Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Song of the day

"Where Do You Run To", by Vivian Girls. This sounds like a girl group (sixties or twee-pop, take your pick) backed by Joy Division. An unusual combination of influences, perhaps, but I can't even begin to describe how much I love this song. I was put off Vivian Girls by their name: an indirect reference to Henry Darger, an "outsider artist" of the type once championed in august journals such as the otherwise impeccable Chemical Imbalance. Outsider artists are a concept I have some ethical/moral problems with (musicians too, viz. the cult of Daniel Johnston). I can't help detecting a hint of patronising on the part of the champions of these poor wretches who wouldn't be making this "art" (or being subjected to at least the possibility of involuntary exposure and/or exploitation) if they could keep their own lives under some degree of control. Okay, it's a difficult issue, and I don't want to start any arguments. (And a comparison of the fates of Robert Crumb and his two brothers either supports or undercuts my own thinking, depending on where you happen, or choose, to view it from.) And maybe it is my problem. It certainly would have been my loss if I had allowed my own hang-ups to stop me from stumbling upon this fine song.

Monday, September 29, 2008

That's Entertainment

Did you watch the game on Saturday? We had friends up from Melbourne to watch it with us, so it was almost Just Like Old Times. The best piece of commentary came from our very own eight-year-old commentator. At one point during that tense and intense second quarter, when the game went for, what was it, 19 minutes without anybody scoring, the ball was rapidly passed through what might have been a dozen pairs of hands, with nobody able to get a proper kick or handball away, and our commentator was driven to cry out "OH, THIS IS SO ENTERTAINING!!!".

He was right, but he also demonstrated a level of subtlety in his understanding of the game which one might not expect from an eight-year-old, particularly one not born in Victoria and hence not a "native" of the game. The play in that second quarter was tremendously exciting, but in a dour-struggle kind of way, rather than with the fast pace, long kicks, spectacular marks and high scoring that the kids love.

And he was barracking for Hawthorn, so he was also pretty stoked with the way the game ended up. Unlike this person.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Song of the day

"Just Step Sideways", by The Fall. Or, as the cover scrawl suggests, "Just Step S'ways". The Fall, at the time of "Hex Enduction Hour", were probably the greatest rock band ever. This song is an absolute stomper. Listen to the two drum kits, and the purposefulness of the bass. And smile. They played Melbourne in 1982. I didn't go (what is wrong with me?) but did listen to the Live To Air (which you can now buy).

And now you can listen to a remastered version of "Hex Enduction Hour", which sounds like it was recorded from three doors away rather than from the next suburb. Everything is relative.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Song of the day

"Zueri (Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas Nordic Flavour Mix)", by Tosca. Tosca is either Kruder or Dorfmeister, I forget which. Lindstrøm & Prins Thomas you know (or should). This falls within the category "How many 'O's in Smooooooth?", a category defined back in the dim and distant past, if I recall correctly, by our lost friend Eldo.

Eldo, where are you?

YouTube of the day

Watch Alice Cooper hamming it up with the Muppets. Then watch it again, but with your eyes closed, and imagine that you are listening to the dulcet tones of Dave Graney. It's all there, from the heartfelt croon to the little vocal mannerisms, you know the ones, when he goes "Wo-ohoho", "Yeaheheheah", or just plain old "Yeah". Dave, you have been outed. We thought you woz you, but all along you woz channelling Alice Cooper. Which is kinda creepy.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Greatest living novelist? Not any more he's not.

Sometimes a writer doesn't get the recognition he deserves. David Foster Wallace, a writer who was too post-something-or-other for my tastes, takes his own life and he's all over the front pages. James Crumley, on the other hand, well, you had too drill a long way down to even find out that he died, the other day, at only 68.

Crumley wrote what were, more or less, crime novels on acid. I can highly recommend "The Mexican Tree Duck" and "Bordersnakes" because I have read them. I'm sure his other Sughrue / Milodragovich novels are just as good. He may be gone, but his books can still be found. Read 'em.

YouTube of the day

Feist on Sesame Street. What's not to like?

