My Pop Life #228 : God Give Me Strength – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

God Give Me Strength – Elvis Costello & Burt Bacharach

Now I have nothing
So God give me strength
Because I’m weak in her wake
And if I’m strong I might still break
And I don’t have anything to share
That I won’t throw away into the air
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out…

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New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part Three

Easter Monday 1998

Spoke to Don McPherson today who said all the right things.  Separate the personal from the professional. It’s a marathon not a mile. Twat him in the face.  Things like that.  Park your revenge and then pick it up at a later date.  Don is famous (to me at least) for banging Steve Woolley’s head onto the floor of the restaurant in Groucho as he held his ears, something of which Don is “not proud”. I understand nevertheless.  I decide to rewrite the beginning as a hotel fire at Gatwick, and do so today.  Suri calls me and while we talk Jenny places a post-it note on the TV which reads ‘The Naked Clown’.  She is a genius.  Very hard for her that I am still involved in this cocksucker of a film.  But I am.  Don reminds me that my hurt can be redoubled if I get branded as a troublemaker – ‘he wanted his wife in the film’ etc.  He advises me to pick up the piece of shit from the floor, place it into my mouth and chew slowly, while pretending that it tastes nice.  Unfortunately he is right.  I park my revenge and take my cuddly toy out of the car, putting it where my body should be.  I’m so cute.

Wednesday April 15th 1998

Great day yesterday. For me.  Pleased with my handling of these amateur ego merchants.  I travel to London late Monday, meet Brian & Emma & Pete in the Giraffe Kennington where Guinness is still being served at 12.30am, Emma fiddling with the best. this means she was playing the violin in a public house  We retire for a bottle of wine and I end up sleeping at Pete’s after smoking 15 skunk/temple ball joints. 3 hours sleep. Up & at ’em.  A five minute walk to the office.  Slimmed down staff – plenty of desk space.  Uneasy atmosphere.  I wear my Alien 3 shirt “All other considerations secondary. Crew Expendable”.  yes I can be a cunt tha knows  I fiddle with the new beginning – fire in a hotel.  Some people seem to want the lone gunman scenario.  This will be where I part company with the film I predict.  We’ll see : it’s complicated now – David Thompson wants a draft tonight where the middle has been altered.  Granada want one where the beginning is changed.  Because of my late involvement last week on script matters I cannot do the BBC one in time, and in fact it seems that Suri has already written it !  When I leave the office at 1.30 ‘NYD by Ralph Brown’ is given to me – but I didn’t write it. This is the one I’m taking in to the office today. Actually bits of it aren’t bad – but other bits are execrable. even the temple ball skunk couldn’t quite conceal that The fact that it had been done at all is the most disappointing of course. Steve eventually arrives looking sheepish and tired.  Charles pulls him aside to ask “what is going on?” and they mutter darkly to each other for ten minutes.  Eventually I suggest that we go for a cigarette.  In the Giggling Sausage Steve updates me on the charade.  There are two scripts now – mine, and Suri’s. Granada have all but closed us down. Rumour has it that Pippa is to be sacked.  yes that’s how it reads in the diary – no editing here folks ! The BBC don’t mind the avalanche but can’t decide either way.  I say my piece: ‘This is wrong.  You and Suri have produced a draft – for what reason? You can’t just leave me out – you’re wrong – I nearly left you this last weekend.  Start producing the film. You’re in charge at the moment, start behaving like you are.’  And all that. Steve says – read this draft, then have a think, then read it again then we’ll all get together like we used to and thrash it out. let’s get back to killing this baby properly!  Are you hiring another writer I ask baldly?  Categorically not says Steven, you know the characters better than anyone. No I say.  Why would you hire someone when You and Suri will write it instead.  He is sheepish again.  What a bunch of amateur arse.  I then explain why the lone gunman is so pathetic as an opening.  I then leave the office and get stoned with Pete.  Meeting my new literary agent today to see what she’s like.

STOP PRESS Version of the script going to the BBC with lone gunman opening as I write this. Charlie in the office was foolish enough to let me know.

Monday April somethingth 1998

What a week that was. I read their draft (Suri’s notes, Steve’s writing) on the train – some good things, and my stuff remained largely untouched, especially the big scenes. I called Cameron to let him know that I hadn’t written the draft winging its way to him. (Cameron McCracken who is on board as a producer/financier expert). Then had a great meeting with Jessica Sykes at ICM and we went through the history, the betrayals, the backstabbing, the draft going out with my name on that I didn’t write.  “They can’t match my writing” I realised. We talked for an hour and a half with no interruptions – a good start to our relationship. She advised me to stay cool and Not Take My Name Off, as then I probably wouldn’t get paid.  And I deserve to be paid, gunman or no. Oh yes, I deserve to be paid.

I should explain here that nobody gets paid until the first day of principal photography which is when the first tranche of money gets released.  See My Pop Life #143, #144, #145 which document with unerring and occasionally amusing clarity my experience as a writer on another film called Red Light Runners. I didn’t get paid for that one, and neither did anyone else.  It was both less and more of a car crash than New Year’s Day. 

 

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Pager

That night I stayed at Wembley to celebrate Mrs Jules 56th birthday.  Next morning Suri pages me to call immediately. I let him stew for an hour then it’s “call me back on my mobile, I’ll be outside on the pavement” and all sorts of bollocks.  When we finally talk Suri is full of apology, chagrin, pleading : “I was wrong and you were right, we’ve got to get the flavour and integrity of your script back, it’s slipping away and I need you to help me to fix it”.  Laughing quietly to myself I arrange to be in the office the next day (Friday) to discuss the script.  Steve also pages me and leaves a message at home, which I do not return. Next day I go into the office late – about 2pm – and we huddle in a corner, me, Steve and Suri – and they try to launch into the script – and I say hold it – I just want to say two things.  One – remember the Pardoner’s Tale which was in all of the early drafts of the screenplay, an English class at school with Mr Diamond discussing Chaucer’s story where we’d cut from the chalk cliff to a piece of chalk in his hand writing the word ‘Death’ on the blackboard – three chaps decide to go and Kill Death, find a pot of Gold, decide to wait until dark before moving it, meanwhile send one to find food, he poisons it but the other two kill him and eat the food afterwards. So they all die.  Suri was secretly smiling at this. And number two I said, said I ~ I will be credited on all office paperwork as Writer/Co-Producer as it says in my contract.  “I don’t want the chain of command to be confused” says Steve.  “If anyone asks me a producery question, I’ll tell them to ask you, OK?”   So that was that.  Point made I then pulled out my gear, my papers, tobacco and grass and rolled a phat one.  Charles wandered over “Is that a Camberwell Carrot?”  This is a no smoking office and building so I lit up and inhaled deeply.

 

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Camberwell Carrot

Then on with the script.  The lone gunman idea was discussed for an hour.  My position was that I wouldn’t be writing that. Suri agreed and that was that. Other areas were discussed as we waited for Granada to phone and give us the go-ahead for another week.  Madness.  We talk about a ‘Don’t Look Now’ beginning where Shelley senses the avalanche. Great idea but will we miss the skiing? I think we will. Another joint.  Suri shares it. We get the OK from Granada – not quite a green light, that has to wait until Tuesday. Budget now £2.16million. Lots more cutting and pasting arguments to come.

Saturday drive to Shrewsbury in Mark Williams’ brand new Alfa Romeo, see the Albion lose 2-1 you’re Welsh and you know you are Sunday go to Wilf’s 1st birthday at Steyning then drive to London for a 6pm meeting with Clear Eye (on a Sunday?). We work for an hour then I leave him to tidy up the remains of the gunman from the script and go to Paulette’s to see A Respectable Trade on the TV, directed by Suri, starring Warren Clarke, Emma Fielding, Ariyon Bakare, Hugh Quarshie, me and Jenny Jules my wife. Jeez. Staying at Pete Sullivan’s tonight as we have a script meeting at 6.30am in the morning. This is to clear up any further disagreements the three of us have..then its the BBC Thursday to see if they’ll give us their quids. In the meantime we have to assume they won’t and cut scenes. Fuck me.

