Blue Noir. Lift To The Scaffold. Miles Davis. The Cinema of Louis Malle Part 1

Should we depressed people immerse ourselves in Noir? I’ve always been drawn to dark culture, gallows humour and a vicarious life of crime. I didn’t have any choice as to Kink, which can take you to very dark places, especially combined with drink and drugs, (as not recommended by scene preachers, widely indulged all the same.) Ecstasy and transcendence may only be a temporary solution – kicks, as some called it when this movie was made – but it works in the moment. Where we live.

Louis Malle came from a prosperous family but throughout this tangled tale of adultery and murder his sympathies are with the underdog. We open on a passionate declaration of love from a beautiful woman, straight to camera, no make up. With her lover she has plotted her husband’s murder. It’s a perfect locked room mystery until he goes back to be trapped in what may be a Lift to the Scaffold – the death penalty still applies. Later a car thief discusses whether his head will roll. Sports Car to the Guillotine? The American title for this was also a little awkward to English ears: Elevator to the Gallows. (I have recently been so immersed in the electoral defeat of a dictator’s stooge that I just typed ‘Gallows’ as ‘Galloways’.)

The killer is observed by teenage delinquents, perhaps the inspiration for the couple in Godard’s Breathless. He’s a James Dean wannabe in leather – a sulky churl who would benefit from some physical chastisement – nothing erotic, just a good, sound drubbing. She’s beautiful, charming and chic. And trouble. When their little adventure goes badly wrong she suggests an overdose, dreaming of newspaper headlines: ‘the tragic lovers’.

JeanneMoreauMoreau Miloes

A more tragic, infinitely less glamorous couple were fighting at St Leonards Warrior Square when I returned from Bexhill, a pleasant coastal town where I picked up a freecycle Louis Malle box set from the station waiting room. Our star-crossed lovers were a stocky thug and a screeching shrew. Chav couture by Sports Direct. Loud, crude abuse courtesy of very few brain cells. Conflict resolution from Jeremy Kyle, the very name an amused bystander mentioned. ‘It’s always at this station’. Well, we also have Bohemia, which housed the original artistic rebels and still tolerates the genteel poor, including me and my wife.

Despite having acquired a criminal record through various drink and drug-fueled idiocies, I still reserve the right to despise thick yobs. Bourgeois hypocrisy? Classism? No, realism. Ted Lewis and Robin Cook/Derek Raymond’s narrators didn’t like the ‘slag’. Only twits like Owen Jones would think otherwise.
We could have done with Jeremy Kyle’s security as the bickering clods chased each other through the commuters. Some laughed, though what would have been one-sided violence very nearly erupted. I would have sat this one out, having already had permanent eye surgery after one intervention – perhaps handicapped by two bottles of vodka. (Top tip, skilled martial artists always look at their opponents).

To return to somewhat idealized criminality, this excellent beautifully shot movie finishes with the protagonists facing the consequences of their actions while us senior delinquents count our blessings, waking up in our own beds, freer than imprisoned existentialists. We still have a life sentence of depression but there is remission – especially through art, the deeper and darker the better.

The famous night time walk, waiting for her lover to return from the murder, unaware he is trapped. Miles Davis at his bluesy best.

next time – sex, suicide and Satie. The Fire Within. Louis Malle pt 2

Ted ‘Get Carter’ Lewis back in print from Syndicate books. New introductions. Classy covers.


Back to White Knuckle Sobriety. The Duke Ellington Cure.

Duke Ellington and John Coltrane In A Sentimental Mood.

Moderate drinking finally proved too dangerous after five months successful harm reduction. So I’m back to white knuckle sobriety. (AA jargon for the no slogan, non-Zombie, no-crawl-to-the-cross method.) I never surrendered to their system although elements of it once once helped me through eight and half years abstinence.

It’s very risky for alcoholics to start drinking again but I managed five months very occasional, very moderate drinking – inspired by Smart Recovery and the abysmally low success rate of 12 step. Till two weeks ago.

I had a two beers maximum, with the occasional bottle of spirits. It never got out of hand because booze isn’t ketamine, what I really want. (It’s a year since I’ve had any dance club drugs, achieved by a failsafe method which will beat any addiction: poverty. And ketamine may be permanently unavailable now due to a crackdown in India. It’s too risky and expensive to import. Now that actually was a cure for depression, if a tad unpredictable.)

