Saturday, November 30, 2013

ONE SUMMER: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson

I'm going to stick my neck out now and say One Summer by Bill Bryson gets my vote for my Book of the Year!
Yes, with some weeks left in 2013 and a bit of reading to do I doubt I will find anything that has caught my attention as much as this.
I have loved Bill Bryson for many years and read all of his books, and recently been reliving them through talking book - Bill reading his own stories. That is something to behold! Or is it belisten?
He has the most lovely trans-Atlantic accent and his turn of phrase is like no other; you get the nuances, and his very subtle and dry humour with him reading his own words!
And what words too, his use of language and descriptors are delightful.
Over the years he has moved from travel stories to historic pieces, still in his own inimitable style but not quite as juicy as the earlier stuff.
One Summer is a return to glory and may well be the best thing he has ever written.
It is history, the history of America in one amazing Summer in 1927, and what a Summer that was!
Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic and aviation was in full swing. Babe Ruth begun hitting them out the ballpark in Baseball. The Mississippi basin flooded. There was murder and bombings, all reported heavily by newspapers which were at their peak and becoming tabloidy. Al Capone was at large. The first talkie, The Jazz Singer, was filmed. Mount Rushmore began to take shape. And the stock market crashed.
One Summer focuses on Aviation and Baseball initially, which I admit is not an area I would normally read about and it was fascinating, but after a few chapters, my attention began to wan. Just as that happened he started to introduce other strands of subject matter. He weaves in and out of each story, giving you a little back history, just enough to bring you to the pivotal point in 1927 and then sweep into something else. It is beautifully constructed and makes the varying subject matter easy to follow and enjoy.
It is one hell of a ride, there are other minor stories, including presidents and political officials, celebrities of the time, important figures in history who's names are long forgotten and less important figures who we cannot forget. He writes about popular music, authors and films of the time also. It covers all bases. His eye for detail, the kind of detail that is intriguing and interesting, is superb. He knows what will lure people in.
I have listened to this over the past three weeks, only when I was in my car and missed it so, when I was home sick and not driving!
I cannot recommend it highly enough, in book form or on talking book.
Go, go, go now!

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

LEONARD COHEN, 23 November, 2013


I knelt at the altar of Leonard Cohen and saw the light, the magical and mesmerising light that is Leonard.
Now I am not a religious person, but I am a spiritual person and I believe in music, so a concert of this sort is some kind of divine intervention for me.
And, according to thine own doctrine, many miracles occurred! 
Firstly, I actually attended an outdoor concert at the vineyards, those that know me have heard my many (many) bleatings of my distaste for such things. I am unsure whether I just had a lucky experience, or someone such as Leonard Cohen is an anomaly to the rule, or I was...wrong...either way I shall go with 1 or 2!!!
Secondly, the weather, which had been hideous, behaved. L and I had light rain heading to Bimbadgen, and by the time we arrived sun was peering through all the clouds. Not only did we have NO rain, wind or any other kind of weather that would ruin an outdoor concert, we actually got a bit too much sun.
And of course lastly, we got to see Leonard!
Supporting Leonard was the amazing Adalita, what a voice and she is also a great guitarist. We had time to find our seats, which were in a decent spot and enjoy L's afternoon tea of Camembert, pear paste and truffle salami. After Adalita, I took off for a bottle of something something, which I found reasonably priced! And then the second act, Archie Roach, came on. What a divine voice, truly Australian royalty. Such class and dignity, and lovely tales to be told in between songs. We then had my zucchini pie for dinner with more lovely bubbles.
As the sun started to slowly set, a voice announced Leonard Cohen in 10 minutes, then 5. We gasped as the band entered the stage, all in suits and looking suave.
And then he glided onto stage, in a suit, thin tie and a stylish hat, and begun the first song, Dance me to the end of love. One of my favourites, I had tears in my eyes but had no idea the places we would go in the next three and a bit hours.

