Thursday, 31 December 2009

n3 - dec 09

My uncle passed away 9 days ago, on the 22nd Dec. He died comfortably in his sleep in hospital. He was born on the 22nd April 1916. So he lived to 93. That's coming and going on the 'master' number. He wasn't my blood-uncle, he was my mum's sister's husband. They were married for 63 years. My auntie's still going at 89. The funeral was two days ago, on the 29th. I gave a reading at the funeral, of which I was most honoured to do, from the book of Ecclesiastes.

We went around to my auntie's apartment in Bondi Beach a few times during that week after his passing. I've rarely visited them over my adulthood years, but going back to that apartment four times within the space of a week flooded me with that sense of utter familiarity, that this was once my second home, a place I'd come to every Sunday from childhood to early-teens.

Auntie & Uncle lived on the top floor. The kids - my cousins (all of them at least a generation older than me) - lived in the apartments below. One by one they moved away, except for Lisa who stayed in the apartment directly below. This was fortuitous because Lisa has helped her dad & mum so much over the last few years and being in such close proximity is very advantageous as far as care's concerned.

I used to play with my cousin's kids, all of whom were only a few years younger than me (still are, of course). Denny & I used to play with all the time; I rarely if ever see him now. But in coming together during that last week I felt closer to my family than ever before, especially my four cousins. I am close and distant to varying degrees with the four of them, but that feeling of familiarity and a shared bond, that of blood relations, was palpable this week. It felt good to acknowledge my family, and to be in close proximity to them.

During my younger years I was resistant to family. I felt they were too traditional and bound up in old ways for me. It's only when you live a bit and experience lots of different people and different groups that you discover that everyone's the same. Every group of people take on the dynamic of a family, and that one group is merely the substitute or displacement of what has gone before. As within, so without. The family never leaves you.

I wasn't close to uncle. We never truly bonded. That's partly due to us not being blood-related. But I respected him. His was an incredible life. He's lived two full lives in the space of one, not surprising given that he's lived to 93. He's survived torpedoes, bombs, capsizing boats and near starvation during the hideous adventure that was World War II. And when he finally married my auntie after the war, made it to Australia in the late 40s, and had the first of his four children, he succumbed to crippling tuberculosis that almost killed him. Yet uncle was made of immense fortitude and iron will, and used his time in hospital to study books on building while hoping that a cure for the disease would be found. The cure was found in the nick of time, and despite a collapsed lung, my uncle recovered and began his building career in his town of Griffith in western NSW. He moved the family to Bondi during the 50s, and finally, in 1970, he built a block of 6 apartments for he and his family. I've only ever have known uncle to live at those flats, and being retired as far back as I could remember, I recall him walking down to Bondi Pavilion every day to play chess on the chessboards that were strewn over the seating on the western side of the block.

It was weird being back in Bondi during the past week. The beach is so close to me yet it's only seldom that I venture down in that direction. I was looking out of my uncle's balcony up toward the cul-de-sac end of Roscoe Street that meets onto Campbell Parade and Bondi Beach. There were streams of people walking up and down everytime I looked, even during inclement weather. I didn't go to the beach during this period; funnily it seemed like another country from my Roscoe Street vantage point, yet it was only less that 100 metres up the road. Bondi always gives me a feeling of childhood-memory heaviness that I can't put my finger on, so I tend to avoid the beach or visit it at night when the energy is much lighter though no less alluring.

My uncle was the sharpest man I've ever known. He was in charge of his faculties and decisions at all times, his sense of self-determination was peerless. He possessed an immense inner-strength and sense of authority. On the surface he could appear jocular and jovial but he was essentially an incredibly tough man, very mentally tough. Needless to say he was known to be very strict, and I didn't warm to him because I found him to be a little hard. I sensed he could "see" right through me. And his socio-political views were tending on the side of the right, to put it tentatively. Yet I respect and admire him greatly, moreso now that I've come to know of the life he led. He was the sort of man who naturally commanded respect. His was a most natural, rather than forced, authoritarianism. He was a very likable man too. He turned out to have a good old life, and he died on his own terms. He even danced on his 90th birthday!

My father affected a sense of toughness and strength but essentially was a fallible man. My uncle would never carouse or drink at bars or smoke cigarettes. There will be no-one to take my uncle's place. He is without question a man of an era that's now long-gone.

To me, my uncle's passing constitutes an end of an era. What 2010 and beyond shall bring is anyone's guess, but my awareness suggests that some of it won't be too pretty.


I've never liked authoritarianism or authority figures. Yet in some way or another I've tended to have had some shadow of authority closing over me during various stages of my life. Here's a dream I had some 10-11 years ago, one of those "prescient" dreams that is suggestive of my life's journey current to the time:

"It was the car-park at work. There was only one car parked, on old beat-up 60's or 70's car that was parked in my manager car-space. My manager wasn't in the dream. There were three men in the dream. My uncle, his brother, and my dad. My uncle and his brother were busily working away on the car, the tyres, the panels etc. I was impatient. I wanted the job finished so I could drive out of there. My dad said to me in his gruff, authoritative voice, 'It's not ready yet'."

My dad had already passed on some 7-8 years previous when I had this dream. And now, in 2009, I'm the manager and my uncle has passed on. The reign of authority is handed down to me. And I'm beginning to sense that I like it...

Friday, 25 December 2009

pet ratties !

It wasn't until I met Sarah that I discovered what pet ratties were all about it. I'd always thought that the value in keeping rats as pets is that they run up and down the length of your arms, across and around your shoulders, and that they're "intelligent". Well I was wrong. Pet ratties offer so much more to their owners and carers, and those who love them in general. I know now that there's a world-wide community of rat lovers who love keeping ratties as pets.

