Thursday, May 26, 2005

Alone again, naturally

There are certain records that can only be listened to in those rare moments when you have the house to yourself. Thus, those records don't get played very often; they sit in a slow-moving queue, waiting their turn.

I didn't realise that John Cale's "Paris, 1919" was one of those records. I now know that it is. (Of course, his "Music For A New Society" was one of the first discs to be admitted to this exclusive club. In fact, that record, like David Sylvian's "Blemish" and Scott Walker's "Tilt", is now a record that I almost never listen to, out of an irrational fear that whatever hold it has over me may have released its grip while I wasn't looking.)

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Dennis, part two

Dennis appeared before us like a vision. With his unkempt hair, stubbly beard, Dennis Lillee moustache, lingering smell of tobacco, and shabby clothes, Dennis was taken on as sharefarmer by my father against all the odds. Against all common sense, really. Perhaps dad perceived in him some admirable quality arising out of the fact that he was getting out there and looking for work. That he could hit a cricket ball would have worked in his favour. That he was a drug-addicted boozehound was not then known. He had never worked on a farm, had quite possibly never stepped outside of the city. How on earth did he even find us?

Dennis brought with him his lady friend, Christine, their daughter, Sheree, who was four or five years old, a little yappy dog whose name I don’t recall, a stack of pornographic magazines, and, what was of most interest to me, his record collection. I had this idea that Dennis was into the kind of music I was into, although, looking back, all I can remember him owning was “Pablo Cruise” by Pablo Cruise, and the first Dire Straits album (which was then pretty new and, perhaps, exciting: at school we all thought, when we first heard “Sultans of Swing” on the radio, that it was something new by Bob Dylan - I think I had some idea that I could pick out Joe Strummer in there, too - of course, now it just sounds like a poor man’s “Marquee Moon”). They moved into the old rundown weatherboard cottage that was used as the sharefarmer’s “residence”. That house, which was built by a farmer during the depression from any materials he could lay his hand on, and had been moved twice, was at one point used as a shearing shed, and despite one of the side walls bowing inwards rather dramatically, it steadfastly refused to fall down.

Of necessity, dad adopted a more hands-on approach with Dennis than he had done with other sharefarmers, helping out in the shed at milking times and doing many of the other jobs around the place that needed to be done. Whether this was out of a sense of having to show Dennis the ropes, or because of a perceived inability on Dennis’s part to do anything by himself, is not known. I was also made use of on a more regular basis. On weekends and school holidays Dennis and I milked the cows together. I rigged up a transistor radio at the cowshed which enabled us to tune in to 2JJ during milking times, and, later, the “new thing” in radio, FM Stereo, in the guise of EON-FM, from Melbourne, which was actually a godsend for its first few months of existence, with its Lee Simon-programmed “album oriented” playlist, showcasing perfectly acceptable listening fare like the Reels, the Models, and Matt Finish, even if it did run too hard with “Stairway to Heaven”. (And Pablo Cruise.) (This Golden Age continued until it dawned on the men in suits that nobody was actually listening aside from a couple of guys 100 miles away who were up to their knees in milk and cow manure, whereupon an inevitable dumbing-down process commenced, which continued until we ended up with the appalling behemoth that we know as Triple M.)

Dennis joined my cricket team and in his first game showed himself to have a Botham-like ability to turn a match with his own bat (although this ability revealed itself frustratingly sparingly).

He had a very mild and pleasant nature (although he would occasionally explode with profanities of a type that the farm had never known, if a cow didn’t do what was expected of it).

It could all perhaps have worked reasonably well. Except that, in the end, it didn’t.

It seemed that Dennis or Christine - or maybe both of them - had trouble with headaches. Dennis would often get my father to run an errand for him: to go to a chemist (a different one each time: with dad travelling far and wide in the ongoing search for a miracle cure for his bad back, this actually wasn’t all that difficult for Dennis to engineer) and get a prescription for some kind of strong painkiller. These painkillers all had two things in common: they didn’t seem to last very long, and they all contained codeine. While it is understandable that a man who had known only clean living and moderate, lawful behaviour (no, I am not talking about Dennis here) would not have put two and two together, it was not until one morning when dad stumbled upon the makeshift chemistry lab operating in Dennis’s kitchen that the awful truth was uncovered: the painkillers were being melted down and somehow converted to pure codeine, which was then being used in ways other than as recommended on the packet. “I think Dennis is using drugs.” There were no more trips to the chemist.

