On Saturday night I went to see Martin McDonagh’s The Lonesome West at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow. Darkly funny it concerns the lives of two brothers who live in a state of permanent conflict in a remote village in the west of Ireland. The strange logic of their feuds only illustrates how isolated their lives have become. Violent,comic, bathetic and strangely life affirming I recommend the play to you as good a night out as you will find while Richmond Fontaine are not in town.
In some ways it provided the link between the two parts of my radio week. On Tuesday night I will welcome the aforementioned Fontaines in session and, inevitably, in conversation with the great Willie Vlautin. On Richmond Fontaine’s latest and final album an assortment of characters leave, get lost and try to pick up the pieces in and around Oregon and, no matter how tragic, we find ourselves drawn into the disappointment of each fragile life story.
He sold off the horses to some guy in Arizona
Whitey and me couldn’t get them back
Cause we were flat broke
I hated him for what he’d done to us
But I knew he was in a bad way
I heard he ended up in Douglas
Holed up in the Gadsden Hotel
And shot all that money away
He fell apart in his underwear in the lobby
Crying for his sister
Who hadn’t been alive in years
From Whitey and Me by Richmond Fontaine
Since Willie Vlautin’s characters entered my life a few years back I feel I approach each new song or novel partly with an expectation that all will not be well but also with a realisation that the full range of human expectations can be realised. Sure, they’re going to fail, but this is not Hollywood, it’s Winnemuca or Reno; it’s the Elko Lounge and we’re all just looking to survive.
By sheer coincidence my guest on my final Sunday Morning With of this season is Jean Vanier. One of the most remarkable people living in the world today and described by many as a ‘living saint.’ I’ve no doubt he would reject both of these charges because his entire life has been given over to making his own life more obscure and enabling the excluded to be seen as vital members of society. 50 years ago he founded a community near Paris in a little village called Trolly-Breuil where he decided he would live with two other men, Raphael Simi and Philippe Seux who would leave the institution where they lived to share their lives with him. Together they began L’Arche.
However, despite his attempts at obscurity, the world has noticed. L’Ache now has 147 different communities based on that 1964 model working in 50 countries. His awards include the French Legion of Honour, Companion of the Order of Canada, the Rabbi Gunther Plaut Humanitarian Award 2001, and the International Paul VI Award. In November 2004, a CBC poll placed him number 12 in a list of Greatest Canadians. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize and the Templeton Prize.
Last week I went over to meet Jean Vanier in that original L’Arche house to which he moved in 1964 and has never left. Now aged 87 he is as vibrant and engaged as ever. Sitting in his small study surrounded by work and whatever he’s been reading we talked about the Christianity that frames all that he does, his belief that we are all enriched the more we engage with and celebrate people of disability and the continued journey towards becoming human. It was one of the more remarkable conversations I’ve had the privilege of sharing and I hope you will listen in this Sunday Morning from 10 on BBC Radio Scotland.
Another Country goes out this Tuesday when Richmond Fontaine will be in session and I will be talking to Willie Vlautin about the current album, ‘You Can’t Go Back If There’s Nothing To Go Back To’ and re-listening to some great songs from his back catalogue.Join me from 9 p.m. on Tuesday on BBC Radio Scotland.