Thursday, March 27, 2014

John Niven in Munich

Niven & Nagel
Last week on Wednesday, March 19, Scottish writer John Niven came together with his German sidekick Nagel (writer and musician Thorsten Nagelschmidt) to Munich to read from his new book "Straight White Male" and I went to listen & laugh.

The connection between music and Niven is strong and that not only for his delightfully cynic bestselling novel "Kill Your Friends" about murderous A&R Manager Steven Stelfox (the movie adaption is being filmed as we speak) and other music related texts as well as his own short career in music biz, but also because Niven and Nagel behave so much more like a touring band than the average writers on a reading tour. It gave the event a special touch and even the audience looked slightly different from the regular literature crowd.

I got a taste of it right when I arrived about 40 minutes before the reading started. I settled down on the stairs up to the location (a small stage at the Volkstheater) because the room was not yet open. There were a few more people and after some short friendly chat they claimed that they have been waiting since 7 pm. OH HA - I realized I just entered my first literature qeue ever when John Niven and Nagel passed by for the soundcheck. Short before doors the now significantly bigger group of waiting people moved upstairs and started to get in position around the door. Rock 'n' Roll!  But I am too routined to be pushed back and when the doors finally opened I rushed inside and threw myself into a nice center stage first row seat. Little did I know this seat would bring me in slight trouble twice that night.

Next to me was a free seat and it turned out it belonged to a guy from the publishing company, who was standing now in front of the audience to make the introduction (good for me Niven and Nagel did not enter yet).  So publishing dude told us a bit about John Niven and his writing career before he said:  "John Niven is from Scotland - from Ayrshire (insert weird pronounciation) which is ... I think ... North or so of Glasgow." 
And god damn ... I am so so so so terrible with keeping my mouth shut, because then not exactly super loud but pretty good to hear in the tiny theater I said without thinking (obviously) "South West!"
Publishing guy looked at me, my seat neighbour looked at me, that lady down the row looked at me ....  But ... I mean, I may not know much about Scotland but for some - very music related -  reasons the one thing I really know is where Ayrshire is and it is NOT North of Glasgow. John Niven btw is from Irvine which is right West of Kilmarnock and North of Ayr at the coast.
After a slightly uncomfortable silent moment and a few more words the introduction was finished and Niven and Nagel entered the stage.

Before the actual reading was kicking off John Niven first apologized for not speaking German with introducing Nagel, who would do the German parts, and not even English but Scottish. He promised to speak slowly to help the audience dealing with his accent and so he did ... at least in the beginning. For me personally that accent is clearly a feature and no bug since I am quite used to it and I enjoyed it a lot.

Niven & Nagel used the following hour (short smoking break included) to make us meet Kennedy Marr (yes, named after Johnny Marr) the main character of Niven's new novel "Straight White Male".  Marr is of Irish descent but lives in Los Angeles. He used to be a successful author but he has not written a single line for his new novel in years, instead he enjoyed his Hollywood lifestyle and the decent amount of money he would make as a script doctor for big movie productions. All would be lovely if he would not have forgotten a nasty detail:  paying taxes
So Kennedy Marr is in trouble. He is deep in debts and either needs to face prison time, slow down his lifestyle and quickly write and release his next novel (he tends to look at prison) or .. find a source of money. He succeeds on option three when he scores a highly remunterated job - teaching "Creative Writing" at a prestigious English college. While the irony is not lost on him who had not written anything labeled "creative" for years, he takes his chance although he is not exactly keen on living so much closer to ex-wife and daughter in the UK and his dying mother in Ireland. But he has no choice and so he moves over the Atlantic ...

Niven and Nagel read selected scenes alternating in English and German. The highlights were clearly "the wanking scene" (read by Niven), which proofs just one more time that men are lousy multitaskers and a heavy party & sex scene including Marr and a young female movie star read by Nagel in German. As you can see here already ... just like a typical Niven book this one is again nothing for sensible souls. Marr is not the Patrick Bateman style bad guy like "Kill Your Friends" Steven Stelfox but he is sure no angel either and Niven is never talking around it. If you can take it - it's super funny. I loved it and I had to really laugh when Niven quoted his German translator (who from what I heard did a good job), who said about the challenge of translating a Niven novel: "John, you are writing things regular German people would not even think." He might be right.

