Sunday, February 27, 2005

One more time with feeling

For the final hypothetical mix CD of 2004, I dispensed with usual practice of agonising over the damn thing for months at a time. I just threw it together and listened to it. And would you believe, it works. There’s probably a lesson in there somewhere, but I sure as heck won’t learn it. In the same spirit, I’ll try to keep the comments to a minimum.

Tim Hardin, “If I Were a Carpenter”: Ed Kuepper does a great version of this, on “Today Wonder” (now reissued w/ extra tracks, so there really is no excuse). I was listening to Triple R one night many years ago when the DJ seemed to have flown the coop and put Ed’s version on an endless loop. Hey, that rhymes.

Bobby “Blue” Bland, “That Did It”.

Lou Courtney, “Hey Joyce”.

Slapp Happy, “Blue Flower”: better known to the hipster cogniscenti as a Mazzy Star song. (Heck, I hadn’t even realised it was a cover.) Me, I actually prefer Hope Sandoval to the somewhat belted vocals on this. In fact, “I prefer Hope Sandoval” could serve as my epitaph.

Opal, “Fell From The Sun”: somewhat obvious segue, this, with Opal being David Roback’s band previous to Mazzy Star (what is he doing now?, you hear me ask). This is a fabulous song. I have long cherished their SST album, “Happy Nightmare Baby”, and am always excited (and never, at least not yet, disappointed) to hear anything else by them.

Bloomfield, Kooper, Stills, “Season of the Witch”: eleven minutes of anathema perhaps, but I like to think of this as the electric-blues equivalent of what happens in jazz all the time: take a standard and push it out further than you ever thought it could go (John Coltrane’s “My Favourite Things” being only the most obvious example).

Soft Cell, “Tainted Love/Where Did Our Love Go?”: exhibit A in the case for the defence of the 12-inch single. The two songs fit together like they had been born that way. You couldn’t do this in three minutes, but you could do it in eight. And they did. I first heard this at the Oakleigh Motel, in suburban Melbourne, where I was staying with my parents during one of our infrequent trips to Melbourne when for whatever reason we weren’t able to stay with my mad cousins in East Bentleigh. And of course we wish Marc Almond the speediest and fullest of recoveries from his horrific motorcycle accident. (And, on the same morbid subject, we wish Edwin Collins all the very best, too, and hope he’s not falling but laughing some time soon.)

Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, “Electricity”: in a nutshell, the sound every boy and girl was looking for in 2004.

Specials, “Ghost Town”: another one lovingly packed away for the desert island. It’s surprising, and heartening, how many guest programmers on “Rage” have chosen this.

23 Skidoo, “Coup”: and when the kids have tired of OMD, they are turning to the sound of Sheffield.

Mouse on Mars, “Lazergum”: nudging us into the 21st century.

Pizzicato Five, “Good”: Looks like I missed the boat again. When I think of all those CD-eps I could have bought ...

Baldwin Brothers, “Dream Girl”: I have spoken about this before. It still keeps me awake at night if I hear it after 4pm. Just like coffee.

Mendelsson, “storagemanagementadministration”: Googling this is futile. (Which means the artist or song name may well be wrong.) I seem to be liking much of what I hear from Germany these days.

Jens Lekman, “You Are the Light”: there are, I am sure, thousands of reasons for not liking this fellow. Well, I’m sorry, I can’t help it.

Kings of Convenience, “I’d Rather Dance With You”: the closest we will ever come to a new Smiths song. Which, as if it needs explaining, is intended as the highest compliment.

Low, “Last Night I Dreamed Somebody Loved Me”: and finally, an actual Smiths song, as rendered by the once and future kings of “slowcore” (whatever that is). Twice the emotion and (almost) none of the forward motion. But it works in its own way and on its own terms. It’s not exactly the most uplifting place to finish the year, though.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Who's Next

We like what's going down over at ILMiXor, where what's going down is a real-time collaborative mp3 mixtape project (well, you try to give it a better description): the guy (naturally we assume it's a guy) running the site decides upon a theme for a mix tape, sets up a rolling list of contributors, and away it goes. When it's your turn, you have to put up an mp3 fitting the theme and, ideally, following on from the previous entry, and writing a few words about it. (Or, in the case of Ned Raggett, a whole lot of words.) So far they have put together one suitable-for-burning 80-minute mix, and are well into the second one. The whole thing is co-ordinated by way of an ILM thread, which reads like the duck's feet thrashing around furiously under the water while the ILMiXor duck gives the impression of floating gracefully along the surface. ("I can't take my turn right now, sorry, I've got to study/work/my computer's been stolen/I haven't slept for three days.")

It is a brilliantly simple idea, anyone could do it (although could "anyone" do it well?), but they thought of it (as far as we know) so full credit to them.

