Sunday, December 30, 2012

thinking up title takes too much effort

Once again, I'm ill once more. This is the season for hangovers of course but I do not have one. It is just another ridiculous minor illness as Old Testament God (OTG) goes on trying to turn me into some kind of modern day Job with death by a thousand irritating and briefly incapacitating minor ailments.

Yesterday afternoon was quite delightful as we attended a party in Hepburn Springs for my old friend Fiona, who unbelievably is turning 40. As I said to Mia as we left, Fiona is one of the few people we know (I realise this is a slap in the face for almost everyone I know who reads this - oh well) who is simultaneously a lot of fun and no bullshit (this doesn't do her justice if you don't know her, as it might suggest for instance she is some kind of naif, which she isn't). Anyway it was a very nice afternoon I must confess.

I finally watched the first two seasons of The Killing (the original) and while I liked it very much I also have to say that Mia is quite right when she says (after watching 2 1/2 eps) that it is quite contrived. I won't go into detail about the problems I had with it (PM me! No, don't) but I will say this: while I appreciate the different strands/storylines/spheres that are covered over time, I don't think all of these realistically work within the 3 week timeframe, specifically: the political stuff does, the family stuff doesn't. That said, I really enjoyed the characters and performances. Particularly the characters of Meyer and Lund, and also Theis and Pernille. I also - but I would - loved the Copenhagen locations. A city I've never actually seen.

I just checked out Job on w'pedia to make sure he really was OT and he is. W'pedia says he had a daughter called Keren-happuch, a name meaning 'horn of eye-makeup'. That cannot possibly be true, as it is so nonsensical.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

comics at the ngv

Yesterday Shane got into town and he, Mia and I went on a trip to town, firstly to the Botanics to see the corpse flower (55 minute wait in the sun, no thank you, we glanced it through the front door of the greenhouse, it was impressive from afar) and then to two branches of the NGV to see firstly photographs & a short film by Thomas Demand and then photographs by Jeff Wall. But at the main NGV in the foyer they had this arrangement going on. People were being invited, unsupervised or actually generally untutored, to 'draw comics'. 

Here were some of the efforts - just a random few from the top of the pile:

And here's the one I did. You could barely call it 'off the top of my head'. Because really if it had been thirty five years ago I would have done pretty much the same thing.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

butterball lost & found

Butterball spent a long afternoon/evening yesterday stuck under the house next door. He didn't like it. He crammed himself into a space near a vent and meowed pitifully - once he realised this would get attention. He is still very dirty. But pleased to be back.

Monday, December 10, 2012

and to top it off...

it tolls for thee

It was simultaneously depressing (for the reinforcement of the known fact that dogs are slaves to their own - well, pavlovian responses) and hilarious to see Charlie and Barry's routine last night.

A week or more ago, Bela had somehow cast off his collar; it lay next to the front door. When the dogs come in at night - which they always do, for an hour or two at least - Charlie goes to bed almost immediately, presumably half out of agedness/laziness and half out of the desire to find a surveillance/control point in the room. Barry however has a different mode of asserting himself - he trots around and finds things to do, minor annoyances so we tell him off and his existence and importance is reaffirmed. Last night, he found Bela's collar and took it into his bed to chew (it tasted like a cat's neck, presumably).

The ringing of the collar bell immediately got Charlie awake and aware. As far as Charlie was concerned, there was some cat, its bell resonant, just flagrantly and actively present in the room. Barry, unaware of the effect on Charlie (he was facing the opposite direction), continued to harass the bell. Charlie was bolt upright trying to pinpoint the location of what was clearly, to her, a prancing and audacious cat. She got up and went to every possible corner of the room, at each point listening again for the bell, which was persistent but less revealing each time. Finally Barry cottoned on that Charlie was excited about something strange in the room, and both went into sentry mode. They patrolled for some time until Barry got sick of the lack of hard evidence and went back to the collar. At which point Charlie started all over again.

It could have escalated and been even better slapstick but then Barry got sick of what was, surely, a pretty lame chewing exercise and went to sleep. The end. But a good scriptwriter could spin that into something pretty fine I would say.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

bad day

I was looking at posts from 2008 a while ago and wow, they are the halcyon days of this blog. Nothing even remotely as good happens now. There are some real classics there, not just me but the respondents, what a classy bunch. I guess they have all moved on. 

Today was a bad day as I broke the car door and haven't been able to find my keys for about 30 hours now. It occurred to me that perhaps shingles impaired one's cognitive function but I guess I was just looking for a scapegoat. Besides shingles feeds on your anger/angst/discomfort, so you can't let it get to you otherwise it grows. 

Hope you're well. 

Saturday, December 01, 2012

100 reviews #6 Shirl

I seem to be barely able to keep pace with Jeff Apter, the Barbara Cartland of rock bios. Apter’s Shirl has popped out so soon after his contentious (to me) book about Marc Hunter that one would assume he had a secret, except reading the books show it’s no secret: he bashes this shit out, and that’s all.

I wish I was Apter’s friend, or perhaps his mentor. I would love to have had the conversation, having read Shirl in manuscript form, along the lines of:

Jeff: So, mate, waddya think? I reckon I really nailed this one, this, er, ‘Shirl’.
Me: Yeah, Jeff, I read it over the course of a day.
Jeff: Amazing, ‘cos I wrote it over the course of… never mind. Any comments, but?
Me: Jeff, I had a few things I thought you could develop.
Jeff: Aw geez, ‘develop’, ‘things’… that’s all I ever hear from you!
Me: Well, like Louisa Wisselling. That’s an interesting angle.
Jeff: (sigh). Why. Who is that.
Me: I didn’t know she was the first co-host of Shirl’s Neighbourhood. You should have tried to track her down.
Jeff: Look, I put a whole week into the research. What do you want?
Me: She was the Judith Durham replacement in the mid-70s Seekers, they were huge. In a way, she might have had an even bigger music career than Shirl – some sources say that ‘The Sparrow Song’ was their biggest hit, and that group sold 50 million records or more.
Jeff: (looking out the window) Uh
Me: You could have asked her whether she ever talked with Shirl about their respective careers.
Jeff: (looking at his fingers) Uh
Me: You could at very least have mentioned she had a huge music career in the mid-70s, like Shirl. I mean, Shirl had ‘cred’ somehow, at least some of the time, but let’s face it, they were both hacks in their way.
Jeff: Gawd. Alright, I’ll put me Keith Lamb bio on hold for two more days.

What gets me about Apter – as I probably mentioned in my review of his Hunter book – is his lack of curiosity, his ‘straight-down-the-line-ness’. He is a clever horse who puts on the blinkers to get to his destination faster. He doesn’t bother to seek out Louisa Wisselling or even mention her background (or, apparently, even type her name into a search engine). He is very focused on the notion that Shirl gave up rock and roll in the late 70s, to the degree that when he mentions Shirl’s early 80s work with the Party Boys (as a touring lead singer) it’s as an afterthought. It doesn’t fit with the narrative, and so there’s no point in talking to any of the other Party Boys from that tour, and nor is there any point in talking about the actual record they made. I remember Kurt Vonnegut once writing about the plotting of a novel – was it Slaughterhouse 5? Breakfast of Champions? Was it actually part of the narrative of one of those novels, or did he write about it elsewhere? Anyway, his method was to draw different coloured lines, characters’ lives, parallel to each other across a large piece of paper. This is pretty much Apter’s approach. Do not deviate, do not pontificate. Fremantle to Midland, stopping some stations.

It was probably a little painful for Apter to work on Shirl who was – if not a hack – a moneyminded showman (ok, a hack), whereas I suspect he enjoys artists who at least bother to muster a sense of artistic vision. This is not a putdown of Shirl. I like Shirl, I liked him when I was 10 and I like him now, long-dead. I think his honesty about his showbusiness career was refreshing, and on this I think Apter and I agree.

