The producer of my last movie took this on his patio near the hot tub. Sorry, but he kept the nude shots.
If this were a Joan Crawford movie she’d have given him the damn gold cigarette case by now.
Portrait of John Wilson by Sasha Gusov. Crawford goes Liebestod in Humoresque (Warner Bros, 1946). I go here.
Cantara, former ASCAP solfeggist and 70s porn actress turned screenplay writer, has fallen hopelessly in love with a man at the other end of the world, an English, middle-ranking orchestra conductor—who plays, on the side, Golden Age of Hollywood music and The Great American Songbook—by the name of John Wilson.
The Queen of Heaven smiles upon you, John. I have it on good authority.
Not because he’s a fellow creator (he doesn’t create, but reconstructs, orchestrates and arranges the music of others)—not because of his looks (he’s peaky, scrawny, blinky; his gray-green eyes lack luster; he’s got a facial tic, lousy posture, enormous feet, the limbs of a stick insect and the hands of a hod carrier; his nose is an equilateral triangle; his famous cleft chin, supposedly his best feature, always looks slightly askew; his ultra-short mousy hair can’t conceal the fact he’s already going gray; he sweats like a stevedore on the podium; and for the past few years he’s taken to wearing geek glasses)—and certainly not for his intellect (his fatuous pronouncement about the needlessness of lyrics in The Great American Songbook makes me want to smack the back of his head like the whippersnapper he is and send him home with a note).
So what is it about him?* I’ve only been aware of his existence since 30 April and in love with him since 4 May, 2018; since then my feelings have been an insane mixture of tenderness, gratitude, annoyance, and lust. The tenderness I understand: I’ve spent enough time in Hollywood to understand the position he’s in… As far as gratitude, read my posts about “The Trolley Song”. Even the raging lust I get.
But whenever John gets himself in the way of the music it drives me nuts. It’s crystal clear to me the times he does this because I’m in love with him, dammit, and because he’s a musician I pay attention to the music. Truth to tell, the only times John really gets himself in the way are when he’s conducting his own hand-picked group which is dedicated mostly to music from Golden Hollywood & The Great American Songbook, and cannily named The John Wilson Orchestra.
Whether he gets himself in the way indeliberately or on purpose I cannot entirely tell, but I’m starting to. With a little patience he isn’t that hard to read, my bonny John Wilson. After countless times listening to his recordings and broadcasts; pouring over his interviews; watching him conduct (in video clips, mainly from the annual BBC Proms); watching him conduct other orchestras besides his own (ditto); and, most important, learning to separate the showman from the musician, I’m starting to understand his type of intelligence and his musical capability, which is actually pretty sizable. His ear (the way he hears things, not his purported perfect pitch) is intriguing and his industriousness is admirable. I am definitely not buying into the PR excess—he is not “a superstar”, “a guru”, “charismatic”, “legendary”, “a conducting icon” or, God help us, as proclaimed by the BBC, “the nation’s favorite” (!!!). But his musicianship at times is kiiind of brilliant.
* Update 10 August 2019: I’ve just read up on what it is about him, and now I’ve got science to back me up. It’s John’s fault.
Anyroad, like a good Dr Watson I have compiled a list:
JOHN WILSON – HIS LIMITS
Knowledge of/affinity for/talent with:
All the rest is just Cantara trying to sort out where bonny John fits into her inner life. Which as it turns out is in every nook, every cranny…
If you’ve read my Facebook or blog, you’ll know I’m a Minneapolitan born and bred. I was, in fact, in the middle of writing a lighthearted piece of fiction about my teenage days in NE Mpls when this shit happened. Now I have to let it take my mind away from better work, so apologies.
This is what I have to contribute: Back in the early 70s I was seeing a guy who was a psych prof/advisor to the City of Minneapolis Police Department. Apparently he devised and/or administered all the psych tests for recruits, did the psych evaluations for cops who recently, you know, killed someone, etc etc. And this went for the entire Twin Cities including, I imagine, St Anthony. (You all remember of course why I include St Anthony.) Well, he was very proud of his work. I thought it was because of the fancy title, but what he really loved, what he really was most proud of, was his earned fellowship (or so he believed it was earned) with the policemen—they were 99% men, just as they were 99% white—who were in his charge. He was a Democrat and an avowed Liberal, but he was definitely pro-cop.
