Thursday, December 13, 2012

New Football (Soccer) Book

Just arrived in the post, Jonathan Wilson's The Outsider: A History of the Goalkeeper. I bought it as part of the research for a story I'm writing in which the central character is a goalkeeper -- an ex-pat American living in a tiny town in westernmost Yorkshire, circa 1978, staving off the Lancashire hordes and their footballs in pre-Thatcherite Eng-er-lund. I thought it serendipitous the book was about to be published as I kicked off this extensive writing project, so I ordered me one. Other serenditpities and happy coincidences have since followed as I've started to piece this story together. I'll share the best ones here from time to time. For now, a little of the joy of discovery upon receiving Wilson's book.

The inside of the book's dust jacket is as far as I've read (hey, c'mon: I said it just arrived), but in it I unearthed nuggets of information, some of which I vaguely recall from the mists of my fading memory, that got me greedily unearthing more details that led to yet more greedy research and so on. So rather than read on, I dove in -- to various tangents presented by what little I (voraciously) absorbed. Few things can energize you when you're working on a creative project the way happy coincidences do and suddenly here were a fistful of them: It's as if the universe has given your endeavor its blessing. Unlike Wilson's "Outsider," you're not alone. Not completely, anyway.

The first thing you read in the jacket is a quote from German writer Peter Handke's character Joseph Bloch (a former keeper) from the author's 1970 novel The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick (in its original German: Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter): 
"The goalie watched as the ball rolled across the line..." 
Handke's book is described as a Camus-esque tale of senseless murder and dark soul searching that recalls the character Meursault from  L'Etranger. Wim Wenders made the story into film a few years later: here's the synopsis. The lead character in my story is an American abroad, and the film captured "the overwhelming cultural influence of America in post-war Germany," which certainly got my attention because I've plopped my American in Europe where he's both admired and reviled as we Yanks generally are and have been. Anything that points to the experience of Yanks abroad tweaks my antennae.*

Another thing that got my attention was the reference to "famous goalkeeper" Albert Camus -- something I vaguely recall about the writer. I reckon he must have something to say about the art form of goal keeping, or at least what it meant to keep goal. And here it is: Camus played goalkeeper while a teenager in Algeria. I dove into his history and discovered he played for Racing Universitaire d'Alger (RUA) until he contracted tuberculosis, at which point his sporting exploits ceased (would he have become the writer/philosopher he was if he'd been able to continue playing footie?). He is said to have told a friend that given the choice between theatre and football, football wins "without hesitation." His reasons had to do with the communality, the team-ness, of playing the game: You are not alone, but part of a team, which demands of you bravery, camaraderie and defending your friends in the face of whatever opposition you face. This sounds a lot like the chivalric code of honor I've read about in the Arthurian legends, but more on that another time.

The next literary figure who'd done time between the sticks (also noted in the dust jacket and which launched a further inquiry) was Vladimir Nabokov, who played goalkeeper while he studied at Trinity College, Cambridge having emigrated to the UK from the Soviet Union after the Revolution of 1917. His description of playing keeper is exultant: For Nabokov, goalkeeping was seen as:
that gallant art .... always surrounded with a halo of singular glamour
At least that was his experience in Russia. Then, after emigrating, he wound up playing in dour, wet, post-war England, when the position is one of loneliness, apartness. I like Nabokov's extended, dreamy description from Speak, Memory of a keeper in the mud, the misery of loneliness when the game is going on at the other end of the pitch so he's able to daydream, leaning against the left goal post (of course it had to be the left goal post). And, of course, I like that there are literary goalkeepers, talismen, touch-points for my own version. I plan to draw on their revelations whenever possible. 

Jonathan Wilson's book promises a look at the "lonely figure...the outsider" who "contemplates the darkness of the soul." That recalls Handke's dark goalkeeper and Nabokov's soggy loner; though I can't help think there's bound to be some joy in Wilson's recounting this history. 

I hope I to negotiate all of it and find ways to stuff it into my tale -- the joy and the angst, the mud and misery, the random successes and failures and the continuous, existential soul searching -- as I pen my main character. And my story. I hope you'll join me from time to time as I put this story to paper. 


*Of course, I was one of those Yanks abroad, coincidentally between 1978 and 1983. Go figure.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Papa Johns Is The New Chick-fil-A

“If Obamacare is in fact not repealed, we will find tactics to shallow out any Obamacare costs and core strategies to pass that cost onto consumers in order to protect our shareholders’ best interests.” - Papa John’s founder and C.E.O. John Schnatter, explaining that the ACA will cost the company 11 to 14 cents per pizza.

So pouty Republican Schnatter threatens to make consumers pay more for his 'za. I don't care about paying 11 - 14 cents more for a pizza, providing it's any good (I like Papa John's pizza, for the record). Schnatter runs a business and he has to keep his shareholders happy. Fine, I get that he's beholden to them over the rest of us. But (of lesser importance) his knee-jerk naming of RomneyCare after the current occupant of the White House goes to show his political ignorance or weasely-ness (your call). More important: What else is Schnatter doing to placate his shareholders and how does that affect his customers? GMO grain in his dough? "Pink Slime" in his toppings? Underpaying employees? Unsafe working conditions? Probably not, but given his us-versus-them stance, ya gotta ask.

The bottom line of course is that we need universal healthcare. Cradle to grave assurance that we will all be covered in sickness and in health. It should not be up to employers. It certainly shouldn't be up to John Schnatter. It's our national responsibility.

It's also our responsibility to take care of ourselves and lead healthy lifestyles. I'm not entirely convinced Papa John's pizza helps achieve that healthy lifestyle.


Friday, April 20, 2012

Faster, Late Joys! Learn! Learn!

I'm reposting a trio of blurbs about new songs The Late Joys sped-learned for our gig at the Baker Street Pub & Grill just before Easter. Originally published on The Late Joys blog, the first two posts explore the reasons we chose a handful of the songs; post three is a recap of what turned out to be our longest-ever gig: four hours of music making (thankfully with breaks, though not the way we intended...).

The first post, "Faster, Late Joys! Learn! Learn!" considers "Love Her Madly" (The Doors), "All My Loving" (The Beatles) and "Pulling Mussels (from the Shell)" (Squeeze). At first blush this seems an eclectic grouping, but I'd argue (and I did) that there's a strong Beatles-esque through-line that connects these disparate musical bon bons.

Post two, "The Late Joys Troll For New Songs" delves into The Pretenders' "Middle of the Road," "You Don't Know Me," which I wrote for my musical play, The Road To Wigan Pier and which received its first airing in eight years at the Baker Street gig, and then I go all wishy-washy and can't decide what song to explore next, so I just name a lot of the new ones we added with brief reasonings and descriptions.

The final post is a recap of the gig, with photos. Several songs received the attention of our official bootlegger and we may well post some snippets of the good stuff if the recordings turned out okay.

Since the gig The Late Joys are embarking on a continued course of education, adding more covers to the set, partially because it's always good to add new material and partially because there are few bands in our area playing the sort of stuff we do and we want to be the go-to band for all things Brit-Pop! (or at least that fall into that rather expansive net of "songs we like that influenced us").