Sunday, September 26, 2010

Huey Long, a socialist in a country which loathes socialists. He was gunned down at 42, though there's no suggestion the two are somehow linked

Over these past few days, I have watched, virtually back to back, both film versions of All The Kings Men. The first, written and directed by Robert Rossen in 1949 and starring Broderick Crawford, is usually described as ‘a masterpiece’. Well, it’s certainly very good and very entertaining but, in my view, it isn’t ‘a masterpiece’. Incidentally, believe it or not before Crawford was cast, John Wayne was approached to portray the demagogic Louisiana governor Willie Stark. What Wayne would have made of the role, I really don’t know. For one thing it required acting and as far as I’m concerned acting wasn’t in Wayne’s repertoire of abilities.

The second version, written and directed by Stephen Zaillian, was released in 2006 and starred Sean Penn (below)
and Jude Law. This was not hailed as a masterpiece, but, instead, universally panned by the critics. My view is again contrary. It has its faults, but I don’t at all think it was as bad as it was made out to be. Yes, Sean Penn has a tendency to chew the carpet, but he does it so well, that I would prefer to see him chewing the carpet any day. (Other great roles he has played were the coke-up, paranoid shyster lawyer in Carlito’s Way and the rapist/murderer in Dead Man Walking.) The second is not a remake of the first, as is so often – and inexplicably – claimed, and in many ways they are different films. The

1949 version with Broderick Crawford (above) concentrates more on the rise and increasing corruption of Willie Stark, whereas the later film seems to concentrate more on the Jack Burden character, the idealist turned cynic beholden to the bottle who does Stark’s dirty work for him. Jude Law – this is again my view – does a good job. (A lot of people seem to have it in for Law. I don’t know why.) Both fall down in that motivation is never fully explored and analysed.

Why did Stark become such a monster, especially in the first film? And exactly why was Jack Burden (in both films) so disillusioned that nothing seems to have been too dirty for him? What was the back story of Anne and Adam Stanton? They are more ciphers than characters.

Huey Long on the stump

Robert Penn Warren, who wrote the original novel All The Kings Men, admitted he had based the character of Willie Stark on Huey P Long, the populist politician and governor, like Stark, was gunned down in the Lousiana senate building. I had previously heard of Long as one scavenges information here and their and files it away and seemed to remember he was a wrong ’un, a man in league with the Devil who was nothing better than a crook. But out of interest, and in preparation for watching the two film versions, I looked up a potted bio of the man. And boy was I wrong.

Granted that there can be many versions of a man’s life and granted almost all of us are apt to believe what we want to believe, the worst that can be said of Huey Long – the worst – was that he behaved like a great many of his fellow politicians and gave jobs to his supporters. And what cannot be doubted was that Long did a lot of good, a lot more than many other politicians. But Long came unstuck because he was, in all but name, a socialist, a man who believed that those who had a great deal should share their great deal with those who had next to nothing and even nothing. And if there is one thing the U.S. apparently hates above all things, it is ‘a socialist’. Long taxed big business in order to pay for the hospitals, schools, roads and bridges he built and he was outspoken in his criticism of FDR’s reforms. He did not think they went far enough.

Long was an exceptionally gifted man (and should not be mistaken with the quasi crook created by Robert Penn Warren). He completed his three-year law course in eight months and was called to the bar. He had ambitions to the presidency and he most certainly had the drive to achieve it. He would undoubtedly have had the support of the nation’s underdog on whose behalf he worked. But he was assassinated in 1935 a few months after he had announced his candidacy for the presidency in the following year’s election. He was still only 42.

The story is that in order to discredit a political opponent, he had two of the man’s daughters dismissed from their teaching jobs and threatened to spread a rumour, already in circulation, that the man’s family had ‘coffee blood’. His opponent’s son-in-law was upset by the suggestion that his wife had Afro-American blood, went to the state capital and shot Long. At first Long’s wounds from a bullet in the abdomen and in the spine did not seem fatal. But his doctors had missed a bullet he had taken in one of his kidneys, and by the time this was discovered, Long was too weak to survive more surgery.