Daddy Go Down

(alternative title: “Poor Poor Pitiful Me”)

I seem to have spent most of the last week and a half coming down with a mystery viral thing, hitting one of the rockiest rock-bottoms I have ever hit, and then recovering, painfully slowly, from same. There was actually a point, around midday last Friday, when I felt as if my vital fluids had drained completely away. At that stage, I would happily (no, not “happily”; willingly might be better: “happy” does not sit well, especially when over the last couple of weeks we have seen the self-inflicted deaths of, first, Nick Kilroy, a name I did not previously know, although it turns out that his musical tastes have been an enormously positive influence on my own over the last 12 months via, and secondly, of course, Hunter S Thompson, who should never have lived past 35 anyway, whose “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” should be a compulsory text for all self-respecting post-adolescents everywhere, and the last words on whom should be those of long-time collaborator Ralph Steadman, as appearing in the Guardian, preferably read while having open on the other half of the screen Steadman’s drawing of HST in the New York Times of the same day) have gone to meet the maker. I don’t think I have ever felt so weak, so drained.

Sunday, February 13, 2005

Drowning in my nostalgia

Six years ago yesterday I jumped in the car and took off up the Hume Highway to start my, our, new life in Canberra. I wrote the following piece at the end of our first year up here. The quote marks form part of the title, a la David Bowie's "Heroes".

"Fire at Parliament House"

The High Court building in Canberra is situated directly across the lake from the Carillion, which has a recital each day around midday. So, as one heads out for one’s lunch-hour constitutional, one can leave one’s Walkman behind, for there is usually a musical accompaniment. Anybody who has been to Canberra will know the Carillion. It sits out on an island, looking a bit like an oversized sports trophy, and sounding like Mike Oldfield’s “Tubular Bells”. The Carillion is, essentially, a musical instrument in a big box, and, like all musical instruments, it depends on human input to function. Thus, the music played varies widely. Most is not to the taste of the younger generation. Around Christmas time, for example, we are given an assortment of carols. Every so often there is an unexpected surprise: a rendition of Barry Manilow’s “I Write the Songs”; the theme from “The Addams Family”; “Hernando’s Hideaway”, a much covered song best known from a record by the Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band. As might be expected, this kind of thing is enough to put a spring in my step for the rest of the day.

I remember the Carillion from my only previous visit to Canberra, with my parents in the September school holidays of 1975. My father, amateur violinist and lover of all things musical, took us out to sit on the grass one morning to listen to that day’s recital, which included such chestnuts as “Home on the Range” (still a Carillion favourite). Dad would have been happy. I was bored. On that visit we also saw a model of the proposed National Gallery (now visible from my office window in all its 3-D actuality); the geodesic dome-like science building at ANU (where we saw some part of Phar Lap, the horse whose various body parts can be found at many different places across the nation); roads that go around in circles and make it impossible to get to where you want to go; the little models of satellites and other cool stuff at the Tidbinbilla tracking station. I also remember how cold it was in our caravan.

The purpose of our visit was to see mum’s uncle Arthur Hewson, then the sitting Country Party member of Parliament for the Victorian seat of McMillan (he was to be voted out in the elections of December 1975, so we just made it). The timing was extraordinary – anyone with knowledge of Australian politics will have November 1975 firmly etched in their minds, and events were, of course, unfolding well before that fateful day when Saint Gough appeared to the masses on the steps of Parliament House to vent his spleen against Sir John Kerr. So there I was, too young to know anything except what our parents had instilled in us (in order, I guess, to inure us to the propaganda they assumed would be spewing forth from the Commie-filled staff room) – that Whitlam and his band of idiots were leading this country to the edge of ruin (notwithstanding that only three years earlier, as the result of a sudden and unexpected rush of blood to the head, my parents, and many others like them, who had voted conservative all their lives and for several generations beforehand, had actually helped to elect the Whitlam Labor government) – sitting in one of three rows of seats on the floor of the House of Representatives reserved for “special” guests, and then eating lunch in the parliamentary dining room. The best part was the discovery that, to get to his office, we had to briefly exit the building via the roof. (At least to that extent, it was probably a good thing that Canberra sits in a low-rainfall basin.)

(Arthur’s fatal mistake was running on a platform that emphasised that if he were elected one more time he could collect an MP’s pension. But even allowing for that error of judgment, to this day I don’t understand how a Country Party member could have lost his seat during the ensuing conservative landslide (although the seat of McMillan is notorious for veering from left to right, to further right, and back again in relatively short spaces of time, owing to the existence in the electorate of the Latrobe Valley, its transient population and somewhat “curious” mix of residents).)

