Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Blue Monday

According to one of those fatuous pieces of non-research that marketing companies generate every now and then, last Monday was supposedly 'blue Monday' - the midwinter point when our collective spirits are at their lowest.   I don't know about that (though spending a fair portion of the day sitting on a Virgin Train travelling to and from London didn't particularly enhance my own joie de vivre), but Monday did see two sad departures from the artistic firmament. 

The first was the crime writer, Robert B Parker, best known as the author of the long-running series about Spenser, the poetically-named Boston private eye.  I first came across one of Parker's books in some long-gone bookshop on Stoke Newington High Street in London in the early 1980s, and I immediately became a huge fan.  It's easy to underestimate the quality of the books because they slip down so easily, and part of Parker's skill was to make it look so effortness (although, since Parker claimed to produce only a first draft, maybe it really was).  But his best books are utterly gripping, slickly plotted and full of characters that linger in the memory.  They're fantasies, of course, and perhaps lack the real grittiness that characterises much noir fiction today, but as intelligent escapist entertainment, they're hard to beat. 

The second loss was Kate McGarrigle.  She's now perhaps best known to a younger generation as the mother of Rufus and Martha Wainwright, but she was of course, in partnership with her sister Anna, a fine singer and songwriter in her own right.   The first McGarrigles album contains as good a collection of songs as you'll find, and the sisters continued to produce splendid material, albeit rather sporadically, over the subsequent decades.   I'm particularly fond of the two family CDs they produced, The McGarrigle Hour and The McGarrigle Christmas Hour, which gathered together the disparate talents of the McGarrigle/Wainwright clan to perform a selection of traditionally-based songs, and in the process created something quite magical. 

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