Life Sentence

Random thoughts about publishing, stamp collecting, politics, popular music of the 60s and 70s, mooses, and my motley other obsessions.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Doesn't anyone pay attention to postmarks?

The description says Australia VALUABLE Collection+Scott SPECIALTY ALBUM! Yeah, right. The "1913 1/-" is postmarked 1921 -- six years after the stamp had been replaced. The "1915 9d" is postmarked 1928. The "1915 2/-", supposedly the rarest stamp in the collection, is postmarked 1922 and is the wrong shade. Three of the best stamps in the collection obviously misidentified -- all as much better stamps. Presumably most of the others are misidentified too. I hope this one doesn't find a sucker.

Some things novelists should never write

A couple of nights ago, I decided to re-read Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, which I read about 30 years ago and didn't remember at all. I must have liked it somewhat back then, because I'm pretty sure I finished it. But the story, the writing, and my reactions to it left no trace in my memory.

My copy has some student's notes scrawled in black ink in the margins, which didn't exactly enhance my reading pleasure. I've never understood why people do that to books. ("It smells of rotten mortality," said Finn. is underlined, with LEAR scrawled beside it. Grrr. The phrase is "rotten death," and it isn't from Lear. As I read that line, I was reacting to the student's stupidity. And it also made me aware of how Carter clumsily substituted mortality for death, making the phrase feel more abstract -- a tiny example of her tendency to over-write.)

My reaction to one part of the book struck me. The passage (which is early in the book, on page 17 of the Virago edition) was:

The lilac bushes stirred. A small, furry, night animal scuttled across the lawn in front of her and vanished with a scrabbling noise into a pile of grass cuttings; the creature, whatever it was, had no more corporeal substance than wind-blown leaves.
"I never thought the night would be like this,' said Melanie aloud, in a tiny voice.
She shook with ecstasy. Why? How? Beyond herself, she did not know or care. ...
I was right with the writer, intrigued and enjoying, until I hit "Why? How?" At that point, Carter lost me utterly, and it took at least another 20 pages for me to get back into the story. I felt I was in an English class, and suddenly the teacher was pulling a snap quiz. Of course, I didn't know the answer to either question, because Carter hasn't provided one. And her next sentence, "she did not know or care," immediately reflected my own reaction. I didn't know why the character was over-reacting, and the book had abruptly lost me as a reader, so I no longer cared.

Writers do that quite often, and I always edit it out. There are variants of the same thing, but they all have one effect: they focus the reader not on the story, but on the reader's reactions to or understanding of the story. "Who could believe such an amazing thing could happen?" (Well I did, until you pointed out that it wasn't believable.) "Fritz could not understand why he had betrayed Ignatz." (Well yes -- now that you point it out, it is true that the character development makes no sense.) "The sun rising over the misty lake looked like a picture postcard." (It's true. All of the settings in this book are terrible cliches.)

Saturday, July 09, 2005

1920 Ross Smith cover

Sometimes really amazing things turn up on eBay. This is probably the best Australian airmail cover I've ever seen. A pristine Vickers Vimy cover from the first Britain to Australia airmail flight, addressed to Ross Smith -- the pilot.

I'm really curious to see how well it does on eBay. I'm the current high bidder at $255. That won't last!

A fun anecdote about the Vimy stamp. I was in Paris three years ago. I spotted a small stamp store in a very touristy area near the Louvre. It was run by a very bored middle-aged woman. I asked to see her "Australie." I was flipping through the pathetically mundane offerings when I saw a pristine used Vimy, with the right cancel -- very obviously genuine. I asked the woman how much she wanted for it. She shrugged. She looked at the stamp. She looked at me. She looked at the stamp again. Finally, resignedly, she decided she probably should look it up. So she hauled herself off her stool and took down the appropriate volume of Yvert and Tellier, which unfortunately (unlike most catalogues) lists the stamp. As she found the listing, her eyebrows shot up, and she said, "ooh la la!"

"C'est vrai?" she asked me.

"Oui, c'est vrai," I responded, pushing my French to its limits.

At which she took the envelope with the stamp and put it under the counter. She managed to convey the information that it was no longer for sale, and that she'd be consigning it to an auction. Smart lady. Oh well.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

Looking for Mr Zoghby

My 35-year obsession with the music of John Kongos has led me into some weird backwaters. One of the more obscure ones just got a little stranger.

A couple of years ago, my standing eBay search for "Kongos" turned up an odd single. It is a mono/stereo promo copy of "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday" (Cotillion 45-44095) by the wonderfully named Emil Dean Zoghby. The song, written by Kongos, is (according to the record label) "From the Musical 'Catch My Soul' Produced by Jack Good."