The fact of the matter is the best book on Skyhooks was written by Jenny Brown in 1975, at the height of their infamy (and, as it transpired, just months after the height of their success, unless you count as Shirl might the height of their success as being their lucrative reformation tours of the 1980s). Brown’s is a book that satisfies every requirement a Skyhooks/Shirl afficianado might have except that of historical perspective – it’s of the moment – and detail about Shirl’s working relationship with Louisa Wisseling, because that had not yet happened. There was another Skyhooks book, Jeff Jenkins’, which similarly has good points, though Jenkins like Apter is another ‘rock historian’ who is all rock, no historian.

One of the things Apter can do, for which we should be grateful, is (as was also the case with Hunter) get to the dead man’s relatives, and assure them that while this will be no hagiography… nah, it will be hagiography, pure and simple. So for what it’s worth, the parents and so on will talk to him, and for all I know he lets them approve the MS in draft form (and look, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that – your informants can validly demand a say in how they, and in this case their loved one, is presented).

To go one step further: Apter basically just doesn’t write the kinds of books that satisfy me. Today I heard on the radio of a Simple Minds – the Church? – Models? I can’t remember, old ‘heritage acts’ event, that’s on next week or something, a completely gross event that makes me want to laugh except it might turn to vomiting. Also today listening to The Now Show on BBC radio 4 there was mention of some racist political party’s website which glamourises the old days of Britain (pre-immigration or something – only there aren’t actually that many people alive now who’d remember that period) as a golden age. It was pointed out that the 'golden age' is just whenever the beholder was young - whenever that was, 20 years ago or 40 years ago. This is why Apter et al bug me. If you believe in the golden age, you have just given up. To my mind, the task of the historian is to put the present into perspective, or as we periodically joke about in my workplace, to ‘show relevance’. It’s not to wrap everything up neatly and take a stroll through it to confirm how great our childhoods were (which – sorry to break this to you – they were not).

So in summary:

  1. This book has a lot of interesting material in it. Frustratingly undeveloped interesting material.
  2. The lack of development is either for a secret reason of the author’s or because he can’t be bothered
  3. It is for people who remember the 70s/80s and think they were great times.
As I so often say – ‘But then, I read it from cover to cover’. That is, I found it compelling. But it’s only half the book it could have been. That possibly says more about the publishing (and nostalgia) industry than it does about Jeff Apter, the cog. 

gentleman's herpes

OK in addition to the cats having all these injuries and inflammations I have my old shingles back. I have absolutely no recollection of when I first got this - maybe a decade ago? But last Sunday I was bitten by something while out on a long walk with the dogs (see where healthy living gets you - !) and over the next day or two it developed into what is technically known as herpes zostex.* It is not very serious (so relax) in fact it only slowly seeped into my consciousness that I had a particular stinging pain (not a rash like on the wikipedia page, which is just wallpapered with gross photographs) down my left side. Even then I was content to be stoic as it was not really destroying my (high) quality of life, but it didn't seem to be getting better, in fact yesterday I think it seemed definitely to be getting worse (headaches etc) so I went to the doctor this morning. He told me if I'd come to him in the first couple of days he could have prescribed something, but back then I was barely conscious of it, so I told him to fuck off  didn't. Anyway it will apparently fade in the next week or so and I will emerge stronger and better for it.

Remember a few months ago I was complaining about a spate of colds etc? Well, I have just been run down since then and I am not making things any more relaxeder for myself, though perhaps after next week it might get a little easier.

*In case you can't be bothered to read the wikipedia page, I couldn't, particularly trying to avoid those pictures, it is not like (um... I think it's called) herpes simplex, it's apparently a hangover from chicken pox, which subsides as an affliction but never leaves you once you get it and can flare up whenever. 

Friday, November 30, 2012

gentleman's wound

I took Bela to the vet today as he had a problem with one of his back legs. He was walking with it inwards and very slowly and did not seem happy - also there was a bit of blood. The vet said it was just a gash from a fight and reassured me that Bela had not been a provocateur or aggressor in this. Had he had a cut on his face or front paws, that would have been different but this was a 'gentleman's wound' - he was leaving the scene and got a jab on the way out.

I mean I am not sure where you draw the line between gentleman and coward but I don't need Bela to be a hero. (This is three days after taking Butterball to the vet for his outrageously swollen lip which, FYI, is just a thing that happens and probably an allergic reaction no-one really knows).

In the afternoon I minded Ernie (aged, erm, not sure - 1 1/2? I am bad with people's ages at ALL levels) while Liz went to the hairdresser in Westmeadows. I was a little worried that he might get weirded out by me, as though we had seen each other at the Broadmeadows Festa a few weeks ago, it had been a long time before that. But no. He was entirely unfazed. At first I thought we were just going to watch tv, because that was what he wanted to do, and it was ABC3 and quite fun. He only acknowledged me a couple of times to point at the TV. Fine.

Then the power went off! He thought I'd turned it off. But everything in the house was dead. So I just made the executive decision to go outside. Liz had told me he likes watering things in the garden and it's true, he does. He watered most of the plants and also made a mud puddle, which was a problem because he also doesn't like having dirty hands or feet. Luckily he does like washing them under the tap, and detaching the hose from the tap to do this. And putting the hose back on the tap to watch the water coming out of the hose, etc.

Then he grabbed Jeff's Galapagos Duck soundtrack to The Removalists (he is obsessed with LPs) and was kind of doing this taking the record out of the sleeve, putting it back etc, and I was thinking, 'I should try and replace this record with something else because that's probably a pretty valuable LP'. But he wouldn't hand it over, at all, or swap it for anything else. Yes, the power was still off. But then Liz came home, much earlier than I expected. He had shown little concern about her absence (except possibly once when a woman was speaking in the street and he wanted to go out into the front garden - he was certainly looking for something there, or someone) but he was really happy she was back.

All in all, I really enjoyed that little time I spent with him. And now I have made paella. From an online recipe labelled I think 'Cheat's Paella' or something similar.

* Later: I had a thought. When I was at the vet's they offered me a receipt for Bela's treatment and I said no, it's not tax deductible why bother. Then I thought (and said - god I was chatty yesterday) I suppose if I used my pets in ads or as animal actors then I could deduct their treatment, and the receptionist (Ashley or Ashleigh) said, some of our clients actually do that. So then I thought, if I 'monetized' this blog as blogger is always inviting me to do, could I then claim all kinds of shit - including vet bills - as tax deductions? If a tax accountant is reading this, and s/he can give me valid advice leading to my monetary gain, I will compensate. 

Thursday, November 01, 2012

100 reviews # 5 The Dictator

So the Westmeadows DVD rental place is great, because (I suspect) it is going out of business, or at very least for some reason that its owners can’t be happy about it is running at a very slender profit margin. Last week I tried to borrow three DVDs and was told that if I borrowed 4, instead of $9 it would be $7. So I got 4. One was This Must Be the Place which, peculiar as it was, I actually enjoyed, particularly Sean Penn’s character’s giggle. The other one we watched was The Five Year Engagement which had its moments. Also, I borrowed The Dictator and Hunger Games, but we didn’t get round to watching those. But I was intrigued by The Dictator, and went back on Tuesday night to borrow it again. It was Tuesday so it cost $1.

I don’t want to just review things that are bad, but I have consumed a lot of bad things lately. I have to tell you, The Dictator is a seriously terrible film. It is one of those films that are so bad that the one decent thing about them – the extended speech at the end where SBC’s character lists all the things that are good about dictatorships and bad about democracies, except all the things he’s listing relate to recent US history, is ruined by the fact that the speech itself is a sad, hollow imitation of/tribute to Chaplin’s Great Dictator.

The real, genuine, absolute problem about The Dictator, however, is (I seem to recall this as a criticism from when it hit cinemas a few months ago) there are no sympathetic characters. We are apparently somehow meant to have some kind of empathy with the SBC character (sorry, I can’t be bothered looking his name up) when he loses his status and power but why would we? It only confuses matters that his one ally in New York, the scientist he thought he had executed a few years previously but who only bears him ill-will in a slapstick kind of way, seems to be the ‘sensible one’, only he wants to restore SBC’s character to dictatorhood again, for no real apparent reason (well, it will allow him to continue his research into nuclear weapons – I can relate to that). The only person in the film we might have reason to empathise with is the wholefoods store manager Zoe, but since she apparently falls in love with SBC’s character, why should we trust anything else about her? Ultimately she is mainly to be a source of jokes about armpit hair.* Beyond these it’s a stretch to think of anyone in the film who is an interesting character.

