Monday, 31 May 2010


I hate those TV episodes where the writers cobble together a clip show because they’ve clearly run out of ideas. It is lazy and its tired. It is the same with writing too. I dislike books where in someway the author has approached a significant milestone and decides to piece together an anthology of what they deem to be their best work. We as readers should get to decide what work is superior to others. It dawned on me that yesterday’s Katy Steele gig review was my 100th post on this blog after just seventeen months. Instead of telling you what you should read, I’d like to tell my small group of loyal, rabid readers what this journey means, and where I believe it should take me next.

In the beginning I thought this blog would turn into a tiny version of Slate: a lot of political coverage, a tiny dollop of pop culture, and a very minimal amount of introspection. Yet the reverse has been the case. Circumstances have aligned themselves, so that the growth of this blog has coincided with perhaps the most chaotic period of my life, and one in which I’ve been battered emotionally, challenged intellectually and where I have constantly criticised myself. This blog has been the place has been the illustration of this tumultuous period.

I’m reminded of Mark Latham’s first press conference as ALP leader in 2003 where he pledged to the Canberra Press Gallery that he would engage in …no more crudity…’ He tried to live by that pledge for a while in order to remain electorally viable, but soon his true personality shone through and that pledge became nothing more than lip service. And so it has proven with this blog. I made a pledge to myself upon its creation that there would be no more introspection, and no more self analysis. As hard as I’ve tried to live up to that promise, in order to remain what I consider readable, I just can’t do it. If that wasn’t clear by September, when I was confronted with personal questions relating to my disability, the pledge was promptly thrown out the window when in the following month I fell in love for the second time.

This proved to be a turning point for not only the blog, but for me personally. ‘Playing the record for the first time’ has become part of my overall vernacular and it is kind of a motto for how I’ve approached things. It was never my intent to have at least half the remaining posts trace my doomed, highly inevitable, and typically predictable journey my heart has gone on since. In what I guess is an overly critical assessment I fear that my writing is less like Christopher Hitchens and Chuck Klosterman, and more like the overtly emotional teenager inside me that I constantly struggle with. It is not enough to use my physically crippling disease as an excuse to justify my own emotionally crippling behaviour. It is not what I wanted these pages to become, but yet it seems there will be more of it, because that’s the only way I know how to write.

I can’t say this blog has allowed me to come full circle, more a reflex angle I suppose. Last night I lay awake wondering that if I was an impartial observer whether I would read this on a regular basis. I can honestly say I am unsure. Sometimes when I write here I feel as if it helps me enormously, being able to express myself in a fashion where I am insanely comfortable. I write as if there are no readers, and then I can answer the most inane question of all time ‘How are you feeling?’ by saying ‘Just go and read my blog’ Yet I feel sorry for the people I mention here because I know that the majority of them read this blog, but they don’t ask to be talked about in a public forum. I thank them for resisting the temptation to punch me in the face, even though I feel like I deserve it most of the time. I’m proud of this blog and yet it makes me cringe. Unlike pervious efforts I have the intent on keeping this one alive. I have this fantasy that one day I might turn this blog into a book, dare I say an anthology?

When I was a small boy, my mother bought a book called Under the Eye of the Clock by Christopher Nolan. I’ve never read it myself, but as I type I’m looking at the book’s dust jacket. Mum has said in the past that this book was an inspiration to her as she was faced with my grim diagnoses. It is the story of its author, a young man that suffered severe brain damage who became a world renowned poet. Mum said to me long ago that she had read the book when my outlook was probably at its grimmest, and was inspired so much, that by reading the book she knew that I would be able to achieve great things in my life.

As I’ve mentioned previously I’ve always wrestled with the notion of being a case study for people with disabilities. Being ‘disabled’ is a tag that sits so uncomfortably for me that I feel as if it is the tightest of straightjackets. I feel as if in spite of all I achieved, and will achieve, I will be known for because of, and in spite of, my disability. Yet I feel I have a responsibility, and a duty to give people hope. That just because a One Nation bogan labelled me a ‘Commie Cripple’ at a polling booth one day, it does not mean that I cannot wear that tag with pride and defiance. If a mother of a child with a disability reads one of these blog posts and decides that I’m their very own version of Christopher Nolan, then that’s okay. However, I am not an inspiration, I’m just human who wears his heart on his sleeve, loves politics, music, TV, gets his heart broken, and is susceptible to write about it in copious detail.

