Levon

 

There’s a widely held belief that Elton John’s 1971 hit “Levon” (and let’s not forget with lyrics by Bernie Taupin) was inspired by the one and only Levon Helm, the legendary linchpin drummer and gravel-throated singer for the Band. But in Susan Black’s biography Elton John in His Own Words, Mr. Crocodile Rock explains all: “It”s about a guy who just gets bored doing the same thing. It’s just somebody who gets bored with blowing up balloons and he just wants to get away from it but he can’t because it’s the family ritual.”

 

And this also could be the case for the chess world’s very own “Levon”, Armenia’s Levon Aronian.

 

Here’s a creative force in the game who could well have gotten “bored with blowing up balloons” of playing solid, risk-free chess as he attempted to become an official challenger for the world crown. The affable Armenian had a rough couple of years attempting to and failing, but now he’s back to his brilliant and creative best with a series of big wins in 2017 – and I wouldn’t rule him out achieving the dreams of his nation by going on to challenge Magnus Carlsen for the world crown.

 

And it was nice to meet up once again with Lev during my recent sojourn to the US Midwest and the Chess Club and Scholastic Center of Saint Louis for the day job at America’s Foundation for Chess – and for those wanting more of an insight into this true artist of the chessboard, then look no further than the July issue of The New Yorker magazine that can be read by clicking here.

 

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I emerged from the festive season hibernation feeling a bit decrepit – decrepit, but not dead, as some readers worried with the lack of blog activity. But having scarcely left my humble abode since winter began, I was in need of a haircut. What hair I have left on my head is sparse, but it was getting long.

 

Yes, it’s a sad fact that with advancing years I have started to become follicly challenged – or follicularly challenged, but let’s not split hairs on it – but either way a haircut was the order of the day, so I ambled along Viccy Road  to the confines of Soran Gents Barbers to seek out Soran for the job.  Believe me, it was a quick job.

 

But being follicly challenged made me even more depressed when I returned to find in my mailbox a link to the latest gizmo: the internet hairbrush, which left me feeling for the first time that technology could well be passing me by. I’m sure there are many hirsute millennials out there who will probably think it’s cool to connect their hairbrush to the internet.  But no, definitely not here.

 

Almost every other bit of my anatomy can be – and is – monitored effectively. I have the body scale and the blood pressure monitors – which readers and family members will be only too glad to hear that they constantly reassure me I am still alive –  but now I feel excluded. I haven’t needed a hairbrush for many, many years now.  You see, there’s nothing left to brush anymore and consequently no brush to brush nothing with.

 

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I know, just as the chalkboard outside my local social enterprise Milk Café on Victoria Road says, the liberal consensus is that 2016 was an annus horribilis, as Lizzie once famously coined it. Yes, 2016 was a year somehow jinxed by karmic voodoo, despite the contradictory liberal consensus that no supernatural agency must ever be acknowledged, as in Charlie Brooker’s wickedly wonderful Black Mirror

 

But here’s my review of 2016. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Stupid Vote. Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died. Christmas. Someone Famous Died.  Someone Famous Died. Someone Famous Died.

 

In many ways, David Attenborough on TV brought us the perfect visual metaphor for 2016: Planet Earth II’s plucky iguana running past a cavalcade of vicious snakes. Well, we made it.  And now there’s a rush to get it over with, a quick rendition of Auld Lang Syne, new calendar, fresh start – but don’t go wishfully thinking that 2017 will be any better, as we only have 23 more sleeps before Donald Trump gets his tiny little fingers on the nuclear codes….

 

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Crivens! Help ma boab!  The Broons, Scotland’s most famous fictional family – Maw, Paw, Maggie, Hen, Joe, Daphne, Horace, the twins and the Bairn (not forgetting Grandpa), who live in a tenement flat at 10 Glebe Street in the fictional town of Auchenshoogle – are set to tread the boards for the first time in a play by Rob Drummond at Glasgow’s Theatre Royal this month. 

 

For our American cousins perhaps not altogether au fait with the Broons, this is a long-running comic strip published weekly by the fabled D. C. Thomson & Co. Ltd. in the Scottish Sunday Post newspaper with a book collecting the strips being published every two years or so (And it really is long-running, first appearing in 1936, it’s characters are older than Batman and Superman). 

