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The Outsider "Muso" (London)

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The Action In Frisco
The Action In Frisco
Price: £8.58

4.0 out of 5 stars Action Packed, 29 Jan. 2015
Verified Purchase(What is this?)
This review is from: The Action In Frisco (Audio CD)
Little Village was a temporary band that proved a failure. Made out of four raging successes (Hiatt, Cooder, Lowe and Keltner) it also turned them from pals into.... not pals. This lively live CD captures a live performance broadcast on SF radio in 1992. Having seen the band play an underwhelming show in London that year I wanted to confirm the failure.

Now given that this same quartet made a great record with John Hiatt in front in 1986, Bring the Family, you would think that LV would be a raging success. Having built that album around Hiatt's superior voice and writing, it is easy to see the mistakes LV made in retrospect. Instead of continuing this idea, the group became a 'super-group' that was no longer that super. Ry Cooder is not a great singer and songwriter (he's a lot better now than in 1992), and Nick Lowe is a decent writer and singer but no where near Hiatt. Yet they are given equal roles. Here's what should have happened. Lowe should have concentrated on production, bass and harmony vocals, Cooder on guitar and occasional harmonies and Hiatt on writing and singing. That way, they would have managed at least one or two more great albums instead of one mediocre effort. At least Keltner did not try to pull a 'Ringo', sticking to his classy drumming.

There is much to enjoy. 'She Runs Hot' and 'Don't Think About Her' are standout LV tracks - there are plenty of lesser ones here. The band cooks behind Hiatt, cools behind Lowe and fizzles behind Cooder. The versions of 'Memphis', 'Thing Called Love' and 'Lipstick Sunset' from BTF are outstanding as well, underlining the point. Listen to how poor Cooder sounds on 'Little Sister' in comparison.

Much as I loved the CD and the band, I thought they were very ordinary live when they were not backing Hiatt. I stand by that assessment 22 years later. For those who haven't heard them, don't rush to buy. For 'Fools Who Know' - buy it.


The Old Man and the Sea
The Old Man and the Sea
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £4.79

5.0 out of 5 stars Great Shark Tale, 28 Jan. 2015
Book seven in the Hemingway saga (one more to go!) is the novella/short story about an old man and a very big fish. It is one of the best short stories ever written, a kind on mini Moby Dick, all about man's indomitable spirit.

You can tell Hemingway is at the helm. He loved fishing and knew a lot about it. By the early 1950's, Hemingway must have identified with the old man of the story and his futile hunt for the illusive fish - whatever it really means. The story is so well told it will only take an hour and a half to swallow. It obviously took a lot longer to write than it will to read. For those who love adventure stories, this is a great tale of a small struggle. There is a bouncy pace, vivid prose, great fishing scenes (like in Fiesta, The Sun Also Rises) and a memorable hero who like the author, goes for it with masculine purpose. Even if you don't warm to Hemingway, this story will never let you down.

Greatness came to Hemingway soon afterwards with the award of the Nobel prize - and deservedly so.


For Whom The Bell Tolls
For Whom The Bell Tolls
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.59

5.0 out of 5 stars The Earth Moved,,, Finally, 23 Jan. 2015
FWTBT is Hemingway's masterpiece. Book six of eight finally rings the big gong. It integrates all the best of the Hemingway immediacy and adds to that, a fabulous interior voice of the hero, Jordan, a credible and moving love story and a rich stew of characters that are complex and memorable.

The story is set among a band of guerrillas in the Spanish Civil War. Jordan has been sent by the Russian commander to blow up a bridge with the aid of the partizans. Simple. But out of that mission comes this 500 page monster of a book, set over four days. There are occasional back stories, all adding substance to the tale, and deep descriptions of action, all benefitting from the mature Hemingway viewpoint and brilliant writing. Unlike Farewell to Arms, the love story is almost as good as the action part (hence the phrase 'the earth moved'.) The leading female characters are as full blooded as the male leads, especially Pilar, the tough wife of band leader and most ambivalent hero I've ever encountered, Pedro. There are many twists and turns in this story, but only one destination for Robert Jordan.

There is so much here to enjoy, but I liked the back story part where Pedro demonstrates how ruthless he is by killing all the town's leading 'fascist' citizens when the revolution breaks out, his confrontations with Jordan in the cave, Pilar's rather strange love confession to Maria and Robert (was she based on Gertrude Stein in some way, perhaps?) and the blowing of the bridge and the ensuing battle.