There is also a theory that the son-in-law didn't have a gun at the time of the shooting. Long was waiting in the senate building waiting to see whether a certain bill would be passed and he was approached by the son-on-law, a Dr Carl Weiss, about some matter or other. Long is said to have brushed Weiss off, saying he was too busy to talk. After the third brush-off by Long, Weiss is said to have got angry and punched Long on the mouth. Immediately, his bodyguards opened fire on Weiss and several bullets are said to have ricoched off marble pillars and struck Long. In order to cover-up the death, the gun Weiss kept in his car was planted on his corpse. He was shot 60 times.

As you can imagine there are several conspiracy theories. In the months leading up to his death, Long often alleged that there were plots to kill him. He and his family were the victims of a drive-by shooting at his New Orleans home, although no one was hurt. It was as a result of his fears of being assassinated that Long surrounded himself with bodyguards.

The whackiest conspiracy theory I have found on the net is by an anti-semitic group called Jew Watch (no link provided - if you're really interested, you can find it for yourself. I don't want to put traffic the way of those cruds). The website alleges that Dr Carl Jacob Weiss - they spell it Karl Jakob Weiss - was a Mossad agent paid to kill Long. The major flaw in that particular piece of nonsense is that Mossad wasn't founded until at least 13 years later when the state of Israel was established. That detail notwithstanding, it otherwise makes perfect sense and I'm surprised it has been adopted in all official histories of Lousianna, Huey Long and political assassinations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Adolf Busch, an honest musician, and Tully Potter's biography of the man

To room VG10 of the School of Oriental and African Studies in Vernon Sq., London, for the launch party for Tully Potter’s rather massive two-volume biography of the German violinist Adolf Busch (pictured). I was invited because for the
past 20 years, ever since I have known Tully, in fact, I have been helping him out by translating German letters, memoirs, concert reviews and any other pieces he came across and which he wanted to use. Why the School of Oriental and African Studies? I don’t know, but the publisher, Toccata Press, is small and perhaps it was all it could afford.
I was rather looking forward to the evening, especially as a few short pieces were being played which Busch had written, but in the event, I wasn’t able to get away from work before 7.30 – I only worked a single shift and should have left at 6, but clock-watching is frowned upon and casuals such as myself had better believe it – and then I had to get from Kensington to Kings Cross where the excessively convoluted layout of the St Pancras/Kings Cross Tube station delayed me even further. Then I had to find the place, so I didn’t arrive until almost 8.30, by which time the music-making was over. I consoled myself with several handfuls of sushi (which I thought were based on fish, but these weren’t) and several glasses of 2010 Chilean Sauvignon Cabernet, which tasted like alcoholic fruit juice. The cardinal rule of gatherings such as book launches and exhibition openings (of which I attended a few while I was a reporter on The Journal in Newcastle in the late Seventies and also wrote its weekly art column – you didn’t know that, did you?) is to stick to the red wine. It might be bloody awful, it usually is bloody awful, but it is never as bad as the white wine served on these occasions, which is always extremely acidic and which will always give you very bad heartburn.
There were a good few men there with paunches, many of them rather younger than me. It is always quite odd to see a youngish man with a paunch, but otherwise no other signs of obesity. I assume that they were all musicians and that growing a paunch is a concomitant hazard of spending your professional life sitting down. That explanation makes sense, anyway.
‘Martin’, the owner of Toccata Press, was spectacularly fat, dressed in a blue Hawaiian shirt and waddled. I said hello to Tully but didn’t linger speaking to him, because he had to sign copies of his two books – two volumes, remember – and there were plenty of others who wanted to talk to him. If you are interested, you can find out more about Tully’s book here.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Hague gay? Who gives a toss. I just hope he knows what he is doing

