Thursday, August 31, 2006


We are, of course, sad for Pluto. It is always difficult to discover that something you took for granted as Immutable Fact is in fact nothing but a human construct, liable to be pulled from under your feet at any moment. Of course, the lump of rock is still there, it is still known as “Pluto”, but apparently it no longer justifies the title of “planet”. The given reasons for the change are entirely understandable (although I did like the idea of having a planet called “Xena”, but that’s another story), but it is going to take some getting used to.

What concerns me most is, how are today’s children going to learn the names of the planets and their order from the sun?

When I was at school, it was this easy:

My (Mercury)
Very (Venus)
Easy (Earth)
Method (Mars)
Says (Saturn)
Just (Jupiter)
Use (Uranus)
Nine (Neptune)
Planets (Pluto)

But now we find ourselves in a galaxy that is mnemonically challenged. You can’t just omit the “P” because the “Nine” makes no sense now there are only eight. Unless they change Neptune to a name beginning with “E”, which ain’t gonna happen, I fear we are doomed.

I suppose you could change it to, say, “My Very Evil Mother Says Jump Up Now”, but the beauty of the one I knew was that the mnemonic itself, in a kind of pre-post-modern way, contained the answer to the problem; I think it would be a struggle to come up with something that isn’t just completely random nonsense.

Oh the times we live in.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

This Goes With That

The latest in a hitherto dormant, but continuing, series.

A few days ago 1,618 offered up "Genetic Engineering" by Orchestral Manouvres In The Dark, a song I haven't heard since at some point in my extended youth. What strikes me now, and didn't then, is the debt this song owed to the first two "pop" albums by Brian Eno, right down to the rhythmic structure, the crunching guitars, even the vocal delivery. And all cunningly disguised as an electro-pop frippery.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The listening post

Young people often ask me, “Stan, what have you been listening to lately?” Actually that’s not true, but it’s a good excuse to put down a few words about some things that have captured my attention of late. I should say, though, before we start, that, notwithstanding what David Byrne once intoned, first impressions are not always correct.

There has been a quartet of “electronic” releases over the last few months that have grabbed my attention and not let go. First is Tiga’s “Sexor”, which comprises good-natured and gentle sleaze, Canadian-style, atop a musical bed that could have been made in those golden days of the early 1980s and is all the better for it. The others, which I kind of lump together out of ignorance, although each one probably occupies a different sub-genre if you are “hip” to the “jive”, are “Orchestra of Bubbles” by Ellen Allien and Apparat (which has a certain warmth and charm, unusual for electronic music outside of Kraftwerk, and which may be the result of having a woman at the controls), “We Are Monster” by Isolee, which I have been previously restricted to hearing in isolated snatches, but which works much better as a unit, and the new CD by The Knife, “Silent Shout”, almost on the strength of the sounds it tosses up (check those marbles on “Marble House”, I have never heard anything quite like them and don’t expect I ever will again), but also on the strength of that voice (which I once described to Adrienne as being like a cross between Kate Bush and Bjork, a description I am quite proud of even if it might be totally wrong).

Then there is the imaginatively titled “Espers II” by Espers, which grabs me in a very special place reserved for records that don’t quite fit any particular mould but which are nevertheless clearly drawing from traditions that mean a lot to me. Espers seem to be lumped in, for convenience (as is always the case with lumping in), with the “freak folk” gang, the likes of Devendra Banhart and what have you, lots of guys with unruly hair and unhygienic-seeming beards, you know the sort (and what about the afro on that guy from TV On The Radio, whose new album has kind of left me feeling a little bit underwhelmed after all the hype, although, as with Belle and Sebastian’s “The Life Pursuit”, it may be a delayed-onset experience). Anyway the Espers disc is probably my little bit of excitement for 2006, in the same way M Ward and Gillian Welch have been previously, which is high praise I know, and I may regret it later, but that’s what blogging is all about. (And on a not unrelated note the self-titled record by Brightblack Morning Light is not half bad, either; likewise the latest from Six Organs of Admittance.)

(And I was a bit scared by what I had read about the new Sonic Youth, but having finally given in, I like what I am hearing. Have they mellowed? Have I? I suspect that all that has happened is that we have all gotten used to the Sonic Youth sound, and that if you put anything off “Rather Ripped” up against actual “classic rock radio” the punters would still run a mile with their hands over their ears. Still, since when has the most fitting adjective to describe SY been “nice”?)

Adrienne and I have, in the last few years, got into a bit of a habit of buying each other, for birthdays etc, books or CDs that we would like to read/hear ourselves. So the person who buys the present ends up monopolising it, and the person who receives the present never sets eyes on it again. (Leaving aside the infamous Three-Tiered Bean Sprouter Incident of 1989, which will never be spoken of again. Except by Adrienne, whenever she feels like twisting the knife just that little bit further.) Anyway, it all kind of backfired (but in a good way) this year when I used mother’s day as an excuse to acquire the “Tropicalia” compilation on Soul Jazz (home of the wonderful “Reggae Disco” set, “The World of Arthur Russell”, and a few thousand Studio 1 compilations). It dug its hooks into her straight away, and has barely been out of the car stereo since. Which is bad for me, because I almost never get to use the car. From what I have heard, however, it would be difficult to stitch together a better, or - crucially - more enjoyable, representation of a "scene".

