31 August 2008

Bill Drummond Is Sold Out!

So this afternoon I toddled happily down to my local Waterstone's (bookshop) to purchase a ticket to attend a talk and book signing by Bill Drummond on 18 September.  I only saw the sign go up last week, and I spent a little while contemplating whether I wanted to come down from Cambridge just to see Bill Drummond give a talk.  Then I decided that...yes, I did.  Thus fortified with certainty, I went to buy my ticket. And they were sold out!  Bill Drummond was sold out at the Gower Street Waterstone's!!

To get some sense of how unlikely this is, you have to know who Bill Drummond is.  Simply put, Bill Drummond is a Scottish rock star and eccentric.  But simply just does not do the trick in this case.  Bear with me.

Okay...a long time ago, there was a band called Echo and the Bunnymen. They became hugely popular in the early eighties, and at one point they went on a tour of the British Isles (I believe) that included many bizarre destinations. Those covering and following the tour were puzzled by the itinerary, and in the end asked the band manager, who'd designed the tour, what was up with the destinations. Whereupon he explained to them that the tour was in the shape of a pair of bunny ears. That manager was Bill Drummond.

Scotland, it seems to me, has a long history of eccentrics.  As I believe I've said here before, there are Crazy Scots and there are Sensible Scots. Drummond definitely comes under the heading of Crazy Scots.  After he finished working with EatB, he became one half of music duo called the KLF.  Let it be said here, I loved the KLF.  But the thing about them was, there was a lot to love.  The KLF were CRAZY.  Let me make that clearer:  the KLF were cuh-RAzy.   But in a fascinating and absolutely purposive way.  How to explain??  Well, Bill Drummond (and Jimmy Cauty, who was the other half) was fascinated by the Illuminatus! novels, which contained a group of political and cultural disruption artists called the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu.  And he and Cauty took this idea and ran with it.  In addition to calling themselves the JAMMS on a number of their songs (including, most obviously, the excellent and supremely double-entendre-ish "Last Train to TransCentral," which includes the immortal command, "Lie down for me and keep looking for the last train to TransCentral"), they created a whole elaborate otherworld in which the Justified Ancients of Mu Mu (which is to say, them, only not exactly, since although they dressed up and played the role of the JAMMS the JAMMS were supposed to be real) had complex rites and a whole mythology. There were robes; there were long horns; there was a ship which seemed to be a combination of a Viking longboat and The Flying Dutchman.  

I told you they were crazy.  

Now, all of this would be really irritating, and I would have little patience with it (having as I do almost no time for pretension or self-indulgence, and this rather dopey film contains a good deal of both), were it not for the music.  Ah, the music!  Because although Drummond and Cauty had created this bizarre world, they were also samplers and mixers extraordinaire.  They did techno dance music of a goodness and intensity so visceral and so immediate that it still slams you in the head.  And they had wit.  Yeah, yeah, there were robes and horns, but come on! Drummond called himself "King Boy D" (this is a white guy in his mid-thirties); they employed self-referential samples in best ghetto style (including this wittily relevant one by the MC5 in  "What Time Is Love?"); for their final extravaganza on Top of the Pops they had two giant dancing ice cream cones.  Two giant dancing ice cream cones!  And Tammy Wynette singing "Stand by the JAMMS"!  The KLF could make you have a hallucinogenic transcendental experience without taking any drugs at all.  And they recorded a song called, "It's Grim Up North" - and you know what?  It was. (This title, incidentally, runs second only to one by the long-gone Irish post-punk group Fatima Mansions, who called a song "Only Losers Take the Bus.")

Plus, the elaborateness of their mythology, and their mental vision, coupled with their absolute belief in their own system and acts was fascinating to me then.  Now I think it has a certain connection to William Blake and his attitudes, so I may admire in it what I admire in Blake (although what that is would be difficult to articulate - certainly the commitment to one's own vision has something to do with it), but then I simply found it an intriguing example of folie a deux, or of the power of popular music to create a rigorous mythology.