The final drink relapse came out of nowhere, on a whim, the sort of inexplicable snap decision I was supposed to be writing about last time. (How a relapse can kill heroin addicts, RIP Harris Wittels, a superb screenwriter and so much more. Which I either forgot about or realized there was nothing to say about a shadowy nemesis I will never understand.

An ABC impulse control strategy was recommended during my brief farcical entanglement with Rational Emotive Behaviorial Therapy. Yes, even the title contradicts itself. And why would you pay for anything invented by ‘Windy’ Dryden? (His actual name, the one he uses for professional purposes. I assumed it was a misprint and referred to him as Wendy Dryden in the first session.)
‘A’ was the impulse. You were meant to put something at ‘B’, (deep breaths? Soothing words?). This would prevent the impulse ‘A’ becoming uncontrolled anger at ‘C’. In those days ‘C’ arrived all too quickly. I might as well have had a magic spell to prevent lightning strikes. It was as much use as a water pistol against a flash fire. The rage kept on coming.

The slight improvement I’ve made recently may just be becoming more docile with age. Or I’m more conscious of mortality or failing health. Maybe I’m growing up, as I approach sixty? Fat chance. Whatever, somehow I managed five months of very careful occasional moderate drinking before I snapped.

I bought a bottle of rum and two bottles of 6.1% Bishops Finger – don’t like the taste or the name but it is the strongest good brew available locally. (They stopped the off licenses selling 10 % Viking death lager, which is harsh on us occasional headbangers who would like a significant consciousness alteration for a quid. Bloody do-gooders!)
Maybe this was the rare intoxication day you’re allowed in Smart Recovery? (As long as you keep counting the drinks and stay watchful as you return to moderate drinking.) Unfortunately I didn’t feel drunk or even remotely merry after a bottle of rum and two half litres of strong ale. Maybe it was over too long a time or I was on an upward bipolar energy surge but I didn’t feel a thing.
Money down the drain, for nothing, except a massive intake of useless calories, way too many brain cells torched and no exercise instead of the hundred press ups I’ve managed most days this year. Plus you age very quickly on such a regime. You look like your own ghost.

For once, miraculously, there were no psychotic internet posts – psychotic used correctly in the clinical sense, as insisted upon by the public school Bin Laden groupies at the Al Grauniad. They recently amended face-ache Marina Hyde’s drivel to that effect. (She’s just so effortlessly superior, which must be why she went out with Piers Morgan.)

So, no death threats or ‘extremist’ ranting (ie anti-Marxist, counter Jihad). My armchair thug must be running out of testosterone. Perhaps he’s taking female hormones in preparation for gender reassignment. Maybe he’s taken up Buddhist meditation, like my hero Herbie Hancock. (Whose autobiography is highly recommended)
A mild trance did ease the pain of listening to England’s feeble cricket performance on Test Match Special (I know how to party…) but the only positive was the realization this was the abyss, ‘hitting bottom’, after which the only way is up.

Many abstinent months are needed before playing with fire again. Feeling very good two weeks in.

I read somewhere that Duke Ellington may have stopped drinking eventually upon realizing he was sober after the intake of what should have been a stupefying quantity of booze.
Enough is enough. This drug doesn’t work.

RIP Harris Wittels. Parks and Recreation writer. Wise and Funny. Enlightened Soul.

It’s harder to be funny without cruelty or snark, to be good-hearted without sentimentality. Harris Wittels helped create a charming, innovative show full of unique characters. His humblebrag concept was a popular twitter feed and book. Parks and Recreation in print was smarter and funnier than such tie in products generally are. He made some amusing cameo appearances in P & R, played in a band and he was consistently entertaining and inventive in podcasts, particularly this one

where he discusses his heroin use at length, coming over as a wise, enlightened soul.

Was his first extremely expensive rehab much more than a very fine hotel? Twelve steppers prefer a harsher regime for new recruits and, highly intelligent though he was, he was ultimately too laid back about a serious threat to anyone’s survival. It feels wrong criticizing someone who died far too young but too many good people have succumbed recently.

I dabbled a few years ago but the experience of meeting vile, odiferous thieves soon palled. His memories of street junkies awakened mine. Clean clothes, good trainers, all your own teeth? You must be a cop! Although I had some longstanding serious problems I was still a tourist who didn’t need to be there. Harris Wittels had even less reason to be plumbing the depths: much younger, a deserved critical and commercial success, he was an in demand party animal in the world capital of show business. New creative opportunities were opening up, he had a good relationship with his family. However, young men are often reckless, risking their lives in fast cars, dangerous sports or even enlisting as mercenaries. He may just have succumbed to curiosity. There has to be something better than what you know.

