Tuesday, 29 December 2009

The Passage of Time

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul and a new nose; new feet, a new backbone, new ears, and new eyes. Unless a particular man made New Year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.

GK Chesterton

I started this blog almost a year ago, and this will most likely be my last entry before the year changes in its usual arbitrary manner. When I began writing for pleasure again by starting it I would have never imagined events this year would unfold the way they have, but I guess that’s how life works.

It occurred to me today that it was fifteen years since my family moved into our last house in Adelaide. If you had said to me then that in five years time we would have moved to Queensland I would have laughed and called you mad. Further to that point, if you were to say that in another ten years I would be doing a PhD in Political Science, I would have told you that my parents had a hard enough time getting me to read for a half an hour every morning, and gaining the will power to actually read the 100 odd books I have annotated this year would prove to be impossible.

Much the same principle can be applied when talking about 2009. Superficially not much has changed, I predicted that Tegan and Sara would dominate my musical year and they did. I predicted that most of the year would be dominated by my quest to prove myself academically and it has been. I could have predicted the loss a close friendship, which was the first major event this year. What I could not have predicted though is that ten months later, I would be completely swept away beyond my usual cognitive realm and actually develop feelings of love again. If you told me this at the beginning of year I would have had you committed.

To be sure it has been a bumpy ride and will probably continue to be so for quite some time. The cognitive person inside me knows this all too well for he can find every reason why this will only end in disaster. The emotional person in me however is only too happy to live in a world where his ultimate wish comes true and 2010 will become the year where both people can actually get everything they want for the first time. Some days the dream seems close enough to grasp, others so far away it is impossible to imagine a time where these dreams could become reality.

This paragraph that I wrote last night in a conversation may well sum up 2009 for me:

You love someone because they fill you with unparalleled happiness, you can picture all the big moments for the rest of your life and want to spend them with one person, and even on their shittiest day on their foulest of moods you can look into their eyes and your heart still skips a beat…..if you know what you want, or perhaps more importantly who you want, you fight to the death to get it. Love is simple, finding it is much harder.

Who knows how the year would have turned out if not for a few quirks of fate several years before. This year more than ever has proven that yes I make your own luck with the power of positive thinking, and that sometimes a little prod can help me along the way. I’ve also learnt that I cannot predict what next year will have in store. I may well end up committed if I tried.

Monday, 28 December 2009

Young Talent Time & Coping With Death

About 5 weeks ago I turned 26. Sometimes I think to myself that I’m only in my early twenties given that my first few years were a complete write off. As I’ve alluded to previously these first few years was a struggle for me, and in particular my immediate family as we coped with the grim diagnoses of my physical disability. I don’t remember much about those early years, except for my undying devotion to the campy variety show Young Talent Time (YTT)

For those readers under 22, YTT was basically a forerunner to the Idol juggernaut in Australia, where a group of eight kids, four girls and four boys between ages 10 and 18 would perform the latest chart hits and dance to highly choreographed numbers. Hosted by 1960s pop star Johnny Young it ran for 17 years, before being abruptly cancelled at the beginning of 1989, just before a new season was about to commence. Due to my age, my familiarity with the show only lasted with the show’s last group of performers: the end of Danni Minogue’s and Beven Addinsall’s stints on the show, and the ‘New Generation’ kids: Joey Dee, Courtney Compagnino, Jamie Churchill, Ricki Arnott, Johnny Nuich and Juanita Coco.



I remember sitting in front of the TV every Saturday night at 6:30 and watching the show religiously. According to my parents it was one of the few times each week I would smile and not cry: for that was pretty much all I did in my first five years. Alas, it ended too early for me to enjoy it properly as it was cancelled around about the time I was just making sense of my world.

However for Christmas 1990 my Aunt gave me a straight to video release called Young Talent Time… Now starring the ‘New Generation’ cast members: featuring such highlights as Juanita singing Madonna’s Cherish, Courtney singing Transition Vamp’s You Don’t Have To Say You Love Me and two separate New Kids On the Block songs performed by the boys. The cast even did a special segment on a strange phenomenon called ‘Global Warming’ set to Martika's version of I Feel The Earth Move (how forward thinking were they!?!). That tape got played for years and years, and I loved every second of it.

Then one day my Mum was reading a magazine like she does every Friday night after dinner while my brother, Dad and I were watching the football and we heard her gasp audibly. We turned to face her, she went white and she simply said ‘Juanita Coco died in a car accident’ I can still remember the confusion I felt upon hearing the news aged 9. Young people don’t die surely? That’s only old people. That was the first ever experience with death I had. I just remember the utter confusion of it all. Even though I knew YTT had finished I realised that I’d never see her again.

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Then a couple of nights ago something reminded me of YTT and so I found the above YouTube clip. I remember watching that on its first broadcast at the tender age of 4, knowing all the words, but not being able to verbalise them. Watching it again was quite a surreal experience. Then immediately after watching Juanita singing Fairground Attraction’s Perfect my mind suddenly leapt to that childhood moment: ‘Juanita Coco died in a car accident’ and so I was prompted to do a little investigating to see if somehow I could reconcile a childhood memory to some sort of reality.

Through my university’s archive I was able to find an article by the crime reporter from The Age, Andrew Rule, who is now of course famous for co writing the Underbelly books and the TV series. His description is shockingly vivid, more shocking than I could ever anticipated.

Former 'Young Talent Time' star, Juanita Coco, 17, was one of two people killed in a car accident in East Malvern early yesterday morning. Brad Lacey, 21, of Beech Street, East Malvern, also died when their station wagon and another vehicle collided. Three male passengers in the car were injured and were taken to hospital. The driver of the other car was unhurt. The state's road toll stands at 141.

DEATH cruises the streets in disguise, late at night. This time it's a rust-brown Commodore sedan, hurtling along Malvern Road at nearly 100 kilometres an hour. The road is almost empty but, as if synchronised by some malevolent force, a white Subaru station wagon turns across the speeding sedan's path at exactly the wrong moment.

Six people are crammed in the Subaru. It moves slowly, but the road is wet, the driver clumsy and probably affected by alcohol. A belated stab at the accelerator spins the tyres and the car loses traction - just long enough to make a thousand-to-one chance a dead certainty.

In the split-second before impact, the Subaru's driver instinctively reefs the wheel away from the danger. It is this - the final roll of the dice in a bloody Saturday-night lottery - that dictates who dies, and who doesn't.

The Commodore rams the wagon on its left side. Metal grinds on metal, glass explodes, bodies smash. The force whips the left rear passenger's head sideways so savagely that it breaks his neck. His head hits that of the young woman beside him, and breaks hers. Her head hits her boyfriend beside her, smashing his jaw. He survives - but when he finds out that his best friend and his fiancee are dead, he wishes he were too.

All but the first paragraph were written in an article published on the sixth anniversary of Juanita’s death, May 2nd 1999. The 3000 word feature article goes on to document the details of the night of the crash, and it plays out just as tragically as you might expect. Juanita and friends call a taxi to head home from a local night spot, and of course it shows up, the group go inside to grab their things, and by the time they return outside the taxi leaves, the driver tired of waiting. They then decide to take a ride home with an older female friend, who (according to reports) the group knew was visibly drunk. The car then speeds through the streets of Melbourne, has a few near misses of monumental proportions, until the fatal accident occurs just two blocks from their destination. The driver was ultimately found not guilty in her trial for manslaughter.

As you can imagine reading this in the dark late on a Saturday night, I was shaken up considerably. One could only think that this is a giant waste, not only of talent, but of two lives that had not yet reached their prime, add to that those of the survivors who have all had significant issues due to the accident. To think that if she was still alive today Juanita Coco would have turned 34 two and half weeks ago. If that is not a deterrent for drinking and driving I don’t know what is.

Johnny Young compared Juanita to YTT’s two most successful members: Dannii and Tina Arena, a world renowned artist who appeared on the show before I was born. Whether that is true I cannot say: for all I can picture now is Juanita performing with an infectious smile, and now the final moments of that crash in my mind. It really typifies the fragility of life: the joyful and the tragic. It is a timely reminder for me to treasure life no matter the barriers I face: for it may well be gone in an instant.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Music = Life: My Musical Journey Through the 00s

It wasn’t until around 1997 that I began to take music seriously. Up until that point it had always been background filler. However, my first year of high school was a testing time and music served as a way to decode all the useless noise that surrounded me. The way society views music these days seems to be a battle between the hipsters and the poptimists, with me oscillating between the two camps at the various points throughout the decade.