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The years of constant struggle

It's probably just that I'm still recovering - slowly - from this blasted virus. But I'm having a lot of "what is the point of it all" thoughts at the moment. I'm sure it will pass. Hang in there.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

The Roaring Silence

Where have I been? Sick is where I've been. So sick that I had to take an entire week off work, and I didn't even enjoy it. Imagine that. Tuesday I wished I were dead. Wednesday night I wished I were dead. I still feel considerably below par. These are some of the things I thought about:

Music downloading, for me, has devalued the currency. The more I have available to listen to, the less I actually want to listen to.

I know practically nothing about parenting.

I have lived in Canberra for almost ten years now, most of which I have spent missing (a) Melbourne and (b) the farm I grew up on. As to the latter, it has long gone, and anyway what I need to remind myself is how things would have turned out if I had stayed there. And the answer to that is, it would have been very bad for me. And yet the haunting goes on. What I need to do, to put it bluntly, is Get Over It.

There are record covers that only really work at the size of a vinyl LP. Think of the first Ramones album; "Marquee Moon"; and "Horses". (All of which I have on vinyl.) If they had been released in the CD era I can't imagine them having become as iconic as they are. And there are covers that I wish I could have had on vinyl, but don't: Gerhard Richter's "Candle" paintings on "Daydream Nation"; Gregory Crewdson's photography on Yo La Tengo's "And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside Out"; also the Gary Panter cover of the most recent YLT album, also notable for the Jim Woodring artifacts amongst the back cover detritus. I actually believe that in each of these cases the covers have a positive effect on the music inside. But I don't know how that would work.

I need to think less and do more. But that will never happen.

I need to listen to less and listen deeper. That might happen. But I will need to learn self-control first.

And finally:

The last time Geelong and Hawthorn met in a grand final it was one of the great grand finals and yet we missed the entirety of it on account of being at our friends' wedding in Ballarat. We have no intention of missing it this year.

Thanks for listening.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

YouTube of the day

Neil Young playing "Down By The River". At Big Sur. (It looks like it's in somebody's back yard, actually.) Not by himself. Not with Crazy Horse. Surprise! It's CSNY. This, I promise you, is worth 6.5 minutes of your time. Dig those groovy hippie chicks.

(Link courtesy Aquarium Drunkard.)

Friday, September 12, 2008

Don't Go To Sydney

We went to Sydney.

We had to get from our hotel, which overlooked Hyde Park, to the north side of the city. We asked three people, all in the tourism/hospitality industries, how to get there. We got three different answers. The first would have had us going the wrong way up a (fortunately clearly marked) one way street. The second was so vague and tentative that it wasn't even worth pursuing, although the person concerned seemed confident they were the right directions. The third would, according to our street directory, have had us knocking on the New South Wales Governor's front door. Ultimately I worked it out for myself.

What I like about Sydney is that you can walk into a record store (Birdland, in Pitt Street, to be precise) and ask for a copy of John Zorn's 50th Birthday Series Volume 11, the three-disc Bar Kokhba set, and - WHAMMO - there it is.

What I don't like about Sydney is:

1. Driving.

2. The fact that, everywhere I turn, I am reminded of how hopeless the task of saving the species from global warming really is. If you accept that carbon emissions are doing the damage, and that the bulk of those are being created by man (as opposed to by, say, cows farting, or peat bogs) then presumably a large part of that is the product of big cities. Sydney is a big city. It is fast. It burns a lot of energy. People on the whole don't appear to have the time (time is money) to conserve. Everyone is either on the mobile phone, drinking a takeaway coffee or one of those drinks that come in the long thin cans, or driving their oversized four-wheel drive (or all three at once). Heck, even the complementary breakfast at the hotel came with roughly one part packaging per one part food.

[As for that John Zorn CD, well, I thought I knew these songs - I have, in (ahem) one form or another, all of the official Masada-related releases except "Live In Jerusalem" and "Masada Rock", and a few unofficial live recordings as well - but I have never heard them quite like this before. This recording (which is so clear and immediate that you might as well be in the crowd) evidences a chamber ensemble (percussion, violin, cello, upright bass, drums, guitar) playing like a jazz combo. It has the same band > audience > band intensity loop as on the "Live At Tonic 2001" disc. It taunts you to try to sit still throughout, and you can't, you can't ...]

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Song of the day

"Blue Sky Bends", by Wooden Shjips. That's right. "Shjips". Here is a band that neither could, nor necessarily should want to, distance themselves from Neil Young, and yet they seem to want to do this so strongly that they have adopted the following two-pronged approach: (1) to name themselves after a song from an album by Crosby, Stills, Nash and not Young; and (2) to adopt an aberrant spelling of that song's title. They are, however, forgiven (although "Shjips" is damned hard to type).