I hope this isn’t ‘karoake grief’ (coined by Rory Bremner for the mass emoting after the death of Diana Spencer and other tragedies). It may be inappropriate to write about someone I first heard of the day they died. Well, it probably can’t be said often enough: however experienced you are with drugs, you can’t control heroin.

I’ve been fortunate relapsing after long periods of drug and alcohol abstinence, there were injuries and arrests but an intravenous heroin user loses tolerance. (Just snorting heroin can be fatal, two visitors to Amsterdam recently died from a much purer form of the drug than their usual dose.)

Despite some mystical musing about reckless behaviour – roughly ‘what’s an extra fifty years compared to eternity’ he didn’t want to upset his family by dying young and had worked hard in recovery. He was on stage the night before he died, in a good place. Then a final snap decision…

So very sad but his work will live on, as will the love and affection he inspired in many people.

Harris Wittels 1984 -2015

Hot Toddy with Turmeric. Finally! A Cure for the common cold. Or further evidence towards sectioning? The booze poetry of Wendy Cope and Phillip Larkin. Nicholson Baker: Peacenik.

Driven insane, more insane, by the quick return of a cold I am treating it with a hot toddy, fresh lemon and crushed ginger. I told Ruth, excitedly, that I had added turmeric, which has many health benefits and sometimes appears in recipes alongside lemon and ginger. Upon tasting she said, “Yes, you have.”

Never mind, here’s Wendy Cope on whisky, from Uisce Beathe

The plash and glub of amber liquid/ streaming into tumblers, inches deep, Life water, fire-tanged

which reminded me of Larkin’s Sympathy in White Major

When I drop four cubes of ice
Chimingly in a glass, and add
Three goes of gin, a lemon slice,
And let a ten-ounce tonic void
In foaming gulps until it smothers
Everything else up to the edge,
I lift the lot in private pledge:
He devoted his life to others.

While other people wore like clothes
The human beings in their days
I set myself to bring to those
Who thought I could the lost displays;
It didn’t work for them or me,
But all concerned were nearer thus
(Or so we thought) to all the fuss
Than if we’ d missed it separately.

A decent chap, a real good sort,
Straight as a die, one of the best,
A brick, a trump, a proper sport,
Head and shoulders above the rest;
How many Iives would have been duller
Had he not been here below?
Here’ s to the whitest man I know-
Though white is not my favourite colour.

I’ve been enjoying Nicholson Baker’s Paul Chowder novels, musings of a mid life poet, full of intriguing theory and goss. There’s a little romance, lots of Quaker-ish peacenik stuff, some of which is naive but it also takes in the poetry career of the founder of the CIA. He is one erudite, digressive motherfucker. Can’t agree on Philip Larkin – ‘his acid is too corrosive’ but there’s a lot of enjoyment to be had from these informative, highly entertaining novels. Thanks to him I can look across the coast to Eastbourne and it’s now glamorous: Debussy wrote ‘La Mer’ in the Grand Hotel (or at least finished it there.). Hear here

Nicholson Baker The Anthologist Travelling Sprinkler (the latter on Serpent’s Tail, my old publisher. Although he has fewer cadavers. And no kinky stuff.)

On The Couch – Chris Rea’s On The Beach

On The Couch

Between the crowded aisles I call your name
Up the hill to Lidl I daily go
Getting short of breath
A harbinger of death
Take me back to the place that I know
on the couch

The remote control from Argos I will keep
nowhere I can find it I could weep

Oh No! Come Dine With Me

On afternoon tv
take me back to the place that I know
on the couch

Forever on my back my heart will be
clinging on, my youth a memory
the horizon ever higher
my feet burning like fire
Let me lie, in the place that I know
on the couch

Chris Rea – monstrously brilliant singer and songwriter.
Official video

Nick and Samantha’s sweeter and lighter female vocal version is the second track on the Cafe Del Marr official 2014 remix

Kratom: herbal anti-depressant. Mood elevator. Energising painkiller.

‘Don’t call it a high! They’ll ban it!’ said more experienced Kratom users, many of whom need it to ease severe pain or to come off opiates. (Kratom is invaluable to recovering heroin addicts.) They need not worry as no one reads this blog. MI6 could post the UK’s most valuable secrets on here, instead of leaving their laptops in Vauxhall wine bars: the information would be perfectly safe. (LATER: Needless to say I was wrong, as so often, particularly when predicting anything.  Kratom was banned in the Spring of 2016, despite its proven medical benefits.)