Meanwhile there have been Bob Dylan’s radio shows, and a whole slew of old reggae plates and reissues have been turning up on the internet, which it is hard to say “no” to. And then there’s Zorn, about which, a bit more a bit later.

From our political correspondent


A ten-year-old boy of our acquaintance recently spent the day with a friend of his, following his friend’s father, who works for one of the television channels, around Parliament House in Canberra. Somewhere in the endless warren of corridors they had a chance meeting with Mr Howard, our Prime Minister. Ever the consummate politician, he took some time to talk to the boys and foster their interest in politics (and maybe secure their votes for his party one day in the future). Debriefing later, the ten-year-old, when asked his impression of Mr Howard, said, “He’s very loud.”


Reading a piece by David Cole in the New York Review of Books about the ramifications of the US Supreme Court decision in the Hamdan case, I came across a sentence that was at once beautifully understated, and horrifying (horrifying in the sense that you could never have imagined, five years ago, a situation in which such a sentence would ever need to be written):

“And it is quite possible that [US] government officials might actually decide not to commit war crimes - now that they know they are war crimes - even if prosecution is unlikely.”

Friday, August 18, 2006

Urgent update

Folks should head right across to Moistworks (link at right) and download "Who's That Knocking", a new song by Pajo (him of Tortoise "fame") which is, quite simply, incredible. What's with the rhythmic structure of this thing? The drums are strictly four on the floor (or three in some places) while the rest of it gets a little funky so that the whole thing is just slightly disconcertingly out of whack. But it's a thing of beauty, and probably the first song I've heard to make me take a sudden step backwards, "woah" style, since I first laid ears on the Junior Boys. You download 100 songs and hear something like this, it's worth it.

Gravity's Angel

Looks like it's Pynchon time again.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

The facts on the ground

It was an almost warm afternoon, slightly muggy on account of a light rain that had fallen a couple of hours prior. I had obtained a ticket-of-leave from work in order to pay my nice Vietnamese barber a long-overdue visit. Beck had been playing on the car stereo, but he made way for Belle and Sebastian. Coffee was taken at Silo, in the company of a recent New Yorker, in which Alex Ross (link at right) attempts to listen to the complete works of Mozart. Silo is nice in the afternoon, it has emptied out by then and you can take in the ambience of the room itself, although the bread has invariably sold out long before. I had given up all hope of finding the new CD by The Necks, "Chemist", having scoured the record stores of Civic on the weekend to no avail (all likely establishments had had it, and had sold out: good news for The Necks, bad news for me). Something made me think of Abels, in Manuka. Well, I was on the road anyway. There I found what I was looking for, at something above the recommended retail price, I'm sure, but what can you do?

I walked past a handwritten menu board outside an Asian restaurant which contained the words "Pe...king duck", where a mystery third letter had been obliterated from the word "Peking". I wonder what it might have been: "Peaking duck", perhaps? Or "Peeking duck"? Something in me hopes that it had said "Pecking duck", but I very much doubt it.

Much later, "Turquoise Hexagon Sun" came up on iTunes, and for a few moments everything was right with the world.

Sunday, August 13, 2006

The story of underpants

[Have been neglecting you guys lately. Apologies. Here's one I have been putting together over a long period.]

Whoever invented y-fronts must have had a cast-iron bladder. White undies, bog catchers, boston stranglers – call them what you will, they certainly don’t allow for any activity that is not tightly choreographed and premeditated.

(I would also like to have explained to me the distinction between “boxer” and “jockey” shorts. The two professions, as far as I am aware, make up a fairly small proportion of the overall male population – wouldn’t it make more sense to label them, say, “builders” and “accountants” shorts (although which would be which I could not say)? And what of that curious anomaly, the Jockette - a word that, or maybe this is just me, has certain feminine connotations, even though the Jockette is unequivocally a male undergarment.)

I managed to survive most of my primary school years wearing plain and structurally sound white underpants, the new coloured and skimpy variety - “jocks” by name - not arriving at Fish Creek until somewhere around the time that I was in grade five, by which point the Whitlam revolution was in full swing at our school (but that’s another story).

In the pre-jocks era, we boys were entirely comfortable and relaxed exposing our white undies on social occasions such as the changing rooms at the Foster Swimming Pool, or visits by the travelling school doctor. The principal source of underwear-derived embarrassment in those days was the existence and magnitude of brown skidmarks.

The obvious advantage of these newfangled coloured underpants was that they successfully camouflaged all but the nastiest cases of skidmarks – especially with brown being such a popular 1970s colour. However, the sudden appearance of choice in the underwear racks allowed, inevitably, for entirely new opportunities for social stratification, and ostracism, in the playground. The ongoing battle between the haves and the have-nots moved from footy cards and yo-yos to underwear.