Yes! He played for roughly three hours, a first set, a short intermission, a second set and three encores, it started just on 7pm and was finished around 10.15...not bad for a 79 year old!
His band was remarkable, a United Nations of supreme musicians. To his left a trio of strings: a guitarist, Javier from Spain, who played a mean flamenco on 12 string guitar and Bandurria (also 12 strings and sort of sounds like a Mandolin); Alexandru from Moldova, on the violin; and Mitch Watkins on guitars. To his right, Roscoe Beck, tour producer and Bass player, and the sublime Sharon Robinson, song collaborator and back-up singer with the stunning Webb Sisters and their beautiful harmonies, guitar and harp work. Behind them, Maestro Neil Larsen on keyboards and Mexican, Rafael 'keeping time' on drums. They were a tight and talented group of musicians and a pleasure to behold their music.
And you could tell Leonard knew this, his grace and awe of their musicianship was on display all night, as he doffed his hat and held it to his chest as each of them took turns in solos and introduced them all at least three times. 
But Leonard shone with and without them, his voice just gets better with age, those deep baritones with a thick timbre that is unmistakably him! He was a powerful performer, dropping to his knees constantly or slowly dancing in a style that is unlike no other. He had a jaunty skip in his step each time he left the stage and then would almost immediately float back on. He gave and gave, to us, his 'friends.' He knew how to linger on a poignant line. And those words, poetry without the music, such beauty in every syllable, such pain and love and loss and delight. Leonard knows it all I swear, that face tells more stories than the words that exit his mouth and we were all the wiser and happier for it.

I've since read a few reviews of previous concerts and it would appear some of the sequences and schtick are replicated each night, however watching it you would never know, it did not seem rehearsed or perfunctory, just heartfelt and sincere.
It's difficult for me to select favourite moments as the evening was so divine. It was incredibly special sitting outside on a balmy evening (especially when those around us actually behaved!) looking towards the stage with the sun setting behind us and the mountains in the distance surrounded by the colours of the sunset. Hearing Dance me to the end of love, Tower of song and Hallelujah - my three favourites - sung left me weeping with joy. And of course just absorbing Leonard himself, his poise and grace, his distinctive moves, his voice, his humour, his honesty and fragility and his warmth and love of us, his friends.

It's a one of a kind experience, one you mustn't pass on if you ever get the opportunity. He is just one of those performers that radiates a god like presence that is remarkable and quite difficult to describe.
Set One
Dance me to the end of love
The Future
Bird on the wire
Everybody knows
Who by fire
Come healing
Lover lover lover
Set Two
Tower of song
Chelsea Hotel #2
Waiting for the miracle
In my secret life
The Partisan
Alexandra (performed by Sharon Robinson)
I'm your man
A thousand kisses deep (recitation)
Take this waltz
Encore 1
So long, Marianne
Going home
First we take Manhattan
Encore 2
Famous blue raincoat
If it be your will (performed by the Webb Sisters)
Closing time
Encore 3
I tried to leave you
Save the last dance for me (The Drifters cover)


Monday, November 4, 2013


October didn't get off to a good start either, I hope this isn't the beginning of something!
I had the mother of all tooth aches with an infected compacted wisdom tooth, it and it's three friends will be removed in November, so I guess I will no longer be wise...though people did bring me flowers which was lovely!

I have felt on the backfoot health wise since that, so have had a quieter month this month, but that's not to say nothing exciting happened!
Also fires, literal and figuratively speaking. The actual fires were real and scary and came close to more than a handful of loved ones, all ok now thankfully. The other fires are best left behind us, I guess we all have months like that...sigh...though I have had a minor rant below!

First, let's check in the 42 Things:
1. Finish sorting my holiday photos
No, I am not finished, but I am getting there. It is a lovely walk down memory lane though.

5. Read more of my own books. I tend to purchase these, but they get pushed aside for books I bring home from work
Yes, see books read below, I have definitely improved in this and my reading in general. Because I have been so busy this year, which I am not complaining about, I have felt my reading has suffered. I also think my attention span is nowhere near as good as it was, so that is also a factor, but being stuck at home due to illness helped improve it this month.
6. More live music
A and I saw the sultry Dan Sultan at Lizottes towards the end of the month. I have his first album and have seen him on RocKwiz, but that's about it. I was more than impressed with the two sets he gave us. Just him and a guitar, he is a raw performer, and has a stunning range, also a great guitarist. He mostly played songs from the new album, I really liked them. Also a generous performer, chatty, self deprecating and funny in between songs and seemed genuinely humbled by our appreciation. Oh, and did I mention good looking...

8. Don't let the things that usually bother me, irritate me too much
Maybe because I have had more free time on my hands this month, or maybe because I have not been 100%, little things have annoyed me a bit and then a few big things pissed me off. I am someone who does get annoyed by 'stuff', but normally I will just say I am annoyed by whatever is annoying me and get on with it, trying to be realistic in my acknowledgement of the annoyance, but glass half full in my treatment of it. So it takes a lot for me to 'lose my shit', and I did! Not proud of it, but better out than in I guess. The thing is what normally lets me down is people...I do love people, but some, well, some just don't seem to try. I am an idealist and that can often be a harsh road to travel down, cause as I have found out Idealists are a very small percentage of the population. It doesn't mean everyone else is bad (though when I am pissed off I do think that!) it just means I need to adjust my world view...sigh... Having said that, I am getting much better at adjusting as I get older.

