Caught by the River

Gaz's Rockin' Books

13th December 2010

Gaz Mayall at Port Eliot. Photo by Neil Thomson.

A project we are working on, for publication next Spring, is a ‘music book’ version of our nature book reader and as we did with that, we are asking for people’s favourite (music) book titles and a few words as to why.
One of the folk we asked to contribute was Gaz Mayall, patron of the legendary London club night, Gaz’s Rocking Blues, a purveyor of very fine music and wearer of very fine hats. I obviously hadn’t explained the brief properly, ‘cos what Gaz has given us is his three favourite books, full stop. The Little Richard story will go in the reader but it would be a shame to waste the rest of it so here goes, Gaz’s favourite books;

1. The I-Ching – Richard Wilhelm
2. The Little Richard Story – Charles White
3. The Big Sleep – Raymond Chandler

I like what makes people tick, what makes them the way they are. People/animal watching.

Through my teens I read profusely, biographies especially. I wanted to know what created Hitler, Nelson, Napoleon, Bessie Smith, BB King. Often these biogs would be too academic, too much focus on the banal. I’d been a big fan of Little Richards 50’s classics. I taught myself to dance to Long Tall Sally, Tutti Frutti and Good Golly Miss Molly. I was invited at short notice to the signing of his biog by Charles White. Driven to the Fulham Road bookshop in a 50’s pink Cadillac convertible with the top down, Richard kept me waiting by his side for 20 minutes till he eventually signed my copy. Brilliantly written, comical, funny, sensitive and exciting. A moving read full of great insight, pictures and a fabulous front cover. My copy, personally signed by the major catalyst and musical mentor himself, this simply has to be in my top three books. One I’ve rather bought copies for friends than lend them my own.

Pulp crime fiction from the cool jazzy school of the mid 19th century US also impacted on me in a powerfully influential way. The dialogue was sublime, the slang, tha banter and descriptive method was superb. I’d steamed through Dashiell Hammett’s Maltese Falcon and most of Raymond Chandler’s novels which were the pinnacle of its genre. When Chandler started writing The Big Sleep he didn’t even know the ending. It was as if the book wrote itself. Humphrey Bogart took the lead role as its private detective hero Philip Marlowe in the film version pretty much contemporary with the book. A proper role model story for the up and coming city loner, wise cracking tough guy. Smoldering with sex, drugs, violence and street wisdom. The kind of book you’d rather be reading than doing anything else until you’ve reached the full final stop.

A few words about my favourite book of all time. Written over several millennia it’s actually three books in one. Confucius was said to have perfected the system of this ancient far Eastern wisdom. A naturalistic body of knowledge in a formation of odes, representing the culmination of man’s deepest and greatest understanding of our social and inner condition. Unlike top sellers of spiritual guidance like the Bible and the Koran which work through a historical medium, the I-Ching weaves its magic differently. The author, Richard Wilhelm, was one of three guys to kick start the psychoanalytical revolution, paving the way for modern psychiatry with Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung. He spent 30 years in China working with the last of the monks adept in an entirely oral tradition. With their help and permission he wrote the definitive script of this amazing body of work. Sadly he died before it was transcribed to print soon after the second world war. Being a country boy at heart, living in a big city, this has to undoubtedly be my number one desert isle book.

Gaz’s Rockin’ Book – The First Thirty Years was published in September by Trolley Books.