There's something about the sound of this band that I really, really love. They kind of float along on a soft haze of psychedelia, adding just the right amount of hinted-at malevolence to keep things interesting. What you get, really, is a cross between Opal's "Happy Nightmare Baby" and Spacemen 3's "Perfect Prescription", and if you were going to be looking for touchstones for a career in music you could do far, far worse than those two.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

YouTube of the day

This is a beautiful thing. It's hard to know how seriously to take it. It works either way. Enjoy.

(Thanks, as so often, to SFJ.)

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Filmworks Revisited

I am sitting in a café. The people to the left of me are talking about real estate. The people to the right of me are talking about salary sacrificing. I am thinking about John Zorn. It's an awkward fit: I feel like a couple of blasts from his saxophone would shake things up a little.

But for now we're still on the Filmworks series. To be precise, Vols XI to XIII. These three discs all came out in 2002, a seemingly busy year for Zorn, as there was also quite a lot of Masada activity happening. Another example of the "bleed" I was talking about earlier: "Filmworks XI: 2002 Volume One - Secret Lives", which might be considered the Rosetta Stone of the Filmworks series, is performed by the Masada String Trio, a group which, if you ask me, Zorn uses better than any other of the many combinations of musicians at his disposal (which, obviously, is not intended as a slight to any of the others). This is lovely, lovely music. It doesn't need a film to go with it. One of the themes reminds me, curiously, of "Nights In White Satin". At one point Jamie Saft wanders in with his piano and they fall into the most unlikely jazz group, in the style of Stéphane Grappelli, and it works brilliantly.

On the other hand, "Filmworks XII: 2002 Volume Two - Three Documentaries", a collection of tracks from three different soundtracks, doesn't quite hang together as an album in its own right. Not that there's anything particularly wrong with any of it - it starts off with a fascinating piece for human voice, an instrument Zorn doesn't use very often - but I can't quite get it to obtain traction when listened to from start to end. The middle section of it, admittedly, would make a good disc on its own, but even in the age of burn-your-own, it still doesn't feel right to do that sort of thing. This disc marks the return of the pipa (or "biwa"), and what Zorn does with it this time around is create what might be described as Ennio Morricone Goes To Old Beijing.

Much better, I think, as a single listening experience is "Filmworks XII: 2002 Volume Three - Invitation To A Suicide". Accordion makes a rare, but welcome, appearance, and Marc Ribot puts in a fine performance. In fact, there are places here where he sounds like he is reprising his work with Tom Waits. In a good way. (One piece might as well be, if heard from a distance, "Yesterday Is Here".) There is also a recurring theme that puts me in mind of "Astral Weeks", which is almost never a bad thing, and another one, for accordion, cello and vibraphone (or is it marimba?), that sounds like the kind of music you might hear in the background to a piece of investigative journalism on television (if television was still capable of showing investigative journalism). And it ends with a good old-fashioned Punk Rock three-chord thrash. All in all, one of my favourite Filmworks.

So here we are, two-thirds of the way through the series so far. My feeling, without having listened to very much of the volumes yet to be dealt with, is that we may have heard the best of them. Let's hope not.

Monday, September 01, 2008


It’s always nice to open the New Yorker and find that it contains a piece by David Sedaris. These days, he is one of the few writers anywhere who can cause me to laugh out loud in public places. Every so often, however, he comes up with a piece that, while funny, is also in some ways a horror story, so that the urge to laugh is suppressed, or laced with discomfort.

His recent piece about smoking was in the latter category. It also, to add to the horror aspect, reminded me of my own days as a cigarette smoker, short-lived and pathetic as they were. I would have been no more than 13 or 14 years old. How I was able to obtain cigarettes I have no idea. Most likely, it was through somebody’s older brother. I don’t remember ever smoking at home, or even having cigarettes anywhere near any place my parents might appear. The instigator of my smoking career was my friend Weary. We were at the age where we needed something to make us, at least in our own eyes, "cool". Because neither of us was particularly cool by nature. Sure, I hung around at the back of the portable classrooms with Kim Richter and Peter Condotta, talking about Bob Dylan and Monty Python, but they were the ones smoking, not me. (That is, if they were even smoking at all. I may have simply associated smoking so strongly with coolness that the two merged into one.)

