Saturday, 28 July 2018

Walks on the Wild Side. Inspirations and Connections.

I already had the photographs for this post but got the title and general idea for it after watching an old film recently I'd never seen before called Walk on the Wild Side, a black and white film about a colourful bunch of characters who end up frequenting a brothel in New Orleans called The Dollhouse or Doll's House. A young Jane Fonda, Laurence Harvey, Capucine, and Barbara Stanwyck appear in it along with a guy with no legs who slides around on a wheeled board. As it was fairly racy for its time, 1962, ( Barbara Stanwyck plays a lesbian brothel boss, but still with her trademark no nonsense style) I found myself wondering after watching it if this inspired Lou Reed's famous classic song and indeed this was the case. It was the original 1956 novel, A Walk on the Wild Side by Nelson Algren that inspired both Reed and this film although Reed soon changed his early musings on the subject into a more modern cast of characters- the people he met frequenting Andy Warhol's famous factory premises. So New Orleans prostitutes became NYC drag queens, hustlers, and transgender drop outs.

Anyway, it was more the idea of this, until now, unknown link inspiring a famous song that intrigued me. Reed was well educated and well read so had a long history writing songs inspired by books or films, some of them very obscure. The band's name The Velvet Underground came from a cult novel and the song Venus in Furs from another obscure source - the 1870 classic by Leopold Von Sacher-Masoch who gave his name to a condition along with the book. Think Fifty Shades of Grey. Old subjects never die -just get recycled for a modern audience. For instance Belle de Jour, a 1928 novel that inspired the French 1960s film of the same name starring Catherine Deneuve, another cult classic of cinema, may well have had the same original inspiration source given that Lou Reed's song, Catherine D's fictional name and the 1800s main character all share the same name of Severine/ Severin and subject matter.  Reed, similar to Mick Jagger/Keith Richard or Kate Bush, came from a rich background which provided them with good vocabulary skills/ education/access to a wide range of subject matter and influences growing up so was perfectly placed to capture and document the lurid street life around him but embellish this with poetic and literary flourishes. A gifted singer/songwriter he used words with great efficiency to explain each story layout in verse, never faffed around to explain things when fewer carefully chosen words would do, as someone less educated and gifted might struggle with, and crafted songs with the skill of a poet- which he also was- like Leonard Cohen. Both found a better income with songwriting though.
So I got the idea for this post. My own Walks on the Wild Side compilation.
On a bus trip through to Edinburgh with Anne and Belinda we spotted this splurge of colour chaos spread over a sizable area and had to get off to see what it was. Well, I did... and they followed... more reluctantly.
We had no idea what this place was at first but I was intrigued by the underground tunnel, disappearing below.
Turned out it was the old Meadowbank wooden Velodrome where track cyclist Sir Chris Hoy trained before going on to win his three Olympic Gold Medals in a single games. A and B were both impressed by this fact when we eventually worked it out- less so by their surroundings.
"I've found a way in. " I enthused, puzzled why this area had so much graffiti in one place- more than I'd ever seen before in one large concentration. 
"It's through that hole in the fence- might lead around the back into the centre of it."
Anne just looked at me. "You are joking. There's no way I'm crawling through there."
I was on my own for the next bit, leaving instructions to whistle if anyone dangerous or threatening looking showed up.
" Only me if you don't come back within five seconds." Anne declared. "You better not leave us here long. I know what you're like once you go off exploring anything."
As I soon found out there was plenty of extra graffiti on show here but not much in the way of actual mural painting.
I found out later local Edinburgh graffiti artists had been allowed the run of the place to cover it before it was pulled down but left to themselves to do their own thing it was fairly undisciplined without an overall plan of action to follow. ( No idea if it's still standing as this was a while ago. It's been replaced by the Sir Chris Hoy Velodrome, a more modern equivalent in Glasgow's  East End near Celtic Park FC.)
With good art getting over painted in some cases.
There was potential talent on show here but not enough to keep my companions amused for long. So when I returned we headed for more regular tourist attractions that they enjoyed more.
WALK TWO. This place was better- St Peter's Seminary near Cardross. An interesting building with some well painted murals.
The entrance guardian to St Peter's.
Unlike the velodrome, which was empty of people, we did bump into others here but they were merely curious visitors like ourselves as it's firmly on the underground urban disused buildings/ art trail.
Gangway leading to the upper levels in this large multi floor construction.
So well known that they turned it into an exhibit in its own right with a price tag of £4 million.
I'm glad Alan, an artist himself, and I saw it first for free a few years ago ... without any arty hype or lofty pretensions to go with it. I suppose though a lot of older people, including interested locals, might be scared to come here or find access difficult so a safe guided tour would suit them. Not sure what conditions or access is like now though. It may be restricted, off limits, or paid entry only. Link here to St Peter's art installation and short video history and where the £4 million is going/went. As soon as its labeled "art" instead of an old abandoned ruin the price jumps up accordingly.

