Groovy baby. The swinging sixties meant nothing to most people in Britain. They had jobs and mortgages and marriages and kids and gas bills. Only a select few got to hang out with dope smoking aristocrats in Chelsea or peacock around town in an outfit from Granny Takes a Trip. The class barriers may have come down for a few talented working-class photographers and musicians but they remained firmly in place for everyone else.
The closest the great British public got to joining the psychedelic generation was with the vicarious second-hand thrill of popular entertainment. The Beatles and Rolling Stones sold the sixties dream on vinyl, and movies like What’s New Pussycat? pushed the vision on screen. In 1967 the written word got in on the act. Adverts were all the Sunday supplements and double-decker buses for a new face in town. He had a blond Brian Jones-style cut and fashionable neo-Victorian clothes.
‘You Don’t Listen to Adam Diment,’ said the slogan. ‘You Read Him.’
He was the first psychedelic spy novelist. And he burnt out quick.
Some men live like heroes. James Horowitz did school at West Point, flew fighter jets in the Korean War, wrote screenplays for Hollywood, skied in Aspen, loved in Paris, and knew film stars as friends. He wrote novels as James Salter that ached with sex and loss. Burning the Days is his autobiography.
Americans who write about books for a living call Salter a great prose stylist, a literary giant, a master. Whether you agree depends on your tolerance for misty poetics and heartfelt vagueness. Here’s a slice of prose:
‘A woman, burnished by the sun, walks down the street in early morning carrying an eel. Many times I have written of this eel, smooth and dying, dark with the mystery of shadowy banks and, on that particular day, covered with bits of gravel. The eel is a saint to me, oblivious, already in another world.’
If that makes your heart throb then this is the book for you. Those already frowning should steer clear.
In 1921 a young journalist from Illinois arrived in Paris with a loving wife and a suitcase of tyro manuscripts. Seven years soaking up the avant-garde teachings of Ezra Pound and James Joyce turned him into the best prose stylist of his generation. Ernest Hemingway returned to America with a fresh literary approach, a book contract, and a younger, richer wife.
Most readers still associate Ernest Hemingway with the French capital, an image cemented by his posthumous memoir A Moveable Feast. Guides do walking excursions round his old haunts for the tourists.
Richard Owen has other ideas. In a new book he makes the case that Italy, not France, was the place closest to Hemingway’s heart.
I‘m working on my fourth book. Soldiers of a Different God should be out in late 2018. Crack open a bottle of champagne and alert the Nobel Prize committee.
Still a few months of keyboard-melting work to go but I can always use some help. Let me know if you’ve got any information or photographs that could help tell the untold story of how an unlikely anti-Islamic alliance of feminists, football ultras, evangelical Christians, gay activists, fascists, populist politicians, and surfing rabbis from California fuelled the rise of the nationalist right across Europe and gave us President Donald J Trump.
What’s the link between Raymond Chandler, poet laureate of noir detective fiction, and Charles Bukowski, patron saint of low-life drunks? Two that I can think of: a dead gay psychic and a book.
The book was Bukowski’s Pulp. Published in 1994, it was the last he ever wrote. The bard of the bottle was on his way out when he wrote this homage/parody to the LA detective thriller.
The works of Chandler and fellow noir master Dashiell Hammett loom large over Bukowski’s book, even as he subverts their tropes and goes looking for more philosophical mean streets to stroll down. The text eventually escapes its Chandler pastiche and meanders off into autobiography and a creeping sense of mortality.
The dead gay psychic is something else.
Hi friends. I had a long chat with Angus of the WW2 podcast recently about Ethiopia, mercenaries, Haile Selassie, and my book Lost Lions of Judah. He trimmed it down and tidied it up and now you can hear us discussing the Italo-Ethiopian war in glorious stereo through iTunes, Facebook, as well as the WW2 website. It’ll probably turn up on Youtube some time soon.
Tune in and take a listen, then get your hands on the book itself [or amazon.com]. It’s about the crazy gang of adventurers who helped Ethiopia fight back against the Fascist Italian invasion of 1935.
It was a war between far-right modernity and patriarchal traditionalism. The Italians had airplanes, high explosive, and mustard gas. The Ethiopians preferred swords and spears. Emperor Haile Selassie needed expert foreign help. What he got was a bunch of mercenaries who could barely shoot straight and leaned further to the right than Mussolini.
Lost Lions of Judah: Haile Selassie’s Mongrel Foreign Legion tells the whole colourful, blood-stained story.
You are shown into a large room. You’re nervous. Your heart races, your palms are sweating lightly. Your chair sits facing a long table. Behind the table a panel of faces look at you coldly. One gets up and stands next to you.
‘We are going to play Russian Roulette,’ he says.
Is he crazy? Do they expect you to risk your life for a job? You look at the panel. They are serious. You look at the speaker. He forms his fingers into the shape of a gun.
‘This,’ he says, ‘is a six chamber revolver.’
He puts his finger to your temple.
‘It has one bullet in it.’
He jerks his finger.
‘Click. No bullet in that chamber. I’m going to pull the trigger again. Before I do that, do you want me to spin the cylinder of the revolver? You have three seconds to answer.‘
The panel are looking at you intensely, analysing your reaction. Welcome to the favourite situation of high powered job interviewers. Answering complex questions under pressure. Can you give the right answer?