Saturday, July 31, 2004

Used Songs

More disc slippage from the local library.

Bjork “Post”: I like the idea of listening to Bjork more than I like actually listening to Bjork. In this, she is like Laurie Anderson. I can take both of them in small doses but find that it soon becomes hard work. (Which is not to deny that “O Superman” is a cornerstone of the repertoire.)

Various Artists “The Best Ever Disco Album”: it can’t be the best one ever, because “I Feel Love” fades out around the four minute mark, just as it really starts to head off into the stratosphere, and “We Are Family” seems to have acquired a suspiciously 1980s-sounding introductory section which I don’t recall being there the last time I heard it. But as someone else’s guess at what I would consider “best ever” it’s actually quite close.

Various Artists: “The Love Handle Lounge”: hands up who remembers the Loungecore craze, those heady days when we all took off for the nearest second hand record stores and op shops to buy any Martin Denny records we could find before Bruce Milne got his grubby hands on them and put them up on the wall at Au Go Go for $60 a piece. But even if it only served to rescue Esquivel! from obscurity it was a force for good. This tawdry compilation, however, is really scraping the shavings off the floor. The name “Rod McKeun” appears all too frequently on this CD, inauspiciously appearing as "producer" as well as writing or co-writing about half of the songs. My personal favourite of the cocktail-set CDs was, and still is, “Shaken, Not Stirred”, which as well as being consistently good has the Rykodisc seal of quality.

Ry Cooder & V M Bhatt “A Meeting By The River”: it’s easy to dismiss Cooder as a kind of self-promoting, thinking man’s Eric Clapton, or a white-shoed Bill Laswell, or something. And he is probably not averse to wearing his hair in a ponytail. But I try to remember that he is also responsible for the “Paris, Texas” soundtrack (which his own playing here sometimes echoes), and for producing one of the great modern recordings, Jon Hassell’s “Fascinoma” (which appeared on the same label as this). “A Meeting By The River” is a very listenable set of four longish instrumentals. File under “World Music”, sure, but don’t let that get in the way of your enjoyment of it. After all, it’s just a label.

Roxy Music “Avalon”: (sigh).

New Order “Get Ready”: this was never going to change anybody’s life. But gee, wasn’t it good to have them back.

The Chemical Brothers “Surrender”: yeah, okay, but I really think the moment has passed. Nevertheless no record featuring Hope Sandoval can be dismissed out of hand.

Various Artists “The Ice Storm” (soundtrack): how could such a wonderful film have such a patchy soundtrack? Everything from some long early-70s numbers by the likes of Zappa, Free and Traffic to Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Montego Bay”, “Too Late To Turn Back Now” and some Bowie song that I can’t place but that I assume must be fairly recent because it was co-written by Reeves Gabrels. I’d see the film again before I gave this a second listen.

Pictures On My Wall

Find myself involved in friends’ domestic shenanigans. Feeling a bit shaken, I retreat to the Gallery during lunch in an attempt to calm the savage beast. The international galleries have never been as well hung as they are now. Pretty much everything you want to see is there. “Blue Poles”, of course, lifts the spirits no matter how many hundreds of times you have stood in front of it. The David Smith sculpture is there, Brancusi’s birds, Rothko, a bit of Agnes Martin. Not sure about having Leger’s sublime acrobats facing Anselm Keifer, but what can you do? I am not yet convinced by the recently acquired Kitaj biblical allegory painting, but I’m working on it. On the other hand, I would happily take home Leon Kossoff’s Christ Church, Spitalfields, painted from almost the exact spot at which we stood on the Hawksmoor pilgrimage leg of our visit to London in 1996. I still get the shivers thinking about it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Two turntables and a microphone

The only other thing I will ever want to say about Rachel Stevens' "Some Girls" is that it reminds me of the time our brave and true friend Darren, back in the days when all of the gang did shows on the South Gippsland community FM radio station, brought into the studio a record of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop "doing" the Doctor Who theme music, put it on one turntable, put Gary Glitter's "Rock And Roll Part 1" on the other turntable, got them both spinning, and proceeded to spend the next couple of minutes of airtime cross-fading from one to the other. This was around the time of "Doctor In The Tardis" or whatever it was called, and Darren was no doubt driven by the "anyone can do that" spirit of punk. That he couldn't quite get the two songs in sync only added to the charm.

