This is my review*. If you don’t like it, well, I have others.

Biographies, auto- or otherwise, have never interested me that much. I have enough trouble living my own live without having to worry about how others lived theirs. Which might strike someone who knows I read a lot of history as strange, given the huge cast of characters that have walked the stage of the past. But their stories all interweave in a universal narrative, one that is best seen in relation to everything else. I may have obsessed over Άννα Κομνηνή, fallen in total lust with Θεοδώρα, but their stories where always involved in more. But certainly I would take a historical biography over some recent televisual star relating how hard her life has been, and how tough it was for her to make it to the top of her game and get some enhancement surgery to get her on the front cover of some empty magazine, none of whose names I can even recall. Is that the how it stands today? All we aspire to is being rich, marrying rich, winning the lottery or some Gong Show-esque karaoke competition? The thinkers and dreamers have retreated even further from the mainstream than when I was a child. Could anyone get away with writing such a self-obsessed autobiography/novel as À la recherche du temps perdu today? Would anyone read it, given it likely wouldn’t be put in some 3-for-2 stack in Waterstones?

She wore flowers in her hairBut there is one auto(ish)biography that I adore, the reasons of which are wrapped up in my childhood, back when I did watch some moving imagery. But it was never the images, it was the wit and invention around it. Wit I have heard repeated many times in many places, and very few know where it comes from, perceiving it at some sort of given-from-on-high line, that everyone repeats, and so should they. This doesn’t, however, devalue the wit, as even from its origins in the 30s, it still shines today. But that is the curious thing about this book, none of that wit was attributed to the author.

The supporting cast, and what a supporting cast, that orbit around the centre, covers the range of the great and the good. Leading literary lights, musicians, society people, all gathered in what if it wasn’t accidental, would have been called a salon. In the Bloomsbury, Proustian meaning of the term. There are more anecdotes to be found about people you wouldn’t expect, the protagonist especially, connected with the infamous Algonquin Round Table of New York.

It all starts in grinding, unremitting poverty, reaches the heights of riches, and everything in between. But the sese of fun never leaves, the sense of, well, kind-heartedness, the inventive view of every situation, drifts through a life lived not for himself, but for everyone around him. Nothing came easy, no chance of an education in the early days, seeking work, through to the trials of touring the vast country during the vaudeville days.

Shoreditch is hip, yes sir it is

A book that covers a filled life, told in the way you would imagine it would be. Breakneck speed, colourful, musical and more hits than misses. Honest to the point that we with our gadet-crutch lifestyles can’t begin to understand how it could have all happened. It seems alien, a total other generation, and the grasping, sense-of-entitlement current thinking can only scoff in disbelief. But this was part of me growing up, not the way they did, but the stories they told. Or not until this book, for this man.

Aside from bringing my own predujces to this review, I have also managed to avoid using terms like ‘zany’, ‘wacky’ and ‘manic’. Because while it is, and it isn’t, this is more that you imagine. And if you have seen the old films, you will have a predetermined idea of what to expect. And it isn’t that. How he found himself in those situations, by accident, on purpose, chancing his arm, these are the things great biographies are made of. And this is a great biography.

If you want to hear what he says when he does open his mouth, you have to read, rather than watch, and listen. For this is the second to only time Harpo Speaks, so enjoy it. And you certainly will.

Photo sources : Fade out / I sure can

*Review, principles, whatever.

The Good the Bad and the Boozy – Chris Marsh

by Harbinger
I shall begin this review on a serious note (very unlike me I know). March has been a bad month for football, it has signalled the deaths of two great men of the game, one well knowen the other less so. Firstly on the 3rd Keith Alexander, who had been the first Black manager in the football league, died whilst still manager of Macclesfield Town. Secondly on a more personal note Tony Richards on the 4th. Tony Richards who played for Walsall (my team), between 1954 and 1963. He scored 185 goals in 334 appearances and in 2000 was voted the best player to have ever played for Walsall. I had contemplated doing a book by a Walsall player and this made me determined to do so.