When it comes down to it, the script is ridiculously – I won’t say predictable – but it is thoroughly unimaginative and uninteresting. As Mia said, we did watch it to the end (a couple of times I suggested curtailing this activity with the underpinning sentiment that I was easy either way, and we agreed to keep going a little way longer, then it ended).

There were some other films I wanted to write about. Any Questions For Ben was kind of engaging, in a disappointing way. I can’t even remember the others we saw recently so they must not have been very important. 

* Armpit hair is not suitable for grossout humour because it's not gross enough. I'm more disturbed by a cinematic trope that armpit hair is gross, than I am by armpit hair. It makes me feel like someone's trying to manipulate me into finding something gross that is actually pretty nothingish. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

slight improvement

I know, I know (though no-one said it) it is wrong to have a big health whinge when there are people with real health problems and some of them fatal. I was frustrated.

I think overall it is improving and with the end of the teaching year as of NOW it will probably improve massively. I should have got the flu shot when they were offering them at work and dumbly the reason I didn't was I heard that some people felt crappy for a week after it. (And a month ago I was still congratulating myself for not getting it because I thought I'd got through the winter without any ramifications.)

Sunday, October 21, 2012

world of crap

I have been ill with flu or something for close to two weeks now. That has included three days off work and a Saturday that was also spent in bed. It is one of the grossest illnesses of this type I can remember having, and I have no idea how to make it go away. Waiting it out, which was the first strategy, sure isn't helping. I suppose the devil is to blame.

PS Thank you Robitussin ('Chesty Cough Forte') for four hours of decent sleep. When I awoke all I needed was two different forms of aspirin.

PPS I am perplexed still as to why, as soon as I start moderating comments on this blog, which I have never done before, I am suddenly riddled with comments relating to the sale of ugg boots - I mean probably about 10-15 a day. They are all very polite. 

PPPS While I was waiting for the aspirins to kick in I did a random 'next blog' thing from this one and I found a quite interesting blog which doesn't seem to have been updated for 6 months or so but it's called Guide to Zone 2. I enjoyed it. I thought the author and Nadia were very unfair on Broadmeadows but I would I suppose. 

Saturday, October 13, 2012

100 reviews # 4: FIfty Shades of Grey and Tempest

A few weeks ago I made an undertaking to review two phenomena of the age, the blockbuster S&M porn novel Fifty Shades of Grey and Bob Dylan's Tempest. When I made the undertaking I was not very sure how these two would fit together in terms of content, approach or scope. All I knew was they were two examples of culture product which had the world abuzz (Tempest for about half an hour, Fifty Shades for months and months). I wanted to look at how champions and/or consumers of these items embraced, analysed (or not) and explored them. I was intrigued by the number of women I had seen reading Fifty Shades on the train and wondered whether their doing so was any kind of a statement or indeed whether there was any self-consciousness at all to the act. I wondered about the Dylanophiles who consistently heralded and defended this man's work into his dotage, taking every apparently wrong move as a puzzle set for acolytes by a great mind. I wanted to show that there's less of a disjunct between these two than might initially appear, if only because - here's my 70sness coming in to play - they both belonged in the bag of Things We Had To Know About in 2012, the passing show of stuff made and on sale, for which the media gives us context and then talking points.

Unfortunately, I hit and unexpected snag. In both cases, I had dissed the works out of hand in the first instance because what little I'd heard about (or in the case of Tempest, of) them sounded bad. On reflection I assumed that in the larger works there would be some nuance or quirk or set of ideas that would intrigue me. After all, only boring people get bored. Well, I read the whole of Fifty Shades of Grey and listened to Tempest (admittedly only) a couple of times. They suck! They really, really suck. I was not expecting them both to suck so badly.

To start with Tempest. Of course, and understandably, all discussion of Bob Dylan these days revolves around not whether the residual interest in his 21st century (or in fact post-1970s) work is predicated on the appeal and impact of his first 15 years or so as a recording artist, but to what degree the new work is a degraded echo of what was once an interesting voice/artist. We all want to be kind to old people, and presumably much of the niceness extended to Dylan in the last couple of decades comes from sentimentality about who he once was. He is not that person anymore - who would want to be the same person they were fifty years before, much less be able even to approximate it? - and what he is now is a performer of almost no appeal whatsoever. Detached from the legacy, Tempest is an amazingly poor album. If it had been written and recorded (and I bring this up because it was so reminiscent of the genre) by a periurban retired schoolteacher and his friends from the men's shed, and released as a CDR in an edition of 50 copies, no-one aside from the wives would give it the time of day. Its most original idea is a song nine minutes longer than appropriate that mixes up the actual Titanic disaster with fictional representations of the same. Its best song, the opener 'Duquesne Whistle', has at least an agreeably warm sound/production; luck or skill, who knows. The only thing that interests me about Tempest, ultimately, is the question of whether Dylan makes his lyrics up as he sings them, or whether he spends five minutes writing them down in free-association first. If these words are the product of any kind of concerted effort, then the great man truly has lost it. No, no 'ifs'. He lost it years ago and there is no excuse for this kind of absurd banality. I do blame the press, for giving it oxygen, and editors for scoping round amongst potential reviewers for finding those who would regard it positively.

Now, those who love Tempest (no-one really does love it, of course, though many have found it possible to pretend to) no doubt would turn their noses up at Fifty Shades.  That's appropriate, but everyone should turn their noses up at this particular piece of dross. It's barely worth going into, but to dismiss it lightly when Tempest got a big paragraph would be to give Tempest too much dignity.

Fifty Shades is a sexual fantasy epic in which a young woman called Anastasia is seduced by a billionaire twentysomething called Christian into the world of what we used to call bondage and discipline and now I can't remember what it's called. I gave my copy to an op shop in Swan Hill - I saw no reason to continue to own it once I finished it, and I did actually finish it (spoiler: it doesn't end, indeed the first, most popular book is one of a trilogy of books each the same enormous size and almost has the status of a prequel, setting up for whatever happens in the second and third). All I retain from my reading of the work is these notes:

I have an email address? p. 178
Eradicate hunger across the globe p 237

The first note is to my mind the most preposterous, unbelievable aspect of the novel - that college student Anastasia Steele does not have an email address, until Christian Grey sets up an account for her.  I would ask firstly, what kind of a prat in 2011 (I assume this is when the book is set - it's when it was published), educated, ostensibly within the book's mythic universe articulate, in the first world (Seattle or Portland or somewhere) doesn't have an email address? 'I have an email address?' is as crazy as 'I have a middle name?' or 'I have a library card?' 

As for the 'eradicate hunger' note, I am not entirely sure why I thought this was worth writing down, though if I remember correctly this is Christian Grey's main business, somehow. I don't know why no-one thought of the billions to be made from this before but like Fifty Shades itself I guess you just need to get a niche and work it. 

I am no great judge of literary sex scenes and I tend to avoid reading such stuff, but the descriptions peppering this book are lazy, cliched and vapid. Christian has entirely no flaws - he even knows how to set up an email account - except that he Cannot Love, as his mother was a Crack Whore. Anastasia, deprived of the use of 21st century communication tools such as email, has developed a close relationship with something she calls her Inner Goddess, a kind of judgmental witch in her brain. The book starts, goes six hundred pages, and then ends. I did read it to the end, so it was in one sense 'readable', in the same way Tempest is 'listenable'. 

Yet both of them let me down shockingly, even given my low expectations. The thing that links these two really is that one has been received as being at the high end of popular culture, and the other at the 'low', porny end. But they are in fact roughly of equal value: bloodless going-through-the-motions. At least Fifty Shades will have a long-term impact; no doubt sales of big leather belts skyrocketed in 2012 as readers briefly (probably very very briefly, but what do I know) experimented with the presumably quite mild practices espoused by Christian Grey; it's also, I bet, likely to be many children's first exposure to fiction on sexual themes, and while 'scarred for life' is going too far, it will surely shape attitudes. Tempest will be so forgotten - actually, I think it already is - before long that only completists will know of it, and even then few of them, surely, will want to know it. 