Construction Site: All quiet on the northern front

Not much sign of activity at the moment; concrete for footings has been poured, has got quite wet, is drying out. We await bricklayers: one week or two. Meanwhile we do the on-the-one-hand-on-the-other-hand shuffle over such intrinsically exciting things as single v double glazing. The joys. The backyard, a barren landscape leavened by piles of old fencing and such, looks not unlike the World Trade Center circa September 12, 2001. Adrienne calls us the Little House On The Prairie, which sums it up nicely. There is very little grassy space for the poor suffering guinea pigs.

The Dustbin of History

Editor's Note: the previous post was, it would be obvious to anyone who read it, hacked out at speed and not reconsidered in any way, contrary to the usual practice around here: I had had a long day at work, it was getting late, the kids were sick, etc. I have therefore spent a restless night worrying about how bad it actually was. I have now gone back to it, fixed up the most obvious mistakes and misguided statements, and re-posted it. I hope nobody minds. It won't happen again.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004

Footloose and Fancy Free

No, I don't want to be Marcello Carlin. But I do take a lot of notice of what he says, and have a sense of expectation whenever has has a new post on his weblog (link at right) similar to that I used to get around 1981 whenever an NME turned up in the old cream can that served as a letter box back on the farm. And yes, if he told me to put my head in a fire I probably would. (Mostly who I want to be is Harold Ross, founder of the New Yorker and its editor until his death in 1951.) Nevertheless, I do have some minor concerns about some aspects of his finely wrought piece on NYLPM about the state of pop in 2004. As to the specifics of his argument, well, nobody has been further out of the loop, popwise, than I have since the onset of children and our move to Canberra five years ago. Nevertheless, his main thesis, that the pop charts a year or two after a watershed year are a barren wasteland, brought about by the inevitable record company-induced law of diminishing returns, i.e., what was a good idea two years ago when first revealed soon becomes a pale shadow of itself, is worthy of further study. Certainly, everything that was bad about 1984 can be traced very closely back to everything that was glorious about 1982. But is this scenario confined to the rarefied atmosphere of the pop charts? In other words, what about non-"pop" watersheds? I remain convinced, for example, that the years 1977-1982 were a time of ever-increasing quality in modern (c.f. "pop"?) music; each step forward was followed not by two steps back but two more steps forward. If you assume that (from memory) 1978 was the year that punk vaulted through the earth's crust and into the charts, why then was 1980 (and 1981, and 1982) an even better year?

I suspect that what I am doing is confusing movements with phenomena. The answer might be that punk (and, more crucially, what came after) was itself drawing on earlier musics (garage, mods, rockers, dub) and gave rise to healthy cross-pollination in the form of a "scene" (albeit highly fragmented), whereas the kind of music he (and I put my hand up here, he's not the only one) looks back to from 1982 with such fondness really appeared from out of nowhere (as much of the best, and most lasting, music does) and, having exploded in the sky, had nowhere to go to but nowhere. Or, as Carlin says, to Howard Jones (much the same thing really).

None of which was what I really wanted to say. All I intended to do was add a couple of slight caveats, one general, one particular. General first: the danger in taking up a rigid, immutable stance against a particular aspect or trend in popular music is that, for most of us in this corner, music is about emotional responses, and, as any fule no, it is unwise to second-guess the ways of the heart. He who rails against Rachel Stevens's "Some Girls" today for the way it cynically picks up on the current vogue for all things no wave and post-punk and moulds them into stick-in-the-head chartbuster may well find himself helpless in the face of a song he might hear tomorrow that crawls out of the same swamp and pushes the same buttons, but in a way that produces in him, for reasons he cannot explain, paroxysms of pleasure instead of anger. One thing that I have found about turning 40 is that it lets you open up and allow onto the radar music that was previously Now Allowed for reasons of "style", "attitude" or (usually) "disco sucks". One thing, for example, that I can now do that I couldn't do a few years ago is absorb large quantities of disco music and begin the process of sorting out the good from the unecxeptional (and just how good IS Silver Convention's "Fly Robin Fly"?).

As to the particular, I found a copy of "Some Girls" floating in the digital ether, and I must say that on a few listens it seems a pleasant enough kind of pop song. I actually like the way it borrows liberally from Gary Glitter and from the class of 1982, but beyond that, well, I just like it, and who can really say why? (Maybe if one was in London and hearing it 15 times a day, one's attitude might be different. I gave it three spins in a row while typing this, and that was quite enough.)

Oh, and by the way, thanks also to Tom Ewing, also on NYLPM (link at right), for finding and reproducing Paul Morley's piece from 1982 on the state of the pop charts then. I was at that time coming to the end of three years of reading every word of every issue of the NME, so I must have read it at the time, but I don't think I really appreciated at the time what he was saying (did anyone??), so it is nice to read it again now, with the benefit of a further 22 years of real life behind me. How did Morley, Penman etc get to be so wise so young?

