Wednesday, January 27, 2021

W.B. Yeats & Van Morrison.

I cannot think of anything new to tell you today because I haven't done anything even remotely interesting, due to this lockdown and the crappy weather. I noticed that it is the anniversary of W.B. Yeats  who died 82 years ago today on January 28th 1939, so I thought I would dust off this old story I wrote a few years ago........
When I moved to Westbury in 1987 I got to know this man called Sean who came from County Sligo. He was a real character and told me lots of interesting and funny stories. He had been in the Irish army in his early days. One night in the pub he told me that in 1948 because of being in the army he had been present at the re-burial of W.B. Yeats. I looked it up and found out that sure enough Yeats had died in France in 1939, but in 1948 he was exhumed and returned to Ireland and according to his wishes buried in Drumcliffe Churchyard in Sligo. The words that are on his headstone appear in Vans song Here Comes The Knight on the No Guru album. 'Cast a cold eye on life, on death'. Van has been influenced very much by W.B. Yeats and his work has been littered with Yeats references, so this might be a good place to look at Yeats's influence on Van. Crazy Jane On God was a Yeats poem that Van set to music and was meant to appear on the A Sense Of Wonder album but the trustees of Yeats estate refused permission. It eventually appeared on The Philosophers Stone album and is quite superb. Before The World Was Made is one of the best tracks on Too Long In Exile and is adapted from Yeats poem ‘A Woman Young And Old’ originally published in 1933.
If I make the lashes dark, And the eyes more bright, And the lips more scarlet, Or ask if all be right, From mirror after mirror, No vanity's displayed, I'm looking for the face I had, Before the world was made.

Van donated this song to an album called Now And In Time to Be which I heartily recommend in which various artists such as the Waterboys,Christy Moore,Shane McGowan,The Cranberries,Richard Harris and many others recite or sing Yeats poems. In Summertime In England  Van mentions Yeats and Lady Gregory corresponding,corresponding. I have heard it suggested that Rough God Goes Riding was inspired by Yeats poem The Second Coming, but I’m not sure about that. He may have got the idea from Robin Williamson's song For Mr Thomas which Van also covered. When I first got the Avalon Sunset album the cover reminded me of Yeats poem The Wild Swans At Coole. Van’s song When The Leaves Come Falling Down made me think of Yeat's poem The Falling Of The Leaves. In Rave On John Donne there is,
Rave on let a man come out of Ireland, Rave on Mr Yeats, Rave on down through the Holy Rosey Cross, Rave on down through theosophy, and the Golden Dawn, Rave on through the writing of ‘A Vision’.

There are a lot of similarities between Van and William Butler Yeats. Both were very interested in the occult and mysticism, theosophy etc and influenced by Blake and Swedenborg.  Van has  mentioned the mystic church of Swedenborg in Notting Hill in his live concerts. The thing that really, I find interesting is the reference to the writing of 'A Vision'.
‘A Vision’ was privately published in 1925, a book-length study of various philosophical, historical, astrological, and poetic topics by Yeats who wrote these works while experimenting with automatic writing with his wife. On the 20th October 1917, three days after her twenty-fifth birthday, George Hyde Lees married the fifty-two-year-old poet. The partnership of Yeats and George Hyde Lees is one of the most creative in the literary world.  Nothing that had happened to him before was more dramatically exciting than the automatic writing of his wife. Georgie died in 1968 the year Astral Weeks was recorded. Was Georgie Hyde-Lees the inspiration for Madame George? I don’t think so because Van left school at age 15 and probably not even aware of Yeats. It was only later when he educated himself with reading that William Butler influenced his work. I think that the identity of Madame George will be an enigma forever shrouded in a mystery.

The Joan Anderson Letter.

I have just finished reading The Joan Anderson Letter by Neal Cassady. It did not take long to read it because it is only a short hardback book of 188 pages. This is the second edition published 2021 in London by Eyewear Publishing. The first 46 pages are taken up with an extensive introduction by A. Robert Lee who is an expert on Beat Generation literature and has published several books on the subject previously. This letter written by Neal Cassady to Jack Kerouac in December 1950 has been described as the Holy Grail of the Beat Generation. It is a type written 16,000-word letter that Kerouac said was the greatest piece of writing he ever saw and would make Melville, Twain, Dreiser and Wolfe spin in their graves. Now I have read it, I do not think it is all quite what Jack cracked up to be, but I can see that it is an especially important document. I do not think it is actually a letter at all, it is a story told by Neal. He had his own literary ambitions which is why he sought out and befriended the likes of Kerouac, Ginsberg and Burroughs. He wanted to learn from them to further his own writing career. I am sure when he wrote it, he was hoping that Jack would help him to get this ‘letter’ published. The story recounts Neal meeting and falling in love with this beautiful Jennifer Jones lookalike called Joan Anderson. She was already pregnant when they met. After a while Neal’s ardour cools and he suggests that they should go their separate ways. Things descend into chaos; Joan attempts suicide by drinking hydrogen peroxide and ammonia and tries to jump out of a hotel window. When hospitalised she loses the baby. There are other sub-plots and diversions, involving other women, an hilarious escape through a bathroom window, brushes with the law, jail time, and other adventures.

