Thursday, August 10, 2006

Vivien Goldman at Joseph's Bookstore (last night)

by guest blogger, Zavitty.

You had to be there.

Joseph's Bookstore in Temple Fortunes is heaving. Quite a few of the people there are middle-aged and elderly Jewish ladies. Earlier today when I drove past I noticed a sign outside saying "Vivian Goldman Tonight. Sold Out." It's the middle of August and I wonder who in NW London has flocked to see a Professor of Reggae and Punk at NYU launch her book about Bob Marley's Exodus. Turns our her entire mishpocha. We sit next to a woman who says she's a cousin and that Viv was always quite unusual as a child. She points out mothers and aunts, as a be-sheiteled woman squeezes to her seat and the a hairy Jewish twenty-something bloke offers us rum and coke. (Later he's back with Kosher wine on another tray.)

Viv looks fab. She's dressed for a Bar Mitzvah. Strappy gold sandals, and a big gold feathery necklace, a 1970's-bathroom minty-green chiffon two-piece (the blouse is slightly too tight), big auburn hair cut into a thick face-framing fringe with a scruffy beehive effect going on from the crown of her head. Huge tortoiseshell glasses. She's a little nervous - she should have smoked a joint beforehand.

Once the shuffling ends Michael Joseph introduces her. He says that all 75 people crowded into the small bookshop seem to be related to Viv, and the his own family relationship with hers goes back a long way. He remembers their parents sitting near to one another at shul but doesn't quite recall whether they attended Bob Marley concerts together. There's a handsome Rasta sitting alongside the mike, he's drumming. As Viv takes the mike she looks at him, and does that thing classical musicians do to their accompanists that involves a nod and an exaggerated intake of breath. He's obviously a crucial part of the gig and drums throughout her reading.

She starts to read and an elderly Jewish woman in the front row instantly falls asleep. She's sat next to someone my Grandma used to play cards with - for money - coppers and 5p pieces. Viv talks about the origins of Rastafarianism in the Old Testament. She compares dreads to payes, the ganja chalice (her word, not mine) to a chassidic farbrengen, ital to kashrut. She's very happy, exhibiting unself-conscious joy at times. She describes the politicking surrounding the Smile Jamaica concerts.

In the second part of her reading she vividly recreates the night Yardies tried to kill Bob, leading to his exile to London, and subsequent writing of his landmark album, Exodus - the subject of her book. When she cites Bob or a Wailer or some other inner-circle Rasta she adopts a drawly, low Jamaican patois and nods sagely.We're there when Bob's Jewish lawyer Diane Jobson arrives at the compound bearing a grapefruit and a big bag of weed. We're there with Bob's legendary producer darting around at the mixing desk like lightening in his vest and shorts. We're there with a beautiful girl sitting sharing the shelter of Bob's single bed (she sings the line - great voice, apparently she did actually release some punk records herself). We're there when a bullet skims past Rita's head, when the would-be assassins storm into the narrow galley kitchen and Bob's manager throws him to the floor so the bullet intended for his heart enters his arm. It's gripping.

There are just two questions. Someone asks about how the album relates to some kabbalistic concept (he spotted it flicking through the book) and she starts to talk about male and female principles and Bob's dominating and compliant sides. It's a bit confused. I wonder if she's flapping because although she's a grown up and a Professor of Reggae and Punk at NYU she's still really scared that if she says anything about sex a Jewish women with done hair and smart jewellery will tell her to stop it now like they used to when she was little. Someone else asks why reggae became rubbish after Bob died and they both agree that crack might be part of the reason. Then this questioner wants to hold forth incoherently and insistintly - even though he's not obviously Jewish - so she calls an end to the evening and wishes everyone "One Love" and a peace hand-gesture.

Everyone mills around like at a Bar Mitzvah. We get a book signed but not until after we've sort-of been gazumped by better queuers than us. David asks her to sign it "from the Reggae Professor" and she does, in a big scrawly hand. In the restaurant adjoining the bookshop, Jewish boys introduce their girlfriends to their grandmas in very loud voices and we eat humous and warm pitta with those fantastic fat chips and giggle. An intellectual young Ghanaian (he spoke during the reading) eats dinner alone.

Exodus is playing in the bookshop now, but they're still playing Sinatra in the restaurant. Outside, there are a couple of Jamaican men and a teenage Jewish boy on a bike, chatting on the pavement. Viv's working the tables. She looks slightly flappy and harassed but really happy.

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