Culture Vulture: the NS recommends

Have you read our book reviews? Are you hungry for more? Then try these.

The Music Instinct: How Music Works and Why We Can't Do Without It
Philip Ball
Bodley Head, 451pp, £20

Combining technical knowledge with an illuminating style, the science writer Philip Ball argues for the centrality of music to human culture, taking in philosophy, mathematics, history and neurology.

Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?
Mark Fisher
Zero Books, 92pp, £7.99

The 2008 financial crash has failed to reinvigorate progressive politics, although many hoped that it would. The critic and academic (and NS contributor) Mark Fisher explains why this is so. His brief but compelling polemic shows how three decades of Thatcherism have left us unable to imagine a better society -- and saddled with a dysfunctional market state.

Read Hard: Five Years of Great Writing from the Believer
Edited by Ed Park and Heidi Julavits
McSweeney's, 389pp, £16.99

The American literary journal the Believer, part of Dave Eggers's McSweeney's empire, celebrates its fifth birthday with this collection of essays and interviews. An eclectic range of topics (from W G Sebald to Dungeons and Dragons, from urban blight to 1930s crime scandals) is covered by writers including Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, Tom Bissell and Richard Powers.

Read our full books coverage here.

Getty
Show Hide image

From Victoria Wood to Prince: how radio handles celebrity deaths in 2016

You have to listen to Front Row, and then Today, and see how they are covering it, what’s left to do, a ­different angle...”

“So I got a call at 6pm saying, ‘You’ll never guess who now . . .’” Fiona Couper, editor of the obituary programme Last Word (Fridays, 4pm), tells me about what happened just as she got home on Thursday, having left the show ready for the following afternoon’s broadcast. Naturally, they’d gone big on Victoria Wood, but the sudden news of Prince’s demise sent her scurrying back in to work. “Then you have to listen to Front Row, and then Today, and see how they are covering it, what’s left to do, a ­different angle...”

Fortuitously, Last Word’s presenter, Matthew Bannister, had been among a small audience invited to see Prince at the BBC Radio Theatre in 1993.

We heard archive of the singer walking on to the stage that night and saying tenderly to the crowd: “Don’t worry, I won’t hurt you,” and then playing so rambunctiously, while doubtless wearing a cheerful little hat (he did often make everybody else look like the Traveling Wilburys), that the whole event “interrupted Radio 3’s broadcast next door”. News hadn’t yet filtered through of the reality of his life aged 57: that his hips were killing him, that he was frequently vomitous with stage fright (I also have it on good authority, btw, that he loved Coronation Street). Instead, mention was made of how prolific he was: all the rumoured ­unperformed songs, thousands of them falling off him like seeds, like Schubert, a whole ocean of stuff.

A little later in the same programme, the item on Victoria Wood was as memorable, simply offering close analysis of the various key changes in her song “Let’s Do It” and pointing out the ways in which Wood’s influences as a songwriter were as much jazz as music hall. Both obits – by accident as much as design – underlined forcefully just how awed and attracted we are as human beings to those who can put lyrics and a tune together and play. The ne plus ultra of art.

It’s quite a programme to be working on right now, I suggest to Couper: that strange sensation of watching an odometer moving jerkily. She sighs. “We’re just about holding on,” she nods. “That’s how we feel most weeks at the moment.” 

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The new fascism