Out of the experience came my most famous short story, “Fire at Parliament House”, an epic drama in which, amid high tension and shenanigans, a serious disaster is averted by the heroic efforts of a fictitious Country Party backbencher named, imaginatively, “Arthur Hewson”. (The illustrations were by me, as well, demonstrating my all-round creative talent, which I seem to have misplaced at some point during my teens.) This story was read to visitors time and time again over the years by my mother, and to my increasing embarrassment.

Somehow the subject of my “uncle” the politician came up during the later years of High School. (This was, at least, a more credible claim to family lineage than the outright falsehood put around by me at primary school, that my mother was directly descended from William the Conqueror (later revised to Oliver Cromwell, this being to a very slight degree supported by the research of one of Arthur’s brothers, who went to Ireland with the specific intention of confirming that a Hewson had signed the death warrant for Charles the First and came back with a photocopy of a photograph of a reproduction of a document containing a number of barely legible signatures, one of which, at a stretch, may have said “Hewson” – and don’t forget, also, that Bono’s surname is Hewson, which might suggest that a family connection may be the innate, deeply rooted reason for my hating U2).) One of my teachers, a burly, thunderous man called Ray Wilkinson - one of whose most memorable qualities was the ability to raise his eyebrows while almost but not quite smiling, leaving the recipient of this gesture uncomfortably uncertain whether he was expressing amusement at whatever you had just said or treating you with the contempt you suddenly felt you deserved - heard the name, made the aforementioned gesture, and said, “Ah, Old Tiger Hewison [sic]”. Whether he was privy to some actual and possibly salacious information about Arthur (which he was not about to divulge to me) or whether he was just winding me up I will never know, but I was happy to think that Arthur was remembered by somebody other than just blood relatives.

Amongst our 1999 Christmas cards was one from my Aunt Margaret and Uncle Ray (my mother’s brother), letting us know that Arthur had died, and that there were (unsurprisingly for someone whose entire life seems to have been lived in the public sphere; but quite out of the ordinary in a family that for the most part likes to keep itself as far away from the spotlight as possible) 800 people at his funeral. I felt in some small way like a circle had been completed, because 1999 was also the year in which I moved to Canberra. It is still almost absurdly cold here in winter, and the roads are just as confusing as ever. There is a new Parliament House, and a portrait gallery in the old one. Ed Kuepper played at that year’s New Year’s Eve festivities. I hope this means that one day I get to hear “Everything I’ve Got Belongs To You” cascading out from the Carillion.

Saturday, February 12, 2005


Music I plan on listening to over the weekend:

Gillian Welch, "Time (The Revelator)".
"Serendipity: an Introduction to John Martyn".
The second Tindersticks album, conveniently titled "Tindersticks", as was the first Tindersticks album.
Yo La Tengo, "And then nothing turned itself inside out".
David Sylvian, "Brilliant Trees".
Some or all of "DFA Compilation #2".

At least it's a plan, which is more than I can usually come up with. But then something will most likely get in the way. In fact, something already has: I seem to have gotten myself stuck on "Dreams Top Rock" by Pluramon, which has been spun twice at home and once in the car already. Even though Julius said "Can you turn this off!".

Friday, February 11, 2005

Root down

The Hammond B3 is the king of organs.

Jimmy Smith was the king of the Hammond B3.

Guess that makes Jimmy Smith the king of kings.

The fact that his key work was created circa 40 years ago doesn't in any way diminish his worth, or loss.


Thursday, February 10, 2005

what car does jesus drive?

Well, at first I thought, a white Subaru Liberty. Then I had an idea of something more upmarket, but with extra safety features, say a Volvo station wagon (but with a 6-disc CD changer in the back, so he can listen to lots of gospel without being distracted by having to change discs.

But then I thought, no, it's obvious, the long hair, the beard, the sandals: it has to be one of those old Renaults that Australian high-school teachers and academics drove in the late 1970s.

So if you see one, wave. It might give you a leg up, one day. (And if it's a teacher, well, they need all the positive reinforcement they can get, too.)

Sunday, February 06, 2005

What will we do when we get there?

I spent yesterday afternoon in the (barely) living centre of Canberra looking for the 2005 Lego catalogue, which someone in our household is desperate to lay his hands on (word is it'll be here in March; that wasn't the word he was looking for).

Rather than come home empty handed, I spent a few minutes looking around in Revolution, unsuccessfully, when my eyes lit upon one of the objects I would have been least expexting to see there, had I given the idea any thought at all: "DFA Compilation #2". Second hand. In Canberra. For about the same price as a discounted new-release "chart" CD. Believing that these things never happen to me, I sensed a trap. But only for a second or two. I grabbed it before anyone else could put their clammy hands on it. I took it home. I will now give it a damn close listen to make sure there are no faults or glitches.