Last weekend we drove up to Newcastle to visit a 17-year old girl who's offered to take Sarah's rats from her as Sarah is moving out from her apartment. We'd visited Hannah some weeks ago to inspect the environment and TLC factor, and everything was at or above expectation. And she was such a nice, decent girl too who obviously loved rats, and her family were amazingly lovely people too. This trip was to be the deliverance trip, taking the cage and the toys and the food and the ratties on a two-hour drive up the freeway to Newcastle.

Hannah has two cages, one for the males and one for the females. She had four boys and two girls. And now, with Sarah's ratties, Xou Xou & Minka Binks, she has an even four females to match the males. The male cage is 3-4 levels high, the female cage is two levels. The cages were built by Hannah's dad who did an excellent job with the construction of the kennel and the hole & staircase within the wheeled cage.

I didn't take a photo of the boy's cage. I wish I had. Boy ratties (bucks) are quite obviously different to girl ratties (does, pronounced like "doze"). Aside from the oversized balls that hang beneath their tails like two large sacks, or walnuts, the boys are a lot larger than the girls, with courser fur. Bucks also eminate a most masculine energy; they're a little roguish just like a football team. You could easily imagine the buck cage becoming a beer barn, with miniature beer cans flying about the place constantly. They are lovable rogues mind you, more like good blokes than anything villainous.

As Hannah was holding one of her bucks I found myself stepping back and looking at the situation objectively. If I had those running around my kitchen I'd be crucifyingly alarmed!! There's nothing worse than seeing a rat, particularly a huge buck, scurrying along the kitchen floor, or table, as you drift by in the late of night to collect a glass of water. In the context of pet-keeping however, rats seem lose their power of menace and revolt, as if these rats are totally different to those rats. The pets become adorable, actually. I still harbour a little bit of reticence towards those big bucks, but the girls are much sweeter and nicer, and its those girly rats I tend to gravitate towards. I still remain reluctant to pick them up though!

Sarah was concerned that the ratties would fight when introduced to each other so she and Hannah decided to let them slowly sniff each other out atop of Minka's & Xou Xou's cage, a relatively neutral zone for all the rats.
Not only did the rats get on fine, they acted as if they'd known each other all their lives. All of them perked up and seemed a lot livelier, more emboldened for each other's company. It was amazing to watch. Does are cuter and sweeter (and smaller) than bucks and to me are the more endearing of the rattie gender. This is not to say they don't fight or squabble or peck, but they're generally more agreeable. It was great to see the ratties all interact with each other.

It was wonderful to watch Sarah's rats adapt to the new environment. They quickly learnt how to climb up and down the stairs and drink from the water dripper. They found the food in the rat's kennel and duly ate it, making themselves very much at home very early in the process. (Above is a picture of Minka Binks conquering a piece of Wheat Bix!)

We could've watched these ratties for hours. They are so lively, so attuned, so intelligent and so frightfully almost-human, that they're just naturally captivating and endearing. We made our way to the car without the rats, and Sarah was reconciled with the fact that her ratties were happy in their new home, and that Hannah was more than delighted to take them, either temporarily or permanently. We couldn't have thought of a better carer than Hannah. I'm sure Sarah is missing them tremendously though. At last report they're all getting on just fine, with all of them sharing Xou Xou's & Minka's igloo that Sarah added to Hannah's cage.

Newcastle is a good place to live. It's cheap compared to Sydney and is close to all amenities, including lovely beaches, and has a far more laid-back vibe. It's a fairly large city that was originally built around steel-works. Nowadays it's a little more gentrified. I'd be happy to live there, one day.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Robert Lurie's biography on Steve Kilbey & The Church

"With the Church, what real, tangible magic - ultimately unidentifiable and unexplainable." - Robert Lurie, No Certainty Attached, 2009.

I've just finished reading Robert Lurie's biography on Steve Kilbey & the Church, No Certainty Attached. In reading this book I was immediately struck by how good a writer Lurie is; he's my hero now, not Kilbey! I think he's done a damn fine job in balancing critical, well-researched perspective with the passion he has for his subject. His grammar and vocabulary are ace, too. I'm enthralled! So I'm going to use this book as an influence, a template, for my future scribe-extrapolations! ;)

Robert Lurie intersperses his narrative with occasional autobiographical anecdotes, such as his account of discovering the Church and the 'Starfish' album in 1988, and the immense, lasting impact the band has made on him. He talks about his time in Sydney in July 2003 where he met up with Steve Kilbey for interviews, and his general thoughts and ideas of Sydney and the city's relationship to the band he loves. You come away from this book thinking just what a congenial guy Robert Lurie is; by now he'd have many offers of friendship from Church fans worldwide!

I understand where Robert is coming from when he writes about the impact Starfish had on him in 1988, when he was 14 years old. I've often commented on Kilbey's blog of a parallel experience. I was a fan of the Church throughout my teens, but a very special moment occurred about a month after I finished my final exam for high school in October 1987. I remember sinking into a pleasing though vacuous nothingness void after my exams, to be shaken and stirred by a new song that just hit the airwaves and MTV. It blew me away, kicked me up from my sofa-lounge, and totally inspired me into new dimensions of possibility. This is the song that the Church are generally most known for, and it's the second track of their Starfish album. I remember the band playing this song at the Tivoli in December 1987 and the rapturous applause it received. The band looked very pleased with themselves. It may have been their very first performance of the song.

That which I love about Kilbey, aside from the Church and all, is his story. His is a compelling (for me) post-war story, of coming out to Australia from England on a boat in the mid-50's, and settling in Dapto near Wollongong, then mid-Victoria, and finally Canberra. My sister was born 4 days prior to Kilbey in the month of September 1954, in mid-west NSW, and I see parallels with Kilbey's story and hers. She was my first big influence, my sister, and a most thankful and invaluable one at that too. She retains an outrageously bohemian viewpoint on the world to this very day, and like Kilbey, she has a sharp way with words that always thrills me and makes me laugh. She is a great human being.

