Thursday, 16 November 2017

IN THE WAKE: A STUDENT POEM

Writing and speaking about Richard Wilbur over the past two weeks, I was drawn to search through my files looking for work I might have done for him. I found this poem, which I wrote in the fall of 1970, which must have been for his verse writing class. I was 19. I seem to have revised it, only slightly each time, in 1976 and 1977, in Montreal, then in Connecticut, and finally after I moved to Britain, and sent it to at least one magazine each time (I can tell by the return addresses; and I used onion-skin paper in those days, remember that?).

I've done a little more revision now, but it's still basically the same poem. I wish I had the copy I submitted to Wilbur, with his comments; it may be in a box somewhere in my brother's attic. I share it because I think one can sense the influence of Wilbur, and I can feel the awkwardness with which I approach rhyme and particularly meter. In The Wake has never appeared in public before...

IN THE WAKE
 
The funeral procession plodded by
in single-file cars,
headlights struggling to be seen
against the morning sun.

In front the hearse, the limousines,
behind them black gave way
to cars in motley disarray
until the line was done.

And down the road a flower-painted
old Volkswagen van,
just-married signs and tied-on shoes,
tin cans and blaring horn,

Chugged past like dawn's cacophony.
I stopped and looked both ways to view
Their circling my boundaries
That sunny summer morn.

Sept-Oct 1970, Middletown

Wednesday, 15 November 2017

JOHN HILLERMAN: MY GUARDIAN OBITUARY

I've written John Hillerman's obituary for the Guardian; it's online and you can find it here. It ought to appear in the paper paper soon. It is as written, for the most part, and I'd characterise it as a log of sorts for a jobbing actor. That he had a major success with Magnum was something for which he was grateful, and deserved; I saw a brief quote from an interview that emphasised the financial comfort the part brought him.

Yet I meant what I wrote about noticing him in small parts in the Seventies (the still above is the moment in Chinatown where he asks Jack Nicholson what happened to his nose), and I have the distinct sense that there were bigger and better roles out there for him, had not casting been so myopic. I also was considering any number of parts on stage I would have thought he could have filled. But playing second banana to Tom Selleck for eight seasons of a hit show was nothing to sneeze at, even if nothing as good, and certainly nothing more rewarding, followed.

It has nothing to do with John Hillerman, but I was struck by the fact that his was the second Hillerman obit I'd written for the Guardian; the first, of the crime writer Tony Hillerman, was nine years ago. You can find a link to it here.

Friday, 10 November 2017

RICHARD GORDON: MY GUARDIAN OBITUARY

My obituary of the astronaut Dick Gordon is up at the Guardian online; you can link to it here. It should appear in the paper paper soon.

It is pretty much as I wrote it, with the exception of the final paragraph, detailing his death and survivors. Here's what I wrote:

Gordon died 6 November 2017 in San Marcos, California, just two months after the death of his second wife, Linda Saunders. He is survived by three sons and two daughters from his first marriage, to Barbara Field, which ended in divorce, and by two step-children. Another son, James, died in 1982. Pete Conrad died in 1999 in a motorcycle accident, but Alan Bean became an artist; his 1993 painting The Fantasy shows all three of the Apollo 12 team standing on the surface of the moon. 

I would have liked very much for that to be the way the obituary ended.

RICHARD WILBUR: MY BBC RADIO 4 LAST WORD ESSAY

Yesterday I mentioned, in the words I spoke at Kevin Cadle's funeral, the Richard Wilbur essay I'd recorded for BBC Radio 4 Last Word; today the piece was broadcast. You can find it here on IPlayer; it runs from 13 mins to 18 minutes into the programme. It was a very clever edit by the programme editor Neil George, who got an extra poem in, the wonderful 'Tywater', as well as created a new link into the lyrics from Candide. It sounds seamless and I'm very pleased with it. I hope it's a worthy tribute. One bit that was lost was my own reading of Wilbur's 'Museum Piece'...maybe I'll post my original script and record that one for it. Until then, Wilbur's readings are beautiful; listen and enjoy. The programme will be broadcast again Sunday evening at 8:30 on Radio 4.

Thursday, 9 November 2017

KEVIN CADLE: SAYING GOODBYE

Today was Kevin Cadle's funeral. It was a big service, full of music and video and reminiscence from family and friends that had us combining laughter and sadness the way you hope such events will do. I was honoured to be asked to speak at the service, and I wrote something to fit a 4-5 minute slot. But when I arrived at the church, I saw in the programme that I was scheduled to do a reading of Psalm 23. So I took my script and did a quick edit: removing the stories I was going to tell, so the emphasis would be more serious, and lead to the Psalm.

As the service went on, and people shared their stories, I felt better because mine were not really needed, and there were so many of these touching personal moments we might have gone on all day. I found out all about all sorts of sides of Kevin I hadn't known, Although when Bobby Kinzer, in his Eulogy, mentioned Kev watching Calvin Murphy play basketball at Niagara, he reminded me of something and I inserted it into the speech adlib. Anyway here's what I wrote and said: the bit in bold face is what I wrote in the pew as I cut the story-telling part, which is what's between the brackets at the end:

KEVIN CADLE

Since Kevin died, I've been thinking a lot about synchronicity. The other day I started reading a novel, Inez, by the Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes. The first line went “We shall have nothing to say in regard to our own death” and I had to put it down right there, and haven't picked it up since. Kev went so suddenly he didn't have anything to say, but it's been a comfort to my soul to hear so much that everyone else has said. Kevin was so full of life, such fun. You all know that--and it was one of the things you heard from almost everyone who remembered him, from friends and colleagues and fans: the Kevin audiences watched on TV was the same Kevin we knew.


