Friday, June 25, 2004

This goes with that

Has anybody else noticed the similarities between:

1. "Wind on Water" from Fripp and Eno's "Evening Star" album, and "Beach Party Tonight", the opening track on Yo La Tengo's "Summer Sun".

2. "The Dark Is Rising" from Mercury Rev's "All Is Dream", and John Miles' "Music".

3. Nick Cave's singing on a few of the songs off "The Boatman's Call", and - gasp! - David Sylvian.

Believe it ... Or not!

Thursday, June 24, 2004

Old Time Religion

So, Pitchfork is putting together its definitive list of the "best" 100 albums of the 1970s. This time there's no Beastie Boys or Pixies releases to unfairly skew(er) the proceedings, so it should be an unmitigated bucket of fun for anybody who cares to remember.

What will be Number One? That's easy: it has to be "Marquee Moon". If it isn't "Horses". Or "Another Green World". Or "Prehistoric Sounds". Or "Lodger". Or "The Ramones". Or "The Modern Dance". Or "London Calling". Or "King Tubbys Meets Rockers Uptown". Or "Clear Spot". Or "Blood On The Tracks". Or "For Your Pleasure". Or "There's A Riot Goin' On". Or any number of records that in spirit form part of the Sixties but didn't actually appear until after the pedantic, technical, "actual" end of that decade (if you accept that it has in fact ended).

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Catholic Block

At a time when America seems determined to simultaneously lower the bar as to what is acceptable behaviour while raising the bar as to accountability for what little remains unacceptable, it is perhaps no surprise that those sneaky folk in the Vatican have taken this opportunity to announce that the Inquisition "wasn't really all that bad" (Harper's Weekly Review, link at right): which, even if it is in absolute terms a pretty unsupportable proposition, is, today, in relative terms probably about right. See? It isn't just the Russians and the Israelis (and quite a few others besides) who are using this "War on Terror" as a Trojan horse for their own dark deeds. Oh the times we live in.

Tuesday, June 22, 2004

TV Eye

Did anybody else watch "The Boosh" on SBS last night? More to the point, did anybody else think it was funny? What it reminded me of more than anything was the Goodies, albeit a more offensive Goodies. Although, on second thoughts, maybe the Goodies only seemed not to be offensive at the time because most of it went over our innocent heads: we borrowed a CD of Goodies songs from the library around Christmas time last year and, along with the Funky Gibbon and the cactus in the y-fronts, there was a song about a Bad Santa. There is something funny but also not funny at all about having a three- and a five-year-old (as they were then) running around the house singing "Father Christmas do not touch me" ...

I can hardly believe my eyes

Anybody still wondering why I have wasted a good deal of my spare cash over the last 20 years on overpriced comic books and "graphic novels", and paying good money for copies of the New Yorker that I could have borrowed from the local library, should read this piece and then immediately go out and buy their own copy of McSweeney's Quarterly Concern Number 13. Mine should be parcelled up and posted by the good people at The Beguiling any day now. I will never say anything bad about David Eggers again. I promise.

Pollen Path

At the time of writing, one of the obligatory "sponsored links" at the top of the page is to the Seva Foundation, which has the web address "www.davidsylvian.info" and would appear to have a connection with David Sylvian's personal teacher/guru/trainer. I was thinking that this was kind of appropriate given my long-standing admiration for Sylvian; then it dawned on me that I haven't actually mentioned him here yet; I recently obtained a copy of "Blemish" and have been thinking about getting something down about that, but haven't sufficiently got my head around the album yet. So what is going in here? Is Blogger using algorithms that allow it to predict the thoughts of hacks? Is it a bit more "user friendly" than I would feel entirely comfortable with? I think we should be told.

Headz

I am about half-way through David Mitchell's "number9dream". I am convinced now that Mitchell is the real thing. I am also finding that it is a lot easier to follow the threads with this book than with "Ghostwritten" (which might simply mean I am missing most of them). Last night I cringed my way through a thorougly nasty chapter involving a turf war between Japanese mobsters. Special mention must go to a particularly wicked few pages set in a private bowling alley. I'll never look at the "pins" in the same way again (hint: the title of this entry, ignoring the variant spelling, is not entirely arbitrary).

