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Unfinished Business Continues: From a Glam Rock Roll to Light and Soundman, Music Jams and Colin Wilson Book Presentation at a Red Cross Event

December 12, 2017

Ornella Bonventre Show

Ornella Bonventre Show

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…

My Colin Wilson video and Philosopher of Optimism link

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.

Ornella Show 2

Ornella Show 2

The show took place at an exhibition put on by the Circolo Metromondo association in a week of events linked to violence against women in this fabulous space on the canal in the Navigli area of Milan. The building is called the Spazio Ex-Fornace, and it was likely used in the past for making bricks, which were then loaded to boats in the canal.

Ornella Bonventre and Brad Spurgeon in Avete mai provato ad essere donne

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.

Acchiappa Sogni video

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.

Mogol endorses the Edipo Rap play by Anelo Villa

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….

A New Edition of Philosopher of Optimism, and a First Look at a Never-Before-Released Video Interview with the Not So “Angry Old Man,” Colin Wilson

November 26, 2017

Philosopher of Optimism

Philosopher of Optimism

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.”

Colin Wilson Philosopher of Optimism New Edition and New Interview

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.

Few readers of influence ever managed to, if not categorize, then at least understand what he was trying to say through this wide cross-section of works. My interview book with him, based on an interview at his home in 2005 – for a story I wrote about Wilson in the International Herald Tribune and The New York Times – managed somehow to tie together all the disparate parts and make a consistent whole out of Wilson’s oeuvre.

“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.

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson

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….

By the way, although the official publication date of the book is in early December, the book is now available to be ordered either from Amazon (and other such sites) or directly from the web site of Michael Butterworth Books.

And the excerpts from the 2006 interview are in the video linked above. Check it out!

Oh, and before I forget. I think that we are in perhaps the beginning of a new wave of appreciation for Wilson, as I say in my new preface, with most notably the publication last year of the first full-length biography of the writer, called, “Beyond the Robot: The Life and Work of Colin Wilson,” by Gary Lachman.

Colin Wilson – An Angry Old Man’s Birthday

June 25, 2011

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson, author of The Outsider and The Occult

No music for me in Valencia last night. But in case I find some place to play tonight and need to write about it tomorrow, I have decided to use this pulpit today to simply mention that tomorrow Colin Wilson will turn 80 years old.

Colin Wilson was one of the two original “Angry Young Men” of the British literary world in the 1950s, and he has always been one of my favorite writers. In fact, we corresponded for a while and I ended up doing a big newspaper story about Wilson, and then that turned into an interview book that was published in 2006 and called Philosopher of Optimism, to mark the 50th anniversary of the publication of the book that made him famous at age 24: The Outsider.

So here he is now at 80, and by the way, he has long said he plans to live until he is 100. So I don’t really know what the point of this current celebration really is – but still….

P.S., check out an article I published on this site about Wilson’s book The Occult.

Colin Wilson’s Occult Revisited

August 17, 2010

I mentioned earlier in the month that I had been working on a chapter about The Occult by Colin Wilson. I’ve now finished it and decided to put up this chapter on Wilson’s second breakthrough book after The Outsider as an article on this site for variety reasons and because there is not much happening in Paris in the “dead” month of August…. 🙂 I wrote an interview book by and with and about Wilson in 2006.

Occulted August: Quiet Days and Quiet Nights in Paris

August 3, 2010

I have just entered into the Formula One August holiday period, after the Hungarian Grand Prix and before the Belgian Grand Prix in four weeks. It coincides with the August holiday in Paris, so I am now at home in Paris (read: a suburb) absorbing what many people think of as the finest month in Paris – because the city is empty of everyone except a few tourists. For me, however, I find it the worst month of the year because it also means there is far less nightlife, music, cultural happenings, etc. And that means boredom.

So I’m staying at home mostly and working on a few unfinished projects, including both musical and written. I will find the occasional open mic, I’m sure, and I will no doubt take a trip here and there to the countryside, starting possibly with Strasbourg in the coming days. But at the moment, it’s pure concentration on a chapter I have to finish by mid-August for a book about Colin Wilson, the British writer and one of the original Angry Young Men of the 1950s.