13. Write more, post on my blog more regularly
This is true, been writing a few things just for me, for work, for my blog and my writing group.

Here is a piece about failure:

33. Go to lots of fun social events
Not as many this month, but still some pretty good ones.
We had another Tweet Up, organised by the fabulous L, this time at MoneyPenny, the new cocktail bar on Honeysuckle. I discovered a delicious passionfruit Vodka one called Donna Summer, I can highly recommend. We had a wonderful night with about 50 people turning up. Yay for Twitter! I also met up with R & R for a lovely lunch at Speers Point in a new cafe there near Pippis. I saw Dan Sultan as mentioned, celebrated my nephews 11th birthday, met at Talulah's for Bibliotweeps Book Club, and at Peg's CafĂ© for Lake Macquarie Coffee.


I saw Gravity in 3D and was blown away. I am not great with heights and the 3D really did make me feel like I was up there with them, so that took me a good 20/30 minutes to settle into. I felt funny in the belly and woosy, and wondered if I would have to leave, but once I settled it was a bit easier. It was a wild ride that was, at times, a little unbelievable. I did thoroughly enjoy it and thought Clooney and Bullock (whom I am not a fan of) were excellent. Especially Bullock, what a strong kick ass role for her. The cinematography was stunning and the 3D effects perfect. This is a must see, on the big screen and in 3D!
L and I also saw the third and final Art Film at The Towers, this time about Vermeer. Specifically his paintings that feature musical instruments, of which there are a few. I hadn't realised this before. The soundtrack was music of that time, which is very umm, relaxing, so I did drift off a few times, but that is not indication of the film...just me. Little is known about Vermeer, but they did well with the information they did have and of course those realistic paintings. His portraits are superb.
We had a girlie night out towards the end of the month and saw About Time. We all needed a bit of down time and some escapism and this was the perfect movie. About a love affair between a boy and a girl and the same boy and his Dad, told from the point of view of the boy. It was a sweet film with a fabulous message of ensuring you take the time to enjoy the little things in life. Something I think we all need to do. There was a little time travel twist, but it worked and appeared believable. Oh and the family house was perfect!
I re-read Books, Baguettes and bedbugs: the left bank world of Shakespeare and co by Jeremy Mercer, this is a great book about a would be writer who ends up living at Shakespeare and Co as many others have before him. It is a part history of the famous bookstore, part personal history, part intrigue and part travelogue of Paris. I read this years ago when it first came out and loved it and wanted to re-read it since I have been back from Paris and the bookstore. It brought back memories. I highly recommend.
My spoken word (in the car) for the month was The Object of Beauty by Steve Martin. Yes, Steve Martin, the comedian but really as a musician and writer - both he does as well if not better than comedy I think we should call him a Renaissance Man! I loved his first novel, The Shopgirl, a melancholy romance. But his was an outstanding read, set in the art world in New York in the late 90s, it is about a young girl who has her eye firmly planted on rising in the world of selling art and will do so at any cost. Martin is very knowledgeable about art and the art world with the most intricate detail within this work of fiction. It has twists and turns and leaves you guessing what is going to happen next. It has wit, but is mostly a dramatic and interesting read, I cannot recommend this one enough.
The Bibliotweeps Book Club book this month was My Hundred Lovers by Susan Johnson. I started to read this lovely work of fiction earlier in the year but thought it would be a perfect Book Club book, so I stopped. This is the first title I have read by the Australian author and I am eager to read more. She has a beautiful poetic, lyrical style of writing. My Hundred Lovers is not quite as spicy as it may sound, though there is plenty of spice! Her hundred lovers rang from family members, books, music and so forth, it is about loving and love in all it's forms. The protagonist is at times prickly and unlikeable, she gets herself in all manner of situations. Each lover is a chapter and the chapter size ranges from a few lines to 4-5 pages so it makes it an easy read, I devoured it. I loved her chapters about her grandmothers and Paris the best. It made you think about your own loves, made you smile and frown and laugh and cry. We all had mixed feelings about parts of the book and out conversation ranged, which indeed made it a great book club book. I tweeted with Susan prior to the meeting and she was generous with her time and answered some questions for us, which added an extra level of interest for our meeting. 