It’s a truism in journalism that it isn’t the scandal which does the damage, but the subsequent cover-up. So it might be with William Hague, Her Majesty’s Secretary and all things Foreign, and, as far as I’m concerned, an all-round good egg. And because I like and respect the guy, I am rather disappointed by the ham-fisted way he appears to be handling the situation.
I was first told that he was gay — or rather was thought to be gay — several years ago by a colleague and friend who — I hope I get this straight (absolutely no silly joke intended there) — heard it from a friend of the ex-boyfriend of his sister, or the brother of the ex-girlfriend of his brother, or something or other (doesn’t inspire much confidence, does it, but there you go, that’s the problem with unsubstantiated rumours which might not have a leg to stand on). Apparently, whoever it was knew him well and said so. (I repeat my aside about tittle-tattle not inspiring much confidence.) At the time, I thought it was nonsense. But then all this business came up and I heard rather more credible info, including the comment, made after Hague released his PA statement, ‘well, that’s a hell of a hostage to fortune. What will he do when one of his ex-lovers comes forward?’
I gather that there is 100 certainty that Hague is gay, that he was at the centre of a Tory gay mafia while at Oxford (note to foreign readers: while a student of one of the colleges there, not just visiting the town) and that Ffion is his beard (and if that is the case, I like to believe — remember, I am a fan of Hague’s and like to think he is an honourable man — that she was squared from the off and wasn’t just cynically used). So I come back to be original point: it is not the ‘scandal’, but the refutations and rebuttals which cause the damage.
Furthermore, the true irony is that for the first time for many, many years in Britian, no one gives a fuck whether or not a politician is gay, although what does upset Joe Public is apparent hypocrisy, i.e. someone attacking gays is subsequently revealed himself to be gay. I cannot say so for certain, but being gay is really not regarded as even being remarkable these days, except, again ironically, by the worthy left-of-centre broadsheets who
insist on publishing tacky Pink Lists of the ‘most influential’ and richest gays to demonstrate how liberal, broadminded and tolerant they are. (My picture is of a generic influential and wealthy gay, quite possibly the editor of the Guardian dressed for work.) From Peter Mandelson, Nick Brown and Chris Bryant on the Left to Alan Duncan and Nick Herbert on the Right — and not forgetting David Laws — from Graham Norton and John Barrowman to Lord Browne (once of BP) and Andrew Pierce of the Mail, all are now mainstream and their sexuality is the least interesting thing about them. There was a ‘scandal’ of a sort over Lord Browne, but it didn’t centre on his homosexuality but that he told a lie to hide that fact he got to know his then partner through a gay dating website. Then there are the legions of gays who seem to be able to lead perfectly open lives these days with no one giving a fuck. And thank God for that.
So if what I have heard is right, what on earth is Hague playing at? Good Lord, if the worst comes to the worst and the News of the Screws carries loads of ‘reports’ from all sorts of men about ‘spending nights of passion with William’, he is going to look like a complete pillock. One explanation could be that he has been closeted for so long that he calculates coming out would do more damage than staying in; or that, as was the case with David Laws, his family don’t know and he would prefer they didn’t.
I cannot say exactly why I like Hague, although it is partly his wit which, as far as I know, is unmatched in the Commons, and his intelligence, but I do like him and wish him well. And I hope for his sake that this whole business is concluded without damage. Today the papers carry reports that he has been soured with the political scene and might jack it all in, reports which, as far as I’m concerned, are simply exercises in journalistic kite-flying; and that he is independently wealthy and doesn’t need the money (or something like that), but I think that is unlikely. The world first came across Hague when as a 16-year-old and with a full head of hair he made a speech at a Conservative Party conference. I think that politics is in his DNA and is Foreign Secretary. I really cannot see him packing it in. So, I wish him the best. And I do so hope I am wrong. Use your loaf, William.