Friday, September 14, 2007

I see dead people

A few significant names in the obituary columns recently, most notably Andy Roddick's mum Anita, and opera singer and part-time 40-ton pasta silo Luciano Pavarotti.

A couple you might have missed are:

Joe Zawinul, legendary Austrian jazz keyboardist, composer, collaborator with just about anyone who was anyone in the world of jazz over the past 40 years, and founding member of seminal jazz-rock outfit Weather Report, whose 1977 album Heavy Weather I played to death back when I was a student.

Michael Jackson. No, not that one, the man with what seems to me like the second-best job in the world (and if Scarlett Johansson's gynaecologist ever appears in the obituary columns I'll be sure and link to it here), sampling and writing about beer (and more recently whisky) for a living. The great service he did for beer enthusiasts and the brewing industry worldwide is to point out that brewing beer is a craft as complex and worthy of study as, say, winemaking, and the end product just as diverse, complex and interesting as the end product of the winemaking process (that would be wine, just in case you're not keeping up), and that it's only unwarranted snobbery that views beer as somehow inherently more proletarian.

Of course it's a fine line between the very good and important work that Michael Jackson did and the arran-sweatered, half-pint-mug-with-a-handle, Cornish-pasty-crumbs-in-the-straggly-beard, two-pints-of-your-finest-ale-stout-yeoman morris-dancing enthusiasts that give real ale drinkers a bad name, as witheringly accurately satirised in Viz's occasional The Real Ale Twats strip, more of which can be seen here and here. The fact that Jackson was a rotund chap with some slightly startling facial hair didn't help either. Another obituary by fellow beer writer Roger Protz can be found here, including the following Jackson quote which will do nicely as an epitaph:

No one goes into a restaurant and requests 'a plate of food, please'. People do not simply ask for 'a glass of wine', without specifying, at the very least, whether they fancy red or white, dry or sweet, perhaps sparkling or still ... when their mood switches from the grape to the grain, these same discerning folk often ask simply for 'a beer', or perhaps name a brand, without thinking of its suitability for the mood or the moment ... beer is by far the more extensively consumed, but less adequately honoured. In a small way, I want to help put right that injustice.

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