Sunday, 18 December 2011

digital rocks

Finally it's happening.  I've been waiting for the opportunity to lay down some word-threads for quite some time now, but work and work-related projects have taken over my life.  Even now I find I'm too tired to write.  I've had many plans for my writing - to which I instigated this blog in the first place as something of a launching pad - and I now have a fair idea of where to take things: critiquing, creative non-fiction, passionate mumbo-jumbo and the like, but the lack of free time proves to be the ongoing stumbling-block to satisfactory writing.  Anyway, as it's often said, if I want it enough I'll make the time.

Writing - narrative writing - is a secondary talent for me, and not a primary one.  Music is primary for me.  I pick up an instrument, play it, record with it, and if sounds good to me then I'm happy.  With writing I find I need constant reassurance and constructive criticism from others.   I find it much harder to qualify writing compared to music.  At least with music, you can hear it and make a definable albeit subjective decision as to what you think of it.  With writing, you may think you've done a good job but I always find it difficult to come to some definite conclusion about the quality.  After all, writing is about affecting a series of words separated with punctuation to create a definable, overall quality of 'good writing', but I can only grasp this concept instinctually.  Bottom line: I want to work on my writing and improve on it and hopefully take it further.  I've two articles submitted with, and that's a hopeful start.

I've been involved with an ARC-funded project at work to digitise our production archives.  I've been using state of the art digitising machines that create two distribution files (windows & mac), one edit file (mac), and one archival standard lossless JPEG2000 file - which I call 'digital rocks' - with each passing of the original tape.  These JPEG2K files absorb a tremendous amount of data, about 30 gigabytes per hour of footage.  I found it a moving experience to set the tape to record and watch productions dating back some 23 or so years with many of the faces seen on-screen having since moved on to fabulous careers.  I like to watch and gauge the energy of the time.  The times seemed a lot more innocent way back when, even as recent 17-18 years ago.  Hairstyles were bigger, and slicker.  There was more of a feeling of buoyancy in the productions, as if the actors could sense a future ahead  for their industry and themselves. It's been an honour to have taken part in this innovative project despite it having taken up so much of my time and energy.  I've learned so much, including setting up network drives, and all of these new skills will snowflake into my CV eventually when the time is right.

I took a work-related trip to Melbourne just prior to taking delivery of these digitising machines.  This was my 4th or 5th visit to Melbourne, and for the first time in all these trips I felt 'yep', would love to live here.  For the first time, I clicked.  It's an appropriate city to have a fulfilling working life; it's industrious yet coolly chic at the same time.  Not so heady and distracting as Sydney.  With the wide streets, the trams, the architecture, the chic lanes veining the city streets, the cold weather, those awesome little cafes and eateries everywhere, I found Melbourne to be wholly enticing.  I could live there given half a chance, and I can understand how many people prefer Melbourne over scatty, temperamental, and sometimes bloody horrible Sydney.  In some ways it felt to me like the Toronto of the southern hemisphere.

I'm still playing ukulele.  I'm going to the ukulele club in Balmain on Monday night for their Christmas party.  Getting involved in the ukulele scene has been a good thing for me, partly for the music, but also  that it coerces me to be social, to get talking to people in a complimentary setting.   I dislike certain aspects of my personality and I find I can't quite eradicate these traits no matter how much I try to change.  I often project a diffident, aloof persona, alternately abrupt and awkward, who finds it uncomfortable doing the small-talk dance with people.  Though once I get to know people, and they me, I become a lot friendlier. My sweet nature starts to surface.  And even then, my friendliness seems somewhat contrived to me.  Almost like the friendliness I effuse is an equivalent to a diet soft-drink.  Not always, but often enough.  I'm only rueful for having blown away some potentially good friendships because of this taciturn, intense manner that I can't help but project and find difficult to turn around.  Sometimes I just scare people away with my eagerness and passion; I overdo it.  I feel like I'm in a Woody Allen film.  But bugger it, I do love to communicate, and I can't do it any other way but my own.

The weekend was one of musical diversity.  I did some busking at The Rocks on the Friday night with members of my ukulele club.  And on Saturday night I saw The Church at the Enmore Theatre, performing three of their albums in their entirety from three different decades.  It's a bit like reading an illustrated children's book followed by the Lord of the Rings trilogy, over two consecutive nights.  The best part about the busking was in simply soaking up the atmosphere of the Rocks.  It's lovely on a summer's twilight evening, and the 'moonlight markets' are fantastic.  All types of people were out and about, mainly nice family people.  Everyone was out to have a nice time out and one could feel it in the delicate, bouncy carnival atmosphere of a cool summer's evening.

My horizons are looking beyond Christmas, beyond some family project work, onto some rest and out-time from work.  New ideas, peace, walks, beach, reading, trees, and hopefully some new inspiration(s).   The new working year lies beyond that, but I won't set my mind there until my feet do, when it's time.

Sunday, 25 September 2011

Ukes not EM radiation

I've posted an article about ukulele in Suite 101.  

I've returned to learning-up, playing and performing with the ukulele with a view to making this my 'main' instrument.  The quest for me is divine the instrument's complexity, its magic, contrasting as it does with its face-value simplicity.

Ukulele's a great way to meet new people.  Carrying your ukulele around is a bit like walking your dog. If you meet someone else holding a ukulele there's no barrier to striking up some conversation.  It's real, it's vital; the ukulele represents that sensitive area in the solar-plexus or the human psyche that is innocent and luminous.   Barriers are gladly overcome with ukuleles in hands.  And like dogs, we often want to know and chat about which breed of uke the other is holding.

You can't really have any of that guitar-attitude bullshit with the ukulele which is one reason I find playing it so refreshing.  The ukulele disarms all sense of competition or swagger - one would hope.   