And you know what he used to say to me, you know, unbidden, between sessions rolling around on his office rug after hours? I RUN A CLEAN DEPARTMENT, he would say, with a weird type of pride I never heard from him about anything else, not even his children. Maybe it was to impress me, though I have no idea why. I was 17.
On the other hand, I was really into the antiwar movement at the U at the time so even at 17 I could tell he was full of shit. But because I was still only 17 I couldn’t tell if he really bought the shit he was spouting or what. Maybe I could today. It has to do with nuance, and I’m good with nuance. Most women are good at nuance. Most minorities are good at nuance.
Flint was not good at nuance. He was good at evaluating scores and devising pointed questions when needing to interrogate officers as regards to their conduct. He was good at determining the truth from a simple binary system of yes/not yes, kind of like a lawyer. In short, he believed he was good at detecting whether a white male police officer, ranking below him in department status, might be presenting him, a white male professional on whom the officer’s career depends, with enough psychological evidence to point to misconduct.
I mean, come on. You’d think the guy could be able to tell when someone was gaming the system, but no. I really have come to the realization, late in life, that the sonofabitch weenie actually believed his boys in blue were good boys, to a man. Because that’s what they flattered him into thinking.
Jeez Louise. To have the fate of a man and a city rest on little tiny devil seeds that were planted generations ago.
There is a real-world connection here so let’s get this out of the way first. Lucas Richman is a FB friend I share with Michael Seal because Richman’s brother Orien produced my old friend Steve Gyllenhaal’s last directorial effort, but also because I heard “In Truth”. If you love the kind of music John is famous for conducting, you will loooove this sensually and emotionally satisfying concerto.
NOTE: Got to run out to pick up my heart pills so I’ll finish my train of thought about John’s musical upbringing in the 80s a little later. Meanwhile here’s my posting, from 2018, about the very thing Andrew Haveron introduced John to: “The Hollywood String Quartet and the Hollywood Sound“.
And here’s his interview with conductor Seal:
My father, who would be 115 years old today, went to the movies with me only a couple of times. The first was for Taras Bulba (United Artists, 1962). I remember him getting a particular kick out of the ride of the Cossacks scene, thrilling Franz Waxman music and all.
The second time was for Tora! Tora! Tora! (20th Century Fox, 1970). The movie house in Columbia Heights, just over the city line from Northeast Minneapolis, was within walking distance, I walked it all the time, and could still get in for 50 cents because at 15 I still looked 12. For some reason my father ended up not only driving me the few blocks, but after I’d found my seat and the lights went down I was astonished to notice him come in and sit down beside me.
“Dad, what are you doing here?” I whispered loudly. “You know, the Japs win in this.”
“Not for long,” he answered cheerfully, which is about as close as anyone in our family got to talking about the December 7th attacks and the general brutality my mother, then a teenager in Bangar in the province of La Union, had to face in an occupied country.
Bangar in those days was rather like Nouvion in ‘Allo ‘Allo—a little town situated a ways from the capital but near the sea, a hotbed of resistance. When you read about Bangar here, just remember: that kid who escaped, which resulted in occupying troops burning down the place, was one of my cousins. When the guards marched him to town to be executed, his family, through looks and gestures from a distance, pretty much gave him the word that they expected him to “take one for the team” i.e. let himself be shot; but at the last moment, as family legend goes, he grabbed the officer’s sword and in the confusion was able to get away into the forest. And so as feared came the reprisals.
A shadow still hangs over the de la Peña family.
Taken at a banquet of an old Filipino-American association my dad was part of (that’s him under the picture on the right; keep forgetting he still had hair before I was born), one of about a hundred around at the time. Note the date: only a couple of weeks before Pearl Harbor. Note also the Philippine flag on the wall. The Philippines wasn’t yet a sovereign nation but a Commonwealth and didn’t achieve independence till 1946.