Some mornings Dennis would fail to turn up for milkings, and dad and I would have to do it ourselves. Sometimes I would be late for school. Homework was sometimes missed. But the most serious consequence - it ended in tears - was when he failed to appear on the morning of the Saturday when I had been picked, for the first and only time, in the starting 18 for the Fish Creek thirds football team, in an away game at Devon, about an hour’s drive from our place. The cows were milked very quickly that morning, but we still failed to get to the ground on time, and that was the end of my football career, before it had even started.

Possibly the last thing we needed at the farm was a pet goat. But that is what Dennis brought home for us, one day, perhaps as an apology for his erratic behaviour. The little guy was even pre-named (by Sheree): “Pablo”. Pablo was an angora cross; he produced quite nice long, curly hair that, each year, was ignominiously hacked off as Pablo lay upturned in a wheelbarrow. As Pablo grew older, he took an unjustified dislike to my mother, who would be attacked by him if she ever ventured out into his territory, the holding paddock that ran around the outside of our house yard. Nevertheless, he ended up becoming another member of the family, and we all cried the day that Pablo, stricken by a mysterious illness that caused him to froth at the mouth and twist his neck around at an improbable angle, was finally put to rest.

When Pablo was still tiny, we once left him with Dennis overnight while we went on one of our infrequent visits to Melbourne. (Perhaps the cows were milked while we were away; perhaps they weren’t.) When we returned home, just before nightfall the next day, Pablo was returned to us, lying prone in his cardboard box, and struggling to breathe. Sheree had apparently been playing with him quite a lot during the time we were away, but beyond that Dennis wasn’t giving anything away. It looked bad. A vigil was maintained. In a fit of inspiration such as only he was capable of, dad said “Pablo looks a bit like a cow with milk fever.” So he raced off to the dairy to pick up a packet of the medicine we kept on hand for cows suffering from milk fever; did a quick mental calculation in the nature of the relative weights of (a) a large dairy cow and (b) a tiny baby goat dying from something like dehydration or exhaustion; fashioned an extremely small dosage in an extremely small syringe; and did the deed. We kept up the vigil until we all had other things to do. After a while we heard, like a voice from the heavens, a happy little “maa-aa, maa-aa”. By the morning, Pablo was as good as gold.

One morning we received a visit from the local constable, Mr Duffus, letting us know (although I’m not sure why, unless it was a pointed message to us that we had brought an unsavoury character into the area) that Dennis’s car had been found some way down a disused dirt road, wherein Dennis was “stuffing” someone else’s wife.

Somewhere around this point Christine and Sheree moved back to Melburne, leaving Dennis and his dog to fend for themselves. Dennis got to know a few of the locals around the pool table in the public bar of the Promontory Gate Hotel, in Fish Creek. On another occasion when Dennis had been a non-starter we received another visit from Mr Duffus, who pointed out that Dennis wasn’t milking the cows that morning because he had been found, sound asleep, at the wheel of his car, halfway between the pub and our place, having driven the car off the road and wedged it between two large gum trees in such a way that he could not open any of the doors, and therefore could not get out of the car. Not that he would probably have been sober enough to walk any distance from there anyway, the most likely outcome would have been for him to have been run over after falling asleep on the road, so he was probably safest trapped inside the vehicle.

It was clear that Dennis had to go, but dad hated having that conversation and kept putting it off. Then one day, Dennis packed up all of his gear and left. Where to, nobody knew. All that he left behind was his dog. Dad fed the dog for a few days, hoping to hear from Dennis so that arrangements could be made. But there was nothing. Eventually a decision had to be made. The dog was of no use to us. One of our neighbours, Joe, was called upon to put the necessary bullet into the poor dog’s brain. As if on cue, almost before the echo from the gunshot had faded, a cloud of dust appeared over the hill. It was Dennis, coming to retrieve his faithful hound. Joe ducked around the corner out of sight, dragging the bloodied corpse with him. Dad at least had the tact not to give any hint to Dennis that five minutes might have made all the difference.