I have or have had this feeling that if I stick to playing uke it's going to change my life.  And in a way I can say that it already has.  I purchased a fine, fledgling ukulele magazine from its editor at a ukulele club last month and read it from cover to cover.  I was struck by the article on songstress Shelley O'Brien and was particularly intrigued as to how she'd been a pianist and singer before coming to the ukulele.  I had this firm sense I'd like her music, and 'like' I have.  She has one song in particular called 'Clay' that has totally inspired me and stirred all my senses; I haven't felt this way about a new song in a long, long time.

The positives of life surround the ukulele's auric field.  Rather than spreading more friggin' electro-magnetic radiation, we spread the love, the connection, the radiance, the light, with the ukulele.

I suspect this new quest of mine to divine the ukulele's complexity or magic is a symbolic reflection of my deep inner desire to divine more purity within myself, to overcome the psychic beast, the dragon of negativities and impurities.

Wishing you well, U-R!

Sunday, 14 August 2011


To me, the magic of songwriting isn't so much about writing a great song or being able to just write songs.  I think the magic lies in witnessing talented writers who've been granted the opportunity and freedom to write a string of great albums that are touched by that certain 'spark' or spirit; zeitgeist.  All styles of music apply, as do all art-forms.  Channeling the zeitgeist never lasts for any artist; all who've been blessed with the opportunities and freedoms to create great work must one day forgo it, either by the times that have moved on, by death, by change, by life.

Where we can all think of numerous artists whose work is charged by the comet of genius within a certain trajectory of time and space, my favourite example of this is Joni Mitchell.    I love how Joni's first two albums of the late '60s: folky, sensitive, albeit startlingly & piercingly deep given her uber-creativity and free use of open-tunings, are nonetheless akin to compilation albums.  These are songs she'd written that had been made into fine folk-albums.  Her third album, 'Ladies of the Canyon' brought out keener melodies, wider arrangements and more vivid stories that somehow epitomised late-60s California better than any other artist did at the time.  If she'd stopped there, or kept at that level, no-one would have questioned her undoubtable talent.

From 'Canyon' onward, Mitchell's albums became artistic, musical 'statements' rather than merely series of songs stuck on two sides of vinyl, and with that, she channeled the very heights of expressive songwriting, moving further and way above where she'd been with 'Canyon'.   There's her best-known and loved album, 'Blue', followed by 'For the Roses' which was a quieter, more somnambulistic piece, reflecting the wilds and coolness of Canada where she'd moved to for a while.  This leads to another hit, 'Court and Spark'.  'Hissing of Summer lawns' was a thematic departure to the intense introspection that fuelled the previous few albums, and this in turn led to the masterful 'Hejira'. 

I love how each album from 'Blue' to 'Hejira' link seamlessly with a sonic and thematic continuity.  'For the Roses' and 'The Hissing of Summer Lawns' tend to act like conduits for the albums that precede and come after them.  These are great records in their own right although they're not as immediately captivating as are 'Blue', 'Court and Spark', or 'Hejira'.  'Hejira' is magnificent.  Joni was at the very height of her poetic, expressive powers with 'Hejira', infused as it is with a hypnotic magic that was likely aided by Jaco Pastorius' bass for many of its tracks.

And Joni continued to make great music.  But it's for these 70's albums she's most remembered for.  These records were charged with greatness, and pure, unfettered artistry.

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

a cure for writer's block (ahem..)

Shit - I have in mind to "formally" review the Cure at the Sydney Opera House for the Vivid Festival concert for "sweet one oh one" but I'm stuck in this quagmire of trying to make every sentence right, every word right, every passive phrase reversed so that the active is thrust out in front (always), and it's tiring me out like writer's quicksand. 

So this is it, the looser-uperer blog.  After this I'm hoping that I'll be able to draft that thing properly so that a formal review is written and that it gets posted and I can start earning big bucks for my efforts.  Why, my Neil Finn article has been sitting in the "sweet 1 oh one" for over six months now and already I've accumulated 40c.  

Ok. Cure.  Best concert ever.  They performed their first three albums with two intervals in between each album, coming back afterward for three encores.  It was...sensational.  I couldn't believe it was happening, but there it was.  I'd seen the Cure a few times before but this was special.  It was special for the auspiciousness of the occasion and for those classic, iconic albums they performed live.  It was also special because, for perhaps the first time in my life, I felt I was somewhere at a specific time and place where many people the world over wanted to be that very moment.  And I was there.  I'm not much of a patriot but that night I felt very wonderful to be in Sydney.

The bizarre thing about all this is that the night before finding out that the Cure were coming to perform at the Vivid festival, I decided to go into the Cure's facebook page for no reason other than I just had a feeling or hunch to read about what they were doing.  I read Robert's most recent update carefully, scrutinising it word for word; it read something along the lines of the Cure will play this x concert this year (not Vivid) and will not play absolutely any other concerts unless they are posted here (on Facebook)...and he went to elaborate to make the point very clear.  Why did I go into that page to which I've never actually done, and read and scrutinise and ponder that message?  The Vivid concerts were announced the very next day.  Well, I do have a sixth sense about things so I'll put it down to that.

I wasn't planning on going along.  A mate of mine insisted we try for tickets and by some miraculous fortune got hold of some.  I was very glad he did.  The Church played at the Opera House a couple of months beforehand and my inertia stopped me from ticket buying and going, to my regret.  But I did see the Cure instead, and it was utterly lovely.