Wednesday night April 1998

Two very early morning starts and all day meetings on the script.  Knackered.  Jenny flew to New York today. Got to finish this draft today.  Timbuktu is currently in.  it’s a scene where our heroes go to Timbuktu for an ice cream  Saw video of the boys and the kids from the beginning.  Jill Hagger didn’t get the make-up job, Elaine Smith from Respectable Trade did.  Finished latest draft last night at 8pm and today took the day off – completely shattered. Green light still not there. The possibility looms of a postponement until the autumn/summer.

Tuesday April 28th

Had a meeting booked with Pippa at Granada today at 11am. Awoke at twenty to eleven, called Steve and said I wouldn’t be coming in. It’s a lovely sunny spring day in Brighton and I’m going out. Hurrah!

Wednesday May 6th

Cancelled two more meetings as the promised green light failed once again to materialise and some energy evaporated from the project.  Tuesday casting in North Acton for Sgt Bristow and Mr & Mrs James – Sharon D. Clarke and Burt Caesar came in, who we hope will do it.  Another Wednesday rolled around and Suri, Mark, Urvashi (Suri’s PA) and Robin the location manager met me at Cuckmere Haven visitor’s centre to see the meanders, the sea, the cliffs.  There is already a problem with Lewes County Council regarding shooting on Seaford Head due to the nature of the script – suicide, drugs etc.  We are not to identify the area in any shot, so after negotiating, reframing and sweet talking it seems we can use the area !  Placing a monument – a bell – on the cliff-top helps, as does painting out the cottages.

 

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Paul Bhattacharjee

Tragically the actor Paul Bhattacharjee jumped from these cliffs in July 2013 after being declared bankrupt, a haunting legacy for all those who knew him, which included me and previous girlfriend Rita. I can’t write about Seaford Head, suicide and NOT mention Paul.  RIP. 

James Wilby meets Suri & I for lunch in the Golden Galleon and is immediately offered the part of Robin (Steven’s father, an MP) which is great as he is my first choice.  Then to Brighton and a saunter down the Palace Pier (where we can’t film for the above same reasons – strange that Brighton is worried about a film which portrays drugs!!) then under the pier, down to the West Pier then the Pavilion then back to Frances’ house for a cuppa.  We are all frustrated by a phone call from Steve which indicates that the light is indeed green but there are more cuts to be made. Steve needs to stop being so flexible.  We need a stand from now on, from everyone,  no more cuts!

Monday May 12th 1998

And so it came to pass that Granada asked if we could cut another £100,000 from the budget and it was not good, and we did not confer, yet Steven Cleary took it upon himself to say unto them “No”, for verily many cuts of this nature had already been suffered and we were upon the bone.  And thus the green light failed to materialise and the office was closed down and the weekend was spent calling people and telling them the news and many tears were shed.  But strangely the writer did not share their grief for he had been mighty unhappy with the project as constituted and did distrust Granada as Executives but even so he could see that it was a shame. And it meant that the months of debt would continue even unto the autumn or whenever the film was to be reconstituted with a certain Simon Channing Williams.

 

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Simon Channing Williams

(Simon’s company Thin Man Films produced all of Mike Leigh’s films and had an office on Greek Street. A great producer and a decent guy.  Simon did eventually produce NYD.  He sadly passed away in April 2009)

It also meant that the emasculated version of the script would not be filmed and there was a chance to do the thing properly, and even, breathe it if you dare, with the wife of the writer back in her rightful position as Veronica so help me God. And the possibilities were good.  But the producer had not called the writer, no even unto the morning of the sixth day after the event for he was mighty depressed, yea, even unto the telephone. The director had made the writer aware of much of what had transpired, and the writer vowed to keep this relationship open and sweet, regardless of his personal feelings for the director, for verily it is good to separate the personal feelings from the professional.

May 12th 1998 Monday

Met Suri & Urvashi in “the office” and we left carrying boxes and vowing softly through our humiliation Never To Return. Lunched at NFT where Steve arrived late and without 2 million pounds. Walked back to Granada and up to Pippa’s office. She thinks that we can still put a deal together by asking everyone for another 20 grand each. Since we have now stopped  and would have to re-start at the beginning of pre-production this is not really very likely. The putative budget is back at 2.3 million, Steven said he wanted to explore other avenues meaning the substantial Channing Williams one and Pippa had to agree. She kept mentioning the script being “not quite there” which got right up my nose.  predictably  She is especially concerned that the 2 boys don’t jump off the cliff at the end “because they want to commit suicide”.  No, they jump because they said they would.  Pippa also slags off Lynda LaPlante’s KillerNet because of her supposed inability to “get down to the level of teenagers”.  I leap on this angrily. I have never considered teenagers to be “down” on any level below me or anyone else.  They are on the same level as us.  When I was a teenager I thought that and I still do. Extraordinary.

May 13th 1998 Tuesday

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Filofax

Leave the house at 11.30 in a cab, realise I have forgotten Filofax (it’s the 90s kids!) and Suri calls as I re-enter house to change meeting to 2.30.  I mow the lawn. Suri arrives at Groucho with birdshit on his hat but not on his head. Everyone proclaims this to be Good Luck and he then brandishes a green lighter he found in the pub the night before. Round to Greek Street and up to Simon Channing Williams’ office where he sports a splendid moustache but no beard.  Steve explains – Granada have already spent £75,000 on the film but that is included in our new budget which stands at £2.3 million.  Simon reaches for the calculator – “Let’s call it £2.4” Suri and I are immediately sold, Steve and Simon fiddle with figures for 5 minutes (Simon has a different Sales Agent with a higher quote) and they decide that if we get a UK sale from somewhere – C4 or the BBC – then Thin Man and David will fund the film completely. “You know I’ve always loved this script” says Simon.  The sun is still shining.

Wednesday May 20th 1998

Suri called yesterday and Jenny picked up “Hello Jenny it’s Suri” “RALPH PHONE!” heh heh how rude we all thought.  Anyway today’s brilliant idea was how about a cable car crash? I said No Suri we have discussed this A MILLION FUCKING TIMES YOU PEA-BRAINED MORON it’s an avalanche it’s an Act of God there are no repercussions no investigations no negligence actions no blame NUFFINK JUST GRIEF BABY PURE FUCKING SORROW got that?  Really got it now or SHALL I SHOUT IT INTO YOUR DIM LITTLE ORIFICE YOU SPINELESS EXCUSE FOR A CRUSTACEAN? FOR FUCK’S SAKE I AM WORKING WITH PYGMY SHREWS WITH NO DICKS GOD HELP ME ! !  There will be no script meetings until Simon Channing Williams has made a decision on THE MONEY.  FUCK THIS MOVIE.  I HATE IT SO MUCH.

clearly a touchy time for me then.  The diary of a fourteen year old bipolar wanker. To be fair to Suri and Steve, they’re trying to squeeze a story into a budget. I was in the luxurious position in some ways of purely telling a story. The idea to me of the avalanche being expensive wasn’t important.  I’d been through the alternatives and they all produced very different films. As I had explained. to be fair to me, many many times. 

Booked a hotel in Aix-en-Provence today for the 1998 World Cup having scored 4 tickets for England v Tunisia.  Hoorah.

Friday 22 May 1998

Pete informs me that Aix is the capital of the French fascists.  Marvellous !  No meeting yesterday – waited until we’d heard from SCW and… it’s a yes… Now we have to extricate gently from Granada.  Steve & Charlie have gone into a huddle to discuss the best “deal”. Arse to that let’s get this creaky cranky fucked up marriage-busting turd of a show on the knobbing ROAD!  Suri tells me he cannot call me at home anymore because of the abuse he receives from Jenny – ‘cocksucker’ being the latest overheard remark. diddums He can call my pager instead.

Wednesday 27th May 1998

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A Voyage To Lilliput

shit this is going to get worse isn’t it

Suri arrives with Muttley or so he calls Urvashi this morning. It is an indication of something that he has to have an assistant for a meeting between him Steve & myself. An indication that he is a twat, for example. He gets very heated with Steve over the possibility that Granada might need “another month” to put the deal together. We all say No to that, but the problem is that they own it, and they could become difficult and delay us again. Pippa will not allow us to use any of the other co-producers – Newmarket Films, British Screen, the French at Canal+ or even the BBC as she started the dialogue there. (or at least continued it). So a face-saving moment is underway.