Thursday, October 11, 2012

ugh modern life

Here is an appropriated image of someone touching on, or perhaps touching off, with their Myki Card.

As I may have indicated prior, I am very antipathetic to this system, and am considering Writing A Letter To The Paper about this, although I am well aware of the horror, trauma and distress such rash actions will cause amongst the good burghers of Melbourne.

The other day (Monday) I was on the tram and two helpful Myki people were wandering the tram making sure everyone knew how to use Myki. 'You know you don't need to touch off if your journey is in zone 1', exciting innovations like that, which had all present abuzz. A goggle-eyed Myki person came up to me and asked if I had any questions about Myki. Of course, I have a billion. The main one currently is, if I keep complaining about problems I have with Myki through the official complaints site will my complaints (all legitimate, by the way) be taken more, or less, seriously? i.e. is there a 'serial nuisance' list? I suspect that in fact there are no particular tallies made of kinds of complaints and probably not even any systematic approach to addressing the problems, since it's the whole system that's a problem, and little bandaids on the gaping maw of Myki isn't going to 'myki' a whole lot of difference. Anyway I said:

I know everything there is to know about Myki thank you.

To which goggles got in a huff, saying:

That's sorted then.
Have a nice day.

One thing I know about Myki, which is the last thing I am going to write about here even though I have a list of complaints as long as a long arm, is that when I pay an inflated price to use a ticketing system that doesn't work, one of the things I'm paying for is the people in light blue who go around asking passengers if they have any questions about Myki. I am reminded of the fare evasion campaign (against fare evasion, not for it) run by Connex which suggested that if you were a fare evader you should offer to mow other passengers' lawns. If I don't have any questions about Myki, could I ask the blue Myki people to mow our back yard? After all, I'm paying them even more than fare evaders are paid for by paying passengers.  

Monday, October 01, 2012


The first car I remember my parents having was a Mini Moke. I saw this parked in the park yesterday (actually it's been there a few days now) and I thought it was a toy. But is this really the size Mini Mokes have always been? It's tiny.

Sunday, September 23, 2012


So I started moderating comments on my blog and I am now fending off about ten advertising comments a day, most of them completely nonsensical. What I don't understand is that changing to 'moderating' comments seems to attract a lot more of these kinds of comments. Doesn't make sense, unless the advertisers are keen for one person (me) to read the comments. Anyway, I just delete them on a regular basis.

Charlie and Barry and I went on an 11 km walk (maybe more) today - is that a long way? I'm not sure. It was more or less the first day of spring, you know, in real terms. It was pretty decent.

I got back from Swan Hill yesterday, which was also extraordinary in lots of ways, but I'll hold off on writing about that for the moment, or in fact probably for ever.

(Later: the comments are flooding my email for moderation, it is dreadful, I don't know who these idiots are). 

Saturday, September 15, 2012

the mighty (temporarily) fallen

So yesterday Barry and Charlie were under the house barking because there was a cat in there (doing the worst thing a cat can do as far as they're concerned: it was out of their reach and seemingly didn't give a loose root about their presence). After I got them out for a second time, I noticed Barry had quite a bit of blood on his foot. I called the vet and the vet nurse said well if it's stopped bleeding and it's not obviously deep just wash it in salty water and it should be fine. There was a lot of blood around, but Barry wasn't bleeding, so I washed his leg and went to work.

Still, I am pernickety about Barry so I called the vet and made an appointment for later in the afternoon. When I got back, both Barry and Charlie were up the back of the garden barking at the dogs over the fence (this happens about 10 times a day, they're so creative). There was blood everywhere, including in their bed. It finally dawned on me - it wasn't Barry that had been bleeding at all, just Charlie. And copiously enough that it looked like Barry was bleeding because he was just happily trotting through Charlie's blood.

So Charlie and I went to the vet and it was nowhere near as bad as it looked. She had spent all day with it (the cut is somewhere in the paw, but not on the pads) so she had blood all over her face, she looked like she'd been in some kind of traumatic horror crash or something, but she was fine. There she is above with her tail wrapped as tightly as possible round her arse (of course for all she knows she'll have a thermometer stuck up there a second time, though she didn't seem to mind the first) and looking determinedly towards freedom.

She's comfortable now, though panting a bit. I just forced a pill into her mouth, something I never thought was possible.

Oh yeah and my sister Nicola had a baby (Jemima) and my friend and colleague at work, Anna, did too (Evelyne). But Charlie cut her foot! 

Saturday, September 08, 2012

day 17,308

Today I took Mia to the train at Glenroy and figured dropping in at the Glenroy op shops might be fruitful and yes and no. I picked up a couple of nice vinyls at the Vinnies. One was Hans Poulsen's Natural High, which I remember seeing in Tecoma for $20 ten years ago - got it today for $2, so, glad I waited. In nice condition too though it might be a reissue (don't care about those things unless I missed out on a gatefold or something). It's still on the Fable label, however. Also, The Best of the Original Strangers, which has some really cool stuff on it and some very nice playing/arrangements, it's almost all covers (since John Farrar went on to write some huge hits in the 70s, I am not sure when his songwriting blossomed, but whatever, it wasn't blossoming here but other stuff was). I looked them up on the computer and was surprised to discover that all but one of the 'original' (not sure if that includes Farrar) Strangers were from Glenroy...! But the record I was most stoked to find was from the Salvos, the Happyland album, which I had been hoping to come across for years (I'd even looked for that one on eBay periodically). Once again, only $2. And, since it was actually a compact disc, I could enjoy it all the way home - 2 1/2 songs of it anyway.

This was not the limit of my purchasing. Yesterday I observed to Mia that I had seen many many ladies in the last few weeks reading 50 Shades of Grey on the train, and how weird I found it that people were happy to read porn in public. And she said what do you know about it. And I said I've heard a lot about it, it's S&M porn. And she said I was not in a position to judge, considering I actually hadn't read it. She was right.

Also, over the last few days I have been griping about the new Bob Dylan album, reviewed in this morning's paper, a bit played on the radio yesterday, and I griped to Mia about how dreadful it sounded, and she pointed out... I'm not sure, maybe that I should shut up. Before I picked up the Happyland CD I had RRR on (for about two mins) and they played this song off the new BD album about the Titanic. I thought, this is the most tragic shit I have ever heard. If some dunderhead from... Belgrave wrote this song and tried to sing it somewhere they'd be shitcanned (whatever that literally means) offstage before they got to the crap about... well, all of it's crap about something. So I thought I just have to buy this record and face it.

So I went to Broady Plaza and I bought 50 Shades of Grey and the Bob Dylan album whatever it's called. Tempest, Pestilence. A review will follow.

Also, I baked some bread, put out some washing, hung some pictures, that's all that springs to mind.

Friday, September 07, 2012

porn asha

Like a lot of individuals with hangups when Asha cuts loose she really cuts loose. This is a cat who spends most of her days hiding in enclosed spaces, be it under the blankets, in the sock drawer, under the spare bed or in some other place actually unknown. Then every so often she shows this other side of her personality, as happened recently when it was sunny outside and she found a spot on the spare bed with the sun coming through the window. She thought this picture was tasteful. 

* Five months later (Dec 2012): a big huzzah for the hundreds of dickheads who have come to this blog post looking, I assume, for porn. Hope you enjoyed the cat porn. If you were a cat looking for porn I imagine the pose here probably doesn't have the visceral thrill cats want in cat cheesecake, though a few toms might have tastes that way. Asha says hi. 

Saturday, August 04, 2012

100 reviews, #3: Claire Burchall's PP

Claire Birchall’s album PP – her second, and the first in eleven years (there was another by her presumably former band Paper Planes inbetween) is a serious contender for the best of 2012.