Three Imaginary Boys: you have to realise that live music in 2011 is much different in sound quality to post-punk recordings of 1978/79.  You got to hear the music in all its lushness and flavour, particularly Smith's angular, often unusual chording.  The feel to this music was cold-climate, almost Nordic, with tangible, emotional mood and flavour.  The big difference was Simon Gallup's live bass-playing in contrast to the flamboyant, almost funky playing of original bassist Michael Dempsey who had originally recorded on the album.  Gallup, to his credit, maintained his weighty, leaden sound that is so integral to the Cure sound while gamely replicating all of the intricate runs of Dempsey's, minus perhaps a few of those funky octave flicks.  And he managed to maintain his low-slung bass poses and movements around the stage without compromising his style.  

You just had to be there for the intro, the first song, '10:15 Saturday night', the audience went nuts.

Seventeen Seconds and Faith: this is where the Cure really settled in a style that was uniquely their own. Seventeen Seconds is often regarded as the Cure's finest album.  Here we had Roger O'Donnell augment the previous trio with his piano.  He played those instrumentals passionately; these stood out in this live setting in contrast to their muted presence on record.  "Three" featured an improvised 'happy birthday Simon' from Robert.   The songs were alive, dense sounding, magnificent.  The crowd loved in particular 'A Forest', 'Play for today', 'At night'.   How the audience swooned when the opening notes on keyboard and then guitar were played on 'A Forest'!

The fervour carried into Faith with the crowd dancing away to 'Primary' and gaping at the sonic beauty of 'Other voices', 'All cats are grey', and the title-track 'Faith'.  For Faith the Cure were joined by co-founding member Laurence "Lol" Tolhurst, becoming now the Cure quintet.  He bashed away fervently at percussion and some keyboard, adding to the mix intensity, nostalgia and celebration.

And they came back for three encores, as a trio, quartet, and finally quintet.  They played the songs that made it onto the Boys Don't Cry album that weren't on Three Imaginary Boys such as the celebrated title track, the debut single 'Killing an Arab', 'Plastic Passion' and 'World War'.  They played all those early b-sides that Robert suggested " might know better than us" and one track off their fourth album, 'Hanging Garden'.

For their last encore Robert announced that "something funny happened after that last song" referring to the link that broke and then spawned the poppy/funky 'Let's go to Bed' after the severe Pornography album of a few months earlier.  'The Walk', 'Lovecats', and that was it.   A tremendous, magnificent concert.

They were special, he was special, still looking good from a distance with that handsome wide face, flat nose, large eyes and copious hair.  Most of all there is his gift for music-making that has found world-wide appeal.

During the intermissions I couldn't help but notice that people looked a little glum as they were standing in those crowded lines for their over-priced drinks (i bet Smithy didn't have to buy his drinks and he, if anyone, can afford them...).  People looked sad, distracted, the subtle nose out of joint look in the drink queues, a stark contrast to the concert hall mood.  I suppose people were glum that they weren't Robert Smith, that they didn't look like him, didn't have his hair, his money, his gift, and had to go to work the very next day in jobs they'd rather not be doing.  Oh well, nothing on the surface lasts.  Enjoy it while it's here.

It was a very special occasion.  I was very fortunate to go.  I look forward to it coming out on DVD at some point.

Saturday, 7 May 2011

the end of the X

All these photos taken in July 2008
Perhaps the most iconic of Sydney's many singer-songwriter nights had its final gig last Monday night.  We're talking about a place everyone called "the X".  Sadly, the pub has been sold to a pub-entrepreneur who is infamous for ripping out the p/a systems and destroying any vestiges of the live music that in the past had served each venue so well and the people and performers who had involved themselves with it.

Monday nights at the X were a great deal more than just a singer-songwriter night.  There are many of these all over Sydney, and many fine ones too.  With the X there was the location, the room and the buzz all combined; making it a creative and social hub with few comparisons.

The X is situated on Foveaux Street, Surry Hills, just at the base of the steep hill with the one-way traffic running towards Elizabeth Street and Central Railway Station down towards the southern end of the city.  It's one of those places that captures a spirit and buzz of generations past, and with it, a charged sense of the present moment.  You feel the clammy though enticing sense of the working-class eras in all of the furtive terraces adjoined to each other in those side-streets, so well-portrayed in novels such as Ruth Park's 'The Harp in the South'.  You sense a great deal of bohemianism in the air, or sense of a 'charge', or city 'rush'.   It is a perfect example of the upside to city living, where you take on a creative buzz or aliveness from the feel of the time and place.  I feel a buzz in and around the X - albums like Chisel's 'Breakfast at Sweethearts' or the Church's 'Of Skins and Hearts' needle in my brain as I walk around Foveaux Street at any hours of the day or night.  (Studio 301 where the Church recorded their early albums is only a 10-15 minute walk away).  Needless to say there'll be less bohemianism in the air in Foveaux Street now that the X's live music scene is destroyed.

An elegant bar with a warm, inviting atmosphere is (was) attached to the cavernous music area where people would play, meet and mingle.

Below is former Kanuk John Chesher who ran the night for seven years.  He really did a great thing in building this night up.  He is a very stylish player and singer.

Admittedly I only attended the X on Monday nights semi-occasionally and when I did it was mostly to watch and say hello to a few people.  It's the sort of place that was just great to visit as well as to play at.

There's always been an astounding range of talent presented to pub-goers and other players at the X on a Monday night.  It was the perfect place for beginners, for established singer-songwriters to try out new songs and perhaps promote their other gigs.  There were novices, instrumental geniuses, singers with incredible operatic voices.  I've always been amazed at how, as one example, one person with their acoustic guitar (or piano) can be so individuated as a performer or writer; that everyone carries with them their own unique style and sound despite sharing the minimal tools as performers, their customary guitar and voice.  I've always loved and been inspired by that, thereby respecting everyone's talents and uniqueness as artists in the process.