And that, as far as we were concerned, was that. Once, several months later, after a game of cricket, I saw a severely inebriated Dennis struggling with a pool cue at the Meeniyan Hotel. I said hello to him, and perhaps sensed some slight flicker of recognition in response. But more than likely Dennis had moved back to Melbourne, where he disappeared into the populace, and that was the last anyone ever saw or heard of him.

However, the ghost of Dennis may not have left us quite so quickly, or so conclusively. Some time after his departure, Uncle Charlie, whose job it was to secure the perimeter of the property, so as to keep out unwanted ragwort and other noxious weeds, made a surprise discovery: someone had established a crop of marijuana (Uncle Charlie chose to pronounce the “j”) in a piece of bushland along one of the less accessible boundaries. And so we were visited yet again by Mr Duffus (these are the only three times I can remember us ever having had anything to do with the police), who removed the offending items and lay in wait for their owners; who never returned.

Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Dennis, part one

Our farm was really three farms, one each run by my father and two of my uncles, Jack and Charlie. Our part of the farm was a dairy farm. Dad had ongoing back trouble, and, dairy farming being a fairly labour-intensive operation, he engaged sharefarmers, whose job it was to run the day-to-day aspects of the farm: milking the cows, feeding them, and so on.

As I was growing up, most of these sharefarmers had children around my age. This was, I now realise, probably a deliberate choice: I was an only child, we lived at the end of a mile and a half of dirt road, and there were no other people nearby, so having an instant supply of playmates across the road was a way to drag me away from my Matchbox cars, Lego, and football statistics and into some approximation of a normal, healthy childhood.

On most dairy farms, a sharefarming arrangement requires the sharefarmer to supply his own herd of cows, which is quite a significant capital outlay. And, perhaps, a tractor or two as well. Then they share the income with the owner of the land, and split the expenses. And do all of the work. At our place, it was a bit different, and this perhaps attracted the young families we mostly had. All you really needed to work for us was the shirt on your back. We supplied the land, equipment and cows, and paid the expenses, but we gave the sharefarmer a smaller share of the income, one-third instead of the usual half. Meanwhile dad (and myself, later on, during school and university holidays) was responsible for repairing fences, tracks and water pipes, ensuring the soil was fed, and other structural-type jobs. It was a good set-up for the sharefarmer, who was able to save pretty much all of his income (we even supplied the house, rent free), while dad was able to devote much of his time to playing bowls, having afternoon naps, and visiting every known chiropractor in South Gippsland and beyond.

What this meant was that, after three or four years, most of our sharefarmers were able to buy their own cows, and went off to a bigger farm, or had saved up enough to buy or lease a farm of their own. So they didn’t tend to stay with us for too long. Especially if they were any good. Dad had a weakness for helping out the hard-up and luckless, if it appeared that they knew something about farming or seemed keen to learn. Early on, he took on people straight from the boat from Holland; and also (before the sharefarming days, when all he needed was a helper) “boys” who had been in trouble of one kind or another and whom the authorities recognised as being in need of a good break. It didn’t always work out. One or two of these boys left at the first sign of hard work. Mum and dad once received a barely literate letter from one of them some time later, by which time he had again fallen afoul of the law. The letter was more or less an apology to my parents for letting them down, and ended with the heartbreaking sentence “I really love youse.”

The early sharefarmers were mostly Dutch. The first ones I can remember were the Hoffstedes (and I am, possibly, misspelling some of these names, or even getting them completely wrong). They seemed to be with us almost forever, although when you are four years old forever might have been a few weeks, or maybe a year or two. They had three children, including a daughter, Natasha, who was my age, and who for many years, even long after they had moved away, I considered to be my best friend in the whole world, and the girl that I was going to marry. We kept in touch with them for several years. When they left us they moved to a farm near Tullaree (home to the locally famous legend of the Lady of the Swamp), which you could actually see from the back corner of our farm, and yet was quite a drive to get to. We used to regularly visit them on weekend afternoons, when my overriding concern was to get home in time to watch “The Banana Splits Show”. They moved to a succession of farms up on the Murray River, near Swan Hill, and were last heard of running a motel or caravan park somewhere on the New South Wales south coast.

There were the Rendens, who had a son called Eric, who was also about my age. All I really remember about them is Eric’s mother, in her strong Dutch accent, calling him “Eeric”, causing him to suffer the nickname “Earwig”.

There was Noel Brooks and his wife. They had a daughter whom I can barely remember at all. She was known as “Cheeky” but I haven’t the faintest idea why.

