Beyond the Wings November 2020

Like a lot of others, I got a big boost in the first half of this month when Trump was defeated. On the other hand, a second lockdown has put this particular part of the world under house arrest again, so it is going to be a depressing winter.

Output

This second lockdown has been a productive time for songwriting. This month I have recorded a new Chinese song

A new song about marital infidelity that will become a staple of my live sets

And another English song that kind of falls between two stools of not being quite funny and not quite sad

Activities

My Meetup group The Mandarin Club has been going since August. It will flourish when in-person activities are allowed again. For now there is the China Book Club, and occasional other activities, including an event about acupuncture on Thursday December 3rd.

Like everybody else, I am looking forward to being able to gather with people again. When I am able to schedule, I will hold three album launches and a book launch. Watch this space.

Wider World

With the Pfizer and Astra-Zeneca vaccines, there is now finally an end in sight to the pandemic, even though restrictions will last well into 2021 and maybe its entirety. The next year will be another tough one, with a hard Brexit and a Biden administration locking horns with congress.

With Republicans likely to hold the senate, it will probably be a less transformational presidency than some have hoped, with no green new deal and no universal healthcare. But it will be a relief to have a less flamboyant individual in the world’s highest political office.

Book Review: ‘Blindsided’ by Julian Edge

An Unobtrusively Profound Potboiler

Profundity is seldom found in the most obvious places. One famous example is the fictional rivalry between Salieri and Mozart in Peter Shaffer’s play ‘Amadeus’. Salieri, a picture of studied seriousness and sobriety, laments the superior talent of the ‘boastful, smutty, infantile’ Mozart.

As a 2012 Salon article titled ‘National Book Awards: Genre Fiction Dissed Again’ pointed out, genre fiction is literary fiction’s poor relation when it comes to critical acclaim. But accessible works of art often offer as much or more social, historical and psychological insight as those that are ostentatiously highbrow.

The premise of ‘Blindsided’ would not be out of place in a light-hearted romance, but it gradually takes a turn deep into the thriller genre. Narrator Ralph, a cerebral, circumspect Englishman, accompanies his partner Clare to Sardinia on a working holiday. They have been together since she was still a student and he a young lecturer, but now that they’ve reached middle-aged ennui, separation seems imminent.

While renting a car, they encounter the square jawed American Tex, whose folksiness suggests for all the world that there is less to him than meets the eye. By Tex’s side is the puzzling Cass, whose taciturnity leads Clare to speculate that she might be autistic. As it turns out, Cass is multilingual and multi-layered, and not in entirely benign ways. You can read the whole review here.

I am passionate about creative activities like songwriting and prose fiction, and the mechanics behind how a piece succeeds or fails. That is why I like to review other artists’ work. If you have an album, book, or other work you want reviewing, please don’t hesitate to hit me up on mcgeary at gmail dot com

Book Review: ‘Levelling’ by Alastair J Dickie

A Thrilling Trip through Humanity’s Brilliance and Brutality

Predicting what distant descendants will think of us is as impossible as knowing what type of music our great-great-grandchildren will dance to. Activities that are now legal, from eating meat to air travel to the use of pornography, could soon go the same way as slavery in the arena of public opinion.

Alastair J. Dickie’s debut novella ‘Levelling’ is set in the distant future and involves resurrecting individuals and forcing them to be tried by the titular ‘levellers’ for their involvement or complicity in manmade climate change. Protagonist Addison is brought back to life using a process that can best be explained to someone in the early twenty-first century as ‘cloning’. Levelling is much more sophisticated. It is explained to Addison: “Cloning is for dilettantes, levelling is the closest to Godhood our species ever came”.

Having lived through the cataclysms caused by global warming, the levellers are eager for revenge on the beneficiaries of industrial civilization, people like those in the West of 2020 whose everyday actions pushed the planet to breaking point. Assigned to help raise others from the dead for trial and inevitable torture and execution, Addison quickly discovers that meeting the requirements of the levellers to avoid this fate is as impossible as refraining from all sins mentioned in the Christian Bible. You can read the full review here.

I am passionate about creative activities like songwriting and prose fiction, and the mechanics behind how a piece succeeds or fails. That is why I like to review other artists’ work. If you have an album, book, or other work you want reviewing, please don’t hesitate to hit me up on mcgeary at gmail dot com

Book Review: ‘Jacob’s Advice’ by Jude Cook

A Meditation on Race, Ageing, and Marital Breakdown

Identity is one of the most contentious issues of our day. Whereas some public intellectuals like Lionel Shriver have argued that identity politics are, by their nature, racist. Others have claimed that increasing representation of historically marginalised groups in certain areas will make for a more equitable society.

Among the talk of getting more female CEOs and a higher proportion of BAME cyclists, one minority group that is discussed less frequently is the Jewish community. ‘Jacob’s Advice’, Jude Cook’s second novel, was inspired by the author marrying a Jewish woman. It is a melancholy, minor-key narrative of two middle-aged men in Paris, one whose marriage has recently failed, another who is hopeful of marrying someone much younger than himself.

Narrator Nick is largely detached and defeated, observing ‘you get to a certain age when you realise you’ve had your future. It’s called your past.’ Reflecting on the declined relationship with the mother of his son, he realises ‘I have never knowingly manipulated another, but have laid myself bare to be manipulated by others’. You can read the whole review here.

I am passionate about creative activities like songwriting and prose fiction, and the mechanics behind how a piece succeeds or fails. That is why I like to review other artists’ work. If you have an album, book, or other work you want reviewing, please don’t hesitate to hit me up on mcgeary at gmail dot com

Album Review: ‘Regent Road’ by Robin Mukherjee

Major-Key Melancholy with a Gritty Edge

Robin Mukherjee, a regular on Manchester’s live music scene, has released an album that would have been one of the highlights of 2020, even if much of the music world hadn’t been forcibly closed down for many weeks. Packed with some of the most deliciously melancholic music you will hear in a major key, ‘Regent Road’ is as smooth and stylish as anything by Damien Rice or Badly Drawn Boy, and even recalls Leonard Cohen, Jeff Buckley, and Lou Reed.

Playing the guitar, piano, and mandolin, Mukherjee’s music is particularly characterized by arpeggios swooping attractively. His lyrics contain small-town ennui, including in the opener ‘I Used to Stand Tall’ and the title track. There is also repressed romance in ‘The Back of My Mind’ and ‘By Your Side’. But that is not to say the lyrics are soft-edged.

‘Sweet Dreams My Angel’ belongs in the tradition of ‘love’ ballads that are much more antagonistic than they will seem to the more passive listener. The character that the lyrics address has ‘an ego the size of dad’s wallet’, and a pillow as cold as her heart. This is followed by a chorus with all the understated animosity of Sting’s ‘Every Breath You Take’. You can read the whole review here.

I am passionate about creative activities like songwriting and prose fiction, and the mechanics behind how a piece succeeds or fails. That is why I like to review other artists’ work. If you have an album, book, or other work you want reviewing, please don’t hesitate to hit me up on mcgeary at gmail dot com