I've met many crucial people at the X, before and during the Monday night Chesher era.  I've met Gav from Velvet Road, ZaraMeow, and Pennie Lennon and other great people at the X.  It's that sort of place.  In what is a vast and often stand-offish city, the X is one of the few places where like-minded people could join together and mingle and be free to socialise and to immerse themselves in a creative and charged atmosphere.  For this reason, and personally in that I've met so many people there, its closing is a sad event.  I know too that many other musical partnerships and relationships were formed at the X.

Tuesday night jazz-jams weren't bad either.  They're now gone, too.

John Chesher below advising on the mixing desk.

The last Monday night at the X on 2 May went on until 12:45 in the morning!  Ironically I had a headache and only came for a short while before going home.  It was a packed out night.  Funnily enough I'm not rueful or upset about the discarding of music at the X.  Needless to say I won't be returning to the X.  Life changes, life moves on.  Surry Hills will be all that more poorer because of this venue disappearing from the live music-map but the zietgeist is bound to spring its multi-thronged head someplace else.  That's the cycle of life.  It moves on.  

Goodbye, X.

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

the pigmy

There are no problems in my life.  No tangible, real problems.  I've no problems with circumstances, no problems with people, no problems with family, no problems with friends and loved ones, no problems with work.  Any foreseen problems in any of these areas are summarily dealt with; life goes on clearly.

There may have been problems in the past, but there are no problems now.  No real problems.  Sure I'm depend on my job for my livelihood, but doesn't everyone?  And for those that don't, are they any happier?

In fact, from a moment to moment basis, excluding past circumstance and future speculation, some aspects of my life may be considered to be 'perfect', or near perfect.  If "perfection" is about 80-90% good and 10-20% then I'm definitely in this category of doing well for my self and situation within the context of coping and living in a large city.

But there seems to be one problem, one massive almost insurmountable problem.

This problem, if it could be called that, is an energetic problem though no less substantive.  It is the problem of dealing with an unwanted guest, in my own body - a residual ball of emotional pain that seems to be permanently lodged within my stomach region.

Life now seems to be a battle between the forces of good - my body, my being - versus this dark ball of energetic discomfort that sits right there under my solar plexus and that I seem to be aware of all hours of the day.  Sometimes it vanishes but invariably it makes its return.  The more that maintain my awareness of this energetic sod inside of me, as I seem to be these days, the more this thing is staking its claim as the aggressive squatter who has no intention of vacating its premises whatsoever.

I've read and listened to much about this energetic ball of pain that is ensconced in almost everyone in this existence to varying degrees.  I know how to be rid of it.  However, being rid of this ball of psychic muck involves invoking the classic paradox of a technique that is fundamentally very simple, yet unreachingly difficult.  It involves focussing or meditating on the ball of pain using the pure sensation of the body without allowing the ball of pain to move, to go into the brain and make one think about the painful past which only adds to the ball of pain, to eventually dissolve it.  It does this because the accumulated ball of muck can not withstand the purer life energies that come into and animate each body. This is so damn difficult.  But that's where I'm at, I can't turn back.  My pure sensation is the lance to defeat this thing in the stomach that wants to come up and think about the past, make me jealous, make me resentful, draining my well-being in process.

Well, half of the battle is in knowing what's going on.  But it is so hard to dissolve this alien thing, this psychic ball of unhappiness.  And even by discussing it in these terms, by giving the thing credence by acknowledging it, only adds to it.

Don't think about the past.  Don't look to see what others have.  If something needs to be done, take action.  Be true to the situation.  Act and look but don't dwell on the past or compare what others have.   Oh how easier said than done.  It's easy now in the confines of my cosy room but one must be vigilant in those vulnerable moments, when you're out in the world during a busy day and you're walking down the street, rushing about.  A thought comes up into the awareness - bang!  You get emotional, think about the past, and it's wash, spin, and rinse with the ball of pain that takes over the body and its thought processes.

Geez I'm fucking sick of this thing - just wish it would vanish.  It doesn't seem to want to just fuck off though.  It's precisely like the squatters that keep put in their premises holding a gun out to any copper or law enforcement agent threatening to step in and remove them from their digs.  This thing is not welcome in me, but it won't leave without a god-awful fight.  

I haven't been playing as much music, nor have I been writing much - two of the activities I love and need in my life.  I feel that the conquest of energetic unhappiness is that which needs most, if not all, of my devotion and attention.  My frequent walks into the wondrous hinterland or along the sea are only a temporary panacea really.  After a while the dark, pungent cloud reasserts itself, gets into my brain to make me think so as to generate emotional negativities, and I'm off again.

But as I write this I'm aware of the energetic good in my body, which is in all bodies.  But the sensation of the good is far more subtle, less tangible, than the emotional pain body.  It is there nonetheless - take a few deep breaths and focus on the energy in the hands, arms, legs, feet - it's a good sensation.  I'm aware of gratitude and being grateful for all I have, which is much indeed.  I have much to give and to serve with.

No matter how much good I perceive or how grateful I am, there's no doubt about it, this life is a battle with the dirty rotten spoiler, the alien, the psychic ball of past, of emotional pain, that has gathered in my body and seems to have taken its lodged itself most comfortably (uncomfortably for me) at the feet of my solar plexus.  There's no choice left for me other than to face it and deal with it rightly.  I can't run from it - I'm too self-aware for that.  But it's a battle alright, for to die to this alien thing in the body is a darn difficult process.  Because when you sense you're making progress, the thing will distract you one way or another, and often quicker than your consciousness can perceive with.  It is dark mercury.

And yet it has to be done, it just has to be done.  And I won't be turning back.

