Us and Them

The Commitments” (1991) or “Trainspotting” (1996) are the classic examples of the perfect combination that is born out of music and what R. Canudo baptized the “seventh art”  in 1921. And it would be impossible to rip the face of Andrew Strong (aka Deco Cuffe) from the scratchy version of “Try a Little Tenderness” (thanks Uncle Otis), or watch that initial monologue of Ewan McGregor without “Lust For Life” playing the background of  (and thank you, Uncle Iggy).

Can you? You can’t do it, can you.

But these two films are also an example something else oft forgotten, that before these films and soundtracks there is often a good, British book: the homonyms of Roddy Doyle (1987) and Irvine Welsh (1993).

Two writers – the first Irish, the second Scottish – who filled sheathes of paper with stories and characters the “heart and brain” of the blues-rock-punk that has seeped into our collective imagination. And here’s the paradox. The written word is, by nature, silent…that in these cases not only  manages to show us men and women, but also lets us distinctly feel the bassline that coexists with their frustrations. All this without even turning up the volume and disturbing the neighbours. This is incredibly rare, but there is no need to despair – the land of Albion is not stingy in this respect.

We are blessed by Nick Hornby (English – Redhill, 1957), and more recently by John Niven (Scottish – Irvine, 1972) who succeeds in the non-trivial task of making the pages of his books rock. He does all this without ever rendering it too sappy, and by intertwining the music and the story.

He triumphs with “The Second Coming” (2011) where he introduces us to Jesus (yes, Jesus.) who comes down to earth armed with a Gibson shoulder bag, torn jeans and a regulation grunge t-shirt, to spread his message to humanity: “Be good!”. That he then does all that while enjoying beer and weed, on a road trip along with the company outcasts, to participate in the television program American Popstar … well, that’s the fun part!

And he tries again (and succeeds!) with “No Good Deed” (2017) where he introduces us to a accomplished food critic who, at the subway exit, stares into the eyes of a bum and sees his best friend from university looking back at him, the promise of fame and fortune in the world of rock all but forgotten. Will they make it into a movie? Fingers crossed.

Meanwhile, the soundtrack is ready and waiting.

Mirko Arena

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Us and Them – July
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