Fade Away

 

Booze, drugs, guitar solos, groupies, all-nighters, trashed hotel rooms, tortured lyrics, smashed guitars, whirlwind marriages, band rivalries; nobody has summed up the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle better than Neil Young when he sang out ‘It’s better to burn out / Than to fade away.’ That sentiment may well have been true for the many short-lived, 27-year-old stars – but certainly not the fans.  

 

Despite their advancing years and accompanying hip replacements, they are still going strong with the only thing fading about them being their well-worn trademark leather jackets.  And one old rocker I caught up with recently – casually supping on his lager outside Glasgow’s The Two-Heided Man pub – is London boy ‘Anarky George’, who now lives and works here in the city. He’s been a well-known ‘hanger-on’ around the rock ’n’ roll scene for years.

 

Rockers were associated with motorcycles, and in particular with the larger, heavy and powerful Triumph motorcycles of the late 1950s. They favoured black leather, much like American motorcycle gang members of the era, hence Anarky George’s ‘uniform’.  And he’s also been a long-time frequenter of the fabled Ace Cafe, the ultimate London greasy spoon transport cafe made famous in the 1960s as a meeting point for the ‘ton-up boys’: bikers, rockers and petrolheads, who all raced at high-speed along the North Circular Road.

 

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‘Halfway down the stairs/is a stair/Where I sit.’ And with that opening line, who could forget Kermit’s nephew, Robin (voiced by Jerry Nelson), when he famously made his debut on The Muppet Show in the mid-1970s?  Amidst the mayhem, madness and all the Mahna Mahna, there came along a fleeting moment of peaceful tranquillity with the stunned stillness of Robin singing Halfway Down the Stairs.

 

The song reached the dizzy heights of number 7 in the UK single charts of 1977, making this the Muppets’ highest ever chart position – but what many didn’t appreciate was that this was a poem by another children’s icon: A.A. Milne, he of Winnie the Pooh and Christopher Robin fame.  Milne included Halfway Down in his 1924 collection When We Were Very Young; and the tune was subsequently composed by Harold Fraser-Simpson, who set many of Milne’s poems to music.

 

And with Glasgow’s Buchanan Street steps being at the apex of the city’s bustling retail triangle, capturing a moment of stillness halfway down was this lone figure all curled up, quietly sitting there reading his book – and the first thing that went through my head was that memorable ‘Muppet moment’ watching Robin’s debut.

 

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‘I love you. You love me too. It’s no use pretending it hasn’t happened, ‘cause it has.’  A memorable line from a memorable movie, and with Valentine’s Day on the horizon, there’s an upcoming screening of David Lean and Noël Coward’s classic weepie, “Brief Encounter“, coming soon to the Glasgow Royal Concert Hall with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra playing the soundtrack live.   

 

They’ve remade just about every other classic film from the golden age, but thankfully not this one, hailed as one of the greatest romances of the big screen. I imagine it must have passed through some agent’s mind: starring Kate Winslet, maybe, and possibly Hugh Laurie. But then they will have screened it and realized immediately it would be impossible. A contemporary audience wouldn’t have any patience with the unconsummated romance in a railway station buffet between happily-married but bored Home Counties lady Laura (Celia Johnson) and the stoic, equally-married Alec (Trevor Howard).

 

It would demand that she surrendered immediately. It would probably regard her insistence on decency as another word for hypocrisy. The film would last fifteen minutes, tops. But while Brief Encounter has never been remade, there was, however, one very, very memorable parody of it, and so wickedly well-done it could only have come from the late great Victoria Wood and hailed as one of her cleverest, funniest and heartwarming sketches.

 

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It’s February already, and that means we’re in the middle of Oscar season, as several high-street window displays and charity shops get in on the big occasion.  And as is my wont, I’ve already watched several nominated films that are in the running for multiple awards come the big red carpet night of the 90th Academy Awards on March 4th. 

