Archive for April, 2009
‘Juliet, Naked’ is finished and comes out in September, in the UK and US.
‘An Education’ is released in September in the US, October in the UK. The screenplay will be published by Penguin later in the year.
I’m currently writing, with Giles Smith, the rest of our radio comedy series ‘The Richest Man In Britain’, scheduled to be broadcast on Radio 4 later in the year.
The Foldsby project (and let’s all hope that this album is five parts Ben Folds to two parts Hornby) is still on course for next year, although I think it’s fair to say that as we speak there are more lyrics than there is music.
And I’ve just been asked to write an introduction to a book of photographs that the amazing Numero Group is publishing, also in September. The Numero Group is a reissue label, although that description hardly does justice to their range of interests, nor to their enviable sense of style: look at their catalogue and you want everything, every album and T-shirt and trading card. In some ways, it’s reminiscent of how McSweeneys works – if you buy into the aesthetic, then you’re prepared to shell out for stuff you didn’t even know you wanted. For one hundred dollars you can become a subscriber, and cool things will just keep coming through your letter box. Anyway, the photos I’m writing about were taken in Chicago South Side clubs in the mid-seventies, and they’re wonderful.
Sometimes you can be helped towards a greater understanding of your own views on a subject by reading an argument that is diametrically opposed to everything you believe. This happened to me yesterday when I came across the playwright Mark Ravenhill’s piece in the G2 section of the Guardian, a piece which in the print version appeared under the headline “British writers treat audiences as bored channel surfers. I’d much rather be treated as an adult.”
Ravenhill thinks that most contemporary plays, movies and novels infantilise their audiences by attempting to be too much fun. “And so we throw spectacle at you, make sure there are three laughs on every page, grip you with the power of ‘what happens next?’, do what we can to shock you with graphic sex and violence.” (Ravenhill, incidentally, came to prominence with his play ‘Shopping and Fucking’, which, according to Wikipedia, is in part about “drugs, shoplifting, phone sex, prostitution, anal sex, and oral sex in the London department store Harvey Nichols”.) Ravenhill goes on: “From the worthiest of new-writing theatres to the brashest of musicals, from the Booker shortlist to the BBC newsroom, the assumption is the same – that you out there are very easily distracted.”
If he can find three laughs on every page of the books on the average Booker shortlist, then I want what he’s smoking, but of course the concern that our attention-spans are getting shorter is a real one, and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. Where we part company is in Ravenhill’s equation of the need to be entertained with immaturity. He describes a visit to Poland to see Polish theatre director Krystian Lupa’s play ‘Marilyn’, a “three-hour work in progress that will eventually form part of a nine-hour exploration of ‘personality’”. Ravenhill admits that the play was occasionally “really, really boring”, but then claims that this was OK, because “I was truly being treated as an adult, someone who didn’t need to be constantly diverted.”
I like to think that I too am an adult who doesn’t need to be constantly diverted – unless, that is, I have paid good money to be in a place of entertainment (and even the theatre, which God knows has provided some of the dullest nights of my life, can still, at a stretch, be described thus) – in which case I demand diversion, every single second of the evening. Anyone who is currently constructing “a nine-hour exploration of ‘personality’”, it seems to me, has completely forgotten about his audience, or at least the conventional notion of an audience, full of people with jobs and worries and dependants, people who are tired after a hard working day or week. My suspicion is that the policeman and the teacher and the nurse who works in a hospice does not feel infantilised in the least by someone’s desire to keep them entertained and diverted; rather, they are grateful for it. The job of providing these diversions, however, can occasionally seem less than adult: writers sit around in jeans and old T-shirts for large parts of the average working day, eating biscuits and watching some of the funnier acts from ‘Britain’s Got Talent’ on YouTube, while their friends and contemporaries don suits, rush off to meetings, save lives, keep entire transport systems running. Perhaps inevitably, there is a desire to compensate for the lifestyle, produce plays and books and films that are no fun whatsoever in an attempt to convince the world outside our offices that a day in front of the word-processor is the equivalent of eight hours down a Siberian salt-mine.
Tickets for a very special event to raise funds for TreeHouse are now on sale at www.ticketweb.co.uk. The Ambition Gig will feature a full set by the brilliant Ladyhawke and her band, followed by a special DJ set by the legendary Mark Ronson, at KOKO on Thursday June 4th. See you there, I hope.
One of the things I like the most about my job is that, for various reasons, I get to see and hear and read stuff before everyone else. Why this should be quite so pleasurable I don’t know: it’s hard to brag, when the person you’re bragging to has invariably never heard of the book or movie or album in question, what with it not having come out yet. I suspect that it’s because I’m both weak-minded and pig-headed, and thus will always react in some way to any chatter surrounding the arts. I like being able to decide for myself, in relative silence.
Anyway. Four things I’ve enjoyed recently that will be coming your way soon:
1) 500 Days Of Summer
I saw this at Sundance, and I would happily watch it again. It’s a romantic comedy for younger people, and yet it completely failed to exclude me: it had great jokes, a good soundtrack, terrific performances, a fresh and imaginative sense of visual style, and, unlike just about every romantic comedy I’ve seen in the last twenty years, it’s true.
2) Ben Folds Presents: University A Capella
I’d be surprised and delighted if I heard a better album than this in 2009. Ben Folds has recorded a whole bunch of top-notch university choirs who’ve been singing his songs a capella as part of their repertoire, and the results are just fantastic. Some of your favourite Folds songs – ‘Jesusland’, ‘Brick’, ‘You Don’t Know Me’, ‘Landed’ – have been re-arranged so that instruments and percussion are replaced by the human voice, and I’m completely addicted. And the lead vocalists put every single Pop Idol entrant ever to shame.
3) One Day – David Nicholls
A big, absorbing, smart, fantastically readable on-off love story that sprawls over a couple of decades. Nicholls is brilliant on the details of the last couple of decades of British cultural and political life, as lived by people who danced at the Hacienda or the Wag Club and who couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be anti-Tory stand-up comedians, or coke-addled Soho movers and shakers. ‘One Day’ is coming out in June, and is therefore the perfect beach read for people who are normally repelled by the very idea of beach reads.
4) Butterfly – Sonia Hartnett
I read Butterfly a while back, but I now see that it was published on April 2nd, so you could actually go to a bookshop and buy this book. That kind of defeats the point of me including it in this list: you could make your own mind up, and we don’t want that. Anyway, you should buy it, because it’s beautiful. ‘Butterfly’ is a dreamy, lyrical, sad novel about the relationship between a lonely girl and her equally lonely next-door neighbour in the Australian suburbs. It’s exquisitely written – you end up re-reading sentence after sentence – and unforgettable.