Friday, 22 April 2011

Yass, Wee Jasper, Berrima

Prior to Easter I took off on a two-day road trip down to Yass, situated at the westbound edge of the Great Dividing Range.  Yass is just over three hours drive from Sydney.  No-one goes to Yass for the sake of it.  Yass is a pretty, though pleasantly downbeat town of about 5,000 people and it's very much a passerby, truck-stop sort of town.  It's generally a wool centre, but for me I was attracted to rolling hills, space, sheep, cows, and I happily encountered all of these.  I also wanted to be far enough from Sydney to avoid vestiges of cosmopolitanism that tend to creep in up in satellite villages surrounding the city,  without having to drive too far.  Here, in Yass, the cafes and shopfronts were delightfully ordinary, and I reveled in the peaceful feeling you find in a small town away from the big city.

Monday Morning in Yass is slow and sanguine.  The big city, even in its quietest moments, can in no way compare.  Below is a photo of a local park with the big trees set behind the playground swings.

Yass is about 600-700 metres above sea level.  This moderate elevation enhances seasonal contrasts and attracts lovely, fresh air all year around.

Venturing out to where I needed to be...

Here's a rock with an animated face that looks something like a prehistoric lizard.

Wee Jasper is a tiny settlement about an hour's drive south of Yass.  It was only 52 kilometres south but the drive was often windy and even treacherous so it took me longer than an hour to reach this destination.  I wasn't about to risk anything in my old beaten-up Hyundai!

Here's a cobblestone church set amidst Wee Jasper Australiana fauna.  Wee Jasper is in a valley and is settled on a lake.

I came to Wee Jasper as it's a focal point of the long Hume-Hovell walk that takes days to do.  The Hume-Hovell walk commences at Yass and travels all the way down to Albury on the Victorian border. I only did a small stretch of it in the one day I had, but it was a most marvelous walk, probably the loveliest bushwalk I've ever done!

This was my final stop before turning back.  I stayed close to an hour at this spot.  It was all up about a 300 metre climb to reach.

It was utterly glorious.  The air was so delicate and so fresh, full of subtle fragrance and purity, untainted by nought.  I was the only person hiking.  It felt timeless to be where I was.  It could have been Woodstock 1969 or California - the sense of time and place disintegrated into something altogether more joyous and timeless.  I was elated, so happy!!!  My pledge, when I finally turned away, was to keep as much of this energy in my body as I could, particularly when I was to be back in the city with its grinding, oppressive ways.

Purity, love, bliss.

Saw quite a few cows and sheep.  Loved them!!

Loved driving through all these moo-cows!  Loved the sounds they made, "moo" "moo" "moo".  They were very sweet and gentle even though some of them were quite huge.  I couldn't help but notice, being a city boy, that these cows didn't use toilet paper.  Each cow had a shiny amber rear-region.  At least it was grass they'd been eating.  Cow-pat don't smell so bad..

Murrumbidgee river on the way back to Yass.  Sublime countryside.

It's no accident that in my blog profile I list "tiny towns and abandoned railway stations" as one of my likes.  It's tiny towns and abandoned railway stations where I find my inner bliss and peace, a sense that all things pass but remain, in some joyous and spirited way, eternal.

Autumn leaves.

Prettiness by the Hume river, Yass.  This was my second day.  No city hustle-and-bustle here.

By now, on my way back to Sydney, I passed by Berrima which is situated in the Southern Highlands.  It's an exceedingly pretty town and is about 650 metres above sea level.

 And here am I in a winery near Yass.  I'm not really into wine at all but I visited a couple of wineries so I could imitate Paul Giamatti in Sideways which is one of my very favourite films.   I told the winery guy that I was doing a Sideways caricature.  He was a very nice man, probably thought I was a bit kooky though, but it's fun playing out your favourite role for a visit to a cellar door!

There it is.  Something is calling me deep inside.  That purity I discovered on the rolling hills of Wee Jasper is a reflection of a purity within.  I wish to keep that channel of awareness open, particularly as I tend to get bogged down by city living and its stresses and negativities.   It takes an enormous amount of power, or lift-off, to contain the energy needed to be free of negativities when surrounded by noise and distraction.  But, at least, I had glimpsed externally the most pure reflection of the natural internal state that is possible.  The summit of the walk in Wee Jasper was probably the most glorious place I've ever encountered.

Sunday, 27 February 2011

Carmen, Crabs, and the dead end drive-in

After many years of wondering and waiting I finally got to see this 80s "Ozploitation" film I'd been wishing to see for ages.  Dead End Drive-In, directed by Brian Trenchard-Smith, was released originally in 1986.   (I bought the DVD for work - such is the advantage of running a library.  And besides, the new Head of Film and TV requested that I source as many Australian films as I can, so...) My interest in this film is not necessarily because it's Aussie, or because it drips and and reeks with every 80s cliche, but because it's based on a short story that I love, that being Peter Carey's "Crabs".

I'd never read a Peter Carey novel.  I've only read most of the short stories that make up the volume called "The Fat Man in History" of which the first story, 'Crabs', is the best.  With some writers you find yourself wanting more after reading one novel or story that you love; you're hungry to read the rest of their oeuvre.  This is usually the case with me.  But with Peter Carey I find I have no desire to read his later great works such as 'Oscar and Lucinda', or 'Bliss', or 'The History of the Kelly Gang'.  And although I may get around to reading these someday, the 15-page short story titled 'Crabs' is seemingly enough for me.  It's a story I love and have obsessed over, a story that throttled my imagination and threw me down into the deep throes of my inner subconscious.