I came up with the title of this blog on a whim in its previous incarnation. But now I see that Thoughts Of A Frustrated Visionary has become more apt than ever before. Forever obsessed with the big picture, it is the human elements that continue to frustrate me. I may be in the process of completing a PhD in political science, but that’s the most stable part of my life because it is on my terms. The ability to find a woman who will love me as equally and as unconditionally as I do her is still a goal I doubt I will achieve. The struggle to wrestle against my two competing identities: the cognitive and the emotional is a battle I think I’ve already lost. And the ability to process my thoughts clearly outside of this blog is something I doubt will happen. If you come here for nothing else, at least you know all my problems.

Sunday, 30 May 2010

'Staying Wild' Gig Review: Katy Steele X&Y Bar Fortitude Valley 29/05/10.

Ahh Miss Katy Steele, you are magnificent! The Brisbane show of her inaugural solo tour lived up to all expectations and then some. Perhaps it was due to the tiny venue, which would best be described as an industrial shop front, turned club. Or, perhaps it was because Krista (my friend, and Little Birdy/Katy Steele SUPERFAN) and I were located front row centre in a crowd of what I’m guessing was no more than 150. Or perhaps it was the combination of a typically fantastic Katy Steele performance and good company. Whatever the reason, the set from the Little Birdy front woman was awesome entertainment.

We arrived at the X&Y Bar shortly after scheduled doors open only to be confronted by a small queue still waiting outside. After about 20 minutes of waiting time we are ushered in, Krista and I promptly camp out in the front row. It is there we meet Simone and Suse, a very friendly, very talkative couple of women. Whilst we wait we exchange pleasantries, compare Little Birdy songs, play a game of STD (bonus points if you can work out the acronym), and rank our individual levels of Little Birdy fandom. Without a doubt Krista wins this battle, proclaiming during our discussions that it is her dream to obtain a Little Birdy/Katy Steele set list.

By the time the support act takes the stage an hour later, its fair to say we were growing restless. While two members of The Bloodpoets start playing, Simone had promptly drowned several Coronas, and was like me less than impressed with what the band was offering up. If you were to describe them in one word that adjective would be ‘bland’. The songwriting was repetitive and unimaginative, the melodies second rate, and the song structures stale. Despite some potential in the keyboardist and backing vocalist Rebecca; the anchor of the duo, the guitarist and what appeared to be duo’s the chief songwriter, proved nothing more than a dead weight. Rebecca advised the crowd that she is launching a solo record in July. My advice to her would be to launch that record with a semi decent songwriter and don’t look back. One gets the feeling Simone shared that opinion as she began to heckle the band by the end of its set. Her retorts were far more imaginative than anything offered up by the duo from The Bloodpoets.

Then after another wait Katy arrived on stage and the mood was instantly lifted to the stratosphere. Interspersed with Little Birdy crowd favourites, such as personal favourite Relapse was material from Katy’s upcoming solo album she is currently recording in New York. As good as the Little Birdy back catalogue is, I believe that the solo material is superior to her previous efforts.

Set List

Stay Wild
One In A Million*
Into My Arms
High Demand*
Do Right Woman (Aretha Franklin Cover)
Beautiful To Me
Port of Call *
See of Love (Cat Power's Juno Cover)
*denotes Katy’s new solo material.

Personal highlights for me were of course Relapse particularly since Katy was looking at me for a great portion of that song, and made my heart race a few hundred beats per minute. Of the new material Port Of Call was the stand out, as it was filled with so much emotion and vulnerability, particularly as the song reached a powerful crescendo that was so spellbinding that it cannot be put into words. This was in no doubt due to the fact that she dedicated the song to ‘…my new lover in New York… oh shit I wasn’t meant to say that. Oh well it’s out there now’

During the first half of Brother, the last song in the set, Simone, positioned next to me in the front row, slides under the bar that acted as a barricade like some kind of mutant seal, rips Katy’s set list from the floor without Katy even noticing, dives back straight up, and hands the set list to Krista. ‘Here ya go’ she says, making Krista the happiest girl in Fortitude Valley clapping her hands together and grinning from ear to ear. I regret not having a camera to capture that most exhilarating moment. The other thing Krista and I forgot to do was to get more details from Simone and Suse. On the off chance that either of you’re reading this, thanks for helping making the night unforgettable, send me an email so we can exchange details, and we’ll see you at Angus and Julia Stone in September!