Colin Wilson

Colin Wilson, author of The Outsider and The Occult

I wrote an interview book on Colin Wilson and have now been invited to write a chapter on his book called The Occult. This is no easy task, reading about the history of the occult and then being expected to write something intelligent about it. But it is fascinating, and ultimately the most interesting aspect I think I am finding is just how Wilson may be writing about the occult, but his theories expounded in the book are the same he has whether he is writing about literature, dance, religion, sex or other topics – as in right from his first book, The Outsider, which catapaulted him to fame at age 24.

I am also playing my guitar, thinking about new songs, sending off CDs of the songs I just recorded in the studio at the Point Ephémère, and cleaning up my apartment. The CD thing brings me back to the month of August: I just went out to send a CD to an important music business guy in the United States and when I arrived at my local post office, they told me that they could do no work as the computer system was down. It had been down for several hours, or all day, maybe even. It meant they could not provide stamps or weigh up the CD envelope or anything. And, of course, it being the month of August, there was no help on the way. So I went to another post office – it was closed, August hours had meant it closed early. So I went to a tobacco-dispensing cafe, as they also sell postage stamps. “Sorry, we ran out of stamps, and it’s the month of August, so we weren’t supplied with more….”

Great bloody idea, this month of August. I think I have no choice but to get out of town as quickly as possible, like all the other French people….

From the Bellers to the Puppini Sisters, by Way of Shakespeare and Co.

June 20, 2010

Just wanted to lay down a post about the last couple of days in Paris where the accent, for me, was more on listening to live music than in playing it myself. (No, I played as much as usual, but at home, not in public.)

Thursday night, spent quite while looking for an open mic but found nothing. Used to be one called Open House Thursday at a club called Belushi’s. That was a good one because the room was in a hostel, in the basement, so it meant a good crowd. The sound system was good, and it started late, so there was no rush to get there. But it ended last summer. For a while there was a jam session at the Caméleon bar on rue St. André des Arts, just a few meters away from the Tennessee and also run by James of the Tennessee. But it looks as if that stopped too. So I resigned myself to not playing anywhere and stayed at home and organized my life – for once.

Friday night I took my guitar with me and went to the Point Ephemere to see two bands I know, Holstenwall and The Bellers. I was mostly interested in The Bellers, as two of its members are very good and supportive guys I know from my days at Earle’s open mic. These are Romain on vocals and guitar and Marc Zeller on bass. Marc briefly ran an open mic in the Marais, at a bar called the Baroc. There he invited me regularly and there I met the TalkiWalki DJ Emeric Degui who suggested I try his radio show’s music contest.

The Bellers were very cool, and I love the room they play in at the Point Ephemere. But unfortuately I found the sound too loud and lacking focus. Normally, however, my Zoom Q3 filters out all the noise and gives an idea what the music really sounds like – so I did some videos of them not only for the blog, but also to hear better what the music sounded like! And it works, you will see if you listen to the video the sound sounds fine.

After that I went to the only open mic I know of on Fridays, which is located near the Belleville metro and is called the Culture Rapide barman’s open stage night, or something similar if you translate it from French. This is an open mic where there is no mic. But the bar is small and the crowd is usually friendly. Unfortunately, on Friday there was no crowd. In fact, the weather was so nice that people sat outside and around the corner to drink and in the bar there was only the bartender and two clients and the guy who runs the open mic. In other words, no performers and no audience. So I bought a beer and then left.

Last night, it was a visit to the former venue called the Locomotive, but which is now called La Machine du Moulin Rouge, and which is located beside the world famous burlesque house of the Moulin Rouge. Now this was a night to remember and one that solved all the problems encountered at the Point Ephemere: Every sound of every instrument and every voice in the band was crystal clear and no need for ear plugs. The evening was a theme evening of “pinup” girls fashion and the music was provided by the British band called the Puppini Sisters. These three women singers dressed in a kind of 1940s style and sang similar music, like the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B, etc., with a touch of rockabilly. It was a fabulous show and the sound was great, and this girl band reminded me a little of the 70s band Sha Na Na, but here with a throwback to an even earlier era.

Unfortunately, I did not have my Zoom Q3 and had to use my iPhone for a video, and the sound quality is very bad compared to the Q3.

Yesterday afternoon I also visited the Shakespeare and Company literary festival and heard Philip Pullman speak, and spoke to him myself, giving him a copy of my Colin Wilson book. He said, “Oh, he wrote me what amounted to a fan letter,” said Pullman of Wilson. I said, “I know, he mentions that in the book….”

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