This subconscious pull must have something to do with the persistent symbol of the car that runs through this story.  In my conscious, waking life I find myself indifferent to cars.  I own one indeed, but I seldom use it.  And I don't wash it or look after it cosmetically, only mechanically.  It's ten-years old and very much a nondescript piece of machinery, hardly flash I could suggest with wry, extreme understatement.  But I like it that way.  And I find now that I could easily live without it, just walk away from it.

It's in my dreams that the image or symbol of the car has been a constant throughout my entire life.  Not so much these days, but definitely in my childhood up to early adulthood I would find myself dreaming of car travel, mostly as a passenger, and would riding over bridges, in tunnels, crossroads, straight country roads, urban streets that I'd never visited consciously.  I'd be with others or on my own, as a passenger it seems but somehow alone.  The constant feeling I encountered with these dreams was the subtle sense of anxiety and perhaps loneliness, trepidation, fear.  I'm reminded, too, that a couple of very pertinent dreams I've had of my late father involved cars.  I've been confronted too, with images of my former white car in relation to episodes in my life that confronted me in strangely palpable way, recalling one particular tense argument in my former band about driving responsibilities and being suddenly hit with an image of my little white car and its open boot.  I was overcome with an overwhelming sense of fragility and loneliness and I almost broke down.  So I know that cars or the symbol of the car is something that stakes a significant hold in my subconscious.

'Crabs' is all about cars.  'Dead End Drive-in' takes the original Peter Carey story - first published in 1972 - and seemingly recreates it word-for-word or image-for-image but for the derivation of post-punk to mid-80s kitsch you find portrayed throughout the film in its many characters' costumes and hairstyles.  But the film diverges at the point where Carey's short story becomes that bit too surreal.  In fact the original story became fantastically, scarily surreal and it's the story's final few paragraphs that blew my mind when I first read it and continues to excite me and leaves me pondering its significance.  This is because all of my car-related dreams seem to echo, either faintly or intensely, that which is relayed in Carey's short story, in terms of the story's feeling aspects and its magnificent, overwhelming ending.

The gist of the story is this: we're in the future, a bit like Mad-Max where there is economic decay and people are scrambling and fighting for resources.  Now, the film makes this implicit where the short story only alludes to this.  Crabs (his nickname) is a teenage lad of about 16 or so who is aspiring to be a tow-truck business owner, wishing to be like his mentor, Frank.  Frank has lent Crabs his 1956 Dodge for the evening.  Crabs takes his girlfriend Carmen to a drive-in.  Crabs knows to be careful because 'Karboys' are rife; ie, gangs who wantonly steal parts from cars to sell on the black market.  This is why, in the backdrop of the story, tow-truck drivers are highly esteemed.

Crabs and Carmen are having sex when the Dodge tips over with a thud - two of the car's wheels were stolen.  Crabs and Carmen can't drive home that evening.  Instead they visit the manager's office and are issued with meal tickets for the drive-in's cafeteria and the option of blankets.  They are advised to make themselves at home as, along with 73 other cars in the same predicament, there is no way out.

They eat the hamburgers and drink the sundaes with their meal tickets.  Carmen seems to enjoy herself and falls into the swing of things at the drive-in compound: sunbathing on the roof of the Dodge, eating hamburgers and sundaes, watching the movies at night, hanging out and gossiping with other girls in the ladies' toilets.  I suppose that's part of the allegory; Carmen's name is so close to that of "Karboys".  Indeed, Carmen seems to be a passive, open vessel for whatever is going on in this compound, contenting herself with this new, unlikely situation with little question.  Unlike Crabs, who obsesses over Frank's likely volatile reaction to his car's disappearance, and is always looking for or brooding about a way out of the compound.  In our world, "crabs" move sideways whereas cars only move backward and forward.  But crabs also move together and Crabs is stuck in a drive-in where seemingly each days brings in more cars, more families, more varieties of people, more smells of different cooking, and more tenements and more ball-game, time-passing activity.  Carmen is also Carey's vessel in his story of the depiction of racial ignorance and racial fear.   There are more detailed depictions in the film of Crabs' fractured relations with the other guys in the compound where the original story had only inferred these.

It is at the crucial point in the short-story where the film-adaptation takes a totally different slant, veering for the more conventional cops-and-robbers shoot out and escape scene.  The film ends after Crabs has shot the manager after a vicious argument - the manager being cited to co-conspire with the government to keep the drive-in as a lock-in compound - to shoot another load of coppers before driving out and escaping onto the free streets in the break of dawn.

The story has Crabs noticing that, amongst the uncountable amount of cars being towed in, there is another 1956 Dodge.  Crabs industriously steals the wheels and sets these up on this own car.  He checks the dip to find all the inside parts to his car have vanished.  He walks back to the newly arrived Dodge, opens the door and avoids and ignores the people inside trying to latch onto him.  He opens the bonnet.  All he sees is a group of small chickens drinking from a bowl of water placed upon a makeshift floor of old planks - there are no car parts. 

Here's where it gets all sci-fi and, for me in relation to all those car dreams I've been having all my life, quite amazing.  Crabs decides that the only way to escape, or to be free, is to be a "motor car or vehicle in good health".  He repeats this to himself.  He tells Carmen.  Carmen cries and says you're going mad.  Crabs is insistent.  He "becomes" a car in good health, metamorphosing himself into a tow-truck of which he escapes, driving out of the drive-in.  It takes Crabs a long time to drive through and around all the cars and people since the number of inhabitants in the drive-in had risen exponentially since he was first incarcerated.