After the show we met Katy at the back of the venue where she personally autographed Krista’s set list and my tour poster, which I now count amongst my most prized possessions. Once again Katy proved why she is among the best of Australian talent. She is powerful, tender, emotional, vibrant and wickedly funny. It’s easy to see why Krista worships the ground Katy walks on, Not that I didn’t worship her before, but no one needs any convincing after last night’s extraordinary performance.

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Christopher Hitchens: Master of the Memoir

Christopher Hitchens noted atheist, polemicist, and columnist is the benchmark for my recreational writing. Hitchens, was a socialist and left wing political columnist in the 1960s, shifting his political ideologies after the 9/11 attacks to support the Bush Administration’s invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Those who know my political attitudes would be correct in assuming that I regard such disloyalty as the epitome of political cowardice, but Hitchens is perhaps the only political writer I know who transcends ideology.

Political scholars will know his most famous work The Trails of Henry Kissenger, in which, as the name suggests, Hitchens spends an entire book mounting evidence as to why the former National Security Adviser and Secretary of State under the successive Presidencies of Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford should be prosecuted for war crimes. I’ve also read his book No One Left To Lie To, which investigates the circumstances leading up to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and the cover up that his administration engaged in to ensure Clinton maintained a political equivalent of a Teflon coating. Both these works are personifications of Hitchens himself, insanely arrogant, highly intelligent, combative and dogmatic. It is for these reasons that Hitchens polarises people in the extreme.

With his recently published memoir Hitch 22 that demonstrates to me why he should be revered as a writer and not persecuted as he often is from both sides of the political divide. Reviews of the book have concentrated on the fact that although he has embarked on a number of heterosexual relationships, including a marriage, there is only one sentence alluding to these. In contrast, there is a whole chapter devoted to his friendship with noted writer Martin Amis whom he repeatedly describes as a man that he ‘loves’. Last week in an interview with Tony Jones on Lateline its host seemed annoyingly fixated on the idea that the whole chapter represented evidence of Hitch’s latent bisexuality, not so. Hitchens went on to make the point that there have been various chapters in many books that document the power of female friendship using the word ‘love’, so why he asked must the term be merely applied as a feminine concept? Early in Hitch 22, he documents how in boarding school his first series of repeated sexual encounters was with a boy, as a way to express his ongoing sexual frustration. He describes that experience as being ‘his first love’. However what he refuses to do in true Hitchens style is label himself as heterosexual or homosexual. Why? Because there is no point. As he stated in the Lateline interview ‘…homosexuality is a form of love as well as a form of sex and deserves respect in that way for that reason.’ In the argument for human rights, which I passionately believe should be afforded to all regardless of sexual orientation, no one else has put forward that point of view so concisely and so clearly, to see what I see: that there is no logical argument as to why people who are gay or lesbian should not be treated as equally as their heterosexual counterparts.

Aside from the titillating portions of the book it begins with two heartbreaking chapters, each portraits of his mother and father. His mother whom Hitchens regards with an enormous amount of affection set the standard for which all future women would be judged. However, in his early twenties Hitchens discovered that his mother was having an affair. He kept the secret at first, but then the man killed both himself and Hitch’s mother whilst in Athens. Hitchens now thinks the man had bipolar disorder. In a most heartbreaking portion of the book he describes how he walked into a hotel room to identify his mother’s body, being so overcome with grief he had to go over to the window and cry, only to look out of the window to see the most magnificent view of the Acropolis. He then had to ring his father to tell him that his wife was not only dead, but the man she was sleeping with behind his back had shot her. Hitch’s father who he affectionately nicknames 'The Commander’ was a naval veteran in World War 2, the most exciting time in his life. He spent his post war years trying to recapture the excitement and comradeship he felt on the battlefield, never being able to, never really having got over his wife’s murder.