In 1991, they were the biggest-selling singles band in the world.  If you're anywhere between, say, 30 and 40, and you went out dancing, you danced to the KLF.  And, as is the way with huge-selling acts, they were nominated for awards and invited to perform at Britain's major awards ceremony, the Brits.  This was, in fact, their farewell performance.  It began with Drummond, wearing a long leather coat and a kilt, saying into the microphone, "This is Television Freedom."  Then they performed 3 A.M. Eternal with "crusty punk" band Extreme Noise Terror, in what can only be described as a godawful racket.  At the end, Drummond whipped out a machine gun loaded with blanks and fired it at the audience.  But wait!  That's not all! They then dumped a dead sheep outside the afterparty (the KLF have a thing for sheep. That might be another reason why I like them...I seem to have a delight in livestock of all kinds), with a note that said, "I died for ewe."  Anarchy, mayhem, leather, AND a bad pun: what's not to love?

And here you really deserve a picture of Bill Drummond, all 6'4" of him, at the Brit Awards:

Drummond was, in short (or in tall), one of music's great provocateurs. Now, you may well be saying at this point that one person's provocateur is another person's moron, and you'd be right, because the next thing the KLF did was burn a million pounds. Yep, that's right - they set it alight and burnt it to cinders as a piece of conceptual art.  And that's right where they lost me, because, you know, why not give a million pounds to poor people as a piece of conceptual art? (Or even just give it to one poor person - say, me?)

Then they deleted their back catalogue and vanished for a bit.

Now, however, Bill Drummond is back, back, back.  He's started a project called 17, which grew out of his hatred of current mainstream music (which is pretty sucky, let's face it), which in turn seems to have metamorphosed into a hatred of recorded music generally. What he does is travel from place to place, getting (often quite obscure) "choirs" of 17 people to perform a song. Initially, only 17 people were allowed to attend each performance (did I mention he was eccentric?)  Finally, it took the form of his recording many of these 

performances, mixing them together (I think), playing them in public, just once, and then deleting them forever. Oh, and he's written a book about the whole project. Drummond believes, I'm guessing, that the ephemerality of music is essential to its effect and integrity. Which is okay, but, still, does it seem like the sort of thing that would sell out a bunch of tickets in central London a month before the event?  All right, Gower Street is right at the heart of University College London, so I suppose there are a lot of intellectuals about - or maybe they only had, like, ten tickets.  Or is the UCL area filled with devoted, long-nursing, fans of the KLF?  Or those committed to concept art and postmodern radicalism?

Before I went and didn't get my ticket, I was musing upon Bill Drummond, and it struck me, after listening to a good deal of the KLF and reading about the project, that Bill Drummond is an angry man.  A lot of the KLF's music verges on the violent, and certainly is driving and intense - of course, this is true of any heavily beat-driven music, and they did a good deal of ambient trance, too.  But, still, it's propulsive and, well, violent.  And this project seems to be driven by a kind of rage, too:  rage that the world is less than it used to be, that it can't be the way it was - or never was but is remembered as being.  Curious.

Well, the short (or, not at all tall) version of the story is that I got a ticket for the talk at the Piccadilly Waterstone's.  If he takes questions  from the audience I might ask him if he feels his worldview stems from Calvinism in any way, although I'd have to do a bit more thinking before I could articulate what I meant - perhaps that I hear in both of them an intense anger that people can't be the way they should be.  Or maybe I'll just ask him if he likes William Blake...

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15 August 2008

The Difference that Nothing Makes

The Sisters of Mercy have a song called "More," in which the singer, Andrew Eldritch, says, "You don't get what you deserve; / You are what you take."  I don't know if the second half of this is true, but I certainly know the first half is.  The difficulty is, I'm not much of a taker - I don't know how to take things, and I don't think I could do it even if I did know how.  I don't think I'd much like it.  So it seems to me that if you're not a taker, and you don't get what you deserve, you wind up with nothing much at all.

I always thought that if you do the right thing - and I don't mean the morally right thing, necessarily; I also mean the sensible thing, or the thing that you know is right for you at the time - you get a pay-off.  You might not end up with what you want, but you end up not wanting that thing anymore, or you might end up with something else that you want, or that you didn't even know you wanted.  That's not true.  You can do the right thing, and you can try to change yourself, really try, with profundity and determination, and you can still not change at all.  You can deserve, really deserve, a certain kind of happiness, and still not get it.  Neil Hannon says, "If you take your chances and you ride your luck and you never never never never never give up / The waves will see you safely to a friendly shore."  But sometimes if you take your chances and you never never never never never give up you just end up at the end of your life, dead.