Meantime script notes are produced by Naked Clownface and we argue over point one and point two for about an hour when Suri or rather Muttley has to take his car off the meter.  So we arrange to meet again on Friday, when I plan to SMASH.  I see out of the corner kick of my eye that Suri’s notes are far-reaching & radical and I just want to rip them up and stuff them down his throat as the contents are just what the last person who read the script told him. “Steven’s character is under-developed” gets a whole section to itself.  I am so furious in the meeting that I do not speak for ages just tap my feet and smoke and Muttley takes notes. I finally realise what we are trying to solve on points one & two and suggest that Both Boys want to commit suicide, or rather, don’t really know one way or the other….in other words, what I wrote three years ago.

I’m a fucking righteous prick by this point clearly

I am totally at the end of my patience with this procedure and the small people nibbling at my ankles are about to get stepped on. I only have to flex my bicep to release my arm from their puny ropes – just wait til I get angry you midget cloud! I will smite thee and all thy progeny! There will be wailing and gnashing and grinding and blood.

June 5th Saturday 1998

Took a week off.  Meeting produced further irritation and no promised SMASH unfortunately but it was pretty tense and irritable and I told Suri I was offended by his notes. Steve was saying stuff like “well we have to discuss this” and I was “sure, let’s but I disagree” and basically it was crap.  Agreed to do another draft but have no intention of doing so until we have more news…

World Cup tickets confirmed, we’re off in a week, driving down to Marseilles for England v Tunisia….the World Cup now dominates all thinking and feeding and drinking habits and I am strangely nervy and jumpy today thinking about it.  Can’t wait.

Wednesday July 31st 1998

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The World Cup came and went – a separate diary – in fact I did put in a new draft just before we left, it was a tweak no more, dialogue for Veronica, Geraldine & Robin and now it all seems so far away from me, small insignificant people scrabbling in blancmange, specks, dust. Finally it doesn’t matter.

Surely this is a blatant lie.  ‘It doesn’t matter’.  Jeez.  What are you saying>?  Lies

In three more days Rebecca my sister will marry John, and I will drive her as requested to the Registry Office.

Suri and I had dinner on Monday.  He wanted to know how we could resolve it. I said we couldn’t, short of offering Jenny the part, which I knew wasn’t going to happen. He said “Ralph, look, I know Jenny and I will never be friends again, but me and you – we’re all right aren’t we?”

I think I was gobsmacked frankly. I finally understood my mis-reading of the man we had considered to be our friend, who had slept at our house, who we had both worked with, the man I had given the gift of my first precious screenplay. 

“We’re all right though aren’t we?”  

He wanted to know how we could proceed as friends.  I explained in short, easy-to-understand sentences why this was not going to happen. Why we were not going to have a friendship going forward of any kind. It was civilized (Groucho Club, upstairs) and low-key – in other words, no disagreement occurred, no voice was raised, no anger or frustration erupted. I drank white wine, gin, vodka, water and in a low serious voice outlined my year so far. I was completely honest, and announced that I would have no more to do with the project New Year’s Day unless asked, but added an important coda that I felt, as the writer, that I would be asked regularly for my opinion.  But even so I felt released dear reader, unshackled from the lead weight that has been dragging me down down down and I let it go.  It sank.  So did Suri.  He claimed that my friendship was important to him.  The feeling was not reciprocated. We parted.

I shall probably never see New Year’s Day, the film that I wrote.

I feel cleansed and free.

I can’t hold on to her
God give me strength
When the phone doesn’t ring
And I’m lost in imagining
Everything that kind of love is worth
As I tumble back down to the earth
That song is sung out
This bell is rung out
She was the light that I’d bless
She took my last chance of happiness
So God give me strength
God if she’d grant me her indulgence and decline
I might as well
Wipe her from my memory
Fracture the spell
As she becomes my enemy
Maybe I was washed out
Like a lip-print on his shirt
See, I’m only human
I want him to hurt
I want him
I want him to hurt

*

Well thanks for bearing with me readers as I dug over the rank soil of this awful era.  I am so glad that I kept a diary for I had erased almost all of this from my memory.  When I was house-clearing in Brighton last month (August 2019) I found some papers and this was among them.  It contained some of the greatest professional and personal pain I have experienced as an adult, much of which has been directed back at myself for trusting the wrong people with my precious writing.  But a mistake is an opportunity for learning, because life goes on.  I will gather my forces and rise.

The song for this chapter is from a magnificent album that was released in September 1998 just after this blog ends.  It is a pinnacle release for both Elvis Costello and Burt Bacharach who collaborated on the songs, on the words, on the music.  Beautifully written, orchestrated and sung, it was that October when we scored tickets to see the show at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles.  Lulu Norman took my ticket because I never made it due to work commitments. It wasn’t because New Year’s Day was finally shooting.  On the Isle of Wight.  That would be the following spring.

God Give Me Strength. Elvis Costello’s finest vocal performance :

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My Pop Life #227 : Paranoid Android – Radiohead

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Paranoid Android – Radiohead

Please, could you stop the noise
I’m trying to get some rest
From all the unborn chicken voices
In my head

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New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part Two

March 25th 1998 contd

We travel up after the workshop to London together.  I meet Jenny at Beverley and Paulette’s and tell her my news.  There is chaos and weeping and anger and fury. I am grateful that two of my oldest friends who understand from all sides are there to help us through this incredibly difficult time. I have a calm fury, a murderous shine to my eyes, Jenny’s are black. I resolve to insist that Suri meet Jenny for lunch face to face.  He will not get away with this.

[However he is directing my screenplay, my baby, and I have at the very least a morbid fascination about the bubbles and the exact time of death. So on the train journey I remain tight-lipped and decide Not To Undermine Not To Punch In Face Not to Kill quietly in Notting Hill side street Not To Disagree Violently because I sense that if I champion certain things strongly in an aggressive sulky moralistic way Suri is quite likely to do quite the opposite.  If I become visibly his enemy in face, my opinions will rebound against me. I have to keep my lip zipped (as far as Suri is concerned) for one year.  Any honesty, any real honesty at this point will not help me (I probably cannot be really honest with Shekhar either). A long game is preferred now, a painful steep learning curve called “How To Make A Film” (I will choose and re-choose to stay with my baby wounded and twisted and mis-shapen though it is I will not abandon it entirely I will choose the difficult path the learning curve that curls up and over my head in a perfect arc toward my shoulder blades where it embeds itself firmly in my back, sharp and piercing and drawing blood but not killing me) so I will be at Production Meetings, castings etc I will take Mark Stevenson production designer round Lewes to original locations so that he can double them in Surrey I will hold the baby’s head underwater for as long as I fucking can!  At the time of writing it is not dead yet.]

I go to the Production Office next day and have an hour or two with Charles Steel our associate producer.  Suri is talking to Mark. He thinks Marianne will be offered the part and that Jenny will not even be seen.  Well he should fucking know !!  I tell him that he must call Jenny ASAP and meet her for lunch and make out that my marriage is on the line.  It actually was a month ago because Jenny of course was way ahead of it all and smelled it out and knew deep in her bones.  Her bag was ready and packed until she could see that my pain was equal to hers that I was on her side that I was losing too.  In fact I want Jenny to tell him what we both need to tell him but for reasons explained above, I cannot.  My learning curve bends again and I feel nauseous at the extent of human selfishness.

Over the weekend Jenny and I are immersed in pain.  Lightened somewhat by seeing Thomas Jules Stock perform in front of 12000 screaming teenage girls at Wembley Arena, supporting Backstreet Boys.  He is fantastic, and Jenny and I both secretly claim authorship and feel proud. All the family come and feel the buzz.  On Tuesday night we see Lyndon David Hall on Jools Holland and meet Spiritualized properly (at the Royal Albert Hall after a fantastic gig of Ladies & Gentlemen We Are Floating In Space), and Wednesday is dinner at Noel Greig’s with Mala from Delhi who works with the Street Theatre Movement in India, and all of these social events smooth the rough edges of our days – good people – good music – good conversation and love.  The love seems to have disappeared from NYD.