Mention the term pop music to the hipsters and its almost you like called them a c**t. See the problem here, at least as far as I am concerned, is that an opinion on musical taste is much like having an opinion on religion. Some opinions are well informed, some are downright farcical, and there is a lot of bullshit in between. Personally, I have the same opinion on music as I do religion. My opinion is right, but if your opinion gets you through the day, then that’s good too, as long as you don’t shove it down my throat. If you do, I’ll tell you to fuck off.

My musical journey has come full circle in the 00s. As with many young people my first introduction to music during that fateful 1997 was largely based on those of mainstream radio. Artists like Savage Garden, Natalie Imbruglia and Matchbox 20 were on my playlists of choice in the late 1990s and the early 21st century. Then soon after gaining access to 24/7 internet in 2001, I stumbled across what I refer to as my ‘gateway band’. That was Death Cab for Cutie, who as the term suggests opened the way for me to explore independent artists that were not played on the radio. Slowly over the following year, I turned into one of those genre defining hipster wankers I mentioned earlier.

I can’t pinpoint the moment when things changed exactly. I guess you could say that my discovery of the ‘indie genre’ was at the same time as the height of a personal crisis. As I emerged from my personal hibernation, I became more confident in myself, and consequently I gained my own sense of independence, musical and otherwise. Three albums managed to achieve this for me over an eighteen month period. Coverage by Mandy Moore, Be Not Nobody by Vanessa Carlton and Fallen by Evanescence. These are not the albums you would easily associate with members of the indie music community, but each spoke to me on an emotional level. After all isn’t that what pop music is supposed to do? Sweep you away on an emotional journey for just over three and a half minutes per song?

However, the full transformation was not complete until early 2007. I used to chalk down the above albums as guilty pleasures for fear of criticism from people whom I musically respected. Then I began to realise that the people who deserved to be respected musically are those who embraced all genres and recognised good music for what it was. It is then I embraced the poptimist inside me. Why should there be anything wrong with liking Mandy Moore, Michelle Branch, Vanessa Carlton or Skye Sweetnam?

Then there is my favourite type of pop, the undiscovered kind. In particular an artist from Norway, named Marit Larsen. One could label her as a more mature pop star, but she is younger than her aforementioned American counterparts. It boils down to more sophisticated song writing with European sensibilities. The understated nuanced kind, with lush instrumentation and multiple meanings. In essence, she is the ultimate intellectual pop musician.

Almost a decade after discovering that listening to good music can be a life-changing experience, I came back to where I started by re-discovering the joys of pop music. I have done this whilst still appreciating the music that I have found on my circular journey. To use the religious metaphor again, my spiritual journey is complete. I have achieved this knowing that my absolute favourite band on this journey, Tegan and Sara, perfectly encapsulates the middle ground of these two dichotomies: pop sensibilities and single minded independent grunt both of which I adore equally.

I have learnt that you can merge the two musical paradigms. I am certainly more of a poptimist than a hipster these days but I can appreciate both, unlike so many who are musically shortsighted. If any further proof is needed one only has to download and listen to the ‘Best of the 00s’ Mix that I have created. This 34 song mix charts my journey throughout the decade that has been, and will forever will be shaped by a soundtrack. No lists will chart how important each song has been because that underestimates the journey’s overall importance.

This mix is my decade summarised in two and a half hours. To me it kind of feels like the end of an old era, and the beginning of a new one, it represents more than a marking of a calendar, but rather a shift in my attitude to music that reflects a broader outlook on life. Where once I was following the masses, then rebelling against them to try and find my own identity, I am now comfortable within myself confident I have made the right choices. So as the Tens begin it is more a question of what delights I can actually discover rather than what parameters I must obey.

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Best Songs of 09

Much like the albums of the decade, the best songs of the 00s feature a strong Australian contingent. As usual it is pop heavy and female dominated: proof that some things really do never change. I was going to do a countdown featuring blurbs from 10 to 1, but have just decided to list them. I have decided to put more time into the decade lists coming later this week.

10 Heavens to Purgatory: The Most Serene Republic
9 Not Fair: Lily Allen
8 Clean White Love: Lisa Mitchell
7 Untouchable Taylor Swift
6 Playing God: Paramore
5 Battlefield: Jordin Sparks
4: Just Like You: Allison Iraheta
3 Painful: Dash & Will
2 Charlotte Rampling: Decoder Ring
1 On Directing: Tegan and Sara

As usual, I’ve made a mix of my favourite songs of year. 27 of the songs I have been addicted to this year including the ones listed above. Download it, and comment.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

Worshipping At the Church of Katy Steele: Little Birdy Gig Review Alex Hills Hotel

Sometimes musically I tend to paint myself into a corner. I have very definite opinions on what I like, and what I don’t and it means that I can miss out on some truly great stuff. Thankfully in the case of Little Birdy, my initial error in judgement was rectified just in time for me to witness a spellbinding show put on by the band at the Alex Hills Hotel last night, to the point where its now fairly clear that I worship at the church of Katy Steele. Call me up to testify at any time you like.

Lead singer Katy Steele, despite the rest of the band being very talented, highly competent and engaging stole the show as she entertained the surprisingly small crowd as if we were all occupants of Wembley Stadium. At a diminutive five foot tall what Katy lacks in stature she most certainly makes up for in stage presence. Being lucky enough to score a spot in the front row directly opposite Katy’s mike gave me an opportunity to see her all magnificence close up.

Thankfully the set list favoured material from their first album Big Big Love and their latest album Confetti. However one of the highlights of the night came with set opener Come On, Come On taken from second album, Hollywood which set the scene for the thunderous tone to come as the band hit their stride instantly while Katy, who had obviously studied old video footage Freddie Mercury captivated the crowd.

Other highlights included Beautiful To Me, to which the crowd sang along unaccompanied to the song’s entire second verse, my personal favourite Relapse, successful single Hairdo, a cover of Split Enz’s Six Months in a Leaky Boat, which was recorded previously as part of the Finn Brothers tribute album She Will Have Her Way. However, the best songs of the night were saved for the encore as a cover Sam Brown’s 1989 song Total Control segued into their well known song Bodies providing a fittingly enthralling and dynamic conclusion to the night.

Considering the band were without lead guitarist Simon Leach, whose role was outstandingly covered by the band’s guitar tech, this fantastical set was even more impressive. The friend who I went with has now seen Little Birdy seven times, and it is easy to see why. As long as Katy and the band put on stellar performances such as the one I witnessed, I will continue to throw the collection plate around to replicate such a mesmerising experience.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Top 10 Albums of 2009

2009 was the year for Australian music. Half my list this year comes from my native country where in previous years there has barely been one that usually makes the list. A few albums were extremely unlucky to miss out. Feel free to ask about those in the comments section. Stay tuned for the 10 best songs of the year, the 30 best albums of the decade and the 30 best songs of the decade to be posted before year’s end

10 The Decemberists: The Hazards of Love

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Further advancing on the prog rock influences that dominated 2006's The Crane’s Wife, The Hazards of Love can be best be described in the following manner as expertly articulated by the All Music Guide ‘A 17-song suite (think one continuous song with track ID's peppered throughout for sanity's sake) about a girl named Margaret, shapeshifters, forest queens, and fairytale treachery, Hazards of Love is ambitious, pretentious, obtuse, often impenetrable, and altogether pretty great’ Fans of the Decemberists should enjoy this album immensely, with new things that can be discovered upon each listen.

9 Decoder Ring: The Blind The Stars and The Wild Team

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Decoder Ring’s fourth album strengthens their post rock legacy built around ethereal soundscapes, beautiful melodies and intricate musicianship. This double album is a pleasure to listen to from start to finish whether as background music or within the intimacy of headphones. The first half of the album in particular is spectacular.

8 Paul Dempsey: Everything is True

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The lead singer of Something For Kate first solo record is simply beautiful, superbly written and expertly crafted. It is not only a fine piece of work, but its better than his band has managed to come up with collectively. This album is thematically poignant and incisive, whilst maintaining a pop sensibility. A must listen.

