“Sod the wine, I want to suck on the writing. This man White is an instinctive writer, bloody rare to find one who actually pulls it off, as in still gets a meaning across with concision. Sharp arbitrage of speed and risk, closest thing I can think of to Cicero’s ‘motus continuum animi.’

Probably takes a drink or two to connect like that: he literally paints his senses on the page.”

DBC Pierre (Vernon God Little, Ludmila’s Broken English, Lights Out In Wonderland ... Winner: Booker prize; Whitbread prize; Bollinger Wodehouse Everyman prize; James Joyce Award from the Literary & Historical Society of University College Dublin)





23 September 2008

Red, white and green

by PHILIP WHITE - this was published in The Independent Weekly on 19 September 2008


Forget epicurean pretense: the literature of music leaves gastronomic writing for dead. What’s on my desk? Inside Music, the crisp essays of Karl Haas. Avant guarde composer John Adams’ wry reflection of his life in The New Yorker of August 25. The hellfire and brimstone of Killer!, Charles White’s biography of Jerry Lee Lewis. Anthony Burgess’ Mozart And The Wolf Gang. Writing that renders all those reams of glossy gastroporn in the women’s interest section more repulsive than fat cooks talking with their mouths full on television.

Compare the elegant intelligence of, say Andrew Ford’s essential The Music Show (729-ABC-AM, Saturdays, 10am) to the thuggish braggadocio of Gordon Ramsey. Enough said? Nope. There’s a time when you have to kill everybody. An analysis of the depth of wine writing can only be shallow: there is no deep end in our gene pool. Even the new wave of sweaty dipsticks with laptops and spiky hair exudes the same glib drivel.

Other than that, there are myriad parallels between music and wine. Both go very well with poetry, as was evident at Albert and Nyra Bensimon’s recent soiree, where each diner was obliged to read or recite a poem. A bonnie rage indeed! Poets need more work.

Music and wine are prone to whimsical fads and fashion. Their packaging grows increasingly similar. Mysteriously, winemakers started acting like rock stars at about the time Elvis dropped dead after hearing John Cale’s version of Heartbreak Hotel. Then the poor dears’ marriages collapsed when they began touring. They would have learned more about their business and its part in The Gilded Palace Of Sin in the rock press than in the pious sanctimony my lot churns out between nights on the slash.

Q, for example, the biggest Pommie rockzine, has started examining the carbon emissions of the music biz. Music’s hardly compared to coal mines for its carbon footprint. But while many winemakers - McLaren Vale especially - are beginning to think about carbon offsets, a study of Q’s July piece, How Green Is Your Band? shows how far ahead the musos are.

Take KT Tunstall’s April UK tour. The lighting, heating and sound requirements of twelve gigs in large indoor venues emitted 38.4 tonnes of CO2. One bus and one lorry travelled 5632 kilometres to emit nine more tonnes. Fourteen people spent eight nights in hotels, adding another 1.1 tonnes. So that’s 48.5 tonnes of CO2 in total, getting her five green trees in Q’s new rating system.

The Pigeon Detectives, on the other hand, didn’t fare so well on their October-June world tour. 200 gigs produced 420 tonnes of venue emission CO2. Their road travel produced 51.2 tonnes; aeroplanes another 60.8 tonnes, and rail 0.87 tonnes. Three tonnes were emitted during hotel stayovers. Total: 535.9 tonnes. Three green trees.

The music world is seriously into this. Tunstall planted 6,000 trees to offset the emissions she incurred producing Eye To The Telescope, her first album. She uses the rigorous Gold Standard - the only one approved by Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth - to evaluate her offsets. Jack Johnson gets a gong for his solar-powered studio. Unless venues conform to his rigorous green standards, his contracts permit him to pull the gig.

It goes further. Up to eighty per cent of the emissions of a concert are spent by the audience coming and going, so musos play more smaller gigs in many locations at venues handy for public transport, preferably railway. Round trip tours are more carbon-efficient than zig-zags. They ban idling tour vehicles, and use recycled cardboard and paper for banners and tickets. Tee-shirts are made from recycled cotton. They rent stuff on location rather than haul it around, and use trains whenever they can.

At any given point, half the wine business is trapped in that endless string of Heartbreak Hotels, flogging grog. But have you heard of anyone planning a green route? Avoiding the dreaded jet plane? Catching the train? More likely flying, with 100,000 others, to plonkfests like Vinexpo, where thirty kilometers of tasting booths ooze booze for a week in an air-conditioned hall in Bordeaux. Its carbon footprint would make the Pigeon Detectives look like archangels.

As for working out how much CO2 your customers release travelling to buy your wine? Or planning for the day when export ends? Duh!

The music world is showing us that the whole thing goes beyond simply wondering about the carbon footprint of remelting wine bottles rather than washing and refilling them. It goes beyond greening the creeklines and building your solar-powered winery from hay bales. Like biodynamics, its mindset goes halfway to the realms of mysticism. Even the economic rationalists - thankyou young Pilmer - will face these ethereal realities on the Judgement Day, when my browser finally clogs with e-mails bragging about how many green trees everybody won in James’ new book. That’ll be the Halliday.


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