picosgemeos: (Montanhas)

My brother sent me a video through Facebook of an elderly man in a care home – part of the Music and Memory iPod Project.

The man was in the advanced stages of Alzheimer’s and didn’t recognise anyone anymore. A caretaker placed headphones on him and connected him to an iPod. She then explained to him she was going to play a song. When she pressed play, his eyes lit up, nearly bulged out of their sockets: he was hearing a song he used to love as a young man. He began to sing along to it. When they asked him questions later, he could talk a little about his past, about that song and its musicians. The song had dislodged something that was stored deep inside his brain, brought him back to life for a few minutes.

I wrote back to my brother suggesting we start a list of all our mom’s favourite albums. He agreed and reminded me that she already had many vinyls and CDs at home.

Over the weekend, I took advantage of the unusual sunshine over London to walk around Victoria Park. I suddenly had an idea: from now on, every time I called my mother I’d ask her about something from her past, I’d get her to expand on it, and I’d then write it down for her – for us.

In the evening, I gave her a call and, after our initial chit chat about what was going on in our lives, I asked her what was the first album or song she had ever bought.

‘I can’t remember,’ she said. ‘Why do you want to know?’

‘You don’t remember going to Lojas Americanas perhaps? (Americanas was a popular department store in the brasilian town she grew up in, Londrina, where I knew she and her siblings liked to go for ice creams and shopping when they were young.) Or someone giving you a record?’

‘No,’ she said, a little exasperated. ‘We used to listen to a lot of soap operas on the radio though.’


‘We’d gather around the table at night and listen to soaps. There was no TV at the time.’

‘Did your younger brothers and sisters stay quiet while you listened?’

‘They must have,’ she said. ‘I can’t remember.’

Later, I told my boyfriend of this exchange and how disappointed I was -- that realisation that my mother wasn’t like me. What might seem interesting – essential even – for me to remember held no interest to her. Which songs from my past held importance to me?

I remember my first vinyls containing children stories – Peter Pan, Charlie Brown, Sleeping Beauty – and my first proper music album being a two-disc compilation of early 80s hard rock (Joan Jett, Survivor, Judas Priest, etc) called Rock na Cabeça (Rock in the Head). I was 8 and my brother was 6 when we received it as a gift from our dad. As we both owned the compilation together, we decided that disc no.1 would be mine and the second his. He ruined his record soon afterwards when he tried playing it with our dog’s paws as the turntable’s needle.

But would Rock na Cabeça jog my memory if I were ever in Henry's place? The Best of The Smiths probably would, and Suede's first album. Maybe Madonna's Immaculate Collection as well.

‘Why don’t you ask her about her pet pig?’ my boyfriend suggested. ‘She might have more to say about that. She once told me all about him.’

picosgemeos: (Montanhas)
List of the LostList of the Lost by Morrissey

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I’m fairly certain that in January, when creative writing students across the land return to their courses after the holiday break, they’ll be greeted by a copy of Morrissey’s List of the Lost on their desks and a new course tutorial: What To Avoid In Fiction 101.

For someone who doesn’t know Morrissey at all, List of the Lost is indeed the worst novel ever written. Unfocused, nonsensical, odd, disjointed, sexist, ageist, sizeist, you-name-it. It’s hard to follow its meandering sentences, lack of paragraphs and chapters. Verb tenses change wildly, often in the same sentence, and punctuation is used badly. Plus, it’s too slim for any substantial development of its characters – four jocks in 1970s Boston who accidentally kill a hobo and are cursed thereafter. Then there’s the now infamous sex scene towards the end, almost definitely guaranteeing Morrissey a win of this year’s Bad Sex Award.

Morrissey isn’t some literary dilettante though. Before he became famous with his 80s band The Smiths, he wrote two chap books on his heroes the New York Dolls and James Dean. Then, through his lyrics, he gathered a hoard of followers – people who were moved by his aesthetic, his position on vegetarianism, his non-conformity, or even just his humour. Many re-discovered Oscar Wilde through him as well as other writers like Shelagh Delaney and Alan Bennett. More recently, in his Autobiography, he named James Baldwin as a hero (who he also name drops in List of the Lost.) To many, Morrissey was the quintessential bookish musician. In 1998, he received the Ivor Novello Lifetime Achievement Award for his song writing. (Ivor Novello also crops up in the novel, in a bizarre passage where it’s suggested he had an affair with Winston Churchill.) For some time now, cultural theorists have poured over Morrissey’s writings and argued his importance for British culture.

Which makes the existence of List of the Lost all the more bizarre. Suggestions that Morrissey was trying to emulate James Joyce are wide off the mark: List of the Lost is a poor hybrid of Elizabeth Smart’s prose poem By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept and the experimental cut & paste stuff from Beat writers like William S. Burroughs. It’s such a preposterous read that at times it feels like a big joke, an unrestrained fantasy. The sad fact, though, is that the annoying narrator that keeps interrupting the narrative shares many of Morrissey’s own views on animal rights, Tories and so forth. Very quickly, the novel sticks out as a bitter, self-hating outpouring from Morrissey’s own heart, cursed by the lack of a good editor to give it some shape and soul.

Morrissey and Penguin’s decision to unleash this monster on the world shows admirable chutzpah. There are some great, funny lines in there – typical Morrissey – that almost outweigh the clumsy ones. It’s such a shame though what a misfire it is. It has some intriguing elements and barmy moments; it could have been a classic for queer literature.

There are three potential fates for List of the Lost: it will either be forgotten, get turned into the literary equivalent of the film Showgirls, or replace Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel Paul Clifford (of the famous line “It was a dark and stormy night”) as a benchmark for bad writing.

View all my reviews
picosgemeos: (Montanhas)
From [livejournal.com profile] sushidog:

You have a time machine, in which you can make three (and only three) trips. You may use one trip to change something in your own past, one trip to witness a past event, and one trip to change the world. No cheating, any attempts to game the system will dump you in a primaeval swamp with no way back to the future. What do you do with your three trips?

My first trip would be to São Paulo, 1982, September - the month my youngest brother Nicholas was born.  I'd try to stop my parents from giving him the vaccine for whooping cough - the vaccine that gave him a brain lesion and made him a fully disabled person for the rest of his life.  I've always wondered how Nicholas would have turned out if he'd been "normal".  What kind of person would he have become? What kind of profession would he have followed?  And how would that have affected us as a family?

The second trip would be the hardest for me to choose.  Would I travel to The Smiths' first gig? Margaret Atwood's first public reading in a Toronto poetry evening? The arrival of Europeans in the Americas? (Wouldn't it freak them out if they saw me there, standing on the beach beside the natives?) Or perhaps I'd visit one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. I'd probably just let the time machine decide for me.

For my third trip, I'd try to stop Archduke Franz Ferdinand from getting killed.  In theory, that would stop World War I happening as we know it (though maybe war was inevitable?), and consequently Hitler wouldn't have gained the ground to take power, World War II wouldn't have happened, etc.  But, knowing we humans, something as equally as terrible would have taken place and we'd still be in a mess today...


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