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       The Magic Circle in Lewes behind the castle – holy ground for me                –   a ‘cathedral of the imagination’ for Cleary.  Well exactly.

On Tuesday Mark Stevenson came to Lewes and I made him fall in love with it. He loved the space – Hamsey in particular, the castle, the Downs, the schools. We got on tremendously well but I am seeing bubbles all day as we are down to 2 weeks shooting in Lewes now in The Schedule.  The soul of the film starts to leave me, there is a funeral every day and the thought of jumping off chalk appeals as it must.  NYD is a story about a teenage suicide pact which is set partly on the chalk cliffs where the South Downs meet the sea, famously at Beachy Head near Eastbourne.  

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But the baby stubbornly refuses to die.

Evening Same Day

What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)
What’s that?
(I may be paranoid, but not an android)

Another great betrayal is at hand.  Weakness and the centre & accountants bullying are leading to the internal collapse of this film.  Not green lit yet, with few outstanding candidates for the lead boys on offer, now a location panic resulting from Granada insisting on a five day shoot in Lewes (!) and the production team squeezing two weeks out of them – not enough time to shoot the exteriors so it would be mix and match. I would rather it wasn’t in Lewes than be a bastardization of my town, and so would Suri clearly.  He and Mark are planning a jaunt to – yes – The Isle of Wight – next Wednesday to see if it can work there!  Well readers what a turnabout we have here then. Writer provides director with vehicle for his ego. Cuckoo pushes eggs out.  Small man flexes. It is ugly this loss of love this appropriation this betrayal.  I explain to Frances Tempest (costume designer and neighbour) on the train that Suri asked me to set the script on the IOW three years ago – we visited the island and I came back and decided to set it in Lewes. why didn’t I see the signs why didn’t I see the signs  I am reminded about conversations about bonfire night and the cliffs, the castle and the river.

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This sucks.  This is like Wimbledon moving to Dublin. (this was proposed before the club was moved as a franchise to Milton Keynes in a hugely controversial relocation). Location matters. NYD is SET IN LEWES.  If this fact is overlooked and altered in the next week then we have a war my friends.  A war. My benevolent neutrality must be sought for the soul of this movie to fly.

When I am king
You will be first against the wall
With your opinion
Which is of no consequence at all

Jenny has a meeting with Suri tomorrow.  I must ask her to tape it. I am incredulous at these events and must only wonder at the state of mankind for these things to be possible. To be defended. If I had written dots instead of words I would be revered now, but the director in this case, not content with taking the credit for my movie, wants to shit on me from a grat ehight at the same time, piss down my back and tell me it’s raining, and for that, revenge will be administered. And I will leave this fiasco to its doom.

Note: Suri called to cancel the meeting with Jenny this morning as I left to fly to Shetland.  We expected that he would.

Tuesday March 30th midnight

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After a peaceful empty sane weekend in Shetland with Mark Williams, Flora Avery and Simon Day I return to life in my life – Paulette’s birthday which we miss because of prior invitation to Catherine Wearing’s to see the final episode of Our Mutual Friend which I pronounce to be the best one.  McGann is excellent, as is David Bradley, Tim Spall, Pam Ferris, Peter Vaughan, Anna Friel and Ken Cranham.  The Jules’ family dog was put down today at 18 years of age (good innings!) so the idea is to give Mandy some support but we don’t get in until 2.15 and she is asleep and unhappy.  Jenny and I are a bit up our arses to be honest.

Ambition makes you look pretty ugly
Kicking, squealing, Gucci little piggy

Back in the office next day I meet Steve and Suri in “sorry we haven’t called you” mode.  We have lunch in The Giggling Sausage on Great Suffolk Street. There seems to be co-production money from France, the U.S. and the BBC, but how much we will find out this afternoon.  Green light expected in the next “29 hours”.  Steve and I have a private conversation after Suri has left and the Isle of Wight is laid to rest – just between us (oh no it wasn’t – just between us).  The fact of its contemplation by Suri though is enough for me, but I shall not let him know anything while he is making the film.  One day he will find out how I feel. As far as he is concerned my position is this :  “if you don’t shoot in Lewes that leaves the town for me, for my film projects, it remains virgin film territory”.  And indeed, that is partly my position.

“we’re going to make a great film” Suri says to me. “Once you have discharged your duty to Jenny I will be able to have a proper conversation with you” I reply.  It’s something he understandably doesn’t want to do.  But he will have to meet her.  This has all been handled very badly and people must own their lives and choices.  One thing is certain, Jenny has insisted (quite correctly) He will Never be Invited to my House Again.

We now have an Art Director, a Production Supervisor, Runner, Location Manager and Director’s assistant alongside the already employed Production Accountant, Production Manager, Costume Designer and Producer’s Assistant.

I tell Charles Steel that my title is not Writer but Writer/Co-Producer.

Every step of the way.

Bubbles

Oxygen

Please god, let me start soon on whatever will be next, then next, then next.

Friday April 3rd

Great drunken Brighton evening last night at the Zap Club the launch of Surf 107FM with free beer and Malibu all night.  Hungover today. Went into the office a couple of times this week.  Had a short chat with Steve Cleary – he is mental on the money raising side – no green light yet – the BBC (David Thompson) can’t decide how much money to put in which is holding everything up.  Designers can’t work, crew can’t do proper breakdowns of the script and schedule and every department’s budget is way over the top.  Current budget = £2.4million.  I reckon it will need nearer £4million but we’ll never get that.  Therefore more horrible decisions to be made – more cuts and slices and chops.  Dead baby food. Suri never calls me now. Avoids me in fact.  Has no interest in my opinion, or is scared of it.  Collaboration over.  Cunt. Hate him now more than I can say.  Give us your screenplay and Fuck Off. Well, we have at least one more draft to go and we’ll see what happens there – I know already how Suri wants it to go ie here are the script changes, now go and write them. I haven’t been party to any of these meetings, discussions or conversations.  Every time I changed the script or storyline over the last three years I phoned Suri to run it by him. That’s the kind of fellow I am. I am sick to my guts that I have made this basic error of judgement regarding the character of this disloyal weak unimpressive swine.  Jenny goes to meet him at six today in Browns, St Martin’s Lane.  The sword of justice and the shield of honesty are her weapons.  Watch out Krishnamma!!!

Sunday 5th April 1998

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Suri called just as Jenny was leaving to cancel the meeting again. Asked me how I was because I’d answered the phone (pre-mobile days pop fans). Said I’d been better. He asked why. Long story I said, we’ll talk about it one day. He then talked to Jen, cancelling, leaving us in this unresolved limbo for another weekend, then we spoke again. Asked me about the long story.

You don’t remember
You don’t remember
Why don’t you remember my name?
Off with his head, man
Off with his head, man
Why don’t you remember my name?
I guess he does

I gave him some of it, diluted:  I don’t feel welcome, I feel you want to make the film all on your own, where is the collaboration, I gave you this film as a gift and you don’t want me around anymore. He said Frances Tempest had talked to him, and he wished I hadn’t been party to the information about “location”. What do you expect me to do, I said, I have an opinion.  It’s just an opinion, that’s all it is. I was silenced, neutralised over the Veronica issue – no you weren’t he said, you took yourself out of the debate by writing “no comment” on the fax to Jane Deitch against that character.  A subtle rewriting of history occurs whereby it is all my fault. I hang in there though. because i have decided to be a limpet and stick with my baby and protect it where i can because i can and i will not walk away and hand it over to this cunt  We discuss the end, Katrin Cartlidge, the jump, Shelley.  I decide not to go to Paris to see Thomas sing with Backstreet Boys, so they can’t have another production meeting behind my back.  No more of that. I also decide to forego skiing with Michael this year for the same reason.  This is too important.

Tonight we went to see Kundun at the Duke of York’s in Brighton.  That’s how to make a movie…

Monday April 6th 1998

Jenny finally met Suri tonight.  For probably the last time.  Haven’t spoken to her properly about it – she was drunk with Doraly but said “it was horrible” and I believe her. A fundamental moment for us all.  Steven and Suri have a production meeting tomorrow at 7.00am.  Doubt I’ll be at that then.  Or the one scheduled for 6.00am on Wednesday. At some point in the next 12 hours Granada will, or will not greenlight the project.  At which point I will pierce my face, symbolically and actually.

