Continental Drifters (Part Two)

Pete & I woke up in the truck at the side of the “Autoroute du Soleil”, on the way to Lyon. our 2nd full day in France. It’s 754 miles from London to Florence  if you are a crow, longer if you’re taking the pretty way. A run for the sun, a long day in the saddle, remember to turn left before Spain & we should be eating our evening meal in Italy. This morning, a Friday, our Tour de France took us along the Rhone Valley…lovely. We put the miles in before breakfast, best to get some work done now because anything could happen today & that’s the way I like it…ah-ha, ah-ha !

We were making good time & having a good time too. It felt like we were heading for the weekend. Things got more interesting when we picked up 2 German women who were hitch-hiking to Avignon (of course we did). Our new friends were happy to get a long lift in the right direction, happy to talk. The one scrunched against me was attractive when she entered the cab & getting lovelier by the mile. We chatted, flirted, gave it the Cockney big potatoes charm. I was passing our contact details across for when they visited London. This was fun. Then Pete made a schoolboy error. He reached into a compartment above the windscreen, located our lump of hash, asked if they would like to smoke a doobie. That was that then…I do not want to stereotype anyone but… I had met German Green Party members before. “Atomkraft, Nein Danke !” serious types. These women were not impressed that they were travelling in (too) close proximity to a couple of wide boy pot smokers. The bonhomie suffered for the final part of their journey. We dropped them off, wished them luck &, ah well, pass the Rizla, on to the next.

That left turn, north of Marseilles, brought us to the coast road in the late afternoon, the sun behind us, Les Alpes Maritimes ahead. What an impressive road this is, bridges across the valleys, tunnels through the mountains. This is the E80, the Trans-European Motorway from Portugal to Turkey. We were part of  international trade here, moving stuff from one place to somewhere then some other stuff to somewhere else. In Turkey you can hook up with the AH1 & drive to Japan. Right now that seems like a plan. I’m feeling a good connection with my friend Pete the driver & with our mobile home from home.”Sal, we gotta go & never stop going ’till we get there”.

A-hem !

To the right the the land sloped steeply away to the blue Mediterranean. Signs directed us to the Cote d’Azur, Cannes, Antibes, Nice, Monte flipping Carlo…”La Belle Vie”… Nah man, I’m more riff-raff than “rififi”. On our left the Alpine foothills were just as cool as. I was like a little dog, head out of the window, tongue hanging out, smelling the air, loving life on the road as we headed for the Italian border.

These days border controls between EU countries have largely disappeared. I feel oddly comforted when the Swiss (non-EU) customs keep you waiting for 5 days because your paperwork covering works of art worth £2 million is a bit dodgy. (This happened on another trip, an unexpected holiday on the Rhine…cracking). That’s the world I grew up in, love a stamp in my passport. Back then customs checks were more rigorous. We would not be cleared to enter Italy until the morning. It was Friday night, we showered, changed & successfully found the pasta & beer we were looking for. On later trips we developed a liking for a digestivo of espresso & grappa. It made the walk home more interesting. I’m sure that Ventimiglia is a choice spot but we seemed to be hanging around the armpit district. The exotic even bizarre arrangement of bottles at the restaurant was a product of the graft extracted from the passing freight. No matter, we sat outside in the warm night air listening to our music of choice for when the work of the day is done.

All the 5 members of the Band had virtuoso talent, 3 were outstanding vocalists. My preference is for Rick Danko’s lovely whine & this aching song of lost love (another one). The clip is the version from “The Last Waltz”, Martin Scorsese’s film of their last concert. Find a better sax break in a song & send it over.

Saturday started without me. This bottom bunk was getting more comfortable. Pete was out early, doing the necessary to clear us across the border. He woke me to get a pack of 200 cigarettes we had bought at the ferry’s duty-free shop. He was obviously having to sweeten the deal. I roused myself, considered getting upright. I could be of little assistance but I was awake & I was his wingman. Pete knew the score, which way the wind was blowing, he raised his voice, switched into a full Bob Hoskins (Jah rest his soul). .”Look ! You have had my fucking cigarettes. You are not having the fucking whisky! Now stop fucking me about and let’s get this done”. I jumped out of the cab, but Pete was away with the  blackmailing bandit. I thought that if these customs clippers reacted badly to that Cockney combustion we could still be here on Wednesday. When Pete returned he winked, said a word that I believe is banned on the Internet & we were ready to roll.

It was understood that part of the cash given to the driver by his employer was to be used to bribe the various customs extortionists we encountered. No grift and the driver was ahead. Pete was a bottle of whisky ahead. OK, it’s a sunny Saturday morning, it’s my first day in Italy & we are legal. I have a 3 o’clock appointment in Florence. Are we having fun yet ?

