Morgan Fisher Miniatures

M1-29 Quentin Crisp

M1-29 Stop the Music for a MinuteM1-29sm

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Mr. Denis Charles Pratt, later to festoon himself with the glorious name by which he is notorious, was dragged into the world on 25 December 1908 – so the timing of his birthday is very good for this blog post – but very bad for anyone who (like me, born Jan. 1) would prefer to receive separate Christmas and birthday presents. The gruesome annual ritual of witnessing the inanely grinning face of an allegedly kindly aunt or uncle bearing down on one, saying, “Merry Christmas young man – here is your Christmas AND birthday present” is one which could cause an infantile trauma severe enough to last a lifetime – or at least catapult one into the entertainment biz, where we both seem to have ended up. Children are NOT capable of mentally combining the two celebrations into one. It should be TWO presents. Always, and for everyone.

Quentin Crisp’s Wiki entry describes him as “an English writer and raconteur” – a description which may be the truth but is a major understatement. The man was an oracle, continuously dispensing a river of wisdom, compassion and humour, known by some as Crisperanto. Those who love Oscar Wilde will understand. For all of us who are struggling to maintain our dignity and individuality in a cold, uncaring world, all his books are worth reading, his CD (including my extended interview with him) worth listening to, and most of the films about or featuring him well worth watching. Sting was a fan too, and had him appear in the video for the song which he wrote about him, “An Englishman in New York”.

Old school courtesy was Quentin’s way of holding the heartless world at arm’s length, and he carried it off better than anyone I have ever met. Everyone was Mr, Miss or Mrs Someone – even Mr God. Neil Hornick of the Phantom Captain theatre group (also on Miniatures, see earlier blog) kindly gave me his address. As with all the Miniatures artists, I sent QC a 1-minute reel of blank tape along with his invitation to join the project. A completely unnecessary gesture but – like this blog – unnecessary gestures are part, sometimes a big part, of a creative life, right? Here is how he replied – my first contact with the legend, type-written in penury on a small scrap of paper and signed with a flourish (click to enlarge):

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He needed little persuasion to join the project, especially when promised that his hatred of music would be the focus. During my visit to his dusty digs in a tattier part of Chelsea, I took these photographs of him, a spry yet sphinx-like 71-years-young , utterly confident professional poser (click to enlarge):

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And now at this Christmas time, dear friends, neutrals and sworn enemies, I link you to Quentin’s wise words on how to avoid the insincere scramble that is the modern Yuletide mêlée. He passed away quietly, alone in a bedroom at night, in the little suburb of Chorlton-cum-Hardy in Manchester, scant weeks before having to endure the horror of his 91st Christmas. To sum up how this man of a thousand memorable quotes spent his life, I love to repeat a tale he tells of riding in a New York taxi. The typically chatty driver looked at this marvellous, dyed, made-up wraith and asked, “So, what’s your line of business?” to which QC proudly answered, “I… am in the profession of Being.”

…to which the cabbie replied, “I do a bit of that in my spare time.”

To end, here are my sleeve notes from 2007, detailing my visit to Mr. Crisp’s residence in order to magnetically immortalise his dulcet tones of distaste for music, for the aforementioned CD, “An Evening With – The Naked Civil Servant – Quentin Crisp.” Merry Crispmas!!!

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June 6th, 1980 was an ordinary summer day in London, except that it wasn’t, for I had made an afternoon appointment to visit the Chelsea flat of a person who would be called, in my current home country of Japan, a “Living National Treasure”. Such a distinguished (and financially supported) category of person does not, to my knowledge, exist in England. No matter – Mr. Quentin Crisp had already, in his colourful autobiography “The Naked Civil Servant”, proudly declared: “I am one of the stately homos of England”.

It was with anticipation mixed with apprehension that I approached his front door (seedy yet stylish, as is the way in Chelsea), for I knew this to be a flat whose tenant claimed that he had never cleaned in the forty years he had been residing there. The purpose of my visit was to record Mr. Crisp reciting one of his witty commentaries for an album I was producing, which was to include 51 pieces of (mostly) music, each no longer than a minute. We had agreed (with not a little glee) that it would be ideal for him to read a piece in which he described his loathing of all music – “Stop the Music for a Minute”.

Mr. Crisp, immaculately dressed as always, opened the door with a hearty “Good afternoon!” and courteously motioned me to follow him up the stairs. The light grew dimmer and dimmer, and eventually I found myself in a small parlour with a few ramshackle chairs, the odd rickety table and fraying lamp shade, and books piled up everywhere. Mr. Crisp arranged a moth-eaten woollen shawl over one armchair, saying, “Do sit down – would you care for something to drink?” As he busied himself in the kitchen preparing orange juice and digestive biscuits, I realised that my fears had been unfounded and that, far from being the pungent place I had been expecting, the flat was a tranquil, homely environment where the sounds of our voices were muted by the antique, odourless dust rising in waves towards the corners of the room – an ideal room, in fact, in which to make a recording.

After expertly reciting his piece twice (a little faster the second time, so as to finish it within the time limit of one minute – exactly, as it turned out) I settled down to my juice and biscuits, and we eased into the (for me) eye-opening conversation which you can now hear on this CD. As luck would have it, I enjoyed the biscuits so much that I completely forgot to turn off the tape recorder…

Not being (as far as he was aware) on public display, Mr. Crisp was not in “smiling and waving” mode, dispensing those well-known witticisms which we all know and love. Instead, he was in a nonchalant, at-home mood, sparkling with perceptive comments and delightful anecdotes. The surprise phone call that interrupted our chat led him off on a hilarious tangent, where he revealed his (quite understandable) feelings about those slightly misguided folk who saw him as their personal guru, on call round the clock for advice and emotional rescue. Perhaps of special interest (particularly for listeners in the USA) will be his closing comments on his possibly imminent move to New York: this conversation ends optimistically with Mr. Crisp teetering on the brink of the Atlantic.

As this recording was made prior to the digital era, there are some slight but unavoidable deficiencies in the sound. However, as a documentary of a gentleman uniquely at peace with himself and a sometimes harsh world, I think the odd coughs, chair scrapes and traffic noises are nicely evocative. On hearing this conversation decades after that quiet sunny afternoon in Chelsea, I was touched by the wisdom and insight he so generously and spontaneously offered to a complete stranger. It was an honour and a delight to have been there, and I am very grateful to be able, with the kind support of Cherry Red Records, to share this with you.

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Next up: Desorgher-ly use of a flute…

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