Weary and I had conspired to ride our bikes to the football at Fish Creek, after which we would ride back to Weary’s parents’ house, on the Waratah road, and I would stay over for a night or two. We thus had bikes, and an adequate supply of fags. And mints. You had to have mints, because mints possessed the magical ability to mask any and all evidence of recent smoking. (Even then I had my doubts about whether this could possibly be true; but you had to believe.)

The football ground at Fish Creek must be one of the most picturesque venues in the country for watching a football game. It is nestled in a little valley at the back end of the town. Cars park around the ground and honk their horns when somebody kicks a goal. If someone kicked a goal with too much vigour at the northern end the ball would end up in the creek, thus delaying the re-start by a few minutes. You could do laps of the road around the ground with your mates, stopping off occasionally to buy a pie or a bag of mixed lollies from the kiosk.

But you couldn't, if you were Weary and me, smoke there, on account of you didn't know who was watching. Fish Creek is a small town. There might be spies about. We thus spent most of the match suppressing the idea that we would soon be puffing away in freedom. The bike ride was a slow affair, mainly because we spent most of it walking our bikes along the edge of the road, cigarette in one hand, bike in the other. (We soon discovered that it is impossible for a novice smoker to ride a bike and smoke at the same time.) We also had to stop every time we heard a car approaching, blow out any inhaled smoke, hide the cigarette, and wait for the car to pass. You never knew who might be driving past.

Weary had an older brother, Tony. (Tony shares the name of one of Miles Davis’s greatest drummers, but I suspect, even though he was, like all of the best older brothers,"into music", he may never have been aware of that fact.) Sleepovers at Weary’s house involved time in front of their colour television, time spent helping their dad working their sheep farm, time spent obsessing over Tony’s record collection and endeavouring to talk to Tony about same (difficult to do, because Tony for the most part saw us as annoying little kids), time spent playing world cup soccer in the back yard, and time spent at the disused dairy that sat over the hill from their house, out of view, and which had as its main attraction a kind of sleepout that came with its own supply of dirty magazines. These I assumed belonged to Tony, but, on reflection, they might just as well have belonged to their father.

And so we spent an afternoon smoking, learning the remarkable things that sheltered teenage boys could learn from dirty magazines, smoking, listening to the radio ("Sultans of Swing" I heard there and then for the first time, convinced both that it was the greatest song I had ever heard and that it was by Bob Dylan), and smoking.

That is, until we had built up, as teenage boys do, a superabundance of energy, which needed to be expended. So we started chasing each other around the milking shed, up and down the ramps and along the platforms where the cows, in days gone by, would have stood to be milked. It was all fun and games, as they say, until somebody lost an eye. Well, I didn’t exactly lose an eye, but I did hit the very top of my head against a steel beam, thanks to a very slight error of judgment, thus knocking me horizontal in the manner of Charlie Brown after Lucy pulls the football away from him just as he goes through the act of kicking. My head landed on the concrete with what might have been described as a sickening thud. I saw stars. (Did Charlie Brown see stars?) I may or may not have briefly passed out. When I looked up Weary and Tony were looking down at me with horrified expressions on their faces. We all learnt that head injuries tend to bleed heavily, making me look like a victim in a horror movie.

Two thoughts were foremost:

1. Get help.

2. Hide the cigarettes.

I wasn’t nearly as worried about almost killing myself as I was worried that Weary’s mum was about to learn that I had a secret life as a cigarette smoker. The mints were back at the house. There was no way of getting them to me before she arrived. I don’t have a great memory of what happened. I was probably suffering from concussion. At some point I was taken to Foster Hospital, where stitches were administered to the very top of my head (there may well be a scar there; we won’t know until my hair falls out, which it hasn’t yet). The sleepover was cut short. What I do remember is the sense of panic when Weary’s mum leaned over me and said, "You haven’t been smoking, have you?", looking at me in a way that suggested that she knew very well that I had been (well, you know, she really must have known) and that, perhaps, this might be a lesson for me on its own, without any need to tell my parents. "No", I ventured, unconvincingly. I vowed, in those moments, lying in a pool of my own blood, that I would never smoke again. And I haven’t.