The style defines the man
We all marvelled at Kenneth Starr's uniquely boring Gertrude- Steinian prose
Prolific writer and commentator John Walsh contributes columns to the paper as well as writing features, interviews and restaurant reviews. He has been editor of The Independent Magazine, literary editor of the Sunday Times and features editor of the London Evening Standard.
Monday 14 September 1998
Oh I don't know. Its function has surely been to supply the Global Village with something for everyone to talk about. Not since the death of Diana has the Western world been so obsessed with a single subject. This weekend every conversation I have had, whether at a corner table in the Groucho Club or a dinner party in Nottinghamshire, has been hijacked by the Clinton affair - and although the serious-minded have pretended they are really keen on discussing the process of impeachment, the rest of us have gone squarely for those "unnecessary graphic and irrelevant salacious allegations".
Such as: those nuts. Only one tabloid managed to winkle out (if that is the phrase I am after) the detail that Clinton used to enjoy nibbling the nuts secreted by Ms Lewinsky in her groin. The picture of the great man as a kind of truffling Squirrel Nutkinsky is strangely unsettling. But were they dry roasted peanuts, pistachios, or (surely not) Brazils?
Then there was the bathroom door against which the President used to lean while receiving oral sex. He needed to lean against it, he explained, because it helped his bad back. It is rather charmingly off the point is it not? - as if he did not actually notice what was happening round the front.
Then there were the details of the gifts that passed between them: how sophisticated and saucy of Monica to give Bill a copy of Nicholson Baker's Vox, which is a 200-page fictional burst of telephone sex, but how artless to throw in Oy Vey! The Things They Say: A Guide To Jewish Wit which is to descend to the level of Reader's Digest.
And how intrigued we all were that American newspapers had contacted the three Congressmen whom the President had been telephoning while being pleasured. What had they asked them? If Mr Clinton seemed distracted? If he kept making appreciative grunting noises even though they were not saying anything interesting?
We all marvelled at Kenneth Starr's uniquely boring Gertrude-Steinian prose style and how oddly similar it is to Ms Lewinsky's circumlocutory vagueness. Until phrases such as "in the pantry area" and "in the genital area" started to blend into each other, we had been happy to discover that, despite her Patsy Cline hairdo and Desperate Dan jawline, Ms Lewinsky habitually wears thong undies, which she likes to flash at her entranced boss.
But amid all these conversational marvellings, nobody I have spoken to has the faintest clue why Clinton should be made to resign. Beyond the excruciation of having the world overhear your little adolescent sexual fiddlings with the hired help (which, rather than admit to the world, you obviously lie about; you lie like an eyewitness, as they say in Bosnia), there is nothing in this sorry tale that has the slightest overlap with politics, policy-making, economics, governance, management or leadership - provided that those dealing with Clinton in the future can look him in the eye, or pass a cigar store or a dry cleaners, without bursting out laughing.
IN JUNE this year, on what would have been the dead man's 50th birthday, the tiny Warwickshire village of Tamworth-in-Arden was invaded by a stream of fans of Nick Drake. They came to lay flowers on his grave, check out the grand Queen Anne house where he grew up, and sign the visitors book in the local parish church.
You just know that this is going to turn into an annual event, and the parish cemetery become a smaller but intensely English version of the Pere Lachaise cemetery where Jim Morrison's grave is routinely monstered by The Doors' faithful. Because the late Mr Drake is now the subject of a large and spectacularly trendy following, 24 years after he apparently killed himself with a 30-tab overdose of Tryptizol.
Tall, romantic, musically gifted but withdrawn as a clam, he was a tragic loner all his life. He went to Marlborough and Cambridge but without never emerged from a shell of occluded mortification. He seems never to have sustained a single relationship or a performing career or, indeed, a complete conversation during his short life; but his three albums, Five Leaves Left, Bryter Layter and Pink Moon, have been regularly reappraised since his death, and his mournful shade adopted by misunderstood musical youths everywhere.
He turns up on the soundtrack of Kate Winslet's new movie Hideous Kinky (from the novel by Esther Freud) and in the lyrics of the first solo album from the Blur guitarist Graham Coxon ("I wish I could bring Nick Drake back to life"). The title of a song by the British rocker Robyn Hitchcock proudly proclaims, I knew Nick Drake". A biography of Drake last year by muso-polymath Patrick Humphries was the biggest-ever seller in the Helter Skelter rock 'n' roll bookshop. Drake's lonesome influence has been invoked by an eclectic slew of modern performers, from REM and Elvis Costello to Belle and Sebastian, Everything But the Girl and Beth Orton.
What's exciting for Drake fans is the joy of minimalism. There is so little to hold on to, they are grateful for the smallest detail.
Nobody knows what made him write songs, or stand for an hour at a zebra crossing, too depressed to cross, or kill himself. Hardly anyone even heard him speak. His 31 extant songs are all we have got and I am afraid we shall never...
But hang on. What's this? As if from nowhere, a tape has come to light, a 35-minute recording (the first ever) of Drake singing in a friend's kitchen in France. It dates back to the spring of 1967, two years before his first record was released, and features him singing cover versions of Dylan, Bert Jansch and the cult folkie Jackson C Frank. What is more - and try and remain seated while I tell you this - Drake can be heard chatting amiably, between songs, about his life, the guitar tunings he is using, the devaluation of sterling, the fate of Western civilisation, his problem with his parents, his envy of Donovan...
Ok, I made up some of that, but he does talk on the recording - and, for the average Drake aficionado, that is the equivalent of his having written a three-act drawing-room comedy and filmed himself in the lead. How significant is the find?
"Nick Drake has had a genuine re-discovery amongst a far wider constituency of music lovers than just retro-fiends and dyed-in-the-wool folkies", says Mat Snow, editor of fount-of-all-wisdom Mojo magazine. "Not only will this add to the sum of human listening pleasure, but it may shed a small sidelight on a tremendously obscure artist. Even a recording of his conversational voice is a rare find."
"It was recorded when Drake and several Marlborough friends were holidaying in Aix", says Patrick Humphries reverently. "He sounds incredibly confident and mature for a guy who'd only left school a few months earlier. And to hear him talk, it's so intimate, it brings him back to life."
So the rock 'n' roll world waits to see what happens next. Will the unknown owner hand over the tape? Will Drake's sister and executor Gabrielle (the actress, who famously starred in Crossroads) claim the copyright? Will Island, his record company, bring out the CD? Or will the Tamworth- in-Arden pilgrims find themselves having to schlep down to the south of France to listen, at last, to their hero's Complete Works?
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