WHAT other novelists refer to as research, Richard Price calls “hanging out”. Most often, this means spending time with police officers in and around New York, whose experience tends to have a direct bearing on the stories that Price chooses to tell. For the sake of specificity, he may also need to sit in on staff meetings with local restaurant managers and community outreach workers – as he did for his latest novel, Lush Life – or to participate in drug deals on dark corners of certain housing projects, if only as an observer.
THE first time that Sudhir Venkatesh witnessed a drive-by shooting, he remained upright while everyone around him dropped to the pavement. “I just stood there,” he says. “Like a tree.” Venkatesh is a tall man – a big target. He would have been even harder to miss back then, almost 20 years ago, when he was a hippyish middle-class sociology student with a long ponytail and a tie-dyed t-shirt, conducting field research in Chicago’s biggest, poorest housing project, the Robert Taylor Homes.
AT A shrine, in a forest, on a mountain in Japan, a flustered young woman tries to describe the mysterious appeal of Haruki Murakami. I have mentioned his name in bars, temples and beauty spots on my way across the country to interview him in Tokyo, and the reactions have been similar. Many young Japanese say that they know Murakami’s work well, especially his pop-romantic blockbuster Norwegian Wood, which they poetically refer to as “A Forest In Norway” even though it was expressly named after the Beatles song. They love his books, but there is something about them which they find difficult to articulate in English. Murakami makes people feel strange, and strange feelings must be the hardest to put into foreign words.
THERE is a portrait of Sir David Frost as a relatively young man hanging in the reception area outside his Kensington office. Frost would have been in his 30s when he sat for the artist John Bratby some time in the late 1960s or early 1970s. By then he was already a veteran of television, after a decade of hosting one popular show after another – That Was The Week That Was, The Frost Report, The Frost Programme – and his ubiquity probably appealed to Bratby, a so-called “kitchen sink” realist, best known for his pictures of everyday people and common household items (including kitchen sinks). In the painting, Frost seems more object than subject, his familiar face, suit, and cross-legged pose rendered mild, or even dull, by contrast to the bright surrounding colours. Which might say as much about the man and his life as the photographs on display elsewhere in the room, of Frost with Putin, Frost with Mandela, Frost walking and talking between Blair and Clinton on what looks like the White House lawn.
IT has been written that Mogwai make music to tear down the stars, rip holes in the sky, shred audiences like scarecrows in the teeth of a gale. And so on. But the band do not hyperbolise themselves, unless they are being satirical. This afternoon in a Japanese hotel bar, bass player Dominic Aitchison looks out of the window towards mighty Mount Fuji, and promises to make that volcano explode tonight.
THE short life of New York’s World Trade Center began with one spectacular crime and ended with another. Philippe Petit can only speak for the first. “My story is a fairytale, ” he says at the start of Man On Wire, a new documentary about Petit’s illegal tightrope walk between Twin Towers on August 7, 1974. This film goes on to confirm that the thinking behind the act was infinitely simpler than the staging, but its meaning has never been agreed upon.
AS THE winner of this year’s Celebrity Big Brother, Mark ‘Bez’ Berry is now £50,000 richer. So far he hasn’t seen or spent any of it. Today he’s wearing a flashy, swollen pair of experimental Adidas moon-boots, but apparently they were a gift from the label itself. “Got them yesterday, ” says Bez proudly, over lunch in London’s obnoxiously on-trend Sanderson hotel. “They’re pretty bling, eh? I am fortunate enough to be in a position where people give me stuff for free.” Fortunate indeed, given that Bez has openly admitted that he was recently made bankrupt, because of “all sorts of massive fuckin’ problems”.
CHINESE literature is more drawn than written. In a language composed of characters, as opposed to letters, each word becomes a picture, and every sentence a montage. As Ang Lee has put it, in particular reference to the title of his new film Lust, Caution, “the shape itself means something”.
THERE is a fearsome song by Shellac called End Of Radio, which presents itself as the last piece of music on Earth. “This microphone turns sound into electricity,” sings frontman Steve Albini, if ‘singing’ is the right word for his vocal role as an imaginary disc jockey after some kind of apocalypse. “The last announcer plays the last record. The last watt leaves the transmitter and circles the globe in search of a listener. Is it really broadcasting if there is no-one there to receive?”
THE late Ray Bradbury once wrote a story called All Summer In A Day. It was set in a primary school on the planet Venus, where it’s been raining non-stop for seven years. The children are too young to remember the sun, except for one girl who has recently arrived from Earth, and feels its absence more acutely than they do. On the day it is due to come out again, if only for a couple of hours, the girl stands apart from the others, waiting for the sun and wanting to go home. The rest of the class hate her for that apartness. They lock her in a cupboard just before the clouds break, and then they all go out to play. Junot Diaz first read that story when he was about the same age as the kids in it.