This is a great shame as it’s far better than any SSRI anti-depressant I ever tried, with no side effects such as weight gain, loss of sex drive, suicidal thoughts etc, and it works immediately, well, after twenty minutes or so. This magical, versatile substance chiefly mimics opiates, even down to occasional itchiness, although you won’t start stealing, begging or listening to the Velvet Underground. This is no placebo effect or new age BS, it really does kill pain and zaps depression. It energises and calms, depending on quantity. You feel more communicative. There is pleasure from mundane activity, even household chores. (‘Verily this is indeed a miracle’: various ex partners and housemates.) Tonight, as well as the usual warm pleasant mood, it was easy to add an extra ten press ups and stomach crunches to my usual sets of forty, then forty seconds extra to a two minute plank exercise – extra energy and pain killing right there. I even laughed at Have I Got News for You – which is now tired, lazy and stale – although much improved by the insouciant Martin Clunes. He is a card. Incidentally, I have the same birthday as Ian Hislop. He’s four years younger, has not spent most of his life drinking and drugging to excess, as far as we know, yet looks like a weary double-chinned gargoyle. I digress.

 More seriously Kratom has been a great help to my wife Ruth who has several longstanding conditions in addition to me being a massive pain in the rear. She has psoriatic arthritis, psoriasis on the soles of her feet, Oedema (swelling and water retention near the ankles), tendonopathy in the Achilles tendon. She can have agonizing pain while trying to walk, and doesn’t always have her prescription pain medication. For whatever reason the government would rather prescribe opiate based painkillers which are extremely addictive, often before people notice what is happening. 

Back to the good, safer stuff. Some people take a little Kratom powder washed down with juice, two to four grammes. I’m more of a vintage gas guzzler, running on heavy fuel. I gravitated to a large dose immediately, 15 grammes (the tea this makes is bracingly vile. Further proof it’s proper medicine.) Cutting down now. Ten grammes feels about the same, the trick is leaving enough free days inbetween doses.

It is of course much more sensible to get used to lower doses, which I eventually managed. 

It was foolish to hope for what I got from three day, no sleep ketamine binges or youthful overindulgence in booze, Afghan black and MDMA. Only an idiot would expect to get fully zonked from a medicinal herb (although I did on 30x strength Salvia Divinorum come to think of it, an especially gruesome near death experience.) but there is an upside to that mild disappointment: I’m not likely to get in too deep.

In any case, opiates were never my drug of choice – despite their fearsome reputation they don’t grab everyone. Fran Landesman, an enthusiastic lifetime drug user, was once injected against her will by Lenny Bruce, a Jehova’s Witness of heroin, a tireless, tiresome evangelist. She was not converted – having never liked downers, perhaps even less so after hours of vomiting on this occasion. Whereas her beloved marijuana was a lifelong companion, helping her create sublime poetry and lyrics.

Chaka Khan Chick Corea Spring Can Hang You The Most – inspired by TS Eliot’s April is the Cruellest Month.  music Tommy Wolf

Hunter S Thompson, not the most abstemious of men – whom I once saw almost comatose in a Hong Kong bar, reduced to a zombie drone of ‘Amyl nitrate. Amyl nitrate,’ – he had no time for heroin and the mushroom guru Terence McKenna thought cocaine was about much use as an espresso. Although you can remain unscathed or even uninterested in much more dangerous drugs you nevertheless have to use Kratom sparingly. Tolerance will develop. I’m not in a financial position to keep upping the dose but nor do I need to. What’s currently working: exercise, a little 5 htp, (a herbal serotonin booster), Stoic mindfulness, (‘there is depression’, not ‘I am depressed’. Thanks Ruby Wax. And if you think your parents could be difficult try hers.) My faithful SAD lamp blazes away by my desk. Cutting carbs helps: The Way of the Vain. Coming soon: my Jesus of Nazareth low carb diet book: ‘More fishes, fewer loaves.’

Careful moderation in alcohol and drugs is helped knowing there can be the occasional holiday with Kratom. It’s also good to have an anti-depression medication – without weight gain or diminishing sex drive – when all else fails. All of which beats white knuckle abstinence, Christian guilt and slogans – the boom and bust of 12 step. 

So this could be an actual cure for depression. With no side effects! (Unlike Big Pharma’s remedies.) Although I’m well used to false dawns, I’d like to raise a cautious cheer for this uplifting substance. Hell, let’s make it a full on Marine affirmation: Hoorah!


