Monday, May 31, 2004

How German Is It

I haven't been across to the National Gallery of Australia much lately. My mistake.

On Friday I had a wander through the international galleries. In the middle of one room is a book. A very large book. Imagine a book, standing on the floor, about as tall as you and me, opened back against the spine so that the pages fan out in a circle. You can walk around this book and peer in at the pages. But the book is a dark, kind of bronze colour, and the detail is quite hard to make out. And, of course, it is not a real book. It is a recent piece by Anselm Keifer. It's not exactly a sculpture and not exactly a painting. It's called "The Secret Lives of Plants". I will be coming over to look at it quite a bit. I have always been drawn to Keifer's work. I don't have any idea why. It requires work. It's also very bleak. The Gallery has for a long time had another one of his pieces, a large monochrome painting with a big piece of industrial machinery embedded in the centre; there are train tracks heading away from you at the bottom of the painting. There's not much doubt as to what the subject matter is (and if there was any doubt, it is usually hung near a large Sigmar Polke painting of a guard tower). And yet when our niece came to stay with us for her 10th birthday a year or two ago, this is a girl who is very fond of horses, she picked that out as her favourite painting in the Gallery.

And in the next room, which at present is laid out as a large, cavernous space filled with abstract expressionist and minimalist works, with no sculptures or anything else on the floor to get in the way of the majestic paintings (here is the Gallery's Motherwell; here's its Rothko; over there's "Blue Poles" (which completely astounds me every time I see it)). And on the wall opposite Blue Poles there's another new acqisition: a 1984 Gerhard Richter oil painting, abstract, like nothing I've seen of his before (I'm more used to the more photo realist - if that's the right term - work, like the Gallery's portrait of Gilbert + George) but completely gorgeous, such vivid greens and yellows. It works well opposite the Pollock, offering a possibly calming, possibly malevalent contrast to Blue Poles' sheer joy.

So, two recently acquired German works. I would like to think that this means that somewhere there might lurk some of those stunning, large-scale photographic works of, say, Thomas Struth or Andreas Gursky, which, given the Gallery's lack of a permanent photography gallery, are just waiting for an opportunity to be shown. Or then again, maybe not.

Friday, May 21, 2004

This week's Media Watch

We are grateful to "Media Watch" for informing us of the title of Professor David Flint's book: "Twilight of the Elites".

We can see it now: "Johnno" Howard and "Flints" Flint, sitting out on the front verandah at Kiribilli, gazing wistfully at the darkness descending over their spiritual home, the western suburbs of Sydney, relaxed and comfortable in their King Gee work shorts and blue truck-driver singlets, barefoot, stubby holders in hand (Johnno's commemorates the life of Sir Donald Bradman, while Flints's bears a humorous portrait of his idol, Alan Jones, and the caption "Your behaviour disgusts me, Kamahl"), while Jeanette Howard and Mrs Flint (assuming there is a Mrs Flint) share a flagon of spumante in the kitchen. You'll recognise Jeanette: she's the one wearing the "I'm With Stupid" t-shirt.

Sunday, May 16, 2004

Love Is In The Air

Re Eurovision 2004:

How could you not vote for the country whose entrant has an album called "I Am The Wind Of Love"?

Friday, May 14, 2004

Organ grinder

I have been laid low by the lurgi for a couple of days. Observations:

1. There may not ever have been a better sound committed to tape than Wayne Horvitz's Fender Rhodes on Zony Mash's reworking of Zorn's "Tekufah", appearing on the 2-cd set Voices In The Wilderness, a conglomeration of the Downtown hipsterati all providing their own takes on Masada pieces. A mixed bag, of course, and given one's unfamiliarity with most of the performers (readable signposts are medeski, martin & wood and Kramer (no, not that one, the one from Bongwater)) it will take a while to absorb, but if you are as mesmerised by Zorn's Masada compositions as I am there are a lot of revelations and surprises here. But for now, at least, Horvitz's fat, falling-into-distortion keyboard wins the prize. Guaranteed to rid your house of termites.

2. The thing I like about Air, well one of the things anyway, is that you might have listened to "Mike Mills", a seemingly harmless instrumental from their new album, Talkie Walkie, a hundred times, and yet in an unguarded moment the strings that kick in around the half way mark can reach out, open up your chest and tear out you heart, leaving you completely shattered, as if you had never heard them before. Which, obviously, you hadn't.

3. I had never realised how closely the first song on side two of the self-titled ep by Stephen, from 1988 (and, I think, the only record they ever did) - "Thinkin' About You" - charts the course that David Kilgour's solo career was going to take. I don't know how long it would be since I have listened to this. Sometimes it pays to brush off the dust - you might learn something.

Wednesday, May 12, 2004

Pot Luck

Isn't it funny how things come in threes.

I had not previously been conscious of having been in any way aware of the concept of the "potluck" dinner or supper. I still have no idea what it is, but my blissful ignorance about its existence was knocked out from under me by the following:

A reference to a "potluck supper" in the Jim Harrison short story "Father Daughter" in the March 29, 2004 issue of the New Yorker.

