Sunday, November 13, 2005

Cultural Issues (a round up)

To The Tubes at Manchester University on Saturday night. These American theatrical art-punk-rockers were a friend's choice; but it was worth seeing, for their warmth to the audience, the professional verve of much of their Rundgren-ish pop; and the semi-naked backing singer. This was a little disconcerting, actually. Every second song seemed to require a different fantasy-figure to appear on stage, whether nurse, dominatrix or pole dancer. It seemed a little, shall we say, "seventies"? One song required the lead singer to dress as one of Kubrik's droogs, though what connection there was with A Clockwork Orange was hard to see. But in the way of things, the previous day saw Andrew Biswell read from his Burgess biography at Manchester city library. I look forward to reading it, but it has to be worth buying just for the account of Burgess's typical writers day, from kicking the dog, (he had a dog!) to smoking 80 cigarettes, to drinking enough alcohol to kill a lesser man. I have a sneaking suspicion the contemporary writer generally has to decline another pint, since he's got some interview on "Front Row" he's got to stay sober for. A shame. The death of John Fowles has seen the Guardian publish some of his journals for the first time. Despite printing several pages of the actual diaries, it seems a shame that it then has to sensationalise, out of context, in its news pages. Robert McCrum, as always, makes a better last word of it, teasing out the key quality of Fowles' work in making the experimental accessible. In a world of apparently schizophrenic cultures (in this week's Guardian we have praise for Mark Haddon's poetry cheek-and-jowl with a damning for Auden and Pound, for instance, make of that what you will), it is this which marks out Fowles' work as unusual. He wasn't a high-brow playing only to the gallery, or a low-brow playing to the groundlings. He pitched his performance straight at the whole theatre, take it for what it is. In this, at least, he reminds me of Burgess, both seeing value (and not just fiscal, though that was part of it), in working with Hollywood - its worth bringing Pinter into this triumvirate, since it was his adaption of "French Lieutenant's Woman" which is the one undoubtedly successful Hollywood adaption of Fowles. Good writers, and true ones, retain their value.

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