Saturday, July 24, 2004

Kids, don't try this at home

Most of this weekend is taken up with the task of running the Red Pen Of Death over the second half of the Hughes Primary School 40th birthday multicultural cookbook, something I "volunteered" to do some months ago, and which appeared at our front door unannounced at dinner time last night, marked with the code name "urgent" and the regulation phrase "there's not much in it" (166 pages! At least my half comprises mostly desserts and other good things). Not having edited a recipe book before, I wasn't quite prepared for the additional factor of having to think about how each recipe works. It's amazing how many of the recipes I've checked thus far either have an ingredient mentioned in the main part of the recipe that doesn't appear in the list of ingredients, or vice versa. And the multicultural element is causing problems of its own: how, for example, am I supposed to ensure that the process of positioning paddy straws with banana leaf cones is adequately described when I've got no idea what either might look like; and then there is the vexed question of how obvious would it be that "there are no holes in the points". (My approach is that a complete novice is unlikely to attempt such a recipe, and if they did, they would be unlikely to blame their inevitable failure on inadequate editing.)

This type of job usually gives rise to one typo sufficiently rich as to make the process worthwhile. What can you say about a recipe that begins, "Measure the flour and sugar into a bowel"? The Health Department may have something to say about that.

Construction Site: Day 12

Nothing for a couple of days, and then yesterday the big concrete pour: three cement mixers, numerous workmen, our four-year-old, Julius, and two of the other kids from our street watching from as close as they could get without actually being in the trenches having concrete poured on top of them, running through and around the house from vantage point to vantage point. Naturally, today has, contrary to the forecast, been constant drizzle, and a maximum temperature in the low single figures: not ideal conditions for watching cement dry (rather listen to a Harold Budd record, isn't that what "they" say?). Meanwhile, I have been spending the last couple of days of my week "off" rearranging furniture in anticipation of losing what is now our main bedroom, so that soon we will be a family of four living in a cramped two-bedroom house - which can be seen in a positive light when contrasted with our likely situation of having neither a kitchen nor a laundry for three or four weeks. Now, that is really something to look forward to.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Music? We've got music

Okay, this ain't no MP3 blog. We leave that to those with their mouse buttons on the pulse. But we have unused bandwidth and we have friends with bands. You do the maths. Click on the "Send In The Cows" subtitle above, then find your way to the "Music Box". It's that simple.

Urgent news update: there is now a direct link to the Music Box over to the right. And it works!


We came, we saw, we borrowed, we listened, we returned:

Johnny Cash "The Essential Johnny Cash": one of the many two-cd retrospectives to hit the shelves recently. We have also had a go of the Sly Stone one, which reveals some juicy nuggets, early and late. As for the late Mr Cash: it may be illegal to say this, but his work from the early 70s onward isn't that good. There. Brief pause. I think I got away with it. There seems to be way to much patriotism, religion and dull sentimentality. Not only that, there is also the Highwaymen to think about; and U2. Oh dear. June Carter Cash as a singer is way too much of a belter for my liking, especially on the live recordings, e.g. "Jackson", where she comes across as, say, Dan Quayle in the wake of Cash's Bill Clinton, quiet, charismatic, understated yet in his own way extraordinarily powerful.

Boards of Canada "Geogaddi": it is when discs like this turn up in your local library that you realise that Canberra isn't too bad a place to be. Oh boy I love this. Its blend of childlike innocence, aching nostalgia, lurking sense of dread, and analog synth sounds hits me right where I like to be hit.

Various Artists "Poptopia": a curious release from the Rhino stable. I'm still scratching my greying hair to figure out the point of it. A collection of mostly fairly dull guitar-driven pop, predominantly from the mid-80s on: one indispensible classic in the Bangles' "Going Down To Liverpool", some passable songs by the dBs and Plimsouls (but far from their best work), "Tell That Girl to Shut Up" by Holly & The Italians, which I haven't heard for probably 15 years but which often drops into my mental jukebox nevertheless (but doesn't sound as good as I remember it; funny, that). The front cover mocks Lichtenstein; the back cover mocks Warhol. Neither of whom could really be said to be associated with the era.

Photek "Artificial Intelligence": drum'n'bass from about 1997. Leaving aside that my knowledge of the genre fits neatly on the back of a postage stamp, with room to spare for my discourse on, say, acid house, this record does everything that I always wanted d'n'b to do: the mathematical rhythm tracks and stabbing bass lines causing involuntary spasms not entirely unrelated to dancing but not that close to it, either. And when the upright bass kicks in about three-fourths of the way through the album, well, I suspect that is what the experts (links at right) call the "punctum".