7. Sarah Blasko: As Day Follows Night

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Sarah Blasko continues to improve with each new record, the songwriting is sharper and more personal whilst being sonically daring. Only just now getting the recognition she deserves in this country, she remains one of the most talented singer songwriters globally. Slightly left of centre, yet uniquely universal this album speaks to the insecurities we all feel once love is both lost and found

6 Little Birdy: Confetti

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This is the most surprising entry of this list for me, as I had previously dismissed this band out of hand. Thankfully, new circumstances ensured I wrapped my ears around this wonderful album. It’s probably the most emotional record on the list, as the gift of Katy Steele as a songwriter is to wear her heart on her sleeve. This makes for an enthralling and rewarding list, particularly at the album’s beginning as the foundations are set for a most enticing experience.

5 Grizzly Bear: Veckatimist

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In all realty this album should by higher on the list, and in any other year it would be. This is a game changing record: a revelation. Simultaneously beautiful and perfectly refined this could be regarding as an album that broke the mould in years to come, as the melodies are timeless, the hooks are limitless and its beauty is unmatched. This record stays with you long after the first listen.

4 Meg & Dia: Here, Here and Here

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This is the perfect pop record from start to finish. This album is insanely catchy, yet highly literate, it is wonderfully produced and perfectly sequenced. Meg & Dia have built upon the winning sound of their first record and have expanded upon to create a cohesive yet diverse album that is as good as it is underrated.

3 Paramore: Brand New Eyes

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I have to admit I wasn’t sold on this upon first listen, but this album is the definition of a grower. Although not as good as their previous two efforts Brand New Eyes might be retrospectively looked at as a transition album, forgoing the brashness that characterised their previous efforts in favour of a more mature phase. The angst remains, but this time it is tempered with insight that only age can bring, and whilst this record was not what I expected, it makes for an intriguing listen.

2 Lisa Mitchell: Wonder

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This album most definitely is the most exciting of the year. To think that Lisa Mitchell is only 19, but yet can produce such a complete record on her first effort is extraordinary. It is a portrait of adolescence: its many highs and lows, its exposure to vulnerability, yet full of enduring optimism that can only be found in one so young. A fantastic record, the best Australian release for some time.

1 Tegan and Sara Sainthood

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Unquestionably the best record of the year. To quote a previous effort:

Those who don’t me would say this is a hasty judgement. In fact one friend and fellow Tegan and Sara fan said today this was a decision based on adrenaline. I know this not to be the case, because the previous call was made on the first day I heard that record, and its only now just been replaced. Stylistically, where The Con was angsty, Sainthood is thought provoking. Vocals are pushed further up in the mix and while early reports suggesting the album would be electronic, Sainthood has a more 80s New Romantic vibe, particularly on the Tegan penned Don't Rush. The Girls’ gift for songwriting is more noticeable and the album seems more cohesive than The Con, there's not as big stylistic gap between the two songwriters now.

It is Sara’s songs that really shine on this record, and in particular the potential second single On Directing. Complete with lyrics like ‘Go steady with me, I know it turns you off when I get talking like a teen, talking like a teen’ this song is the worthy successor to The Con’s first single Back In Your Head in terms of Sara’s ability to capture intricate lyrics with an innate sense of melody. Arrow and Alligator continue this tend to demonstrate that Sara is the finest songwriter of her generation.

However, Tegan is not far behind. Tracks such as The Ocean, Someday and lead single Hell show Tegan’s ability to craft a catchy and powerful hook remained unparalleled. Tegan also branches out on this record with the song Northshore evoking Deborah Harry and Joan Jett with a straightforward thrashing punk number. Unfortunately for Tegan, Sara once again steals the spotlight from her, in this case with her wondrous backing vocals.

But it is to Tegan and Sara who the credit must go to for Sainthood. They have proven why they are the best band in the world. Not only do they write and play classic songs, they continue to improve exponentially making each new album a revelation.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Lost And Delirious: My Favourite Movie of All Time

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Thank the technological wonders for an anonymous friend has downloaded the entire version of Lost and Delirious for I had the opportunity to view it for the 36th time today. For those very few that have not heard me gush about this movie you either do not know me very well, or simply are not aware that it is my favourite movie.

For those of you who have not seen it, the story is as follows. Mary Bradford (Mischa Barton) is a shy, naive, freshman newcomer to a fancy girls boarding school where she strikes up a friendship with her two senior roommates, the overachieving Tori Moller (Jessica Paré), and the voraciously poetry reading, unapologetic, closeted lesbian Paulie Oster (Piper Perabo). As Mary tries to adjust to her new surroundings, with some guidance from the local groundskeeper Joe Menzies (Graham Greene), she soon learns that Paulie and Tori are lovers. When Tori, under pressure from her classmates, wants to break it off with Paulie, she resorts to extreme measures to win Tori back.

Yes, yes, yes, it is a movie with a tasteful lesbian sex scene, and a couple of moments where the two female lead characters make out. To me however, this is beside the point. The movie is about love and all its purity, a true love that knows no bounds, no matter what the obstacles and circumstances are. For as Paulie says, she is mine and I am hers…

It is for this reason I empathise with Paulie so much. She has to fight social conventions and attitudes that go against her, with all her heart, her soul and every fibre of her being. I have been there too, and I know what that feels like.

There is a point in the movie where the characters are reading Shakespeare's Antony and Cleopatra. The passage reads:

I shall make me a willow cabin at your gate and call upon my soul within the house; Write loyal cantons of contemned love and sing them loud even in the dead of night; Halloo your name to the reverberate hills and make the babbling gossip of the air cry out your name

At this point the characters do not know what this means. At which point Paulie says its about love and cries out:

You've all got your heads up your assholes because love is. It just is and nothing you can say can make it go away because it is the point of why we are here, it is the highest point and once you are up there, looking down on everyone else, you're there forever. Because if you move, right, you fall. You fall.

To me, this is the essence of why the movie is so powerful. We all reach the highest highs, and then sink down to the lowest lows in our never ending quest for love. Put simply as the movie does, love can be a very painful experience. We can, should and all could, relate to this movie at some point in our lives, or if you’re like me, at multiple times in our lives.

There is a reason this movie quotes Shakespeare so much and it is because only he can encapsulate the meaning of love more vividly than this movie. Towards the end of the movie there is a prophetic quote from Macbeth:

Come, you spirits that tend on mortal thoughts unsex me here; and fill me from the crown to the toe topfull of direst cruelty! Make thick my blood, stop up the access and passage to remorse that no compunctious visitings of nature shake my fell purpose. Come to my woman's breast and take my milk for gall, you murdering ministers wherever in your sightless substance you wait on nature's mischief! Come, thick night, and apll thee in the dunnest smoke of hell, that my keen knife see not the wound it makes nor heaven peep through the blanket of the dark to cry: 'Hold, hold!

A few years ago when I told someone that Lost and Delirious is my favourite movie, I was laughed at. I now realise that to them love is, or at least has become, an outmoded, tired, social construct. It is a pity that people hide behind the titillation of this movie and underestimate the power of the movie's message. For all its melodrama and frolicking, it fills me up with the strongest emotions. I reach a point when I see this movie and I break down and cry because I know that I have not yet achieved the love that I truly desire.

I will never love anyone the way that I love you. Never. You know that, and I know that, and I will die knowing that, ok? But it just can never... it just can never, ever, forever be. Do you understand? It just can never, ever, forever be.


If someone ever says that to me, I will truly know that I have been loved.

Monday, 30 November 2009

My Moments of the Decade

January 1st 2000, I had just come off the worst New Years Eve ever. My family had returned to Adelaide for a holiday after having moved to the Sunshine Coast the year before. They missed the people and the town, I did not. My parents had been invited to a party at the penthouse of a hotel. I, at age 16, got stuck in a ‘kids room’ where several kids under 13 watched crappy movies while I looked at the clock and prayed for it all to end.

Luckily the decade got considerably better from there. The first decade of the new millennium will be looked at retrospectively as a fond one. It was full of dramatic lows and so many highs as one would expect from ages 16 to 26. Here is a purely personal list of moments that defined my decade.