I can relate to Kilbey's lack of true identification with Australia. I've always felt a sense of misidentification here with both my parents having come to Australia from southern Italy in the late 40s (dad) and early 50s (mum). I've never considered myself a "true" Australian; but in saying that I realise I'm more 'Australian' than those who boast themselves the loudest. I don't really fit into any social categories, or none that I can readily think of (I'm disdainful of sport for example). And yet, over the years, I've come to love the best aspects of Australia so that I'm now very thankful and happy to be a citizen of this great southern land. Australia is a wonderful, magnificent place, and it's an honour to take up temporary abode on this lovely part of the earth, of the universe.

On page 80 of the bio I was astounded to discover, as I was lying on the bed keenly reading away, that I'm quoted in a footnote! Robert wasn't able to quote my full name as that's not displayed on myspace where we corresponded. Originally I'd contacted Robert on myspace after I discovered he was writing a bio on Steve Kilbey & the Church. I just decided to say hi and to send him an article I wrote back in 2004 for a local zine on the Church's rereleased & remastered 80s EMI recordings. Robert quoted a sentence from that article to illustrate a point he was making about the musicality on the Church's debut album 'Of Skins and Heart': "...Steve's bass playing may not be ambitious rhythmically, but it is aggressive and melodically inventive". The tagged footnote to my quote is as thus: "Australian singer/songwriter "Ross" comments: 'Kilbey's bass on the debut album is stunning, virtuosic and propulsive, he's obviously feeding off Ward and he never played like that again on record'."

So yeah, I was pretty astonished. I'll write to Robert soon and say thank you!

I'm impressed that Robert's bio maintains firm critical ground on the Church's records, never shying away from calling a spade a spade or a dud a dud if he sees fit. To my judgement, his appraisals and criticisms are correct, although I find myself tending to view much of the Church's work through rose-coloured glasses. I find it difficult to fault their work at all, particularly those early EMI recordings. Even if there are dud tracks or lapses of judgement on these early albums (or awful production and mixing), these recordings nonetheless capture the buzz and energy of the band's time and place. The undeniable magic is captured in those grooves from Skins to Heyday, even if various aspects of the songwriting or production are not always perfect. But to me, that's perfect! For the Church are a magic band who came and flourished at precisely the right time. And the eighties were a bit of a magic time for me too (again, these are my rose-coloured glasses...).

Early on in the piece, as Robert lands in Australia for his month-long stay, he writes about wishing to find a connection between Australia and the art of Steve Kilbey. Perhaps this is why, personally, I love the EMI recordings so much. My memories of 1980-1986 are dazzled, stirred somewhat, by listening those EMI recordings now. The band do capture an element of the local buzz in those early recordings - it's oblique, yet tangible enough. Partly, the recordings capture the energy of a city on the rise. From the late 70s in particularly, Sydney moved fast, rapidly metamorphosing into the "international cosmopolitan" city it's heralded to be today. This propulsive energy is captured in the grooves of the exciting debut album. Blurred Crusade is a wonderful soundtrack to Rozelle on a Saturday morning, a sunny summer's Saturday morning at the markets. Seance is astoundingly away and beyond it's time - likely my favourite Church album. Yet it's probably Heyday that has the most discernible Sydney energy to it. It's relaxed and cruisy and reflects a time for the band (and the city) of great optimism. You can imagine driving up to and through the northern beaches on a warm spring or summer's day, in a convertible, with Heyday blaring through the speaker cones. 'Already Yesterday' quotes one of those northern beaches, Avalon.

I guess the only feeling of disappointment I have with Robert's efforts is not so much to do with his excellent book, but in he not having visited Canberra, the home of Kilbey's youth and early adulthood. He told me he never got to Canberra in our myspace correspondence. I feel that if he had ventured to the ACT he may have come to a clearer understanding of Kilbey's genius and uniqueness. Canberra has always held some kind of semi-mystic fascination for me. I've spent a lot of time hiking in the extraordinary sub-alpine ranges and forests that are about a half-hour drive south from the city central. On the surface, the city can feel sterile and somewhat misplaced, like it shouldn't really be existing at all. The original pre-white settlers used the area as a meeting ground only. And to modern-day dwellers and visitors, it's the easiest place on earth to find yourself lost. Yet the disparate, isolating feeling you get in Canberra is a surface one; I find the vibe around that city - and particularly as you go south towards and into the alps - to hide some fantastic sense of possibility, an ultra-dimension beyond surface appearances. There's something eerily enchanted about the place, that anything is possible, attainable. There's a tracking space-station down near the Tidbinbilla ranges so it doesn't surprise me if the whole area is a UFO radar site. It certainly accounts for the 'outer-worldly' element you feel in the Tidbinbilla ranges, in addition to the sublime sub-alpine beauty of the place anyway.

Kilbey may not have noticed any of that. But his art is of a quality of genius where anything is possible, and it has lashings of that "opaque", icy power that is noticeably Canberrean to me, particularly demonstrable in the Church's debut album and first EP. In short, Kilbey's work may have turned out a lot differently if he'd moved to London or Sydney after finishing school. It may not have been quite as strikingly original, but one can never be certain of that. That he allowed his creative capacities to formulate and flourish in the confines of a place like Canberra probably and inadvertently did him a world of good.

There are obviously some quite thrilling moments in Robert's narrative: Kilbey's sojourn as a Canberra musician throughout the 70s, his relationship with his charismatic father Les, the forming and swirling together of the Church in 1979/80 with the amazingly fortuitous meeting of Marty and the tempestuous relationship with original drummer Nick Ward, the lead-up to and the recording of Heyday, Marty briefly leaving the band in 1986, the band's rise to international stardom and American fame in the late 80s, Robert's first meeting with sk as a support for an acoustic gig in London, etc. The narrative takes a decisive turn for the worse from the juncture of the early 90s where the menace of heroin rears its ugly head. At this point the book starts reading like William Burroughs' 'Junky'. Robert handles this subject with aplomb, and it's to the subject's credit that he eventually kicked the habit, for himself and for his family.