Just a like a touring band Niven and Nagel were a smooth operating team supporting each others jokes and sharing a bottle of white wine as the evening went. I had a lot of fun, but sadly towards the end I got a bit confused over the rock concert character of the whole thing as it seems. There was a bit of an unclear situation about doing a little encore and / or the Q&A session which then started with the usual awkward silence before some people actually asked something. At some point the last question was called up and answered and I - in my first row center seat - made a move to get ready to give the much deserved applause, but stopped dead when nobody else did. 
The story was that I had not seen that a guy two chairs left of me had another question and just the same second I stopped my - now slightly awkward - move John Niven pointed at the guy and me and allowed the "Two more questions." He thought my move was me raising a hand for a question, too. 
Problem: I had no question, but just saying that was not really an option. So I gave the other guy the first go who then asked slightly off topic if the description of the music biz in "Kill Your Friends" was over the top or pretty much real. Answer for the ones of you wondering: Not exaggerating for the time described in the book, but pretty different now due to the totally changed situation in the music business.
Then Niven turned to me. I still had no question and said it was fine because he wanted to end the session already earlier anyway, but no chance. "COME ON" said the Scot like just Scots say it. There was no escape and so I pulled the only half way smart question I could think of and asked what he as a Scotsman would think about the referendum for the Scottish independence in fall. 

The first answer was just: "Oh." I think I might have been the first person on his reading tour who asked that. He took a deep breath and explained in as brief words as possible that life on "the day after" would just go on - without the horror scenarios of the NO campaigners even coming close to reality. He also explained that Scots would never elect a conservative government but have to deal with it as often as the rest of the country goes for it and would not want that anymore. He said for those reasons he is supporting the YES. (Note: This is not a exactly word for word what he said and just summarized in my very own words, but I tried to stay as close to his as I could from memory)

Phew ... I think I made it out of the awkward situation quite nicely and I felt at least good enough to queue up to get my books signed. I had brought my copies of "Kill Your Friends" and "Straight White Male".  First thing John Niven noticed was that my books were in English, but that is just my general habit. If I have the language skills to read a book in its original language I do that. The 2nd thing he noticed was my Biffy shirt although it just has really small "Biffy Clyro" written on it. He looked up and said: "Hm, Biffy fan, too?" Me: "Yes, very much." He then finished signing and shook my hand like he did with everybody but then did not say "Thanks for coming." like to all the others but: "MON THE BIFF!"

My jaw dropped a little before I grinned like kid under the Christmas tree and I of course shouted back: "MON THE BIFFY!"

I mean ... how cool is that???? MON THE NIVEN! 

Thanks for a really great night!

If you have not read "Kill Your Friends" go now and DO IT and if your are done just keep going with "Straight White Male" or any other John Niven book! 

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Mixtape

Not much going on here ... still. Obviously the 2nd half of 2013 got all the excitement and did not leave much for the first half of 2014 - at least not on the positive side of things. Just work, sad news and an ugly cold that is sticking with me for two weeks already and is not going away. Logically there is nothing big that deserves a long blog post, but instead a few short observations from the last couple of weeks. 

Get Off My Internets


"Get Off My Internets"
is a website you find at http://getoffmyinternets.net/. My headscratching starts already with the title of the website ... either somebody tries to be sarcastic or did not get the idea of the internet. Either way its users are definitely ignoring the fact that the easiest way to get stuff "off your internets" is  by not clicking on it. BOOM! Do not look at it, do not read it, do not interact with it. Sometimes it is that simple.
Obviously some readers have no clue about this strikingly easy solution to their problmes like for example the one that used the forum to write a fairly long article about why she hates my friend's (btw absolutely fabulous) blog. Hmmm ... why is she then exactly still reading it? I do not get it. If you can explain to me - the comment section is yours!

The same forum has also this wonderful subdivision about GERMAN BLOGGERS! Yay ... that's me? Right? Right.
Apparently I can choose why people will hate me. I could write in German, but ...
"I really have no idea if here is anyone from Germany or is reading german blogs on a regular basis but every blog that's written in german annoys the hell out of me."
Hmmm ... so maybe better not. Right? Right. I could write in English - just there is then one of the follow up postings ...
"I fucking hate when Germans, Austrians or Swiss blog in english. It is always sooo fake and try hard and a bad copy of the popular american blogs."
Looks like English is no option either. So what I am supposed to do? Stop writing at all or better shoot myself right away?


