Wednesday, 12 October 2016



When I was child in the 60s I didn’t know much about anything except what I was taught in school, told at home or read on my own time. My father gave me an allowance of a quarter a week and his advice was always ‘save it for a rainy day’ no matter how badly I wanted a packet of hockey cards or a Caramilk bar; many allowances carefully nurtured could provide more utile items like hockey sticks or baseballs. Dad’s philosophy was if you wanted something you worked and saved up for it; if you couldn’t afford something, you couldn’t have it. Simple as that.

Ironically, I grew up and went on to a career in advertising, an industry that persuades you to want things. From behind the curtain I saw the fabrication of desire. I’m not cheap but I consider the fate of a dollar before I part with one. To me, paying $100 for a meal or a pair of pants is extravagant, unnecessary. I enjoy a glass of Scotch or cognac but they are expensive treats to be savoured infrequently. That said it doesn’t pay to skimp on practical goods like comfortable footwear or a well insulated winter coat.

I’m closer to 60 than 50 now. I’ve led an average life of ups and downs, a jagged graph of peaks and valleys, successes and failures. Throughout I’ve always had the refuge and the joy of reading or listening to music. Writers and musicians need people like me, fans who make it worth their while. And every fall the market is saturated with new releases. And every fall I think there are enough books and music in the house to see Ann and me out, and if I bought everything I wanted the cost would add up pretty quickly, and, anyway, Christmas is coming.

This year has been a strange one. There have been cancer scares in our family of friends. Our social obligations have alternated weddings and funerals, beginnings and endings for people of all ages. Last July at a wedding reception I was seated beside a fellow we knew. We weren’t close but we liked each other. We talked, we laughed, we drank, we smoked. He dropped dead a week later; not my fault. Earlier last week Ann said to me, ‘I don’t believe in deferred gratification at our age. We both know life can change in an instant.’ So, fuckit, I went shopping with Ann’s permission.

The out of control spree commenced with the newly re-mastered and reissued Beatles album ‘Live at the Hollywood Bowl.’ The revelation was just how tight the Beatles were as a rocking band, how attuned each member of the quartet was to the other three even though it was impossible to hear themselves without stage monitors over the screaming.

‘Born to Run’ is the just published autobiography of Bruce Springsteen. That The Economist deigned to review it speaks to the Boss’s stature in contemporary American culture and the quality of a memoir written without a ghost. The companion album ‘Chapter and Verse’ contains five songs which predate Springsteen’s 1973 Columbia Records debut. The gem is the proto-E Street ‘The Ballad of Jesse James.’ With the benefit of over 40 years of hindsight you can hear what’s coming, the flicks of switchblade knives and humming Exxon signs.

John le Carre is my favourite living author. I consider his works a gift from my father who introduced me to his novels. ‘The Pigeon Tunnel’ is le Carre’s latest, reflections on his life as a spy and a writer, perhaps parallel or dovetailing career paths. The book was stacked beside ‘Born to Run’ as if the store’s staff had known we were coming and our parking meter was only plugged for a minimum stay. Ann said, ‘There might not be any left by Christmas.’

‘Colonel Sun’ was the first James Bond continuation published after the death of 007 creator Ian Fleming. Written by Kingsley Amis under a pen name the novel’s been something of a Holy Grail quest for me. I’ve hunted through used book sellers’ wares and antique shops for ages, always seeking. Sunday evening there was talk at the table over Thanksgiving dinner about Cyber Monday, about how the American Thanksgiving e-tail event was being exported into this country; everything on Amazon would be on sale, probably.

Come Monday my breakdown bottomed out into its nadir. I don’t particularly like Amazon, having everything I don’t need at my fingertips, and I don’t like the negative impact the company has had on the shops that used to populate our main streets. ‘Colonel Sun’ new, trade format, $15: ADD TO CART. One unsatisfying mouse click bestowed denouement on years of fruitless searching, no victory has ever been so hollow.

I freed some moths from my wallet. There are freshly minted dust motes dancing in the shafts of sunlight that penetrate the windows of our home. I feel a little guilty and slightly soiled, like any adman. But I can say there is nothing I neither need nor want now, at least until December 2nd when the Rolling Stones release ‘Blue and Lonesome,’ their first studio album in over a decade. Christmas is coming. I can wait an additional 23 days before playing it to death and memorizing every lick and lyric. Not a problem.

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