Monday, 19 September 2016

The Gracie Fields Appreciation Society

I've encountered quite a few "appreciation societies" in my time. Some have hundreds of members, some are lucky to scrape through with half a dozen.

I remember David Niven recalling the Hungarian director, Michael Curtiz, famed for his woefully bad English. Said Curtiz during one particularly heated argument, "You thing that I know fuck nothink. Well, let me tell you that I know fuck all!"

Sadly, this applies to many of these societies run by self-educated experts for who quantity and personal possession comes before knowledge of one's subject...someone writes that Elvis wore a blue tie on 12th January 1959, and some busy little beaver will spend three weeks researching the fact that the tie was grey. The organisation paying homage to our Gracie is remplis with individuals who have it on their own good authority not just what Gracie sounded like, but what she smelled like, what it felt like to touch her...I wouldn't doubt they have a list somewhere of her trips to the bathroom and what she ate for breakfast every alternate Saturday.

None of these people were born when Gracie was in her heyday, or even when she was in her dotage. They have become experts by boasting and collecting memorabilia...records, films, newspaper clippings and such. They acquire something rare, and rather than share it...bearing in mind that Gracie shared her sublime talent and never sang for an audience of one...they boast about it: "I have one of these. It's the only one in the world, but I'm keeping it to myself because, unlike Gracie, I'm a selfish person."

They, in common with the Fuhrers of other groups and societies, also dictate to whom one may or may not speak: "You can be the most important philanthropist in the world, but you'd better not communicate with Joe Bloggs because I don't like him...he's got a record that I've never heard, or at least  he says he has, but if I've never heard it then it doesn't exist!"

Yesterday they unveiled Gracie's statue in Rochdale. I was asked for my opinion. Now, never ask for my opinion if you're expecting hearts and flowers. Roy Hudd I admire: he admires me. Sue Devaney is exceptional as Gracie, and stunningly so. But the statue I did not like, and dismissed it as "horrible". You know that it's Gracie because of where it's been erected. Stand it in line with other statues in a London museum, for example, and hardly anyone would know who it is.

The unveiling was supposed to be an important occasion. The Mayor was there and other dignitaries, but despite the auspiciousness of the event a tubby little chap had to be Twittering away like an excited little bird about to lay a decidedly bad egg.

"Look," he cried as he showed his phone to all and sundry. "Look what that awful Mr Bret's had to say about the statue!"

"You're wrong," he twittered to me, doubtless with his phone in one hand and a tub of hot-pot in the other. "But no doubt So-and-So will agree with you."

My dear boy, I am old enough to form opinions of my own and I do not need you to tell me who I might or might not associate with. You do not have the name "Gracie Fields" tattooed on your nether reasons, though nothing would surprise me. You had your moment of glory yesterday, and aside from being a know-it-all what you are doing must be applauded because you are keeping the flame of Gracie Fields burning. But you are NOT the only one, and unless you want that flame to burn your fingers you must act like an adult and not a child who has discovered an extra bag of humbugs in his Christmas stocking...and you must conclude that other people are sometimes right, and that you are not a modern-day Michael Curtiz.

Gracie Fields, Barbara, Rudolph Valentino, Edith Piaf: Statues That Are Abortions And Insulting To Their Memories

In no particular order, these are all especially vile and an insult to the great stars they are supposed to represent. One gets the impression that the sculptors were drunk, on drugs, or maybe trying to recapture images from childhood nightmares.
Valentino looks like a rent-boy who has gone home after a night on the tiles and put on his mother's bedsheets.
Gracie looks like a cross between an old washerwoman and a poor impersonation of Saddam Hussein, again dragging up in his mother's bedsheets.
Barbara looks like a badly-rolled lump of pastry to whom the artist has added an extra foot of neck. She is holding up one arm as an encouragement for the birds to shit all over this very bad joke and spare her fans the humiliation of trying to imagine that, in real life, she was a very beautiful lady.
Piaf...well, what can one say? It looks like the wax has started to melt on one of those dummies in the Vincent Price movie, just as it's being sodomised by an elephant. It's ghastly.
Indeed, they're ALL ghastly, and I for one would feel ashamed to be asked to pose for press pictures, grinning like the cat that got the cream, as opposed to gagging over these vile monstrosities. For what better way is there to INSULT the memories of these lodestars by giving the impression that one supports these hammy constructions that a five-year-old could better?

Saturday, 17 September 2016

Remembering Fritz Wunderlich

Fifty years ago, the finest lyric tenor this world has ever known passed away following a tragic accident. He was just 35, and left behind a grieving widow, small children, and thousands of grieving fans. In the fifty years since his death other tenors have emerged, but not one of these has matched the magic of Wunderlich.

His career lasted barely ten years, yet in these ten years he managed to leave us with a recorded legacy second to none. Few if any opera singers have covered so much ground in so few years, and for this we are grateful.

Montserrat Caballé wept when we spoke about him. Very early on, they worked together, though Wunderlich's great problem, if it can be deemed thus, was that he disliked singing in foreign languages. There are comparatively few arias and popular songs that he did not record in German...some in Italian, a couple in French, and so far as is known only one in English.

Maria Callas once said that her biggest ambition was to appear on stage with Wunderlich, but that neither would offer compromise: she refused to even consider singing in German, and though he would have been willing to sing in Italian, he found the thought of doing so too daunting to try.

It's rather ironic that the anniversaries of their deaths are but hours apart. Maria died during the afternoon of September 16th, Wunderlich during the early hours of the 17th.