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12 August 2008

The Calm before the Storm

Tomorrow I'm going up to Oxford to look at a Byron archive, but then also to do something I very much don't want to do.  So I thought I'd give myself a break tonight by not writing about anything worthwhile or important or even interesting.  Forgive me, but here is a post that at least at first glance is about...David Tennant.

In today's online Daily Telegraph (not a paper I normally peruse, even online, so how I arrived at this nugget I can't remember) there appears a picture of David Tennant and his new girlfriend leaving a play.  Actually, for me the most interesting thing about this photo is the fact that David Tennant looks incredibly English in it:  he's such an English "type" here, and although he's pleasant looking he is, like most of that type, not especially sexy or good-looking.

That charming-looking young lady next to him is the new girlfriend.

Now, this makes the third person David Tennant has dated in a year, and the fourth if you count the person he broke up with just before that year started and he started dating the first of the three (the math is confusing there, I know, but I'm betting you can work it out).  Perhaps even more interestingly (or sadly, in what it suggests about the parameters and limits of David Tennant's life), all four of these people have been involved with the making of Dr. Who.  Now, when it turned out that Mr. Tennant was dating this fourth woman, my first response was, Wow, he's cutting quite a swathe through the ladies of Dr. Who.  Another version of this thought, one which I had immediately following it, was, Wow, he's going through those Dr. Who women pret-ty quickly.  In other words, David Tennant did not come out of this latest entanglement very well for me.

Walking down the street today and yesterday, however, I have been rethinking this (in case I've mentioned thinking about something whilst walking down the street before here, I want to say that I do quite a bit of my contemplative thinking walking down the street these days.  I used to do it while cooking, or getting ready for bed, but the street gets all the thought action now,  it seems.  I suspect this is because cooking, preparing for bed, and walking, are all repetitive activities that require very little thought, and thus leave me free to think).  And what I have been thinking is, I think of David Tennant as being a bit of a lothario here, a love 'em and move on easily from 'em sort of guy.  But it need not be that way.  And here the thought widens out more generally from David Tennant.  We all know serial daters, I'm guessing, people who don't seem to have much space in between relationships, and/or who seem to have many speedy relationships.  And the general feeling, particularly if those people are men, is that somehow the person is exploitative, or shallow, or faintly distasteful in some unnameable way (although at the same time one may feel envious, or wishful, or - if one ascribes to a certain type of manliness - "hey, hey, you go, you lucky dog!").  But what if, in fact, the person is completely in earnest in each relationship, and/or very lucky?  That is, the person could just as easily be thinking about each relationship, I'm sure this is the one.  This person is really special.  That last one was a bit of bad luck, but this one feels right.  And then, when that relationship ends, they can say the same thing about the next:  Okay, that last one wasn't the one, but this one feels different (as of course it does, since each relationship is different).  I bet this one is really going somewhere.  So what looks like lack of caring is in fact die-hard romanticism.  And, at the same time, maybe the person just meets a lot of people, or is having a particular run of good luck, so that what looks like a string of conquests is actually just women who happened to show up at the time they did (which, if you're Dr. Who and you get a lot of co-stars and co-workers, is probably quite often).  

And, of course, it's worth remembering that sometimes people just date.  Now, I'd say that once you have sex with someone you are no longer engaged in light dating - things become more intimate when you've had sex, and it becomes rather more difficult to exit the relationship as you might after, say, six sex-less dates.  But I am not everyone - indeed, I'm not even most people.  Last time I counted, I was just one person.  So perhaps my notion of what makes for an intimate relationship, and my notion of what constitutes dating, are different from many people's.  And, you know, I could see how you could try someone out, see how it goes, and when it doesn't go well you leave.  If you do this all in a couple of months, damage would seem to be minimal.  I think we are encouraged to see every celebrity relationship as serious right from the start, when, since that isn't true in the real world, there's no reason why it need be true in celebrity-world, either.

So, I say, Huzzah for you, serial daters, provided you are not being serial daters in a cruel way, and provided you take a step back every now and again to be sure that serial dating is working out for you.  Conditional support, I know, but conditional support is, in most cases, the best anyone gets.