I’m five chapters into the book and there’s hardly any politics thus far, it is merely a gifted writer setting the stage for what is to come. Several people have commented that once my life starts winding down I should consider writing a memoir. I’m sure I’ll have things to write about, because in my relatively short life it is not hard to consider it epic with a compelling narrative. And yet I doubt I’ll ever reach the Hitchens standard, which I’ll measure my writing against for the rest of my days. To read and to take the information in is one thing, but to read the information, ponder it, questions its motives, apply it to all walks of life, to empathise with it and to be inspired by it is quite another.

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Yes, The ALP Can Help Cure My Personal Problems Too!

I am prone to bold premature declarations, but I believe I may well be past the troubles that have dogged me over the past couple of months. With the help of friends old and new, I believe that I have reached the acceptance stage of my grieving process. Even better though I have not come out of the process bitter and twisted as I have done on previous occasions. Norms have been maintained although with new perspectives. This claim remains untested though, and I shall see if it holds merit the first time I confront my demons, whenever they decide to pop up again. I have a feeling it may be sooner rather than later. Unlike last time, I hope they come quickly and it is not long and drawn out. At least then I’ll know where I’ll… ‘ahem’…sit.

I think the catalyst was a trip to an ALP fundraiser on Saturday with Bill Shorten in Brisbane. For the first time in ages I had fun without thinking about my problems. Part of this was the freedom I felt, the burden part way cleared, but the larger part was hanging out with some really nice, interesting people. Not that my current/other friends aren’t, but as I’ve mentioned before, I sometimes feel isolated. Living in a conservative heartland in the ‘geriatric capital of the world’ means that you don’t get too many Young Labor people on the Sunshine Coast, (unless I recruit them from my uni) so it was nice to talk to people my age about music AND targeted campaigning in the same conversation. Sometimes being young in the ALP on the Sunshine Coast is like being a blue whale in a bathtub.

I was having a conversation about online campaigning at the function, speaking in highly technical political terms (as we do). An old lady interrupts and approaches:

Old Lady: Can I sit down with you? You seem like a nice fellow?
Me: …um sure?
OL: Ya know my brother worked for the Endeavour Foundation? (a charity that works for intellectually disabled people) You people are just as smart as we are.
It is at this point my conversation partner, a friend and political sparing partner, starts turning purple with rage
Friend: You know he is studying a PhD in political science?
OL: Oh and you people are so nice, lovely, kind, and often you can be smarter than us too, we just don’t realise it!
F: He’s an academic too you know!?!
OL: Oh there’s Bill (Shorten) (points to Friend) can you take a photo of me and Bill?
Old lady rushes off to chase after Shorten

While most people would be horrified at this story, I just find it hilarious funny. It happens 99% of the time I meet someone new. The irony was not lost on us, this old lady was chasing after the Parliamentary Secretary for Disabilities, who not five minutes later would preach tolerance and acceptance for people with disabilities. What made it for me though was my friend’s reaction. It’s hard to explain, but her indignation coupled with her responses was simultaneously hilarious and empowering. The fact that she was so shocked at the old lady’s attitude towards me signals just how far I’ve come in the ALP in terms of respect. I no longer have to prove myself, and in an environment surrounded by my intellectual peers I now figure that it is not worth worrying about my various neuroses as long as I have done everything in my power to choose my own pathways. Sure, I heard a story about an old ALP warhorse on the way home (who I don’t particularly like) telling his factional colleagues ‘…that cripple is only President of the Kawana Branch to ingratiate himself to the rest of us on behalf of… (His rival)’, but do I really give a fuck? Nope because in 20 years I’ll be ALP National Secretary, he’ll be six feet under and I’ll still be conversing with my indignant friend all the while.

Sure, my troubles had nothing to do with cantankerous old people in the ALP, but they have unintentionally taught me something. Sure there will be people who won’t like me on my journey towards greatness, and there will be people that won’t share my wildest dreams, biggest goals and deepest aspirations, but fuck them. I won’t stop until I achieve them. Along the way I will find people who share my common values and we’ll have a great time changing the world. As for the rest, well in the words of a woman I once knew ‘…fuck it…’

Saturday, 15 May 2010

Building for the Future

Following Budget Week Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has taken a slip in the polls, now trailing Opposition Leader Tony Abbott for the first time. We need to improve our standing ahead of this year's election. Here's a few ideas I was thinking of.