I've told a lot of stories about Kev lately, and I realised that the point of all of them was the same: Kevin touching my serious self, teaching me that 'people gonna do what people gonna do', 'stuff happens' 'it is what it is' have a GREAT day!' And making me laugh. Bobby reminded me of Calvin Murphy; every time Kev and I would discuss or argue or broadcast basketball together, at some point he'd look at me and say, 'remind me how many Murphy laid on you in high school?' and I'd stammer and finally say '67 points, but they weren't all on me!'. The last time I saw him we were doing his Sportsheads show, and when we were done I was feeling sentimental and I told Kev how great it felt to be working together again. Kev looked at me and said 'You know what's better? We're still working!' 

I've been thinking a lot about synchronicity. The day Kev died I woke up and discovered that a professor of mine, Richard Wilbur, the second poet laureate of the United States, had died the day before He was 96, and last week I recorded an essay about him for Radio 4's Last Words. In his late 80s he wrote a poem called This Pleasing Anxious Being, whose title comes from Gray's Elegy in A Country Churchyard—which, given a little poetic license about 'country' is what we're doing today. In the poem he remembers a holiday dinner when he was a boy, and the action stops while everyone around the table waits

for you to recollect that, while it lived, the past
was a rushed present, fretful and unsure.

In an interview he explained he had only recently discovered there was a past: he thought his life would always be there for him to revisit, only to find now he had to do it in his mind. It was like Thomas Wolfe's saying 'you can't go home again', something both Kev and I, as expats, were aware of.

The poem ends with a drive, in 1928, through a snowstorm, to a Christmas visit. In the back seat, the boy's half-closed sleepy eyes

make out at times the dark hood of the car
plowing the eddied flakes, and might forsee
in good time, the bedstead at whose foot
the world will swim and flicker and be gone.

Synchronicity. Seeing through a child's eyes. Cooking pancakes for my son on New Year's morning two years ago, right after giving me 'pinch, punch first of the month', he asked me 'when we die, the world won't remember us, will they?' I told him that we all have worlds we make around ourselves, where we will be remembered, even when things, like books and poems and articles and show tapes and blogs, have disappeared. And that someday he would tell his children about their grandad they may have never met, and maybe tell them how he learned to make pancakes from me. And he said 'never mind, dad'....

But I do mind. We can't go home again? Kev didn't get to choose his own words? But for him, home is going to be present in all those memories all of us and so many other people share of him, home will be in all those he reached, and touched, made smile, and entertained. I don't have that many close friends. I've just lost one. But wherever my friend is now, I like to think that he is home.

Which leads us to the reading, from the 23rd psalm, and please join in: 
 
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures: he leads me beside the still waters.
He restores my soul: he leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: 
for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies: you anoint my head with oil; 
my cup runs over. 
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: 
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

-end-

If you're still interested, here are the stories I left out.  They pick up from
'I've told a lot of stories about Kev lately, 

{ but I'll repeat this one cause it's at the root of why we stayed friends for more than 20 years.

Kev and I had been covering World League of American football in the spring. That summer, Sky decided to replace me with Kev as host of the NFL in the fall, and being Sky they didn't bother to tell me. Kev and I had lunch one day and talked mostly about his future. Later, after I'd luckily gone to Channel 5's late night, I bumped into Kev and told him I had no hard feelings; Sky offered him the job and that's fair enough, I just was surprised he hadn't mentioned it to me. 'But I thought they'd told you and you were just being polite and not mentioning it', he said. And then he shook his head and said 'Sky B Sky' and the truth of it (and the pun on BSkyB) made me laugh. It became a catch phrase and I still use it.

We still did NFL Europe together, where I got Cadled (see this post), when Kev would tell you he was going to ask you a certain question, then ask you something completely different, and sit chuckling off camera while you spun your wheels. The best times were when he'd drive me home afterwards, and we'd talk. Sometimes we were even serious. I do tend to stew on things. One time I ended a worry about something by asking rhetorically, why can't they just do the right thing? Kevin burst out laughing. People gonna do what they do, he said. Nothing you can do about it.

My favourite gig with Kev was one he got for me. We did Euroleague basketball for Showtime Sport, each doing solo commentary on one game a week, then doing the Final Four together, my doing play by play and Kev colour. I rarely Cadled him, but I got to set him up to analyse the sport he loved so much and was so knowledgeable about. Kev was a good coach because he was a people person, but he was a great coach because he could also take apart the game} 

I sometimes tell people I'm happy I don't have to work for a living. When I was working with Kev, it certainly never seemed like working. RIP my man. My condolences to his family and friends, and my grateful thanks to Lorraine, his widow, for being asked to be a part of his goodbye.