This was particularly difficult for me. I grew up in relative isolation as an only child on a farm. My parents remained deeply scarred by the Great Depression and held firm in their resistance to my increasingly desperate pleas to be allowed to have a couple of pairs of coloured undies. My aversion to water can probably be traced back to traumatic experiences in the boys’ changing rooms during this difficult period (although it could also have something to do with the fact that I never quite got the hang of swimming, and, because I have been seriously short-sighted since I was five years old, never quite knew, in that pre-goggles era, where anything else was when I was in the water).

My crazy cousins who lived in Melbourne, and were therefore a few steps closer to what was fashionable than I would ever be, eventually came to the rescue, giving me a pair of black-and-white paisley jocks for Christmas. (I suppose mum could have had a bit of involvement in that, come to think of it.) My general demeanour must have instantly lifted, because the floodgates opened up and, before too long, I was also the proud owner of matching brown and green pairs, designed in a kind of late abstract-expressionist style.

And so it came to pass that I was able to go on the Fish Creek Primary School grade six camp, the undoubted highlight of the primary school years but which I had previously been facing with underpants-related trepidation, with some confidence. This camp, a five-day affair, took us to Phillip Island (about an hour’s drive away), where we stayed at the exotically named Island Bay Ranch. This turned out to be a kind of Wild West theme park, where we slept in covered wagons arranged in a circle, ate at long tables in a log cabin, and engaged in activities such as archery (heavily supervised, for obvious reasons), a flying fox (not for me, thanks), mucking about on inflated inner tubes in a dam, and hay-rides (the latter being particularly underwhelming for our group, given that most of us lived on farms, where “hay-rides” meant work). We even took a boat trip out to something called Churchill Island, where absolutely nothing awaited us, although I guess it filled up another half a day of “activities”.

Even though I was by now a fully fledged member of the coloured-underpants set, and therefore “okay”, the absence of older brothers in my life meant that I was deemed not quite “in” enough to be allowed into the tight circle around Tim Farrell, who had brought along his older brother Jonathan’s cassette tape of the first Skyhooks album, “Living In The 70s”. I was, however, accepted as a proud member of the massed air-guitar ensemble that, at the traditional “student entertainment” on our last night, performed a highly animated mime (Countdown-style) to The Sweet’s “Fox On The Run”.

Towards the end of the week, just when the teachers had begun to relax a little on the basis that we had all been reasonably well behaved, and therefore would all go home unscathed (physically, at least), Peter Napier poured himself a glass of what looked like green cordial but which soon revealed itself, as he began frothing at the mouth, to be dishwashing liquid. Several rounds of induced vomiting later, he seemed to be okay, but a number of us followed him around for a while, in the hope that other unusual symptoms might start to reveal themselves. We were, sadly, disappointed (which, in hindsight, was probably for the best).

Anyway – underpants. Having secured himself a fairly discreet spot on a top bunk in the back corner of one of the covered wagons, Justin Heyne (who was the son of the best teacher I ever had, someone who seemed to see behind my insecurity and weird behaviour, and who encouraged me to write stories and to read anything I could get my hands on; thank you, Mr Heyne, wherever you are) had managed to get through the first couple of days unobserved. Inevitably, though, he was “outed” wearing a pair of pale blue boston stranglers. He swore that they were bought like that, as if this would lend them an air of credibility, but a conclusion was instantly drawn that they were nothing more than white undies that had been dyed by his mother, and that this was, according to the Unwritten Law, not acceptable. A period of degradation and ritual abuse, like an unpublished chapter of “Lord of the Flies”, ensued until, eventually, the perpetrators ran off, pack-like, in search of the next victim, each one trying as hard as possible to make sure it wasn’t him.

Eventually, my original stockpile of coloured undies went to that big top drawer in the sky, to be replaced by others covered in road signs or farm animals (although I was destined never to own a pair like the much-coveted ones worn by Mark “Chook” McLeod, South Gippsland’s number one Ted Nugent fan, and about whom much more can be written, which featured prominently on the front a picture of a rooster and the words “Cock of the Walk”) and on to more subdued, single-colour models.

And now, thanks to the good works of Calvin Klein and the supreme power of advertising, it is, once again, safe to wear large white underpants. I guess this means that the schoolyard pecking order will have moved on to other things – mobile phones, perhaps, or hoodies. Or, this being the Information Age, the ultimate taunt: “My hard drive is bigger than yours.”

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Spam of the Week

I quite like the morning ritual of deleting dozens of unsolicited emails. For one thing, the names the spammers come up with can be a work of art in itself. For another, I still entertain the vain and ridiculous hope that one day someone will offer to pay me to give up my day job and concentrate on writing.

Yesterday one in particular caught my eye. The content related to erectile disfunction, which is something no 42-year-old man wants to dwell on for any length of time. But the subject line made me think for a moment that I was getting a personal message from Mark E Smith: "Your future, pastry bag". Keep 'em coming.