February Newsletter: Gone to Timbuktu, Yamamoto and The ‘59 Sound

Left: Photo © Aiayu 2023 Vol.1 | Right: Photo © Classiq Journal


”To me, it reminded me of my grandmother and a time
where simpler things were valued more. Friendships, relationships,
and that kind of thing. There weren’t so many distractions. You didn’t
have so many goals. Now, a kid grows up, and he could be anything.
That’s great, but it’s also very daunting.”

Brian Fallon, The Gaslight Anthem


Photos: Classiq Journal


Notebook on Cities and Clothes (1989)
Wim Wenders

This “diary film” as Wenders called it, investigates the similarities of his craft, filmmaking, and that of the Japanese fashion designer Yohji Yamamoto – I say fashion designer, although I should say dressmaker, because that’s how Yamamoto calls himself and I say Japanese to refer to his nationality, although he doesn’t like his clothes to be referred as such, saying that his clothes have no nationality, but confessing that, when he came to Paris, he realised, or he was pushed to realise, that he was a Japanese.

When he was contacted by the Centre George’s Pompidou in Paris to make a documentary about a fashion designer, Wenders, who had no real interest in the industry of fashion, knew exactly who he wanted to make it about: Yohji Yamamoto. And it all started with a shirt and a jacket. “My first encounter with Yohji Yamamoto was in a way an experience of identity. I had bought a shirt and a jacket. You know the feeling. You put on new clothes, you look at yourself in the mirror and you are content, excited about your new skin, but with this shirt and this jacket, it was different. From the beginning they were new and old at the same time. In the mirror I saw me, of course, only better. More me than before. And I had the strangest sensation. I was wearing, yes, I have no other words for it, I was wearing the shirt itself and the jacket itself. And in them, I was myself.”

Wenders shot the film mainly on his own as a one-man team. He also narrates it. During the shooting, which stretched over the course of a year, Yamamoto and Wenders became friends. Wim Wenders is a great documentary director and here he interestingly links cinema with clothes, cities, mobility and motion. But at the center of it all stands Yohji Yamamoto. He talks slowly, he takes long pauses when he speaks, and he makes you ponder on his words. No word is in vain. The abundance of less – this is a phrase that best describes the wealth of lessons he teaches the viewer by using so few words. This is a man who has a strong set of values and a strong sense of his worth, without any trace of pretentiousness. Watching him at work in his studio in Tokyo, or among photography books of decades past (Sartre’s colour coat from a Bresson photo, James Dean, women in working uniforms) for inspiration, and in Paris for his presentations, Wenders frames the portrait of a dressmaker, an auteur amidst a gigantic industry – “I could understand how Yohji’s tender and delicate language could survive in each of his creations,” concluded Wenders. It’s humbling and liberating.

Claude Chabrol’s Inspector Lavardin movies

A small town in rural France. Quiet, charming, sheltering a respectable middle class that hides big secrets and mysterious deaths. In Poulet au vinaigre (Cop au vin), 1986, Claude Chabrol peels off provincial life right to its rotten core with the help of laconic Detective Inspector Lavardin. Therein lies the appeal of Chabrol’s first policier film. Jean Poiret proved so compelling as the detective that he reprised the role in the sequel that would be named after his character the following year. It’s thrilling to have him back in Inspector Lavardin. Trademark trench coat, tranchant humour and immeasurable charm intact, Lavardin has to investigate another murder in a Breton coastal town and he resorts to his usual reproachful, unorthodox methods to elucidate it. Lavardin brings something new to the universe of Chabrol, giving a comical treatment to one of Chabrol’s favourite themes, the hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie that Chabrol so virulently and often attacked in his films. “I detest the bourgeoisie, but I am one of them. That’s why I revenge myself on them, I want to make them feel sick, sick at heart,” Chabrol confessed.