Crabs drives down the highway at high speed, free.  It is cold and Crabs realises there are no lights anywhere.  The towns he passes are completely in the dark.  (I've had "dark" car dreams myself, too).  There are no other cars, no people, just emptiness.  He drives for three hours, slowing down and feeling the pain sharply when jolting and turning corners.  Finally he finds another highway and sees lights.  He is heartened.  He drives towards these lights, the only lights in the world.  He comes to a compound and looks in through the gate to see people laughing, talking and dancing.  He drives around the perimeter of the fence over rough unmade roads and paddocks until he comes to the main gate.

The gate belongs the drive-in, and it is chained-up and locked with reinforced steel.

There are a few points of allegory that can be taken from the story and its chilling ending.  For one thing, the concept of finding freedom by becoming a "motor car or vehicle in good health" is an absurd one on the surface, but when one examines this closely it can be seen that this votive parallels the meditative, spiritual idea of "lift-off"; that when you purify your body and mind and focus your pure energy, or pure intellect, on the purity or power that is contained within the body rather than on the surface mind and emotions, you transform yourself into a vessel of 'higher power'.  Crabs, in effect, is purifying himself to rise beyond worldly circumstance.  He is the being of concentrated consciousness.  It is this "consciousness" that permits him to be the "vehicle in good health" and to escape the compound and its moribund, worldly ways; his body being his "vehicle" to do so, just as our own bodies are vehicles of the consciousness or life contained within.

Ultimately, however, Crabs doesn't or can't really escape.  His attempt at escape is cold and utterly isolating, devoid of life and light, and is something of a dream anyway.  Is it because of some worldly paradox that one can't find freedom until all find freedom?  Because interestingly, Crabs notices from the outside that the people within the locked compounded are singing and talking, and even dancing; they are having a good time.  Did Carmen take the right idea to relax into her new circumstance without giving it extra thought?  Or is it all it a bit like Ken Kesey's Combine, where those who try to forcibly escape the system get done in (McMurphy)?   That ultimately, there's no escape unless you're deaf and dumb, so you might as well get played and be content with your own lot?  That the authorities, or "illuminati", or, in this instance, the Karboys, will rule and lord over the minions, and there is nothing that anyone can effectively do about it?  (Notice that the 'Karboys' are invisible, just like the world's privileged rulers are..?)

I notice the film was filmed around Foreshore Road near Botany Bay, (just down the road from where I'm living now).  It seems ironic to me that a film about a degenerate shitty compound that grows and grows was filmed on location around Botany Bay (at least the street scenes were) as this is where discoverer Captain Cook first made the decision to colonise the now newly-named 'Botany Bay', in 1770.  241 year on and Sydney is now a grand, oversized and perhaps over-populated melting pot that precisely matches the character of Peter Carey's drive-in cinema during the course of the short story.  The drive-in is simply a microcosm of modern Western society.

The ultimate accolade has to go to Peter Carey.  It's not often, to my knowledge, that a film gets made based on a short story; a novel, yes, but adapting a short-story for a film is far less common.  (Two of Peter Carey's best known novels have also since been adapted into feature films: 'Bliss' and 'Oscar and Lucinda').  And yet it's not surprising in the least that 'Crabs' was made into a feature film, for like myself, there are others out there whose imaginations have been fired by this fifteen-page short story.  'Crabs' is quite simply a genius piece of short-story fiction, one that maintains and captures a universal appeal.


I was two years old when 'Crabs' was first published, in 1972.  I was an imaginative child who used to make up words.  I had a word for petrol station, "bugudubba".  To this day I can look back and see where my head was at with making up a word for a place that excited this here infant.  I loved the open, expansive feelings of (some) petrol stations, you drive in, you drive out, and they can take you places inside and out.  I may be indifferent to vehicles in my conscious waking life, but the car and its symbols have always been an integral part of my subconscious, dreaming life.

Sunday, 16 January 2011


It's easy for us to cast judgements based upon that which we read or see on the news broadcasts.  Climate change, or 'global warming' as it is often known, is the bulls-eye topic as far as markedly dividing the populace with the for-or-against arguments is concerned.  We see debates on television, read articles in the papers about melting poles and glaciers and devastating flash-floods that are happening in major cities 1000km up the coast.  We then walk outside and ascertain the validity of these 'global-warming' findings depending on if it's a hotter-than-usual day, a colder-than-usual day, and just plain too-nice a day to bother about it.

What if we never read anything about global warming/climate change?  What if we never saw a news broadcast or television debate on the issue?  What if were totally uninformed in any way to do with anything on this matter?  What if we used our senses only to guide us?  What would we see, and what would we find?

To me, it's impossible to believe that the way of the civilised world has little or no effect on the atmosphere and the planet.  Imagine the unfettered, untouched paradise that is a garden of Eden.  Imagine there is one motor car running through it.  Now that one motor car, in a small way, will effect the life around it; "life" meaning the fauna, foliage, creatures, air etc.  When you have one billion of these motor cars, each of which devour the stupendously miraculous resource that is crude oil that in turn exfoliates this liquid-power into the atmosphere in a kaleidoscope of various gasses, some of which are benign, most are damaging in some way, then it's hard to maintain that the effect on our planet and atmosphere of this occurrence is a negligible one.

And this is only what we can see, can ascertain for ourselves.  Immense scales of mass-meat production, industry, and construction on a global level, all contribute to altering the biosphere's gas quotient.

Matter cannot be destroyed, in its pure sense, it only changes form.  What then is the effect the mechanisms of western civilisation on our planet?  Surely, these mechanisms can't be benign.  Some mighty law of cause-and-effect is going to come into play - perhaps this has already started - and I believe this to be the crux of the argument.