There was Gerry Santamaria, who as I understand it was the nephew of B A Santamaria (not that I knew who he was). Gerry was probably the best sharefarmer we ever had, and I think there were tears at our house the day he said he was leaving. Gerry went on to become a professional sharefarmer, and won the prestigious Sharefarmer of the Year award on at least two occasions. But Gerry had no children so I wasn’t that interested in him.

There were the Nabbens. They had two older boys, and two adopted daughters who were a bit younger than me, but whom I played with nevertheless, despite being much more interested in hanging with their brothers. The boys were into things like David Bowie, and this was around the time when I had just started to migrate from football magazines to music and “teen” magazines, so I was desperate to pick their brains. Not long after they started working for us their oldest son, Theo, went off to University, a mysterious place far away which led him to grow his hair long, wear second-hand clothes, and (reputedly) ingest substances. This turn of events, I later realised, had a lasting effect on my mother (Theo was always such a nice boy until he moved away), because when the time came for me to head off to University, and embrace my own counter culture (in my case, record-shop counters), and start cutting my hair short and wearing second-hand clothes, she naturally assumed that I was sliding down the slippery slope to drug addiction and vice.

There was Jim Byrnes, son of a local farmer, who had big ideas and an uncanny ability to destroy any item of farm machinery, in new and highly inventive ways.

The last in the line were Ron and Ruth Alcorn. Ron was almost completely deaf, something of a disadvantage, you would think, in a job that involved quite a lot of precision machinery, the first sign of trouble therewith usually manifesting itself in unusual noises. But my father, true to form, was prepared to give Ronnie a go, and was soon able to talk to him just as well as he could communicate with anyone else (dad had infinite patience, and never felt the need to say much apart from what was necessary for the job at hand). And it turned out to be a spectacularly successful arrangement. Ron was a great worker, not prone to going out and socialising, and he was not likely to be moving to another farm in a hurry. New cows were bought, along with a larger milk vat and new machinery. The business could have gone anywhere. Except that dad fell sick and died, in short succession, and for reasons too complex to really explain and even now too hurtful to think about, it fell to me to tell Ron’s wife that they had better start looking for another place.

But one particular sharefarmer looms larger in memory than all of the others put together. His name was ... Dennis.

[to be continued]

Monday, May 23, 2005

Why wasn't I told?

Can't believe I've gone through the last, what, 25 years without being aware of the existence of:

1. A Peel Session by The Cure in which they do an entire second run-through of "Grinding Halt" but with alternative lyrics aimed squarely (if not entirely fairly) at the writing of our hero Ian Penman.

2. A twelve-minute minimalist disco excursion by Arthur Russell entitled "Kiss Me Again", recorded in 1979, when Talking Heads were almost at their peak, which features a blaze of guitar by David Byrne that couldn't be by anyone else and hence is totally indispensable, both for those of us who believe that the earth revolves around "Remain In Light" and for those of us who are latecoming converts to the world of Arthur Russell.

It makes you wonder what else might have gone under the radar.

I love the internet.

Sunday, May 08, 2005

It's The New Thing

What are we in now, May? So it must be time for the hypothetical mix CD for January. That would be January 2005. This mix manages, I think, to cover most bases, while also being (if I may say) a damn good listen. Here goes:

The Shadows, “Scotch on the Socks”: more 60s garage than the Shadows you would know from the radio.

The Slits, “Heard It Through the Grapevine”: I never understood why this was a b-side. On my copy, “Typical Girls”, the a-side, has hardly ever been played. In an alternative universe this would have outsold Marvin Gaye hands down.

Creation Rebel, “In I Father’s House”: sonic trickery a la Adrian Sherwood. Almost everything sounds like it’s been run backwards and yet the song itself moves forward. A bit like those shots Sam Raimi managed to come up with in that Western he made a couple of years or so back.

Dr Alimantado, “Mary Lou”: conversely, this track is a lot more straightforward than we have come to expect from the good doctor.

Tim Rose, “I Gotta Do Things My Way”: this slice of soul wasn’t what I expected. I thought “Tim Rose” conjured up some kind of name recognition. Seems I was confusing this Tim with a couple of others. Such as ...

Tim Hardin, “How Can We Hang On To A Dream”: hard to imagine that I didn’t even know this song existed until a few short months ago. Now I can’t imagine how I ever managed without it.

