Friday, May 30, 2008

That Petrol Emotion

We are shortly going to have to fill the car with petrol. It's going to hurt. And we are much better off than many people: we are lucky enough (or maybe it's not entirely luck) to live quite close to most places we need to drive to, and have access to door-to-door and pretty reliable public transport too. Nevertheless, having a car is just part of the long history of human ingenuity and ability to create labour-saving and quality-of-life-enhancing ways of living. Which, hey, I'm not wishing to stand in the way of. (And they have neat things like drink holders and places for charging your laptop and six-CD changers. All good.)

But having a car is also, slowly, killing the planet. [Oh, here he goes again - ed.] We are paying a lot for petrol, and perhaps that might make a difference to car usage patterns. But for all sorts of reasons pressure is being brought to bear on the price of petrol. Well, I am bringing pressure to bear in the other direction: why aren't we paying, let's see, double - or triple - the present inflated prices? That might help. If one thing can turn around human behaviour, it's the hip pocket. This has been proved time and time again. If (when?) running a car, or at least a petrol-driven car, becomes so expensive that we have to think twice about it, we will think twice about it. And that is when we will genuinely, seriously reduce the use of it. It may, in the short-to-medium term, mean that everything, not just petrol but everything that gets made and transported, will get more expensive. But, thinking globally and of the future, it might be the recession we have to have. (Haven't I heard that before?)

Of course, I wouldn't be saying this to people openly, because the likely response would be a punch in the nose. But (I hope) you know it makes sense.

Anyway, why take my word for it when you can read this column by Thomas L Friedman in the New York Times? He's a reputable writer, read by many people (unlike some of us), is frequently right, or at least reasonable, in his opinions, and if he could only shake off the slightly patronising, aw-shucks folksy tone, would be a pleasure to read.

Of course, higher petrol prices are only one part of the problem. Cities are designed all wrong. Houses are designed all wrong. And the person responsible for the concept of "disposable" has a lot to answer for. But we can only save the human race from extinction a bit at a time. And I would hate to think that we couldn't do it, or that it was "just too hard" (although in my darker moments I think exactly that). I need to keep reminding myself that America put a human being on the surface of the moon just because the Soviet Union was going to beat them to it, so perhaps all we need is real motivation. Perhaps the long dry in this part of the country is part of that motivation. Food shortages in Australia would be a rum thing, wouldn't they?

Have a lovely weekend ... (And don't forget to turn off your computers and printers at work before you go. And the lights.)

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Neat segue of the day

The iTunes Party Shuffle was in a Carpenteresque mood this morning. It threw up (sorry) the Sonic Youth version of "Superstar", followed immediately by "Clouds Across The Moon", which is not by the Carpenters (it is by The RAH Band) but which is definitely the kind of song the Carpenters might have done, and which whenever it comes on I mistakenly assume, momentarily, is the Carpenters.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Cartoon of the day

Even though my current mental state is one of acute existential dread, which means that I am unable to laugh at it, this is the best cartoon I have seen in a long, long time.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Karma Police

I have always tried to live my life on the theory that What Goes Around Comes Around.

On Sunday night, when I was out picking up the takeaway, I stepped on a black wallet near the darkened footpath at the Garran shops. It crossed my mind that nobody would see if I put it in my pocket, but honesty, and a fleeting but critical premonition of a guilty conscience (thanks, Mum), quickly won out, and I handed it in at the local supermarket for its rightful owner to claim. (Which they did; it was gone the next morning.)

Fast forward to this morning. As we were getting ready for school/work, there was a knock on the door. The father of a couple of the kids at the boys' school was standing there. In his hands was a slightly weatherbeaten red Sherrin (size 3) with our name and phone number attached. It disappeared some time around last August. It had been given up for dead; plans were slowly hatching to buy a replacement. Now we have been reunited, and we are happy. Well, I can't speak for the football.

I firmly believe, even as I stand here before you as a man of science, not faith, that it is no coincidence that we unexpectedly have our beloved footy back so soon after my small good deed of last Sunday night.

Monday, May 26, 2008


And so we say goodbye to another Eurovision Song Contest. As usual, the voting had nothing to do with the music. So you can't really just limit yourself to YouTubing the top three vote-getters. You need to immerse yourself (and perhaps have a good shower afterwards).

This year, for the first time, we let the boys watch for a while. A sign that the days of childhood innocence are fading away: both boys responded with a Woganesque "Crap" to every song they saw (except the English entry, which Carl quite liked on account of its disco tendencies).