Robert, during his personal anecdotes in relation to Steve Kilbey, muses a lot about his fascination with the man, and how his perceptions alter and change as he gets to know his subject. It made me think of myself, and my feelings towards Steve Kilbey. And not just me, but loads of other fans. We love him! Why is that? What is it about Steve Kilbey that holds so much personal power and charisma that fans the world over assume friendship or long for recognition from him? Why is he such an everyman?

There's no answer to that, he just is. He holds an enormous magnetism and charisma that draws many to him - it's in his person, physical appearance, and it's definitely in his music. Not everyone is born equal, some people just have more presence and personal power, more mass than others. And yet, for myself, I can never be as huge a Church or Kilbey fan as Robert Lurie or many other Church/Kilbey fans. I don't own everything the band or its members have ever produced. I have one solo album only, and that's Kilbey's 2008 Painkiller release (a damn brilliant record actually). And I suppose that my own artistic ego, formed from a lower-middle class midset, prevents me from being too sycophantic. Many other artists who I love appear to be, on the surface at least, quite disparate to Kilbey and the Church. There's John Lennon, and there's also Eva Cassidy, Paul Weller, Beethoven, Don Walker from Cold Chisel. Oh, Kilbey hates Cold Chisel, I think. I'm likely to be the only person in the world who, when naming two Australian bands they adore and revere, would drawl out 'Church' and 'Cold Chisel' in the same breath. Well, ostensibly I'm a Kilbey fan and a Don Walker fan. You can be a fan of both, y'know! And both bands start with 'C'! ;)

Kilbey's main influence on me would have to be his bass-playing. I would say, for me as a now (semi) serious bassist, that Kilbey would easily have to be my prime bass "hero". His bass-playing is like no other, for even when he's playing relatively simple lines his touch is so passionate and true, as if he's travailing beneath the earth's surface to its molten core to extract the depth you hear in those bass lines. I regard Steve's songwriting and recordings as possessing a quality of genius and uniqueness that I love and enjoy, but do not aspire to emulate in any way. What I'll take from sk, ultimately, is his approach to playing bass. That, and the encouragement he bestows on readers of his blog to undertake and explore their creative potentials. This encouragement has spurred me on a lot, most particularly in exploring narrative writing, and I suspect it has spurred many other of his readers too.

I met Steve once, briefly at a vegan festival that my nephew had invited me to attend, offering the man a book I was certain he'd like, a book on life the universe and everything. A week later he commented on his blog that he really enjoyed this book. I'd like to meet him again if that's to be, but not to talk about music or the Church, but more about family background and general matters. Besides, I love his blog and his perspective on things and he's the type of person I covet in my life. He lives walking distance from me too. Of course the last thing I'd do - and this applies to anyone - is to bug them unduly. People have got their families and activities and jobs to get on with in life. Blog correspondence is more than fine. It's nice that the man who gave us 'Constant in Opal' and 'Seance' all those years ago makes himself happily available through his great blog.

Kilbey and Church drummer Tim Powles produced an album for a friend of mine called Pennie back in 1997. She became my friend in subsequent years and has revealed very little about her association with Steve. I love her work very much, I had two of her EPs before hearing her full-length album that was produced and performed (bass & drums) by Steve Kilbey and Tim Powles. She now lives in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney with her musician partner and they continue to perform.

As for No Uncertainty Attached, it's a great read! I'm very impressed and influenced by the writing style, so Robert, this is now a textbook for me!! :)

And now, I myself shall leave the subject of sk alone and will be writing about other things!!

but I still love and listen to the crnch!! ; (when i ain't listening to chisel ahem!)

Friday, 18 December 2009

my fretless bass

I bought my first fretless bass on Wednesday. I'd wanted a fretless bass ever since I was 19, in an on-and-off kind of way. And during one of my Christmas shopping expeditions, I walked into Music City Sydney in Petersham on my way to and fro from one shop to the next. I immediately noticed how downscaled the shop had become since I'd last strolled in, some 12 or so months ago. I just glazed around not paying much attention to anything in particular. Until I spied a bunch of basses on one wall with orange stickers stuck onto each instrument with sale prices. A fretless bass immediately caught my eye. It had a sticker of $314, down from the tag's rrp of $449.

I had a go of it. The action was quite high. I asked the man behind the counter to lower it for me. He lowered it a little but that was as far as it could go. It's still playable but at some point I'll have to find a way of lowering it further, if that's all possible. It sounded good and played in tune (enough). I liked the markers on this instrument; basically, there were dot markers placed at the edge of the fretboard on the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, & 12 frets. That's how I like markers to be on a fretless bass, and I'd be happy if there were no markers placed at all. I don't like markers on every fret, or worse still, fret-liners on every fret. I think it defeats the purpose, enjoyment and satisfaction of playing a fretless bass if you need your hand held to find every fret. Yet it stands to reason that the more markers there are on a fretless, the less chance you have of playing out of tune - unless you've had proper training on the fretless or double bass.

After playing the bass for a fairly long while in the shop I decided to take it. I talked the guy down to 299 including a bag (he gave me a used cello bag!) and walked out the door with the new, though finger-smudged & shop-weary, bass (I'm certain I've seen this exact bass during the past few years when visiting the shop). It's a 'Stagg' branded bass that has a very useful P/J passive pickup configuration. The basic tone sounds quite good actually, very good for the price paid.