About the Weather

I've just been out for a walk. Crikey it's cold. I would be surprised if it was any more than five degrees Celsius out there. The backs of my hands are an attractive shade of deep purple with red blotches. A guy was out photographing the museum from across the lake. It might actually come out quite well, with the top of Black Mountain in the background shrouded in fog, but I don't know how he could operate the equipment.

Cold in Canberra usually signifies a biting wind coming in from the mountains, but today is almost still. It is one of those Canberra days when the fog doesn't lift until into the afternoon, and the sun struggles to gain any kind of foothold thereafter. I thought I saw a sliver of sunshine on the foothills of Mount Ainslie just as I was getting back to the office, but it could have been, as Saddam Hussein's Minister of Information (can't they find him a position in the new government?) was heard to say on global television during the so-called Second Gulf War, "an illusion".

It is going to be mighty cold at the boys' swimming lesson tonight. The lessons are held in a tin shed on the edge of town, adjacent to the sleaziest-looking motel I think I have ever seen: it makes the one in Robert Altman's film of Sam Shepard's "Fool for Love" look like the Ritz.

Sunday, June 20, 2004

Library Records

Every few weeks a handful of CDs gets thrown into the Harrods bag alongside the several hundred children’s books we regularly take home from the local library. It’s a hit and miss exercise, you never know if the disks are even going to work, and the liner notes are often missing or destroyed, but at least it doesn’t cost anything.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Your Funeral ... My Trial”: a record I listen to less often than most “good” Cave records, mainly on account of it coming out as two 45-rpm 12” records, necessitating a leap from the couch after every second song and thus falling victim to my inherent laziness. At the time it seemed like a disappointment after “The First Born Is Dead”. But in retrospect, it is easy to see the record as a collection of either off-cuts from or prototypes for his novel; the scent of Southern gothic is all over it. It still has the faults I saw in it back then: mostly to do with Cave’s delivery; he sounded like he wasn’t sure which Nick Cave was supposed to be singing (and I still reckon he stumbles over one of the lines on the title track: quaint and “humanising” to leave it in, maybe (or perhaps too much of the recording budget had gone on "other things"), but after a couple of listens it becomes an annoying blemish). But what also comes through now is how alive the Bad Seeds sounded: what originally appeared to be an absence of Barry Adamson now sounds like an opening up; we might never have had “The Good Son” if this hadn’t explored the new territory first. And it is impossible to lightly dismiss a record containing “The Carny”, and in particular the moment when Blixa Bargeld, cast as Boss Bellini, delivers a couple of lines in worse-sounding English than Roberto Benigni in "Down By Law": “Bury zis lump off crow bait.” I will never come to terms with “Hard On For Love”, which I think is one of the few mis-steps in Cave’s career, but the CD makes up for this by offering us “Scum”, the flexidisc-only bile-a-thon directed at the NME’s Mat Snow, set to a steamrolliing rhythm track that recalls the last gasps of the Birthday Party.

Loose Fur “Loose Fur”: Jim O’Rourke and Jeff Tweedy toss off six songs that are neither a little bit country nor a little bit rock and roll, but somewhere off to one side. O’Rourke has been quietly working on his pop side for a while now, and this can be seen as the latest development. Nevertheless it is possibly the least likely record to turn up at a local library. If you didn’t look closely you wouldn’t even know who was behind it. It will most likely survive as nothing more than a footnote to each of their careers, but that’s no reason not to notice it at all.

Jay Farrar “Terroir Blues”: by strange coincidence, this appeared the same week as the Loose Fur disc; Farrar being the other arm, with Tweedy, of the Uncle Tupelo alt-country axis, a genre that passed me by at the time. Thus I have no context in which to place this, but even on its own it stands up as a quietly compelliing set of faintly country/folk songs. It actually comes across at times as if he was sitting in the same bedroom as Nick Drake (but who isn’t these days?).

John Coltrane Quartet “Live in Stockholm”: by another coincidence, this appeared the week of Elvin Jones’s death. There has been plenty written about Jones; I am sorry to say my acquaintance with him starts and ends with this quartet. Listen to something like “Africa/Brass” and you realise how Trane wasn’t the only elemental force in his music. This live recording is notable for the fact that the sound quality, while generally appalling throughout, improves as the record progresses. And it’s not just that your ears get used to it; go back to the first track, “Mr PC”, straight after listening to the record right through, and it still sounds awful. McCoy Tyner was either late for the set or is lost somewhere in the maelstrom. There is some overlap with the “Live at the Village Vanguard” set, and a smart guy would set the two up side by side to note the differences. Shame I’m not that guy. I’m still waiting to find the live version of “My Favourite Things” performed with a fifth player (Dolphy?) that I saw on a TV documentary a few Christmases ago.