Neal by Carolyn Cassady.

The letter was only 18 typed pages, but it is action packed. 
The content is not what makes the letter important though. It is the style. When Jack read the letter, he was already a published author. His first novel The Town And The City came out a few months earlier in March 1950. It was a very traditional type of novel and was not a big success. Jack was searching for something more real. The Joan Anderson letter was a frantic, manic, torrent of words, with the typewriter barely keeping up with the flow of thoughts. This is what Jack Kerouac was looking for. A stream of consciousness style that he would later describe as Spontaneous Bop Prosedy. He got to work, and On The Road, became a classic novel with Neal Cassady the hero as Dean Moriarty.

Jack sent the Joan Anderson letter to Allen Ginsberg who in turn sent it to a publisher called Gerd Stern, and it disappeared. Stern lived on a houseboat and it was thought it might have gone overboard. Nothing was heard of the letter until it was discovered in 2012 by Jean Spinoza whose father had been given the papers of a defunct publisher called The Golden Goose Press. There was a dispute about ownership of the letter, which was finally resolved, and the letter was sold at auction to Emory University, Georgia and it was put on view in an exhibition in 2018. In the back of the book are photos of the eighteen pages of the letter. The original letter is almost as important a document as the original scroll of On The Road. The Cassady family cooperated in the publication of the letter and contributed some nice photos and drawings by Carolyn Cassady who I had the pleasure of meeting over 30 years ago. I am glad that this legendary letter has finally seen the light of day because it was an important catalyst in the development of modern writing.

Me & Carolyn Cassady.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Grim Tuesday.

Painted Fireplace.

 It is warmer today, all Saturday night’s snow has thawed, but it is dark and rainy. I was feeling really bored today and frustrated that I cannot do anything outside. Then I had an idea. I have got this fireplace in my living room which is brick and stone. It looked drab and grubby. I thought I would paint it as I have got a big tub of masonry paint, so I did, and it looks a lot cleaner and brighter. It kept me busy for a couple of hours anyway. The postman delivered a book which I am looking forward to reading. It is called The Joan Anderson Letter by Neal Cassady. I’ll tell you all about it when I have read it. That should not take long as it is quite a slim volume.

The News at 6.00 was grim, as Britain now officially has over 100,000 deaths from COVID-19. That is the fifth highest figure of any country in the world and the highest in Europe. Why is it so bad in Britain? On the News they looked for answers. One possible reason is that although there is a lot of wealth in this country, it is distributed very unevenly. There are millions of poor people living in crowded accommodation where it spreads more quickly. Secondly, a lot of the population are unhealthy with lots of obesity and other underlying heath conditions. Thirdly, people living in care homes were not protected properly. I think another reason is that Britain just wasn’t prepared for a pandemic. Finally, the government did too little, too late and only acted when the virus was out of control. Hopefully, the vaccine roll-out will be our salvation, but you can’t predict what will happen.

That will do for today. My team Peterborough United are playing Bristol Rovers at the moment, so I am going to listen to radio 5 Live. See you later.

Addendum: The football was a bit frustrating. Posh drew 0-0. They are still 3rd in the table though.



Monday, January 25, 2021

Richard Thompson & Me.

A nice sunny Monday afternoon, but cold. I am sitting in the kitchen listening to Richard Thompson. As I can't think of anything new to tell you about today I thought I would dust off this old story I wrote about Richard Thompson quite a few years ago. ...........................................................................................It was in the summer of 69 that I first heard the name of Richard Thompson. I was still at school doing my A Levels but I got a job for the summer at Freeman's Mail Order warehouse in Peterborough. My elder brother worked there as well and he got some of his friends from Northampton Art School jobs there. I was very impressed with these art students who all had long hair and seemed to know a lot about music. One of the albums they introduced me to was What We Did On Our Holidays by Fairport Convention. I was so taken with it that I got my own copy. Fairport had two geniuses, Sandy with her singing and Richard with his guitar playing.