I decided to play the fretless at Wednesday night's gig. I'd never performed with a fretless in my life. I just wanted to give myself a challenge and throw myself in the deep end. I'd played some double bass in a bush band at Uni, but I'd never taken lessons on that instrument. In short, I'm totally untrained. Where I come up ok on playing fretless is that, aside from having a reasonably good ear, I tend to think of all bass playing in classical-music terms. I love Bach, and I always play on the fret as if I were playing a fretless or double bass anyway. A 4-string bass guitar is an electric equivalent to the magnificent double bass after all. I approach bass playing as if it's an orchestral instrument, even when rocking out, so that puts me in good stead to approach and apply fretless bass playing as a step up from the fretted variety.

The gig turned out very well. Zara told us it was the best we'd ever played. The guys seemed more than happy with it. For myself I felt that I played very well under the circumstances. Sometimes I really had to concentrate on what I was playing. I heard some of the passing notes were sometimes landing off-pitch, but the main notes always seemed to be spot on. I was reminded of playing trombone in high school; the trombone being an instrument that, like fretless bass, relies on ear and intuition alongside technique to find the right note.

I could take lessons in fretless playing but part of me is happy to go on with it as I am. If it becomes an obsession and I find myself wanting to improve my technique to make sure all notes are perfectly in pitch, at that point I'll buy a book on fretless technique. I walked into another music store later that afternoon that sells music tuition books and asked the sales guy if there were any books in store on fretless bass. He recommended I take lessons and asked me if I go out and see players. I told him I read from JSBach transcriptions for electric bass, thinking to myself that I really don't need anything else to learn from or be stimulated by. I have a few bass heroes who influence me enough.

Later I got on the piano to have a sing. I also accompanied Zara on guitar, and then on piano to do a cover - that song in C minor, moved up from the original A minor.

At the end of it all we took a quick stroll around the area and counted all the rabbits hopping under the bridge!

Tuesday, 15 December 2009 the movies

Tues, 15 Dec

Yesterday afternoon I decided to go to the pictures on my own. It's nice to have the autonomy to do what one likes during leave time, especially when it's contrary to everyone else appears to be doing at in that moment. So, I strolled out the door in the early afternoon, cut through Queens Park and then Centennial, arriving at Fox Studios in time for a quick bite, a coffee, and a ticket purchase to see the new blockbuster, 2012. I was looking forward to catching this film as its subject matter is of keen interest to me.

I was about to front up to the Subway stall and order my usual round of veggie wrap. Just as I was converging onto the stall front, the second stall down from Subway suddenly snared my attention. It was a wrap rotisserie shop that seemed to specialise in fancy wraps. Most of these were of the clucky variety, and not being too fond of the old chinker I decided on the safe bet of the veggie wrap. Roasted capsicum, for example, was one of the wrap's inticing ingredients. I ordered but noticed something wasn't quite right. The guy behind the counter looked too green, like he was working for a boss he barely knew in a job that he knew little about. Perhaps he was new. He called out to the cook to make a vegetarian wrap and she answered him with a question, 'vegetarian?'. A quizzical pause followed that allowed me to sense that there were missing ingredients of which I surmised I wasn't going to be informed about it. I was right, of course. I basically ended up with a circular coleslaw sandwich. It was relatively healthy, I conceded, as I muled away at the wrap with the overflowing ranch sauce and strong cheddar cheese notes. I make better wraps in my sleep, I thought, and with olives & sundried tomatoes. The piece cost me $8.80, a total wrap-off, yes. I won't be ordering from that wrap-shop again.

These petty insignificances are of squat value if we're to believe the premise of this film, that the end of the world as we know it is coming to us 3 years and 6 days hence. On the whole, the film was mightily disappointing, meshing as it did into an atypical hollywood blockbuster. So predicable it is when the hero has eighty-one lives and miraculous near-misses and comes out all-right in the end. Sometimes it works well, like 1981's Indiana Jones. In this instance, it's overbearing and frankly unbelievable.
2012 is reminiscent of 1994's Speed (with Sandra Bullock), with the added measure of the earth cracking up underneath the speeding limo/airplane/ark of the heroes & villains.

My interest in the film veered toward the science aspects, of which the premise of the world coming to an end - all speculation and sub-fiction mind you - was based upon. In 2009 the sun spurts abnormally ginormous solar flares that have a "microwave" effect upon the earth's core and mantle. There is also the magnetic effect of planetary alignment that takes place in 2012. By late-2012 the effects of this heating of the earth's interior are quick and catastrophic. Fault lines appear suddenly, apparently out of nowhere. The first major schism is the collapse of California west of the San Andreas fault-line. Within a couple of days the entire world comes crumbling down and the earth's crust is now entirely displaced (hence the term "earth crust displacement"). The earth has tipped on its axis so that Wisconsin in the USA is now the South Pole. Scary stuff.

My favourite part of the film was within the first half when everything starts going awry, leading up to the final cataclysm. I found it to be quite emotionally stirring. Although this is fiction, and a projection and a mere possibility only, I couldn't help but realise without a shadow of a doubt that the earth will give back to us what it has received. We have turned it into a dumping ground, extracting its vast, miraculous resources - that have taken millions of years to create - and spun these into a whirlpool of mass consumption and waste. No individual is to blame, we are all to blame. As depicted in the film, the planet with its earthquakes, tsunamis and crust displacement struck me as being a very logical development in how this civilisation could finally come to an end. I actually felt it was a most natural thing, that we have overburdened the planet, and like a sick dog about to cough up the last remains of its poisoned bile, it is going to mess us all up viciously. And it's actually happening. Here's what 'survival acres' had to say in his most recent e-newsletter, this morning's:

"A quick update: India torrential rain increases, Arctic coastline disintergrating, Himalayan ice disappearing, British wildlife collapsing, pollution destroying parts of Vietnam, Cantrell (Mexico) oil field in severe decline now, coral reef collapse, Louisana coast flooding, deforestation threatening villages and farmers in India, Brazil river collapse, whales dying in Italy, more coral reef collapse, Australia water collapse, Paraguay deforestation, algae blooms in Washington coast, more erosion in Alaska coasts, rising seas in Bangladesh -- good grief, I'm not even half done with page 1!"