Chris Marsh, has got to be one of the most popular footballers to play for Walsall not so much for his talents but for being a character. He joined Walsall in 1986 as a trainee before leaving in 2001. During that time made over 450 appearances, putting him in the top ten of all time appearance makers. He also took part in 3 promotion seasons in 1995, 1999 and 2001. A true Black Country lad, born in Dudley, who literally played in every position for Walsall (he even played in goal once or twice). However, one of the things he will always be remembered for is being one of the biggest practical jokers in the sport. His book very much conveys his personality, colourful, lively and funny. It has pages and pages of wonderful anecdotes, especially the infamous incident in which ‘Marshy’ stole the team coach in an attempt to cheer up his team mates. However, the manager did not find it quite so funny. I loved the stories about his battle of wills with the then manager Ray Graydon, who was a strict disciplinarian. Graydon marked Marsh out as a bit of a trouble maker (I wonder what gave him that idea), and was sometimes disappointed when he could not pin the blame for a particular incident on Marsh.
However his story has a poignant side to it. Marsh relates his battles with alcohol in a really heart felt way and lifts the lid on a culture of alcohol and gambling addictions that have mostly disappeared (thankfully) from the game now. He indicates the the problem of alcohol began when he missed a dream move to Liverpool after suffering a serious injury. He tells the sad story of how alcohol cost him his first marriage and his struggle to find work after retirement form the game in 2003. He makes interesting contrasts between, some of his colleagues who went to the top of the game and players who remained at his level.
All in all a charmingly written book made all the better, because it is signed by three of my favorite players Chris Marsh (obviously), Dean Keats and Darren Wrack. All I can say is thanks to a footballer who gave me and a lot of other Walsall fans pleasure. I especially miss Marsh’s one and only trick the ‘step over’, Christiano Ronaldo eat your heart out!!


Have a Nice Day – Mick Foley

by Harbinger
Firstly everyone keep back plague victim coming through. I know Hagelrat loves Zombies, but I certainly look like one. My entire house seems populated by the dead or dying at the moment. So I am currently sitting around wrapped in a quilt, drinking cough medicine by the bucket full and rapidly disappearing underneath a pile of tissues. So I though I would write about something which cheers me up, two blokes smashing heavy objects of each other’s heads. Yes of course wrestling! Now that I am on Un: bound it means my long suffering parents can have a rest from my incessant babble on the subject. I can bore you lot with it now MWAHAAAA!

I vaguely remember being introduced to it, as a small child. It always used to be on tv in Britain before the football (soccer) came on. With such greats as Big Daddy and Kendo Nagasaki making appearances, but really by the time I was watching the British wrestling organisations were almost dead and there were only tribute shows on….. I think. Anyhow both my brothers ended up getting me watching the American stuff regularly. Any way the guy who’s book I am reviewing, was one of the first American wrestlers I remember watching. He caught my eye right from the off. He looked odd he was no muscle bound freak, he was a slightly overweight guy with mad straggly hair (but who am I to comment on hair?), wearing a horrible Hannibal Lecter esque mask. He also seemed to spend most of the match getting his head kicked in, I guess I felt kind of sorry for him and i was quite annoyed at that arrogant muscle bound git beating him….Bully! I think that bully turned out to be ‘Stone Cold’ Steve Austin.
Only the second Autobiogrpahy in my entire collection of books is actually one of the best books I have ever read. I seem to remember the book was panned on both sides of the Atlantic by critics who had never even picked it up. I suppose purists made the assumption that some who had spent most of his life falling onto hard surfaces, could not possibly have anything interesting to say and that he would be a bad writer. WRONG!! The man has turned out to be a great writer with great children’s books and a serious novel under his belt. The book is very well written and has a remarkable way of putting me in stitches. It begins in 1994 in Germany, during the infamous incident where he lost his ear. He talks about such a serious incident while making light of it. He has the ability to make almost any issue amusing, as he moves through his childhood and first forays into wrestling, training at Dominic DeNucci’s gym and sleeping in the back of his car because he could not afford a hotel.
There also elements of seriousness in his writing. Firstly when discussing the deaths of two wrestlers who died during the writing of the book. Brian Hildebrand (wrestler, ref, and formally Mick’s manager) and Owen Hart, both of whom died in 1999. He brakes of half-way through a chapter, to discuss Owen Hart’s death, so you feel as if it has just been announced again just that second, sad but mesmerising.

Finally, there is an extended version of the book covering Mick’s last match before retiring…… However don’t be fooled he has had a good few of those, he is just like Terry Funk (a wrestler who is would be considered an Old Age Pensioner over here) in that regard I am not sure he will ever retire. Anyway well worth a read, even for those of you who are not wrestling fans, it is a great view into a very bizarre world and the life of a kind, amusing and slightly mad guy.

TTFN Un:Bound fanatics and HAVE A NICE DAY!!

Inside Out – Nick Mason

By Harbinger
I sat down on last week and watched Children in Need, during which I was surprised to see Nick Mason drumming on a ‘making of video’ for Bandaged (the Children in Need Album). Now Hagelrat or indeed any one who knows me will tell you that Pink Floyd are my favorite band. It is one of the few things I obsess over. Pink Floyd music is useful for me to help collect my thoughts and when I listen to it I find my imagination goes into overdrive. So I don’t think you will be to surprised to find Nick Mason’s personal history of Pink Floyd on my book shelf.