Harry Nilsson, “All I Think About Is You”: same as I just said, only more so. Nilsson is someone who I have, clearly, misunderstood completely. I mean, “Everybody’s Talkin’”, right? But then there’s this, there’s the long version of “Jump Into The Fire”, there’s “Cowboy”, possibly the downest downer of a song I’ve ever heard. That’s four songs, four entirely different Nilssons. I better do some homework.

Scarlet’s Well, “Death”: if Bid is capable of songs this smart, well, he’s an underapprreciated genius. Which he may well be. I wish I’d listened back in the day to much more of ...

The Monochrome Set, “He’s Frank”: one particular tributary of the post-punk river got no better than this.

Junior Senior, “Shake Your Coconuts (DFA Mix)”: then, for those with short attention spans, we move into the present day (tho’ the ghost of the punk/funk arm of the post-punk diaspora isn’t far below the surface, as you would expect from the DFA crew).

Solvent, “My Radio (Mitgang Audio Remix)”: don’t know anything about this. I seem to be attracted to anything with the word “remix” in the title: which makes no sense given my otherwise purist disposition - “ah, yes, but the original was so much better”. Anyway, this has stuck, thanks to its smooth mix of Vocoder and Moroder.

Annie, “Chewing Gum (FakeID Remix)”: I got to know this; then I got to know the album version. Now I can’t make up my mind. This version certainly packs a bigger punch, but in the context of the album (which is as good as everyone has said it is) it would seem quite out of place. So the world is a better place for having both versions. And any other versions that might come along.

L’Trimm, “We Like The Cars That Go Boom”: the boys’ favourite song a while back. They are on a big Hooley Dooleys kick at the moment.

Seksu Roba, “Telephone”: studiously (in a nice way) pop, nice analog electronic sounds, heavily accented female vocals. It’s all goodness, really.

Chica and the Folder, “I’ll Come Running”: likewise, although more downtempo, but with the added selling point of being an Eno cover, not an easy thing to pull off.

Cornershop, “Valeurs Personelles”: personally, I don’t have a problem with Cornershop. This song is perhaps a bit daggy, with the sitar, corny sound effects, and French spoken-word voiceover (a la Pere Ubu’s “the book is on the table”), but the funky drummer and electric piano more than make up for it. I dare you not to be clicking your fingers by the 1:30 mark. I haven’t got our in-house translator to work on it yet, so I hope the lyrics are family-friendly.

France Gall, “Daddy da da”: you wouldn’t have to worry about naughty words in a France Gall song, especially one as joyously in-your-face as this one. (Is this a bad rip, though? It seems awfully top-heavy.)

Dykehouse, “Chain Smoking”: god I love this song. “I’m chain smoking ‘cos my heart’s broken.” Hurts, doesn’t it? Musically, just the latest in a long line of songs that couldn’t have existed without My Bloody Valentine’s “Loveless”, but we’re not sick of that sound. Yet.

The Associates, “Party Fears Two (Extended Version)”: all five-plus minutes of it. A song that sent me through the emotional ringer even before I knew anything of Billy MacKenzie’s troubles. Does anyone know what “turns to shark” means?

CocoRosie, “By Your Side”: two Billie Holidays recorded in a tent surrounded by crickets, noisy birds and a drum machine. Or something.

Strawberry Switchblade, “Trees and Flowers”: lurking somewhere in the back of my mind, as I surf the mp3 blogs, is a deep pool of songs from my past. Very occasionally I stumble upon one, and my heart gives a special little kick. Recent examples are “Money” by the Flying Lizards and “There Goes Concorde Again” by ... And The Native Hipsters. When “Trees and Flowers” materialised I fell off my chair, because I had, to my shame, not thought about it for many years. I loved it unconditionally at the time even though it was so far away from most of what I listened to (closer to the Moir Sisters than to Magazine) that it made the guy in the room next to mine at college scream out at me in exasperation (I had just converted him from a strict diet of classical music to the joys of the Psychedelic Furs, and now I was professing enjoyment of this pap). He remains one of my best friends. Memo to mp3 bloggers: does anyone have a copy of “Der Mussolini” by DAF?