Sandy Denny became my favourite female singer of all time, and my favourite Fairport track was Meet On The Ledge which was written by Richard Thompson. I became a huge Fairport fan and to this day I still play that album and it hasn't dated at all. I got the follow up Unhalfbricking which was almost as good with Sandy singing Who Knows Where The Time Goes.Then they brought out Liege And Lief' which was quite stunning and I played it nonstop.With this seminal album they had invented the genre of English Folk Rock. It is one of the greatest albums of all time.
Sandy left the band after this and I bought Full House which was a good album but I missed the female vocals. Richard left the group after this and my interest began to wane although I did buy Babbacombe Lee which was about the true story of John 'Babbacombe' Lee the man they could not hang. I was at college myself by then and I remember sitting up one night debating with my friends if he was guilty or not. I also bought  The History Of Fairport Convention,a double album. I still followed Sandy's career with Fotheringay and I bought Dave Swarbrick's album Swarb. I saw Fairport Convention at Glastonbury in 2009. They were on in the Acoustic Tent just before Bruce Springsteen played on the Pyramid Stage.
I didn't really follow Richard Thompson's solo career for a long time. I don't think he was interested in fame and fortune and I heard none of his albums for a long time although my mate Fred did give me the First Light album by Richard And Linda Thompson. Richard had become a Sufi around this time and lived in a commune in Suffolk. I got quite interested in Sufism myself in the late 70's when I moved to Bradford On Avon because there was a group of them living at Barton Farm and my mate Kevin lived there and I read some of the books. One of them was by Pir Inayat Vilayet Khan. It really impressed me. Sufism is a mystical sect of Islam, but Richard seems to have escaped the vitriol that was heaped on poor old Cat Stevens when he converted to Islam. I think that explains why Richard was off the radar for a long while.  It was 1996 that I bought my first Richard Thompson solo album. It was when there was a short lived little CD shop right here in Westbury next to the Ludlow pub. I wanted to support my local record shop so I went in and he didn't have much stock but I came across a double album called You, Me,I.  I bought it out of curiosity and  really liked it. One side was electric with a band and the other side was acoustic solo.
In 2001 I heard the song Beeswing. I remember exactly where I was, it was in a pub in Ireland and it stopped me in my tracks. I thought it was one of the best songs I had ever heard and I had to have it. I saw it on a stall at the Trowbridge Folk Festival on an album called Action Packed a Richard Thompson compilation. That album is brilliant,every song a gem and if you want to get a friend into Richard Thompson then give them a copy of this album.

Addendum: I wrote that piece in 2012 and have seen Richard several times since then and bought lots more albums. 

Sunday, January 24, 2021

Good Oak.

Pigeon in my yard.

 When I got up this morning, I found that about four inches of snow had fallen overnight. The first real snowfall of this winter. The sun came out eventually, so I got well wrapped up and went for a brisk walk around Westbury. The area around the churchyard mainly. I took a few pics. I was only out for about half an hour, but it was good to get some fresh air. Yesterday I watched Cheltenham from League 2 take on Manchester City in the F.A. Cup. Man C are one of the biggest teams in the world, but Cheltenham took the lead and were still winning with about 15 minutes to go, but City scored three times to win the game. That is the magic of the F.A. Cup where lowly teams get the chance to play the best. My team Peterborough United are up to 3rd place in League 1 after another win, so it was a good afternoon of football.

Westbury Church.
I read another chapter of A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold last night. I’m enjoying reading it now. The chapter I read was called Good Oak and was about sawing down an oak tree which had been destroyed by lightning. They were sawing it up for firewood. As you know, you can age a tree by the rings that are created in the trunk each year. He could tell that this tree was about 80 years old. As he sawed through the years of the tree, he recounted what had happened during those years. It was mainly concerned with the depletion of the wildlife in Wisconsin, such as the disappearance of passenger pigeons, lynx, and cougar. It shows that even in the 1940s people were becoming concerned about mans negative effect on the environment.

 I started watching a film called Pawn Sacrifice which was about the chess player Bobby Fischer. He didn’t seem to be a very likeable character, portrayed as a paranoid, racist, control freak. I expect it wasn’t all his fault. I think he was probably on the Asperger’s spectrum where people can be brilliant at one subject but can’t cope with anything else. I’m not a psychologist, so I don’t really know. I am afraid I fell asleep before the end of the film. That will do for today because Manchester United are playing Liverpool shortly. I’ll tell you who wins tomorrow.
Addendum: Manchester United won 3-2, a really good game.