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Construction Site: Days 6/7 - crisis? what crisis?

Builders make me feel very inadequate and uncomfortable. They are everything in a man that I am not. I feel them looking at me and thinking, "Pathetic". So I am taking this week off, and feel like a prisoner inside my own home, as the place is crawling with all of these testaments to masculinity while I try to hide behind my laptop, the only power tool I feel at all comfortable being within 20 feet of.

The surveyor returned yesterday, day 6, to map out where the footings will go in the two places where we are extending the existing house. Naturally, we were curious to have a good look ourselves, and imagine what it will be like when the new rooms have been built. The clever thing about optical illusions is that they can even fool the experts. Looking at the lines mapping out the new family room, I was convinced that there must be some mistake, and that what had been mapped out may be big enough for a doll's house but not for a family of four actual living human beings. Adrienne was also convinced something had gone wrong. but, wielding a set of plans and a tape measure, she was able to prove that the space in the dirt is exactly the same width as our existing living room, which is big enough (just) to house two couches, a large dining table, a piano, a television, a computer desk, a Japanese dresser, Jules's ten thousand marbles, and more pieces of Lego than you thought existed in the world. I still don't believe my own eyes, but Adrienne's tape measure never lies, so I'll just be quiet now.

Yesterday also posed a significant test of my ability to meet Adrienne's iPod challenge (see earlier post in this series). We knew that the side fence sits about half a metre our side of the actual property boundary. We thought we were building the carport up to a whisker of the fence, but well in from the boundary. It turns out that the plans that were approved by Planning (and agreed to by the neighbours) have the carport going up to within a whisker, not of the fence, but of the title boundary, thus taking in one timber lattice fence, one steel fence and three of the neighbours' rose bushes. Did I panic? Only on the inside. But boy did I panic on the inside. Adrienne very bravely faced off against the neighbours last night, and it turns out that they seem not to care less, and even offered to take away the steel fence and relocate their precious roses themselves. Each crisis that has been thrown up at us thus far has (a) been more serious than the last; and (b) come to nothing. Will I learn a lesson from this? Wait until the next crisis to find out, but the likely answer is "No".

Moving to today, the Bobcat man returned to dig long deep channels around the back yard, where the footings will go. Today's crisis was not of our making, and in fact we wouldn't have known about it at all except we the water to the house had to be disconnected for a while. The Bobcat man had dug through the sewer outlet outside our kitchen. Twice. I didn't panic. Everyone is very proud of me. For now.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Evil That Men Do

The world seems to be awash with Top 100 lists at the moment. First we had the London Observer’s Best 100 British Albums, compiled from the choices of a cast of thousands, and as such leeched of all elements of personal choice to become a kind of lowest-common-denominator consumer guide. Still, it is interesting to see what sits at the forefront of the “culture” at this moment of history: Beatles, Stones and Bowie everywhere, of course, but we like to see “London Calling” at number 3 and, especially, the so-called “Metal Box” at number 10.

Then there were, in rapid succession, the inevitable personal responses from Marcello Carlin and Mark Fisher (links at right). These lists are much more fun, and interesting, because they are highly idiosyncratic and revealing of the person behind them, in a way that something like the Observer list can never be. The thrill of going through a list like this lies in coming across records you would never have expected to see there. In this case, the biggest surprise was to see David Sylvian’s “Blemish” in both Carlin’s and Fisher’s lists. I have only recently acquired it and had been working through a few teething troubles until I now seem to be forming the view that it is going to become a rather important record: it’s nice to have support from persons whose judgment seems in many ways close to one’s own, and who have had more time to warm to a record whose own warmth has not been immediately apparent. (We must also give a wave of the hankie to Carlin, who manages, in his usual fashion, to push things to the level beyond which us mere mortals could reach, by compiling the corresponding list of a person who was the biggest part of his life. Without doubt the saddest list I’ve ever read.)

Then there was Pitchfork’s Best 100 Records of the 1970s, another group effort but in this case a group of like-minded individuals: this list tells you whence the current crop of hipsters are deriving at least a portion of their inspiration. And for someone who pulls many of his own favourites from that benighted decade, it is a joyful stroll through a thicket of personal high spots, criss-crossed by paths never travelled: 1970s Miles; Can; King Crimson. Oh the places you’ll go.

Then there’s Dave Keenan’s Best Records Ever ... Honest, which appeared in the Sunday Herald, and which is both a beautiful wind-up (many of the people featured exist on the far periphery of the known world: Robbie Basho? The Real Kids?) and an effective device for encouraging argument.