Meanwhile in California my dad, who came to the States a young man in 1927, was engaged to a woman from St Louis he eventually COULD NOT MARRY because—are you ahead of me on this?—HE WASN’T WHITE!!! Yes! The MISCENEGATION LAW of the State of California—which by the way was NOT REPEALED UNTIL 1962—prohibited them and God knows how many other California couples from legally joining, forcing them to travel to other states where they could. (Recently read this happened to that fine actor Dean Jagger and his Chinese-American fiancee in the early 50s and I’m curious to hear other people’s stories).
How my dad, residing at last in Minneapolis, eventually found and married my mother in Manila is another story, and it’s a doozy. I’ll tell it on their 70th wedding anniversary next year.
Now to my beloved John Wilson, who was born the day of my father’s final birthday, in 1972. John, I’m not saying we’re psychically linked, but about a month ago in the middle of defrosting the refrigerator I think I got a weird emotional flash from you where you were being right annoyed… I got the impression it might’ve been about The John Wilson Orchestra, you were waiting for some kind of answer re your orchestra and not getting it, and I actually felt your annoyance… Like I say, it was weird, like listening in on a party line…
That’s all I could make of it. But it’s enough to make me want to give you something special for your birthday. So…I’ve tried this only once, with an old boyfriend, and I think because I was really, really into him it worked. On the actual day of your birthday, John, I’m going to try to send you an energy shot. [UPDATE: Just did it. Think I got through. 2AM UK time.] Until then, Happy Birthday, light of my life, fire of my loins. And if we ever meet, tell me if it worked.
4 May, 2020. Porn is the reason I’m late with this posting. For two freakin’ years, longing for my winsome lad has impinged on my usual output of actual writing, which once dealt mostly with conspiracies, low magick, backstage intrigue, and government foul-ups, and I have got to sublimate that energy somewhere… So, as mentioned earlier, mes amis, I’ve started a series of short stroke books called Hollywood Bound, which I plan to finish and release in sequence over the summer.
Facsimile John doesn’t show up till Book 3.
Now, on the second anniversary of The Day I Fell In Love With John Wilson, what should I stumble on but this vid of a concert of Ravel and Vaughan Williams which my beloved conducted at the Royal College of Music (where he attended 1990-94).
Maurice Ravel described his work, written in 1919: “Through whirling clouds, waltzing couples may be faintly distinguished. The clouds gradually scatter: one sees at letter A an immense hall peopled with a whirling crowd. The scene is gradually illuminated. The light of the chandeliers bursts forth at the fortissimo letter B. Set in an imperial court, about 1855.” In the accompanying podcast bonny John asserted that “La Valse” is about social disintegration. Another reason for me to get into his head.