Expressway To Yr Skull

Some Sonic Youth records hit a mainline in an instant (for this listener, that would be “Daydream Nation” and “Murray Street”, the former of which I would hope to have room for in the bag of discs I plan to carry with me across the Styx); others take a while to wend their way through your bloodstream before bursting slowly in your brain (“A Thousand Leaves”); others - not many - fail to make the journey (the justly maligned “NYC Ghosts + Flowers”).

“Sonic Nurse” is taking longer than most to reveal its secrets. It’s impossible to write off (for one thing, it highlights Steve Shelley’s drumming in a way that I’ve never noticed before, although perhaps I just haven’t been listening), but I’m still struggling to find a way into it. There is more of the latter-day Kim Gordon, and appearing earlier on the disc, than I would prefer (I don’t know why I find her recent vocal performances grating; I certainly have less patience than I used to have, just ask Adrienne, so maybe that’s it) and I should say that the “old-style” Gordon who appears on “Dude Ranch Nurse” and “I Love You Golden Blue” brooks no complaint whatsoever. I would also make the observation that Jim O’Rourke is now so seamlessly woven into the fabric of the band that it’s difficult, except in a couple of spots, to tell where he starts and the rest of the band ends, and that Thurston Moore’s broad-canvas exploration of 70s “rock”, begun on “Murray Street”, is admirably continued here.

Mention should also be made of their adaptation of William Gibson’s “Pattern Recognition”, which, while perhaps not a great choice as opening song, will, hopefully, cause more people to read what is an unfairly maligned novel, and of their liberal use of Richard Prince paintings (recalling the Gerhard Richter candles that appeared on “Daydream Nation”), necessitating ownership of the vinyl as well as the digital versions. Both of which just go to show how important Sonic Youth are in so many ways, and how broadly (and tastefully) their nets are cast. Oh, and the guitars sound simply beautiful throughout.

So, my preliminary conclusion about “Sonic Nurse” is that there is no reason to panic; perhaps with time it will take its place with the great Sonic Youth records after all, albeit hidden behind a couple of problematic tracks early on (reminiscent, you might say, of some of Steve Waugh’s later triumphs, or of the Triffids’ “Born Sandy Devotional”, which also recovered after a very shaky start to go on and score a majestic hundred). At the very least, there is life in the old buggers yet.

Test drive the 1958 New Yorker now

Looking at issues of the New Yorker from 1958, you discover just how much you have forgotten, didn’t know, or had never even thought about. For starters:

Alaska wasn’t yet a State of the Union.

Miles Davis was 31 years old.

Cuba, before the Revolution, was - surprise! - a dictatorship. (There’s progress for you.) In 1958 they were still building big, glorious hotels in Havana, such as the Habana Hilton, much advertised in the magazine throughout that year.

Construction of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R Guggenheim Museum was, at long last, under way.

The first CND Easter march took place, in London.

Iran, under the Shah, was moving full steam ahead towards “modernization”.

Russian scientists, so it was believed, were way ahead of those in the United States. Ah, the Cold War; wasn’t that a time?

The Berlin Wall didn’t yet exist, notwithstanding Moscow’s best efforts.

No human being had travelled in space.

If you went for a holiday to Russia, you would be hounded for months after your return by friends, neighbours and journalists who would try to squeeze every last morsel of information from you.

There was a fire at the Museum of Modern Art.

“The Subterraneans” was published; as were “Doctor Zhivago”, “Lolita” and “Curious George Flies A Kite”.

Jan Morris was still James Morris.

All eyes, at least those that weren't on Russia, were on Cape Canaveral and Los Alamos.

America had its first ever “lame duck” (New Yorker, 1 March 1958) President.

Maria Callas sang in New York and was roundly booed.

The island of Ceylon was feeling the exhilarating urge of independence.

Algeria continued to be a bloody mess.

Tranquillising drugs were the new thing. As were, at various times, the hula hoop, car leasing, and ripple soled shoes.

A Pakistani cricket team toured America.

“Vertigo” was released: “Hitchcock has never before indulged in such far-fetched nonsense” - John McCarten, the New Yorker, 7 June 1958.

Penn Station still existed.

The “Ed Sullivan Show” had been going for 10 years.

There was trouble for the world powers in Iraq and Lebanon. (What year are we talking about again?)

John F Kennedy was John Kennedy, a rising Democratic hopeful.

All women looked and dressed exactly like Bree Van De Kamp.

