Sweet soul talkin’
‘The writer’s only obligation is to provide some kind of entree to a world (s)he uniquely understands and to give the reader some reason for being there.’ So wrote Peter Guralnick, biographer of Elvis and seeker of Robert Johnson, in a guide to the best in American music writing of 2000. And this scribe humbly seconds that emotion. What use the knowledge and passion of the most fervent fan if it cannot be shared?
And the author is certainly no hoarder when it comes to knowledge and passion. His twin books on Presley have been lauded by those with even the most suspicious minds and Sweet Soul Music has elicited more praise than a pumped-up sermon from a Pentecostal preacher.
Even the late, legendary gonzoid Lester Bangs had something nice to say about him. ‘Guralnick understands so well and expresses so eloquently the forces that grind many of America’s greatest artists to dust [and yet] never loses sight of the dream that set them all on that highway in the first place.’ Praise indeed.
Guralnick will be joined in conversation by his friend, author and fellow blues nut Roddy Doyle. Expect subjects as diverse as the 25th anniversary of Elvis leaving the building, Doyle’s soul-inspired-Dubliners book-turned- movie The Commitments, the sounds and characters of Sweet Soul Music (everyone from Ray Charles to Isaac Hayes) and the art of the biographer.
On the latter theme, Guralnick argues for restraint and empathy and against the muckraking and metaphorical corpse-robbing of that other Presley digger Albert Goldman. Quoting Milan Kundera (‘Suspending moral judgments is not the immorality of the novel’) Guralnick’s own conclusion is that: ‘Knowing as much as we can about somebody and still not rejecting them as a person is a real life exercise in self-knowledge.’ Call it ‘the King and I’ philosophy. (Rodger Evans)
I Peter Guralnick With Roddy Doyle. Studio Theatre. 21 Aug. 8.8’0prri. 5‘8 (5‘o‘i.
TOP 5 ALAN BISSETI'
The author of Boyracers tells us his favourite novels set outside Glasgow and Edinburgh.
Lewis Grassic Gibbon: Sunset Song A book I resisted at school because it looked so boring and I was into Clive Barker and James Herbert at the time. I read it reluctantly to help my brother with his Higher English and was knocked out by its sweep, flow and beauty.
Janet Paisley: Not for Glory This is set literally five minutes from the place I grew up. We wait a century for a Falkirk novel. and two come out a month from each other. No one writes about the disempowered in Scotland with her sensitivity and warmth.
lain Crichton Smith: Consider the Lilies As powerful a novel as has been written in Scotland. and still the way most young readers find their way into the Highland Clearances. It should be taught more in the central belt.
Des Dillon: Me and ma Gal Dillon tends to be thought of as a Glasgow writer. but if you've ever been to Coatbridge. where he sets his novels. you‘ll know it's a world in itself. He captures the crash and bang of a small-town childhood perfectly. and l shamelessly tried to bottle his style in Boyracers. Bill Duncan: The Smiling School for Calvinists Duncan's Broughty Ferry is alive. seething. and completely idiosyncratic. lf Lanark is a prog-rock LP then this is the 7-inch single.
I Alan Blssett, Laura MM 8 Louise Welsh, Splegeltent. 22 Aug, (0.30am. £7 (£5).
42 THE LIST FESTIVAL GUIDE 71’ [mi '7 .‘M, i) n i/~
Robin Robertson 8. John Burnside Field and Lawn il/larguee. 2.30pm. 5‘7 (5‘5). Modern Scottish poetry from one man and his boss. Roddy Doyle Consignia Theatre. 3pm. 5‘7 (575/. You may think of Doyle as a comic writer rand he is very funny) but with A Star Cal/ed Henry. the first part of his 20th century Irish history trilogy, he showed he can do the big serious sweep wrth the best of them.
Bella Bathhurst 8. Lavinia Greenlaw Studio Theatre. 3.30pm. 5‘7 (5‘6). What‘s it like to see through the eyes of a teenage girl?
Shirley Hughes Field and Lawn Marquee. 4pm. 58.50. Four decades of illustrations for kids discussed. Kathy Reichs Cons‘ignia Theatre. 4.30pm. 5‘7 (5‘5). As a fully fledged forensic anthropologist in North Carolina and Quebec. Reichs should certainly know what's she talking about when it comes to the cruCial details when writing crime novels. The Griffin Poetry Prize Event Studio Theatre. Spin. 5‘i' i5‘13i. Canada's prime poetry prize comes to the festival wath inaugural wrnner Anne Carson jetting over to do her bit. Imprisoned Writers Field and Lawn Marquee. 5.30pm, free but ticketed. The great Roddy Doyle helps out incarcerated scribes.
Anne Fine, Neil Gaiman & Paul Magrs Children's Theatre. (5pm, 513.50. See Kids. page (3:3 for Anne Fine prevrew.
Willy Russell Consignia Theatre. (5.30pm, 5‘8 (5‘()‘/. The l/Vrong Boy may have been his debut novel. but our Willy (if you're a scouseri wrll forever be known for his immaculate women- centred plays such as Educating Rita and Shirley Valentine.
Robert Sabbag Studio llie.'ltr'e. fprn. 5‘8 (5‘8). See preview. page 3E). The Big Word Performance Poetry Slam Spiege/terit. 7.80pm.
Ike is among those Guralnick has written about with passion
5‘8 (5‘6). The festival's debut at the whole poetry slam game.
Russell Banks & Christopher Bigsby Children's Theatre. 7.30pm, 5‘8 (5‘0). Two American heavyweights bring some bulky intellect to the day's goings-on. Banks' Cloudsp/itter and Bigsby's Beautiful Dreamer are worth checking out beforehand.
Irvine Welsh Consignia Theatre. 8pm. 5‘8 (5‘6). The arrival of Porno (essentially Trainspotting 2) is among the highlights of the 2002 literary calendar. See Last Words. page 41. Peter Guralnick with Roddy Doyle Studio Theatre. 8.30pm, £8 i5‘t5i. See preview. above.
Pete McCarthy Field and Lawn il/larguee. 8.30pm, E8 (E6). Pubs and people are Pete's things as he travels the world with Wit in his heart.
Alastair Reid Spiege/tent. (0308/77. 5‘7 i5‘5i. An exrled Scot who still loves his country and can namedrop wrth the best of them. He can list Borges and Neruda among his cronies.
Peter Pininski Field and Lawn iVlai'guee. 77am, 5‘7 l5.‘:3i. Is this man the last remaining descendant of Bonnie Prince Charlie?
Antonia Fraser Cons‘ignia Theatre.
7 7.30am 5‘7 (555/. Mary Queen of Scots. Cromwell and Marie Ant0ir‘.ette liaxe been among the subjects written about by Harold Pinter's better half. Hear how to do histOry.
Michael Frayn Studio Theatre, noon. 5‘7 :5‘5i. Wartime secrecy is at the heart of Fiayn's new novel Spies. Simon fanshax'xe helps the playwright and essayist's word get cut.
Ian Robertson 8: Daniel Nettle Field and Lawn iyi'arguee. l2.30pm, E 7 5‘:'3i. the brain’s mysteries are unravelled.
Romesh Gunesekera 8. Ahdaf Soueif / ,m: 1" 7:5