The 2008 United States Presidential Election Campaign

The result proved anticlimactic, but a generation from now the 2008 Presidential election campaign will be looked upon with the fervour that 1968 is looked upon by the Baby Boomers. The Democratic front runner Hilary Clinton deposed by an upstart as part of the the long drawn out Democratic primary, the genius of Olbermann and Maddow all year long, the bizarre antics of CNN’s political team, McCain picking Palin, and of course Obama coming from the clouds all made the year in US politics particularly memorable. If only Obama’s Presidency was (and is) as good as his campaign


Port Adelaide Power Winning the 2004 AFL Flag (25/09/04)

Unquestionably my sporting moment of the decade, it arguably made me happier than any other single moment of the decade. After dominating the three previous regular seasons only to succumb in the finals, Port Power finally won the Grand Final. A victory made all that much sweeter by the fact that the Power beat the Brisbane Lions: a football team that stirred so much hatred inside me that its impossible to describe. Even now I tear up watching the final moments as coach Mark Williams walks down the stairs of the MCG in tears as the ‘choker tag’ is finally defeated. It’s the most emotional sporting moment of my life thus far.


First Class Honours (12/12/07)

It is hard to put this achievement into perspective. To be told from birth that I would not amount to anything intellectually, and then to achieve the highest undergraduate honour possible at university level is quite the leap. My parents remember a time where I could not lift my head up voluntarily and were told that I would be lucky to ever do that by myself. Now I have completed two university degrees at a high standard, and I am well on the way to completing a third. The thesis was arguably the hardest task I have ever completed. Entitled False Dawn: The ALP and the Leadership of Mark Latham, it took me the best part of 10 months, 24,000 words and 90 pages. Achieving first class honours proved that I was no longer an academic pretender, and that I have the potential to become an expert. So much for being intellectually disabled.

The Election of the Rudd Government (24/11/07)

I remember the day I started following politics very clearly. It was the night of the 1996 election. Unfortunately, that was also the very same night that John Howard took office. I had followed every Federal election up until that point only for it to end in tears, quite literally. Then two days after my 23rd birthday that all changed, and finally the ALP under Kevin Rudd stormed into power. The four years of being a member of the party, volunteering on polling booths, the early morning meetings, the trips to Brisbane, and agonising through several leadership challenges all paid off at 7:20pm Queensland time when election analyst Antony Green called the election in the ALP’s favour.

The Tegan and Sara ‘Groupie Tour’ 2007 (12/12/07-16/12/07)

Seeing my favourite band once was always destined to be a memorable experience one way or the other. Seeing them three times in four days however made it destined to be a spellbinding journey. The trip itself was full of drama and some great times, and was an amazing life changing experience. Taking the journey with my best friend and fellow Tegan and Sara fanatic Candy made the experience all the more incredible as we followed them around Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane.

This was the one holiday where I got to let my hair down, a rite of passage really that often comes much earlier in life for others. My first taste of independence, all done on my own terms, matched to the perfect soundtrack and a lifetime of memories. It is a period I will remember for the rest of my life and it defined my decade.

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

New Moon: Movie Review

“Before you, Bella, my life was like a moonless night. Very dark, but there were stars—points of light and reason. …And then you shot across my sky like a meteor. Suddenly everything was on fire; there was brilliancy, there was beauty. When you were gone, when the meteor had fallen over the horizon, everything was black. Nothing had changed, but my eyes were blinded by the light. I couldn’t see the stars anymore. And there was no more reason for anything.”

Edward Cullen, Page 514, New Moon

The above quote is to me, the centerpiece of why New Moon is perhaps one of my favourite novels. It does not appear within the screenplay of the novel’s film adaptation. It is a pity because it might as well have. The second film in the Twilight Saga is predictably very faithful to the written word. Readers should note this with caution. Lovers of the literary series, like myself will gorge on this movie for every second of its running time. The haters will inevitably complain as well they might, but they seem to miss the point entirely, as this film was not made for them in mind.

I read the New Moon novel in one day. That was New Year’s Eve 2008. It was very gripping quite simply because its one of the best romance novels ever written. It is the 21st century equivalent to Wuthering Heights or any Austin novel. Girl loves boy, boy breaks up with girl, girl goes into debilitating depression, finds solace in the company of another temporarily, loses them as well, attempts suicide, only to find her true love once more. Forget all the supernatural bullshit because I do. Even though at the time of reading the novel I was nowhere close to being in love, I understood the pain of Bella and empathised with her. But now that I am experiencing the type of pain that Bella endured through New Moon, my adulation for the book and the movie has grown even further. Say all you like about the writing technique, but that’s a great skill to have as an author. I echoed this when I reviewed the book.

What can I say except that the series is getting better and better and is becoming more and more addictive than I ever had anticipated. The characters are more clearly defined, the plot even more hectic than its predecessor and the little annoyances that I had identified in Twilight have now faded into the background making this a superior novel.

Twilight merely provides the jumping off point for all the events of New Moon to come in to place, where both the characters and the readers’ loyalties are tested once more. The love story is forever intensified and the consequences of every action both insignificant and otherwise are integral. I cannot wait to step into Bella’s world once more

Essentially these same comments apply when comparing the two movie versions as well. Of course given the bigger budget of New Moon the special effects have dramatically improved as they needed to. But it’s the simple things that the movie does well. My favourite sequence in the movie is early on, immediately after Edward leaves Bella and there’s a single continuous tracking shot that swells around Bella’s head as she is stuck in the same pose. Month after month rolls by and no lines of dialogue are spoken, it is just a symbol of the pain and grief slowly eating away at Bella’s insides.

The Saga has become such a pop culture phenomenon now that the spectacle detracts from the material and this is a pity. Sure Kristen Stewart may be the sexiest woman in the world right now, but is it really necessary to have minute by minute reporting following her every move? To be sure each of the three leads do their job well, with Stewart being the clear standout, being on screen for almost the entire movie (making me a very happy boy). But lets be clear, this is a genre piece through and through. You won’t be seeing any of the male leads in a Scorsese film any time soon.

This is the one problem with New Moon as with the Twilight Saga as a whole. The public at large tries to make the series into several things it is not. It not a commentary on Generation Y, nor is it a representation of its time. It is not even a particularly well done horror series. It should not be infesting every orifice of pop culture. It is simply one of the greatest romances of the 21st century. It is a pity the world cannot see that. Do as I do: check your brain at the door, spend all your time staring into Kristen Stewart’s eyes and let your emotions take over.

Saturday, 21 November 2009

Tegan and Sara: Band of the Decade

Over the final five weeks of the year I will be counting down the events, the music, and the television shows that shaped my decade. I thought it only fitting to write the first piece of this series on the band of the decade.

2004 proved to be an historic year for me in retrospect. I met my best friend, and fell in love for the first time (and then out again). Politically, it was the year after I joined the ALP. It would also provide me with my Honours thesis topic in 2007 when Mark Latham electorally ruining my beloved party. Despite all this, 2004 sticks out in my mind for one reason. It would prove to be the year my musical life changed forever. It was the year I discovered Tegan and Sara.

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Tegan and Sara are unquestionably my band. Just like Pavement were for my brother, and Steely Dan were for my father. I can envisage a time in 2025 when I am 42 years old, working in my office, grading papers, marking assignments or writing my maiden parliamentary speech, and I know exactly who I’ll be listening to. Tegan and Sara.

I have not and will never get The Beatles, I think they are overrated, no talent hacks. I assume the reason why hordes of the public flock to them like mindless sheep is that they make the complex seem easy. Tegan and Sara achieve this for me. Listen to Take Me Anywhere. At the heart of it is a seemingly simple pop song, typical of a girl who wrote it at 23 (as Tegan was at the time). However those who think this are missing the sheer artistry of the song. The arrangement makes the song. The way Tegan is so definite when the bridge comes in (Take me by the hand/and tell me you would take me anywhere) and then the backing vocals come in, and then suddenly the wall of sound develops that fills the listener with utter joy. Moments such as that are the reason I listen to music.

Tegan and Sara are honest and genuine. There is no bullshit whether it is in their music or their life. Lesbians? So what? Twins? So what? Their record company folds? They proceed to make not only their most artistically rewarding album to date, but their most commercially successful. Two years later they even manage to better this success in both respects. How many other artists can you say have achieved this?

I cannot exactly say why I connect with the girls so much. Not a day goes by where I cannot listen to their albums multiple times. My Last Fm tells me I have listened to their songs 117,700 times in just over three years. Some would say this is obsessive. This is true. They are my life.