The strength of Birchall’s extraordinarily adept and captivating songs are demonstrated by the fact that the two covers on the record – Prince’s song for the Bangles, ‘Manic Monday’ and Will Oldham’s ‘Riding’ – are two of the four weak tracks on the album (the other duds are the nonsense ‘Texas’, about which the less said the better, and an untitled joke hypnotic-synth hidden track at the end). It would have been better if these errors of judgment had remained in the hypothetical stage; but happily they are at least at the beginning and end, leaving a seamless core of truly great originals as the other 2/3 of the album.

Birchall made a sound and style for this album which cocks numerous snooks at the hi-fi possibilities of home recording, and shows up the dumb lie of the MP3 as some kind of approximation of crystal clarity (with standard ambient noise, your iPod appears to give you a sound with depth; Birchall’s take on 2012 listening preferences takes the whole back to its origins in musical birthday card tinniness). Most tracks feature distorted drum machine, synthesizer and feedback guitar; you could say it’s the Cramps meet the early Human League. Birchall is a singer-songwriter; she’s not making spattery soundscapes or exploring the artistic potential of distortion. The sound is a (wry?) background to a series of near-perfect compositions.

The first of the seven great songs is ‘Loser’, a carnivalesque ballad which might hypothetically go on forever (it fades out with Birchall still singing). ‘It’s all about the music’, is part of the (sarcastic or at very least sardonic) lyric; the central figure is probably part-hero, part dick, but this listener is consistently distracted by the siren-like hook of the chorus and the evocative chugging of the plodding rhythm – evocative of the music machine, whoever he or it may be. 

The second is ‘Same Old Mess’, an epic power-glam disco track which packs a definite punch in the intro to its chorus; the verses are increasingly overlaid with plaintive, sinuous and writhing guitars. Birchall sounds hungover, restive and agitated. It’s followed by ‘Move On’ (ostensibly the ‘single’) which owes nothing to Joy Division’s ‘Isolation’ but initially hits the listener that way. As it transpires, the song is more of chugging and Stooges-y than anything anything any tired goth could muster. Here’s where the drum patterns, keyboards and guitar finally merge: it’s virtually impossible to tell where one of those three instruments ends and another begins.

‘Leaving this Town’ could be a Scott Walker tune from the late 60s, had it been written and sung by Scott Walker. Birchall intones against a keyboard figure of dynamic simplicity, folky in the chorus and bluesy in the verse. A persistent, irritating (but infectious) faux cymbal or tambourine beats throughout. If ‘Move On’ reminds me of ‘Isolation’, I have to say that – unfair as it feels to mention it – ‘It’s a Monster’ reminds me of ‘Zombie’, by The Cranberries. That might just be because it’s metaphorically ‘about’ something very unacceptable, personified (well, in truth, it’s fairly difficult to know what it is ‘about’).

‘Really Got Me Down’ is another classic plodder (on the wavelength, musically, of the cover of ‘Riding’); this and ‘Got the Blues’ are as bombastic and caustic as anything Neil Young and Crazy Horse mustered in the early 70s, and indeed the latter could almost be some great lost track off Everybody Knows This is Nowhere but Neil held it over for another album because it was too good (and then got distracted). Weirdly, the multitracked vocal gives it the feel of an time earlier than 1969 and at the same time, of ‘Long May You Run’ (!).

Ultimately, then, in the world of rips and downloads, a success story is born: the mildly entertaining covers and jokey songs can be enjoyed briefly then dispensed with, and they disguise the delectable kernel of a great album hidden within. Alongside the exceptional Paper Planes CD and singles of a few years ago Claire Burchall is revealed ultimately as a genuinely brilliant songwriter who should be lauded more frequently and play live more than once a year. I hope this happens, though in the meantime selfishly I’m just happy I have a copy.

Buy and/or hear it here.

Monday, July 30, 2012

100 reviews, # 2: Mark Baumgarten's Love Rock Revolution

A few years ago I was wisely cautioned not to trust my own judgment on books by people I knew; there’s little doubt that in most cases – even if you love the book in question – you are going to be biased in some way (and often you won’t love it at all, for the wrong reasons). The same is true when it comes to books about people you admire, particularly if in some minor respect you have played a part in their world.

In my case when it comes to Mark Baumgarten’s Love Rock Revolution, I was there (very occasionally) and always interested even when I wasn’t. Recalling my own experience, I have located a number of errors and half-truths in Baumgarten’s text; and naturally, this causes me to feel unwilling to trust the veracity of the rest.

I first encountered Calvin Johnson in 1984, when he sent a cassette of his group Beat Happening’s Three Tea Breakfast to my fanzine. I was instantly engaged by this very minimal, exotic trio and their intuitive embrace of pop. Two years later – during which time Calvin’s K label produced further Beat Happening releases, notably a single and an LP – I traveled to the US and spent some time (over a week?) in Olympia with Calvin and Lois Maffeo; I met Stella Marrs (who wrote the introduction to this book) and Patrick Maley. It was the week of my 21st birthday; Calvin and Lois sang ‘happy birthday’ to me in an abandoned cemetery in Oregon, within moments of my almost treading on a rattlesnake.

I have returned to Olympia at least three times (maybe more) since, and came to know many other people – mainly but not only musicians – in the town. K released two singles by my band, and Pat Maley, another inspired and principled Olympian, recorded and released some other material I worked on; I spent time with Candice Pedersen, Calvin’s longtime business partner in K, in London and more recently with Lois and Calvin at different times in Australia. Which is to say, I was a bit player in the K/Olympia movie of the 80s-90s, but at the same time, I always felt honoured to play that little part in the whole, and the people I knew/know from there have had a huge influence on me over time, one I suspect was possibly mainly positive.

To emphasise: it was a bit part. I don’t believe Mark Baumgarten was mistaken to not interview me for his book, and in fact I don’t think that the Cannanes should have had more prominence than they do (though his description of the group is ludicrous; he obviously didn’t listen to the records).

I will say this: why of the one mention Baumgarten makes of me, does he rehash the story that in May 1986 I took a copy of the first Beat Happening album to Jerry Thackray who in turn played it for someone at Rough Trade, which released it in the UK? I guess I am egotistical enough to be perturbed by the thought that this is presently my biggest claim to fame: I was a part-way messenger for the Atlantic stretch of a now little-thought-of (it was their weakest) LP’s journey to an English record company. I am also a bit confused about how record labels normally hear bands and records; surely for decades people had played record company people records while saying ‘you should put this out’. Which is to say: it’s not even a very good story. But Jerry’s told it in a book at least once, Lois told it in her Beat Happening box set booklet, and now here it is again. I am not denying it happened; I’m only denying it’s interesting. Oddly, Baumgarten later ascribes Beat Happening’s relationship with Rough Trade to be the work of another man altogether; a curious twist, and a problematic one given the above, though I’m very happy for someone else to enjoy a place in the sun for this stellar act.

Back to matters of consequence: I have to say I tend to feel that as a book about the Olympia scene of the 80s-90s is concerned, this is really only just a first stab. Baumgarten talked to quite a few people, and I suspect quite a few others refused to talk to him (Jerry Thackray has recently said online that Baumgarten contacted him for an interview then didn’t follow through). I also wonder if some only agreed to talk on the condition that the book be a certain kind of history. The complete absence of personal relationships in the text – by which I mean, the various pairings and affairs that will naturally take place in a town full of young people with no reason not to carouse – is the first victim in the historical narrative. Now, I wasn’t looking for a kiss-and-tell, and nor do I believe that people should be defined by who they sleep with, and so on. But the people outlined in Baumgarten’s book are like anatomically incorrect dolls: aside from occasional references to sexual orientation (i.e., broadly defining people by who they sleep with), there are no assignations, liaisons or… anything. People who I know went out with each other, by which I mean, boyfriend and girlfriend, are just good friends in Baumgarten’s world. Now, when I wrote my Go-Betweens book, I walked a difficult line; perhaps to my discredit, I discussed some relationships, and not others, using a personal, inexplicable and largely forgotten set of criteria. But I did at least acknowledge that romantic relationships, per se, existed. At times reading this book you feel like you are dealing with a bunch of Sims.

