Tuesday, 12 January 2010

If you do one thing today

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

Obviously, you will be doing more than one thing, so I am being rhetorical.  But do run to the BBC iplayer and listen to Front Row for 12th January, if you can. http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b00pqc5j/Front_Row_12_01_2010/

Front Row, which like all Radio Four programmes, goes through its doldrums, is on a tear at the moment.  Tonight was a particular delight, because of a ravishing interview with EL Doctorow.  I like to think I know a bit about literature.  It is my job, after all, and I have enough of the intellectual popinjay in me to feel a horrible vanity in my ability to quote Auden and Yeats and Scott Fitzgerald.  But I have hideous spaces of blank ignorance.  I can still remember feeling properly embarrassed when I had to admit to Sarah's husband that I had never read Felix Holt.  It's stupid, because no one, not even writers, can read everything, and even if they could, it would not turn them magically into interesting and charming people. 

Anyway, one of my terrible blank spaces turns out to be EL Doctorow.  I have never read any of his books.  I think I rather assumed he was dead. But there he was, really quite alive, his voice gravelled with thought and cleverness. I fell instantly in love with him. Every sentence he spoke was a thing of delight. He sounds quite old now, and perhaps he was always this way, but he has the air of a man who has seen enough not to have to prove anything. There was a slowness in his speech, as if he had no need to persuade. Because of this, he was a thousand times more persuasive than all those people on the radio who shout and cajole and talk incredibly fast, as if somehow that will make them prove their point.  I wanted to follow him to the ends of the earth.

This thing with voices is something I've been noticing a lot lately: the calmer and more low key the speaker, the more ardently you want to listen to them, and the more keenly you believe them. Barack Obama has this gift, with his lovely low thoughtful cadence. The fast high energy voices just sound as if they are trying to sell you something, and if the recession has taught us anything, it is that we should all resist hucksters with every part of our main and might.

If you do go and listen, you get, as a bonus, a hysterical piece on Meatloaf.  I had no idea he was so funny. Mark Lawson has a perfectly heavenly time calling him Mr Loaf, in that very British ironical fashion, just like Jeremy Paxman did when he kept saying, 'Now Mr Rascal, what do you think?' to Dizzee Rascal on Newsnight.  There is also an amusing item on song lyrics. But the shining highlight is the magnificent Mr Doctorow, whose new book I am running out to buy as soon as I can get my car through the snow.


Picture of the day is not one of mine. I had to research Marilyn Monroe for the book this morning. (Today's word count 783; not stellar, but not too shabby.) I suddenly realised I did not know very much about her, apart from those iconic photography sessions with Eve Arnold, the sad marriage to Arthur Miller, and the conspiracy theories about her being done in by the CIA.  She gave a long, heartbreaking, last interview to Life Magazine, which has made me view her in an entire new light. Her haunted face is what I saw today:



  1. Love Front Row: will listen to this one later on because Doctorow has passed me by, too. And if it's Marilyn you're after, let me point you in the direction of Front Row regular & twitterer, Dr Sarah Churchwell, who has written what is widely considered to be the definitive book on marilyn Monroe. (The Many Lives of Marilyn Monroe). Paperback available on amazon: utterly brilliant feminist crit of that 20th century icon. I think it's absolutely right up your street.

  2. So very glad am not only one in dark about the lovely Doctorow. Sarah Churchwell BRILLIANT suggestion. She sometimes sends me sweet tweets. Going to library first thing tomorrow (if I can get down the drive).

  3. Probably as easy to email Sarah: email me on mrstrefusis@gmail.com if I can help w that (she is friend IRL)

  4. Thanks for the recommendation- I get the Front Row podcast but it's the best of the week so I am sure I miss great stuff.

    I couldn't agree more about voices, I'm quite fascinated by speaking voices actually. I used to a little bit of radio and that opened my eyes to really listening to how people speak, for speaking well is an art. Singers often have wonderful speaking voices because they have learnt to measure their tone and pace- and some people just have the natural gift of a beautiful voice and don't have to think about it- I thought James Earl Jones on the same programme had a voice I could hear all day.

    I do go on but I met a wonderful man while at University- a friend of my friend's Mother. He was in his eighties and had interviewed Marilyn Monroe while she was married to Arthur Miller- he worked for one of the British papers and went to America to meet her. They invited him to dinner and the evening sounded utterly fascinating. He said she was quite charming, extremely bright and erudite and that they seemed to work very well together then. He seemed extremely sad that her life worked out as it did and he had obviously met many, many people as a show business writer for a national paper but she obviously really touched him.

  5. Also: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Magic-Hour-Movies-Martin-Scorsese/dp/0571192742/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1263385972&sr=8-1

    I LOVE this book. LLGxx


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