 

The Shape of Water, with the wonderfully quirky Sally Hawkins, is so unusual and beautifully filmed that it immediately accrued a slew of accolades, and fully deserving of the 13 nominations it received – but I fear Guillermo del Toro’s dreamy sci-fi tale about a woman who falls in love with the Creature from the Black Lagoon, is now being systematically picked apart by the media after recent accusations of plagiarism

 

And while I’ve no problem with Gary Oldman winning the best actor in a prosthetic category, I fail to see what all the fuss about Darkest Hour is about, except that it perfectly captures the Brexit zeitgeist. The whole film lapsed into absurdity when Churchill leapt out of his ministerial car to disappear into the underground so that he could hold a seminar with the ordinary men and women of Britain on the merits of appeasement during a one-stop ride on the District line between St James’s and Westminster. Thank God he happened both to catch the slowest Tube in London and bump into a focus group of Leavers who were up for a fight, otherwise 20th-century history would have had to be rewritten. 

 

On the other hand, in this day and age of Donald Trump in the White House, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a masterpiece of dysfunctional small-town American life. Gripping from start to finish with not a frame wasted, it was funny, yet brutal and breathtakingly beautiful. It deserves to win everything going.  So Best Film, Best Director for Martin McDonagh, and the always watchable Frances McDormand for Best Actress – and I wouldn’t rule out Woody Harrelson or Sam Rockwell walking away also with the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

 

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Yes, it’s that time of year again when diet fads pop up literally everywhere.  Many of us over-indulge during the Christmas and New Year break, and so hopefully resolve on January 1 to atone for it all by swearing to eat healthily, perhaps even a total body detox, to help shed the extra weight put on.

 

Now I grew up in an era where ‘body detox’ usually meant taking a double dose of Alka-Seltzer the morning you return to work after the festivities – but now there are many fancy fads to help kick-start your body back to reality.  ‘Dry January’ is a popular option, not imbibing on the hard stuff for the month.  Another new charity trend is ‘Veganuary‘, as people are urged to do try being vegan during the month of January, helpfully supported by lots of supermarket promotions and media articles on vegans and vegan recipes. 

 

And in view of today’s photo, I thought it might help if I passed on this useful, failsafe piece of etiquette for you all.  How can you tell if someone is a vegan? Don’t worry about it, they’ll soon tell you.

 

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Well, there goes 2017.  It really flew by, didn’t it? But it’s almost over now and tomorrow morning 2018 looms large for everyone. 

 

Hard to imagine how the new-found dawn of 2018 could be any worse than the last few grains of sands currently dropping through the hourglass that is 2017.  Although with that said, and with the banality of Brexit, it wouldn’t surprise me in the least in 2018 if the UK went full Royston Vasey with Roy ‘Chubby’ Brown staging a coup and declaring himself PM.  Admittedly, it couldn’t be much worse than Theresa May now, could it?

 

I suppose we can all wish that the next 365 days are better and more prosperous than the previous 365 days. And as the photograph from Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street suggests: We can all wish, can’t we?  So, despite my somewhat morbid outlook that more resembles the Hogmanay institution that is the Rev I.M. Jolly with it being “a helluva year”, I’ll take this opportunity to wish everyone a Happy New Year!

 

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What Christmas movie is complete without a miserable person deciding to end it all? Obviously the big one here is It’s a Wonderful Life, wherein good guy Jimmy Stewart goes all suicidal on us and almost jumps to his death, driven by the Human Embodiment of Hyper-capitalism in the guise of Mr. Potter, and only prevented from doing so by a little old man in a nightie looking to get a set of wings.

 

It is, of course, Frank Capra’s black-and-white classic from 1946 all about small-town America that has become a staple of Christmas television programming the world over – but it didn’t have such auspicious beginnings. In fact, it was regarded as being something of a Christmas turkey after being lambasted on its release by the critics.  But what do they know?

 

It’s a Wonderful Life was considered such a flop by the studio that they let its copyright lapse – and inadvertently, this proved to be its salvation, turning it into a perennial holiday favourite that has bonded families and communities together for eons. This meant that, by the Seventies, there was a festive Frank Capra film available for networks to screen for free – and It’s a Wonderful Life was duly screened, every day and practically every hour, on almost every channel throughout the whole month of December.

 

I knew the movie as a big holiday classic, but I only discovered all about the ad nauseam screening during my decade-long stay in the US of A. I remember one Christmas Eve in Seattle, I decided to play TV roulette with it. I literally kept changing channels and came upon it in different stages of its progress. Yet still so infectious, you simply can’t not watch. You can’t turn it off.