Unlike Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises, the characters seem less archaic and more timeless. There is greatness in this book and if you're looking to Hemingway's place in 20th Century history, this is the book that cemented his reputation. Once opened, you will not put it down


The Snows Of Kilimanjaro And Other Stories
The Snows Of Kilimanjaro And Other Stories
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

3.0 out of 5 stars Doesn't Hit the Heights, 17 Jan. 2015
Book five in my Hemingway is a collection of short stories from 1939. The first Hemingway I read way back when were short stories featuring Nick Adams, and he is one of the principal recurring characters in these stories.

This is a hit and miss affair. Some of the stories are so short and terse, they are more sketches than stories. Most of them have an annoying device of a scene from war or a bullfight in italics before the actual story began. At first, I thought these were meant to set the scene for the story, but I could not discern what they meant. They were just confusing. The Snows - the longest of the stories - is not the best. That is My Old Man, which is third from the end. This is a great short story, the tale of a jockey and his son in Italy and then, France. It is beautifully written and reflects Hem's deep knowledge of racetracks. I enjoyed Indian Camp also, and appreciated Big Two-hearted River for the fishing descriptions.

But as an introduction to Hemingway, these stories fall short - I have read better. The style is very forward here, all stripped back and in your face, but the tales are usually too flimsy for it to be effective.


Green Hills Of Africa (Arrow Classic)
Green Hills Of Africa (Arrow Classic)
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Muy Macho, 14 Jan. 2015
Book 4 of my Hemingway marathon takes place in Africa on safari and features the big man himself big game hunting and pontificating on occasion about a number of subjects, including writing. It took me fifty pages to warm to it (I mean, get into reading it!) but once it took hold, I enjoyed it more than I expected

Feminists hate Hemingway and this book will show you why. It is an old fashioned tale of one man possessed by killing the biggest beasts, hunting red in tooth and claw - and that man is the writer himself. Imagine John Updike - no, he was a golfer - or worse still, Margaret Attwood, writing such a book! Hemingway believed in experience and living, and that was that. He laps up every experience as if it were his last. He describes everything he feels when he wants to, and spouts off his likes, prejudices and passions without censure. He is a man full of juice.

The hunts are very well described, seemingly formless in conception, yet there is a pulsating intelligence to everything, even the stupid things. Hemingway is a racist, no doubt, but a great admirer of certain black people (the Masai, in particular) and the individual guides and helpers, like M'Cola. He loves his wife, who participates sometimes in the action, but is often left behind. She seems to love Hem without any conditions (of course, he is writing the tale.)

This book is from 1935 (so Hemingway is 35ish) and the world seems so much different then, more violent, elemental and manly. It is not at all touchy feely about animals and not too happy with mankind, who in Hem's view 'ruin everything' -he means civilising. Here is a passage from the end of the book which makes it all clear. You have to pinch yourself when you read it...

'A continent ages quickly when we come. The natives live in harmony with it. But the foreigner destroys, cuts down trees, drains the water, so that the water supply is altered, and in a short time the soil, once the sod is turned under...is blown away in every old country, and as I had start to see it blow in Canada.... We are the intruders and after we are dead we may have ruined it but it will still be there and we don't know what the changes are...'

Hem loved Africa because he loved the wildness, being in touch with 'real nature' and the people who are still in touch with it. He is, in short, a muy macho man, a man who seems out of time today. Maybe Pinker is right - the 'better angels of our nature' have taken over, thanks to Feminism, but for me, Hemingway still has lots to say about what is natural to man and what is fantasy written for a heavily edited society.


A Farewell To Arms
A Farewell To Arms
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.24

4.0 out of 5 stars War and Peace?, 10 Jan. 2015
Book Three in the Hemingway trek is this wartime romance with a hard core. It really is a novel of two halves - the wartime stuff, which is brutal, natural, funny and rewarding Then there is the central romance with the nurse Catherine, which skims between the credible and the incredible. There is no doubt some reality to both parts for Hemingway, but for me, the war is better than the peace. In this third book as in the Sun Also Rises, there is no plot as such, just events that create a story.The American ambulance driver in the Italian army - unexplained, of course - is badly wounded, recovers, falls in love with his British nurse and then, when the s**t hits the fan escapes with her to Switzerland (very powerful scenes these). It all ends badly.