If you're talking actual "quality", the Sebastian Tellier was streets ahead of everybody else. (It seemed to have wandered in from another show entirely.) If you're talking sheer Eurovision-ness, I must admit I did like the Romanian entry. But ultimately it was the Latvian pirates that stole the show. For what that's worth.

Sadly we couldn't stay until the end, because "Flight of the Conchords" was screening on Channel Ten.

Sunday, May 25, 2008


His name, it turned out, was Mark MacLeod. Actually I can’t be entirely sure about the spelling. When he first appeared at our school, it was by way of an absent and unknown student’s on the roll. The teacher called out “M MacLeod”. To which some wag replied, “Oh, that’s Max”. When M MacLeod physically appeared, a couple of days later, he slotted into the “Max” role perfectly. In fact, he quite liked it. Called himself “Max”. Which, of course, soon became “Max Merritt”. Which naturally grew into “Max Merritt and the Meteors”, and other variations on the theme of “Max”.

Until, on account of his having a slight overbite and a top lip that kind of came to a little point, he morphed into “Chook”. And it was as Chook that he is remembered. He arrived, as best as I can recollect, in Year 9, and left in Year 10. His father was a local minister of relegion for that time. I went to his house a few times. I met his father, but I don’t recall ever having seen his mother. I suppose it is possible that he didn’t have one, although such an idea was alien to everything I knew back then. What he did have was a lot of freedom. Freedom, mainly, to misbehave, and to spread misbehaviour amongst our innocent ranks.

For starters, he had an impressive collection of dirty magazines, from which he had acquired an equally impressive, if not entirely anatomically correct, vocabulary. The key to all knowledge, for Chook, was that girls had something called piss flaps. From these unimaginable zones, according to Chook, they were capable of doing something called piss-flap farts. Nobody (including, I suspect, Chook) had any idea exactly what this involved. Sounds? Smells? We had no idea. We couldn’t even begin to visualise it. And we weren’t about to be asking anyone. So these flaps remained a mystery, but a mystery that gave Chook an amazing degree of power amongst the boys, for it was Important Knowledge That Only He Was Privy To.

Chook was also into music, which I suppose is why we hit it off so well. He introduced me to “Cat Scratch Fever”, by Ted Nugent, which is how, 25 years later, I was to be the only person in a crowded cinema to laugh, at the end of the Seven Soderberg remake of “Ocean’s 11”, when George Clooney says “Ted Nugent called, he wants his shirt back”.

My parents, nobody will be surprised to hear, didn’t take to “Mark”. (They couldn’t bring themselves to call somebody “Chook”.) But they did let me go to his house from time to time, and in return I made a silent pact with myself never to let slip about the outrageous things that were to be seen at his house, or the schoolyard and classroom antics that were a big part of his reputation. (Of these, I don’t remember much in the way of detail. It was just mostly kids’ stuff. I think it was Chook who was the first to point out how Miss Jones’s bum wiggled when she wrote on the blackboard. There may also have been something to do with short pants and bare knees, but I think that might have been to do with me, and I would need to go through years of therapy, probably, in order to be able to dredge that back up to the surface.)

We took Chook with us to the Melbourne Show. We spent the trip in the car hunched over in the back seat; I was reading music magazines (as always) and Chook was trying his hardest to distract me and make me laugh. It was pretty annoying, although not as annoying as finding when we got back to the car that the newsprint magazines (whatever they were, NME, RAM, Roadrunner) that I had left on the ledge behind the back seat had yellowed in the sun over the course of the day.

For me, the Show was often our one trip to Melbourne for the year, and it was a time of excitement and wonder, and also of a kind of childhood nostalgia, as each year I liked to find things the same as they were in previous years: the scones at the CWA pavilion; waiting for one or another of my uncles or cousins to suddenly appear amongst the cows; the coloured baby chicks and their water slide; the model train display (I may have cried the year it disappeared); and the grand parade in the middle of the afternoon, signalling that it would soon be time to go. But none of this was for Chook. He wanted to spend the whole day hanging around the sideshow alley, saying rude things to girls, simultaneously looking for and staying out of trouble, and eating the kind of crap food I coveted but knew that I would never in a million years be allowed to eat. Chook wasn’t remotely interested in looking at cows. Or chooks. What ended the dream for me was the Mad Mouse. The Mad Mouse was like a miniature roller coaster in the shape, roughly, of a cube. It was another of the landmarks I associated with the Show, but not one that I had any interest in partaking of. Chook wanted to go on the Mad Mouse, and he was insistent that I go on it too. I wasn’t having a bar of it. (I wasn’t, and still am not, good with heights.) This soon went from good-natured stirring to actual anger and abuse: I was a chicken (to which I wasn’t confident enough to say “Well you’re a Chook”, although that may well have been the circuit breaker that the situation needed); I was gutless; I was a pussy.