I could never put together such a list. For one thing, anything after the first 30 would be almost totally arbitrary. But the main problem is that my brain contains tiny holes through which important bits of information disappear randomly. Example: I forgot to invite Weary, my best friend in the whole world, to my tenth birthday party. Completely forgot. Didn’t even give him a thought, until his mum’s Holden Premier (white with black racing stripes - how envious was I?) appeared around the corner of our house, shortly after the party had started. I didn’t know whether to be excited or embarrassed. I realised that my mum must have seen the error of my ways and invited him herself, and sneakily not told me she had done so. Weary had slipped from my immediate consciousness because his parents had moved him to another school at the start of that year, on account of the radical new teaching methods that had swept through Fish Creek Primary School the year before (which is, and may yet become, another story), but that hardly explains having erased him from memory as if he had never existed. I am clearly going to be trouble in my old age.

Saturday, July 17, 2004

Construction Site: Days 3/4

Yesterday a couple of guys with theodolites and little white posts came around and measured out the property boundaries. Not much to panic about there.

Today a man in a white ute turned up to measure out the location of the footings for the new construction, but had to leave again because it was raining and his equipment, so he said, was likely to short circuit. He seemed disappointed not to be working, but exactly how sad could someone be about being stopped from doing outside work on a day where it was still minus 5 degrees Celsius at 9 am and the forecast was for a maximum of seven degrees and possible snow.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Construction Site: Day 2 - Bets Are On

As the result of various incidents of a domestic nature which cannot be gone into here (this being a family show), a challenge has been set: if I can, for the duration of the renovation, curb my natural tendency to panic whenever something unexpected occurs, I can have an iPod Mini. It is certainly a powerful incentive, but to be honest I'm not totally certain I am up to the task.

Meanwhile the Bobcat spent the morning cleaning up the balance of the stray foliage and digging a substantial hole where the new bedroom will be. I asked the driver if I should move the guinea pig cage, as it was right in the middle of where he was working. "No need, mate, I can work around them", he said. Which he did, although I'm glad I wasn't one of those guinea pigs. Not surprisingly, perhaps, they now seem to be off their food.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

"The horror ... the horror"

The following is, for those wot haven't read it, the reappearance of what I wrote down in the immediate aftermath of the Canberra bushfires of January 18, 2003, and the following day. Mistakes abound, but, in the interests of not destroying any sense of immediacy the pieces may contain, I have not tampered with them. I sent this out to various people at the time, and it holds no further interest for those people, except to make them aware of the curious fact that my in-laws (bless 'em) sent a copy to friends and/or relatives in Scotland, who passed it on to someone else who passed it on etc etc and it ended up being read out (I hope they picked up and corrected the obvious typos) on something called Radio For The Print Handicapped or Radio For The Blind or some such, in Scotland. I post it here before it gets lost forever.

"Saturday 18 January 2003

We knew it was going to be hot. Julius was a bit below par so I
went to the market early and alone. Then Adrienne managed to source the last
unsold evaporative cooler in Canberra and made her own trip out to Fyshwick
to pick it up. So far so good. No mention of bushfires hitting Canberra. Our
plan was to hibernate for most of the day with a possible trip to the
library in the afternoon. Our friends Lyn and Rob from Lyons were coming
over in the late afternoon for a barbecue. At some point the wind sprang up.
The local ABC broke into the sports programme to say that fires were on the
outskirts of Canberra and some homes were threatened. About 3pm I rang Rob to
see what time they were coming over. We thought we would go to the library
around 3.30. Then all hell broke loose. The wind went crazy. The sky
darkened. The radio switched to disaster mode and tried in vain to keep
track of what was burning where. It seemed like the entire western fringe of
Canberra was under attack and fires were out of control. A dead cockatoo
fell from the sky into the neighbours' front yard. We abandoned the idea of
going anywhere. We filled the bath, the laundry sink, and both sides of the
clamshell sandpit with water, and untangled and connected the hoses.
Adrienne rang Lyn and Rob who seemed less concerned than us and said they
would still come over (which they did). Their son Jayden and our boys set to
playing together while I restlessly stuck my head out the door every few
minutes. Blackened leaves and bits of ash were being tossed into the yard
from wherever the fires were. The wind and heat were incredible. The
telephone had gone down. Likewise the internet. We decided to cook indoors.
The sky went as dark as night. And orange. It was 5pm. Lyn and Rob decided
to abandon dinner and took off towards home. Immediately they left the power
went off. We had only Jules's dinosaur torch for light and no batteries for
the radio. The car radio reported that three houses in the street next to
Lyn and Rob's were on fire. Presently it lightened up a bit. All around our
street people were up on roofs with hoses, blocking gutters and generally
dampening things down. Was this panic? No. To pack up and flee would have
been panic. On the other hand you could not have just ignored it. Fires were
spotting 12 kilometres from the main fire fronts, and Lyn and Rob's place is
only 2.5 ks from us. Things were seriously out of control. I borrowed a
ladder and, even though I am unable to climb more than three rungs before
someone has to come and get me down, I somehow got right up onto the roof,
with a hose in one hand and a wet towel in the other, and a trowel somewhere
else (I wish someone had filmed this). I cleaned out the gutters, blocked
the downpipes and filled the gutters. Then I somehow remounted the ladder
and got down. We went doorknocking in search of batteries or a battery
operated radio. Neighbours were running from house to house checking that
everyone was under control. It turned out that three of the men of the
street had by coincidence left Canberra on business that morning. It dawned
on me that the gas bottle from the barbie would be unhelpful on the back
deck in the event of fire, so I took it into the garage, along with the
table and chairs from out there and any number of plastic children's toys.
Adrienne got stuck into some piles of dead plant matter. We felt we were
well prepared. We were certainly exhausted. The kids had been given somewhat
short shrift. They kind of enjoyed the lack of power but it would also have
been an opportune time to throw on a video.