It is the reason I flew down the East Coast of Australia to see them in concert three times in four days. It was the best week of my life bar none. These girls make life worth living. No matter what is going on, all of their songs provide me with comfort no matter what the mood. I can play Dark Come Soon when I’m feeling shitty, Downtown when I’m feeling sombre, Soil, Soil when I’m heartbroken, When I Get Up when I’m pining, Come On Kids when I’m hopeful, Someday when I’m inspired, On Directing when I feel invigorated, and Knife Going In when I am in the mood to sing along.

Tegan and Sara provide music for all occasions that is not only artistically satisfying, but emotionally gratifying. This comes from the intriguing yet contradictory partnership of the two Quin sisters. In the decade since they released their first album they’ve only written one song together. They write and record individually, yet seamlessly meld together in a live setting. Tegan is the emotionally brash one whose pop sensibilities instantly hit you right between the eyes as she commands your attention. Sara, on the other hand is thoughtful, deliberate and methodical relying on her innate intelligence to draw the listener in slowly but surely. In effect this gives the listener two bands for the price of one: double the pleasure at half the cost.

The progression between each of their five albums speaks to the kind of artists they have become. This Business of Art was an exercise in self discovery as they developed their own unique songwriting styles. Although the album would heavily feature an acoustic vibe that would become the norm of 2000, they quite rightly jettisoned this approach in order to create a fuller sound. If It Was You marked the first time Tegan and Sara made a conventional pop record embracing the short, punchy emotional songs that would later become their trademark. With So Jealous they entered the mainstream of sorts, willing to try unconventional approaches whilst making arguably their most accessible album to date. The Con displayed a focused emotional maturity, which highlighted that Tegan and Sara were not only great musicians, but perhaps the finest artists of their generation. Sainthood pushed these boundaries even further and proved that the capabilities are unparalleled and the possibilities as they enter their second decade as professional musicians are limitless. Each record is not only a progression in their lives, but also a progression in mine as each of these albums have served as the soundtrack to my experiences both painful and delightful.

Tegan and Sara are my band. They are the band of the decade. They are the band of my decade. They are the band of my twenties. That stage of life when all of the possibilities are endless, and the search for identity is eternally frustrating. The decade that has marked more disappointments than victories, but with each of the former, comes the latter that is 10,000 times more gratifying. Tegan and Sara symbolise all of this and so much more. They are more than just a soundtrack to my life. They are more than just musical idols. They have formed an integral part of my life. Forget about the band of the decade: Tegan and Sara are a once in a life time band.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Carpenters: Masters of Melancholy

Carpenters remain one of the most unfairly maligned musical acts of the past and present. Superficially, they are known for their light, almost pristine tones that characterised much of their greatest commercial success in the early 1970s.

As the All Music Guide explains:

With their light, airy melodies and meticulously crafted, clean arrangements, the Carpenters stood in direct contrast with the excessive, gaudy pop/rock of the '70s; yet they became one of the most popular artists of the decade, scoring 12 Top Ten hits, including three number one singles. Karen Carpenter's calm, pretty voice was the most distinctive element of their music, settling in perfectly amidst the precise, lush arrangements provided by her brother Richard

Their musical achievements have also been overshadowed by the death of Karen Carpenter on February 4th, 1983 from anorexia, arguably the first high profile celebrity to die from this tragic illness.

I contend that Carpenters deserve to be considered amongst the greats of modern pop music. Richard, who has a Brian Wilson like sense of musical detail, which is largely unmatched, produced all of their material. Although the Carpenters are best known for their almost saccharine chart topper Close To You (Why do birds suddenly appear, every time you are near?), it is their melancholy tone, combined with expertly refined production that sets them apart from other bands.

These qualities are displayed on the finest Greatest Hits collection I own. Clocking in at forty and a half minutes and 12 tracks The Singles: 1969-1974 concisely presents all the best moments from Carpenters who were so dominate in this era.

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The magic of Carpenters can be heard in the very first bars of the album on We’ve Only Just Begun, which begins in an ironically hopeful tone given the bands tragic decline in its later years. The production and the composition make this song what it is, allowing Karen’s superb alto vocal tones to remain in the forefront of the mix whilst given the surrounding instrumentation sufficient room to breathe.

Another highlight is their first hit, a cover of the Beatles Ticket to Ride. Gone is the youthful innocence and bombast of the original, replaced with the sense of inherent sadness of this version. This is all emphasised by a truly beautiful piano and light percussion accompaniment, as well as Karen sorrowful vocals. This is certainly my favourite Beatles cover ever in a sea of worthy contenders.

However, it is in the middle section where the album shines and achieves a level of superiority. The tripartite force of hit singles Superstar, Rainy Days and Mondays, and the granddaddy of them all: Goodbye to Love makes an unbeatable and exquisite combination of musical prowess. Superstar is characterised with its terrifically sombre chorus, which contradicts the songs title and its brass refrain make a stunning opener to this three song set. Rainy Days and Mondays simultaneously manages to be depressing and empowering all at once with Karen’s vocal delivery unmatched in arguably her finest ever recorded performance. Then Rainy Days and Mondays immediately segues into Goodbye To Love, the most powerful anthem about heartbreak I’ve ever, ever encountered. This song is most definitely in my all time favourites. One look at the lyrics will tell you all you need to know.

I'll say goodbye to love

No one ever cared if I should live or die

Time and time again the chance for love has passed me by

And all I know of love is how to live without it

I just can't seem to find it

So I've made my mind up

I must live my life alone

And though it's not the easy way

I guess I've always know

I'd say goodbye to love

There are no tomorrows for this heart of mine

Surely time will lose these bitter memories

And I'll find that there is someone to believe in

And to live for something I could live for

All the years of useless search

Have finally reached an end

Loneliness and empty days will be my only friend

From this day love is forgotten

I'll go on as best I can

What lies in the future is a mystery to us all

No one can predict the wheel of fortune as it falls

There may come a time when I will see that I've been wrong

But for now this is my song

And it's goodbye to love

I'll say goodbye to love

All of this is topped off with an uncharacteristic thundering guitar solo at the songs conclusion to strengthen the song’s impact. It is a pure classic and it does not deserve to be neglected.

The album latter half continues the theme of pessimistic writing and stunning musical arrangement, with the strong material of Yesterday Once More, Sing and Hurting Each Other. Although each song does not count among my favourite tracks on the album they remain unquestionably strong.

Fittingly, the album closes with Close To You, the wonderfully sentimental song that everyone knows and loves and is played at countless weddings now and into the future. Written by Hal David and Burt Bacharach it is a classic song, but I am disappointed that this is ultimately the pop cultural legacy of the Carpenters. Although it features all the hallmarks of Richard’s superb production style, (the horns, the harmonies and the perfectly controlled build up with wonderful overdubs at the songs conclusion) the song seems to be counterintuitive to the band’s legacy of intricate, intelligent yet mournful lyrics which are at its emotional core.

This legacy not only makes Carpenters one of the truly great bands, but perhaps the definitive band of their generation. They may not have been cool, and they may never be so. They may appeal to the geriatric set who settle for AM radio while drinking cups of tea and long for the Nixonian era (when he appeared to be honest and trustworthy but never actually was). Despite all of this though the Carpenters should be remembered as the masters of what they do best: emotionally honest pop music.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Letter to a Higher Power

To Whom It May Concern:

There’s a reason I don’t believe in a higher power. It is not something I choose to believe in because I think if one exists then whoever you are, you are one sadistic bastard. Once every so often a bible basher will come up to me and say something like ‘God chose you to be in a wheelchair because he knew you could handle it’ Seriously, is that why? Because if so, that’s a really shitty explanation. People who say that clearly have no exposure to people with disabilities. Perhaps they should try a day sitting in my chair. But then again I would not wish this upon my worst enemy.

I think I’ve done a pretty good job rolling with the punches. So much so that I have actually turned the biggest negative into a positive, at least most of the time. Was this the plan? Because again, if it was, your planning skills leave a lot to be desired. There’s only so much I can take. Is there anything else you’d like to throw my way? Anything at all? You might as well just keep piling endless amounts of shit on my shoulders and see how long it takes until I fall over and die from utter exhaustion.