Elsewhere the narrative is just dodgy. Beat Happening all go to Japan, then all return, and then ‘After returning to Olympia, Calvin and Bret reconnected with Heather’ (p. 93). I don’t get it (nor do I get the use of first names throughout, but let it pass). When discussing the Thackray-Go Team contribution, Baumgarten seems to find it an amusing quirk that Thackray is credited as ‘The Legend!’ – except this is the name he’d been known by for at least six years by that stage, in both recording and writing. These are things I feel confident stating are problematic; there are plenty of other elements that seem wrong. Then there’s the proofreading. A growing number of groups ‘made due’?? (p. 63). Calvin started asking Steve Connell for ‘advise’? (p. 97) and so on.

Perhaps to my mind the biggest issue here is that Baumgarten seems to consider the K label more interesting as an idea than any of its output. This is a belief more easily sustained when plainly he has never heard a lot of the material released. He makes it clear from the outset how highly he regards mainstream groups like the Beatles and the Jam; he also gives enormous coverage and credence to Nirvana – even declaring them ‘more talented’ than Beat Happening, an odd declaration in a book and also an opinion I consider stupid but mainly, when did it become a competition?

So, in the final analysis, the real lesson to be learnt from Love Rock Revolution is: not only should historians (amateur or professional, but using appropriately stringent methods) be the ones writing history, but it also helps when picking a topic to try something you actually like and are interested in – in Baumgarten’s case, big-name ‘talents’ from the pantheon of done-to-death (or indeed actually dead) top 40 stars. Certainly, the Baumgarten effort could have been a lot worse. I hope, however, that someone will ultimately take up the challenge of writing one a lot better. 

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

100 reviews, # 1: Jeff Apter's Chasing the Dragon

When it comes to Jeff Apter’s biography of Marc Hunter, Chasing the Dragon, I’m not only biased; I’m also jealous. About ten years ago, I determined to follow up the minor success of my book about the Go-Betweens with two other music histories: the ‘80s story’ of the Go-Betweens would be joined by the ‘sixties story’ of Pip Proud, and the ‘70s story’ of Dragon (of course all of these artists’ tales bled into subsequent decades, but there was some pattern and structure to this idea – which is not to say it wasn’t insane). Dragon was to come first, simply because I needed to shore up some profile for myself as a writer before embarking on the difficult (to sell, as so few had heard of him, and to write, as he remembered so little) Proud story.

Easy to plot these things out, we hacks do it all the time, and the plotting is half the fun. But I was different because I had a contract. An established publisher had drawn it up, and it was just a matter of when could I drop by and sign it, get my tiny advance and start for real on my Dragon book. I had a number of interviews with past members, and some further contacts to follow up, and some choice archival material. My great idea was to write the book in the first person of Dragon itself – like it was a monster – all too true, really. This was also a good idea because the group had no consistent members throughout its existence (Todd Hunter came closest, but left in the late 90s; of course he has since resurrected the band to good effect). Nothing ever lives up to your own expectations – least of all something you do yourself – but this could really have worked.

It was coming along, when I got a call from my would-be publisher: a meeting with the company’s New Zealand distributors had put paid to my project, as far as everyone there was concerned. NZ wasn’t interested in a Dragon book and therefore (in the minds of the Australian publishers) there wasn’t enough of a market. The contract was torn up, withdrawn, deleted, whatever, and I never even saw it. While I bravely vowed to press on, fate, fear, pursuit of a real day job and other junk got in the way and it withered. Some of my research was reshaped for the sleevenotes for the reissues of the first two Dragon albums on Aztec, the second of which is due to come out in 2012.

All of the above is not a tragic story of wasted time that could have been spent inventing the iPad or whatever people moan about when they think about the past. I mention this to alert you to the frame of mind I was in when I heard about Chasing the Dragon, and why I should not be writing a review of Chasing the Dragon. And here it is:

Apter is the ubermind behind a big fat conveyor-belt churn of hagiographical studies of (mainly fairly humdrum) musicians (that said, Mark Evans’ recent ‘as told to Jeff Apter’ memoir of AC/DC is masterful!) and he’s no doubt developed a process that serves him well in production/completion/deadline terms. He is probably already mapping out his 2013 titles, Not So Dum-Dum: the Tex Perkins Phenomenon and Such as That Which a Rolling Stone Would not Gather: the tale of Ian ‘Mossy’ Moss and for all I know his Sing if you’re Proud to be Pip. 

The choice of Marc Hunter as a biographical subject is a natural one, and while I would argue that Hunter was only one of a bunch of men that made up Dragon and not even necessarily the most interesting (someone else was researching a Paul Hewson book a few years ago – nothing’s come of that yet), attention is of course typically directed to the front man – that’s why they’re called ‘front men’. Hunter was a stunningly clever person, with an extremely quick wit and huge charm. He made a very good fist of appearing not to care what others thought of him and he was involved in the creation of many excellent records, though rarely as an instigator.

Apter captures the essence of Hunter’s public persona well, particularly in the extraordinary self-deprecatory – bordering on depressive – comments he made throughout most of his career (Though not an example of great wit exactly, Apter’s information that Hunter would typically introduce live performance of the song ‘April Sun in Cuba’ as ‘Another piece of shit’ gives the flavour of the singer’s approach). He also presents Hunter’s final years interestingly, when he was losing money and, though still well-known, unable to command large crowds.

However Apter also, for reasons that are either cunning elements of a process he developed, or attributable to the abovementioned laziness, streamlines the Hunter story fairly heavily. The reader never gets bogged down in the detail that would have infected my Dragon book (e.g. Apter radically understates the number of singles Dragon released before ‘This Time’ was a hit; contrary to his neat claim on pages 60-61 Paul Hewson did not replace Ray Goodwin, and in fact you can see them both playing in the band on Countdown clips on YouTube; do these things really matter to the bigger picture? In a sense ‘no’ and in another sense ‘absolutely’). Personally, I can see why it would be easy to dismiss the fact that Hunter recorded a solo single in New Zealand in the mid-70s as irrelevant in itself; but is it so unimportant if we are trying to piece together a complex, self-destructive singer – not, certainly, a reluctant star but definitely one with an unconventional approach to stardom? Which is to say – he recorded a solo single in New Zealand, Jeff, why? Was he planning a solo career back then? Did he do solo shows in the mid-70s parallel to being in Dragon? You make a lot out of his love of ‘lounge’ music, and how it was so different to the prog-rock Dragon; so what about this pop record, ‘X-Ray Creature’? What does that say?

At other times, one wonders if Apter has actually listened to his interviewees: he accepts the line that Marc Hunter didn’t care about the albums he made between his ejection from Dragon in 1978 and the band’s reformation in 1982; that they were tossed off, and more of an excuse for a party than a genuine attempt to promote a career. Yet he will also quote a collaborator from this period as saying that recording with Hunter was ‘always interesting and fun’, producing some ‘great stuff’ and that he ‘always managed to keep it serious.’ I personally feel these are terribly underrated albums, full of great songs, at least as good as the best Dragon pop. Apter’s attitude is noncommittal; he clearly thinks that any participant’s opinion is better than his own, or that it’s all a bunch of opinions in a pot, and that since he apparently doesn’t like the music much himself he might as well stick to others’ memories, barely probed.