How events are going to pan out over the next few years are anybody's guess, but the prognosis is seriously dim. Part of me feels that if we turned a blind eye to it all then our 'business as usual' way of life may just continue unabated. But I'm aware that something drastic is likely to give. Most reports of global degradation and destruction remain covert to find, unless you specifically trawl through the internet like I do. Mass media seems to hide the seemingly rampant environment downslide, other than small 3 paragraph reports on the inner pages that nonetheless ring like tiny alarm bells. And the incredulous thing is that all this is happening just as we approach December 2012!

The likeliest thing will be that nothing exceptional takes place on the winter solstice (summer for southerners) in December 2012. But there is a strong, undeniable possibility now that catastrophic earthly (and worldly) events, either before or after 2012, will come into focus as the overriding concerns of the next decade. I do hope not. But the prognosis is not good. Environmental and geological collapse, fossil fuel depletion, climate shifts that include droughts & floods are all occurring now. And one day they will hit us with a very big bang. Better then to live away from the cities than in.

No civilisation on this planet has lasted forever. They may have all believed in their time and place that theirs will last into perpetuity, but they haven't. One by one they have been destroyed by one method or another, leaving us with a few buildings and bits and pieces scattered around the globe, and as ornate and wondrous as these artifacts might be, they've all outlasted their creators and their cultures.

It could be said that no-one knows when the end of this civilisation is coming. And as I write this I'm hoping that it won't. I'm hoping that life will go on as is indefinitely. Yet I know this is fanciful thinking, the cushioned mind of a westerner who enjoys modern life (albeit in a 'hippy-ish' way). I subscribe to the idea that we do know when the end of our civilisation is approaching. We'll all feel it and sense it and this may be reflected in our culture and creative expressions just before the end.

Sometimes ideas come out on a wide scale because they reflect where the human psyche is at. We had Elvis, Beatles et al et al because they reflected, with impeccable timing, our times, and mood of the culture we lived in. A film like 2012 can come out now because it reflects our time. A decade ago the film may have been controversial, more so if it came out 20 years ago. I believe the western psyche accepts the precepts of civilisation collapse whether consciously or subconsciously. The facts are creeping up on us. The earth is heaving and ecosystems and wildlife are collapsing at a rapid rate. This is a tragedy beyond epic proportions. But I feel that this is just too big a construct for me, an individual, to deal with.

I just hope it's going to be alright and that everything turns out good in the end...

Sunday, 13 December 2009

The Church live @ The Factory Theatre

On Saturday, 12 December, myself and a good friend drove down to Marrickville to see the Church play at the Factory Theatre. We hadn't ventured into this venue previously for a rock concert and were impressed with the size and cleanliness of the large room. There were many familiar faces at the gig so that it turned out to be a fairly social, as well as ardently musical, occasion.

It was good to see the Church with my friend David. I was reminded that it was with he, more than half a lifetime ago, with whom I first went to see the Church in December 1987 at the Tivoli, the gig that more than likely premiered 'Under the Milky Way Tonight' live. And now some 22 years on, the song was yet again played by the band, and was cast off by Steven's announcement that "we are going to play....that song", swooping his left arm in the direction of Marty who commenced that familiar A minor refrain. The song went down well.

The Church have always been able to offer abundantly more than any of their greatest hits would suggest. For one thing, they were never a "hit" band. 'Unguarded Moment' & 'Almost with you' in Australia, and then 'UTMWT' internationally, is roughly the extent of their major hits. Many fans remain enamoured with the captivating depth of 1992's Priest=Aura and subsequent sonic masters, their current album Untitled #23 notwithstanding. Others love Starfish of 1988 and 'Under the Milky Way'. Some people just love 'Unguarded Moment'. I especially treasure the band's 80's EMI recordings. These recordings encapsulate the period of the band's genesis in 1980 up until 1986 when they were dropped from EMI, and include four full-length albums and three EPs. Recorded in Studio 301 in Castlereagh Street in downtown Sydney, these releases capture the buzz and electricity of the times, and to this day remain masterful examples of rock that tower over most of the remainder of their Australian contemporaries' offerings with their invention, band synergy, uniqueness, craft, lyricism, and sheer verve and magic. Not to mention timelessness.

"Magic" is a key word when describing the Church. The band that you see today has maintained the same line-up for about 13 years now. The frontline - Peter Koppes, Steve Kilbey & Marty Willson-Piper - remains unmoved from 1980. Tim Powles on drums successfully fits in and creates an 'updated' energy to the band, and superbly fills in where the great Richard Ploog from the 80s left off. In watching the Church for the tenth, twelfth, fifteenth time or whatever, I'm struck again by the power of their music. It is the suggested and felt power of uber-dimensionally, outer space and molten lava combined. Many of their songs seem to encapsulate the rise of fall of civilisations, it is that powerful. Steven is a master composer and bassist whose playing is as rock solid as the history of the planet itself. Of the guitarists, Marty is driving and passionate, Peter is deft yet sonically dazzling. These men are of a piece, a tribe. After almost 30 years of being together, this quartet that had its genesis in Canberra before properly forming in Sydney in 1980, The Church have a retained a very loyal worldwide following and remain coveted and followed by many fans internationally.

The Church performed an immensely satisfying set that mixed a range of older tunes with songs off their brilliant new album, Untitled #23. 'Happenstance', 'Pangaea' and 'Operetta' from the new album all feature that classically grand, "aromatic" Church sound with captivating lyrics, melodies, inventive arrangements and chord changes. 'Operetta' sees Steve relinquish his bass and concentrate on vocals only, performing the song with an abandonment and theatricality he probably not have dared do in the past. 'Theatre and its double' with its haunting bass/drum drone and the incessant D minor guitar pattern is one of my favourite Church songs in a live setting.

