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

myki

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. 

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

ho hum the media is tedia

Not really, I'm loving it. Back in 2012 once again, don't be confused by these 'a year ago' posts. I have been in the media a fair bit in the last week, via the University's media unit, I assume because the people who are normally asked for comment are out of town or otherwise sensibly away from their desks. But I am enjoying it. It is, as you can well imagine, also always very interesting to see who watched commercial television news/current affairs - not the people you'd imagine (but they do always say 'I honestly never watch A Current Affair but I saw you...'). I mean I believe them. These things happen for a reason.

So, I was on ACA last week (more about that topic later today or tomorrow) and two newses on Monday. The Monday was about Robert Doyle's pronouncement on the front of the Age about city eyesores that megarich developers were sitting on for the time being. I met the news crews at the Savoy Inn in Spencer St and answered a few questions from my professional standpoint. The weirdest thing about doing this is that you talk to them for 5 mins with the very clear knowledge that they will probably use a sentence, at most. I don't object to that per se, but my mind is always running in the background 'is that the bit they'll use?' of course I can't know because I don't know what other people have said.



Anyway, I was at the Savoy a few minutes early and had a look around it. I was surprised to discover that this building, which is a pub from I guess the early to mid-70s which has been empty since the mid-1990s, is actually a platform over a car park. I'd love to see inside it again.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

a year ago today: publicity for the bogan delusion

People at work keep coming up to me and talking about bogans. I have no idea who some of them are.
There was an opinion piece in the Age this morning critiquing pop-culture opinion programs. It singled out Can of Worms for equating the putative existence of bogans with that of God, I wonder if this came from the title of my book, but I didn't see the program so I'm not sure.

Friday, July 06, 2012

a year ago today: publicity for the bogan delusion

Publicity is tapering off, I assume, even if television is catching on. On Saturday I did the MTR interview as mentioned, then yesterday I did the final capital city ABC of all - Hobart. It was a good half hour, and very enjoyable, so I didn't mind too much basically devoting my Tuesday evening to the whole thing. The interviewer had gone round her office (I think?) asking random (?) people what a bogan was and once again my point was proven - everybody gave different viewpoints. And ultimately the only commonality was a mullet, and I said I am quite often in Tasmania ('because I love it' - I thought that was a nice touch and also true) and I have never seen anyone with a mullet. Then I went off on a strange little tangent, even as a voice in my head was saying not to, talking about how in 20 years maybe when we're all celebrating the fabulous days of the bogans everyone will have mullet wigs.

Television is catching on because apparently my book was mentioned on The Circle on Monday morning prepping the world for discussion of 'is "bogan" a slur' on the new show Can of Worms which was premiering that night. The actual COW didn't mention my book at all, though, I'm told. I don't care but Martin Hughes was pretty cross I gather.

No doubt I've said this before but I'm ready to move on, really. I have two more interviews - both public radio - Perth and Melbourne. Then that's it.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

it just goes on

So as you can see for the last few weeks I have let my younger self from June-July 2011 run the show, he has been doing an OK job. In the meantime my present self has been getting on with work related things, went to Canberra to do some research (I know, we've covered that, to some degree) and have been trying to get some long-overdue writing done. I've been listening a lot to the Soft Machine era when they drafted Phil Howard in to replace Robert Wyatt. I am intrigued by Phil Howard (1) because his playing was (perhaps still is, though no-one knows where he is or what he does) incredible and challenging, and (2) because he was Australian apparently but he does not appear to have done anything in Australia before he left - he must have done something but what?! and (3) because as implied earlier, he disappeared about 40 years ago. 'Moved to New York', they say. So, I'm just fascinated. (1) is the only really important part of it and without (1) I wouldn't have too much interest in (2) or (3) but it is fascinating when people just slip away like that. He was in Soft Machine for 5 months and he was too free form for 2 of the 4 members at that time. They'd just thrown Robert Wyatt out, who was the heart and soul of the thing, and now they had to contend with another drummer who was looking like he might well end up taking them into a whole new territory, and they had enough trouble marking out the territory they had. He recorded one side of Soft Machine 5. I still think SM went downhill badly when they stopped RW singing, but this PH stuff is really fascinating, especially when he gets out the two kick drums.

Did I mention Garry Disher? I've been reading a lot of Garry Disher, who I really enjoy as well. When 'I say a lot of Garry Disher', poor Garry he seems to have written a huge amount of books and I'm only reading the thrillers. But they are pretty great - I have a feeling I'd be reading them even if there weren't the killings and the crimes. Particularly the Challis-Destry ones because of the atmosphere of the Mornington Peninsula. But I like the Wyatt ones too.

Last night I had a dream I had a birthday and almost everyone there was older than me and wore white bowling uniforms. Anyway, back to the golden olden days of 2011... there are three more posts coming up re: the publicity campaign of last year. I edited some of this stuff into a final chapter for the e-Book version of the book, which I still haven't seen incidentally but I gather it exists

Monday, July 02, 2012

a year ago today: publicity for the bogan delusion

I was most gratified by a good review in the Spectator. Even if it was short, and my pleasure a little problematised by the fact that the reviewer compared my book favourably to Owen Jones’ Chavs book which I didn’t necessarily need to happen (at the same time, I did kind of note that Jones somewhere, somehow is attributed with comparing himself to Orwell, which seems a bit Icarusy to me). Jones and Imogen Tyler, who I discussed (i.e. ‘used’) a little bit in my book were on Laurie Taylor’s Thinking Allowed on Radio 4 last week. I’d sent Taylor a copy of my book a few weeks ago, with the hint-hint that I’d be in London in September, and Jones is aware of my book, so I was hoping they’d mention it but nope.

My grandmother Marion would have loved me getting a review in the Spectator, favourable or otherwise, because she read it every week. Though she would for all that have probably not agreed with my book (I’m not sure; it’s hard to imagine her responding to 2011, particularly as she more or less disengaged from daily events in the final years of her life, so I’m used to memories of her not caring about what was going on outside her four walls).

I am writing this en route to my third (I think) commercial radio interview, at MTR (Melbourne Talk Radio – I’d never heard of it – used to be 3MP, which I listened to a lot when I was 11 or 12). It’s Glenn Ridge’s show, I’m only vaguely aware of who he is, too, which would only make sense to me via who he was – a tv game show host or something similar? That’s what I told Mia anyway, now I’m starting to doubt it.

Late: so I went to do the Ridge show, and it was fine – the guys on the show were pretty slick, and I was fairly scattered in my responses, but I imagine that’s OK – the important thing probably is not to seem smug or pompous. The whole thing had a cloud over it though, because there were police all over the station because someone had died in the building overnight, probably a suicide. When I got there the producer mentioned all the cops and I said, what’s that about and she said you don’t want to know, but then later when I was in the control room a panel operator came in and talked all about it, occasionally casting glances at me. The person who died had motor neurone disease, he was 60 and apparently there had been some kind of party the previous week after which he had called to thank everyone who had come, and there was a theory that he’d been saying goodbye to everyone. He’d done his show that morning and then he had died somewhere on the premises. I thought the staff I was talking to there were a bit in shock but they were coping.

So I did the Ridge show and it was fun. Unlike Fidler, they hadn’t read the book and I should be regarding that more as an opportunity (the difference is, I suppose, if the interviewer has read the book they become your collaborator in presenting your ideas to the audience; if they don’t know anything about it, you have to scrub away at their unknowingness). Not that I blame anyone for not having read it, I couldn’t give a loose root.