Blog Archives

Martin Aston on BBC World Service Newshour

Martin Aston, author of Breaking Down the Walls of Heartache: How Music Came Out, sat down to discuss the book tracing the evolution of gay music from the 1920s to today with BBC’s World Service Newshour. Take a listen below.


00158179.gifBreaking Down the Walls of Heartache is not only the first book to tell the story of how music “came out” but to the first to shed light on these hidden pioneers alongside their famous counterparts.

The podcast gives a snapshot of what to expect in the book highlighting artists spanning decades on decades. Breaking Down the Walls is packed with 400 pages covering artists such as Helen Kane, Gene Malin, Frances Faye, and more. Starting in the Roaring 20s, Helen Kane, the woman behind the Betty Boop character, spoke more in code with her song ‘He’s So Unusual.’ That was the norm then in a way to not defy the social and political conservatism of that time. Fast forwarding to the modern era, the music is more blunt.

Martin Aston’s ambitious and comprehensive narrative unfolds over a hundred years, against a backdrop of social and political shifts, as gay liberation transmuted into LGBTQ rights, pushing for visibility and equality, from 1920s liberalism through to the closet of postwar years, the eventual breakthroughs of the ’60s, the permissive ’70s, the mainstream invasion and AIDS crisis of the ’80s, and the advances of the ’90s and noughties.

Aston also documents the retrogressive steps in Russia and parts of Africa, where songs bravely encapsulating the LGBTQ experience signify how the journey from illegality and bigotry to freedom is far from over.

Martin Aston has written about popular music for over 30 years. He has contributed to numerous publications, including MOJOQGuardian, the Times (London), AttitudeRadio TimesSpin, and BBC Music, covering TV, film, and LGBT culture.


Sherlock Holmes FAQ

On January 19th, PBS aired the long-awaited first episode of BBC’s Sherlock, season 3. Sherlock’s triumphant return to television (and Baker Street) did not disappoint. Before the last episode this Sunday, enjoy a bit of the Introduction from Dave Thompson’s upcoming book, Sherlock Holmes FAQ: All That’s Left to Know About the World’s Greatest Private Detective

There are probably as many books about Sherlock Holmes as there are words in all of the stories. Or at least different words.

That may be an exaggeration, but only marginally. There is no single character in western fiction who has inspired more authors to write about him than Sherlock Holmes, with even James Bond and Doctor Who—the two that come closest—lagging far, far behind in terms of simple shelf filling. A complete Sherlock Holmes bibliography could fill a small library, a vision that is made all the more remarkable when one considers that the original stories that inspired this phenomenal outpouring would take up barely six inches of shelf space.

Just four novels and fifty-six short stories constitute the complete adventures of Sherlock Holmes. To this there can be added a dozen or so other writings by Sherlock Holmes’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, whose inclusion in, or exclusion from, “the canon” (as the primary series of tales is known) has fired a debate that might never end. But they would add no more than another inch of published paper, tucked away in a room that is already stuffed with so many other books that it would take a lifetime to read them all. “Never,” one might say, “has so little given birth to so much.”

Neither does this outpouring look like it is ending. The massive success of Sherlock, the BBC’s twenty-first-century reimagining of Holmes has inspired a whole new generation of writers and researchers to immerse themselves in the world of Holmes, and an older one to reacquaint themselves. Indeed, one of the most popular fiction serials of the modern age, Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child’s Agent Pendergast, closed 2013 with the publication of White Fire, a thoroughly modern detective tale rooted in a near century-old Sherlock Holmes mystery.

Sherlock’s triumph, however, transcends all of these—that triumph itself being defined not by viewing figures (which themselves are massive) or popularity (ditto), but by the skill with which we are invited to enter a world in which the “real” Sherlock Holmes, the classic Holmes whom we have spent the past century-plus enjoying, never existed. Until today.

The original Holmes was a child of his times, the last years of the Victorian era and the first of the twentieth century. The modern Holmes is likewise a child of his times, the first decades of the twenty-first century. That is, more than one hundred years after Conan Doyle’s original stalked the streets, the intervening century has shaped the modern Holmes just as thoroughly as the prototype was shaped by the years that preceded him. Culture creates the heroes it requires. Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes fit his era like a glove. British writers and TV creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’s is equally well proportioned.