Dead Can Dance “Into the Labyrinth”: the follow-up to “Aion”, which is still to my mind their masterpiece, but this is also extremely good, as you would expect. Someone at work overheard this and pointed out how much Brendan Perry sounds like Jim Morrison. And blow me if he isn’t right. Now I have “issues”.

Chronicle of a Death Foretold: "Waterfront" by Simple Minds

Would you rather have two dollars in your pocket or a Simple Minds greatest hits CD in your player? This is the dilemma that recently confronted me at the Fyshwick Market charity stall. My philanthropy got the better of me and I took home the Simple Minds. A lot of thoughts followed. This is the fourth attempt at getting them down. It’s no better than any of the others, but it is short. And it’s the one you’re getting.

1. Simple Minds started off by putting out a few fair to middling albums without ever really standing out during what was, admittedly, a pretty fertile period in UK music.

2. Against all expectations, they came out with the lush, polished, (ahem) glittering “New Gold Dream 81-82-83-84” album, which was, and would remain, their crowning achievement.

3. They released the single “Waterfront”.

4. It all went wrong.

It must be difficult to know how to deal with success if you have been striving for so long for it, but of all the directions they could have gone in, did they really have to turn into a bad imitation of U2? The prisoners at Abu Ghraib must have been grateful to have been spared the ultimate instrument of torture, an endless loop of “Belfast Child”.

But I keep coming back to “Waterfront”, a very strange attempt at a follow-up to a string of hit singles and critical success: more like a collection of unrelated ideas searching for a unifying theme or structure, and failing. A lot of the individual bits sound perfectly okay, but we also had to deal with the bombastic, overblown guitars, and the is-there-a-Bono-in-the-house vocal histrionics, enployed in the service of lyrics that were total nonsense, even by pop music standards. “Waterfront” always left me scratching my head. I’m really none the wiser now, listening to it in the context of the awfulness that followed, but what, I think, continues to fascinate me is how it pinpoints, in a way possibly no other song in rock history does, the precise moment when a band went off the rails.

And in that context, doesn’t it strike you as a rather odd choice as opening track for a greatest-hits collection?

The Sound of the Suburbs

The street fireworks went off with a somewhat damp "bang" last Monday night: you could have predicted that our planned bash would coincide with the first decent downpour Canberra has seen since the start of the year. Nevertheless we had a strong turnout, and Adrienne had helpfully whipped up a batch of mulled wine to lift the spirits of the adults in attendance. The promised cannon didn't materialise (we don't know if that was in deference to the neighbours' dogs, an inability to obtain gunpowder ingredients without being placed on a terror watch-list, or on account of the rain or the fact that our next-door neighbour is a member of the Australian Federal Police). The absence of things that went Bang was a bit disappointing to those of us conditioned to such things, but the kids didn't mind; each firework was greeted with a very satisfying "ooh" from the attentive row of children sitting in the rain along the side of the road. A rival display seemed to be emanating from a back-yard in the next street, and the kids entered into the spirit of things by derisively booing and chanting "Ours are better than yours" each time the other group sent up a skyrocket.

A very nice lady called Cathy looks after our boys once or twice a week to enable us to get on with "other things". Last Thursday night Julius proposed to her. Given that Cathy is in her mid-40s and Jules is four, it seems unlikely we will be seeing any grandchildren. But Cathy was suitably flattered.