The laziness also goes down familiar roads of the rock bio where authors so often feel safe dissing things they have surely never heard merely because it’s fun to slag off the unsuccessful or obscure: for instance, Apter’s discussion of a pre-Dragon band, Heavy Pork, as ‘less-known-the-better.’ Once again this is a small point but an important one exemplifying certain unsatisfactory elements of the overall. Apter has never heard Heavy Pork – or if he has he doesn’t say as much – and is pretty sure we’ll never hear them either, and indeed, there are probably no recordings or perhaps even reliable memories of their songs or sound. This proves nothing about their value, and a good writer doesn’t make those kinds of judgments on something he or she can’t know anything about: when did ignorance ever keep you critically aware? Excuse the hyperbolic comparison but if Max Brod had burnt Kafka’s manuscripts, would that make Metamorphosis ‘less-known-the-better’? Apter shows similar colours when he comes to discuss the first two Dragon albums, Universal Radio and Scented Gardens for the Blind. There is some indication that he has listened to the first of these (he could have bought it on CD, although he presumably didn’t listen to the end of the Aztec reissue where the mid-70s Hunter solo single is included), and perhaps not the second, for which he quotes conflicting assessments including some tosh about ‘god-awful mellotron’. He plainly didn’t see the need to do a huge amount of research on either of these records, to a degree I personally find baffling (not because I believe he has to like them, but if you’re writing a biography of someone, at very least pretend to care and acquaint yourself with everything they’ve done!). One song on the first Dragon album is reputedly about Marc and Todd’s father: a song on their fifth album with lyrics and music by Marc Hunter is about the problems inherent in fame, fortune and overabundance. It’s always interesting to read about how an artist talks about their own life in their work – particularly when they’re commenting on a life they’re presently living. Apter couldn’t spare the time to sit down with a few LPs, unfortunately – or even to peruse a lyric sheet.

Indeed – coming back to the streamlining and/or laziness speculation – I found myself often wondering how much work he genuinely put into even the basic research for this book. For instance, there is an oft-told story about one of Dragon’s panoply of mid-seventies managers locking them in a room one weekend and telling them they couldn’t come out till they had written a hit single. On the Monday they had ‘This Time’, their first hit. True or not (Apter did interview three of the principles who could presumably have confirmed or denied) it’s a nice piece of Dragon folklore, and not mentioned at all herein. There are also curios like Apter’s references to producer Peter Dawkins which indicate that he isn’t sure if Dawkins is still alive – he is – but figured he could hedge his bets by referring to him in the past tense. 
Apter also seems to have little feel for the period(s) he’s writing about. He happily quotes onetime journalist, now record industry exec Ed St John putting forward one of the strangest, most utterly refutable broad statements about Australian music in the 1970s: ‘The music critic community was more influential then, and they tended to reward you if you were inner city and cutting edge, and give you demerit points if you were pop and on Countdown.’ It’s true that a small cohort of opinion-shapers was dismissive of teenyboppers, and untrue to imply that people who are ‘cutting edge’ should not be rewarded, but overall the notion that a ‘music critic community’ wielded power in the mid-70s is simply ridiculous. Countdown and other music TV; 3XY and 2SM and other pop radio; promoters – this was where power was weilded. Music critics, whatever their forum, were wielding less than they do even today, and that’s barely anything.

And so it goes.

People who like to read books about pop music get a raw deal, probably due to the assumption amongst publishers, on the whole, that music books may as well be cheap and nasty because they’re not generally bought for literary merit, but for secondary reasons – sentimentality, or as a guide or adjunct to something else the reader already owns, or for the sake of a lightly scandalous read about a celebrity – big Who Weekly features, but more padding and less care. Paul Kelly’s and Don Walker’s books from the last few years are exceptions, and that very fact shows up at least as much about the snob appeal of the market (Kelly and Walker are high-end ‘bards’) as it does about the merit of their books (which is considerable).

Chasing the Dragon has a whole different set of problems, chiefly its author’s lack of interest in the work at hand, but also its perceived audience. I hear Dragon songs every time I go to the supermarket (it’s one of the things I love about going shopping) and on the radio; they get played at birthday parties or in television promos for the Puberty Blues series, for instance. I know they’re as ubiquitous as any other generic ‘hits and memories’ staple pitched at people my age or slightly older. Dragon might not have been such personalities as, say, Sherbet and Skyhooks, but everyone knows they were all heroin and hysteria, and Marc in particular was tall and good looking. I assume that Hardie Grant, the publisher here, made the assessment firstly that there was no need for a Dragon book to be written by anyone professing a special interest in the man’s output, and I also have to assume that the advance Apter got was not enough for him to indulge himself in a lot of research (the so-called ‘bibliography’ on the last page of the book is laughably tiny).

Apter has produced a professional and commercially acceptable book, presenting a very superficial outline of a complex and unusual individual. Ultimately of the Apter book I could not say I would have done better or with fewer mistakes, only that I would have produced something I liked more.

As the shallowness of his book indicates, and as I will sorrowfully admit, most people don’t understand the broader Dragon oeuvre in ‘pop craftsmanship’ terms (and cultural snobbery doesn’t really countenance ‘pop craftstmanship’), and would be unlikely to purchase a book discussing it in detail, and so on. Ultimately, people – everywhere – tend not to write in complex ways about pop music, or at least when they do, the people who like that pop music often don’t want to read it, i.e. pop music is seemingly artless, therefore, don’t get arty (much less intellectual) when you’re discussing it: it puts off the punters. If pop music books are going to be nothing more than sentimental journeys and/or tabloid tell-alls – full of stuff you either already knew or could have guessed, or reshaped tropes from other classic tragedies – perhaps it’s best to keep away from them altogether.

I know I said ‘ultimately’ but actually there’s one more issue. I’ve met Apter, and I’ll probably meet him again someday when I’m least expecting it. Australia is a diverse and relatively small nation, and while it has a wide cultural arena, I am writing this critique in the full knowledge that Apter will read it, and that at times in my life I will probably end up talking to him. Who knows, he may even comment (don’t, Jeff). The point I would like to make about this probability is that generally speaking niceness continues to prevail in a lot of criticism and discourse on topics like the above (and many others, of course) because of such a two-degrees-of-separation scenario. But even Apter would surely agree – especially when he’s not on the receiving end – hatchet jobs (which, incidentally, this has not been) are part and parcel of keeping a culture spinning round.

My feeling with this book is, everyone (author-subject-readers) deserves better. I would extend that to the field of criticism in our artistic community as well. This production gets a C minus. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

i wonder what brian mannix thinks

(This is another potential newspaper piece from a year or so ago that I couldn't figure out a proper ending for and never submitted anywhere. You know how it is. So that's why Mia only gets referred to as 'my wife' etc.)

It’s late for a weeknight, and I’m trying to get back home to Broadmeadows from Northcote in what looks like a straightforward fashion – tram towards Bundoora and then a Smart Bus via Keon Park. It being the 21st century, I figure I could do worse than check when the next Smart Bus is coming, so I call metlink. I want, I tell a man, to get a bus to Airport West. He retreats behind muzak and announcements for five minutes and then returns. ‘You want to go to Melbourne Airport?’

Melbourne has a rich and extraordinary history, and its nomenclature is a big part of that. Settlers and public servants and developers and others have all played a part in attaching names to places – be it a place name (or random word) from an indigenous language, the name of an old homestead, an evocation of someone’s birthplace in Britain, or a prominent politician. All of these are legitimate to varying degrees.

Where problems arise are in similarities. Ten years ago my wife and I lived in Mincha Street, West Brunswick. Manica Street is two blocks away; both streets run north from Brunswick Road near the turn off to the Tulla. The number of times that people – taxi drivers, party goers, other general visitors – came to our door hoping it was 6 Manica Street became ridiculous (and that doesn’t include the number of times we got 6 Manica Street’s mail). Presumably 6 Manica got our mail and visitors too. What was perhaps strangest was the disbelief – even disgust and dismay – directed our way by others’ mistakes.

Those two streets have been two blocks apart for a hundred and twenty years, and surely hundreds of thousands of visitors have been confused by the similarity for more than a century. It’s only a couple of minutes to go from the right place to the wrong place; the errant visitors might even have become better people through learning to read not just the first and last letter of a name but also the letters in between. But it is, essentially, a confusion that did not ever have to happen.

Once, we lived in Hartwell; a friend coming to visit one Saturday afternoon got on the Altona train rather than the Alamein, and lost two hours. Well, anyone can half read a sign. But the electrification of the line from Broadmeadows to Craigieburn has given Melbourne a new soundalike: now there is a Craigieburn line and a Cranbourne line, and it would be a stretch to find two stations that were so far apart on the suburban system, yet sounded so similar. I have to confess, I’ve been caught out a couple of times listening to half-garbled train announcements or rushing to get to the right platform at Flinders Street. So imagine you’re new to Melbourne: how easy would it be to go wrong?

