Writing in Elsewhere

Subscribe to my newsletter for weekly updates.

JOHN TRUDELL, NATIVE AMERICAN ACTIVIST/POET/SINGER INTERVIEWED (1992): Living in the Elvis age

1 Feb 2010  |  4 min read

While diplomats and ambassadors exchanged platitudes and gifts in August 1992 to acknowledge the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ first voyage to the New World, others found little to celebrate at all. John Trudell, a Santee Sioux who was spokesman for the Indians of All Tribes Occupation of Alcatraz in 1970 and was for six years from 1973 national chairman of the American Indian... > Read more

THE WEEKENDERS: ADVENTURES IN CALCUTTA edited by ANDREW O'HAGAN

25 Jan 2010  |  1 min read

According to Gunther Grass the sprawling city of Calcutta is like a pile of shit dropped by God. That may or may not be true, but the Maker’s handmaiden, Mother Teresa, confirmed the impression in the minds of many that this was a city of abject misery peopled by the dying and hopelessly infirm. Only a fool would deny Calcutta its extensive poverty, but a city of 14 million souls has... > Read more

TICKET TO RIDE by LARRY KANE: Along for the ride

18 Jan 2010  |  2 min read

In 1980 presidential candidate Jimmy Carter leaned over to journalist Larry Kane and said, "So I heard you toured with the Beatles. What were they like?" Even the 39th President of the United States wanted to know about those young men who changed the social and musical landscape of the 20th century. And Kane should know - he was the only American reporter in the official press... > Read more

THE MIND AND TIMES OF REG MOMBASSA by MURRAY WALDREN: The strange and the simple

4 Jan 2010  |  6 min read

Less than a year after he had what the designer of the Sydney Olympics 2000 closing ceremony called “the biggest one-man show in history”, the artist known as Reg Mombassa was part of a group show in Wellington. For Sydney-based Mombassa -- born Chris O’Doherty in Auckland in 1951, and founder member of the Australian rock band Mental as Anything -- it was an amusing... > Read more

YOU BETTER NOT CRY by AUGUSTEN BURROUGHS: Christmas spirits

22 Dec 2009  |  3 min read

Ah Christmas: ‘Tis the season to be . . . despondent and predictable? It is the time to bemoan the commercialisation of a Christian festival, to listen as miserable souls announce “I hate Christmas” to all who will listen, and recall those ghosts of Christmas past when the festive season turned into family turmoil or personal disaster.  Few of us however have probably... > Read more

THE LEGACY OF GUILT: A LIFE OF THOMAS KENDALL by JUDITH BINNEY

14 Dec 2009  |  3 min read

Had 19th-century missionary Thomas Kendall remained in England he may have enjoyed a rewarding, if undramatic, career ministering to a modest parish. He certainly would have had a less demanding and troubled life than that which unfolded when he arrived in New Zealand in June 1814 with his wife and five children.  Kendall was 36 and an enthusiastic advocate for the Anglican Church... > Read more

THE ESSENTIAL SPIKE MILLIGAN complied by ALEXANDER GAMES

14 Dec 2009  |  3 min read  |  1

On New Zealand's national Poetry Day in 2004 a television news team buttonholed people on the street and asked them to recite a piece of poetry. One guy did an impromptu local variant of Spike Milligan's Silly Old Baboon. By coincidence, that very day a letter writer to the New Zealand Herald expressed outrage about the artist et.al being chosen as New Zealand's entry for the Venice... > Read more

LOWSIDE OF THE ROAD: A LIFE OF TOM WAITS by BARNEY HOSKYNS

7 Dec 2009  |  3 min read  |  1

One of Tom Waits’ most eerie yet surprisingly popular songs is the speculative What’s He Building? from his 1999 album Mule Variations. In it neighbours wonder about the odd nocturnal activities of their neighbour: "He has no friends and his lawn dying ... enough formaldehyde to choke a horse, what's he building in there?" They -- and by extension the listener --... > Read more

Tom Waits: What's He Building?

THE STORY OF EDVARD MUNCH by KETIL BJORNSTAD: Death at his shoulder

30 Nov 2009  |  2 min read

If we believe that, as is commonly said, great art is born of great suffering then Norwegian painter Edvard Munch (1863-1944) was born to make great art. He certainly exceeded his quota of great suffering. Munch's mother died of tuberculosis when he was 5 and his sister Sophie - the subject of his first major work, The Sick Child - succumbed to the same disease nine years later. His... > Read more

THE BIG OYSTER by MARK KURLANSKY

28 Nov 2009  |  3 min read

One of the conspicuous growth areas in non-fiction has been in the genre of what we might call single-issue histories where a writer takes a seemingly mundane or commonplace subject -- be it tulips in Amsterdam, the humble potato or ubiquitous chocolate -- and expand a history around it. The acknowledged master of this genre, and the most persistent and assiduous in his research, is New... > Read more

THE KNOW-IT-ALL by AJ JACOBS: Smartening up

24 Oct 2009  |  1 min read

Some men cross deserts of ice and others sail solo around the world, but New York journalist Jacob’s endurance test was more demanding. Because he felt he had been smarter at university than he was working as an editor at Esquire (where he knew details of Britney's life) he decided he needed to arrest his long, slow slide into increasing dumbness. So he decided to read the... > Read more

Ian Dury: There Ain't Half Been Some Clever Bastards

THE SIXTIES by JENNY DISKI: What a long strange trip . . .