Then the sky lightened up and the power came back on (we later found out
that this was because we are on the same grid as the Canberra Hospital). The
radio told us that maybe 100 houses had burned. An easterly change came
through. Stuff was still falling from the sky but there was a sense that the
immediate threat was over (although we still didn't know where all the fires
were, and there is a large stretch of combustible bushland right behind us
to the east, which with the new wind direction made us all a bit nervous).
Exhausted we threw together some semblance of dinner, put the kids to bed,
and put our papers and a few spare clothes into the back of the car. Just in
case. That night around 8pm some of us discussed a plan for making sure
everyone became aware if something happened during the night. A couple of us
went for a walk up into the bushland behind us. People were still up on
roofs, either hosing down the house or just looking. It's weird to have a
conversation with someone who is standing on the roof of their house. From
up on the hill it was easy to see fires all around us, or so it seemed.
Hills were covered with red spots. There looked to be a large fire to the
east of us, and if you stood and looked at it the wind was blowing right
into your face.

Sunday 19 January

The sun came up. The world hadn't ended. Remarkably I slept
incredibly soundly. Adrienne's maternal instincts must have kicked in
because she was up a few times during the night looking out the windows and
checking the radio. What struck was how calm and still everything was. The
occasional helicopter flew overhead; the odd siren in the distance: but
aside from this, silence. Someone had removed the dead cockatoo during the
night. The radio now told us the magnitude of the disaster. And it was a
disaster. (And how grateful we are for the work of the local ABC radio

Our principal concern was Lyn and Rob. We still had no telephone, although
our mobile was now working again; but we couldn't get through. Thus I took a
drive across to Lyons around 9am to see how they had managed. The drive
itself was a weird experience. There were a small number of cars on the
road. None of the traffic lights were working. With the general stillness,
the overall effect was of the world having ended overnight but for a few
stray survivors driving round and round until the petrol ran out. But at
Lyons there were people out on the streets, standing around talking. The
hill that runs down to the edge of the suburb was burnt black. I was
grateful not to have driven past any burnt-down houses. Lyn, Rob and Jayden
were sitting around shaken but intact. When they got back to their house
everything was pitch black and incredibly hot; burning embers were flying
through the air and the wind was stinging their faces as they ran into the
house. Rob had then taken a drive around their street and had seen several
places burning, so he went straight back to defend their own place. They
still had no power or gas, so they were invited back to our place where they
could at least get a cup of coffee. An offer they couldn't refuse.

I continued to fortify our place, just in case. More water sources; less
combustible material around the house. By late afternoon we were all stir
crazy so we took the kids to Deakin playground for some semblance of "fun"
(although we knew we didn't really want to be there, and the kids probably
knew that, too). So we stayed for a while, checking the radio too
frequently, and then went home.

And that's about it, really."

Construction Site: Day 1

The contracts have been signed. Now for the serious business of watching half our house being pulled down and rebuilt, while we try to live here. Julius is very excited, he has a new pair of gumboots and his Bob the Builder tool box and hard hat (hard plastic, that is), and is ready to tell the workmen everything he knows, on any topic. A "misunderstanding" arose between us and the builders before the first sod had been turned, which is not necessarily the best start ever made to a building project. That seems to have sorted itself out, and while I was at work today a Bobcat removed every inch of foliage from around the house, along with the side fence, exposing us to our neighbours and to the street in ways we have never known before. (Canberra in winter is not the ideal place for nude sunbathing in the back yard so there should be no surprises for anybody.)