Why, for that matter, would you even suspect there was a difference between a bus to Airport West and Melbourne Airport? Let’s not even get onto Hampton vs. Hampton Park, or the several hundred ‘Railway Parades’ and ‘Victoria Streets’ in our fair city.

In many ways, there are strong similarities between these problems and those of the English language generally. We are told by fans of English’s peccadilloes that it is a rich and diverse patchwork of historical accidents that connect us to Chaucer and the Bard, and to lose any component of our language stew is to lose our intellectual heritage; at the same time, we’re told that English is always changing and shifting, and that’s part of the pleasure – the important thing being that there be no hand in control of the changes. Similarly, local place names have local meanings (even if, like English, they are often second-hand, distorted, half-understood or non-understood meanings) and these are not to be messed with. Cranbourne and Craigieburn: two appropriated British place names of tenuous value, which we cannot tamper with because they have always been and must ever be.

I’m positing that place names are there to distinguish places from each other. Putting Manica two streets away from Mincha was a short-sighted decision. One of those names (or, to be absolutely fair, both of them) should be changed. Craigieburn and Cranbourne should be changed, too, or railway lines should be named for their orientation (South West Line, North West Line, or Hume Line, or whatever). Airport West should get a name that acknowledges, firstly, that when most Melbournians (much less most tourists) think of an Airport, they don’t think about Essendon Airport, and secondly, Airport West is a really bad name for a perfectly pleasant suburb. This is not interfering with a rich tapestry: it’s redefining it to make it richer. It’s also an opportunity to come up with new names that recognize women, indigenous people, and other concepts that did not previously get a look in when naming decisions were made in the past.

No doubt television news can hit the streets when this article is published and vox pop three random Airport Westers whose first response will be ‘Why change Airport West? Everyone knows where Airport West is.’ But then perhaps someone could give them a few minutes to consider all the times in the past where confusion has reigned. The next step of course would be to proactively come up with an option that didn’t just designate a place as west of one of Melbourne’s many Airports which no-one thinks of as ‘the airport’ anymore. It’s easy – it can even be lucrative, stripping out prejudice towards places perceived, for no good reason, as low status – but no-one wants to bite the bullet (or perhaps, seem pretentious). I wonder what Brian Mannix thinks? 

Friday, July 13, 2012


Today I was at B'meadows station and there were people in Myki shirts with Myki pamphlets. As I swiped my Myki card on the Myki card reader one of the Myki men said to me

MM: How are you liking Myki?
ME: Well, I don't love it.
MM: Don't love it... so you don't hate it?
ME: Sometimes I hate it.
[Silence, mexican stand off for a second until our eyes disengage and I walk off down the platform, during which:]
MM [thinks]: I don't care about Myki. You don't care about Myki. At least give me some acknowledgement that I am a human being, and we are having a conversation. Use some of those ordinary conversational tropes we white men use and give out a little bit of karma, so it's not just all about Myki and what a terrible system it is.
ME [thinks]: I fuckin' hate Myki, when it comes down to it. I would really like to make the idiot who invented this terrible, unworkable system eat Myki cards till they shit Myki cards. 

a year ago today: publicity for the bogan delusion

Tomorrow is, I think, the absolute last publicity commitment. Strangely, it was almost the first one undertaken - I was booked for this months ago. I'm going to be on a show on 3CR.

Today however I got a call out of the blue from a journalist on the Dandenong Leader, who interviewed me for a long time about Doveton, which I write about quite extensively in the book. We talked for ages, then we got cut off somehow, then we talked for ages again later in the day. It was fine.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

too hot for the age

(This is an op ed piece I submitted to The Age on spec earlier in the week. They didn't respond, which is their prerogative of course. They responded three days later with a rejection email, which is their prerogative of course.)

Over the last few weeks, I have been having a public stoush with a man called Peter Olney. Olney, who is the secretary of the Whitehorse Ratepayer’s Association, believes that Asian businesses in his area – and I suppose by extension everywhere in Australia – should have English signage explaining what it is they sell.

The mayor of Whitehorse has described Olney’s idea as crazy. If I had to choose one word to use, I might pick that one. But perhaps another word – futile? – might be handy for an idea whose inventor is ‘not really interested’ in whether he gets ‘much support’ – or so he told the Melbourne Weekly Eastern a few weeks ago. Which begs the question that if he’s apathetic about the follow through, why raise it in the first place?

But the Olney concept is more complicated than that. When I had the pleasure of being interviewed for A Current Affair about Olney’s concept, I was told in advance the four questions I’d be asked. When the camera was on, a fifth emerged: ‘Is Peter Olney racist?’

I doubt he is, and said so, but of course the Olney protest is the touch paper for racists. Racists are by definition people unable to see a complex view of society. Such folk are not smart enough to have even crazy ideas of their own – but quick to support anything that supports their own narrow, nasty world view. Many of the online comments on both the MWE and ACA websites were along the lines of English being the ‘official language’ of Australia and how political correctness had gone too far. Political correctness – such as it is – is actually not that interested in how shopkeepers advertise their wares, but let that pass. In an argument about clarity, let’s call racism by its real name: racism that bases its argument on the unlikely possibility of the mainstream being discriminated against by the minority is, similarly, still racism.

The bigger issue, though, is what passes as normal and comprehensible. Clearly, if Peter Olney doesn’t know what’s being sold in any shop in Whitehorse, he can go inside and ask – though he seems like a smart chap and it’s probably pretty obvious before he goes that far. However, I wonder if Olney has thought about the other ramifications of his request?

It has never really bothered me if a shop does not have signs in English. But it has bothered me, from time to time, when it is not clear what outlets are actually providing. The boutiques of Chapel and Brunswick Streets, to give a for instance, are often labeled only by a solitary word. Hairdressers have long run out of names using puns on the word ‘hair’. Cafes and restaurants might easily drop off the descriptor in their signage; why bother? Their clientele knows. Peter Olney might not always be able to pick out which shop sells what on Lygon Street Carlton – or, for that matter, in Whitehorse Plaza – even amongst the ‘anglo’ retailers. I haven’t heard him complain about this, however, and I wonder where he feels truth in signage should stop?

Because, when it comes down to it, what Olney is objecting to – even within the proviso that he’s not really interested if his objection has any effect - is that not everyone knows what’s being sold in particular outlets. Which leads me to a very obvious, but still very pertinent, example of the same: McDonald’s.

We’ve had McDonald’s in Australia for close to forty years now, and most of us know what we’re in for when we enter its doors. If you didn’t know, you could go in and assess the situation pretty fast. But that hardly fits the Olney objection: McDonald’s do not label their premises ‘McDonalds Cheapish Fast Food With a High Sugar and Fat Content’, and indeed they’ve been spending a motza in recent years to try and pretend that’s not what they’re pushing.

Indeed, over time, McDonald’s have been moving to uberminimalism in labeling and signage: the big yellow M, the golden arches, is their beacon on the hill. Fine if you know what it means, as Peter Olney might say, but very discriminatory if you don’t. Last I heard, McDonald’s, English was the official language of Australia; the hieroglyph of those big curvy golden arches doesn’t mean anything in that official language. By the way, who is McDonald? Oh, that’s right, there is no McDonald – it’s a name purchased by the Czech-derived Ray Kroc to market a product to Americans in the 1960s. But we can leave truth in possessive apostrophes for later.

This is not political correctness gone mad, as much as Olney’s supporters might suggest. In fact, it’s exactly what they want: one rule for everyone. I demand to know, via external signage, what is sold in a McDonald’s outlet; what KFC stands for; if the Rooster really is Red. We’ll then move on to things like ‘Bunnings Warehouse’, which I gather is not so much a warehousing operation as a large supermarket for hardware items; and a little business concern called Coles which I have on good authority does have even one cole, whatever that might be, in stock. Fix these up and then – and only then – we can get started on the little traders, selling to an exclusive clientele, who know what’s being sold within by big signs. Yes, they may be in a language other than English. But they are, at least, in a language.