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Sunday, April 25, 2010

Alan Sillitoe 1928-2010: Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not/Arctic Monkeys, and more

Writer Alan Sillitoe died today at the age of 82.  Although he considered himself primarily a poet, Sillitoe also produced novels, short stories, screenplays, stage plays, and children's books.  He is best remembered for his first novel, Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, published in 1958, and his 1959 short story The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner. Both of these works have inspired popular music.

Saturday Night and Sunday Morning, about a hard-drinking, womanizing British factory worker, captured the frustrations of the working class in post-War Britain and helped get Sillitoe lumped into the "angry young man" school of British writers, a label Sillitoe resisted. The book, and the 1960 film version starring Albert Finney, had a major influence on Whatever People Say I Am, That's What I'm Not, the debut album  by the Arctic Monkeys, released in 2006. The album's title comes from a line in the book, when the protagonist Arthur Seaton thinks to himself: "I'm me and nobody else, and whatever people think I am or say I am, that's what I'm not, because they don't know a bloody thing about me."  Alex Turner, the primary songwriter for the band, told the British tabloid The Sun: "Saturday Night and Sunday Morning is what the album is about," adding that "songs including The View From The Afternoon, Dancing Shoes, Still Take You Home , and From The Ritz To The Rubble all cover that bit of the weekend and feature the same character" [via Yahoo! Music News].

In The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, Sillitoe portrays Colin, a rebellious working-class youth who is sent to Ruxton Towers, a prison school for delinquents.  A talented distance runner, Colin is offered the chance of early release if he will represent the school in a cross-country race.  In the end, Colin--well ahead of the pack and certain to win--deliberately stops short of the finish line as an act of defiance against the authority figures he detests.  The story inspired Iron Maiden's song The Loneliness Of The Long Distance Runner, from their 1986 album Somewhere in Time: You reach the final stretch/Ideals are just a trace/You feel like throwing the race/It's all so futile.  Sillitoe's story also influenced the Belle and Sebastian song The Loneliness Of A Middle Distance Runner, from their 2005 album Push Barman to Open Old Wounds, particularly the lines: Have you seen The Loneliness of A Middle Distance Runner?/When he stops the race and looks around. Sillitoe's story also provides the title for recordings by Belinda Gillett, Gunnar Mossblad, and the Angelic Upstarts, as well as for albums by saxophonist Dave Liebman and the band The Lost Society.  In addition, the school in the story provided the name for the band Ruxton Towers.  Also noteworthy:  A video by internet musician Jacob Ruefer for his song Not Too Late, which features clips from the 1962 film The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner--including the story's climax.

As for Alan Sillitoe's own musical preferences?  Last year when he appeared on the BBC radio program Desert Island Discs, Sillitoe provided this list of recordings he'd want to have with him if he were a castaway:

Mack The Knife, Bobby Darin

Ol' Man River, Paul Robeson

The Battle of Agincourt, Sir Henry Walton (from the 1946 film Henry V)

"Seventeen Come Sunday," Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Vernon Handley

Le Ca Ira, Édith Piaf

"Let's Slip Away," Cleo Laine

Chopin: Prelude in D flat major "The Raindrop," Arthur Rubinstein

Where'er You Walk, from Handel's Semele, Bryn Terfel

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