While Jules was proposing to Cathy, we were sitting down to dinner at Timmy's Kitchen in Manuka, a reliable Chinese restaurant which is perhaps not unrelated to Sammy's Kitchen in Civic (their specials boards are remarkably similar). I had a roast duck laksa, a.k.a. "laksa jihad", from which I was still recovering 24 hours later. Then we headed off to the cinema to see Charlie Kaufman and Michel Gondry's "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" before it disappears from the screens. A lot has been said about the bogus science behind the film; I prefer to see that aspect as a science fiction device for telling what was for me a quite profound and moving story. It's a nice idea, to think that there is one particular person out there who you would be drawn to even if all traces of a previous relationship you had had with that person were erased from your memory; a kind of DNA soul-mate. (Although there must also lie behind this the possibility that each relationship would end badly, resulting in a kind of infinite loop of unfulfilled possibility). And the way the Jim Carrey character fights throughout the erasing procedure to retain those memories was, I thought, very true. I was also expecting the film to be less easy to follow that it was (maybe I was blissfully missing entire aspects of it). What I thought the film was most like was an extended episode of "The Twilight Zone", and there would be few higher compliments than that.

Saturday, June 19, 2004

Do You Dream In Colour?

So, tonight's "Rage" on ABC TV is a theme night, featuring only songs with colours in the title. Might be fun. But I'll bet they don't play the Reels' "Black and Damp".

Thursday, June 17, 2004

Odds 'n' Sods

I have been clearing out the backlog.

Observations:

1. Robert Hughes would appear to have washed up at the Guardian. He has had at least a semi-regular gig there for a few months now, although it strikes me as somewhat odd, given that most of his reviews there (I think; the last one, on Modigliani, was, anyway) have been about American shows. I have always liked Hughes as an art critic. I know that his approach is not universally approved of amongst those who know about art; but I am not a person who knows much about art, and I like that Hughes speaks about paintings in very concrete terms, telling you what a painting looks like, why it looks like that, and what it looked like to the people who would have seen it when it was painted (as opposed to some other critics who bamboozle with theory in an attempt to one-up the next critic). One day I might even succumb to the pull of "The Fatal Shore".

2. Christopher Hitchens in Slate has somewhat redeemed himself for his frequent recent errors of judgment in this timely reminder of all that was bad about Reagan and his administration, and in this piece about the self-defeating nature of torture as a method of finding out things.

Meanwhile over at the New Yorker, a quick dash through the Critics section of the issue of 24 May (see how far behind I am?) revealed the following:

1. Architects and librarians would do well to either read Paul Goldberger's piece on the new Seattle library (by Rem Koolhaas) or get on a plane to Seattle.

2. Anthony Lane delivers a typically brilliant, withering put-down of "Van Helsing". Proof that a good negative review is much more fun to read (and write) than a positive one.

3. Sasha Frere-Jones has settled in nicely as the magazine's new "pop music" (seemingly anything that's not jazz or classical) critic. This piece is on Nellie McKay, whom I've never heard of. It doesn't matter. Like all of the best New Yorker writers past and present it is the quality of writing that gets you there, and SFJ has that to spare. Someone at the New Yorker must have a good eye: sashafrerejones.com is a particularly good use of the weblog form, but being able to write a good weblog doesn't necessarily equate to being able to write for the New Yorker. SFJ demonstrates a rare ability to be able to do both, and to compartmentalise himself so as to be able to do both well. And his knowledge of popular music, and ability to draw on that knowledge in surprising ways (eg, "Like Dylan, DJ Shadow and Jack White..." - like, now stop and think about that: are they thrown together at random and/or to show off? I think not), suggests he could be there for the duration. Which is more than could ever have been said of poor ol' Nick Hornby.

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Funny Time of Year

Queen's Birthday long weekend in Canberra: each year, these four evenings are punctuated by sporadic and random explosions throughout the capital. No, it's not an attempted coup, it's fireworks. For a few weeks each year around this time, hitherto empty shopfronts become bastions of capitalism as shonky salespeople offload truckloads of legal explosives to willing parents. (Canberra's other main industry is XXX porn videos. And people say this is a dull place.)

Over the last couple of years, for reasons of public liability insurance, the more lethal fireworks have been banned, and apparently this year there will be no noise-making gear whatsoever. Which must not have got through to the people concerned, because even as I write, the inner south sounds not unlike Baghdad By Night. And anyway, our street (tomorrow is our night) has a secret weapon: somebody's father has what has been described to me as a "small cannon". Which uses home-made gunpowder. And which he only fires once. I have a horrible feeling I know why. Mulled wine will be served throughout. It also works as an anaesthetic. This could be the last post.