I also read Carry a Big Stick by Tim Ferguson. The 'cute' one in DAAS, this is a memoir but specifically about his MS. It was an easy read and I particularly loved the early DAAS stories in it, as they were forming and how they worked together and so forth. Not much 'new' information or anything groundbreaking, just a decent read with lots of laughs.
Due to a quieter month I have gotten a bit more viewing in!
I've watched The Paperboy, which was rather odd but somehow compelling. I am really starting to like Matthew McConaughey now he is taking on smaller character driven parts. A great documentary called First Position, about young ballerinas, males and females competing for positions in big ballet companies, utterly brilliant and yet often soul destroying for these plucky kids. I also saw some biggies: Skyfall and Iron Man 3. Skyfall was a great ride, I'm not a huge 007 fan, but this is the first one in a long time I enjoyed. Iron Man 3 also lots of fun, better than 2 but not as good as the first! And I finally saw Shame and really loved it, Fassbender and Mulligan are outstanding in this very sad but compelling story. It's my pick of the month.
I have finally begun to catch up on The Office. I loved the British series, it is perfection. The detail of the office humour against the beautiful love of Tim and Dawn, never has a romance been so satisfyingly acted out, it made me laugh and cry. I was very uncertain about the American version even though it had Steve Carell in it, I am a fan. It took a few seasons to take off, and I think when it finally broke away from the versions of the British stories is when it started to improve. An ensemble cast of varying funny. In particular, Rainn Wilson's Dwight is comic genius. So this month I have watched Seasons 5 and 6.
Him and Her is a British sitcom starring Russell Tovey from Being Human, which I loved. It is about a slacker, twenty something couple in the early stages of romances, mostly sitting about their apartment in their underwear talking shit. It took me a few episodes to get into it, but there is something endearing about it.
Another British Sci-Fi series, The Fades, is about people who have died but not moved on. A young boy can see and help them and he needs to use his powers as some of these people, called The Fades, are starting to get nasty. It only had one season, and you can see why. It had moments of brilliance, but just not enough. Daniela Nardini from This Life, is perfectly cast as a mad, possibly evil Priestess. But she was underused...shame.
I adore Nurse Jackie, it's a great show with an exceptional cast. It's billed as a comedy, but really it is more drama than comedy, just when the comedy comes it is sharp and fabulous. Edie Falco  is stunning as the torn and twisted Nurse Jackie. Comedy cudos to Merrit Wever as Zoey who truly shines and Peter Facinelli as Doctor Cooper who is stupendously stupid. Hospitals seem to be the perfect backdrop for drama and comedy. Caught up with S4, which may be the best yet!
Not much worth watching on regular tele, but I have been loving James Spader's The Blacklist, Spader is salaciously sexy and very bad, but maybe there is good within, maybe not...this is a crime of the week show, which normally leaves me cold, but Spader lifts it up multiple notches and makes it worth checking out!
Serangoon Road is an interesting ABC venture, a drama set in Singapore in 1960s. Starring Don Hany, who is as good looking as he is a good actor - which on both counts is VERY! It's a slow mover but definitely worth watching.
I've been listening to a hodge podge of music this month. I found a copy of The Best of Peter Sarstedt. I love Where do you go to my lovely, it's always been a favourite, especially as I am such a Francophile, in fact it was the first song I heard after arriving back in Australia from Paris last year...fitting. The album is lovely. I also have been playing, over and over, the new Passenger album, great lyrics and enchanting tunes, worth checking out if you love quality music. I also got the newest Jens Lekman and enjoyed it.
I always love older music so this month I have gone between ELO and early 90s music. ELO came about from Twitter, when B & L were quoting lyrics, I pulled out my best of and stuck it in the car and it has pretty much been my soundtrack since! The 90s came from my friend V, who is taking random years and blogging about his favourite music from that inspired me to do the same...his blogs were much better I must add!
Here are my links:

I went back in to Newcastle Art Gallery to have a long and proper look at After Five: Fashion from The Darnell Collection.


Finally, the month ended with a bit of excitement with the arrival of Brett Whiteley's Black Totem II as donated by the wonderful Wendy Whiteley and installed in the forecourt of Newcastle Art Gallery. What a coup for Ron Ramsey and the Gallery and what a brilliant thing for Newcastle. Getting an Egghead became the instant thing to do, so move over Pisa, come and get your photo with Black Totem II! (more on Whiteley in my November Round Up)