This campaign should be about the past vs the future. Labor has a plan to take the country forward, whereas the Opposition remains, as always, relics of the Howard era. I think the trap we find ourselves in now is that the debate is being framed as winners vs losers; a contest which Abbott (and the media) thrive on.

Abbott didn't come up with one substantive policy idea in his budget reply on Thursday night. So, instead of campaigning negatively and saying he's inept (which he is), lets contrast this with our plethora of policies. People are turning away from us because they know what we stand for and they don't like it. Do they know what Abbott stands for?

Lets move away from talking about the Resource Super Profits Tax (RSPT) and talk about our solid track record of economic policy, our commitment to health, the way we have improved schools with a once in a lifetime building program, our commitment to a sensible population policy, our determination to ensure our nation's security. Yes, we've started the job we were elected to do, but by no means are we finished yet.

Why wait to campaign launches to give landmark speeches? I keep harping on the 100th anniversary of the Fisher Government that transpired a few weeks ago because I see many parallels. After years of Conservatives taking the country for granted, the Fisher Government was the first to make the tough calls, establishing the Commonweatlh Bank, the Navy and many other things we take for granted now. All the while the Opposition opposed these measures due to short sighted, narrow minded views.

So the PM should frame this landmark speech in this fashion. If I was writing it, it might be called Building for the Future, in fact that might make a good general campaign slogan, which all ties into our strengths. I believe that all we should be doing is focusing on us, the more oxygen we give Abbott, the more he thrives. He will try to make it into a contest of Kevin v Tony, we should instead frame it as a contest of Labor frontbench v Liberal frontbench. This is where our advantage lies.

Policy vs populism is a contest we win every time.

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Dignity for Disability? Absolute Farce

This week Kelly Vincent became the youngest woman to be a representative in an Australian Parliament at age 21. She won the last Senate spot in the South Australian State election held last March. She has Cerebral Palsy and is confined to a wheelchair just like me. She is intelligent, articulate and perceptive. You would think I’d be overjoyed at her election to parliament as well as the apparent success of her political party Dignity for Disability. I’m not. I’m angry, frustrated and annoyed.

I am a vocal critic of Dignity for Disability. I'm ideologically opposed to single issue parties, particularly within the disability sector. Kelly Vincent was profiled on The 7:30 Report last night as the bastion of hope for the disability sector. The only thing she has ever spoken about is disability services and this trend continued last night. Apart from ideological commonalities, the main reason I joined the ALP is that as a major party they take a whole of government approach. Sure I care about issues relating to disability services, I wish to be a spokesman and advocate for the community should the opportunity arise, but it is not my only, or even my main interest. I want to see health reform, more money for higher education, sensible urban planning, and a forward thinking foreign policy that puts Australia's interests first, just to name a few things. I hope Kelly Vincent does make gains in the South Australian Parliament for people with disabilities, but I believe passionately that this is entirely the wrong way to go about it. It is clear that she is a bright, intelligent woman but it is a pity that her political interests and that of her party are so narrow minded that she can't see beyond her own wheelchair.

A trip to the website demonstrates this more clearly than anything else. If you look under Policies  there’s information on education, the environment and transport. Is there any information on ways to improve on existing government models? How about ways to ensure effective service delivery? How about comparing and contrasting with the other parties in any of these portfolios? Nope. It is all related to the needs of people with disabilities and their carers, their core constituency. There is nothing articulated on how they might pay for these proposed policies. Nope, they just want their money and they want it now. They have nothing to say about other things that affect people with disabilities as basic citizens that are issues beyond their impairments. This party should know better than anyone that there is more to a person with a disability than just their impairment. Their policies would have you believe otherwise.

If I want to be taken seriously in this world I must break down barriers of my physical disability. Dignity for Disability reinforces them, and says 'Look at me I am disabled, and because of this I am not getting enough funding or support.' When I forge my career in politics whether it be as a candidate or otherwise, I want people to look at me and say, 'This guy knows what he's on about, he has a vision for the country's future. Have you been involved in disability services? What's your take on it? How will it fit in to the government's overall agenda?'