No Pay To Play

And now, after an inordinate and totally unacceptable delay, we bring you details of a purely hypothetical mix of music which might, if one had been that way inclined, have been picked up from various web sites in the first three months of this year, and which, sequenced in this way, might have been burned onto an audio CD - might have been, but, of course, weren’t. But we thought you might like to know. Think of it as a 90-minute radio show without the ads.

1. Lou Reed and John Cale “Waiting For The Man”: two people alone in a room. Well, not exactly alone. An audience was there, although you sense that it might as well not have been. Nico was there too, but not on this song. Mistakes are made, and Lou is already showing his ability to destroy his back catalogue by singing all around the song. But this is a fascinating document nevertheless.

2. Eno / Moebius / Roedelius “Broken Head”: the third crucial Eno and Cluster track, cruelly omitted from the two Enoboxes. Some days it feels like it is going to go on forever; some days you wish it would.

3. X-Wife “Eno”: What “King’s Lead Hat” would have sounded like if it had been on “Here Come the Warm Jets”. The singer sounds a bit like Pete Shelley or Tom Verlaine. I know nothing about this and if it hadn’t been called “Eno” I would never have found it. Now that’s what I call good marketing.

4. Lassigue Bendthaus “Jealous Guy (poeme syncope)": a song I never thought I wanted to hear again gets dehumanised, decentred, vocodered and beamed back from deep space. Brilliant.

5. Roxy Music “More Than This”: the original and the best. If you want to know what it felt like to be young and alive in the 1980s, look no further.

6. Lizzy Mercier Descloux “Funky Stuff”: Lizzy was just a name to me back in the day. Now I see the error of my ways. A slab of angular New York no wave / dance music with extra “attitude”. And I now hear that she has died. Damn.

7. Vanity 6 “Nasty Girl”: just like the last one only more so. Parental advisory required.

8. Vive La FĂȘte “Nuit Blanche”: Peelie was floggiing another track by these people (Belgian I think) around Christmas time. Sounds like everything about music that you ever liked, rolled into one. I particularly like the blatant lift of the ascending synth note from Visage’s “Fade to Grey”, and the guitar line from the Cure’s “A Forest”. You see? You know it already. Can there really be an entire album like this? And, if so, where can I get it?

9. Electrelane “Windmill”: there will always be room for one more wistful, gentle pop song featuring breathy female vocals.

10. Air “Cherry Blossom Girl (Hope Sandoval version)”: ditto. (Note: this is not just the album version with a different singer; it's an entirely different song.)

11. Jonathan Richman “Give Paris One More Chance”: this one goes out to Carl, the six-year-old, who also likes Jonathan’s “My Jeans”. (And Skyhooks’ “Blue Jeans”. But that’s another story.)

12. Joe Crow “Compulsion”: cheap electronic pop. Irresistible if you ask me. Vintage unknown but could conceivably have been a contemporary of ...

13. The Fall “New Face In Hell (Peel Session 24 September 1980)”: no explanation necessary, surely. Flowers will wilt.

14. The Von Bondies “Cmon Cmon”: overexposed to the point of irrelevance now, but fun for a couple of minutes. Heck, they have even played Canberra since this playlist was put together.

15 Black Widow “Come to the Sabbat”: Satanic folk music from, allegedly, 1971 - was this one song responsible for the entire heavy metal genre? Or is it a recently put-together hoax along the lines of “A Mighty Wind”? Warning: contains flute.

16 Joacham Witt: “Tri Tra Trullala (Herbergsvater)”: even by my own standards I know very little about this. It sounds like it’s from the 80s but presumably isn’t. Sung in German so it could be about anything. Or nothing. “Borrows” a piercing single guitar note from Echo and the Bunnymen’s first album.

17. Alexander Robotnick “Sountrack”: at sub-two minutes it could have gone on for 10 times its length and not outstayed its welcome. I don’t know what you’d call it. I’d call it sublime. Possibly years old, but who’s to know? Isn’t random downloading fun!

18. “Smalltown Boy”: don’t even have the name of the artist for this one. It’s an updated, goddamn swish version of that song. The vocalist can’t get up as high as Jimmy Somerville, but who can?

19. Contriva “Stuck (Superpitcher mix)”: more stuff from the younger generation. If that’s you, I’d just like to say thanks a lot for contributing to an environment in which I can end a CD with seven minutes like these. A good comedown.