The art of solo piano was dead, while elsewhere in the firmament jazz was being saved by Charlie [sic] Mingus, Monk, Gil Evans and John Lewis.

You could buy: single-pedestal dining furniture designed by Eero Saarinen (later in the year, augmented by a single-pedestal armchair); recordings from the “Living Stereo” range of lps from RCA-Victor; a 1959 Cadillac, for which GM produced the “Autronic-Eye” automatic headlight-dimming “marvel”; a Hamilton Electric Watch; the Philco Veep, a powerful transistor radio “no bigger than a pack of cigarettes”; a 1959 Oldsmobile, “the car that conquers ‘inner’ space”; or a copy of “The Most of S J Perelman” (which, obviously, is what I would have chosen, and a copy of which I did in fact pick up during our next-to-last visit to Geelong).

Saturday, May 07, 2005


Thinking about Chris Ware's piece on Philip Guston in McSweeney's No 13. Thinking about the distinction he was drawing - oops, making - between comic art and "art" art that is influenced by comic art. Thinking maybe there was something to this, I wandered over to the National Gallery of Australia's international rooms, which have had a re-hang, and there on the wall about next to where Pollock's "Blue Poles" had until recently been, was a Guston I don't think they've had on the walls in the six years we've been up here. Thinking, who was the forward-looking curator who had been picking these works up before they had any kind of serious recognition, especially over here. Well, looking at this painting, "Bad Habits", you can, I think, see Ware's thesis in action. Yes, as a painting it is, you might say, "cartoon-like". (The vertical-slit eyes on the two Klan-like hooded figures may or may not have been a nod to early Disney characters.) Yes, it is hanging on a wall, in a frame, devoid of any narrative or other context. Yes, I think this does put it on another plane from sequential comic-book art, or even illustration work, which sits on a page or a poster, most likely with text around it, and an explicit/implicit shelf life. A painting, this painting, is to be looked at, on its own terms, an object suspended outside of time and space.

What am I saying here? Only, I think, that the recognition of influence belittles neither Guston, nor the comic strip artists who influenced him or those who came after (Guston, for example, has clearly been an influence on Ware; Crumb's influence on art/art's influence on Crumb shoots back and forth like a degenerate electrical current). Perhaps the bigger question is how Guston got to here, in 1970, from "Prospects", in 1964, a black and grey, purely abstract painting presently hanging nearby, which, to my eyes, carries no hint of Guston's future direction (c.f. the "totem"-style early Pollock in the collection, which, while still being a long way from "Blue Poles", could conceivably have dribbled from the same brush). Which is not to comment on the relative merits of the two Gustons; only to observe. And observation, "Ways of Seeing", as John Berger put it, is what looking at art (as opposed to looking at - reading - comic books) is all about.

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Juice Newton

Today, inexplicably, I found my iPod tucked inside a pile of papers to be shredded.

I wonder what sound an iPod Mini would make as it sleek metal skin hit the teeth of a shredder.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Speaking of Glen Baxter ...

... how could anyone not derive some small amount of enjoyment from watching this?

Late Night Shopping

I bought this and this. It is the reason a man works overtime.

Tomorrow I turn 41. I can say it; I can see it in print; but I can't feel it. There is a complete disconnect between how old I am and how old I think I am. I still see myself as somewhere in my late 20s. Perhaps I am one of the lucky few. Perhaps I am just an embarrassment. (Although I don't go around in skate-punk gear. Never did. I'm only young on the inside.) We'll see how things look in a few more years.

Meanwhile there's a piece on Sonny Rollins in the New Yorker this week, so if I try very hard I can imagine that I am living at the time when I mostly wish I had been living. Except that the piece is written by Stanley Crouch, not Whitney Bailliett. It's nice to see someone so certain in their opinions; but it is also possible to be wrong. (Example from the accompanying online Q&A: Where does Sonny Rollins rank in the jazz pantheon? Answer: No 1. Well, no he doesn't, and anyway who can say? I'd put him in the top ten, for sure, but maybe not too high within that. But that sort of baldfaced and ridiculous no-correspondence-will-be-entered-into statement belongs in the world of the fanzine writer/blogger, not in the pages of the NYer. Let's hope his editors have done their job, but I suspect Crouch would have seemed more at home there during the Tina Brown Years.)