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Good Friday

Good friday arrived, the sky darkened on time
‘Till he almost began to negotiate
She held his head like a baby and said “it’s okay if you cry”
What shall we do, what shall we do with all this useless beauty?

All this useless beauty

Well well.  It wasn’t greenlit I finally discovered on Thursday afternoon.  In between times I developed an eerie cool about it all as a result of Jenny’s blood-letting with Suri. Apparently she ended the meeting saying that he was weak, disloyal, a coward (to which he replied Fuck You) and that he wasn’t her friend.  She then walked off. I achieved a strange serenity regarding the project. Cool.  Suri called Tuesday to say he had a tape for me to watch of possible Jakes and Stevens and that the Jenny meeting had been constructive (!) what a fucking coward he was what a fucking jerk Steve Cleary also called for a chat. I spoke on Wednesday to them both after learning that they had been ensconced in script meetings together at 6.00am and that I wasn’t to be invited in to the office until Thursday late afternoon.  I arrive to see office workers leaving for a break.

Steve & Suri tell me that we don’t have a greenlight, that Pippa Cross’ job may be on the line at Granada, and that a scenario for saving the shoot is as follows : cut back to six weeks, lose the avalanche and the trip to France, replace with another tragedy. This is the opening sequence, more or less, of the screenplay. Their favourite was the mad gunman scenario – Dunblane or Hungerford.  I react coolly to this – we haven’t done the research, the film doesn’t discuss this.  Cleary “We are now in the crucible of production and we must redouble our efforts to get this film made”.  Suri “We must get this film made now, we can’t lay all these people off They’ve been working on the film for weeks (!!)”  A 6-week shoot based at Bray Studios with 4 days on location in Sussex including Beachy Head, Brighton and maybe some river. The gunman will make it more powerful – that’s why Jake wants to commit suicide !  I listen, and now and again suggest another way of doing the avalanche – radio, darkness, all sorts.  Steve & Suri keep looking at each other.  We go to the pub. I leave after half an hour to meet Jen.  More tomorrow on my plan….

Easter Sunday

Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height
Rain down, rain down
Come on, rain down on me
From a great height
From a great height, height

My plan is making me ill.  Or am I just ill? A Psychosomatic flu has enveloped me – I can’t think straight, ache all over, tired, very very hot as if the raging fury cannot be contained by my mere body. I feel like I am exploding within all day.  Temptation is not to write anything at all and sink this version of the project with all hands on deck.  I would not contemplate this had I been included in the process up to this point, I would have proper relationships with all the crew and would do whatever I could to save the project.  Bit I feel left out. Overlooked. Uninvited. Excluded. Ariyon called last night and talked to Jen, let it slip that Andrew Lee Potts had been offered the part of Jake.  I haven’t even been informed of this.  What is their problem?  Are they really so scared of me that they can’t tell me when the lead character has been cast? Unbefuckinglievable.  I leave a message for Clear Eye to tell him that I cannot proceed until we have had a face to face meeting.  I actually want to hole this thing below the waterline because it doesn’t feel like mine anymore. How childish is that?  Catherine supports this point of view – it’s already a bastardization, kill it off.  Then I spoke to Stuart Orme on the phone (he directed me in Ivanhoe and other TV shows, a father figure to me in the industry)  and he said is that what you really want to do?  It will sour forever and be difficult to get off the ground again. But I don’t want to change the beginning and I cannot continue to work like this. Steve needs to know what a bully Suri has become.  Fuck it all I’m going back to sleep.  Feel like crap.

Radiohead.okcomputer.albumart

Radiohead released OK Computer in June 1997 just after Jenny and I had filmed A Respectable Trade.  It was a dystopian soundtrack for the ugliness which was to come, twisted lyrics reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails over stunning music that had veered unmistakably into prog, especially on this song, a three-part nightmare in technicolour and black & white interference. They were still students, morose angry bitter students and we loved them for it –  they weren’t students obviously and neither were we but the bond there was tight.  Fuck the world it’s all shit.  The key song was Fitter, Happier. The disgust expressed throughout the LP seemed to be the only honest reaction to how the world had become so lacking in compassion, so full of dishonesty corruption and greed. The album was a perfect soundtrack to my struggle.  Exit Music was actually written for a film – Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo & Juliet, and Paranoid Android is just what is says on the tin.  thanks for reading

That’s it, sir, you’re leaving (Rain down)
The crackle of pigskin (Rain down)
The dust and the screaming (Come on, rain down)
The yuppies networking (On me)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
The panic, the vomit (From a great height)
God loves his children
God loves his children, yeah

My Pop Life #226 : Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

Exit Music (For A Film) – Radiohead

We hope that you choke
That you choke
We hope that you choke
That you choke
*

New Year’s Day   :   Drowning The Baby

*

this is verbatim the diary I wrote between January 1996 – July 31st 1998

Part One

January 1996

Almost exactly a year since I first took NYD public, pitching it to Suri in the Atlantic Bar before jetting back to LA for one last month to write the screenplay. I suppose I have spent 6 to 8 weeks of the year since then writing and re-writing the script.  On Monday I delivered the official 3rd draft (actually the 6th but that’s how it works).  On Tuesday producer Steven Cleary left a message on the ansaphone saying “I need to edit this draft so would you please send me a disc so I can show you what I mean – it needs to lose 6 or 7 pages”.  I was so furious that I didn’t even reply for two days and Steven eventually called Suri to ask where I was. When I eventually returned his call he was in a temper and didn’t understand why I wouldn’t send him the disc.  He is becoming quite irritating. We still haven’t got a contract even thought the money has been agreed. Mine is 2 & a half % of the budget, minimum £30K, max £75K, 25% of producer’s budget at back end.

At each script meeting the project – my baby – is placed on the table between Steven, producer, Suri, director and myself, writer.  We take it in turns to cut it, twist it, pull it, open it up, mend it, wound it, kill it.  In this way it gets better because it gets stronger.  Once the 3 of us have punched it in the face a few times, stabbed it and held it underwater until the bubbles stop, why then, it has become almost invincible…

July 1996

I have no desire to write the next draft – officially – believe it or not – the 3rd draft (I know) despite the eight I have written so far.  I actually have 5 separate drafts on the hard drive (we are pre-computer and pre-internet here) but Clear-eye felt I had only written two. I was repulsed by this betrayal having been writing this film now for 18 months, and as a result my interest in the screenplay has almost vanished. (See My Pop Life #75).  I no longer give a shit about the story or the characters, couldn’t care less whether the film is made or not, whether I’ll be involved or not. I feel totally drained of juice, enthusiasm, interest, buzz, creativity.

December 1996

A million pounds has evaporated – indeed, it was never there in the first place.  A next draft in the offing. I read the 1st draft again recently thinking in my arrogance that it would be better than the “3rd draft”.  It wasn’t.  The screenplay has steadily improved since it was first thought of, and can improve again.

Steven Cleary has moved house, been burgled, and had a baby (Stephanie has) as he attempts to sew Granada/Rank into the deal.  Suri now committed to “A Respectable Trade” with the BBC until April – as are Jenny and I.  NYD slips back to autumn 1997…

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A Respectable Trade…

October 1997

Ten months later and Steven is married.  Granada and I are still negotiating my contract – I am now to be credited as co-producer separately from screenplay. They have a clause about giving any new writer credit on the screen – ‘screenplay by Ralph Brown and…’ well bollocks to that.  I’ve been stalling them anyway as I am not that happy with the whole set-up.  The last draft was met with silence. I eventually received a copy of my script typed up by Steven’s secretary, edited by Steven. Which was, as you can imagine, quite hilarious.  Irritated by these developments, I kept my cool and sold Steven on a new draft based on a book review I had read in Bristol ‘The Importance of Disappointment‘. He bought it.  I rewrote the character of Veronica going back to draft 5 for the structure.  This of course annoyed everyone, but that’s the current draft and battle will be resumed when there is Money On The Table and not before.  I have refused all requests for script meetings this summer.  Simon Channing Williams is still interested and I am meeting him this Thursday October 9th.