You can do this yourself, you know.

Big Ron Part 3

What really interests me, thinking about Ronald Reagan, is how closely his presidency bookended a particular time of my life. In January 1981 I was a frustrated and angry young farmboy about to embark upon the final year of secondary school. By the end of that year I had enrolled at University, all set to embark upon a time of independence, shared housing, bands, People for Nuclear Disarmament rallies, op shop clothing, bad cooking, and making friends for life. In other words, The Years When I Grew Up.

During the second part of the Reagan years I was working in Leongatha. There I fell in with the finest bunch of people you could ever wish to meet. Together we tormented the local community FM radio station, put together a fanzine, hung out with the Cannanes, and reinvigorated our letterboxes, receiving handmade cassettes from Randall Lee, Bruce Russell, Wayne Davidson and the Growling Porcupine collective, and parcels from K Records. Mention the words “Simon’s Lane” and watch me go all misty-eyed.

Reagan left office in January 1989. George H W Bush became president. A girl called Adrienne appeared on the scene. The various members of the Leongatha gang gradually succumbed to the inexorable pull of Melbourne. My father fell sick and died. The iron curtain crumbled. Things would never be the same.

Last Night

Adrienne was cleaning the oven. The least I could do was act as DJ for the evening. I had found a Lee Hazlewood CD at the local library, so we started off with a few tracks from that. Which took us to V Balsara and his Singing Sitars doing “These Boots Are Made For Walkin’” (I would have gone straight into Einsturzende Neubauten’s cover of “Sand” but my copy is missing, presumed dead), which took us deeper into V Balsara and his version of “Tequila”; which, naturally, led us to the same song as done by Manuel and the Music of the Mountains, and then to Manuel doing “The Girl From Ipanema”, “Quando Quando Quando” and “Quizas, Quizas, Quizas”; from which we moved on to a bracket of Martin Denny in supper-club mode, performing various Bacharach numbers; and rounding out the session with a Klaus Wunderlich Hammond Organ medley including “Strangers In The Night” and the theme from “A Man And A Woman”.

Just another Saturday night in Canberra.

Big Ron Part 2

“I’m not too worried by the enemy / I know that Reagan will look after me”

Howard Devoto out front of Magazine, singing “Model Worker” at Festival Hall in Melbourne, 6 September 1980.

“I’m not too worried by the enemy / I know that Carter will look after me”

The same song as it appears on the band’s third album “The Correct Use of Soap”, released earlier in the same year.

What a difference a few months make. When Devoto wrote those words he could only have been thinking ironically: poor old Jimmy Carter couldn’t even look after his wayward brother Billy, or the Tehran hostages, let alone the rest of the free world. With the emergence on the scene of candidate Reagan, the line becomes one of, what, desperation, wishful thinking, even greater irony? From some point in 1980 and on to the end of the decade, the world was perched rather too close to the brink. The Soviet army was in Afghanistan; Iran and Iraq were fighting the war between the USA and the USSR by proxy, the CIA was throwing money at all kinds of bad people not just in the Middle East but also in Central America, on the theory that the enemy of my enemy must be my friend - as another song from the era says, “what a catalyst you turned out to be” - and the threat of nuclear annihilation kept too many of us awake at night, with the cold sweat of fear. (A lot of Magazine songs are about fear; this is what made them such an important band, and probably why they failed to ignite in an era that was turning to music in order to get away from all of that: “I’m the dandy highwayman”, anyone?)

Over it all loomed the iconic figure of Ronald Reagan, the former Hollywood actor and governor of California wth the tough-guy swagger (no, not you, Arnie; you’ll get your turn). Did he stare down the Soviet Union in the last great battle of the Cold War? Or did he just happen to be at the helm during a time when the termites that had been working away under the surface to destroy the Soviet empire from within, just began to break through to the surface, soon to reveal the rottenness that lay within? What we do know is that if Reagan had lost in 1984 there wouldn’t be the hoopla we have been seeing this past week. Nor would we, I should think, if the Communists had managed to stagger on in power for another 10 years. He was certainly the right man at the right time; what can’t be known is whether he drove the times or they drove him.