Conan Doyle’s Holmes studied newspapers and magazines. The modern one harnesses the Internet. The original Holmes was addicted to opium. His successor is addicted to nicotine. The original was partnered by an army doctor, John Watson, recently returned from what was then Britain’s most recent war, far away in Afghanistan. Today’s Holmes is partnered by a man of the same cut and same name, fresh from what is still Britain’s most recent war . . . far away in Afghanistan.

Parallel after parallel pile up, but the fact is, the modern television Holmes is as unique a televisual character as the original was a unique literary creation. The fact that they share the same DNA, investigate the same mysteries, and sometimes speak the same lines binds them, of course. But it also defines their individuality. Were they ever to meet face to face, the nineteenth-century Holmes and his twenty-first-century doppelgänger, they probably wouldn’t even say hello.

Sherlock Holmes FAQ

The Sherlock Holmes FAQ is a one-stop guide to over a century’s worth of mystery, mayhem, and most of all, deduction. Digging deep inside the manifold worlds of Sherlock Holmes, the FAQ is a dramatic and detailed digest of the Baker Street sleuth in all of his many guises, as TV and radio star, movie phenomenon, and, of course, literary giant.

Chapters investigate his predecessors and his successors, and discuss the influence that Holmes has had not only on other writers, but on real-life police procedures as well. The London that he perambulated in deerstalker and cloak is laid bare, plus the life and other fascinations of Holmes’ creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, are mapped out in all their foggy, darkened atmosphere.

We meet giant hounds and fearful foes, common crooks and misdirected souls. Ghosts appear in these pages, and vampires, too – and more puzzles, conundrums, and mysteries than any mortal detective could ever hope to solve. But Holmes, as we shall see, was no mere mortal. And Sherlock Holmes FAQ is the story of his immortality.

The American Stradivarius

Today marks the opening of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art “Early American Guitars: The Instruments of C.F. Martin” exhibit. The exhibit runs through December 7th. To find out more, click here to view the video and the article from BBC, How Martin Guitars Became an ‘American Stratavarius’.

Inventing the American Guitar

Inventing the American Guitar is the first book to describe the early history of American guitar design in detail. It tells the story of how a European instrument was transformed into one with all of the design and construction features that define the iconic American flat-top guitar. This transformation happened within a mere 20 years, a remarkably brief period.

The person who dominates this history is C. F. Martin Sr., America’s first major guitar maker and the founder of the Martin Guitar Company, which continues to produce outstanding flat-top guitars today. After emigrating from his native Saxony to New York in 1833, Martin quickly established a guitar making business, producing instruments modeled after those of his mentor, Johann Stauffer of Vienna. By the time he moved his family and business to rural Pennsylvania in 1839, Martin had absorbed and integrated the influence of Spanish guitars he had seen and heard in New York. In Pennsylvania, he evolved further, inventing a uniquely American guitar that was fully developed before the outbreak of the Civil War.

Inventing the American Guitar traces Martin’s evolution as a craftsman and entrepreneur and explores the influences and experiments that led to his creation of the American guitar that is recognized and played around the world today.

Patrick Troughton: The Doctor, The Clown

To celebrate Patrick Troughton’s birthday we have posted an excerpt from Dave Thompson’s new book Doctor Who FAQ. Please enjoy!

The Clown was the Second Doctor, formally introduced to his audience still lying on the TARDIS floor, where he fell at the end of the previous adventure.

In what we might call “the real world,” that in which BBC writers, pro- ducers, directors, and crew fuss around to bring the Doctor’s adventures into our living rooms, it was a moment of unparalleled drama, anticipation, and probably fear.

The outgoing William Hartnell was more than a popular actor, after all. To everybody and anybody who had any awareness of the show, he was the Doctor. White-haired and wrinkled, smartly attired and condescending. Whereas now he was dark-haired and shorter. Craggier, with the kind of face that could be described as lived-in. Kindly but a little lugubrious. The eyes sparkled, and the cunning of the First Doctor was a lot less pronounced. Politely, the Second Doctor looked a bit of a bumbler.

Who ever would accept it was the same man?

Certainly not Ben and Polly, his latest companions. And the man who called himself the Doctor didn’t seem too sure, either.