Once again, it is the style that makes the story work. In this book, Hemingway excels in depicting the inherent strangeness and horror of war, the comradeship of men and the sheer terror of inexplicable events. Forget causation and story arc - there is nothing apparently artificial in the story here. I found the romantic part hard to take, but it had that same quality of naturalness the rest of the book had. No wonder the Great War left a lost generation. Moral certainty and order were blown to bits, along with millions of men. It is sad and profound, unsettling and unsparing.

Like Hemingway, I guess. Not a knockout, but a TKO.


Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Arrow Classic)
Fiesta: The Sun Also Rises (Arrow Classic)
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Paperback
Price: £5.59

4.0 out of 5 stars Lost Generation on a Bender, 2 Jan. 2015
Book Two of my Hemingway retrospective is his first novel, which fits nicely into his Moveable Feast memoirs just reviewed. I found the book startling, original, offensive, and un-putdownable.

Jake (of course, Hemingway without his balls, lost to the Great War) and his amoral friends drink and carouse through France, then Spain. At the centre is his love, the gorgeous Brett, a woman of no fixed morals, who screws everyone, has them all panting, and encourages fights for her favours. She is truly repulsive. Jake loves her but can't take advantage, Mike (her fiancee) can't afford her, Robert Cohn - the Jew who fights back - is love struck by her, and ultimately, the matador who falls for her, can't hold her attention completes the shortlist of men she enthrals. An ugly anti-semitism (and a quick anti-black passage) runs throughout the work. Robert Cohn - the only character whose full name is displayed most of the time - is treated shamefully by his so called friends, until he breaks down and literally beats the s*** out of his tormentors, including the matador. It is one of the core themes of the story - what is friendship to these people?

The 'style' is there on every page - the present tense of the tale, it's life like form, it's drunken revelries, the unreal reality this creates
- and it still takes the breath away. The best bits are the fishing trip and the bullfight - this is when the Hemingway hand is most visible and those who find this a drag should go no further in reading him. The endless drinking and eating is also front and centre.

It is is the overall amorality of the piece that hits you hard- it is a bit like a drunk's version of Scott Fitzgerald's Tender is the Night. That great book was more cleverly constructed, but there is something broadly similar in it somehow. It is short, fascinating and strangely repulsive - and nearly great.

One star off for racism - maybe accurate for the time, but puts it in the 'Merchant of Venice class' for me - pre-Holocaust Gentile anti-Semitism, so unlike his admiration for Gertrude Stein and her weird charisma.


A Moveable Feast
A Moveable Feast
by Ernest Hemingway
Edition: Mass Market Paperback
Price: £5.99

4.0 out of 5 stars Tasty First Course, 31 Dec. 2014
This is the first of 8 reviews of Hemingway's works - a birthday present. I had read Hemingway so long ago, I suggested the present and duly received it. I gobbled up this short book of memories from his early Paris days in no time flat.

Hemingway wrote these just before he died, so it is a bit the beginning and the end in one short volume. The trademark style is there - all straight as an arrow prose, full of gaps, but also full of insight. What strikes me most is his judgement of people. Gertrude Stein - well, you'd expect the macho Hemingway not to like or listen to her much - but you would be dead wrong. He and Hadley, his first wife, love the attention and intelligence of the eccentric Lesbian couple, (Alice B. Toklas is unnamed but present, mainly to entertain the women). F. Scott Fitzgerald is a tragic figure, cut down to size by the beautiful but jealous and unpleasant Zelda. Hemingway and he were close friends for a few years. Hemingway is mystified by the pair, given Scott's great talent, and cannot comprehend how Zelda tortures him.

Hemingway describes his struggle to write like Cezanne paints - leaving out everything that is not essential. It is a tough struggle, with all the ornamental writing of the time, so lauded. At the very end, he briefly describes how he split with Hadley through his own infidelity. The pattern was this - a pretty young girl befriends the wife of the man she is after, then conspires to take him away. The young Hemingway fell for it - in his mind, years later, only to regret his choice in this volume. Of course, the conventional view would be to blame him for his roving eye, but the great man is having none of that. But who is to argue? I mean, it was his life after all.


The Dog
The Dog
by Joseph O'Neill
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £3.99

2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Give Him a Bone, 28 Dec. 2014
This review is from: The Dog (Hardcover)
The Dog is Joseph O'Neil's tale of male emasculation in the new century. Not many people seemed to like it, but I preferred it to his (in my view over-praised) Netherland.