I always thought that Reagan was essentially a simple-minded man who had the good sense to surround himself with people he knew he could count on to make the decisions that mattered, and the good fortune to be president at a time when the tide of world affairs was moving overwhelmingly in America’s direction. When George W Bush became president I thought that his success, like Reagan’s, would depend on whom he surrounded himself with. What I didn’t know then was how important those choices would be for the rest of us.

Funky Days Are Back Again

Yesterday Adrienne made me buy a pair of brown cords. They are exactly the same as the ones Greg Hanratty wore back in first form. Have we really gone this far in the last 28 years? (Mind you, they are quite nice trousers. And if the music of the 1970s can suddenly start to feel quite good, why not the clothes?)

Incoming

Blogger alert: a phalanx of posts about to land. Duck, you sucker.

Tuesday, June 08, 2004

What I Like

What do I like best of all? What I like best of all is listening to Roger Angell talking about growing up around the New Yorker, editing William Maxwell (and being edited by him), writing about baseball, and William Shawn's love of facts. How articulate can an 82-year-old be?

Blank Generation

At the risk of turning this thing into a perpetual obituary column, I must note that we fell off our chair when our eyes fell upon the New York Times* obituary for guitarist Robert Quine. Described therein as "punk" but not really all that punk at all, as a listen to the duet album he did with drummer Fred Maher would demonstrate. Whilst I don't actually own any Material albums, I do have Quine scattered throughout my collection, from Tom Waits to Zorn to Matthew Sweet. And I know someone who owns the 3-cd set of Velvet Underground "bootlegs'" that came out not long ago.

* What I like most of all about the nytimes is the formality: where else would Richard Hell find himself referred to as "Mr Hell"?

Monday, June 07, 2004

Big Ron

The first thing that came into my head upon hearing of the death of Ronald Reagan was that old "can of poisoned meat" cut-up, released as a flexidisk with an early issue of Art Spiegelman and Francoise Mouly's Raw magazine. As a penniless university student I drooled over a copy of it that sat for some time behind the counter at a record or book shop in Melbourne the name and location of which has got lost somewhere between the back of my mind and the front. It might have been Gaumont Book Co, Glen Terry's wonderful outpost of the London punk scene, in Little Collins Street, although I don't think the chronology quite works out, and the shop counter I have in my mind doesn't match. Damn.

Gone!

The roar goes up around the ground as "Farmer in the City" claims its first scalp with the resignation of Professor David Flint from the position of chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Authority. And not before time. We note the clever timing of the announcement on a Monday afternoon in an attempt to avoid any mention of it on tonight's "Media Watch" (where the real credit lies for getting rid of this man).

Sunday, June 06, 2004

Read it in books

After the film yesterday we had a hot chocolate at Charmers, an oasis of faded but authentic glamour amongst the posing of the Manuka "scene", followed by a good look around in Paperchain bookshop. At long long last William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition" is out in paperback, which I reckon is something worth getting excited about. Also out in that form is Martin Amis's "Yellow Dog". Notwithstanding the barrage of bad reviews and my own mixed feelings about Amis aired here recently, I've got a bit of a good feeling about this novel. The length looks about right for an Amis novel (which is plainly a ridiculous thing to say). At this stage the new David Mitchell is only out in one of those big-format paperbacks where the spine collapses on the first read and you pay well upwards of 30 dollars for the privilege, so we'll cool our heels for a while on that score (we are also waiting for someone to return "Number9Dream" to Woden library so we can get stuck into that first; best to read a writer's books in sequence if you can).

You would also do well to give thanks to Michael Heyward's Text Publishing for putting out in book form the stunning Alessandro Baricco short story "Without Blood" which ran in the New Yorker 18 months ago. If you didn't read it there you really should get this book. Short stories in book form are inevitably expensive but only the really special ones ever get this treatment (someone did it to an Annie Proulx short story which ran in the Atlantic Monthly seven or eight years ago about a couple of randy cowboys, which was equally worthy of becoming a book) so you are paying for quality rather than quantity. Like, so what if Contrane's "My Favourite Things" barely clocks in beyond half an hour; would you really be happier with 80 minutes of Kenny G? Feel the width, feel the width ...