Here are 5 easy cooking recipes I wrote down just for you, John my love, after remembering you mentioning cooking sausages for your best friend*. The dinners below, besides being tried and true and easy-peasy, are plain, nourishing, tasty, cheap, quick, satisfying, and don’t require fancy kitchen equipment or expensive ingredients:
Five elements make Gateshead a uniquely potent locus on the spiritual plane: 1) the Kolel in Bensham, the world’s most important center of esoteric Talmudic scholarship; 2) the Sage symphony concert hall on the River Tyne, which because of its particular physical manifestation is blessed by Sarasvati; 3) the underground cable hub; 4) the Angel of the North, a huge guardian structure overlooking Low Fell, the working class neighborhood where my beloved grew up (see above); 5) the city’s long history of UFO sightings and alien visitations. Above the Angel: “The Blaydon Races” (Geordie Ridley, 1862) sung by Jimmy Nail, Tim Healy and Kevin Whately for the Sir Bobby Robson Foundation. “Ah me lads, ye shudda seen us gannin’ / We pass’d the foaks upon the road just as they wor stannin’ / Thor wes lots o’ lads an’ lasses there, all wi’ smiling faces / Gannin alang the Scotswood Road, to see the Blaydon Races…”
NEWCASTLE LAMB STEW
Saute lamb pieces and onion in fat until lamb starts to brown and onions begin to soften. Add remaining ingredients. Bring to a boil, cover, and cook for 30-45 minutes or until lamb and vegetables are tender. If desired, adjust seasonings. If desired, thicken consistency with a paste made from water+flour or water+cornstarch or other thickener. Add paste to pot and cook over high heat, stirring constantly until mixture is smooth and gravy is of desired thickness.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
GATESHEAD SAUSAGE STEW
Combine all ingredients to a large pot, bring to boil and cover and cook on medium heat for ½ hour or until all vegetables are tender.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
GEORDIE CHICKEN CURRY
Combine chicken broth and onion in saucepan and boil until onion is just tender. Then add chicken meat and peas. Add salt, pepper and 2 tsp curry powder or more if spicier dish is desired. When mixture is heated through, add flour or cornstarch paste (note: see Newcastle Lamb Stew above) to mixture, stirring constantly until desired thickness. Serve on bed of plain boiled white rice with side of mushy peas and mango chutney if desired.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
TYNESIDE MINCE AND MASH
For the mince:
Bring all ingredients to a boil and when onion is soft and raw meat is cooked add thickening paste (see above).
For the mash:
Boil potatoes in separate pot in water until very soft. Drain potatoes thoroughly, add 2 tbs butter or margarine and mash thoroughly with masher or large fork. When mixture is thoroughly mashed whip it with a large spoon, adding more or margarine if desired until mash is very thick and smooth. Transfer mash to serving plate and top with mince. Serve with boiled Brussels sprouts if desired.
Serves 2, or 1 with leftovers.
WEE BONNY JOHN’S SIMPLE FISH AND CHIPS**
For the fish:
Cut filet into 4 2-oz pieces.
For the batter:
Stirring constantly, add sufficient water to make a thick batter.
For the chips:
In a pot or deep skillet heat vegetable oil to high heat. Add chips and fry until golden brown. Remove chips from oil and drain on newspapers.
Dip fish in batter to coat and immediately fry in remaining hot oil for 2-3 minutes or until underside is brown; then turn fish with slotted spatula and fry for 1-2 minutes more. When fish coating is brown and firm remove fish from oil and drain on newspapers with chips. Serve with boiled carrots in parsley butter.
For the carrots:
Boil in water until tender. Drain carrots and remove from pot. In drained pot add
Melt butter and stir until herbs and butter are evenly mixed, then add reserved cooked carrots and toss in parsley butter for about 5 minutes until carrot slices are evenly coated.
To serve, place fish, chips and carrots on serving plates and sprinkle fish and chips with salt and malt vinegar.
Serves 2. It doesn’t keep.
*If you mean bangers, the best way to cook them is to prick them so they won’t explode, then fry them gently in lard or bacon fat.
**That’s Mister Grumble‘s name for you, John love, not mine. At least I got him to stop calling you The Butcher of Oklahoma.
Just had an interesting daydream of my beloved John Wilson—now shag-headed and fully bearded (he grows it fast)—conducting a chamber orchestra on Zoom. Hmm… Wonder if he might actually be planning something like that right now…
Meanwhile, those of us who are still earthbound can treat our heads and ears to Oxford-trained harpsichordist Matthew Halls’s rendition of the complete Goldberg Variations of Johann Sebastian Bach (for which exists a cute story why it’s called that I won’t get into right now, although if you know/like the Variations you probably know it anyway).
This is a sparkling 2011 recording done by Linn Records of Glasgow, who also recorded that great jazz album by vocalist Claire Martin I mentioned in an earlier posting.
Matthew Halls guest conducting the Kansas City Symphony back in February, his last public appearance to date.