“You’re the Doctor!” said Polly, in answer to one of his rambling remarks. “Oh, I don’t look like him,” replied the Doctor. And the introductions could have gone on all night were it not for one slight problem. There were Daleks about, and if the Doctor had learned one thing over the past three years of television, it was that Daleks—his oldest and most lethal enemy—did not have time for small talk.

That was how this new man was to be introduced, not through the force of his personality, or the delight of his sense of mischievous humor, but through the sheer populist weight of his most implacable foe, the single most popular creation in the show’s entire history and still, all these years later, one of the most beloved (if a metal tin packed to bursting with unrepentant malice could ever be described as “beloved”) aliens in science- fiction history. We will get to know them better later in this book; for now, suffice it to say that the very inclusion of the Daleks’ name in an episode title was worth a million or so extra viewers every week, and The Power of the Daleks did not disappoint.

It still doesn’t. With hindsight, it’s difficult to say which future story was most heavily influenced by The Power of the Daleks: the Ninth Doctor’s Dalek, in which the time traveler’s pleas for an inactive Dalek to remain inactive are ignored, or the Eleventh Doctor’s Victory of the Daleks, in which stupid humans (Britain’s wartime hero Winston Churchill among them) convince themselves that it is they who call the shots, and that the Daleks are simply theirs to command.

Either way, in terms of storytelling, action, and excitement, the Second Doctor’s debut is at least the equal of the former and effortlessly superior to the latter, with the Daleks seemingly even more sinister than usual simply by virtue of behaving so helpfully.

Of course, they will soon be at their screeching, screaming best as well, but what is important here is less the manner in which the Doctor, Ben, and Polly defeat them than in the nature of the understanding that quickly comes to bind the three of them so closely. After all, this Doctor is still a total stranger to them, and while Polly is willing to accept that he might be the same man, Ben is considerably more suspicious. And it will take more than a silly hat and an annoying recorder to win him around.

But somehow, the Doctor succeeded. Yes he was a clown, and in sharp contrast to his prickly predecessor, a lovable one as well. But by the end of his first season, which concluded with another encounter with the Daleks, the Doctor was again the Doctor, and memories of his past personality were just that.

Doctor Who is indisputably the most successful and beloved series on UK TV, and the most watched series in the history of BBC America. Doctor Who FAQ tells the complete story of its American success, from its first airings on PBS in the 1970s, through to the massive Doctor Who fan conventions that are a staple of the modern-day science fiction circuit. Combining a wealth of information and numerous illustrations, Doctor Who FAQ also includes a comprehensive episode guide.


Guest Blogger: Janet Horvath is the author of Playing Less Hurt. From her blog on Interlude.

Proms. The word brings to mind memories of parties past, giggling girls, corsages and hesitant dancers. In the music world, the BBC Proms is the ultimate party: the world’s largest classical music festival with close to 90 concerts packed into 58 days. There are an astounding 250,000 tickets available. Despite this huge number, an online waiting room is necessary. Hailing from 1895, the festival is more than a tradition. It is a birthright.

The BBC Proms festival takes place each summer in the Royal Albert Hall in London. The crowd is unique. Experienced, insightful listeners, they come in droves to hear orchestras from around the world and to root for their favorites. World-class performances are held each summer in the colossal red brick, round, multi-tiered structure, accommodating over four thousand people. In front of the stage on the main floor is the arena – a large concrete circular area, devoid of seats, reserved for a special breed of concertgoers.

These aficionados, or Prommers, vie for inexpensive tickets for the privilege of standing in this area flush to the stage, close to the musicians. Their tickets can only be purchased on the day of the concert. Long queues form, sometimes many hours prior to the performance. For a particularly outstanding performer or program they will even camp out overnight. There is a camaraderie among the Prommers that includes sharing food and drinks, as well as debating the latest performance. They jockey for position. Although there are 1,400 standing positions there is no guarantee of a special spot.

To continue reading please visit Interlude.
Playing Less Hurt

Playing Less Hurt addresses this need with specific tools to avoid and alleviate injury. Impressively researched, the book is invaluable not only to musicians, but also to the coaches and medical professionals who work with them. Everyone from dentists to orthopedists, audiologists to neurologists, massage therapists and trainers will benefit from Janet Horvath’s coherent account of the physiology and psyche of a practicing musician. Writing with knowledge, sympathetic insight, humor, and aplomb, Horvath has created an essential resource for all musicians who want to play better and feel better.