The protagonist (no hero) is the nameless X, a man without a life. His life is controlled by others - he is the dog of the title. He does his master's and mistresses' bidding. The book flits between his long relationship with his girlfriend, then wife Jenn - also a lawyer, but unlike X, a high flyer, and his subsequent masters, two multi-millionaire brothers who keep a headquarters in Dubai. Jenn and X split up when the dog withholds the sperm that she so craves to have a baby. He is stripped of his livelihood, all his cash and is demonised on the net by her. It is the time of the crash, and he heads to Dubai, rescued by his 'friend', one of the multi-millionaire brothers he knew in university, to run their 'affairs.'.

His life in Dubai is especially unreal, and the reader gradually learns what a dog poor X is. As the head of the family's foundation and the person who runs their legal affairs, he is a poor excuse for a human being. He is such an unpleasant narrator, you begin to feel sorry for the unpardonably exploitative Jenn, but not at all bewildered that his 'friend' Eddie, hand-picked him for the shallow world of the Dubai rich. Dubai is such a hollow place that X fits right in. The expatriate lifestyle, with its glam, empty, history - less facade and Dubai, with it's despotic laws and new infrastructure - all that appeals to the superficial X. Of course, the tale all ends in tears and a bit of a whimper, but it grows in fascination as the pages turn.

O'Neill himself must be bewildered by the mixed reception this book has received. It is beautifully written, carefully constructed, and is a deep meditation on the state of men in the new century. To have such a serious work dismissed must be hurtful. It is a virtuoso performance. I am docking a star, as I found the ending a little unsatisfying and the book itself, a tad unpleasant. But a very good read indeed and one that will stay with me for a long while.


Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book
Let Me Be Frank With You: A Frank Bascombe Book
by Richard Ford
Edition: Hardcover
Price: £15.90

2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Frankly Terrific, 6 Dec. 2014
Frank Bascombe is to Richard Ford what Rabbit Angstrom was to John Updike. However good or bad their other writing, both men could turn to their 'go to' characters and end up with a terrific novel. After the letdown of the ambitious 'Canada', Ford snaps back into form with this new work. His core character is raging and facing the end with a snide smile. In 'Let Me Be Frank With You' , Bascombe is all about comforting others with his bland encouragements and subtle, unfelt support. Frank knows what it is to be getting old and gaining a new perspective on life, and he is not to happy with the whole deal.

It might be stretching the term novel. This is more like 4 short continuous stories featuring the voice of Frank. The first takes him to his now destroyed, former house of the coast, devastated by Hurricane Sandy, comforting his cash buyer Arne. He doesn't know what Arne wants of him. Does he want his money back? Does he want to blame Frank? Kill him?

The second story is based in Frank's new home in Haddam, near Trenton. A middle aged, well dressed black woman waits outside, wanting to go inside for a look, because it was once her home. As it turns out, terrible things happened in that home, and she seeks comfort from Frank in her revelations of the tragedy she recalls. Frank becomes, once again, a human comfort blanket, but a conflicted one. He is more honestly perplexed by her memoir, but manages to keep it together and offer his bland wisdom and support.

The escalation mounts as Frank visits his ex-wife Ann, now divorced 30 years, who resides in a nearby nursing home that pretends it is a wellness resort. This is a very funny, bitter story, full of Ford's best wit and observations. Ann is not a nice character, and i can't blame Frank for running away from her. With her creeping Parkinson's Disease, she manages to cut a not very sympathetic figure. Frank can't and won't offer her much comfort other than a new orthopaedic pillow.

The final story focuses on death itself in the form of an old acquaintance, a man nicknamed Olive, who is dying from cancer. Out of the blue, he calls Frank and asks him to come over. He revels a dark secret to Frank, a deathbed confession that should shake Frank up. Olive needs the comfort of confession. But Frank is unmoved. He has passed the point of caring, and lets the reader know that there is nothing that can shake a man facing his own mortality. Life is what it is, and then as far as he is concerned no more.

I found this book beautifully written, very funny, wise and no nonsense. It lacks any greater purpose than to expose one man's rather shallow life coming to an end. It is Ford's Rabbit At Rest, and if you think that's faint praise, well, think again. One of the best books of 2014. A Ford everyone should drive.


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