Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Leave The Capitol!

This blog is shutting up shop for a couple of weeks. We are off on a short break, partly so the boys can get together with their four adoring girl cousins; partly because we are about to be subjected to a home invasion. The building works so far have kept to the outside of the house, so that Carl and I, two of the least mess-tolerant human beings of the modern age, have been able to pretend it hasn't been happening. No more. The new construction is almost at lock-up, which means there is nowhere for the builders to go but indoors: we will be losing the kitchen, the laundry, and quite a few hitherto external walls. What we will come back to we do not know. Once the screams have subsided, I will let you know.

Pop Quiz

The question (ABC Radio National, this morning): who invented the telescope? Julius (aged 4), first guess: "John Hawke". (This is a name he has been coming out with lately; it may or may not be an amalgam of John Howard and Bob Hawke. Imagine that (as Vince Noir might say).) Julius, second guess: "Colin from daddy's work". Colin is the second-in-charge security guard at work. He doesn't quite come across as someone capable of changing the course of history, but he is a very nice chap, and you never know ...

Monday, September 13, 2004

He's Back!

Art Spiegelman returns to the New Yorker. Astute readers of this blog will remember that we put out the call a month or two back. Consumption of humble pie on Spiegelman's part was probably limited by the fact that his wife remains the magazine's art director; we hope she made him jump through a few hoops, nonetheless. We also, somewhat more cynically, hope that his reappearance is more than just a one-off, timed as a cross-promotion for the release of "In The Shadow Of No Towers". No, the magazine would never stoop so low. (Also in this week's issue an Alec Wilkinson profile of Gillian Welch. If we didn't have an airmail subscription we would undoubtedly be buying this one anyway. And a Bruce McCall cover, too. And David Remnick editorialising on his special subject, Russia. What, they do this sort of thing every week?)

Sunday, September 12, 2004

Construction Site: From the mouths of babes

Julius, following a builder around our house: “and I’ve got dinosaur pyjamas, and ladybug pyjamas, and cow pyjamas; but the cow pyjamas are in the summer clothes box”. By the time this job is finished the builders will know more about our lives than I do.

Meanwhile, Carl, who is doing his best to pretend that the renovation/extension isn’t happening, came home from school: “Mum, can you do the diarrhea club at school next year?” Clubs are something the kids do once a week for a few weeks, usually involving chess, kite making, computers or some other fun thing, and often with the help of a parent or two. A few more questions established that what he meant was the “diorama” club. A simple, but potentially messy, misunderstanding.

Carry bag man

Another Saturday, another visit to the local library, to stock up on kids' books and some CDs. Sadly, someone had reserved William Gibson's "Pattern Recognition", so I had to give it back even though I'm only half way through. Serious crimes have been committed on flimsier grounds.

The Band “The Shape I’m In: The Very Best of The Band”: Many years ago I was listening to Double J late one night, when the DJ put on the Band’s version of Bob Dylan's “I Shall Be Released” and went out for a nature call or a cup of coffee. The record stuck, in the middle of the line “I see my light come shining”, forever. Or, at least, for a very long time. Listening for possibly the first time since, it sounded wrong when it didn't stick this time.

Burning Spear “Living Dub, Volume One”: Is there such a thing as bad dub, in the way that there’s bad jazz? It’s a harder thing to gauge, I think. You know bad jazz as soon as you hear it. With dub, once the echo chamber kicks in my critical faculties go out the window. Minds may differ where the On-U Sound label is concerned; but anything from the Jamaican sound factories of the 1970s does the trick. Winston Rodney may not be recognisable as a titan of dub, but there is nothing to be lost by having this record in your milk crate.

The Orb “U.F.Orb”: Dub action here, too, with a barking dog no less (echoes (pun intented, I guess) of Lee Perry's infamous cows?). The entire Orb/Future Sounds of London/Underworld/Aphex Twin movement dodged me at the time, so I don't bring any of my usual preconceived ideas to this one. (Who said that?) Now I've listened to this, and totally got into Underworld, I think I may have made an error of judgment. I don't remember what put me off in the first place. I think Adrienne said something like, it's like Kraftwerk without any warmth. Which, y'know, can't be argued with; but, the sounds, man, the sounds ...