I felt at this point and others that script meetings were being used to create energy when there was no movement on the money front.  Rewrites to keep us all energised.  Slightly patronising, sometimes useful, more often just chewing over stuff which had been shaped perfectly well.  When there is no movement on the money let’s get Ralph to write another draft. 

January 20th 1998

We appear to be in pre-pre-production. A small shared office on the 17th floor at Granada on the South Bank with a beautiful view over the Thames and London.  I saw the sun setting over the Houses of Parliament today while chatting to Suri about Barry Ackroyd who seems to be shaping up as the DP.  Good.  Kathy Burke seems to have fallen through as an idea as she is slated to shoot David Kane’s movie at the same time .  Shame.  She would have been perfect as Shelley.  We have a casting director – Jane Deitch who worked with us all on A Respectable Trade.  An open audition is planned for Feb 11th in the Theatre Royal Brighton for prospective Jakes and Stevens (lead characters in the film, two 16-year old boys).  Very exciting stuff.  Tomorrow is the Premiere of Up’N’Under in Leicester Square with Mums Dads Brothers Sisters coming.  Interview with Andy Oliver at GLR in the afternoon, then Thursday up to Hull for the Northern Premiere.  Hoorah !

Original Cinema Quad Poster - Movie Film Posters

(in keeping with the bellyaches and gripes herein I merely note that my agent failed to negotiate my name on the poster)

February 1998

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Great week in Brighton with Jane and Suri and Jenny going to schools and drama groups then holding an open casting at the Theatre Royal then another at Granada Studios in Manchester.  500 kids turn up in Brighton – we are overwhelmed but manage to see them all.  The quality is low, but the hunger is fantastically exhilarating.  Highlights of the week were : 1. Varndean – great class with lots of talent and very strong potential ‘Jake’, 2. The Academy – almost all young girls (12-15) who blew us away with their improvisations and their production of the Orestia – all credit to their teacher Mel, 3. Going back to Priory in Lewes to audition the 6th form – some talent here too.  Great production of Guys & Dolls by Blatchington Mills School at the Gardner Arts Centre and disappointment at Falmer and Shandy Stage School which was in fact quite Moonie-like and spooky.  A very enjoyable week indeed – spoiled for Suri only by the local Argus headline “500 queue to audition for Ralph’s film”.  He is very competitive, silly thing.  Jane was wonderful with the kids, spoke her mind, and we all loved her and her husband Mark who came down to help at the Theatre Royal.  The hunt for ‘Steven’ goes on.

March 3rd

Bad day.  Suri has gone seriously paranoid about me and refuses to invite me to casting sessions or casting discussions with Jane.  Shoot planned for 4th May, time spent worrying about snow, ski-ing, avalanches.  Today Suri manages to disagree with everything I say, regardless of what it was about – contrary to the Nth Degree.  Very disturbing indeed and all thoughts of collaboration, friendship, protecting my film go out of the window.  I meet Charles Steel who is our Associate Producer (friend of Steve Cleary) who is great, friendly, positive, lovely.  We get on immediately.  Steve is in Paris talking to potential French co-producers, and doing a workshop for Arista.  We need him full-time now. I spend the day looking through Spotlight – the whole thing – and run up my shortlists for the principal cast.  This is what Jane and Suri did on Friday.  I simply do not understand why Suri would not want me in one of these discussions.  I cannot get my head round it at all.  I can only assume that he is really insecure and needs to flex his status as much as possible.  He is behaving like any weak director who feels threatened by a writer. He is also perhaps (as Catherine Wearing suggested) a stick-in-the-mud, rather inflexible about how he works and how he has always done it, ignoring our relationship and my experience in film because in some way to change his working method is to undermine him. I am deeply worried about Suri for a number of reasons – not least of which is that he is now going out with Nikki again who does not approve of NYD, or doesn’t like it, and with whom he spends as much time as possible rather than on the film.  This will get increasingly irritating as we go into pre-production (starting Monday) and fucking outrageously annoying while we shoot.  Oh dear.  I start to take the sanguine long view, I start to plan my short film, my next full-length screenplay and the rest of my life without a good friend who has become an arse.

8th March Sunday night

Life has become empty without New Year’s Day in it.  I made one call to Suri the next morning – paged him “I WON’T BE IN AGAIN THIS WEEK. DO YOU WANT TO SEE MAN UTD GAME WITH ME?”.  He called back immediately said he couldn’t see the game and we had a chat about things, tried to improve the atmosphere and I think we were both relieved. Cleared the air. But the truth is he doesn’t need me now. He has work and so does Nikki. She will help in increasing his confidence which i good but there’ll be no more cosy chats over a big spliff.  It’s a shame but I really have to let it all go.  I feel as if I am going mad. Gwen (o seed – gwaine in patois) in Los Angeles brilliantly understood it all as an authorship problem and and insecurity/potency problem to be resolved through authorship and advised me to breathe the air and wait.  Good advice.  I need to start writing again, something new, and more than that I need to spend a week getting stoned out of my face.

25th March

A horrible fortnight.  After faxing my forthright casting comments up to Jane Deitch a silence ensues for over a week.  I later learn that this is when I am betrayed by all.  Granada want a star name in the Veronica part and I am not invited to offer my opinion – first betrayal.  It will be embarrassing for Pippa (Granada producer) if I’m there because I’m married to Jenny, for whom I wrote the part of Veronica, and who is under consideration.  This all starts to stink bigtime bigtime.  I spend a week being furious and gutted.  Wednesday I lunch at Quo Vadis with Fiona McGloughlin my new acting agent but not before Ian Amos (my Literary Agent) beckons me quickly into his office to inform me that he is leaving ICM to set up a music agency.  Oscar Wilde springs through my mind – to lose one agent is unfortunate (Michael Foster having left in December) – to lose two looks rather like carelessness.  Over spinach leaves and stuff I tell Fifi my whole life story for some reason and explain why writing is so important to me. I go to the Production Office where Suri is busying himself with something or other and we greet and hug stiffly. “Do you still hate me?” I ask like an ingenue. “No” he replies, but it ain’t right.

Steve and I go downstairs for a meeting where he tells me that Suri needs a clear run at the casting and it’s the area which is causing the most problems and I tell Steve that I understand the authorship issue and that’s why he’s insecure and precious but no – it turns out that Marianne Jean-Baptiste is being sent the script for the Veronica part (at least she’s black I think to myself) and Granada insist and Jenny won’t get a look-in – although this doesn’t transpire until much later.  The writer always dies three times intones a frankly unsympathetic Steve Cleary doing an unpleasant dirty job, or rather half of it, that Suri hasn’t the balls to do himself.  It is an awful moment.  I am left in the canteen of LWT with a knife protruding from between my shoulder blades.

The next few days are spent analysing this turn of events and the extra piece of information that Sting has been sent the screenplay for the Mr Diamond role.  I discuss with Jenny.  We shred blankets with our teeth and smash crockery and karma is summoned and charlatans and cowards and the knife is still there.

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Fuck me I want to kill someone now.  This feeling persists all weekend as Conrad and I go to watch Barnet 2 Brighton 0 and singalongahoolie with the Albion away contingent which is therapeutic.

On Sunday I decide to send Suri my pain, all wrapped up in love.  A fax to his house.  We wait three days for the reply but in a strange way I feel calmer.  I know he must reply.  I call mutual friends Meera and Shekhar and discuss.  Shekhar is brilliant and I love him.  He promises to “have a word with Suri”.  I feel as if I may have miscalculated many times over with Suri, particularly in relation to my friendship with the man. This hurts the most – the possibility (!!) of being wrong in a personal judgement haunts me terribly and I keep pushing it to the back of my mind, but I cannot help thinking that Something Is Up and Suri cannot face me, cannot talk to me, would rather I wasn’t there probably.  I think every day about turning my back and walking away, letting three years three years or more of my life be colonised invaded changed altered crucified sold out massacred a droned infant keeps appearing in my mind. I feel perhaps I should help to hold its head under the water until it stops breathing.  But to date it has refused to expire.  And I cannot leave yet.  New projects appear in front of me and I grab at them for sanity as I must – Groucho meetings twice a week with young writers, cinematographers, directors, friends.  No solace there though.  The monkey must be faced down.