A Study In Scarlett

Yesterday morning we left the boys with Cathy for a few hours and went off to the movies. This is only the second time we've done this in 2004, which normally could be seen as a sad indictment on how children destroy your life, but this year there really hasn't been much to lure us out to Canberra's meagre cinematic choices. Times for "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" didn't suit, so we had to choose between "Girl With A Pearl Earring" and "The Triplets of Belleville". Notwithstanding the obvious therapeutic benefits of watching what is effectively a 100-minute close-up of Scarlett Johansson, I suspect we made the wrong choice. The best parts of "Girl With A Pearl Earring" were the scenes of street life in mid-17th-century Delft, and the woman who played the matriarch of Vermeer's wife's household. But, while I could never say a bad word about Johansson, there was something about her character that didn't quite gel: I don't think it was her fault, but something failed to connect between those "knowing" looks and her apparent status as a naive, innocent servant girl. And whoever decided to cast Colin Firth as Vermeer shouldn't be allowed anywhere near a film set ever again. It is difficult to imagine anyone demonstrating less of the qualities you would expect to see in a singular, driven "artist". They would have been much better off giving that part to the butcher boy who plays Johansson's "love interest". He at least seemed to have something going on behind his eyes.

It had been minus six overnight and even by 11am the cinema hadn't warmed up and I spent most of the time shivering. I haven't warmed up yet.

Art of the New Yorker

The cover of the May 17 issue of the New Yorker, by Marc Rosenthal, is one of the good ones. Its washed-out colouring recalls the tones of the magazine's covers from the 1950s, but with something of a Spiegelman / Mouly sensibility to it that sent me to the shelves to see if his work might have appeared elsewhere under their imprimatur. And there he is: not in any issue of Raw in my possession, but in the second of Spiegelman's Little Lit anthologies (the one with the Charles Burns cover), doing a single page of "jokes". This often happens to me: I find something I love, and then discover that Spiegelman has already been there before: Ben Katchor is one case in point; Richard McGuire another. Even Chris Ware was in Raw way before he became a megastar.

You can say what you like about Art Spiegelman (or, in the case of Ted Rall in the Village Voice a while back, what you don't like about him), but where would we be without him? No Raw; no Little Lit; no Maus (still the standard bearer, in the English-speaking world, of what the humble comic book is capable of). Thanks to Tina Brown's inspired appointment of both Speigelman and his wife, Francoise Mouly, to the New Yorker in the early 90s, a vast array of otherwise marginalised comic-book writers, illustrators, and graphic designers have had access to the kind of broad, mainstream exposure a magazine like the New Yorker can provide, at no real cost to themselves in terms of reputation, degree of street credibility, "selling out" accusations and the like. This is a rare example of something that might justify that appalling expression "a win-win situation".

I know that September 11 was a terrible event; I wasn't in New York that day. Spiegelman was. So it's hard for me to criticise him either for the trauma he clearly suffered or for his subsequent anger (both of which come over, a little too clearly, in "In the Shadow of No Towers"); but walking out on the New Yorker in the face of what he perceived to be that magazine's pandering to the "agenda" of the Bush administration, well, I think that is a pretty tough argument to sustain, particularly if one considers the magazine's coverage of the state of the world in the almost three years since the planes hit, and its hardly flattering portrait of the President over the same time, more so in recent months as various chickens have come home to roost. Now, more than ever, the New Yorker needs Spiegelman. It is having its moment in the sun, thanks to Seymour M Hersh's goal-scoring ability. There is nobody else that I can think of at the magazine whose covers are capable of combining such superb artistic skills with an uncanny knack (partly, I assume, owing to name recognition, which is something few illustrators carry) for creating controversy.

But maybe, too, he needs the magazine. "In the Shadow of No Towers", at least those episodes that have appeared in the London Review of Books, which I assume not to be the whole story, is just too angry, and too unfocussed and unrestrained in its anger and its bitterness; the edge which is usually apparent in Spiegelman's more "political" covers for the New Yorker seems to have been blunted.

Wednesday, June 02, 2004

Hey, kids, terror alert!

It would appear that while I was looking the other way it became a crime in this country to "incite terrorism". Has Australia become an outpost of John Ashcroft Enterprises, Inc?

I wonder what would happen if I put onto this weblog (estimated readership - on a good day - three and possibly someone who came here by mistake looking for agriculture gossip) information, based on personal observation, about possible security weaknesses at my place of work (itself not an implausible terrorist target) and suggestions as to how one might breach same. Oh. I'd better not, then.