 

And because there’s little or no copyright, advertising images from the movie can be all but freely used, such as here with Jimmy Stewart and Donna Reed at The Butterfly and the Pig pub at Shawlands Cross in Glasgow’s South-Side, for everyone to “Have a Wonderful Christmas” there. Actually, this theme pub would be the worst of all places to celebrate Christmas, as now it is like something out of Pottersville, the “bad” town from the movie, and not the Bedford Falls “good” town watering hole of the old Corona Bar that we all once loved and frequented.

 

Remember now everyone: Have a wonderful Christmas!

 

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It’s a scene at this time of year that plays out in just about every big city: thousands of Christmas tree sellers plying their trade on the streets.  And this seasonal tradition is now the subject of a heart-felt new feature documentary that shines throughout with community spirit and more than just a twinkle of Christmas cheer.

 

Tree Man” explores the lives of those tree sellers, many of whom leave their homes and families behind and must endure living out of cars and vans for the holiday season. This film centres on those plying their trade in New York’s Upper West Side, and primarily revolves around Broadway seller François, a migrant worker from Québec who leaves behind his young family at his Canadian home to return to the same Manhattan street corner every year for five weeks to deliver the magic of the season.

 

All of this is hard and demanding work, with long hours in freezing weather with rain, wind and the snow. François lives and sleeps out of his beloved ‘Elvis’, a 1994 Chevy van, as a one bedroom apartments at this prime location runs at over $4000 a month…that is, if you could even find one. But he’s become a firm favourite of the local dwellers and has developed lasting relationships with some of his customers, and a mentor and father-figure to two formerly troubled young youths who now work for him.

 

This is a little gem of a documentary that got several good critical reviews when it hit the film festival circuit. But no review could be better than that of a longtime customer in the film who now lives in the Queens and makes the long trek to the French Canadian tree man of Broadway, explaining that, “This has nothing to do with trees anymore.”

 

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No, not another homage to my childhood with Glen Michael’s Cartoon Cavalcade, but this time it’s more like “Cartoon Arcade”, with an exhibition and sale this month at Plan B Books in Shawlands Arcade of the political cartoons from the hand of the redoubtable Jim Turnbull, who for over 30 years was the cartoonist for the Glasgow Herald newspaper.

 

It runs December 2-21, with Plan B opening hours being Wednesday to Saturday, 12pm-5pm.  And there, you can take a political walk down memory lane with possibly the largest exhibit of Jim Turnbull’s wonderful cartoons, with over 100 of his masterpieces focusing on the Thatcher years and his famous Scottish lion – a lion that became an instant hit during the first ill-fated 1979 referendum on devolution through portraying Scottish people as a feart lion for not showing greater support.

 

While many of Turnbull’s caricatures may well be instantly recognisable thanks to his skill in both drawing and catching the political zeitgeist of the time, one or two seemed to confuse some of an earlier generation.  Today’s photo, showing Enoch ‘Rivers of Blood’ Powell separating out the black jelly babies was one, some wondering just who he was.  I tried explaining to them to imagine Nigel Farage without the beer or the fags, though speaking Latin!  

 

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Situated in the heart of Glasgow’s shopping metropolis on Buchanan Street, the Argyll Arcade was built in 1828 by the architect John Baird Snr. for John Reid Robertson. By the 1840s there were sixty-three shops ranged along the glass-roofed L-shaped thoroughfare, selling a wide variety of luxury goods.

 

Today the arcade is predominantly occupied by high-end jewellers’ shops, offering the largest and finest selection of diamond rings, diamond jewellery, wedding rings and luxury watches in the one single location in Scotland; and the largest diamond repository outside of London’s recently ill-fated Hatton Gardens.

 

But for those of a certain age, before the jewellery takeover, this was the location where generations of small boys would immediately run towards – and especially at Christmas time! – to press their well-snotted noses’ up to one certain window, in the shop at the corner of the “L”, underneath the glass roof supported with ornate hammer-beam roof trusses.

 

It could only be the fabled ‘Boys’ Own’ Glasgow toy and model shop, Clyde Model Dockyard! Initially established in 1789 as a producer of models for the Admiralty, then shipping models, parts and accessories, it went on to be located at 22-23 Argyll Arcade from the mid-1950s through to the late 1970s, and dealt with a veritable Aladdin’s cave full of model railway products, steam engines, model aeroplanes, racing yachts, steamboats, motors and Meccano.

 

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