Whoever you are, you are a fuck wit. I thought I was on top of things, finally conquering all my demons and then you sent me on a path to destruction. You hit me where it hurt the most, put the greatest temptation in front of me and before I could grab it, you pulled it away like some snotty nosed kid with a dollar coin. You knew how this would affect me, but you did it anyway. Did it give you the ultimate satisfaction? Are you happy? Because I’m not.

But if you think you can defeat me you are dead wrong. You try to strip away my defences in order to make me perish. That is not going to work this time. It may have before, but I know your tricks now and I will strike you down. I have made a decision, I am going to turn what you think is my greatest weakness and turn it into my greatest strength. I am going to fight the pain you have inflicted upon me, neutralise it, and then one day turn it into my greatest source of joy. It won’t be to spite you, although that will be sweet. It will be for me.

You have tried to make the enemy formidable by making them attractive and desirable to my sensibilities. This will be your downfall. No matter how many times I experience that searing, stabbing, pain of loss, anguish and misery I will think of the joy I have felt, and all that I will feel again. Then it will be you who piles the shit upon your own shoulders, once you discover that you cannot get to me, ever. No matter what you try, no matter what shit you pull, no matter how many tears I cry, I will strike you down. I will hunt you down and kill you with my happiness.

One day when that happens, I will look up to the sky and say 'Fuck you, you are gone forever’.

I hope that day comes sooner than you think.

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

You Belong With Me: Greatest Pop Song of the Decade?

You're on the phone with your girlfriend, She's upset
She's going off about something that you said
She doesnt get your humour like I do

I'm in the room, its a typical Tuesday night
I'm listening to the kind of music she doesnt like
And she'll never know your story like I do

But she wears short skirts, I wear t-shirts
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you'll wake up and find
That what you're lookin for has been here the whole time

If you could see that I'm the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can't you see?
You belong with me
You belong with me

Walkin the streets with you in your worn out jeans
I cant help thinking this is how it ought to be
Laughing on the park bench thinkin to myself
Hey isnt this easy?

And you've got a smile that could light up this whole town
I havent seen it in awhile, since she brought you down
You say you find I know you better than that
Hey, Whatcha doing with a girl like that?

She wears high heels, I wear sneakers
She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers
Dreaming bout the day when you'll wake up and find
That what you're looking for has been here the whole time

If you could see that I'm the one who understands you
Been here all along so why can't you see?
You belong with me

Standin by, waiting at your back door
All this time how could you not know that?
You belong with me
You belong with me

Oh I remember you driving to my house in the middle of the night
I'm the one who makes you laugh when you know you're about to cry
I know your favorite songs and you tell me about your dreams
I think I know where you belong. I think I know it's with me.

Can't you see that I'm the one who understand you?
Been here all along so why can't you see?
You belong with me

Standing by or waiting at your back door
All this time how could you not know that
You belong with me
You belong with me

Have you ever thought just maybe
You belong with me
You belong with me

The greatest gift of pop music is the ability of a song to transport the listener to a specific time and place, and to capture a specific emotion. Or indeed to summarise every thought and emotion that’s been swelling up inside you, and perfectly place into three and a half minutes of utter perfection. Such is the case with You Belong With Me

Its simple premise is entirely universal. Taylor loves her friend who is dating another girl who may or may not be the right one for him. Taylor is pining away for her friend who refuses to see what she does. This is classic Unresolved Sexual Tension (URST) popularized by a series of teen melodramas I have come to know and love. What makes the song so special though is the evocative detail throughout.

Pop Critic Jonathon Bradley neatly captures songs greatness by describing Taylor’s great gift for a sense of time and place:

Swift’s songwriting talent is nothing short of incredible. Though it seems to be effortlessly constructed, You Belong With Me is loaded with precise but lightly drawn observations, capturing great depths of character and motivation in a few lines. Her approach is diaristic; the song starts on “a typical Tuesday night,” which means little except that Swift seems to have a fixation with Tuesdays; in Forever and Always, she describes meeting a boy on “I believe it was a Tuesday.” The repetition across her oeuvre of these motifs (she is also fond of kissing in the rain) suits the obsessive close reading of relationship turmoil at the heart of nearly all her songs.

On this particular typical Tuesday, she’s hanging out in her crush’s bedroom while he argues on the phone with his girlfriend. It’s so natural you could miss how perfectly revealing it is: who else but a high school boy would force his guest to hang around listening to his relationship’s dirty laundry? Later on, Swift captures the giddy thrill of spending time with someone you adore with a few offhand remarks about “worn out jeans” and an amazed sigh of “hey, isn’t this easy?” But I fear the title and the (adorable) video get it wrong: The boy in question does not actually belong with Swift. Listen to her audible inhalation at 2:47, when her breath catches in her throat before she piles on the reasons her object of affection should be with her — Taylor knows his favorite songs, his dreams — delivering them in a rushed, too-insistent torrent, in case he should dare interrupt her with the horrible truth that love is not a legality to be argued in a courtroom, and each certainty of which Swift has convinced herself probably means nothing at all. This is the sound of a girl fighting against the gradual realization that she’s stuck in the friend zone, but it’s also the work of a truly impressive

Its more than a standard love triangle, this is a battle for heart disguised with a sweet melody. We see the story unfold from Taylor’s perspective, the heartbreak, the longing, the obsession. We can all identify with that. But it’s the couplet of /She wears high heels, I wear sneakers/ She's cheer captain and I'm on the bleachers/ Dreaming bout the day when you'll wake up and find/That what you're looking for has been here the whole time/ that packs the emotional wallop. Despite the fact that Taylor Swift is probably the most popular artist in the world today, she is the outsider and she is looking for validation. This turns the whole song on its head.

Chart pop of this decade has relied on female artists taking on a position of power. From Christina Aguilera to Pink, to Britney Spears songs have mostly been about the female carving out their place in the world as a form of empowerment. Rarely do they play the role of the outsider unless it is in a sexually submissive sense. Critics have argued that You Belong With Me creates a situation which suggests that it is okay to pine, and to wait, and to dream, and to wish for the unattainable. Why is this a bad thing?

You Belong With Me should stand in the pantheon of great pop music. It is arguably the greatest song of its kind of the decade. Strip away the persona of Taylor Swift's celebrity and its possible to liken her to the great singer songwriters of yesteryear. You Belong With Me not only captures the feelings of millions of others in the past, present and future, but it sounds if the song could have been written by me alone in my bedroom late at night. The essence of pop music is to make the exceeding complicated deceptively simple. Taylor Swift makes me wish I was a great songwriter, and while I lack her extraordinary talent I’m more than happy for her musical prowess to help me along my own fractured emotional journey.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Rocket Man

She packed my bags last night pre-flight
Zero hour nine a.m.
And I'm gonna be high as a kite by then
I miss the earth so much I miss my wife
It's lonely out in space
On such a timeless flight

And I think it's gonna be a long long time
Till touch down brings me round again to find
I'm not the man they think I am at home
Oh no no no I'm a rocket man
Rocket man burning out his fuse up here alone

Mars ain't the kind of place to raise your kids
In fact it's cold as hell
And there's no one there to raise them if you did

And all this science I don't understand
It's just my job five days a week
A rocket man, a rocket man
And I think it's gonna be a long long time...

I am full of contradictions. I am so intensely private to so many, but talkative once trust is earned. Sometimes I feel like saying the same thing a thousand times just because it is the most important thing in the world. They say a picture paints a thousand words, well to me, my feelings feel a million words. But how can you say the same thing so many times over before it becomes redundant and loses all its meaning? It is a question I’ve been struggling with lately.

And so this leads me to Rocket Man. Released eleven years before my birth, in 1972 by Elton John, it is quite simply one of the best songs ever recorded. I have so many different memories attached to this song, and it has spoke to me at so many different points in my life, for so many different reasons.