And sorry, David Tennant, for making assumptions about your private life. God knows you deserve to be left alone to live your life in peace, so this is the last entry in which I'll use you as a personal example.
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11 August 2008

Number 2 with a Sharp Tip

Many years ago, when I was near the end of my junior year abroad, my friend S. told me a story he had heard, a story that severely disturbed me, although then, as now, I suspected it might have been an urban legend:

S. knew a boy, or knew of a boy, who had gone in to take his A levels. A levels are quite a big deal in England -- they're like the SATs,  if the determination of where you would go to university depended only on your SAT scores. This boy was depressed, and he felt sure he was going to fail his A levels, which meant that, as far as he was concerned, his future would be ruined. So when he got to his desk at the testing hall and the proctor told people to begin, this boy took two of the pencils he'd brought to write his answers with, stuck them up his nose, points first, and  WHAM!  he slammed his head, and the pencils' other ends, down as hard as he could on the desk.  And he killed himself.

I have never forgotten this image.  EVER. Normally when I tell grotesque or revolting stories - as I frequently do - the incidents of revulsion or grotesquerie have long since ceased to have an effect on me, or at least the only way they affect me is by giving me a certain tiny sadistic pleasure that I'm grossing out other people.  But when I tell this story, I always still feel my gorge rise just a little, and my mind wince and turn its face away.

For a very long time, I thought this pencil da fe was a unique idea, although whether unique to the boy or to the original tellers of the story I didn't know.  But tonight I went to see The Dark Knight, and it turns out that Christopher and Jonathan Nolan, who wrote it, had a version of the same idea, because their Joker does something very similar (although with the pencil point facing down). And there in the dark theatre it had precisely the same effect on me as that image in S.'s story still does.

The movie was good, if not great.  And Heath Ledger was very fine, although in my opinion much stronger in his first scenes than in his later ones.  His Joker was a fully realised character, and was somehow also fully character, so that interaction with plot weakened his effect.  Thus, as the plot progressed, the character became less rich and fulfilling.  Ah, well, it was still a good performance to go out on.
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07 August 2008


Let it be known throughout the land:  I love shaving my legs.  Under normal circumstances, I would not reveal this particular fact to all and sundry, but since I've just shaved my legs and received much joy from so doing, I'll mention it this once.  Also, most women I know hate doing this, so perhaps my love is worthy of note.

Today I didn't do as much work as I wanted to.  Mind you, this is true of yesterday, too.  I seem to be able to work for about a three-hour burst, then stop, then come back and do another hour, then spend the rest of the time faffing around.  Maybe this is as much as one can work in a day, if one's work is reading and transcribing?  I don't know.  But I'm inclined to feel that I need to try harder. So tomorrow I will.  In fact, tomorrow I vow that I will embark on Thomas Reid - this involves getting some Rousseau out of the way first, so it's more of an undertaking than it sounds.

Walking around the streets of London today I was struck by how few attractive men I'm seeing. I mean, I see some, but not all that many.  When I was in Oxford two weeks ago the place was crawling with good-looking men (not literally crawling, obviously), although admittedly most of them were not - or did not look - 40 or over.  Have all the good-looking men decamped to Oxford?  Of course, there were some lookers in Cambridge, too, which bodes well.

Okay, this post is empty of value, so I'm going to stop.

I really do love shaving my legs, though.
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06 August 2008

Ponderings, Deep and Broad

Thomasina:   When you stir your rice pudding, Septimus, the spoonful of jam spreads itself round making red trails like the picture of a meteor in my astronomical atlas.  But if you stir backward, the jam will not come together again.  Indeed, the pudding does not notice and continues to turn pink just as before.  Do you think this is odd?

Septimus:   No.

Thomasina:   Well, I do.  You cannot stir things apart.

Septimus:   No more you can, time must needs run backward, and since it will not, we must stir our way onward mixing as we go, disorder out of disorder into disorder until pink is complete, unchanging, and unchangeable, and we are done with it forever.  This is known as free will or self-determination. 

This exchange is from perhaps my favourite play in the world, Tom Stoppard's Arcadia (that's Rufus Sewell as the original Septimus there).  The first interesting thing about this exchange is
that what Thomasina says is true, and once you've read these lines and had your attention drawn to it, you can't help notice and find it odd.  I don't eat much rice pudding, but I do eat quite a bit of yoghurt, and over here Marks and Spencer makes a delicious plain yoghurt with mashed-up raspberry at the bottom. When you stir your yoghurt, the first proper stir brings a streak of bright red raspberry to the top, which is very arresting and beautiful indeed, and thus is enormously satisfying. But if you reverse your spoon and try to stir it back down, it just disperses into the yoghurt, which is not so beautiful, and thus is rather disappointing.  And when I watch this dispersal I am always puzzled and taken aback: surely it ought to stir back?