WALK THREE. A less well known ruin is this one so I'll keep it that way. A grand house in a remote location that we visited. It was a private residence once in another age then a children's home/hospital/care facility. With a long list of children being historically abused in care, seemingly new details unfolding every month for the last ten years in the media, by the very people supposed to be protecting them I'm not sure what went on in this place but some of the graffiti certainly reflects this current perceived vibe.
A creepy place and a very unsafe structure if visiting the crumbling upper levels. You could easily get killed here walking over a hidden drop then falling several floors onto rubble and sharp metal edges sticking up.
The staircase to the upper floors.
A carved face inside. Welcome children to your new home.
At least they had swings....
WALK FOUR. I'll finish off with a solo walk round the Tradeston district of Glasgow, an old area very close to the city centre but neglected and left behind. On the Central Station train leaving or entering the city towards the south side you pass through this 'wrong side of the tracks' district. Cut off by a motorway and the railway itself it's a semi abandoned area of waste ground, small factory units and still operating small businesses.

From the train or bus though all you see is a long line of derelict properties, graffiti, and empty spaces rolling past the windows.
Even vehicles left here in certain streets are not immune if they stand too long in one place.
With most of the roughest schemes/areas/ estates in the city either knocked down, tarted up or gentrified and any poverty far better hidden than in the past  this is one of the few remaining pockets of old school run down districts left.
It's also a stone's throw away from Glasgow's gleaming financial and business district on the opposite bank of the River Clyde so a perfect location for a giant Barclay's Bank campus complex, generating over 2000 to 5000 new jobs potentially and a host of new buildings along this waterfront which should transform this run down area. I live in hope of a huge 100 floor tower rising phoenix like, similar to the new skyscrapers in London, in Central Glasgow someday, but failing that any new development here can only be an improvement.
There was an original award winning song to go with the 1962 film and also a good compilation of film noir through the ages to go with it. And here it is.

I was also intrigued by the way Barbara Stanwyck usually played strong women in positions of power in her films and was very convincing at it. So I looked her up to see if anything in her history made her that way, as a tough attitude is not really something you can fake for so long, more a natural outlook. As indicated here she didn't have an easy upbringing and learned very early to fend for herself- something that always came across in her films. But she was also approachable, down to earth and well liked throughout her career, also due to her background. Interesting info as I enjoy going on journeys and playing detective, both online and on foot.


Neil said...

Interesting but not for me. Too creepy! I feel safer in the hills.

Anabel Marsh said...

Interesting! St Peter’s Seminary in particular is somewhere i’d love to see, I have read so much about it over the years. I really should make the effort.

Kay G. said...

Oh dear, give me the hills and the gardens. Cannot stand graffiti!
Oh and what did I see recently that had Lou Reed singing in the background and I was so thrilled to recognize his voice? Can't remember it at all, if it comes to me I will let you know, I am sure you are most upset that I can't think of it. HA HA!

Carol said...

Terrible that they actually paint vehicles if they're stood too long - I always find it amusing when people write in the dirt on the back, e.g. 'also available in white' for vans, 'I wish the missus was this dirty' and so on.

The graffiti makes me think there's lots of troubled minds around when you see what's going on in their imaginations. Mind you, I always think that with most modern films too!

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Neil,
I like the hills but its the mystery element I've always liked here- and in tunnels- the thrill of never knowing what or who you might bump into in the shadows around the next corner or unexpected sights to discover.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Anabel, Yes, it is interesting and if its still running light shows or in the process of being restored it would be worthwhile- bit risky in its empty ruined state though as it is secluded in woods with nothing around it.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Kay,
Probably Perfect Day, Sweet Jane, or Rock and Roll, as any of his other stuff never gets played on TV these days.

blueskyscotland said...

Hi Carol,
I've seen white vans marked like that in a few areas, but always in dodgy districts.
Teenage minds are usually troubled, myself included, at that age :)
Growing up can be a strange time.

Carol said...

White vans are marked like that even in perfectly respectable areas - I actually think both those comments are funny - especially the wife one. I'd be worried about scratching the paintwork with the dirt though...

Mark said...

What a contrast with the last post - but equally fascinating. I didn't know about that film or the link to the Lou Reed song (I need to listen to Transformer and album I've neglected of late). Also, I have Brook Benton compilation, but I don't think that song is on it - I shall have to check. Really interesting stuff, thanks for that.

Andy said...

A proper walk on the wild side. Unusual and fascinating post as always