Aria I / Variation 1 / Variation 2 / Variation 3 First Canon / Variation 4 / Variation 5 / Variation 6 Second Canon / Variation 7 al Tempo di Giga / Variation 8 / Variation 9 Third Canon / Variation 10 Fuguetta / Variation 11 / Variation 12 Fourth Canon / Variation 13 / Variation 14 / Variation 15 Fifth Canon / Variation 16 Overture / Variation 17 / Variation 18 Sixth Canon / Variation 19 / Variation 20 / Variation 21 Seventh Canon / Variation 22 / Variation 23 / Variation 24 Eighth Canon / Variation 25 / Variation 26 / Variation 27 Ninth Canon / Variation 28 / Variation 29 / Variation 30 Quodilibet / Aria II
Before we get to what I think will be a nice and fair assessment of John Wilson’s new recording, a word to some people.
I have always been aware of the tacit agreement that exists between my screen persona Simona Wing and her fans, but let me now take this apt opportunity to state my position clearly: You all have my blessing to do whatever you want with me in your fantasies.
Because whatever you want to do with me in your fantasies is nothing compared to what I want to do with John Wilson in mine. So, go for it.
Now on to Korngold.
I didn’t realize this was still a thing in the music world, but apparently opinions continue to be strongly divided as to whether Erich Wolfgang Korngold—a true heir, by the way, to The Great Mittel European Romantic Tradition—deserves inclusion in the canon some snooty farts call the Classic Repertoire. You know, the one that has Bach and Beethoven and all those other cats. It’s no secret that when you mention the name Korngold, the average music lover’s first thought is of upmarket movie soundtracks (Anthony Adverse—The Adventures of Robin Hood—The Sea Hawk—Captain Blood) and likely never gets around to the fact that Korngold wrote, among other things, the most luscious symbolist opera of the 20th century, Die Tote Stadt, in 1920, and a hell of a gorgeous violin concerto 25 years later:
So it seems like every generation there has to be one nut who comes along and says, Let’s run Korngold past the hoi-polloi again and see if he’ll fly—and if you think I’m talking about you, John Wilson, you’ve got a swelled head. Because the nut I’m talking about is the nut in the CIA. The anonymous nut who got The Company to fund an enterprise back in the early 70s called “The Golden Age of Hollywood Music” and hence to elevate Korngold to the status of freakin’ Hollywood Royalty—but through his film scores and his film scores only.
But that story later.
We’re here right now not just to size up a new Korngold recording, but to honor the decades-long musical relationship of Andrew Haveron, violinist, former Leader of The John Wilson Orchestra, current Leader of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra, and conductor John Wilson, whose career in orchestra building started at the age of 22 and hasn’t stopped since.
Korngold’s Violin Concerto in D, their latest Chandos release, was going to get my attention with or without the Winsome Lad of Low Fell anyway, as I’m a sucker for this particular style and era of music. But I was glad to learn about their actual friendship as well; for me it explains why the perfect communication that’s so evident here between Haveron and my John (and through him, to the estimable RTE Orchestra) has some of the magic of Barenboim+du Pré, back in the brief days when those two were cooking hot with Elgar.
This is soloist Haveron’s star turn: a warm, fresh, intimate—revelatory even—rendition of a piece that, let’s face it, is kind of like the “Nessun Dorma” of violin concertos. But this is John’s success too. So much of my bonny’s gift for conducting Korngold, as we know, has to do with his insistence on a technique his PR people call “shimmer” but is actually wrist vibrato on strings, a technique in fingering I learned about and taught myself when I was 14 because I liked the sound it made, although when the orchestra teacher put it down for sounding cheap and sloppy I quit it.
But I know the sound of shimmer and you do too. The John Wilson Orchestra practically patented it. John himself still calls for it whenever he conducts Tchaikovsky. It’s in all the high-toned movies of the 1930s (examples above). And it would have been in Rouben Mamoulian‘s classic film musical Love Me Tonight had The Old Man (my old boss, incidentally) been able to make Paramount’s musical director Nat Finston understand what he was talking about when, in a certain musical scene, he said he wanted “crying violins”. But I could tell what he was talking about when he told me this story 46 years later.