On 'Operetta', and about three other songs, Marty takes over on bass with Steve playing Marty's Fender Jag (except on 'Operetta' that Steve sings solo). Marty brings his own bass to the gig, a Rickenbacker, while Steve plays his beloved 60s custom Fender Jazz like it was glued to him. Both basses sound tremendously good and its hard to decide which if any of these basses are better than the other. Peter Koppes himself played a lot of guitars during the set, including a Maton electric 12-string that sounded hot and zingy.

The band were in fine form and a positive energy & sense of enjoyment exuded from all members. Peter Koppes was even seen to crack a smile on occasion. Steve's manner was friendly and open and only once did his mischievous sense of humour reveal itself when he said "...we're going to play some Chisel songs...very soon". My laugh was more of low cackle as I thought to myself that I'm likely to be the only person in the country, indeed the world, who reveres only two Australian bands that are in most ways utterly disparate. And now, just a few minutes ago, I went into Steve Kilbey's blog to discover in the 'comments' section of his most recent update that one punter called out for 'Khe Sahn' during the gig, so that explains that!

I loved the choice of songs the band performed. They played songs from as way back as The Blurred Crusade album of 1982; 'You Took' & 'An Interlude' sounding as originally fresh and vital today as they would have 27 years ago. These songs featured long extemporizations within the middle sections that display just how good the band are at building up a song to awesome heights. It is rock in its most elemental, yet three-dimensional form. That is why the Church are so special; they are a band who mix molten core and ancient, elemental rock with the uber-dimensionality of outer space and the immortal myths of other universes and planes of awareness, almost naturally and effortlessly - there are none other quite like them.

Other crowd favourites included songs from 1988's Starfish, 'North south east west', 'Reptile' & 'Hotel womb', the latter as a final encore. Especially close to most people's hearts were the songs performed from 1986's Heyday, an album many consider to be the Church's finest. The band commenced with 'Tantalised' and continued on with 'Myrrh' for the band's first encore. Aside from these well-known tracks, it was great to hear a song from their 1984 EP Remote Luxury, 'A month of Sundays'.

On the whole it was a great Church gig. The band bring with them almost 30 years of playing together and with that, a vast, accomplished back catalogue and a rich musical heritage spanning from 1980 all the way the present time. Their creativity at this point appears undimmed so that there are likely to be more albums and gigs in future. The Church have always offered something extraordinary, for no other band appear to delve deeper into the possibilities of rock as these men do, in all of its sonic wonder and possibilities. They are a magic combination of players and always have been. Long live the Church!

Thursday, 10 December 2009


I spent a few days in Hobart recently. From last Friday evening to Tuesday night. Most of the time I spent time with my sister, nephew, and brother-in-law (and their gorgeous tortoiseshell cat, Catiana!) I found plenty of time however to go out and traipse about the city and suburbs, to get a feel for this fine little city, and to ponder what my long-term relationship to the place might be.

It fascinates me how much alike the surrounds of Hobart match those of Cairns. Both cities are green and lush with cavernous mountains surrounding the metropolis as seen from the bay areas. There is one, palpable, gigantic difference between the two cities, of course. One of these cities is situated dead smack in the tropical zone and is always hot, the other, some 3-4,000km south, is snugly shelved in the cool-temperate zone. Why they appear similar is that they're both at the far ends of the Great Dividing Range that flourishes up and down near the east coast of Australia from Far North Queensland all the way down to Victoria and then Tasmania. I feel thankful for this range. If it weren't for this long snake of highlands and mountains Australia would by-and-large be a generally flat place. And it's great to have snow so close by in a country that's more renowned for its heat rather than its cold weather, of which it has more of its fair share, particularly in the highland areas. Besides, you'll never have snow in Cairns, and you certainly won't have crocodiles trawling the Tasmanian rivers!

I spent Saturday morning wandering around Salamanca Markets by Hobart's piers. The buildings along Salamanca Place are all made of lush sandstone, built around the early 1800s. These nationally-renowned markets specialise in local produce. I bought some local fudge, and also on offer was some wonderful locally-made honey and jams. There were various fruity aperitifs and cool-climate wine. My favourite goods were the woodwork and carvings made out of Tasmanian Huon Pine. This pine has a gorgeous, vibrant golden-yellow complexion running through it, as if the wood itself remains an alive, speaking element even its manufactured state. And it smells delicious too, a smell that is like a tonic for all the world's ills. Huon Pine is one of the miracles of Tasmania, and is currently a protected species as their population were almost hacked to death by European settlers who used the exceptionally strong pine for their construction of boats.

Hobart is a relatively small city with a population of about 2-300,000. After a few days there I felt that calming pins-and-needles sensation begin to take over my body. I feel that Hobart would be a fine place to live given that good jobs were available. I think it's a suitable place to raise a family. The climate is healthy and equable. I quite love the summer weather in Hobart. The summers there are akin to a British south-coast summer, with warm sun yet cool shade and breeze, with cool nights. Winters thankfully, remain milder than British winters on the coastline. House prices in Hobart are reasonable, especially so when you compare them to the insane prices you pay in Sydney. (Imagine paying a lifetime's salary for a shoebox - that's Sydney).

The inner-city areas of Hobart contain my favourite suburbs. I'm especially fond of the cafe, restaurant strip of North Hobart, of which many of the cafes have a 19th century English feel to them. I think Hobart's the kind of place you can settle into most comfortably. After a few days there you noticeably feel the revs of your body wind down so that you're settled into a more 'elemental' state of thinking and living. Your body will thank you for living there, and so will your soul.

Nonetheless I was glad to be back in Sydney. Like a junk addict I needed the fix or "buzz" of this big city to realign me again. Yes, realign me into a more fast-paced, determined, speedy existence that is now firmly embedded into my DNA, so that I'm unsure if it can be fully dissolved in this lifetime.

