Intervista a Jonny sul Times di oggi:
The book I’m reading
I’m finishing an orchestral commission, so reading isn’t something I have time for. If I read it at all, it’s familiar essays by Clive James. Yesterday it was from the collection As of This Writing, which has good essays on Primo Levi. I only read Levi’s If This is a Man for the first time this year. It had a deep effect on me. As it must for everyone, of course. An effect all the richer with James’ essays. He ties a lot of my cultural life together like this, illuminating things I already enjoy or leading me to new interests.
The box set that I’m hooked on
I only recently got round to seeing [the police procedural] A Touch of Cloth — it’s very funny, and far preferable to the serious murder-centred dramas that it satirises. Anything that starts with yellow tape being lifted for a detective to enter a crime scene, I’m not interested. Unless it’s for DI Jack
My favourite author or book
Evelyn Waugh’s Sword of Honour trilogy. The sardonic humour feels very truthful: Captain Crouchback is passed over for promotion, but it’s OK because he’s “a good loser — or, at any rate, an experienced one”. But to mention someone different, how about Stefan Zweig’s Beware of Pity?
The book I wish I had written
I suppose I’m meant to suggest a novel... but I really enjoyed Guy Deutscher’s The Unfolding of Language — in another life I would have enjoyed studying linguistics. Steven Pinker’s The Language Instinct is another I’ve read many times.
The book I’m ashamed I haven’t read
Oh that list is endless. Austen, nearly all Dickens, The Great Gatsby, you name it... and what’s worse, I’m the kind of bluffer who’s ready to refer to, say, Kafka, despite having not read any — and my wife is endlessly buying them for me. I really must. I read more poetry than novels, but I know I’m missing out on lots of great books.
My favourite TV series
Curb Your Enthusiasm is a towering achievement. Improvising a script for a sitcom is impressive in itself — that it’s so beautifully funny makes it a wonder. The actors just work with scene outlines and perhaps one or two lines of dialogue that need to be reached and then start filming. It’s joyous to watch.
My favourite piece of music
So many — how about the Adagio from Shostakovich’s Tenth String Quartet? It’s a perfectly anguished piece of music.
My favourite radio series...
In Our Time, on Radio 4, especially when they cover science. A whole 40 minutes discussing, say, enzymes, with three academics — this is my idea of good radio. Melvyn Bragg has just the right enthusiasm for learning, mixed with a hint of impatience with any imprecision or frippery. And there’s often a moment ten minutes in when the guests change gear and realise they really are welcome to talk in depth about their subject, rather than just provide soundbites. Having said that, the philosophy episodes go way over my head.
My favourite film
Something recent: I loved Pawel Pawlikowski’s Cold War — easily the best film I saw last year, just enormous in its historical and romantic scope, but done with such clarity and narrative drive.
Rule of Three is very good — three talented comedy writers, who coincidentally wrote A Touch of Cloth, enthusing about a different piece of scriptwriting for every episode. They’ve done Father Ted, Blue Jam, The Big Lebowski — all work that I love. It’s a nice alternative to the hundreds of comedian-talking-to-comedian podcasts because it focuses on the skill of the writers. The few times Radiohead has played on US TV shows like David Letterman’s Late Show or Saturday Night Live, it was always the doors marked “writers room” that seemed most daunting and romantic to me — far more than the stars’ dressing rooms.
My guiltiest cultural pleasure
This question always elicits disingenuous answers. If I really felt shame for enjoying something, I wouldn’t tell anyone — certainly not a newspaper. I suppose I’m a bit ashamed of filling out cryptic crossword books instead of reading real ones. They’re just chewing gum for the brain, and are addictive without ever being satisfying.
If I could own one painting...
I’m badly colour-blind, so it would be wasted on me. And all of my favourite paintings by, for example, Francis Bacon are publicly owned and displayed, which adds to the pleasure of seeing them. Owning one feels stupid — no one would see it. But you’re offering, so . . . I’d be glad to have an animation background cel from a Studio Ghibli film, like Spirited Away. Something about the semi-submerged tram tracks in this film evoke dreams for me.
The place I feel happiest
Halfway though a Radiohead soundcheck, when I can hear that we’re all playing well, the tour crew are all around us, and we’ve a concert that evening. Also, just playing a guitar in a small room with a drummer. That’s endlessly fun.
The poem/song that saved me
Iggy Pop’s Lust for Life — the song and the album — is something I’ve retreated into regularly since I was about 11: it was my elder sister’s record. The drumming, the bass playing, and how they were recorded — glorious. And still a record I find solace in.
The instrument I wish I’d learnt
Easy. The cello. I struggled for years with the viola — and am still struggling — but have recently started arseing around on an old, beaten-up cello. It feels much more natural to hold, and so much easier to make a nice sound on — I only wish I had moved on to it when I was a kid. I’m always astounded to see someone play the violin without apparent effort or discomfort. It’s a shame, because I can play some of the Bach Cello Suites on my viola, only with every single note a tiny bit out of tune. It’s like being able to drive, but colliding with every car you pass — mountingly painful the longer I play.
The music that cheers me up
Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry playing Brotherhood of Man — it always makes me think of Philip Larkin’s “enormous yes” from his poem For Sidney Bechet. It’s the perfect, joyful piece of jazz that I spent years looking for. There’s so much pent-up happiness in how Clark Terry plays on this.
I’m having a fantasy dinner party, I’ll invite these artists and authors...
I’m not much of a social performer and would rather just see my friends. Faced with sitting next to, say, Stephen Fry and Clive James, I don’t know that I’d say much more than a watery thank you — which is about all I managed to tell [the composer] Krzysztof Penderecki. Although, if poetry came up, I might ask Stephen when he’ll publish the poems he’s surely writing.
And I’ll put on this music...
Background music distracts me. I don’t know that any music was recorded with the ambition to be talked over. It’s always a bit sad when, say, Beyoncé is playing very quietly under the sound of cutlery and laughter. It’s music, not a scented candle. You don’t have background films, or plays, so why relegate music?
The play I’m looking forward to
Noises Off — I saw it once 15 or so years ago, and have been waiting for another chance ever since. So well written. It’s back in the West End this autumn, with Meera Syal. I’d be glad to see that.