The decision for the language a blogger uses is depending on two things mainly: 1) The ability and desire to use a language - native or not. 2) The target group of the blog - the people it is addressing.
I went for English neither to be cool nor to annoy random readers. I did it because the people I want to share my thoughts with - my friends - are spread all over the planet. English is simply the language they all understand. I know my English is not perfect. I make hilarious mistakes all the time and it is sure "German" ... and a little Pittsburghese and a little Scottish and a little British because I am logically influenced by the people I talk to. But it is like it is and it is the only possible way for me to keep the blog going. 


The problem itself goes deeper though. You find it EVERYWHERE all over the internet and especially down the comment sections of news and commentary websites. There seems to be an inner force in people that makes them hate on practically everything and everybody and is also forcing them to put that hate out there. It puzzles me because I do not have it - at all. I don't agree with a lot of pepole, I have my discussions, I fight if necessary but ... hate for the sake of hate? I do not get it and it makes me doubt from time to time that mankind has a future


Thank God so so so so many wonderful things in my life are also driven by the power force of the internet and the opportunity it gives us to meet, to help each other and share the love and passion we have for pepole / things close to our heart. Maybe there is still hope. 


Ink


A couple of months ago a friend of mine got her first ink. It is a fairly small piece with a nice and inspiring quote that remindes her of some important people in her life. It is easy to cover by normal clothes. You would think in the 21st century and in a global metropole (no it was not in Munich ;)) a tattoo like this would be something nobody cares about anymore. Wrong!
She did share some of the comments she got and it is all still well alive ... the prisoner story, the gang story, the sailor story, the hooker story. All prejudices have safely survived the milenium.
Why it is so hard to let people make their very own choices? We inked people let you not inked people live your lifes and you just leave us alone as well and all is good. I can just say that I love every tattoo I have. They comfort me and give me strength and self-confidence more than even I had estimated before getting them. They are good for me. But that is just me - everyone needs to make their own decision. It is that simple - again. 

Mogwai

I had the joy and fun to open - barley recovered from the tonsilitis - the 2014 concert season with the fabulous MOGWAI from Glasgow. For a lyric driven person like me it is not so super easy to adjust to band that presents a mostly instrumental performance, but soon the magic of the sound did its thing. I most enjoyed the more heavy and rocking stuff (logically) with three guitars. That was some awesome and bloody loud noise (no problem though - I had my LugPlugs as always).
Although the venue (Backstage) was quite packed I was once more benefiting from the annoying habit of Munich people to show up late and had a nice barrier slot on the left hand side I enjoyed a lot.


Viktor & The Blood

The 2nd show of the season was Viktor & The Blood from Sweden and once again my lovely hometown was sound asleep. I have no other explanation for the fact that even the fairly small Ampere was pretty empty that night. Obviously not a lot of people here are aware that the band itself is new, but not the musicians - Viktor & The Blood are 2/3 former Sugarplum Fairy and 1/3 former Mando Diao and you could hear that! I mean that in the very best day, because what the few at the Ampere got to witness were no newcomers playing their first shows but three talented and highly professional musicians performing a great - even if short (they have only one album yet) - set.
What I have to positively note is that they sounded much heavier than you would expect from three petite, Mod dressed Swedes. My favorite song of the night was clearly "Don't Drag Me Down", but I loved the complete show. It was definitely not the last time I have seen Viktor & The Blood.


T IN THE PARK 2014

James approves!
It happened again. The rational part of my brain stopped functioning and my heart took over: in an attack of craziness I fired up my Ticketmaster account and bought a day ticket for Friday at T IN THE PARK with Biffy Clyro headlining.
I do not like big festivals AT ALL, but for the boys it is a very special show (10th time they play TITP) and so so so many of my folks are going. And I know myself ... if I would be at home that Friday night, I would sit in a dark corner of my apartment, LIVE FROM GLASGOW would play and big tears drop on my phone while I am watching all the pictures, tweets and messages coming in. JUST NO! It is not worth the pain.
Flights to Scotland will be booked this weekend and OH EM GEE ... I feel so much better now. I had no idea I wanted to go so badly until I did it.
 See you there!

PS: Note to my dear friend Gabrijela - no, this is again not the show I am waiting on for May / June. This is July 11 and a different event. Sorry :(