The second ineresting thing about this exchange is what Septimus's final comment says about human relationships, or the way it can be extrapolated to be about human relationships.  One might think of human motivations as the jam in the rice pudding, or the yoghurt: they are there, but any attempt to unstir them from puddingyoghurt of events just leads to more and more pink, and other people's free will or self-determination always pinkens the white expanse of life.

I've been musing on this today, maybe because I spent the morning in the BL reading philosophy and about philosophy, but also probably because over the past few days a number of things have happened for which I'd love to have known the motivations of those who performed them.  My last therapist, who was terrific, told me once that it's pointless to try to figure out what other people will say or do, because almost always they will not do what you expect: there are simply too many factors and influences that you don't know about.  Experience has proven this to be true for me.  I can try to guess what someone will do, and I have (everyone does, I think), but almost without fail, unless the situation is very simple, I guess wrong.  But if this is true of actions, how much more true is it of motivations!

Let us take a simple example:  I saw James McAvoy across the theatre when I went to see
Black Watch a couple of weeks ago.  Let's have a picture of James McAvoy, shall we? (Actually, he looked almost exactly like that.) For reasons I won't go into here, but which don't involve my having a crush on him, I kept casting glances at him all through the play.  Now, Black Watch is a play about a Scottish regiment, and, as you no doubt know, James McAvoy is a Scot.  And the play has many funny lines or moments, but James McAvoy laughed at perhaps two of them. I found this odd, especially since some of them were specifically jokes about Scots.  So, being me, I began to ponder why he didn't laugh.  Was he a very serious fellow?  Was he strongly anti-war, and he felt the message to be a solemn one, felt this so deeply that it precluded laughter? Was he intently scouting for a part for himself? (I especially favoured this last one.) Does he have no sense of humour?  (This is the first one that occurred to me.)  Any of these could be the case. But so could countless others:  maybe he doesn't laugh aloud; maybe he'd had an upsetting phone call before he came; maybe going out in public is such a hassle that he's too tense to laugh; maybe he has a fabulous sense of humour, but not of the kind the play required; maybe he doesn't laugh at Scottish jokes on principle; maybe he was absorbing and would laugh later. And then there are the countless other motivations or precurrences that would never occur to me.  And this, it seems to me, is the problem with motivations, as it is with communication and comprehension generally:  I can guess your motivations or influences based on my own, and I can guess your motivations and influences based on the opposite of my own (that is, having considered why I would act in such and such a way, I can then consider that just the opposite of my "why" might influence you - maybe James McAvoy had been expecting a phone call and not got it, e.g. - and I can also cook up some stuff that I would never experience but you might), but there are so many possibilities outside my knowledge or even imagination (since you could never imagine stuff that you can't imagine), that the chances are vastly larger that you will have been influenced by one of those.

And this brings me to my second thought, which is that as life goes on it seems only to lead to negative realisations:  I can't know what you think, really; I can't have a perfect experience; love will probably end, and end badly; if I eat ice cream every day I will get fat.  I remember a little over seven years ago I told my writing class a story, in an effort to show them that some stories cannot be written down, only told orally.  I told them the story of how I fell in love with the person I'd loved most in the world (a love that involved much pain, as it happens).  And at the end of class one of my students came up to me and said, "I'm going through something similar with a friend of mine.  Do you think those kinds of things can ever work out?" I don't remember what I said to her, but I know what I would want to say to her now.  I'd want to say,  "Don't worry, because even though that person will probably break your heart, you'll recover, and then someone will come along and break your heart much worse, and someone will come along after that and break your heart much worse than that."  If I had known when I fell in love with that person at 21 how much more pain I was going to experience connected to future relationships, I wouldn't have shed one tear:  I would have known such tears, and the pain that engendered them, would be as nothing compared to the ones to come. 