Many people glance upward at the weather and then watch the news to learn that the current summer/winter is the coldest on record.  These people find it easy to debunk 'global warming' as a hoax, as a nonsense.  Unfortunately, these issues run deeper than merely cooler or warmer weather.  Cold Northern winters - particularly those centered around the usually mild (for latitude) British Isles and North-Western Europe - are becoming the norm.  This is because: 1. rapidly melting ice in the Arctic sea is diluting the Gulf Stream that provides Northern Europe with a warm sea/air current and therefore cushions winter temperatures, and 2. this rapidly melting ice is affecting air and therefore pressure systems.  This heavier than usual air-pressure finds its way coming down from the Arctic as a freezing large mass of polar air, wreaking winter havoc on Northern land-masses.

And warmer than usual water off the Australian tropical Eastern coastlines is causing the mass-precipitation events that have devastated much of Queensland since last week.

These flooding events, freezing events, heatwave events (remember Moscow during summer 2010?? Shocking heat, unbelievable...) seem to be becoming way to common for our comfort, but isn't that what climate-change scientists have been predicting for quite some years now?

And climate-change skeptics are absolutely correct in saying that climate can be altered by numerous causes and instances in and around our planet and our solar system.  But for the moment, we humans here on Earth are doing a pretty hard and fast job of it, plumbing away ruthlessly at the planet's biosphere without much of a true, vital, idea of what we're really doing to a sacred, cosmic source.

If all of us were mindful of our way of life and how it contributes to the whole, perhaps we would change.   We wouldn't be so willing to get into our cars on every occasion when we could otherwise walk or catch a bus.  We would cease consuming plastic bags at every visit to the supermarket.  Be mindful of our usage of utilities such as water, gas and electricity.  Stop eating so much animal product.  Each of us being mindful, and acting upon it in some small way, will go a long way not only to mitigate climate change effects (if it isn't already too late) but will help to ease ourselves into a more relaxed and friendly way of living.

But it's probably too late now.

It was said in 1983:

"like a child getting its experience in a playpen, we have made an awful mess

but it's nothing that won't be cleaned up..."

Saturday, 1 January 2011

we're a weird mob

I've been watching another iconically curious little Australian film recently, They're a Weird Mob, which dates back to 1966 and was filmed on location in Sydney during the summer of 1965/66.  As that date-dial wenched into 1966 my brother was about to turn 8 and my sister was 11 years old.  I was nowhere in the picture, in this physical body.  I was merely a potential at this stage, and being a potential, I could have landed anywhere.  Instead I landed in Sydney in 1970 where, 40+ years on, I still find myself living.

The film itself is not wonderful.  It's hokey and dated and the plot itself is stilted, a little too make-believe, being much like the plot of a musical without the film actually being a musical.  It's a pithily enjoyable film to watch nevertheless, both as a period-piece and for the sense of innocence conveyed in the film, particularly for its comic innocence.   The romantic plot is quite conservatively portrayed, particularly when compared to that which we see in films of our current era. And yet, the romance is achingly real, heroic, true.  It makes me yearn for the good ol' days, it makes me yearn to turn back the clock to 1965.  

They're a Weird Mob is ostensibly about an Italian sports writer who comes to Australia by boat to work for his cousin's magazine.  Unfortunately his cousin had left the country leaving Nino to find work on his own.  He calls for a builders labourer's job and is taken in by a most affable bunch of fellas (the contemporary cream of Australian male TV/film talent) and almost too readily so to be deemed realistic.  Notably, the film's depiction of racism as a constant undercurrent in burgeoning sixties society is filtered through comedy and, for the most part, a sense of good-natured tolerance.  The terms being used back then were "new Australians" and the yucky "dago".  (I know in the fifties my dad belted someone up for calling him a dago).

On the whole I feel moved by the sense of promise this film depicts.  There is almost this thread of charmed fascination running through the film, of how lucky the people are to be living in such a beautiful place with such a magnificent harbour and abundance of sunshine.  There seems to be an equally indolent detachment to the history and achievements of Western civilisation that were in a rapid phase of ascendance in the Northern Hemisphere during that time.  As They're a Weird Mob was being filmed, Bob Dylan was about to record Blonde on Blonde, the Beatles had just finished making Rubber Soul and Brian Wilson was about to start writing Pet Sounds; The Sound of Music had been filmed and released.  Compared to the rampant creativity of her northern, western counterparts during 1965, there's no sense at all of a 'swinging' Sydney in this film, other than that it is the location itself that "swings" with the city's residents partaking eagerly in the swing of a landmass that's somehow bestowed upon them: a day at Bondi Beach, or a harbourside party, locales that seem larger than life, particularly when viewed through the lens of this film circa 1965.  What you can glimpse through watching this film is a possibility, a potential, of what is to come.  And what's  become since 1965 is the city having doubled in size with close to half of the population now decking the foreshores for the 2011 NYE party.  Many more buildings came up in the CBD and the Opera House was finished (it's halfway there in the film).  An Olympics came and flew by in 2000, and residential property prices have soared to levels unbelievable to anyone in 1965.

What a weird mob..

All of the main cast of male leads have passed on since this film's production, including Italian actor Walter Chiari who died of heart failure in Milan, age 67, in 1991.    The local cast of men, granted, would or may have lived great Australian lives and left the joint when their time was up.  I was not there, just as these men are not here now.  They left their imprimatur, their psychic imprint, over their city and country, just as I do now.  The female leads have survived and live on, including knockout Italian actress, Alida Chelli.

As I watched this film I felt a rumbling in my chest and stomach region, I felt myself as I may have been in 1965, drawn to this place by forces we cannot comprehend and understand, to be finally made physical by March 1970.  

It's the sense of innocence that I'm drawn to in this film and the feeling of timeless Australiana that comes with that, and it's a sensation that part of me wishes we could go back to.  But there's no turning back the clock, is there?  One has to find this in oneself, within one's own being.

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...