The very next week, same magazine, in Jonathan Lethem's completely brilliant "Super Goat Man" (which you should read), a reference to "potluck dinners".

One week later, you know where, in the same part of the magazine as that week's short story, a cartoon bearing the punchline "Thanks for the potluck."

This is not unlike the consecutive references in the same magazine a few months earlier to "coaling stations" (see an earlier post of mine). Has the "potluck" been making regular appearances in the New Yorker (or anywhere else) that I have failed to pick up on until now, or is something a bit strange going on here?

This Is Not A Test

Well it is, actually.

Here's something I wrote a long time ago and never got around to really finishing.

Here's a song we like by people we know. We haven't sought their permission and we hope they don't mind.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004


Most lunchtimes I go out for a walk beside the lake. For some months now there has been a pair of grey underpants (size and gender not determined; I haven't been carrying a stick to poke them with) lying beneath a weepin' willow just past Commonwealth Avenue bridge.

On Saturday afternoon on our way to the National Library I noticed that a car was parked beside the tree. I said to Adrienne, "Looks like they've come to collect their undies".

And, lo and behold!, yesterday the underpants had gone.

I love a happy ending.

Monday, May 10, 2004


Annie Proulx on Edward Hopper.

I would probably want to read that.

G.I. Blues

Looking at those terrible photographs of the mistreatment of Iraqi "prisoners". Don't get me started. But:

A good rule of thumb is that, if you can't explain it to the kids, you probably shouldn't be doing it. And we've been having to keep the newspapers well away from the curious eyes of those boys of ours for the last week or so.

One also wonders whether this is why America has been so aggressive in keeping itself beyond the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court.

The best of all possible Worlds

Random comments generated by Jon Dale's April '04 Worlds of Possibility archive:

1. Particularly good piece on Galaxie 500.

2. Dif Juz w/ Lee Perry: My own take on Scratch is that his work since setting fire to the Black Ark has been patchy at best, so maybe Jon shouldn't get too excited about the existence of some (possibly mythical) Perry/4AD cross-pollination. What I would like to hear is the stuff Perry supposedly did with Robert Palmer (late 70s?), which I recall reading about in a Palmer obit.

3. Archie and Jughead's American Records? Rings a serious bell. Either I've got a record somebody once bought from there and left the price tag on, or it used to advertise somewhere like "Roadrunner", or I went there on my only trip to Adelaide in 1983. Or it's not even in Adelaide. Or anywhere else in Australia. Or it's not even a record shop. My mind must be failing. Help!

4. Traces of a record's previous ownership: I bought my copy of the Heptones' Party Time in an opportunity shop in Clunes, a tiny, un-rediscovered (at least it was then) Victorian goldmining town. It still bore the price tag, which revealed that it had originally been bought from a record store in Key West, Florida. There may be a great short story buried in there somewhere, I wouldn't think that's a road well travelled. (At the same op shop I found a copy of Richard Thompson's Rock On, which I should have kept for myself but which instead, in a well-meaning act of patronage, I gave to my friend Darren, who is a major Fairport Convention fan but who had somehow managed not to know much at all about Thompson's career post-Fairports. Darren would probably have been more taken by its companion album Morris On, but that's another story.) I also have, in a box somewhere, an Iain Sinclair paperback (either "Downriver" or "Radon Daughters" I think) in which Rowland S Howard has signed his name. Go figure.

Saturday, May 08, 2004

This Ain't Casablanca(s)

Thanks to the lovely Carmen at the High Court Cafe I have spent the last few days buried deep in the Franz Ferdinand album. There's lots to like: I like their sense of humour; I like the way the second song goes from a snakey Pere Ubu guitar line into a chorus that could be from a sixties garage pop band - say, the Easybeats; I like the Gang of Four references (note the melodica that sneaks in during "40'"). But most of all I like the way all of the "retro" stylings are deployed in the service of such a strong collection of stick-in-your-head pop songs.

Which is the essential difference between Franz Ferdinand and The Strokes: the Strokes (says me) are/were nothing more than a novelty act - a fairly obscure novelty act, admittedly, but a novelty act nonetheless. The instant response to hearing "Is This It" was: my god, these kids have somehow channeled the sound of New York circa 1978. The later, measured response was: where's the meat? Like junk food, the contents of "Is This It" dissipated to nothing immediately after consumption, unable to be recalled. (Okay, you could always hum the line "New York city cops / They ain't that smart", but that was most likely as a result of the publicity surrounding the song rather than the song itself.)

Then for an encore they showed that they could also "do" the Cars. Not much future in that, is there? Whereas Franz have produced eleven songs for the long haul.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Play for Today

Listening habits: today we have gone from Dawn Upshaw singing Bach and Purcell to Franz Ferdinand, a bit of a disjunction even by my standards. Now our regular trawl across the Net has revealed that Sir Coxsone Dodd, founder of Studio One, has rolled his last spliff, so we are scratching around the office for something sympathetic to play. All we can turn up (not really "all", it's pretty damn good in its own right but not exactly "Studio One") is Upsetter in Dub, a collection of Lee Perry dubs from the 70s. Well, we rarely need much excuse around these parts to get the dubs happening.

