conspiracy against the unemployed by the employed – to do their jobs for them – or am I just over sensitive and this just happens to all of us all of the time due to the fact that most of us, while employed, may officially be categorised as sleepwalkers? Or is this just one of those classic cases of work filling out the time available to achieve it – i.e., I have so much time on my hands now that regular daily tasks will take all that time in order to be completed? Only time will tell….
PARIS – After performing my gig at the Baroc last night in Paris with Joe Cady on the fiddle and lead guitar and David Hummel on percussion, I have realized that I do far too few gigs. Why? Because it was simply so much fun! I played two sets of nearly an hour each, and still had some songs in the pocket that I either forgot to play, or decided for various reasons not to do. David’s drumming was perfect, and Joe’s fiddle and lede guitar were gutsy and emotional – I realized what it is I like about Joe Cady’s playing. It has that quality that Neil Young has of raw, ripping feel and a personal sound.
Between the two sets a Japanese woman sang some songs in French – and part of a Gainsbourg translated in Japanese. And then after the second set the stage was taken over by jammers, and Joe and David stayed up and jammed with them while I cooled off with a cold beer at the bar….
Brad Spurgeon and band at Le Baroc
A fabulous evening, and I rarely have so much fun singing my songs and the covers.
PARIS – I don’t know if anyone noticed, but I was in Oxford over the end of last week and the weekend, and I posted only one item on this blog about my musical moments there. In fact, I actually played three nights out of the four that I was there, and just got lazy about posting…. So here’s the round up of the rest of it, and a little talk about things to come.
After the great night at Catweazle on Thursday, I got back to Oxford from Silverstone a little late, and I was pretty sure that I had missed the chance to take part in the Oxford Folk Club open night on the Friday. But I was staying in a pub-hotel – in the Cowley Road area – and decided that I’d have a small dinner and then walk over to the Oxford Folk Club anyway, just because you never say something is finished until it is.
It was about a 25 minute or so walk from the restaurant to the pub on the Abingdon Road, a when I arrived it turned out that they had already announced the last performance of the evening, and it was happening. I whipped out my camera and caught a bit of it. But this folk club being one of great spirit and openness, when the organizer saw me entering, she came right over and asked if I wanted to play. People in Oxford open mics know what time of year it is, by the way, by when I show up: “Ah, Brad’s here, we must be back in the summer for the British Grand Prix….”
So I went up and played a couple of my traditional folk songs and…thanks to my walk, my meal, my long day, and my lateness at the open mic, I immediately forgot the lyrics to not just one of the songs, but both songs, in the middle of the songs!!! I cannot remember the last time I was hit was such a memory lapse even once, let alone twice. No worry, I did manage to get enough out in each song – “Only Our Rivers Run Free” and “Raggle Taggle Gypsies” that I think it was still a pretty ok set….
The next open mic was not until Sunday, and that was the longstanding one run by Nigel, who also ran it at the Bookbinder’s pub down the street a few years ago, but moved to the Harcourt Arms – in the Jericho neighbourhood – since around 2011. This is a classic, warm, open mic, in a neat and friendly pub. It turns out that whomsoever decided not to run the thing in the Bookbinders must have regretted it, and now there is another open mic at the Bookbinders – although I think the pub has different name now – and so there are two open mics in the same neighbourhood on Sunday night – plus at least one more at the Half Moon -, which for a city the size of Oxford is amazing. Until you realize that this IS a student town….
There were some nice acts, including a group that calls itself the Oxford Beatles, and covers Beatles songs…but the musicians also do solo stuff and all sorts of different styles…. I played two songs, and my only complaint about this open mic – and it is the same for just about all open mics in Oxford – is that the damn things end by 11 PM or earlier! Please!!!! But how can you change the English mentality? At least pubs themselves no longer necessarily close at 11 PM as they did traditionally!!
Having mentioned the Half Moon pub, I forgot to mention in my post about Catweazle the other day that after the Catweazle open mic, and as my hotel was around the corner from it, I decided to drop in to the open mic at the Half Moon pub. I came in to find the organizer jamming lead guitar with a participant jamming rhythm guitar. It was pretty hodgepodge, and it went on for at least 20 minutes before I realized there was a list of names to participate in the open mic. So I got up from my table where I was sitting with my guitar right beside the jammers, and I asked the organizer if I could play, saying I just noticed the list. He said the open mic was now over, so I couldn’t, and he continued to jam with the guy for another 10 minutes.
So once it was finished, and having met someone else who wanted to play, I whipped out my guitar and played a couple of songs at the table, and so did the other guy who had arrived, also using my guitar. The MC of the open mic just nodded and left.
So that takes us to last night in Paris, as I did not play anywhere on Monday after my long travel. Last night I just dropped in to the Café Oz open mic at the Blanche metro and with no intention of playing, having also arrived quite late after a meal. But before I knew it, Brislee Adams, the MC, had my name on the list already, and I would play after maybe three other people. So I happily accepted.
There had been quite a raucous crowd, by the way, and so I decided to try using Brislee’s electric guitar – a Strat – and I did “I won’t back down,” “Mad World,” and my song, “Except Her Heart.” It was pure delight using the electric, and it’s getting me thinking about doing that more often!
In any case, I suppose I have had plenty of warm up time now for my gig at the Baroc, which takes place tomorrow night, in Paris, near the Colonel Fabien metro, or the Belleville Metro. Come along and give it a listen: I’ll be playing in a trio, with me on guitar and vocals, and Joe Cady on fiddle and lead guitar, and David Hummell on cajon and snare….