Nick Mason’s involvement in Pink Floyd began in 1963, when Roger Waters asked to borrow Nick’s 1930 Austin Seven ‘Chummy’, which is also where the book begins. Generally autobiographies are not my thing, I think I have got only two or three as a lot of them are quite badly written, or have been mucked about with by ghost writers. As you can gather by that fact that I am reviewing it this book is an exception.
I don’t know how else to describe Mason’s writing other than, charming. It is rather like sitting down with some tea, coffee or what ever is your poison, listening to him relate hilarious anecdotes. It feels very personalised, like he is writing to you a very odd experience for me in an Autobiography as I normally find them arrogant back slapping affairs, usually written by the kind of people I despise (Katie Price or Jonathan Ross anyone?). Certainly a temptation with Autobiographies (like political memoirs) is to take the opportunity to attack anyone you feel has done you wrong. This does not really happen here, as I expected, considering Pink Floyd’s volatile history. The very fact that the book is subtitled ‘A Personal History of Pink Floyd’ indicates Mason’s wish to show that it was his own view and by no means definitive. Which I respect when it would be so much easier to be malicious and arrogant. He even thanked the other members of Pink Floyd in the book.
Mason plods through Pink Floyd’s history in a witty way, you can almost see him grinning from ear to ear as he writes. Appearing within the book are lots, of what you know I love, PICTURES!! Right from the time when Nick was playing in a band (looking impossibly young) called the ‘Hotrods’, to a picture with the famous lineup in 2005. So as you can imagine a person as easily distracted as me found himself constantly looking through the pictures.
It is just great to read about a part of music history that will never come again, due unfortunately to the untimely deaths of Syd Barrett and Rick Wright.

So read on you crazy diamonds! (Alright alright I know that joke is a step too far, but you should have heard the ones I decided NOT to add). Give the book a go.

TTFN Chaps and Chapesses


I am presently reading and will soon be posting about Sheila Hancocks “Just Me”. I’m not going to talk about that yet, but I have some general comments on Biographies and Autobiographies I wanted to share, and maybe you can all tell me how wrong I am.

I don’t read a lot of life story books. I probably have half a dozen collecting dust that I will never get beyond the first 20pages of. I find them so often disapointing. As a teen I had an insatiable appetite for Dean Koontz novels and eventually in my early 20’s read his biography. In this case there were two problems, one is, although interesting enough to me his life hadn’t been anything hugely different or exciting so the book was padded out instead of just a bit shorter. The main problem though was the biographer. A psychologist who started the book by explaining that she wasn’t a Freudian she was, oh I forget, Jungian or something. Anyway having recently graduated from my psych degree my thoughts were “so what” and “ok but in this context that’s practically the same thing anyway” and “anyone who reads that and doesn’t do psych won’t care or understand, anyone who has studied it will now write you up as full of it”. Maybe I was harsh but her babbling, repetative analysis bored me rigid. It’s one of the few I have finished and remembe3r sufficiently to comment on. Most I never get halfway through, even if I am genuinly interested in the person. I have narrowed it down to a few core reasons why I rarely bother witgh biog:
1) you aren’t that interesting anyway, if you are 18 and have had two years chart succes how fascinating can your biography really be?
2) You wrote it yourself and you aren’t really much of a writer. Simple enough I think.
3) You picked the wrong person to write it for you (see the long grumble above).
4) It’s unauthorised and essentially just a rehashing of old press articles and rumours.

I think that about covers it. On the reverse of this, a biography I loved was Douglas Winters authorised Clive Barker biography The Dark Fantastic. It had a head start of course, Clive Barker has written the books that I have read 15 times over the years and I travelled to holland to meet freinds and then ignored them the whole time so I could attend his Q&A sessions and get a book signed. I was completely pathetic and struck dumb the whole time, but hey, it was worth it. He’s brilliant, funny and certainly appears to be a really nice guy. Anyway, the biog is well written, fascinating and really informative. So I guess those are the things you need in a biography:
1) A subject who has lived more than a quarter of their life and done something in it.
2) Access to the people and places concerned.
3) A really good biographer, or to be an excellent writer yourself.
4) A subject who is prepared to be open rather than focused on giving their version, settling scores and making points.

It is interesting that I would rather read someones blog and listen to the small insignificant facts fo their day than read the story of their lives, for the most part, it also means that I was extremely surprised to find myself utterly absorbed by Hancock’s book…more of that later.

I’d be delighted to hear your thoughts on this topic.