Monday, 28 May 2018

Inspiring Reads: Auntie Mame - An Irreverent Escapade

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade, written by Patrick Dennis (one of Edward Everett Tanner II’s many pen names), was published in 1955 and became one of the biggest American bestsellers of the twentieth century. Sixty three years later and the flamboyant Mame continues to capture hearts. In Italy, following a re-release, this comic novel topped Corriere della Sera’s general fiction list in 2009. Technicolor cinema fans, such as myself, would have instantly ordered a copy after watching the alluringly hilarious Rosalind Russell in the 1958 movie adaptation.      

The novel begins in 1928 where an orphaned (and fictitious) 10-year-old Patrick is sent to Manhattan to stay with his only living relative - aunt and bachelorette Mame Dennis. Despite the wish of the child’s late father for his son to have a rigidly conservative upbringing and education, Auntie Mame has more colourful ideas. The shy Patrick is thrust into a decadent world of larger-than-life characters, excessive glamour and intellectualism. Upon the boy’s arrival, Mame instructs Patrick to write down every word she says which he has yet to understand. Patrick also quickly learns that 9am is the middle of the night for his aunt.

Every chapter leaps from one adventure to another, as Mame continuously reinvents herself due to circumstances altered by the Depression or pure impulsiveness. But more important than Mame’s dabbling badly in odd jobs, hosting wild parties or maximalist dressing, is her sheer dedication to raising her nephew to be an interesting and open-minded individual. Mame battles with Patrick’s stuffy trustee throughout his childhood and then, when Patrick is an adult, devises a deliciously gleeful plan to stop his marriage into a dull antisemitic family. The novel feels very much ahead of its time as its sharp tongued heroine frequently tackles racism and snobbery rife in wealthy society.   

Auntie Mame: An Irreverent Escapade is a light camp novel with tremendous heart and wit. It is a book that will leave you wishing you knew an Auntie Mame growing up or become a little more like Mame yourself - a bold woman who refuses to conform to societal norms while having an abundance of fun and looking fabulous. I thoroughly recommend throwing on your best frock and fixing a cocktail especially to read this mid-century gem.  

Sunday, 20 May 2018

Life: The OST

If your life inspired a film or TV series, what would be on the soundtrack?

Cinematic stories tend to exclusively feature songs released at the time they are set. But real life cultural influences are never straightforward.

I spent the 90s listening to the likes of Suede and Blur. Yet this was also the decade where I bought CDs of Dusty Springfield and Iggy Pop. My parents played Paul Simon and Bob Dylan. So how did I discover pop and rock songs, from before I was born, that were not performed by blokes with raspy voices and boring jumpers?

Being a weird only child guided my musical discoveries. I spent hours bingeing on VH1 which, pre-reality TV, was the auntie to MTV’s cool teenager. The Box channel, in its infancy, played decade-old videos by Cyndi Lauper and Blondie as well as the latest singles by East 17 and Salt N Pepa. My music television phase also coincided with the 90s’ embrace of nostalgia. This was the decade where Erasure, dragged up in lurex, covered Abba and Kula Shaker performed with an ablazed Arthur Brown on TFI Friday.

Cinema is a gateway to discovering music. The first time I heard a Roxy Music song, in all its bold decadence, was ‘Love is the Drug’ in a trailer for Martin Scorsese’s Casino. The eerie yet sentimental soundtrack to Sofia Coppola’s The Virgin Suicides led me to Heart’s Dreamboat Annie album while Todd Hayne’s Velvet Goldmine revealed an entire treasure of sexually ambiguous glam rock from both sides of the Atlantic.

Discoveries involve taking chances, or just being in the right place at the right time. The first time I bought an Os Mutantes album was triggered by reading a single article in Mojo. Latin-fuelled avant-garde psychedelia, a cross-genre I was unfamiliar with, just had to be heard. The Sonics burst into my life at a friend’s party where the dirty angry growls of The Witch played appropriately loud. I asked what that aggressive sound was and bought the Psycho-Sonic compilation at the earliest opportunity.

Social media and streaming lead to new sounds depending on who and what you follow. If it wasn’t for following drag queens, I wouldn’t have seeked out Trixie Mattel’s tender country album Stone. And if I didn’t follow pages specialising in retro cultures, I may never have heard Serge Gainsbourg sing in Russian (his parents’ native tongue) instead of French.

There are decades and decades of pop music, from all over the world, waiting for new listeners. Continue to make fortunate accidents happen by reading as many books, articles and blogs as you can. Watch as many films as you can. And just keep listening, open yourself up to possibilities and make your personal soundtrack even more uniquely you.