Winding up Ms Lawley on a desert island turned out to be a tricky busin ess for an enfant terrible
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.
Thursday 18 April 1996
This Sunday you can hear his Bromley tones on Radio 4's Desert Island Discs, as he talks through his career to an indulgent Sue Lawley. And his choice of records? Oh, you know, Oasis (not a terribly Roy Plomley sort of waxing) and the Massive Attack choric ensemble (ditto) and that other Bristolian act called Tricky, in which a depressed black rapper mumbles at his shoes about the shortcomings of his social life.
They played through the eight records, and everything was fine until the Tricky number, "Abba on Fat Tracks". It begins "F**k you in, tuck you in, suck you in ..." and speedily degenerates. A little later, when the vainglorious Tricky could be heard intoning his intention of pleasuring his beloved with such determination - and indeed velocity - that it will make her nose bleed, the show's producer could stand no more. Would Mr Kureishi, she inquired, care to choose another track? And that's why, gentle reader, this Sunday you will hear a charming ballad called "Hell is Round the Corner" wafting from the speakers, instead of anything more, er, tricky.
The pounds 30,000 women-only Orange Prize for Fiction announced its shortlist at the weekend and promptly dived into controversy, as two of the judges complained to the papers about the piles of domestic-obsessive rubbish they had to swim through while winnowing down 145 novels to six. But that's what you get with a prize whose criteria apparently include "relevance to people's everyday and imaginative lives", something that has not been bothering, say, Pat Barker for years.
Male points of view about this prize, however, are not terribly welcome. I went on Woman's Hour to talk about the current fuss, and was well and truly sandbagged by Kate Mosse, chair of the judges and the programme's presenter, Jenni Murray. Any time the discussion seemed in danger of straying towards the unsayable - which is, bluntly, that if more women wrote good novels, they'd win more prizes and wouldn't need an award specially contrived for themselves, as if they were Thracians or Albigensians or some other "under-represented" minority - my interlocutors leapt in and demanded to know which of the shortlisted books I'd read. It was ghastly but strangely uplifting, like being mugged by the Salvation Army.
The shortlist is interesting, however, and it introduces British readers to a genuine oddball in the shape of Pagan Kennedy, a Boston thirtysomething who, among other things, runs a cable TV show called Pagan's World and for six years published a journal, Pagan Kennedy's Living: the Magazine for Maturing Hipsters. I've tracked down a copy of the latter and it's a hoot, funny, stroppy and frantically alternative. There's a swingeing attack on women doing press-ups, some suggested terms of abuse for white men ("Mafo", for instance, derived from "Mayflower") and a hilarious strip cartoon called "Men Who Won't Put Out", identified by Ms Kennedy as "the silent epidemic of the Nineties". She almost makes you believe in the concept of "relevance". I shall read her novel, Spinsters, without delay.
At the Albert Hall, where I went to worship at the shrine of Bruce Springsteen, my generation's male hero sans pareil, something odd happened, twice. At the beginning and the end of the concert, an unearthly noise suffused the auditorium. When the lights darkened, a weird booing could be heard. Gosh, I thought, he's 15 minutes late; these people are sticklers for punctuality. But it turned out the boos were in fact his name - "Bruuuuuuuce" - intoned in a Kensington mantra.
Then a serious cove from the management came on to insist that certain rules be observed during the concert: no photos, no tape machines, no mobile phones, no digital watches (quoi? We looked at each other. Has anyone owned a digital watch since 1982?). We speculated about what else might be debarred. Walkie-talkies? Ghetto-blasters? Laser swords? And anybody even thinking of erecting a stud partition in the Royal box, or putting up some bookshelves with the aid of a Black & Decker drill with nail-gun accessories, would be in real trouble.
But we did as we were told. This was, after all, the Boss, the Loose Windscreen, the gruff New Jersey poet of backstreet love, badlands cred, boardwalk romance, blacktop voyaging, of darkness on the edge of town and doomed loners dreaming of Vietnam. It's hard to explain to certain girls, or to delinquents born after 1970, quite what a hold Bruce exerts on the would-be outlaws of Streatham and Stoke Newington, without entering problematic realms of masculinity. And tonight he was fine, even without the E Street band, alone with guitar and harmonica, singing bleak solo threnodies about life among the wetbacks and the sad cops on the Mexican border.
But as he was singing the last number, a gorgeous Promised-land dream called "Across the Border", he suddenly threw his head back and began to keen. It was a burst of the kind of waily-woo angel choir that turns up at the end of John Ford movies. It trembled for seconds on the cusp of bathos, a sound wholly at odds with the working-man Bruce persona. You could hear the whole Albert Hall holding its breath, caught between embarrassment and curiosity. And then you realised the sound was the core of Mr Springsteen, beyond lyrics or music or vocal chords, beyond sense or ego or life itself. It was unearthly. A chill went through several thousand spines. When he stopped, the silence, then the tumult, were equally deafening.
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