19 Oct 2009  |  4 min read

Has any decade been more feted, essayed and mythologised than the Sixties? The flowers in hippies’ headbands had barely wilted when the analysis began, and since then many of those who were there have hailed it as rare period in human history, the like of which . . . The past few years have seen 40th anniversaries: the assassinations of JFK, MLK and RFK; anything Beatles-related... > Read more

The Beatles: Baby You're a Rich Man

SPORT 37 edited by FERGUS BARROWMAN

5 Oct 2009  |  3 min read

Often considered a barometer of contemporary New Zealand writing, the long-running Sport can in truth no more be a measure of our literary world than a Christmas compilation CD is a clue to the state of local music. Disparate voices, topics, concerns and styles are all evident in Sport’s clean and readable layout -- but that is the attraction: here is a free-wheeling journey in the... > Read more

BROTHERS by YU HUA: The China syndromes

20 Sep 2009  |  3 min read

If music may be considered a universal language because it can transcend the limitations of words, conversely word-based humour is constrained by those boundaries. Western readers coming to this 640-page paperback -- which has been enormously popular in China -- may feel that such humour as there is in the first quarter to be thin, repetitive and delivered in laboriously flat prose.... > Read more

Sa Dingding: Holy Incense

TWISTING THROTTLE AMERICA By MIKE HYDE: Hello, I must be going.

12 Sep 2009  |  3 min read

You can’t deny Mike Hyde from Christchurch has seen a lot of America -- but you’d also add quickly he barely encountered it. That’s what happens when your task is riding your Suzuki 1000cc V-Strom through 50 states in 60 days. Whole states fly by with John Denver, Roger Whittaker, Neil Diamond and Sweet in the helmet speakers: Tennessee gets three pages and very little... > Read more

Pearl Jam: Thumbing My Way

THE JESUS PAPERS by MICHAEL BAIGENT: Abandon hope, all ye who enter here

30 Aug 2009  |  3 min read  |  1

When the court case between two of the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail and Dan Brown, author of The DaVinci Code, was being played out in London a couple of years ago, commentators noted the obvious difference between their books: one was -- purportedly -- a work of non-fiction research and the other was a mystery-thriller novel. What no one commented on was how much Holy Blood,... > Read more

STEVE McCURRY PHOTOGRAPHER INTERVIEWED: Portraits of the diverse, damaged world

2 Jul 2009  |  5 min read

The old man emerges from a halo of half-shadow, golden light catching his white beard, pinpoints of sun creating white flares in his penetrating eyes. Like an Old Testament prophet or a portrait from Rembrandt, he seems to come from beyond time. “It was late afternoon and we were in one of the big forts with mud walls,” says photographer Steve McCurry. “Low light came... > Read more

Emmanuel Jal and Abdel Gadir Salim: Ya Salam

THE DIRTY DOZEN; THE BEST 12 COMMANDO COMIC BOOKS EVER! edited by GEORGE LOW

19 Jun 2009  |  1 min read

Those weary of the on-going acclaim for sophisticated graphic novels -- essentially comic books for adults with layered novelistic narratives and innovative graphic design -- will welcome this fat, old school collection of a dozen 60s comic books from the Commando series chosen by the magazine’s longtime editor George Low. Here are simple yarns of derring-do from the Second World War... > Read more

BIG QUESTIONS IN HISTORY edited by HARRIET SWAIN: Puzzlers and problems

17 Jun 2009  |  1 min read

History is, as a wise man once observed, just one damned thing after another. But we remain endlessly curious about it: each new generation or political ideology seeing it through its own prism and interpreting events accordingly. Pity then the editor -- in this case Swain, deputy features editor of the Times Higher Education Supplement -- who tosses out 20 big questions to various academics... > Read more

THE BIRTH OF BEBOP -- A SOCIAL AND MUSICAL HISTORY by SCOTT DEVEAUX

14 Jun 2009  |  1 min read

Suggesting that this engrossing, historically investigative and anecdotally amusing book should be reviewed because it asked the question, "Was bebop jazz a revolution or simply a musical evolution?" drew the response: "Yep, that's a question that keeps most people awake at nights." Fair enough. But in these scrupulously annotated, occasionally academic 450 pages, this... > Read more

Charlie Parker: Lester Leaps In (1952)