Stay tuned. Further updates will be provided when they are to hand.

Pal Joey

It says in Harper's Weekly Review (link at right) that Canberra residents are at risk of being attacked by mad starving kangaroos. It must be an election year. Next thing they'll be kissing babies.

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Step Right Up

Forget Mark Latham's bucks party; forget the state of the US alliance. The real issue of substance rolling around the Canberra rumour mill is: have the faceless cabal behind the sinister JB Hi-Fi empire bought out Impact Records? Impact may not be the Best Record Shop In The World (Greville Records would still win any straw poll conducted at this house) but it has three advantages over almost every other record store in Canberra: it also sells comics; it has quite a good range, in terms of both quality and width (even David Sylvian's "Blemish" finally turned up there); and it isn't Sanity. So you can please excuse us for being a little bit anxious at present. We live in fear that next time we navigate the shady corners of Garema Place and head down the steps to Impact, we will be confronted with burly security guards at the door; wall-to-wall widescreen TVs and car stereos; boxes of empty CD cases and other useless junk crowding the entrance; the Satanic yellow-and-black colour scheme; the handwritten "sale/bargain" signs on every surface that hasn't been covered by individually painted facsimiles of the covers of recent hit records; and a range of CDs that defies explanation (you are likely to find that they will have multiple copies of something you've never heard of by some failed 80s band like, say, The Alarm, and nothing whatsoever by The Fall, while the only two Yo La Tengo discs will be "Genius + Love = Yo La Tengo" and the "Danelectro" ep).

Impact also has a quite reasonable Bargain Bin. Canberra readers are well advised to immediately head down there and pick up for a mere $15 a copy of Tom Waits' "Used Songs". Heck, I paid full price for mine, and I'm not complaining. What you get is not just another collection of "early" Waits material, but rather as near to definitive a compilation as you are likely to find. While you might still arguably be better served by going out and finding all of the records he released on the Asylum label, now you don't have to. The only thing I can think of that should be here but isn't is his version of "Somewhere", from "West Side Story". The novelty value is provided by a song off his first album, from circa 1973, which comes across as stock standard West Coast adult-orientated rock from the era, but which also gives a glimpse of Waits' voice at a time when is still carried in it some small vestige of the adjective "smooth".

Of course, one of popular music's great mysteries is how we get from these songs of the gravel-voiced troubador to the Tom Waits of "Swordfishtrombones", "Rain Dogs" and "Mule Variations". But maybe we don't have to. The time lost in arguing which is the real Tom Waits might be better spent just listening to the records - all of them, from both parts of his career. I don't know if they can be reconciled, but both (or neither, for that matter) may well turn out to be "real". With Waits, as with Beck, and (to pick a local example) Dave Graney, the divide between "person" and "persona" is so blurred and tangled as to be meaningless: may not, in fact, exist at all (cf, say, Nick Cave, or David Bowie, or maybe Robert Smith, all of whom, one imagines, melt away from the public to the private once the performance is over - which is not a criticism, just a comparison). Someone should do a thesis on this; me, I'm going to make a cup of tea.

Friday, July 09, 2004

Oblique Strategies

Marcello Carlin gives us a rather nice, concise (by his standards) case for Brian Eno's "Before And After Science". Which has caused me to think: as much and all as "Another Green World" is the keystone which supports almost my entire record collection, I might be forced to admit that in terms of which record of Eno's I would actually choose to sit down and listen to at a particular moment, that would most likely be "Before And After Science" (and in particular side two thereof).

They also served ...

Three more to add to the list of the fallen:

Robert Burchfield. Editor of "The New Fowler's", one of the most often consulted books on the shelf. Burchfield wielded a much smaller stick than the original Mr Fowler, and can be less entertaining for that, but he also tended to give more practical guidance, which, when you need to know how words work, and you need to know now, is rather attractive.

Saul Bass. This man did a job that would only have been possible since the middle of the last century: designing credit sequences for movies. If he is only remembered for the opening credits for "Age of Innocence", he will nevertheless be remembered for something much greater than anything most of us will ever do.