One day, given circumstance and situation, I may head down to the southern city and lay my life, soul and being there, and probably be a lot happier for it somehow.

Until then I have to say I enjoy the junky-fix of this big city too much, sometimes...

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Songwriters Day @ Darling Harbour

Saturday 21 November was Songwriters Day at Darling Harbour, Sydney. The event is hosted annually by the Darling Harbour Authority for Australian Music Week, and organised and co-hosted by the SSA, the Songwriting Society of Australia. Of this purely volunteer organisation, it is Ken Stewart of the band Urban Guerillas who does the lion's share of the organising and groundwork, so that's a terrific effort Ken!

There's been a heatwave over Sydney during the past three days, and even though temperatures didn't reach quite as high as anticipated on Saturday, it was nonetheless pretty damn hot. It was clammy and humid with no refreshing breeze, but thankfully the event was on the Saturday rather than on the Sunday as the Sunday had become very hot indeed. People came and performed and put on a good show despite the heat, and the sound quality was good, so all were happy with that.

This is Pete Scully, president of the Society. He does good work liaising with other songwriting bodies and is always keen to find the best available avenues for songwriters to get their music heard and out there. I think he's the main contact for Radio Skidrow.

There were two active stages, the Harbourside Amphitheatre for acoustic solos & duos, and the Palm Grove stage for bands. I'd booked to accompany ZaraMeow but ended up doing a set myself as the small stage was slightly ahead of time. And later I played rock'n'roll bass with the Velvet Road. So I can't say I wasn't musically satiated by the end of it all.

Me solo.

ZaraMeow & Ross.
Me playing a bass with lots of knobs on it.

Velvet Road = happy bluesy poppy rocky rolly

These guys were just splended...I've no idea who they were. He was a great singer and the other guy was a marvellous jazzy keyboard player with an equally fine voice.

Pete Thompson, Lucille, Ross & ZaraMeow. The half-full Heini closest to the camera is mine. I relished that beer, I really did. A very memorable drink on a hot day. That was my second beer. Just what I needed to play with the Velvets 15 minutes later.

Mick Elsley on djembe & Ken Stewart on guitar/vocal, aka Urban Guerillas in acoustic mode. Ken of course being the organiser of this event on behalf of the SSA.

Rob Conway came all the way from Mudgee to play some well-crafted, lyrical jazz tunes.

Nick Punal performing some songs off his latest album plus a few newies.

Gracedigger was an awesome rock dude!!!

Later I dropped off Zara & Lucille at Balmain and decided to go for a walk to wear off the beers I'd drunk. I went down to East Balmain and back again, sitting for a few minutes to soak in the harbour view, taking my shoes off and letting my feet breathe.

It turned out to be a quite satisfying day, despite the unrelenting daggers of heat that made us all dream of beaches and swimming pools. Water water everywhere and not a drop to drink...

Thursday, 12 November 2009


Today's the day I bussed up to the Prince of Wales outpatient clinic to collect the results of last week's blood test. I had to make an appointment at the clinic to collect and consult with the medico. It's been 9 months since I last had a blood test, and preceding that test by 3 months was a previous test. The star figure, the number in question in all my blood readings, is my HbA1c.

Today's was 7.2.

In Nov 2008 it was 7.3. I improved it down to 6.6 by February 2009. Now it's climbed back up. In short, the HbA1c measures the amount of glucose present in hemoglobin over a period of about 10-12 weeks. It's a fairly good indicator of how one's at with diabetes control, in measuring the average amount of glucose in the bloodstream over a period of three months.

And my control ain't disastrous, but it does need improving. Otherwise they're gonna force the meds back on me and this time around I won't be in a position to turn the other cheek and silently spit the little white pills out onto the ground.

I noticed that my fasting glucose was 9.6. That's bad, really. HbA1c and fasting glucose should be in the 4.0-6.0 as normal-range readings. For diabetics this figure can move up a bit, into the sixes. The fact that I've hit 7+ means that I'll have to be monitored closely; by the time I return to the clinic up at Prince of Wales Hospital, Randwick, in March 2010, they'd like me to come down ideally to around the 6.5 mark.

What to do, what to do....

I suppose I need to watch the diet more, especially when I'm doing take-away. And keep the alcohol to a minimum too. I need to relax and slither my body into some kind of yogic sync, but I'm not particular a yoga kind of guy. I just need to be vigilant and keep my eye on it. I'm hoping I can get my readings back down to the mid-sixes.

If I don't do anything, and hover around the '7+' figure for a few more years, my slip will eventually begin to show, the cracks will burst open very crudely. I'll develop complications, seemingly out of nowhere. At worst I'll develop chronic renal failure, I'll require amputation, and I'll go blind. And my dick will fall off too.

So it's in my best interests to maintain my health as much as possible.

My cholesterol was higher than usual, 4.8, which isn't a bad figure in itself, but for diabetics the optimum figure is below 4. Thankfully my eyes are in perfect health, as are my kidneys. There was no protein in my urine; urine in the kidneys being a firm indicator that the endocrine functions are going awry.

In other words, I better act while I'm ahead.

I don't mind if I have to go back to medication. It'll help keep me in check. I don't have to worry about this for a few months and until then I'll battle on to reverse the condition, to go under 7 as far down as possible.

When I reversed diabetes originally I achieved something that was nothing short of the miraculous. I went from the deathly 16+ HbA1c, down to - at its very best - 5.2, smack-bang in the normal range. Since then it's steadily crept up. Can my body do it of its own volition? Can I get my HbA1c down to below 7, below 6 even?

Time will tell.

Until then I remain strangely unfussed.

Paul Hewson shooting star

i'm in the sunshine A mate of mine produces a monthly songwriter newsletter which goes out to a hundred or so mainly Sydney-based...