Sunday, May 02, 2004

And now a word from our sponsor

Tomorrow I turn 40. I have spent most of the past few months pondering how I reached this point in my life without really noticing it. I find it impossible to reconcile the age I feel that I am (about 28) with the age I clearly am in fact. I suppose that to the untrained eye I am indeed in mid-life - kids, house, Subaru, garden, greying hair. But I just can't see myself as falling within that category. I panic about this fairly often. The ticking clock haunts me like the one swallowed by the crocodile in "Peter Pan". Well, I suppose now it's upon me I will just have to get used to it. Or maybe it's best if I don't. I figure as long as I keep listening to new music I won't get too stale.

I hope to get an iPod for my birthday, but I don't really expect to. It would be nice if someone gave me David Sedaris's "Me Talk Pretty One Day" or the DVD of Michel Gondry's music videos. Which I've never even seen. (The DVD or the videos. Except the White Stripes Lego one.) But that's not likely to happen either. I'm nursing a fairly severe headcold at present, so all celebrations are off. At least I know there'll be a cake. It's just come out of the oven.

And Melbourne has just taken Carlton to the cleaners in the AFL, so that's a nice present too.

Last Week's Media Watch

The story so far:

Professor David Flint is head of the Australian Broadcasting Authority. It is his job to oversee the regulation of the behaviour (including financial) of those involved in radio in Australia.

Professor Flint was appointed by the government.

John Laws is a prominent Sydney radio talkback announcer who was pinged by the ABA a few years back for accepting large sums of money from Telstra in return for talking up Telstra’s good works on his programme. This was presented as editorial comment, not advertising, a deception which is not allowed under the broadcasting legislation.

Alan Jones is another prominent Sydney radio talkback announcer. He was for some time a critic of Telstra (while accepting money from Telstra’s rival, Optus). He has since become a big advocate of Telstra, by essentially the same route as that taken by Laws. There are two differences of note:

1. Jones was able to avoid incurring the wrath of the ABA. This was notwithstanding preliminary findings of clear wrongdoing (according to documents produced to Media Watch). The reason for the different findings in relation to Jones and Laws can only lie in the application of form over substance, a.k.a. sleight of hand. Laws was paid by Telstra; in the case of Jones, he (Jones) was given part ownership of the radio station and Telstra then paid the money to the station. No contract therefore needed to exist between Jones and Telstra. This is what is known in the trade as a “loophole”. Presumably the fact the Jones went overnight from being Telstra’s biggest critic to its newest champion was just a happy coincidence.

2. Professor Flint, it would now appear, is one of Alan Jones’ biggest fans. So much so that he has now been exposed as having sent at least one gushing letter of praise to Jones, on ABA letterhead, and without the knowledge or consent of the ABA (of which he presumably would understand that he is only the head, not the body).

All of this you know already. What I am interested in is another possible conspiracy theory which can be found behind it all. It goes like this.

Telstra is a publicly listed company.

If documents obtained by Media Watch can be believed, Laws is being paid $300,000 per year for his “editorial” services to Telstra whereas Jones is being paid $1.2 million. This is quite a significant difference. And $1.2 million is actually a rather large sum of money. Say it slowly. At least, it looks like a lot of money to pay to one man, to whom 85 per cent of the population of Sydney does not listen, to have him parrot your company's PR in ways that, even in the absence of a specific disclaimer of the kind Laws is now obliged to provide, sound more like advertising than like a man voicing his own firmly held beliefs. Minds could differ as to whether a payment of this magnitude for such a "service" is a rational business decision for a public corporation to make. Minds could also differ as to whether the huge variance in worth between Laws’ opinion and Jones’ opinion could be put down to Laws’ no longer being able to hide from his listeners the fact that he is being paid for his views. Maybe it could have another source.

Remember this: Flint is appointed by the government. It is certainly possible to read into his fan letter to Jones a suggestion that Jones has nothing to fear from the ABA. (After all, the letter was on ABA letterhead.) Now, why might that be?

Well, remember this, too: there is an election due later this year. Jones, whatever you may think about him, does have an undoubtedly large influence for one man. In a close election his endorsement could make the difference between winning and losing. Clearly the government couldn’t give its own, i.e. yours and my, money to Jones to buy his support. But there are a couple of other things it could do: ensure that the person at the top of the ABA is the person most likely to look after the interests of Alan Jones; this it seems to have done. Or the government could use, not its own money, but someone else’s. Who owns Telstra? Well, what do you know - the government owns just over half of it. In some circles, ownership of in excess of 50 percent of an organisation conveys notions of “control”. Maybe a different sort of equation is at work here. Maybe Telstra’s “owners” can find “value for money” from that $1.2 million dollars after all. Maybe we should listen even more closely that usual to the honestly held opinions of Alan Jones come election time. Maybe we will get the goverment we deserve: will we also be getting the government that we paid for? Don’t forget who owns the 49 percent of Telstra not owned by the government: its shareholders, in other words you and me.