The first is on the bus on the way to special school. I couldn’t say much at the tender age of 5 for I had just learnt my first word a year earlier, but all I knew was that I loved the song. As the bus travelled through the South Western suburbs of Adelaide on the way to the torture chamber known as the Regency Park Centre, I would pretend that my wheelchair was a Rocket, ostensibly to fly away, away from the mess that was my life at that point. A life of soreness, crying and stretching. The staff eventually got wind of this too because they figured out the only way to attach me to my ‘standing frame’ (where they’d literally strap my legs in standing up so I couldn’t move) without me crying was to sing Rocket Man

Almost a decade later was the Year 7 Mitcham Primary School Science Fair. The school had Rocket Man playing over the oval PA all day, and that was the first time I realised how much I was attracted to girls. Some Year 12 girls from Mitcham Girls High had come over to help organise the fair. They were about ten of them, nine of which were assigned to co-ordinate the activities, the odd one out was assigned to be 'my helper'. Her name was Danielle, she had shoulder length brown hair and she followed me around all day and she smiled, boy did she smile. And she made sure that I was always first in line for all the activities, and she bought me a Coke. At the end of the day, she gave me a hug and said ‘Thanks for a great day!’ and as she left Elton sang ‘And I think its gonna be a long, long time’. I never saw her again.

Then yesterday Rocket Man came up again. Free of those previous memories, it spoke to me on a whole new level. It spoke to my frustration, the loneliness, but also the contradiction between freedom and constraint, being able to achieve anything, but all at once feeling tied down. Space is infinite, but it is also tiresome and restrictive.

It speaks to me on a whole new level because now I have taken off, reaching for the stratosphere, wishing for the things that I have left behind, people who aren’t quite ready to take the journey with me. Do I wait for them? Or do I take the journey?

It also speaks principally to my addictive personality. I always promise myself I will take things slow, but I never do. Even as I write this I am contemplating breaking a promise I have made to myself today because I can’t quite curb what I am frightened will eventually become an unhealthy addiction.

All of this being heavily ironic of course, because during the recording of unquestionably his greatest song ever Elton John was under the vice of so many addictions. Perhaps that’s why he and Bernie Taupin wrote it, they wanted to board his rocket to travel far away from their vices. See everything links back to Rocket Man. Only this time I wish to board my Rocket to bring me closer to the world, not further away. But as the song goes ‘I think it's gonna be a long long time...’

Friday, 30 October 2009

G6

Might write something I want to say to you someday
Might do something I'd be proud of someday
Mark my words, I might be something someday

For the first time in a long, long time I actually feel content. It is not that I wasn’t happy before, life was good, it was challenging, fulfilling, interesting, and complex, but rarely exciting. I have always had purpose, stubbornly so, but actually living life seems more important now. The goals have not diminished, but they are now part of a wider tapestry of life.

Following on from a few discussions I have had recently and the list I published a couple of weeks ago, I have decided that it is not enough to merely express my inner most thoughts nightly during the four or so hours I am trapped in bed waiting to fall asleep. It is not enough to wait for the ‘right moment’ to tell people how I feel, for it may never come.

So after talking to one of its members, I have dubbed a group of my most trusted friends ‘The Group of 6’. (G6) These six all know who they are: they are only 6 whom I trust with my life, my heart, and my soul. I also tell them how important they are to me every chance I get, but now it is time for others to know.

Late at night it is these people who I think about, I think about their hopes, their dreams, their goals, what drives them, but perhaps most importantly what binds us together. I think about the times we have spent together, and the future experiences we have yet to share. In my photographic overactive mind, I have written wedding toasts, eulogies, and other speeches for their most important moments. I have made ITunes play lists for all of them, which I listen to when they are going through a rough patch as my way of cosmically sending positive thoughts. Sometimes, I even give these play lists to them.

Yes it is intense, all of the best people are. They emote at every opportunity. It has now become such a part of our culture to denigrate people who wear their hearts on their sleeves. Being ‘emotional’ is short hand for categorising teenagers who wear too much eye make up and listen to music performed by skinny white boys. There’s nothing wrong with that. There’s nothing wrong with saying you’d die for a certain person, given that it was absolutely necessary. I can tell you now that I would die for everyone in the G6, without even having to think twice about it.

Some people think about a person’s funeral and they have nightmares. I write eulogies all of the time hoping never to give them, but using them as a tool to work out what I want to say to that person while they are alive. I don’t want the nicest words spoken about me to be when I am dead. And I don’t want my words spoken when they cannot hear them.

And so in the conversation mentioned above, I spoke the most honest words I had ever spoken to which they are claimed they did not feel worthy of. Funny that, because this person tells people on such a regular basis that they are amazing, and yet was complaining that these people never understood that it was meant with all sincerity. Sincerity its hard to come by these days.

Finally, to the most important member of the G6, who always reads this blog even when its complete drivel, even when it was in a different location, and always has done since the beginning. You are always number one on my call list, always will be no matter what happens. You deserve to be because you’ve put up with so much of my shit and still call me a friend. You are always there for me when I need you. That is why you are the G6's leading member.

Forget someday, someday is today.

Wednesday, 21 October 2009

'I’ve Given All I Can, But We’re Still on the Payroll'

As promised I am drawing up my best albums of the decade list in my room at night when I cannot sleep. It is proving to be a tough job, so much so that I’ll probably have to extend the list to 30 albums rather than 20. I wish the media had this problem. So far I’ve read five best of the decade lists. Four of them have Radiohead’s Kid A at the top of the list while one of them has White Blood Cells by The White Stripes. Seriously? The White Stripes? What the hell was Uncut Magazine smoking?

However its Radiohead that are worth exploring. What the hell makes them critical darlings? To me, they are just a conventional Brit Pop band who evolved musically into a somewhat electronic sound, deliberately labelling themselves as ‘A look at me band’, all the while being smart enough to corner an uncharted market for just over a decade. Fans will probably lynch me for saying this, but they are the alternative version of Britney Spears.

There is no question that some of their songs are bordering on pure genius, but these are far too rare. 1997’s OK Computer remains unquestionably their strongest album with great songs such as Let Down, Exit Music (From a Film) with of course both Karma Police and Paranoid Android. I would argue that this was their creative peak. At the time this was hailed as the great work that it undoubtedly was, but comparisons about it being the modern version of Dark Side of the Moon were pure hyperbole.

Things started going downhill with the release of Kid A and Amnesiac. Radiohead starting crafting music that dared to be different, rather than focusing on the actual song craft. To be sure there were still a few good songs, but with each new album the quality dipped. In fact, out of all there 21st century output I have only liked about 8 songs. For every Morning Bell/Amnesiac there was a Like Spinning Plates and many other stinkers. Hail to the Thief arrived to critical raptures, but only had two decent songs. Then came the triumph of marketing over substance known as In Rainbows.

It didn’t matter that the record was a steaming pile of turd, the whole debate over getting users to choose their own price for the record, was outstandingly savvy, and probably the most genius marketing strategy ever. The anti marketing strategy. The hipster Pitchfork wankers of the world thought they were sticking it to the record company, when in fact they played right into their hands.

This confirmed for me that Radiohead are not revolutionary just patchy with excellent marketing strategies. I think I could write a thesis on how Radiohead use anti marketing techniques to position themselves as a universally admired band. They try to be provocative just as Britney Spears does. Instead of using sex/stupidity, they use anti-authoritarian publicity to whip the media up into frenzy, The marketing campaign for In Rainbows being a classic example. They get more publicity for this strategy then the music on the album. Their great material lives up to the hype, but that hype is carefully orchestrated. Most people who are looking to them as musical royalty have fallen for the marketing machine.

The day after In Rainbows was released I counted four newspaper articles and seven blogs discussing the concept of pay what you think its worth. At that stage I couldn’t comment on the content of the album, but neither did they. Fans suggest that Radiohead avoid attention and marketing. That’s just nonsense.

A quote from one of my favourite blogs Intensities In Ten Suburbs (by a Radiohead fan) sums up how they realised special edition box sets after the initial hype only to squeeze out every possible dollar from gullible fans.

Brilliant manoeuvre on Radiohead’s part pretty much now matter how you look at it, but naturally, it’s not quite as simple as all that. For those cheeky bastards have also set a snare trap for their more gullible fans in the form of a box set that costs 40 pounds, which comes out to over 80 bucks for you Yanks out there. The box set contains the album in CD form, an extra disc of new music, 2 LPs with the same content as the CDs, and some photos and art work. So essentially, assuming you would’ve gotten the download for free anwyay, you’re paying $80 for about eight songs worth of new music.

My relationship with Radiohead charts the course my young adulthood. When OK Computer was released my brother would listen to it in the car repeatedly while taking me out. They clearly weren’t my taste then so they dropped off my radar. About five years ago they emerged for me again in a whole new context. For a period of about 3 months I devoured every Radiohead album as I was getting to know the person who has probably had the most profound effect on my life to date. Then Radiohead dropped off my radar again, only briefly returning upon the release of In Rainbows.

