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.


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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.