But surely it can't be the case that growing up just involves grasping pain and unhappiness with greater depth and complexity?  I believe that it must also involve greater happiness and contentment.  I just haven't seen it, and I'd be interested to know what it's like.  Well, I suppose I certainly get more happiness, and more complex understanding of my happiness, when listening to music these days, but that seems a rather small payoff.  Or perhaps not.

On a totally different note, when I was packing to come here I briefly considered NOT packing to come here, but rather just buying all new clothes when I got here.  I didn't do that, obviously, not least because such buying would have taken me into the thousands of dollars, I'm sure, but walking around town looking in shop windows a part of me regrets that I didn't.  The clothes are beautiful, and all so beautifully constructed.  What a pity I don't have a large private income!  
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02 August 2008

Speech after Long Silence

Wow, it feels as if I haven't written in ages.  But then, it feels like I've been here for ages, and it's only been less than a month.  Well, for the last week I had a friend visiting, and in the weekbefore that I was genuinely trying to work, so I haven't had much time to write.

First of all, I decided that anonymity of blog is at some point going to be pure fantasy, anyway, and the more I looked at the picture of me in the topiary chair, the more I liked it and felt it should be out for all to see.  So here it is.  Size of bottom half due to too-large trousers.

So...my friend had never been to London for any length of time, and as a result she and I did all the touristy things (and walked all over the place - my feet hurt for virtually the whole time she was here, not that I minded one bit).  The great thing about this was that I got to do the tourist-y stuff without actually being a tourist:  I was the guide, you see.  I told my friend about one of my very favourite episodes of Blackadder, the one in series two in which Edmund falls in love with his "manservant" and goes to see the Wise Woman for advice.  He stops to ask a young crone for directions (he actually calls her this:  "Thank you, Young Crone.  Here is a purse of monies...which I'm not going to give to you"), and when she speaks to him in a ludicrous rustic accent - "Is this Putney?"  "Tha' i' be; tha' i' be!" - he says to her, " 'Yes, it is, not 'that it be.'... I'm not a tourist!"  I always long to say that when I talk to people in London, since I imagine they all assume I'm an American on vacation, and I can't bear the humiliation of being thought a tourist.  Anyway, this was perfect, because I got to see once more the tourist places, which I quite like, while incurring none of the imagined contempt from the locals.

After my friend went, I set off for Stratford to see David Tennant in Hamlet.  David Tennant, 
as the world seems to know, is the current Dr. Who, and this Hamlet is quite the hot ticket (there's a picture of him as Dr. Who on the left.  I put in one of him in glasses because, as a myopic myself, I'm always ludicrously pleased to see celebrities in spectacles). When I got my seat in March, they were already virtually sold out, so I had to sit way up in the gallery.  Shortly before the night of my performance rolled around, there was an article in the paper saying that Patrick Stewart was also in this production, playing Claudius and The Ghost. An added bonus!  The article also mentioned that tickets for the production were going on e-bay for as much as £215! (we'll come back to this).  It also also mentioned that fans were being forbidden to bring science fiction memorabilia for signing, which I found funny.

Anyhow, when I got to the theatre, it was indeed pretty packed (although through the entire performance there were three seats empty in the very front rows.  Yes, before you say anything, I did ask if I could go sit in them, and, no, I couldn't).  Up in the gallery, it was pretty clear that the fans weren't there for love of The Bard (also up in the gallery was a young woman with the largest breasts I've ever seen on someone who wasn't in a magazine.  She wasn't shy about them, either, if you know what I mean). But they might as well have been there for love of the Bard, because the play was extremely good. First of all, Patrick Stewart, although only good as Claudius, was terrific as the Ghost of Old Hamlet.  All the Ghosts I've ever seen (and I should say here that I have seen a lot of Hamlets. It's my favourite Shakespeare, and some time ago I simply decided I'd see every one I could) play the part solemn, often weighted by sadness, certainly aware of the gravity of their errand.  Stewart's Ghost was angry: he was mad as hell that he'd been cut off even in the blossom of his sin; no sloughing off of the earthly for him (plus, somehow they made him smoke - little wisps of smoke came off him - which was quite cool).  It was a striking interpretation.