And over the past week I find myself listening to the good songs again as I can feel myself going through another profound change. To be sure, most of the output I like is meant to sound depressing as shit, but their great work seems to have the opposite effect on me. It gives me optimism, it makes me feel creative and it gives me freedom. And so they might not be the greatest band of the past fifteen years, but if they can get rid of all the bullshit, they might just be a decent band.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Sainthood & the Rise of Sara

Everybody reading this should know that I am a HUGE Tegan and Sara fan. So much so that I own all six albums, their EPs, remix albums, demo albums, plus 19 additional bootleg recordings. I’ve seen them live 5 times in 4 different Australian states. Needless to say, you probably won’t find a bigger fan boy in the Tegan and Sara universe. It is hard to quantify my adulation for both Quin sisters. They are my creative heroes, intellectual peers, and cultural icons. Listening to a brand new album from them the very first time is quite the experience. It takes on orgasmic proportions.

Today was such a day. Although their album Sainthood gets released next week, it leaked on the internet in the early hours of this morning. Naturally, I couldn’t wait to hear the finished product. Back in 2007 when Sainthood’s predecessor The Con was released, I wrote that it was quite possibly the album of my lifetime. Congratulations Sainthood because now we have a new champion.

Those who don’t know me that well would say this is a hasty judgment. In fact one friend and fellow Tegan and Sara fan said today that this was a decision based on adrenaline. I know this not to be the case, because the previous call was made on the first day I heard that record, and its only now just been replaced. Stylistically, where The Con was angsty, Sainthood is thought provoking. Vocals are pushed further up in the mix and while early reports suggesting the album would be electronic, Sainthood has a more 80s New Romantic vibe, particularly on the Tegan penned Don't Rush. The Girls’ gift for songwriting is more noticeable and the album seems more cohesive than The Con, there's not as big stylistic gap between the two songwriters now.

Any hardcore Tegan and Sara fan will tell you that their contingent is divided into two evenly distributed camps. The ‘T Teamers’ prefer Tegan’s more emotional brand of songwriting that generally favours a more poppy sound. Meanwhile, the ‘S Sidekicks’ prefer Sara’s more literate songwriting that combines with more quirky instrumentation. Although they are my two favourite songwriters, I was most definitely a ‘T Teamer’… until now

sainthoodcover

It is Sara’s songs that really shine on this record, and in particular the potential second single On Directing. Complete with lyrics like ‘Go steady with me, I know it turns you off when I get talking like a teen, talking like a teen’ this song is the worthy successor to The Con’s first single Back In Your Head in terms of Sara’s ability to capture intricate lyrics with an innate sense of melody. Arrow and Alligator continue this trend to demonstrate that Sara is the finest songwriter of her generation.

However, Tegan is not far behind. Tracks such as The Ocean, Someday and lead single Hell show Tegan’s ability to craft a catchy and powerful hook remained unparalleled. Tegan also branches out on this record with the song Northshore evoking Deborah Harry and Joan Jett with a straightforward thrashing punk number. Unfortunately for Tegan, Sara once again steals the spotlight from her, in this case with her wondrous backing vocals.

Once again Co-Produced by Death Cab for Cutie’s Christopher Walla, he continues to elevate his status as a latter day George Martin or Brian Wilson. He has produced nine classic albums this decade for three different artists. His stature as the pre-eminent musician of the 21st century cannot be questioned, as both a part of Death Cab and a producer in his own right.

But it is to Tegan and Sara who the credit must go to for Sainthood. They have proven why they are the best band in the world. Not only do they write and play classic songs, they continue to improve exponentially making each new album a revelation. Their maturity is on full display throughout Sainthood indicating that there will more Sidekicks and Teamers with each passing year.

Friday, 16 October 2009

An Inspired List

I feel this weird compulsion to write even though its all I’ve been doing for a few days now. Whether it be my thesis, several long winded emails to friends or that metaphorical red pen through the track changes of a Word document, I’m sick of the word processor. And yet I have so many pent up emotions, both good and bad that I need to channel this cacophony of feelings into some form, although I know I cannot say what I want to say at this point… but soon enough.

So what you’re getting is a list. I’ve just read an amazing ‘bucket list’ of things a person who I admire greatly hopes to achieve in their lifetime. As good as that bucket list was, I’ve come to the conclusion that those aren’t for me, so I decided on a variant, more of a list of affirmations that I hope will keep me focused in amongst the many joys and the many doubts that plague me.

1. I will try to remain balanced in all areas of my life
2. I will remain focused on my goals
3. I will get through my thesis in the allotted time period no matter how big the task may seem at any given moment
4. I will broaden my horizons
5. I now believe its possible for me to be happy, despite all the obstacles that confront me, obvious or otherwise
6. I believe I will change the world
7. I will not resort to self destructive behaviour when things don’t go my way
8. I will continue to maintain my sense of perspective
9. I will not become single minded, no matter how tempting that might be
10. The most important things in my life: are my family, my friends, my music, my political party, and my football team in that order
11. I will continue to fight for what I believe is right
12. I will continue to be thankful for my best friend, the greatest person on the face of the earth
13. I will continue to fight injustice in the world
14. I believe that the ALP is the greatest political party on earth. Sometimes I may disagree with policies or actions of a minor consequence, but in terms of the bigger picture, it’s the greatest vessel to espouse my social democratic values and will remain so
15. I will never apologise for who I am.
16. I will not compromise the core values, outlined in 10, for anyone
17. I believe that I know my purpose in life
18. I know some people will scoff at this list, and think its corny, and to them I say ‘You try it buddy, perhaps you might get inspired, and if not there is no place for you in my world’
19. I know that if I die tomorrow, I will remain unsatisfied
20. I believe that it truly sucks to be a cripple, but I wouldn’t have it any other way
21. I believe in Karma. What you give is what you get returned (See what I did there?)
22. One day I will write two books, one an autobiography, and one on music criticism, and I won’t care whether they get published
23. Despite what people tell me, I know myself better than anyone else
24. Sometimes its OK to be vulnerable, but I know that this vulnerability will only be exposed to a lucky few
25. Every important moment has a song attached it.
26. Sometimes the record may get scratched, but its important to play it for the first time
27. I know that I am lucky
28. Someday, I will not be insecure. When that day comes the world will know
29. This list is for me and no one else
30. I will always be open and honest with my feelings
31. I will tell the right people I love them
32. Sometimes its good to know that things can change, change is scary, but it is life

Friday, 9 October 2009

Resuming Normal Service

I'm working on the thesis, and behind on the proposed book reviews and watching the television shows in my rotation (9 shows to watch most likely tonight/tomorrow.) Sunday is ALP Regional conference (in of all places, the delightful Nambour) where I am seconding a motion that has already been submitted and bringing a motion up from the floor. After that, essays are due Monday and I start marking for a week or two in between thesis work. During which I have another two books to peruse and make copious notes, before submitting another draft of the conformation document to my supervisors.

Therefore I would like to reflect on the last couple of posts and set the record straight. The last few posts have taken on a decidedly negative tone focusing on things that it was never designed to. This place was never designed as an outlet for me to talk about my disability, or indeed to reflect the life of one who ‘suffers’ from a disability. Naturally sometimes the focus of discussion will inevitably drift towards the topic, but where possible I aim to avoid it directly henceforth. I may be in denial, but I am not disabled.

I am grateful for things as they currently stand. Reading another blog today reminded me of just how lucky I am. I don’t have to put up with drama, stupidity, nor pain. I am a smart guy who is well on the way to achieving his potential (always my greatest fear is that I will not), I have great friends and family, I am doing what I love. And I will make a difference in this world. When I have all of that, minor things like shitting on schedule or the ability to satisfy ones primal urges remain trivial.

And the ironic thing is that about 3 hours after posting my blog suggesting that no one will catch my eye, someone did. Like those who came before her it will never, never, ever happen, too many factors conspiring against it, including a few years. To paraphrase the previous post the record hasn’t even been put on yet, much less been bought from the shop. But I picked it up, put it back and shall think about purchasing it if the stars align, but for now it sits firmly on the shelf.

So how about that Malcolm Turnbull? ….