We have found excellent for range of blends, quick delivery and free samples.

Fran Landesman and the Wisdom of Wallace. ‘There’s Something Irresistible In Down.’


“I’m depressed”, I told Simon Wallace, for whom this wouldn’t have been an earth shattering revelation. It would have been as superfluous telling him I was a paranoid manic depressive, an alcoholic drug addict who later scored 18 out of 20 on a test for psychopaths. (I still have empathy and occasional regrets  but I’m working on it.) We were recording a track on an album of new Fran Landesman lyrics sung by Nicki Leighton Thomas, for which Simon, an exceptionally talented pianist and composer, had written the music. Fran Landesman was the legend whose work had been covered by various deities: Miles Davis, Streisand, Ella Fitzgerald – and the merely world famous. As usual I couldn’t see past my problems.
“I’m depressed,” I told him.
“Don’t be,” he replied.

It took me some years to see the wisdom of this, at the time I thought this was just ‘pull yourself together’, what people who have never been clinically depressed generally say. It was actually closer to the wisdom of a Zen Master. Or perhaps he was channelling some of Fran’s mordant Jewish humour. In any case, ‘poor you’ wouldn’t have helped neither would indulging such a basket case in a talking cure – not unless we’d had some decades to spare. I later drove some therapists nuts picking apart their systems – ‘I don’t think writers should do therapy’ said one eventually, more restrained that I may have deserved. I had the feeling he may have been saying a great deal more to friends or his own therapist, perhaps a priest may have been required. The best cure on offer was the cognitive behaviourial shock of Simon’s ‘Fix it!’. Although I didn’t like it at the time.

There followed therapies, chemicals – some legal, mostly otherwise – philosophical and spiritual dabbling and far too much debauchery. Waving the white flag of Stoicism eventually helped – it’s often not possible to be happy so don’t beat yourself up – but I’ve never been one to put up with reality if there’s an alternative. And you still need a cure for pain.

One solution – temporary, like the others – is to use toxic experience as fuel for stories and music – or just jokes as an instant salve. I never tire of Larry Sanders on the Jewish Mcdonalds menu option: the Never Happy Meal. You can almost see the bickering family.

Fran Landesman Find an Audience
“When the life you’re livin’ don’t make no sense
And the pain it’s givin’ gets too intense
If you’re lookin’ for a sympathetic ear
Never tell your troubles to your near and dear
Find an audience”

Back then I was also editing Fetish Times: Fran was happy for us to include a poem featuring a dominatrix. Mose Allison also liked the mag. We should probably veer off the subject of jazz musicians and fetishism before I mention that Miles Davis was once found by a lover called Susan in some of her clothes. (‘with those skinny little legs he looks just like Minnie Mouse’)  Too late.

She was immortalised in the track Lazy Susan


Nicki Leighton-Thomas’s Forbidden Games is available here, CD and download

I play on ‘Waiter the Check’, a Noir lament, beautifully sung. I’m…well…a tad wayward, OTT, borderline insane. That’s method acting for you.

Ian Shaw’s deservedly highly acclaimed cd of Landesman lyrics A Ghost In Every Bar includes twelve written with Simon Wallace who accompanies on most tracks. This shows off Ian’s range, both tessitura and tonal quality, without the virtuosity getting in the way of the songs or blurring the words. Soulful and beautiful. There’s a very fine version of ‘Down’ about the perverse attraction of depression.

‘Down has some terrible attractions, featuring some desperate distractions
and that hook of misery sings I’ll never set you free
Down makes some dangerous suggestions, taunts you with those sweet depressing questions.
and you tell yourself to quit but you really must admit there’s something irresistible in Down.’

Finally, who can argue with her ‘Jewish Haiku’?

‘That summer I met a handsome biker on crutches,
everyone has a brick wall waiting for them somewhere, he said, smiling.’

Fran Landesman 1927 – 2011


Ten great Fran Landesman Simon Wallace songs on Sarah Moule’s excellent Songs From the Floating World

Fran’s Desert Island Discs Includes some of her best songs, fascinating tales of Lenny Bruce and Miles Davis, being lured to London by Peter Cook, open marriage and the Beatnik parenting maxim: ‘Hang loose and lighten up’ – which led to one of her sons moving out for a year, in search of boundaries.
Biographical material from a proper journalist, Marc Myers. Photos of the young, gorgeous Fran.

Next Time: Kratom. An actual cure for depression, a relaxing, euphoric herb which mimics opoids. Might be habit forming. What could possibly go wrong?