Suri eventually replies to my fax.  (damn I wish I had it, or could even remember what I wrote !) He had to, and for his own sense of worth, had to invite me back.  But the worst is yet to come.  On Thursday 19th March we hold a workshop in Varndean School for the creme of the Sussex kids.  It is a beautiful sunny day with a fresh breeze blowing off the sea when I pick up Jane, Suri and Theresa from the station.  I had arrived early and bought myself a nice wake-up coffee, after all it is 8.45a.m.  As my now full Jaguar swings round the Seven Dials roundabout my cappucino tilts karmically into Suri’s lap and he is drenched with hot coffee.  The rest of it ebbs away into the carpet and we both apologise – me for burning his leg and wetting his trousers – he for not saving a drop of coffee as it emptied onto the floor – a snap decision made in shock and anger I felt.  We arrive at the school and run through the workshop.  The kids are fantastic and I am really proud of them – original, individual, colourful.  Some fine actors stand out and I have my first inkling of problems with Jake and Steven as Suri doesn’t like the boy who stands out for Jane & I.  We lunch in a pub, we continue in the afternoon. It is a very successful day although perhaps without leading contenders (except the aforementioned Joe).  I drive Suri to the station via my house, which is empty.  We roll a joint and smoke it.

He then informs me that he has met Marianne Jean-Baptiste and she is heavily pregnant but that Granada have insisted she is cast in order to raise the money for the film.  I feel instinctively wrong about all of this. First I am neutralised, then excluded, then Jenny is cast aside. All out of my viewing.  A kind of defiant skulking quality appears in Suri – apologetic, but Marianne will be “terrific”.  I can scarcely contain my shock and disappointment (at him and indeed at myself for not seeing it earlier, years earlier, for why indeed had I asked this man to direct my screenplay?  Because I trusted him, because I felt that he would understand the material and the vibe of the story, that we were friends.  But no.  We never were.  In fact, just before the contracts were signed I changed my mind about everything and decided that I would direct it myself.  I called Suri and told him so.  He was furious.  He said he would initiate another project which would be his version of this story.  I said he could do what he wanted and we left it there.  But for SOME FUCKING REASON I changed my mind the next day and surrendered to someone else’s ego and sacrificed my story, my screenplay and my marriage to my woman to this worm of a human being who now held my finest hour in his grubby little hands the utter fuckwit) and indicate as I had done to Steve a week earlier that the other grown-up characters should be cast first, in deference to me, so that we can see where we get to vis-a-vis names, money-raising names.  Kathy Burke as Shelley, James Wilby as Robin, Paul McGann as Mr Diamond – then the way is clear for Jenny to play Veronica.  But no.  To head straight for this part and secretly cast it so obviously against my wishes is a high level betrayal which everyone has colluded in.  When we get back to the pub Jane asks Suri if he is “all right”.  I am the bully.  I am not asked if I am all right.  In the great scheme of film-making it is less important.  I start to believe, to realise, that Suri has not actually fought for Jenny to be considered.  It’s difficult to know because I wasn’t there was I?  Despite it being in my contract as associate producer that I am to be invited to all meetings etc etc.  I was carefully neutralised at the critical moment.  Suri’s weakness becomes immediately transparently apparent.  The way he switched so quickly, isolating me.  Jenny suspects that he wanted Marianne all along which is quite possible, but then he shouldn’t have said to me IN FEBRUARY (oh yes, quite recently) that he wanted Jenny to play the part.  There is no one better in England to play it.  No one.  I start to think long term again.

I have to for my sanity.

The bubbles come out of its mouth and its legs are kicking

I’ll never do this again

Ever

Suri is not

in fact

my friend

At this point Jenny and I had a series of extremely painful and raw heart-to-hearts which I did not diarise in any way.  They are private conversations.  They are about how much we mean to each other.  They are about her (and my) public humiliation at the optics and the actuality of what is happening.  They are about how we survive these betrayals without resorting to murder.  We question everything that we are doing, have done, will do.  What is the point of it all?  We – the idea of we – is under serious attack.  Who is betrayed?  Who is fighting?  Who is hurting?

We are being rent asunder.  

*

Wake from your sleep
The drying of your tears
Today we escape, we escape

Pack and get dressed
Before your father hears us
Before all hell breaks loose

Breathe, keep breathing
Don’t lose your nerve
Breathe, keep breathing
I can’t do this alone

Sing us a song
A song to keep us warm
There’s such a chill
Such a chill

And you can laugh a spineless laugh
We hope your rules and wisdom choke you
Now we are one in everlasting peace
We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

We hope that you choke, that you choke

My Pop Life #225 : I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You) – Aretha Franklin

LicheinsteinintheskywithDiamonds

I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You) – Aretha Franklin

You’re a no good heart breaker
You’re a liar and you’re a cheat
And I don’t know why
I let you do these things to me
My friends keep telling me
That you ain’t no good
But oh, they don’t know
That I’d leave you if I could
I guess I’m uptight
And I’m stuck like glue
Cause I ain’t never
I ain’t never, I ain’t never, no, no loved a man
The way that I, I love you

*

We’d been living in New York just over a year when we hit the musical jackpot and scored two tickets to see Aretha Franklin live. She was to perform at NJPAC,  a splendid concert hall in Newark just over the Hudson River in New Jersey.  Her status as Queen of Soul was unchallenged over the course of my lifetime but she had a reputation for being a little unpredictable in a live arena.  Which Aretha would we get on this blustery March evening, joining the hordes of well-dressed African-Americans here to pay tribute to a legend.  Famously Aretha didn’t like to fly, the reason why we’d never seen her in the UK, so she’d travelled here by car from her native Detroit.  I think we’d relaxed our expectations, not seeking the Goddess of Song but simply wanting to be in the same room as a legend who had sung some of the greatest records ever made.

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What are the greatest soul records ever made ?   I digress.  I have to.  Personal taste you understand.  A list which changes every day but grows over the decades, these represent the cream of the world of soul music, from the 50s – 80s anyway.  Let’s go –

Ray Charles   ‘Drown In My Own Tears

Sam Cooke   ‘You Send Me’

Lorraine Ellison   ‘Stay With Me Baby

The Stylistics   ‘People Make The World Go Round’

Bobby Bland  ‘Too Far Gone’

Michael Jackson   ‘Off The Wall’

Otis Redding   ‘Try A Little Tenderness’

Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes   ‘If You Don’t Know Me By Now

Roberta Flack   ‘Where Is The Love?

Stevie Wonder   ‘Love’s In Need Of Love Today’  etc

Earth Wind & Fire   ‘That’s The Way Of The World’

The Four Tops   ‘Bernadette’

Isaac Hayes  ‘Theme From Shaft’

Anita Baker   ‘No One In The World’

James Brown   ‘I’ll Go Crazy’

Al Green   ‘Belle’

The Temptations   ‘Just My Imagination’

The Isley Brothers   ‘Harvest For The World’

Smokey Robinson   ‘The Love I Saw In You Was Just A Mirage’

The Chi-Lites   ‘Have You Seen Her?’

Bill Withers   ‘Just The Two Of Us’

The Staple Singers   ‘I’ll Take You There’

Luther Vandross   ‘There’s Nothing Better Than Love’

Jackie Wilson   ‘Sweetest Feeling’

Diana Ross   ‘Remember Me’

Ray Charles   ‘What Kind Of Man Are You?’

Sam & Dave   ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell   ‘You’re All I Need To Get By’

What do all these songs have in common?  Well, I’d say it was an ability on the part of the singer to testify to their own feelings in song and thus to reach the listener, deep down inside.  I am touched by these songs, I feel feelings.  Pride, joy, pity, sorrow, sacrifice, surrender, love – the whole gamut of feeling is in there.  And then of course – there’s this…

Aretha Franklin   ‘I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You)

Every single song that Aretha sings has this bond, from her heart to yours, via that instrument of connection, her voice.  Instinctive, tutored in gospel, able to sing anything.  Which she did.