 

The original writer/artist was the great Dudley D. Watkins – who also created the neighbouring comic strip of ‘Oor Wullie’, and also several characters in ‘The Dandy’ – but he died in the late 60s and since then a series of writers and artists have continued the strip in exactly the same style (there have been no Frank Miller-type Dark Knight re-imaginings of the Broons, though it’s an intriguing thought).

 

Each Christmas growing up as a kid, it was alternate annuals of The Broons or Oor Wullie (which I preferred). And I can guarantee you that one (or all) of the four standard Broons storylines will be played out on the stage:

 

1. “The Bairn overhears something”. Simple but versatile, the youngest of the brood overhears someone talking about one of the clan (usually Grandpa Broon), gets the wrong end of the stick, mobilises panic-stricken family members until it all sorts itself out. Key phrase: “Ha ha! My wee lamb!”

 

2. “Paw is mean”: Paw Broon tries to save money in a ridiculous way while lecturing the rest of the family on their spendthrift ways. He always comes a cropper and ends up spending more to get less. Key phrase: “Auld Skinflint.”

 

3. “The But and Ben”: All 11 Broons decamp for a holiday in a two-room house in the Scottish countryside. Key phrase: “Look at that teuchter!

 

4. “The Broons vs Modern Life”: A member of the family will enthuse about a new trend or technology, such as electric shavers or computer games, only for the Broons to put their own stamp on it. In this year’s book, Grandpa Broon comes up with a mince & tatties smoothie, the idea of which is making me feel a bit queasy as I type. Key phrase: “Now that’s what I call a –insert technology name-!”

 

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Thankfully for the well-being of the neighbours, these badass speakers aren’t the real deal but in fact a sculpture entitled ‘Badussy’ (Or Machu Piccu After Dark) by the Peruvian-born and Miami-based visual artist William Cordova.  His edifice was made from 200 donated 1970s- and 1980s-era chipped, clunky old stereo speakers that were generously donated by Seattleities for the sideshow to a major exhibit on the Inca’s of Peru that ran through the fall of 2013 at the Seattle Art Museum.

 

It alludes to modern urban subcultures, and it refers back to the glory days of vinyl and album rock (there was a few LPs scattered on the floor on the other side, mainly of the funky variety with Earth, Wind & Fire), when baby boomers piled huge stereo systems into their tiny rooms.  Today, of course, mp3s and smartphones have made such hi-fi connoisseurship obsolete. Music is portable, not monumental. And that, partly, was the the point of machu picchu.

 

Cordova’s mini-mountain is about 15 feet high; it’s less a tower than a large stump. Nobody wants these speakers any more; nobody listens to music that way. The programme blurb reads: “Cordova has produced the semblance of an antiquity. Dimly lit, machu picchu after dark looms as if it were a monument visited at dusk; familiar as a form, though unfamiliar in its significance. Neglected or collected, the objects have been repurposed. This is how the past persists, whether walls or songs, even when its origins are forgotten.”

 

Well, okay – but remember to keep it down.

 

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Richard Beyer’s sculpture Waiting for the Interurban – located in Fremont, the Centre of the Universe – pays tribute to the old Seattle-Everett Interurban railway. Sections of the track can are still visible around town, a subtle reminder of a time before the rise of the automobile. I have always felt there is a sense of irony to this piece as the City of Seattle has spent much of the last two decades dragging their feet on how best to build a public rail system when in fact one was already in place some 100 years ago.

 

The cool thing about Richard Beyer’s art installation is that anyone is invited to decorate it as they see fit. Which is why most times it can be seen  all dressed up for a birthday – or this time of the year, a Christmas – party; or, in this photo, with a collection of books for a book drive. The only rules are to leave decorations be if they look new or fresh and no advertising slogans or corporate slogans.

 

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Writing, as the late, great Scottish journalist Cliff Hanley remarked, is better than working.  What other job can you justify with the excuse that while you may not look as if you’re doing anything productive you are engaged in “research”?

 

But for almost 20 years now, the day job has been writing – or, as I like to put it: “filling white space every day for The Scotsman newspaper.”  So with that in mind, and with an always-loaded camera to hand, I’ve opted to move away from social media sites to take things a bit further by creating this blog that will see a fusion of words and film – analogue, of course.  The film, that is, not the wordy-parts…been too many years now since I used to bash out words (not to mention going through Tippex by the gallon) on a trusty old typewriter like the one photographed here.

 

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