Freddie Hubbard “The Artistry of Freddie Hubbard”: No bad jazz here (see above). Just good solid bebop from the Impulse label, circa 1962. Even trombonophobes like myself can enjoy.

Cowboy Junkies “Pale Sun Crescent Moon”: I would have preferred “The Trinity Sessions”, but it seems that that one has already been destroyed, in the way that only CDs borrowed from a library can be destroyed, or has been returned to another branch. Cowboy Junkies are another band floating on the edge of the “must listen to” list, a list that gets longer by the week.

Bjork “Vespertine”: I find Bjork spectacular in small doses but quite wearing over the length of a CD. There are two songs near the start of this disc that are totally gorgeous. It also has fabulous sounds: glitches; harp; music box. I prescribe one track per day, and see me in the morning. By the way, there was a great profile of her by Alex Ross is the New Yorker a few weeks ago. You may or may not be able to find it on his web site, “The Rest Is Noise”. Go and have a look; try also to find his piece on Dylan from around five years ago, which should be the first and last word on that subject.

“Organ Jazz” (one of a series on Fantasy records): Proof of how much fun a cheap, badly packaged compilation can be. Did I already say that the one thing I fought for (and lost) with the house extension was a Hammond Organ and a room to house it in?

Orb “Orblivion”: Whatever I said about this, I would be lying. I’ve listened to the first two tracks only. This is five years after the one referred to earlier. A lot can happen in five years, even if your music moves at a glacial pace to begin with.

Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds “Nocturama”: My brain’s too tired to give this the going over it deserves. There are flashes of Cave’s best songwriting here, the Seeds are (“Babe, I’m) On Fire(”), and if nothing else it’s notable for being Blixa’s last go-round with the band. As Cave’s catalogue keeps growing, it is harder for a new record to establish itself as the one you would reach for in a given mood/situation. Whether we have had the last truly revelatory Nick Cave record remains to be seen. Neither this (too patchy) nor “... and no more shall we part”(way too long) quite matches the clarity of “The Boatman’s Call”; but you could easily put together a package of edited highlights that would go very close. He certainly still deserves his place as national living treasure.

Where have they been

For most of the last two weeks I have been a slave to my job. What I do is quite mentally draining, and cramming the equivalent of 13 working days into a 14-day period wasn’t exactly my idea of a good time. It had to be done, and now it’s done. The deadlines I have are frequently short and always immutable. Some days I haven’t even had time to put on a CD. How sad is that?

Monday, September 06, 2004

Bad Politics, Baby

I think I would have been more interested if it had been the Publicans Convention.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Mere pseud mag ed

Over 18 months ago Bill Buford left the position of fiction editer of the New Yorker to become the magazine's Europe correspondent. Although I had long held the view that Buford is a much better editor than he is a writer [not that there's anything wrong with that ... ] his last couple of pieces for the magazine were excellent, and I looked forward to seeing what he could come up with in his new role. We waited. And waited. And then we waited some more. And then we kind of forgot about him. Until this week, when his first piece in his "new" job appears in the "Food" issue (his last piece was a profile of a NYC chef (name forgotten; the issue is in a box somewhere) and involved Buford himself working for a time as a kitchen hand, so it kind of makes sense). It was something of a jolt to see his name in the table of contents. At this rate he matches the Joseph Mitchell of the 1950s, who averaged something less than one article a year (but they were all crackin' pieces).

Transfiguration of Stanley

M. Ward, where have you been all my life?

Construction Site: State of Play

The roof came off at both ends of the house. It rained. Then it rained some more. It kept raining. Canberra had two inches of rain in less than two days, which is more rain than we have had in total since last December. Did I say the roof was off? There were tarpaulins to keep the rain out, so we weren't too worried until some of the light fittings started to flicker, and then to buzz and pop. It was around then I had a closer look at the shelves were the cds and good art books were (and where my best comics had been until a couple of days earlier). Casualties: Byrds and Robert Johnston box sets; Ralph Steadman's "I, Leonardo"; a David Hockney book of photo collages; a book on Piranesi. Before it stopped raining we had water coming into four separate rooms in the house, and lost the use of a number of lights and power points.

But everything's fine now, There are new brick walls up; roof trusses up; formwork happening (like I know what I'm talking about); and only a matter of a couple of weeks (perhaps) until lock-up. Which sounds good until we realise that that is when we will be losing the kitchen and laundry for a while.