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The Queen of Soul.  When I repacked my CDs into boxes then into a storage container in England last month I had a thick brick wedge of Aretha Franklin, from the tin pan alley songs and musical numbers of the early 60s, through the classic Atlantic Records era which starts with this song through to the mid seventies, up to the disco hits on Arista and duets with George Michael – a body of work with astonishing singing, total command of the material, the effortless soaring which her voice achieves time & time again, translating the gospel experience into secular song, singing the blues, jazz, pop, soul music, an outstanding body of work untouched by her contemporaries.  This was evident at her extraordinary funeral last year on August 31st 2018 which was televised –  the full nine hours without commercials – and I watched Chaka Khan, Jennifer Hudson, Shirley Caesar, Ariana Grande, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Ron Isley, Faith Hill, Smokey Robinson, Fantasia Barrino, Jennifer Holliday and many more tearing the roof off the Greater Grace Temple in Detroit without ever reaching the vocal heights of the Queen herself. Which is how it should be.  Although I have to say Chaka Khan was outstanding.

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The first Aretha Franklin record I heard was I Say A Little Prayer  in the mid-sixties.

The moment I wake up
Before I put on my makeup (Makeup)
I say a little (Prayer for you)
And while I’m combing my hair now
And wondering what dress to wear now (Wear now)
I say a little (Prayer for you)

Written by Bacharach & David, originally a hit for Dionne Warwick, Bacharach apparently preferred Aretha’s version.  I was eleven years old and the song has stuck with me ever since.  It was the signature sound of Aretha Franklin, pop gospel, unmistakably her regardless of who wrote the song, the essence of soul music, the swing of her magnificent voice swooping between the cadences of her backing singers The Sweet Inspirations over an irresistible beat.  At some point after that I heard Natural Woman then Respect.   I Never Loved A Man didn’t figure until my early twenties and my previously documented Soul Education (My Pop Lives #98 and #79 for example).  The story behind the song I discovered when I read Peter Guralnick’s book Sweet Soul Music.  There was no Youtube when I was a young man.  The odd TV documentary, records, and books.

The first Guralnick book I’d read was Last Train To Memphis which is about a young Elvis Presley, Sun Records and that bottled lightning moment through to the Army call-up.  It’s one of the finest biographies I have ever read and I recommend it to you, even if you’re not a strong Elvis fan.  It led me to his other music writing –  Feel Like Going Home about the blues and Lost Highway about country music, others.  The Aretha story goes something like this.

Some facts – she had a child when she was 12 years old,  her mother died before she was ten, she was a civil rights activist, friends with Dionne Warwick, Cissy Houston and her daughter Whitney.   She had a natural gift.  Aretha Franklin signed with Atlantic after a number of relatively fruitless years singing for Columbia Records – showtunes, blues standards, pop songs.  The arrangements didn’t suit her voice and the results are a mismatch, underwhelming.

Her reputation in the business was huge though partly thanks to her long musical childhood in Detroit singing in her father’s the Reverend C.L. Franklin’s New Bethel Baptist Church or at the piano in the parlour at home from the age of five, with Sam Cooke, Jackie Wilson, Shirley Caesar or Dr King in the room.  They all knew her father who was himself a powerhouse preacher and a powerful member of the Baptist Church. Everyone knew she was a phenomenon, but how to record that mighty voice?  Producer Jerry Wexler decided to send her down south to Alabama with engineer Tom Dowd – to the FAME studio, in Muscle Shoals up near the Tennessee border.  Run by Rick Hall, it had a signature sound which had been used by Wilson Pickett, Clarence Carter, Solomon Burke, Etta James and Arthur Alexander among many others.

Spooner Oldham was on the piano. Ken Laxton on trumpet, King Curtis & Charles Chalmers on tenor saxophones, Willie Bridges on baritone, Chips Moman & Jimmy Johnson on guitars, Tommy Cogbill on bass guitar, and Roger Hawkins on drums.   They decide to start with a song Aretha had brought with her written by Ronnie Shannon.  She sat down on the grand piano and played the song for them.   It was an electric moment for all present.  Spooner immediately moved onto the Wurlitzer electric piano which provides the opening riff and the song’s groove.  After some hesitation and discussion about the groove, the song was recorded in a few hours.  Things were good.  Drinks were available, the atmosphere was relaxed.  Halfway through recording the B-side – a Spooner/Penn song called Do Right Woman, Do Right Man – trumpeter Laxton flirted openly with Aretha. There was some laughter causing her manager and husband Ted White challenge Laxton and there were fisticuffs.  Next minute White is walking into the booth and demanding that Rick Hall sack Laxton from the session.  Hall refused and there were more words whereupon Ted pulled Aretha out of the session and they left the studio and went back to the motel.

The session folded up right there with one and a half songs completed.  Rick Hall sent everyone back home or to their motels.  He then went over to the Aretha Franklin motel to talk to Aretha & Tom White in the wee small hours over a drink and try to relax them and convince them to come back in the morning to finish the album.  More fights.  More words.  White’s masculinity had clearly been ruffled and not for the last time, his ego interrupted the music.  Aretha Franklin & Ted White drove to the airport to catch the next plane back to New York.  Muscle Shoals was done. Ironically the only song they completed – Aretha’s first choice – was a song about being in love with a complete bastard, about being trapped in an abusive relationship.  She knew what she was singing about, and all of herself is in there.

The demo version with Aretha on piano and the drums marking time was released on “Rare & Unreleased Recordings” in 2007 – an absolute treasure trove of music that captures Aretha in her magnificent raw glory.  She was 23 years old.

The remainder of Aretha’s first LP on Atlantic Records was recorded in New York City, with the Muscle Shoals session players flying in to bring their particular sound to the album, but not, it should be added, trumpeter Ken Laxton. He was replaced by Melvin Lastie.  The results are historic, a landmark LP that thrust Aretha from struggling artist (I’m joking, she was always a superstar and she recorded nine albums with Colombia) to Queen of Soul overnight.  She sold a million copies of the song, and the album of the same name.  See this short clip below of her singing live and an interview with Wexler talking about that fateful night.

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It’s hard to have lowered expectations with a musical legend.  Walking into NJPAC and taking our seats, the band was playing a funk shuffle to warm us up.  Full band, with five horns, strings and a grand piano centre stage. We had slightly elevated seats to the side, looking down onto the stalls and across to the stage.  We notice a man carrying a black bag out onto the stage and he places it under the grand piano and immediately a thrill goes through me.  The legendary story of Aretha touring America in the 1960s and insisting that her fee was placed under the piano in cash in a bag before she came out to sing.  If it ain’t broke.  And then the lights go down and electricity crackles across the space and she sweeps in, majestic, all-powerful, gracious, potent and delivers a stunning version of Jackie Wilson’s smash hit Higher & Higher.  She is in total command, the notes fall out of her mouth and yet pierce the air.  We smile at each other.  We’re getting the real deal.  She talks to us.  She sings Day Dreaming and Think and Don’t Play That Song and Natural Woman.  She goes off for a break and comes back wearing a huge fur coat which she offers to a lady in the front row.  The lady goes to take it and Aretha snatches it back with a smile like you must be kidding me!  Proper ghetto fabulous.  Like the very definition of the phrase.  Then she goes into a gospel number – Old Landmark from the Amazing Grace LP (the film of that amazing concert in 1972 came out finally this year) – and starts to testify as the band vamps behind her, telling us of her cancer, talking to the doctor in the hospital, her faith, her healing.  It is absolutely riveting, the entire hall is drawn in to her story, we love her more than we ever thought we could in this moment.  A cover of Gladys Knight’s Midnight Train To Georgia and then, those familiar chords as she sits at the piano, that groove from way back in Muscle Shoals, that moment that changed her life.  I Never Loved A Man (The Way That I Love You).  She delivers it. 

It is a highlight of my life I have to admit.  The set closes with Freeway Of Love, Otis Redding’s Respect (of course!!) and finally The Way We Were – the Barbra Streisand cover although for me the definitive version comes from Gladys Knight.   We left the auditorium dazed and stoned with joy, replete, satisfied, glowing, renewed.  My head is filled with moments – Obama‘s inauguration.  Singing Nessun Dorma at the last minute when Pavarotti got sick.  Her sending my buddy Eamonn Walker a huge bunch of flowers when he was performing on Broadway with Denzel Washington in Julius Caesar.  Singing at Martin Luther King’s Memorial, providing – as she would at so many historic events – moments of peace and transcendence with her remarkable voice.