I’ve just spent the last hour Charlestoning in front of my TV set, to the extent that I have opinions about the various different youtube tutors that have offered their Charleston tutorials to the world. Gods. Any old fucker can put a video of themselves doing any old shit with 0 production values or charisma and still there’ll be some guy like me on the other side of the world that watches it 8 times. I was thinking “Maybe next time she won’t be so annoying.” “Maybe next time he won’t be so boring.” “Maybe next time it’ll make more sense.” Like when you watch Romeo and Juliet for the 8 millionth time and it’s a good one for a change so you think “maybe it’ll work out with these guys – they actually work together.” Even though you know it won’t. You hope. But those youtube videos just get worse the more you watch them. My feet, knees and brain are tired now and I don’t think I’m much closer to being a Charleston expert than I was before I subjected myself to them. But hell, I’ll keep at it. There might be a job at the end of it.
I’m back looking at the 1920’s again. It’s a period I’ve worked in a lot. Being a bit lost, instinctively bohemian, “posh”, I fit the tone of the times. The most prevalent stories from those interwar years came from those with privilege. Everyone else was working too hard, and didn’t have uncle Joey to help them get a platform for their work. Over here we had Evelyn Waugh, vomiting caustic bile on everyone that looked or smelt like him, excoriating his own class, and yet laughing, telling mad beautiful stories of human monsters and subhuman idiots. It was one of his novels that provided my first job out of drama school – Vile Bodies. I immersed myself in that period – the desperate fun, the lack of morals, the dance of a fucked generation that had lost most of their bravest and were going to lose the rest.
Meanwhile over in America there were three writers of that period that I love and know, and their styles are hugely varied. Hemingway with his spare, sharp observations, his heat and his death. Faulkner with his slow strange poetry warping and shifting and experimenting with form, opening imaginative landscapes and possibilities. And then F Scott Fitzgerald. As a teenager, Tender is the Night was my favourite book. It’s a Wuthering Heights of a book – a young book. A good read for an angry reader. It’s easy prose, incredibly closely observed. Fitzgerald himself was a doomed romantic, an alcoholic, a lover. Be wrote what he knew. He was best friends for a while with Hemingway, the hard boiled practical humanist who lived as hard as he could and then blew his brains out when his capability fell behind his desire. They both lived.
Fitzgerald was obliterating himself, obsessively making art in the gaps, pouring his heart into broken vessels. He ran himself out long before his age necessitated a bullet in the brain. But before he went he penned one of the best known short novels in the world: The Great Gatsby. A quick read. A day’s read. A beautiful read. Some say it’s the ultimate American novel, exploring the gap between the idea of the American dream and the reality. “Whenever you feel like criticizing anyone, just remember that all the people in the world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” That’s the opening. If you haven’t read it, it’s worth it. If you have, read Tender is the Night. And then get some of his old mate Hemingway into you as well – I recommend For Whom The Bell Tolls – or any of his short story collections. The Sun Also Rises. Argh. I’m re-reading Gatsby tonight, and it just makes me want to read all of these books again for the first time. So much joy to be had. If I had hot water I’d slide into the bath and read the whole of Gatsby there. Last time I read Gatsby I was at University – a very different man from who I am now. “And so we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”
I’m off to bed to read and remember. And give my legs a rest.