Saturday, January 23, 2021

Born In Chicago & The Rock & Roll Pres.

I never used to watch Sky TV because of its association with the ‘Dirty Digger’ Rupert Murdoch, but I have relented recently since they put Sky Arts on Freeview. Last night while flicking around the channels looking for something worth watching I stumbled across two documentaries which I enjoyed immensely. The first was called Born In Chicago which was about the Blues scene in Chicago. The title comes from a song written by blues singer and guitarist Nick Gravenites which was included on the first album by the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. He also wrote a song with Mike Bloomfield for their second album. I had heard of these people, but in the mid-1960s all this music passed me by. To me, American music in 1965 was The Beach Boys. That is why I found this documentary very educational. I knew Al Kooper mainly through his association with Bob Dylan who is also featured here. Some British bands get a look in, such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and The Animals. They were all hugely influenced by black American Blues musicians such as Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters, Little Walter and B.B. King. Apparently, The Stones only agreed to go on an American coast to coast TV show if Howling Wolf was booked as well. There were some other musicians featured who even today I am not familiar with such as Charlie Musselwhite and Harvey Mandel.

In 1967 Mike Bloomfield, Nick Gravenites, Buddy Miles, Barry Goldberg and Harvey Brooks formed the Electric Flag. I remember the name because a friend of mine at college had a soundtrack album by them called The Trip. There is some great footage of the Monterey Festival of 1967 although Mike Bloomfield looked stoned out of his head. It was nice to see Country Joe McDonald make a brief appearance in this film. Sadly, Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield both died too young in the 1980s. One thing I especially liked about this film was the mutual respect between black and white musicians. Music is something that brings people together, which is needed more than ever in the modern age.

I was going to go to bed then, but started watching the next programme which was Jimmy Carter, The Rock & Roll President. I enjoyed this film equally as much. I have always admired Jimmy Carter and he had great taste in music. The likes of The Allman Brothers, Willie Nelson, Bob Dylan, Johnny Cash, The Staples Singers and many more are featured. One amusing little thing was in his autobiography Willie Nelson related how he had smoked pot at the White House with a member of staff and Jimmy Carter revealed how it was actually his son. Jimmy Carter also believed in bringing people of all colours and creeds together. I’m sure he got a lot of pleasure watching the inauguration the other day. Anyway, it was a most enjoyable night of television.

Friday, January 22, 2021


Due to staying up until 4.30 last night I got up late today. It was a shame because it was a nice sunny day, although cold. I didn’t get underway until the afternoon, but I was determined to achieve something. Last October I had a new toilet put in the bathroom. The old one had been in my yard ever since because I didn’t know how to dispose of it. I did toy with the idea of dragging it up the garden and turning it into a plant pot, but decided that would be really silly, so this afternoon I bashed it up into little bits with a sledgehammer and put it in the wheelie bin. That was quite good fun and warmed me up. Then, although it wasn’t really warm enough, I spent an hour painting my wall because It was nice to be outside. I hope the paint stays on the wall this time. 

While I was doing that I listened to Steve Earle, Townes Van Zandt & Guy Clark At The Bluebird Café which is an excellent album. Another little job was taking the top off the bird box and cleaning it out. It would be marvelous if a pair of feathered friends moved into it. When it got too chilly, I came indoors. I did my Tai Chi and some other exercises called Qigong.

The News on the BBC was grim because they think the new variant might be more deadly than in the first wave. We will pass 100,000 deaths in Britain soon which is shocking. The USA figure of 400,000 deaths is terrible, but ours is even worse because we have only a sixth of the population of the USA. The only good news is that the number of positive tests is coming down, so hopefully fatalities will start to fall in number soon.

I listened to Iggy Pop’s radio show while making dinner. He is a great DJ who plays music I would never hear elsewhere and has a perfect voice for radio. Later I watched Winter Watch on BBC2. The presenter Chris Packham is brilliant. I think he will be the natural successor to David Attenborough. That’s enough blather for today. It’s Saturday tomorrow, lots of football and the weather forecast is quite good. See you tomorrow.

W.B. Yeats & Van Morrison.

I cannot think of anything new to tell you today because I haven't done anything even remotely interesting, due to this lockdown an...

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