It was a very long two hours, in the dark, in the back of the car, on the way home. Mum and dad would have had the radio on the ABC, which would only have given Chook another reason to treat us with the contempt he probably felt we deserved. Things didn’t really get repaired between us, but they didn’t have much of a chance to, anyway, because it wasn’t long before Chook disappeared from our lives. I wonder what became of him.

Friday, May 23, 2008

The Overload

My head hurts. You can, it seems, listen to too much John Zorn. I have found myself with access to the best part of all 19 of his "Filmworks" series and I am trying to get through as much of it as I can as quickly as I can. But it may be a case of "less haste, more speed" (an expression I have never understood), or perhaps its opposite.

You can fairly precisely allocate Zorn's enormous volume of work into categories: the modern classical pieces; the jazz saxophone work; the various Masada permutations; the game theory works; Naked City; what you might call his "scare the children" music; and so on. But there is inevitably some bleeding between all of them, and I have often suspected that a lot of that blood might be found in his soundtrack work.

Some of this I have heard before. Some exists by legend (e.g. "Filmworks VII", which inadvertently secured the release of all of Zorn's catalogue from Elektra/Nonesuch, or so the story goes). At the moment it is all a bit of a blur, and listening in sequence this time around I am only up to "VI". But a case might perhaps be made that these recordings are an alternative way into, if not through, the Zorn labyrinth (hint: there is no way out), much in the way the Peel Sessions box set can do the same for The Fall.

Preliminary observations: quite a lot of the first six discs fails to leave a lasting impression, if only because much of it is fragmentary in nature, not to mention removed from its original context. Some is, frankly, a waste of money (viz., the last two pieces on "VI", which make up not much less than half that disc's running time). But it is particularly nice to hear the late Robert Quine being used to good effect, and often, on the early pieces (there are passages that are strongly reminiscent of the first Quine I ever heard (well, leaving aside "Blank Generation", which I didn't know he played on), "Basic", an album of duets with the drummer Fred Maher; kind of like rock and roll played by automatons); and it is always good to hear Zorn's other guitarists of choice, Bill Frisell and Marc Ribot (the latter particularly stands out here; he runs through his inimitable range of twang, plink, chime, and skronk with concision and, well, charm). But what I mostly take away from "I" - "VI" are the first four tracks on "VI", just guitar (Ribot), bass (Greg Cohen, from the original Masada quartet) and percussion (Cyro Baptista, another Zorn regular in those days), laying down some quietly melodic tunes that at times put me in mind of Ry Cooder, but only in a good way; and the "Thieves' Quartet" pieces, on "III", which comprise (I think) the first appearance of what would become the Masada quartet, which I consider to be the pinnacle of Zorn's many achievements (so far). It is exciting (well, for me, anyway; to each ...) to listen to this music in the knowledge of where and how far it would take him (and them; and, uh, me ...) and to speculate on the creative journey involved. Like, was there a Eureka! moment when Zorn heard these four together (Dave Douglas stands out, especially, as bringing a new sound into the Zorn palette) and thought, "I can do something with this"? We will never know, I guess, but these 17 minutes are something of a Rosetta Stone.

More later.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Darren Files (Day Four)

It's fitting that, as we move into this year's exciting Eurovision Weekend (Latvian pirates!), the next song to rise to the surface of Darren's list of I've-forgotten-how-many songs is "Ma Baker", by Boney M.

In a word, this song is ridiculous. The female harmony vocals alone give it a reason to exist. (Just.)

The most ridiculous things about "Ma Baker" are:

1. Everything about it.

2. The fake "FBI" voiceover that appears in the middle of the song.

3. There is something at the very start of the song that sounds like somebody tapping their teeth with a pencil.

Boney M had four, at least, big hits in Australia. I suspect they will all appear here at some stage. Without hearing the others, my guess is that this is the second-crappest of them. "Daddy Cool", which is very much a carbon copy of this, I expect will be the crappest.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Solar Flares (Burn For You)

The newly elected federal government in this country has wasted no time in establishing its "green" credentials by taking the modest rebate that is available to households installing solar panels and, no, not extending or increasing it, but making it subject to a means test, meaning that only households earning over $100,000 a year will qualify.