Piper, 2016
Alan Barillo

The short film is a space for infinite freedom, as filmmaker Nicolas Bianco-Levrin said in our interview. For a while now, I have experienced more joy in watching short films than I have in watching all these new feature films that have stopped being creative and free-willing. Alan Barillo’s Piper is a new favourite in our home. Life is very simple once you overcome your fears and become self-sufficient. This short film about a little sandpiper offers an invaluable life lesson in just 6 minutes, with no words, and it does it with an incredible sense of humour, too. And it made both my son and me happy when we watched it.

Far from the Tree, 2021
Natalie Nourigat

Far from the Tree is another short that takes place in the animal world. Isn’t it interesting how easily viewers of all ages relate to animal characters? Another one of my interviewees, children’s book author and illustrator Marianne Dubuc had a straightforward and logical explanation for it: it is easier to have more readers identify with a cat than with a human being who looks different from you. “The freedom of interpretation that is so important to me can be helped with animal characters, since they give a broader answer to culture, identity, etc,” she said. Returning to Far from the Tree, we are again served a life experience that is however different in approach. Darker, allowing difficult questions about the real world, and, yes, about the dangers of life, be answered sensitively.


Left: Photo © Aiayu 2022 Vol. 1 | Right: Photo © Classiq Journal



Finishing off Satyajit Ray’s On Life, Cinema, People, & Much More, which I will soon include in my Read instead…in print series, making a reading list of every book Sophy Roberts and her guests talk about in her new and so very, very, very good podcast (more about it below, in the Exploring section of this newsletter), and this:

Fifteen years ago, a fledgling punk rock band out of New Jersey, The Gaslight Anthem, migrated to Los Angeles to begin work on their second album. This is the oral history of the making of their masterpiece: The ‘59 Sound. It is one of the best stories about recording a musical album. It’s about so many things, not just about making music and making it in the industry of music without the anxious intention of becoming a rock star. I am of the opinion that you don’t have to explain the music, the films, the art that you like. I loved this album the moment I heard it, years after its release. I loved it because I loved it, how it sounded, the lyrics, the lead singer’s voice. Period. I didn’t need to know anything about its making, the inspiration behind it. But I do believe that listening to it I had the feeling that this music defined the ones who sang it without letting others define them (all music should be that, yes, but it isn’t), but was also music that mattered to other people. You kind of sensed all that. “I’m not trying to invent something here. I’m trying to carry on a tradition of songwriting.” – Brian Fallon (lead singer)

That being said, reading about how all the creative forces behind it came together to make this album, is simply a fine piece of storytelling.

Brian Fallon: The first thing you see is that Flogging Molly has a gold record. How does Flogging Molly have a gold record? Flogging Molly’s not on the radio. Flogging Molly’s not on MTV. Flogging Molly’s not a band where you could go to the mall and ask 20 kids, and they’d know who they are. We thought that was awesome. I’m not the sort of person who longs to be a rock star and hear Wembley Stadium cheering my name. I just want to make music that makes people feel good, and I’d love it if I could pay my bills off it too, while never losing that balance. Walking into SideOne, we saw that the balance was possible for the first time.

Alex Rosamilia (guitar): [It] caught that thing that bands in the punk genre are kind of looking for, that sense of urgency mixed with a sense of nostalgia. I don’t think we were intending for it to do what it did. More than us made it what it was. I’ve always wanted to write something that mattered to other people. I never thought I’d actually do it.

Bruce Springsteen: It had all the markings of a classic. Every song was great. There wasn’t any weak spots on the record. It was fresh and rich and newly discovered. A lot of spirit, a lot of soul. Those things have a tendency to last. The record is as fresh as it ever was.

Fallon: [The amp was] the material version of what it meant to me. The intangible thing of “The ’59 Sound,” it didn’t mean anything about the ’50s. I didn’t imagine people banging on jukeboxes and Fonzie and all that. I’m not interested in any of that. To me, it reminded me of my grandmother and a time where simpler things were valued more. Friendships, relationships, and that kind of thing. There weren’t so many distractions. You didn’t have so many goals. Now, a kid grows up, and he could be anything. That’s great, but it’s also very daunting. Because which one of the anythings do you be?