Music And Movies

I love a classy film soundtrack.If I made a Top 10 list there would be 10 more spring to mind that I had overlooked. The greatest of the composers are linked with great directors, Bernard Herrmann with Hitchcock, Nino Rota with Fellini and Ennio Morricone with Leone. Then there are the modern rock age scores, Ry Cooder’s “Paris Texas”, Vangelis “Blade Runner” and Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man”. The bespoke works of Jack Nitzsche for “Cuckoo’s Nest”, Popol Vuh’s “Aguirre” and Philip Glass’ “Koyaanisqatsi”. Missed out some great ones ? Of course I have, I told you I would.

“Easy Rider” was a breakthrough film in many ways. For the first time Hollywood let young people make a movie for the young. While that market was there waiting for such a film the use of rock tracks found a new one. The “Easy Rider” soundtrack LP was the first to be bought by many people, followed by the “Woodstock” and “A Clockwork Orange” albums. Now there is a pick and mix approach to the soundtracks of almost all movies. Sometimes it works and sometimes it’s just crass. If I hear one more Nick Drake song in one more crappy US rom-com it will still be wrong. Here are three random but favourite uses of rock music in movies.

Martin Scorsese has always used rock and roll in his films. He edited the “Woodstock” movie, in “Mean Streets” there is a fantastic selection of doo-wop and R&B along with a couple of Rolling Stones songs. Over 30 years later he shows the touch of a master in his introduction of Jack Nicholson’s character, Frank Costello. The scene is edited to “Gimme Shelter” the ominous Stones’ classic. The monologue ends with Charlie’s drum beats, he leaves the deli to Merry Clayton’s cries of “Rape! Murder!”. I know that “The Departed” owes a big debt to “Infernal Affairs”. I know that the original is probably the better movie. I had paid my money to see the great Jack Nicholson doing his job properly again in a Scorsese flick where wise guys got violent and swore imaginatively with some good music along the way. After this opening scene I settled into my comfy seat knowing that I was going to enjoy this film and be entertained by a great director. The world outside the cinema could wait for a couple of hours.

A battered set of wheels, a beer, a joint and a Creedence tape playing. What’s not to love ? For 40 whole seconds Jeff “Dude” Lebowski is a happy man. “The Big Lebowski” is the Coen Brothers’ rock and roll movie. The Dude, “I bowl, drive around, the occasional acid flashback” is hero for our times. In a film which is more quoted and more quotable than any in recent times “what day is…is this a weekday ?” is the funniest because, in my case, it is the truest. My inner Dude ? Whaddya mean inner ? In 1998 when this film was released I went to the cinema on consecutive weekends to see it.

Joel and Ethan had a top script and got themselves a top soundtrack for the film. Captain Beefheart, Dylan, Elvis Costello, Kenny Rogers, you know, the greats. The Eagles are in there a couple of times. Once to have a delicious dig at them and to get the Dude thrown out of a cab, another the brilliant raucous noise of the Gypsy Kings’ version of “Hotel California”. It is the Dude’s attachment to Creedence Clearwater Revival, music which makes you happy, which makes us smile. This scene is only edited to the music for the final drumbeats. There are those younger than me who were introduced to CCR by this film. “Looking Out My Back Door” is their gateway to their discovery of some fine music. The Dude, indeed, abides.

In the 1970s director Hal Ashby made 7 memorable films. The second of these, 1971’s “Harold And Maude” is a comedy about suicide and love, death and living. It is a brilliant life-affirming experience. If you know the film then this clip, from near the end, will be as poignant as on the first viewing. If you don’t know the film then enjoy the music of Cat Stevens.

Cat Stevens was a teenage pop star, writing his own songs, who suffered a bout of tuberculosis and re-emerged as a sensitive singer-songwriter. His songs of innocence and experience, with a couple written for the film could not have suited the film any better. Ashby was an editor before he was a director. He only needs the music and the images to tell the story and he does it with a brilliance that few have matched. “Harold and Maude” is one of the great screen love stories but was a commercial flop on it’s release. We would see the film as often as we could in the art-house repertory cinemas and loved to introduce it to people who did not know it.

I am writing this on my 60th birthday. I guess that now I am officially old…how did that happen? Thinking about “Harold and Maude” makes me think of Maude, played by the amazing Ruth Gordon. This 80 year old lived a life of extremes but retains an anarchistic (if sometimes illegal) appetite and energy for new experience. It is not just the youth who could use a role model and Maude will suit me just fine for the next 20 years. In her spirit I will add this clip, she would not end with a sad one…because there’s a million things to be you know that there are.