When Melanie Friesen, Martin Scorsese's former head of development, was in London last year we met at Housmans Bookshop where her old friend, the late Heathcote Williams, was talking about his book about Boris Johnson. On her flight home to Vancouver she started reading 'Left Field' and this is what she later wrote to me.
"A note to say how much I enjoyed LEFT FIELD. My comments below are a bit trivial, but they connected me with your writing, so I could be on board throughout the book. I enjoyed the read and suffered the total despair of your myriad attempts to get the show on the road with War Child in spite of so many battles, including egos. What a triumph all the same.
The childhood in an autobiography/biography interests me the most because it’s watching how the seedling grew and seeing what might have influenced it. I also like to connect to childhood events that the writer mentions, as it brings me closer to the book.
Also how many books have notes at the back that are just as interesting as the text?
Some examples with your book:
Your description and recipe of your mom’s roast potatoes: My mom wasn’t interested in cooking, nor in any household activity, so she got several jobs which interested her very much in order to pay for a housekeeper. I adore food and the description of these potatoes had me gnawing on the spine of the book. Luckily I was on the Air Canada flight back to Vancouver while reading it and the meal on board was so disgusting that no one found it unusual that I was trying to eat my reading material (JUST KIDDING!)
The horror and fascination of you staring at your dad’s concentration camp photos: Cripes I remember that so well. I think I mentioned that mom’s whole family except her parents and brother – i.e., her grandparents, cousins, uncles and aunts – were all gassed at Auschwitz and Theresienstadt. Just the words ARBEIT MACHT FREI give me the worst chills. So I was with you on that page.
Thomas Dormandy: My mom was born in Slovakia of Hungarian parents and immigrated to Chile in 1939. Her mother tongue was Hungarian. In 1956, she worked in Vancouver at the docks and the airports translating for Hungarian immigrants and got many of them homes and jobs. As a result, I love Thomas as much as your dad did. If he is still alive, send him this song, the only Hungarian song I can sing. Nothing brings my childhood back like this tune (well, that’s not completely true; a million things bring it back):
“I also got a good grade in history. I couldn’t stand the present so I concentrated on the past.” Utterly, David, utterly, hence me enlisting in Whitechapel guided tours at night about Jack the Ripper. Fuck the shard, bring on St. Paul’s through the mist.
Your Argentinean experiences are exactly that, but I found many of them very Chilean, since I have been there to see family 4 or 5 times. Love that you arrived in Rosario where Che was born. Ever since my Nov. 2015 trip to Cuba, I hold him in even higher esteem than ever.
The para. about the Muslim and Jewish prohibition on pork – so spot on. The only focus of all religions is to love one another and do what we can for one another. What to eat and what not to eat, the coffers of The Vatican totalling trillions of euros and whipping oneself during Lent are hardly part of doing unto others and we would like done unto us.
Re: Yoruba having the highest rate of twin in the world – Wilmette, Illinois has the highest rate of multiple births in the US – that's where my identical twin nephews were born. Love it – Yoruba and Wilmette.
The Museum of Broken Relationships in Zagreb – Never having heard of it, but thinking it a great idea, I read about it on the internet. I think it must be very comforting for those who are sad about a break-up to go there and be comforted by many others who have done same.
Best line in the book (re: Ivo): “When he played his accordion, he looked as though he was telling himself a joke.”
You mention Bob Hoskins – I was an extra in PENNIES FROM HEAVEN since I knew the producer, Ken Trodd, and I was broke at the time.
You mention Rebecca West: In 1976 I did some secretarial work for her in her Kensington flat. She showed me a tea set that Queen Mary had admired and said, “When royalty said they liked something, one was supposed to gift them with it. But I didn’t.” She left me my pay on the mantelpiece but I didn’t take it because I felt sorry for her, thinking she was old and lonely. What a drip I was, I’m sure she could afford to pay me and I was so broke.
I love the quotations that open some of the chapters, my favourite being the one by Milan Kundera: “… for there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs as heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” (Although I think it should read, “weighs as heavy as the pain,” but maybe that was the way it was translated.)
The quotation from ALL QUIET ON THE WESTERN FRONT is also as powerful as it gets. That was the book/film that turned my mom into a pacifist.
After the enormous ups and downs of War Child, the simplicity of your, “an injury to one is an injury to all,” harkens right back to my comment above re: being religious or spiritual is not about passing on the bacon. It is this and only this.
“Enid was a wrestling fan and had a friend with whom she went to matches at Wembley …” It’s quite a leap and not at all relevant to your book, but when I worked for Scorsese, he was going to produce a film directed by Dennis Hopper and starring Sean Penn based on the book by Joyce Carol Oates called YOU MUST REMEMBER THIS. It’s about a girl, Enid, who falls into immature love with her Uncle Felix, a boxer: To see you refer to an Enid and wrestling brought the book straight to my mind and the meeting I had with the 3 men mentioned above. The film never happened, too bad – it was the right teams for the story.
Well, the next Margarita is on me, thank you so very much for giving me your book and for giving Anne the last say in it!
Love to you both, Melanie XO
You can read my review of Heathcote Williams' book here
You can now buy Left Field for £13 (includes p&p) here