Dicky Barrett (frontman, the Mighty Mighty Bosstones/backup vocals): I think if I was a 20-year-old or an 18-year-old guy and that record came out, that would be my The Clash, London Calling. That would be the important record of my life.



The album: The ‘59 Sound, The Gaslight Anthem


In 2005, Danish design and Bolivian skilled hand-knitting were combined to create the knitwear label Aiayu, which means “Soul” in the language of Bolivia’s indigenous Aymare people. Combining typical Scandinavian style (simple, relaxed and timeless), llama wool from La Paz and traditional Bolivian knitting patterns in natural colours, founder Maria Høgh Heilmann created a brand rooted in a love for nature’s best materials and unwavering respect for traditional craftsmanship and local manufacturers. Beautiful clothes that come with a story, ready to become part of your own story.


You don’t just listen to Sophy Roberts’ new podcast, Gone to Timbuktu, you explore it, you live it, and spread the word about it.

“There are two Timbuktus. One is the administrative centre of the Sixth Region of the Republic of Mali… And then there is the Timbuktu of the mind — a mythical city in a Never-Never Land, an antipodean mirage, a symbol for the back of beyond or a flat joke. ‘He has gone to Timbuktu,’ they say, meaning ‘He is out of his mind’.”

— Bruce Chatwin, Anatomy of Restlessness

In her podcast, Gone to Timbuktu, author and journalist Sophy Roberts explores the art of travel, and the space between these two Timbuktus, with writers, poets, photographers and filmmakers. I have listened to the first episode, with Anthony Sattin, the author of Nomads: The Wanderers who Shaped Our World, and all I can say is that it is such a wondrous conversation, transporting me to a different world while harking back in my fundamental way of life. Sophy and Anthony (“Humans are not wired to live in four walls!”), you are brilliant, and this podcast is indispensable!

I have read Sophy’s book, The Lost Pianos of Siberia, and many of her travel articles, but one of my favourite pieces of her writing is something she wrote for photographer Bill Phelps. I interviewed Bill a couple of years ago and when he kindly sent me a New Year’s card and a photograph booklet, he also included this note that Sophy, whom he had more than once collaborated with, wrote about his work. Here is a part of it: “‘In the end, the bedrock of existence is not made up of family, or work, or what others say or think of you, but of moments like these when you are exalted by a transcendent power that is more serene than love. Life dispenses them parsimoniously: our feeble hearts could not stand more.’ These are the words of one of the great European travel writers of the 20th century, Nicolas Bouvier – words which I have pinned to my wall next to a Bill Phelps photograph. I wish I owned more. Bill’s images carry such intimacy and sincerity, you wonder how he manages to experience so many more transcendent moments than the rest of us. Then you encounter him in the field, as I have done in numerous collaborations, and you realise it’s because Bill is a photographer with more than a questioning eye: he strips the fat off the soul in images that speak to his profound capacity for empathy. His approach is as immersive and fluid as the water he loves. He sees light with the intuition and depth of an Old Master.” That’s the kind of amazing writer that Sophy Roberts is. And now I have her words pinned down on my own wall next to the Bill Phelps photo booklet.

To have now the opportunity to listen to Sophy and her no less incredible guests is a privilege for everyone who still gives a damn about culture, education and the art of travel, and has the courage to explore those two Timbuktus.

Bonus: For each episode, there is a listing of the authors and books discussed, which can be ordered from an independent bookshop.

Yohji Yamamoto filmed by Wim Wenders for “Notebook on Cities and Clothes”, 1989. Centre Pompidou

The regulars: The interviews, newsletters and podcasts I turn to every week and/or every month because they are that good. Craig Mod’s newsletters: Roden and Ridgeline. Soundtracking, with Edith Bowman. Alicia Kennedy’s newsletter. The Adventure Podcast: Terra Incognita. Sirene magazine.

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