Tennant was similarly, and similarly strikingly, human.  Again, Hamlets
usually have an air of awareness about them.  They might not actually pause before they deliver the soliloquies, but they always give me the sense that they are pausing inside themselves, that they are aware of the weight that comes with their performance.  Tennant did not do that.  Not only that, but he truly did make his utterances fresh.  The very first soliloquy, "Oh, that this too, too solid..." he performed as if grief-stricken, truly so.  One reason why I like the play so much is that it is, at bottom, simply about a family, and about the break-up and reconstruction of a family.  Old Hamlet has died and been replaced as king by Claudius, sure, but for Hamlet his daddy has died, and no one has given him the mourning that Hamlet thinks he deserves.  And his mummy, so loved by his father, has quickly forgotten all about him and cleaved unto someone else - someone unworthy simply by virtue of being someone else.  And Tennant got this just right in that first soliloqy.  He wasn't angry at political wrongs, or melancholy because he was filled with black bile:  he was overwhelmed with grief because his father was dead and un-noted.  I had this sense of the hurts of the play as personal again quite clearly in the closet scene, in which he and Penny Downie really did seem to be mother and son. Here, though, I couldn't help thinking what it must be like for him to play that scene, as his own mother died only a year ago. Of course, what do I know? It could have no resonances at all.  But there was something poignant for me, as an audience member, in seeing this long, lanky man with his head in his "mother's" lap, seeking comfort from her as if he were a small child. Again, touchingly human.

It turned out that this was a preview night, and there were some rather arresting quirks. First of all, the Ghost excised my favourite line of the play!  I don't know whether this was a directorial decision, or whether Stewart simply forgot (I doubt that), but when he was describing to Hamlet the horrors of his post-mortem life and the effect their description would have on him, he mentioned that it would "harrow up his young soul," and "make his two eyes, like stars, start from their spheres," but he left out "Thy knotted and combined locks to part, / And each particular hair to stand on end, / Like quills upon the fretful porpentine."  He left out the fretful porpentine!  Perhaps even worse, and certainly more disconcerting, Tennant left out part of the "To be or not be" speech.  I always eagerly wait for "the proud man's contumely," because it's such an odd and arresting phrase.  But it was gone!  This was a very disconcerting moment for me:  indeed, for a split second I instinctively wanted to shout out, "wait - what about the proud man's contumely?" (perhaps I should have fluttered down a little note reading, If you want, I'll run lines with you.  Or perhaps not). In fact, I think he forgot - or was told to leave out - a couple of lines in there.  Oops.  Not as bad, but nonetheless striking, was the leaving out of ANOTHER of my favourite lines, during the exchange with Ophelia during the play.  When she says, "You are keen, my lord, you are keen," he responds, "It would cost you a groaning to take off my edge," a sexual pun of wit and promptitude that I can only aspire to. Gone!  Good heavens. Fortunately, "I'll lug the guts into the neighbour room" (strong contender for favourite line) and, "Why, man, they did make love to this employment!" both remained - although Horatio mucked up the line before, by saying, "So Guildenstern and Rosencranz are dead," instead of, "So Guildenstern and Rosencranz go to't." And I must confess I found this Hamlet to be a little too antic a little too soon (without meaning to, I thought of the Slings and Arrows song:  "your antic disposition is embarrassing to see, / and by the way, you sulky brat, the answer is to be").  I didn't want him gloomy, but there were times I would have liked him to calm down.

Aside from these crinkles, though, it was really quite excellent, and Tennant was so, too.  So much so, in fact, that I'm going to try to get a ticket for the London production - a better seat this time.  In order to do this at this stage, one must be a member of the RSC, and even then there are no guarantees.  So I became a member of the RSC.  I figure the worst that will happen is that there will be no tickets at the moment, so I'll have to book when more come available in mid-September.  I'm going to try for the dates around Christmas, those seeming to me most likely to be free, and I'm going to book two.  My best friend may be coming to visit me then, and if she isn't perhaps I can sell the other on e-bay.  Fingers crossed that I can get good ones...  (and, yes, they did acknowledge Caspar David Friedrich in the program.)

Travelling back on the train today I suddenly became aware of how happy I am here.  I've had experience that tells me that loving a place in the summer, when one need not work, is quite a different thing from loving it in the snow or rain, when encumbered by a job.  Still, though, I am vastly happier at present than I was in America, and since the only thing that's changed is my location, I must believe that that has at least something to do with it.  Maybe it's because the country is so small - everywhere is near, so the place opens out like a hand before you, rather than being distant and isolated in the way America is. 

I don't know.
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