Feb 23

I have returned home from a few days away to find my email inbox flooded with messages of sadness and condolence. It took me a few moments to realise what was going on, then reality hit. Kelly Groucutt was dead.

“Who?”, I hear you ask. Let me explain.

For reasons I will not bore you with, I am currently on a mailing list concerned with the music of the Electric Light Orchestra (a.k.a. ELO). It appears that on the 19th of February, Kelly Groucutt – bass player with ELO from 1975 to 1983 – died suddenly in the UK.

Being the callous, cold-hearted bastard I am, I deleted most of the R.I.P. emails, but I took the time to read through two or three. One of the more emotional messages was from a chemistry teacher in Iowa, USA. He had dedicated that day’s chemistry class to the late Mr Groucutt, temporarily setting aside bunsen burners and the periodic table to pass on to his presumably bewildered students some words of wisdom concerning 1970s symphonic rock.

ELO were one of my favourite bands when I was in my mid-teens. I have all their records and still listen to them occasionally, when the mood strikes. Although Kelly Groucutt was a bit of a gaybean, I appreciate the role he played in the band when they were at their creative and commercial peak. I even bought his crappy 1982 solo record, Kelly.

Here is a video clip of ELO in their prime, circa 1977, performing – well, miming to – one of my favourite ELO songs, “Turn to Stone” from their album Out of the Blue. Kelly is at the right, in blue satin jumpsuit and white choker. His facial hair inspired a generation.

Feb 16
Snubian Books Turns 100!
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Today I finished reading Breakfast of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut, which is the 100th book to be added to the list of books I have read since November 2006. In celebration of this, I have made a Top 10 list of my favourite reads of the last two years, in no particular order.

Top 10 Favourite Books

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple

The Shipping News by E. Annie Proulx

Underworld by Don DeLillo

The Innocent by Ian McEwan

Vernon God Little by DBC Pierre

True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey

The Godfather by Mario Puzo

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

 

And now for some of the clangers …

Top 5 Least Favourite Books

Rosemary’s Baby by Ira Levin

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Mrs. Dalloway by Virgina Woolf

 

Special Mention: Weirdest Book

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski – I can’t be bothered explaining the bizarre concept of this book. Let’s just say it was a chore to get through, yet enjoyable at times. I have Danielewski’s even weirder second novel, Only Revolutions, under my bedside table, having stalled at about page 30.

 

Below are some other books I have read in years past, which are among my all-time favourites. 

The Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe – One of my favourite books ever, just amazing. I’ve read a bunch of books by great authors over the past two years (DeLillo, McEwan, etc.) but nothing draws me back like this hilarious, beautifully written brick of a book.

Helter Skelter by Vincent Bugliosi – This is the lawyer who put Charles Manson in jail, and the book covers the murders carried out by the so-called Manson Family, and then Bugliosi’s account of the trial itself. The absolute best of true crime, incredibly detailed and gripping from page one.

Cujo by Stephen King – I had to put one Stephen King novel in here, so this is one my favourites. Simple concept, perfectly executed – typical of his early novels. I have read all of his books and will continue to read them, even though his later work (since, oh, 1990) has been patchy.

Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer – An amazing tale, well told. What else could you ask from a book? This is the story of the 1996 Everest disaster, told by journalist Jon Krakauer, who happened to be on the mountain at the time. Not without its flaws, but I’ve read it four of five times and love it each time.

One Day in September by Simon Reeve – Another non-fiction book, this time about the kidnapping of Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics. Reeve writes impartially about this quite unique event in modern history, and details the background and shocking aftermath. Again, a book I can read over and over. (Reeve was the first person to write about Osama bin Laden in The New Jackals, published well before 9/11).

The Beach by Alex Garland – Most people who have read this book seem to either love it or hate it. I love it. Shame that Garland’s output since this, his first novel, has been so infrequent.

The Real Frank Zappa Book by Frank Zappa – Of all the books I have purporting to be biographies of bands or musicians this is one of the few I trust. Totally frank (no pun intended), hilariously funny, and often touching (more so since his premature death at age 52), this is Zappa’s story in his own words. Genius is not too strong a word.

Feb 7

Like most kids, when I was young I liked to get in two solid hours of television between getting home from school and having tea. I have fond memories of those afternoon TV shows, which were mostly re-runs of American shows from the late ’60s and early ’70s. Let’s see if your memory is as good as mine.

You’ll almost certainly remember Flipper, which featured the exploits of Sandy and Bud Ricks, single-parent dad Porter, and their friendly dolphin Flipper. The show was set and filmed in Florida, utilising the surrounding ocean and beaches, as well as some of the least convincing green screen work you are ever likely to see:

Here are the opening titles with original theme music. (In later years this was replaced with a jazzy, Dean Martinesque version of the same tune.)

OK, so we started with an easy one, but do you remember Salty? Salty was very much in the mold of Flipper; two young boys with a tragic backstory – the death of their parents in a hurricane – find solace in the companionship of a freakishly intelligent ocean-going mammal, in this case a seal, which they name Salty.

Sadly I couldn’t find the opening titles for Salty, just a brief clip from the show. The young boy at the start, Tim Reed, is played by Clint Howard, brother of Ron Howard, a.k.a. Richie Cunningham. There is something sinister about this clip that I can’t quite put my finger on.

OK, so we’ve done dolphins and seals, let’s move onto the land with the next one, Gentle Ben. The eponymous Ben is a large American black bear that is befriended by young Mark Wedloe – coincidentally, played once again by Clint Howard. The pair live with Mark’s parents in the Florida everglades and zip along the shallow water aboard one of those flat boats with the big propeller at the back. You’ll see what I mean when you watch the opening titles, which I am thrilled to have found. I have often questioned people my age about this show and usually get blank stares. I was starting to think I may have imagined it.

Hmmm, now here’s something odd. The Wikipedia entry for Gentle Ben implies that the bear, Ben, was in fact a man in a bear suit. This to me seems incredible. Look at those opening titles again – that is one convincing bear suit! My memories of the show are of course vague after nearly 30 years, but my belief has always been that Ben the bear from Gentle Ben is the same Ben the bear as appeared in Grizzly Adams. But the Wiki states, quite pointedly, that “there is no connection between the bears”. Smells like a cover-up.

So, did you remember all three of these TV classics? If not, shame on you. What the hell were you doing every afternoon between four and six o’clock? Homework? Playing outside? Pffft.