Thursday, 25 February 2010

Cozy Valentine

Now then, I know that the whole point of coining the name LibraDoodle for this blog was to obliquely highlight the emphasis on various musings literary that exercised me, but I hope you will permit me a diversion into matters musical.
There is a slight justification for this as many years ago I made the foolish error of thinking that it might be easier – and so I also thought, more immediately profitable – to tell stories through the medium of song writing rather than through writing a novel. As much an act of idiocy and misdirection as it was of laziness, I of course eventually learned my lesson, but not before I’d performed before bemused audiences across Eastern Europe, unwittingly wasting the time and effort of some people that I seriously admired and respected in the process. Still, I tried and in the trying learned to respect those who can hold our attention and grip our emotions through song; those who can crystallise universal human truths within the parameters of verses, choruses, bridges and instrumental breaks.
More recently many of the authors I am honoured and proud to know have confessed to being rock stars, musicians or singers manqué. Many make reference to music in their novels; some having gone as far as producing CDs of the music that their fictional protagonists listen to. There is a correlation between musical and literary originality, the number of novels that have either a tacit or overt soundtrack being nigh on equal to the number of songs that make reference to literary inspirations. What we admire in great literature, the originality of emotional expression, is akin to that we admire in great song writing or musicality and while it is easier to recognise such originality retrospectively it is harder to do so before the passage of time has allowed bandwagons to coalesce and filter the wheat from the chaff on our behalf.
I have some precedents for this line of thought. Many years ago I used to perform, trialling my own new songs and new poems at a venue called the Troubadour in West London, which was famed for being the site of Bob Dylan’s first UK performance, or so the mythology claimed. I also occasionally played guitar for a young singer-songwriter called Alex Zapak who I thought (oh how I want to write ‘knew’ there) was a completely original voice and for whom I thought success was just a matter of time. Sadly it wasn’t to be for her, but I still stand by now, nearly twenty years on, what I then thought. At that time one of the many people who used the ‘come one, come all’ open-mike evenings to test new material was a superb young guy who had such an extraordinary voice, such a magnificent turn of phrase and who wrote songs of such emotional honesty, clarity and musicality that success - by the yardstick that then prevailed at least - was to my mind assured. As it happened I was wrong again and he disappeared for quite some time only to resurface years later with a string of huge hits. He was called David Gray, he still is, and he was as authentic an artist as is possible to be; no urge to be a celebrity, no shallow aspirations, just a hunger to be heard, to be given a chance.
In the intervening years I have privately bewailed the absence of such true talents, such originality, such artistry from the public arena. I admit that I have become cynical about the over-packaged, pre-digested, over-produced pap that fills the charts. My fault entirely as I’ve been focussed on other areas and have not been going to the music venues, the clubs and the evenings where real talent is nurtured. Until recently that is.
In the past few months my unhappy and uncomfortable musical cynicism has been blown away, evaporated like cold fog in warm sunlight, and the reason is this. In much the same way that I am aware of some extraordinarily talented writers and poets whose inability to find a publisher I fail to understand, there are a number of musicians, singers and songwriters who have hitherto failed to trouble the music industry but who have been quietly adding to the colour, range and vibrancy of the nations artistic spectrum.
I have in previous postings extolled the virtues of such artists as Aruba Red and Woe and I would now add to them the extraordinarily original and deeply affecting talent of a singer, songwriter and musician who travels under the stage name of Cozy Valentine.
A solo artist, she sings songs of love like T.C Boyle writes novels of life, without fear, without dilution. She tells of the harsh, heartfelt and fragile facts of romance’s reality with the same frank honesty that Chuck Palahniuk and Bret Easton Ellis employ to write the uncomfortable truths of machismo and insecurity. Her poetry of the heart defines the grit that forms the pearl. I have heard her sing live and have wept, wept uncontrollably and unashamedly at the truth of her sadness and for the sad truths of which she sings. Imagine pure love sung in the minor key of Jack Daniels, imagine tunes of the tarnished sadness of emotional reality strummed on a guitar strung with broken heartstrings, imagine tears of disappointment made diamonds of despair.
But also imagine hope, imagine a dogged, optimistic refusal to give up on the dream of the love that we all sense is possible. Indeed imagine a pure, fairytale princess who is trapped in the shallow, venal world that allows X factor to exist and who despite this knowingly, bravely bears the weight of that frustration and knowledge. If ever there was a Cinderella of our time, it is Cozy Valentine. If Edith Piaf had a 21st century sister, it would be Cozy Valentine. As cozy as Boudicca on a rampage and as close to the fluffy pink Hallmark card version of St. Valentine as Eros is to an AK 47 firing a dum-dum bullet to the heart, her music draws you in, strokes your hair, holds you tight, kisses you softly, warmly and passionately and then bites you hard on the lip so you never, never forget her.
We live in a sad and confused world where such words as ‘fame’ and ‘celebrity’ are imbued with a value, bestowed with a currency they do not deserve having no longer been earned by the honing of a raw talent to the point of mastery, to a level of excellence. For my money then contemporary fame and celebrity are a sham. The words that describe the true essence of value to me are artistry, talent, dedication, authenticity and honesty and in these Cozy Valentine has wealth beyond compare and deserves great praise for creating pure, beautiful, dark pearls of perfection in song.
Yours ever,
(Cozy Valentine can be found at

Tuesday, 9 February 2010

A Seductive Business.

Writing is such a seductive business. Or perhaps more accurately, writing is the business of seduction.

Such an exercise in blind faith. Although you don’t write for anyone in particular, with the possible exception of yourself, as you embark on the long journey of optimism that is a novel what you are really hoping for, truly longing for, is to be chosen. Chosen by an agent. Chosen by a publisher. Chosen from the thousands of other books that are published that month, that year, all lined up, shimmering on the shelves like nervous boys at a school dance.

The best that you can hope for is that one girl, one reader, will like your jacket from across the room, across the shop, will come over, pick you up and see what you have to say for yourself, like it enough to spend some more time with you, open you up and let you take her on a journey into the world that you have created for yourself, for her. All you need, artistically, is just that one reader, that one lover, that one girlfriend, one wife.

Of course the business part means that commercially you need to whore yourself out to as many hundreds or thousands as you can manage. Perhaps writing is the seduction of prostitution. For the brief time that you spend together you make someone feel special, make them laugh, make them cry, make them feel less alone in the world and then when the last page has been turned, you fold quietly away, leaving them to sleep, to return to their normal life. It’s perhaps no accident that authors, like prostitutes, are paid in advance for their wares.

But while you are together and she gets to know you, to explore you between the sheets of paper on which your heart is laid bare, your very soul exposed, that one reader is your entire world and if you’re lucky, you are theirs.