If the reports of Mr Garrett, erstwhile Aussie Rock Icon, describing the decision as having been made because the rebate was "too popular" are correct, then we are, as I have been hammering on for a long time, all in trouble. What is "too popular" is the consumption of fossil fuels. This move will do nothing to alleviate that, and in the long run the cost of increased (or even, can we now all agree please, not reduced) consumption of fossil fuels will be much, much higher than an $8,000 cash rebate, even if every household in the country applied for it. (And anyway, how could anybody argue that that wouldn't be a good thing?)

This would be all to the good if the money that was to be spent on the rebate were to be channelled into other projects aiming towards the same end result. But that remains to be seen.

Redneck Wonderland indeed.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Song of the day

"Morning Sun", by Happy The Man. If we were playing word associations, the first thing that pops into my head when I hear this song is "Wurlitzer", although I suspect there is no Wurlitzer in sight. Strange.

As for me, I am no "Happy The Man" today. I am getting more than the usual amount of static-electricity shocks, for some reason. It is seriously freakin' me out. The worst ones are when you stick your hand in water. You think you are going to die.

YouTube of the day

I am usually the last person to find out about things like this, but if you haven't yet had the sorry pleasure of watching this, you really should.

All together now:

"Ken Leeeeee
tulibu dibu douchoo".

It would be remiss of me not to draw your attention to the hair on the guy sitting on the left of screen. I haven't seen a haircut like that since, well, last year's Eurovision Song Contest.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Song of the day

"I Dream Of Wires", by Robert Palmer. I was going to say: this is so Gary Numan that it's (not) funny. But what do you know: it actually is Gary Numan, and his bass player I think, with Palmer contributing (only?) vocals. The Bahamas must do something to people's minds.

The Drum's The Thing

Genuine, absolutely one-click-only random Wikipedia page of the day: "Modern Drummer" magazine. Which is all the excuse we need to belatedly mark the passing of Klaus Dinger, which was announced at a time when we were under the malign influence of lurgi, and we somehow failed to get back to him.

Klaus Dinger, as you know, was the drummer who, with "Hallo Gallo", by Neu!, invented the thing known as "motorik". Listen to "Hallo Gallo". You have lost count of how many times you have heard that rhythm. But you heard it there first. Respect.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

The end of music

Now would be as good a time as any for me to stop listening to new music. Of course, I won't, because I can't not listen to new music. But Portishead, with "Third", have released the album to end all albums. It's hard to know where they, and music in general, can go from here. The game, perhaps, is up. At the very least, an unexpectedly dark and heavy (and frequently beautiful; don't forget that) gauntlet has been thrown down. It goes without saying that I can't imagine hearing a more necessary album this year, or for that matter for many years to come. As is so often the case, Marcello Carlin is saying, one day at a time, all that needs to be said.


May we commend to you "Flight Of The Conchords", which is currently screening on Channel Ten late on Sunday evenings. The humour is drier than the Murray Darling basin. We would be interested to know how a couple of jokers from New Zealand convinced HBO to make a comedy series about their struggles to make it big in New York. But we're glad they did.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Mathematically, the brand new Robert Forster album, "The Evangelist", is three-quarters of a Go-Betweens album. But some things are not susceptible to simple mathematics, and the Go-Betweens were [it still hurts to type that past tense] such a thing. As is now common knowledge, this album contains several songs started by Grant before he died. It is to Robert Forster's enduring credit that he has made such a wonderful fist of performing an impossibly difficult task.

On the one hand, it is difficult, in the absence of notes, to tell where Grant ended and Robert began. On the other hand, it sounds almost nothing like any of Robert's previous solo albums. In fact, it sounds not so much like a continuation of where the Go-Betweens were headed in their second incarnation, as like a rewind-the-tape continuation of where the Go-Betweens were "at" before they ceased to exist the first time around.

Which is both a lovely and extraordinary treat, and perhaps an unexpected confirmation of my long-standing Theory Of The Go-Betweens, viz., that each time they reappeared, either with a new record or, to stretch the theory a bit, with a new band after a long hiatus, they sounded not like what had just come before but like the thing that came before what had just come before. Try it: I think you'll find it holds true at least up to "16 Lovers Lane". (To be simplistic and not wholly accurate, what I hear are swings between (a) tension and (b) beauty.) And, treating the three post-reformation albums as a bloc, it holds true with this album as well.