(I will then decide whether I like it or not. And perhaps let you know. Although, after a year of doing this weblog malarkey, I have yet to fall into a pattern of writing "record reviews". I find them very difficult, and frequently pointless (not to mention, in the longer term, embarrassing). On the Internet there are no deadlines. I often take months - or years: take a bow, "Portishead" by Portishead - to decide if I like a record. Then I change my mind. So what I probably should be doing is looking back at what I bought, say, 10 years ago, and reviewing those.)

Now I can remember, now I can remember

January 2005. Sovereign Hill, Ballarat. I had been explaining to the boys before we entered that this was a place where everything was Back in Time, where there would be no cars or televisions. After three or four hours of wandering around in 35 degree heat amidst dust, crowds of people and the smell of several tons of horse poo (and generally having a great time of it), Carl made me suffer a momentary double-take when he said "Daddy, when can we go back to the future?"

Transfiguration of Michael

Some of us are seeing the cold, not-dead-yet hand of Kerry Packer looming larger over the Australian summer of cricket than it has for a number of years. (Maybe we just lost concentration for a while, there.) It would make sense for Packer, and his so-called lieutenants at Channel Nine, to be taking an interest this year: the time seems to be drawing near when even the most die-hard Australian supporter must start to look at the constant stream of Aussie victories and say, "pass the remote".

Thus we have: the Michael Clarke Channel. All Michael, all of the time.

Okay, he is a fine young cricketer and all-round athlete; he is rarely without a smile; and he is a good-looking bloke in the style of, say, James Hird (to pick a name entirely at random). All of these qualities are enough to make someone like myself insanely jealous, so take what follows with a fair pinch of salt. But ...

He has performed well in the Test and One-Day arenas this past couple of months, sure, but does that justify awarding him the Allan Border Medal for best Australian cricketer of the past year? Think back to 12 months ago: his form had deserted him, he seemed to be losing Most Favoured status, the yin/yang star of Simon Katich was back on the rise. (Those must have been nervous times for the Channel Nine Establishment.) So: cricketer of the year? I don't think so. This could only have been the result of a direction from On High. Maybe you could have given him cricket's equivalent of the AFL's "Rising Star" award, but ... If it wasn't Clarke, it would have to have been some much less telegenic, less wholesome version of an international cricketer. And that wouldn't be the ratings killer that Clarke hopefully would be.

And: a few weeks ago the Australian side did something incomprehensible to those of us accustomed to the rigour of the Steve Waugh Years: at the tail end of a one-day game, which was admittedly well in hand, captain Ricky Ponting frigged around for two or three overs in order to give Clarke enough of the strike to (a) let the game run for a little longer, allowing That Channel to squeeze in a couple more high-revenue ad breaks than would otherwise have been the case; and (b) let Clarke score a hundred, giving him considerable exposure and photo opportunities.

Clarke will either survive this unprecedented Cult of Personality or he will not. Kim Hughes comes to mind, in admittedly entirely different circumstances: both were superb batsmen and designated Futures of Australian Cricket. It is a lot to ask of a young man. And the person who is (speculatively) doing the asking, well, he generally speaking doesn't accept underperformance with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders.

We wish Michael Clarke well. He may well be the future of Australian cricket. He is a fantastic batsman to watch; not yet a Mark Waugh, say, but we wouldn't rule it out in the longer term. But, please, let him have the breathing room to allow him to get there under his own steam.

This has been a public service announcement.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

I must have been desperate

Adrienne convinced me to watch the first episode of "Desperate Housewives".

I think she thought it was a documentary.

The highly stylised, "One From The Heart"-esque streetscape was a good start.

And it was quite funny. And well written.

But it was the first episode. Wait and see, wait and see.

Tuesday, February 01, 2005

On The Buses

Observations made while on my way to work this morning:

1, Silly?: a young besuited gent walking along the footpath reading a document, walks straight into the branch of a tree. He was headed in the direction of the Department of Foreign Affairs. Relax, people, your country is in good hands.

2. Sinister?: I'm not sure what I saw, but what I think I saw was three guys, 30/40ish, dressed in running gear, hanging around outside the fence of Canberra Girls' Grammar, looking in at the schoolyard. (This was around 8.30am, prime getting-to-school time.) As the bus that I was on pulled in at a nearby bus stop, they gave a distinct impression of having been caught red-handed, and quickly started doing warm-up exercises with some enthusiasm. What were you doing there, fellas? It may have been totally innocent, like maybe you were discussing the architecture of the recent building works there, but it didn't look too good from where I was sitting.

The things they say

Me: Gosh, those birds are noisy this morning.

Carl: Yes, dad. If they were around you wouldn't be able to hear your poo splash.