Syd Hoff. It's jarring to come across an obituary for someone you had assumed had died long ago. It seems to happen mostly with children's book illustrators, for some reason. Robert McCluskey ("Make Way For Ducklings" - has a better kids' book ever been made?) died a couple of years ago. Now Syd Hoff. Both produced books (and at least in the case of Hoff, New Yorker cartoons) in the 1940s and '50s that, visually at least, were of their time, so there is a tendency to carbon-date their creators accordingly. William Steig is the exception to this, mainly because he kept working well into his nineties, and his drawings, although they gradually became more minimal and shaky of line, continued to appear in the New Yorker with astonishing regularity right up to his death last year. Being the creator of "Shrek" no doubt helped him retain name recognition, even though the movie bears scant resemblance to the book on which it is based, a cause of some disappointment to at least one small child of my acquaintance.

Monday, July 05, 2004

This goes with that (slight return)

"The Carnival Is Over" (no, not that one) from Dead Can Dance's "Into the Labyrinth" album, and Doug Ashdown's "Winter In America". And no, I'm not particularly proud to have been able to make that connection. Some things are better left forgotten.

Sunday, July 04, 2004

Papa's Got A Brand New Bag

My last most recent batch of library borrowings:

Lee Hazlewood "These Boots Are Made For Walkin': The Complete MGM Recordings": a voice that is part Johnny Cash, part Stephin Merritt; singing verging on not-singing-at-all; amazing arrangements, from a time when the producer could say, "hey, you want an orchestra?, let’s bring in an orchestra”. The title song is reclaimed by Hazlewood, in a post-modern (or maybe even proto-DJ) style, with "this is the part where ..." introducing various bits of the song. "Sand”, of course, is a timeless classic, although I question whether, at one point, "thy" should have been "thine". And, of course, "Summer Wine", inviting one to "put on your silver spurs". I had a pair of spurs once, borrowed from the farm (and unused for about half a century). I wore them to a fancy-dress 21st birthday a very long time ago. If we had gone on public transport I quite possibly would have been either arrested or beaten up. Roger Russell had on a leather skirt, and seemed just a little bit too comfortable therein. I can't now even remember whose birthday it was. Only the photos remain, awaiting the day when one of our number becomes famous.

The Sea And Cake "Oui": the only record I've heard from this, the melodic “pop” arm of the Chicago post-rock collective, featuring that man John McEntire on drums and quite a bit else besides, and Archer Prewitt, otherwise known as the author of the "Sof' Boy" comics. I have borrowed this a number of times, and am happy to keep coming back to it. It is very refreshing. I can't quite put a finger on what makes it not dull and tedious, but whatever it is, it works. They also have a cd-ep out somewhere that features a video directed by our hero Richard McGuire (links at right, the third of which seems not to be working at present but I'm keeping it up in the hope that it reappears; it is the hub of the McGuire enterprise).

Underworld "Beaucoup Fish": I am grateful to Underworld for implanting the suggestion that people over the age of 35 can still embrace the dance floor (if only in our heads). The whole family can bounce around the house to this, one foot to the other and back again, while twirling their hands in silly little circles as if scuffing up the seam on the new ball. Having failed in my desperate search for a copy of the 12-inch version of Donna Summer's "I Feel Love", I am happy to embrace "King of Snake" for the way it unleashes the fangs of Giorgio Moroder.

Dirty Three "She Has No Strings Apollo": I am not an authority on Dirty Three. I once queued up outside the Evelyn Hotel until the wee small hours to see one of their first gigs, only to ultimately give up hope that they were actually going to appear. I can admire what they are capable of, and often enjoy it, but I can't keep it up for the lengths of time they can. This, to my ears, is on a par with any of their other efforts, although it does contain one lovely piece, "Long way to go with no punch", with a recurring piano motif reminiscent of, say, Erik Satie, or Chris Abrahams in wistful mode, which proves they are no one-trick ponies.

Train In Vain

On account of it being the last day of term, we took the boys into “town” (Carl: “But it’s not town, it’s the big city”) on Friday night for a little bit of excitement. Having successfully negotiated a minor poo accident in the David Jones toy department, we went to one of the few Japanese restaurants in Canberra that has a sushi train. Julius loves anything that moves. At one point he took a bite out of something, put it back on the plate, neatly put the lid back on, and set it back in an empty space on the train. Some fancy footwork by Adrienne allowed us to retrieve the offending item moments before it travelled past some other, unsuspecting diners. It would also appear, or so the manager pointed out to us, that you are not supposed to put the lids of dishes back on the train. It had seemed like a reasonable idea to us. Somewhere else to add to the list of places we can never show our faces in again.

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Who's Next

Tonight, at the dinner table. Carl: "Daddy, you're the world's ... you're one of the world's greatest dads." A fairly sensible qualification for a six-year-old: there are probably other good dads out there; some of them may even be as good as if not better than me. Maybe.