OK, so here's a webpage on Catch My Soul. Jack Good apparently wrote, produced, and directed this 1969 rock musical version of Othello -- and cast himself in the title role too. P.J. Proby played Cassio, P.P. Arnold was Bianca, and Montano was played by ... Emil Dean Zoghby. Among the backup singers is a (presumably very young) Dana Gillespie.

Note Lol Coxhill lurking among the musicians (credited as David Coxhill). How he must cringe at the memory of this turkey! I notice he doesn't mention this gig on his website.

I love Good's description of the soundtrack album: "This long-long-long playing gramophone record is an all live, unretouched, un-post-dubbed record and this is why it is so bloody awful."

But notice two things about that soundtrack album. "Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday," the single from the album -- isn't on the album! Second, John Kongos isn't credited as a songwriter.

The mystery deepens a bit with another weird single that just turned up on eBay.

EMIL DEAN ZOGHBY 7" "Won't You Join Me" (Kongos/Essex) b/w "Misery Lane" (Dean/Heinz). Rare NZ 7" record 45rpm on Polydor label. Produced by Jack Good. Cat. #2058032.

Emil has outdone himself with this one. Another totally obscure Kongos song, this time co-written with David Essex. Produced by his old pal Jack Good.

OK, so who is Emil Dean Zoghby?

From the trusty Marmaladeskies website:

'This Is Our Anniversary' and 'Lonely Boy' were recorded by Emil Dean and issued back-to-back on 45. Emil Dean (he also recorded as Emil Dean Zoghby) cut a few other none too interesting singles. The topside, 'This Is Our Anniversary', is in his usual middle-of-the-road vein, and despite an interesting arrangement and good performances, has little or nothing to make it stand out from the interminably crowded ranks of mawkish late-60s balladry. On the other hand, and on the other side, 'Lonely Boy' is thankfully rather fine. Despite a vaguely MOR structure and un-hip vibe (think: some of the tracks on the first Blossom Toes album), it is introed and decorated with hypnotic organ, and includes cornet, some breathy harmonies, and cool jazzy tempo changes. It has, in all its lushness, style and decidedly un-manly tone very much of a Nirvana feel about it, particularly of their more over-produced and less beaty songs. Change the vocalist (although Emil is not a thousand miles away from Patrick) and pop this excellent slice of baroque chamber pop on 'All Of Us' and no-one could ever think it out of place. The final instro fade is most especially nice: the strings move up front, the Hammond shimmers and whirs, the drums break into loud rolls... It may be a softy (certainly not a rocker), and like much Nirvana material will be over-eagerly dismissed by some as "too saccharine for many psychsters' tastes"; but with its fey lyrics and camp aura, 'Lonely Boy' is much deserving of at least a nod of approval from the foppiest admirers of UK pansy pop.
EMIL DEAN - 'This Is Our Anniversary' / 'Lonely Boy' (Island WIP 6033) 1968.

Then, from a website on Rhodesian musicians:

HENNIE BEKKER

Instrumentalist
Bio details: Born in Rhodesia

Musical Career
Hennie became a professional musician in 1953 and played in a group in 1961 which also included Johnny Fourie on guitar and Johnny Boshoff on bass. Throughout the 60's and 70's Hennie was highly respected throughout southern Africa as being one of the region's best jazz-rock exponents. He also worked extensively in London as musical director of the Duchess Theatre (West End) and played the keyboards for stage productions such as Isabel's A Jezebel and wrote scores for films, including 'Tigers Don't Cry'. He produced records with Emil Dean Zoghby on Magna Carta's "Prisoner On The Line" album (1979). Hennie also worked with Johnny Kongos and ran a recording studio in Johannesburg before moving to Canada.

OK, I'm not going to track Emil through Magna Carta tonight -- there lies a deep murky swamp.

I can't resist quoting this, from a web discussion of PJ Proby, especially for the amusement of the Shakespeare fan who often reads this:

Next time I hoped to hear [Proby] singing, was in London (the 23d of July) 1971. He was going to act in Jack Good's play "Catch My Soul-The Rock Othello". Unlucky, the character Cassio was that evening played by Emil Dean Zoghby instead of P.J.Proby. [Proby was a] man of remarkable consistency; success hasn't changed him much. The greatest Cassio in living memory.

Where is he now? From today's Johannesburg Sunday Times (yes, a Thursday Sunday Times. Those wild and crazy South Africans playing silly newpaper-name games!):

"I nearly wet myself when I heard you were coming." - Emil Zoghby, a music producer from Johannesburg taking "a sabbatical" in the usually quiet Karoo town of Steynsburg.

Still in the biz, now living in Jo'burg. I wonder if he recorded any other Kongos obscurities?