Thank you, Robert, this is an album that I will be holding close to me, for a long time. There will be tears (there are as I write this) but they will be as much of joy as of sorrow.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

"I had to go vertical here"

We are, as you know, huge fans of the work of Richard Serra. We would give our right arm to be able to see this. (We are left-handed.)

(The above link also takes you to an accompanying slide show, which doesn't really do the work a whole lot of justice but does manage to convey the scent of Paris in the spring.)

The only Richard Serra we have actually seen is a little, but beautiful, piece owned by the gallery across the road from where we work.

Question: A what struggle? Answer: A political struggle.

It is coming up to four years now since those of us in the southern hemisphere sat on our refresh buttons, well into the wee small hours of the afternoon, unsuccessfully willing the tyrant George W Bush to be cast from his throne. Somehow the planet has more or less survived those four years, but can't be said to be in anywhere near as healthy a condition as it was eight years ago.

And so the battle is on again. We have been watching quietly from the sidelines as Clinton II and Obama have tried gamely to dash each other against the rocks of the Democratic Party nomination. We have admired Clinton's gameness. We have cringed at some of the "Change" rhetoric that has been constantly leeching out of the Obama camp. (But this is, after all, America, home of the cringeworthy sentiment.) Ultimately, we have been swayed by the sense that Clinton is running for president because she can, whereas Obama is running for president either because he should or because he must. And we have been swayed also by the view of our good friend, the Very Wise Ian Hotmail, who has spent some time in those United States, that the hurdle to be jumped by a black man is higher than the hurdle to be jumped by a white woman.

But the final straw has been the appalling and opportunistic decision of Clinton to support those calling for a holiday reprieve from the gasoline tax (a call which, presumably, hasn't been frowned upon by the oil companies if it wasn't in fact manufactured by them all along). As you know, our view is that the issue of climate change is the only issue there is. We cannot abide someone who chooses, for their own short-term political gain, to jump on a bandwagon that has the sole effect (aside from the hoped-for effect on the voting patterns of SUV drivers) of spewing even more carbon into the atmosphere. Does she really want Clinton III (a.k.a. Chelsea) to bring her own children into a world that resembles the landscape of "Mad Max II" just so she (Chelsea) can say to them "Both of your grandparents were presidents"?

So we must say, Farewell Hillary, and please remember to take your husband with you when you go.


Understandably, and commendably, the first thing Adrienne does when the New Yorker hits our letter box is check if there is a Victoria Roberts cartoon. May must be Adrienne's lucky month, then, because Victoria Roberts is the New Yorker's Cartoonist of the Month. But rather than just cartoons, she is filling the space with little YouTube clips of her own devising, which are, you might say, non-linear, but lovely.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

"Look out, Cliff!"

Is this the most important news story of our time?

(Well, probably not, but it does at least serve to remind one of what really matters in this crazy, mixed-up modern world.)

Monday, May 05, 2008

Mash-ups Are The New Mash-ups

In case you hadn't noticed, or aren't on his mailing list, Mark Vidler, the king of the mash-up, has come back from the wilderness with an entire album's worth of brand new cut-n-paste magic. (Well, it's a fairly short album but no shorter than at least one KC and the Sunshine Band album, as I recall.) It's available on his website for your downloading pleasure.

Which is all you need to know.

Friday, May 02, 2008

This Goes With This

Has anybody else had the experience of listening to "Angelitos Negros" by Cat Power, from the second, "bonus" disc attached to some copies of the unfairly maligned "Jukebox" album (a very old song, also recorded by Roberta Flack and Eartha Kitt, and others, and in this case masterfully anchored, but really the opposite, by Jim White's expressionistic drumming), and finding their brain making an unconscious segue into Joy Division's "New Dawn Fades"?

Hey Lawdy Mama

Here at Farmer In The City we reject Mother's Day and Father's Day as the retail-behemoth-driven scams that they undoubtedly are. Nevertheless, they serve as an occasion, in my case, to be the recipient of stray pieces of the Bob Dylan puzzle that I didn't already have, and in the case of Adrienne, to increase her listening horizons bit by bit. Last year, she was given Feist's "The Reminder". This year (I hope she's not reading this) it will be "Ga Ga Ga Ga Ga", by Spoon, my second-favourite record of 2007 (how it can be my second-favourite album of 2007 without me actually owning it is a question that shall remain unanswered).

It just goes to show: Indie Rock is the new Richard Clayderman.