Imagine if you were Kelly Vincent. Sure by holding the balance of power you may get more services and money in the short term just so the government can satisfy you and enable it to pass legislation for its own priorities. You'll be gone in eight years because by that time the novelty would have worn off, and you only just snuck in by sheer political luck in the first place. Sure you might have an impressive legislative record when it is all over, but will you have achieved long term structural reform to ensure others are looked after in the future? My guess is no, because in order for a government to take you seriously they must become aware of how your concerns fit into its overall platform and single issue parties by definition are only focused on their own interests. Lots of short term gain, plenty of long term pain, and kids with disabilities who aren’t even born yet will be stuck in the same mess.

If Dignity for Disability are interested in real and positive change for people with disabilities, they would look beyond the obvious. Productive policy making is not a one way street. People with disabilities criticise governments for thinking like bureaucrats, having no knowledge about people with disabilities and the issues they face. Well, this cuts both ways. In order to achieve the change people with disabilities need, advocates must meet governments in the middle. Know the system and know it well. Failure to accept its terms of reference means that parties like Dignity for Disability are pointless if they aren’t already.

Friday, 7 May 2010

The Proclamer

Often when marking assignments for the courses I teach I can tell when the student has typed in the question to Google and clicked on the first response provided. Not because I have actually bothered to do this myself, but because the response provided is so utterly generic and boring. They write the assignment in their sleep, and I mark the paper with an annoyed grimace, another semester of their HECS debt wasted. Nothing pisses me off more than banality. Be bold, be brave, but never be boring.

The people who inspire me currently are interesting and above all atypical. Some I know some I don’t, but I have never been guilty of sugar coating the truth. Every opportunity I get I either write or tell people how I feel about them. Over four years ago I wrote a letter to my favourite political columnist at the time Matt Price, political sketch writer for The Australian. He had written an article bemoaning the lack of young talent coming through on both sides of the political divide saying that the new generation of politicians lacked conviction. This inspired me to write a reply, a portion of which said:

I have long been a fan of your columns, and wish to say your mix of wit, commentary and insight is something I rarely find in the opinion pages these days. I particularly enjoy your Saturday columns, which profile parliamentarians…. My main purpose for writing this email today was to demonstrate that there is light at the end of the tunnel, however slight it may appear. I am an idealist at heart. I want to become a politician because I have seen both sides of life. I know what it is like not being able to fend for oneself. I know the struggles one has to face on a physical, emotional and intellectual level. Therefore, I see it as my duty to advocate these struggles; on behalf of the many people I know who cannot communicate them. Thank you for writing columns that continue to inspire, educate and entertain me. I look forward to reading many more in the coming years.

The sad thing about that letter was that there were no ‘coming years’. Just eighteen months after I wrote this letter Matt Price was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour. He died four weeks later; just 12 hours after Kevin Rudd won the 2007 election. As funny as it sounds I still miss him and his columns every time I look on a news website and are subjected to the ilk of Dennis Shanahan, Glenn Milne or Andrew Bolt who act as mouthpieces rather than commentators. Matt was the type of writer who could both demean and praise a politician in the same sentence. His wit is greatly missed. Even though I never got a reply to my letter I am glad he got the chance to read it because he was gone before I knew it and I needed to get all that off my chest.

Some people find the fact that I don’t just praise people, I idolise and worship them (friends, idols and creative heroes all included) incredibly annoying. One of my greatest fears is that these people, or I, might be gone before I get the chance to fully express my true feelings towards them whether I know them personally or not, so I do it every chance I get. Sometimes expressing these feelings to people who aren’t ready to hear them can create awkward situations and they can be uncomfortable, but at least what I have to say is out in the open rather than burning inside me in forms of inexpressible anger that burst out uncontrollably. Am I sometimes guilty of overreaching by expressing emotions that others aren’t ready for? Often. Do I over exaggerate these feelings? Never. I can’t keep any secrets about my feelings. It is impossible for me to hide them. There either on the page here, or in my journal, or shared with my closest allies. Although I watch many television dramas and movies that centre on unrequited love, I never understand why either or both parties don’t have the guts to tell each other how they feel. I have trouble avoiding going to the highest point that I can find and proclaiming my affections (whether they be professional, recreational or romantic) to anyone within hearing distance.

I know most people internalise such allegiances, but even when I try and stop myself I just can’t. I am like Lloyd Dobler holding up that ghetto blaster in Say Anything..., but instead of In Your Eyes by Peter Gabriel it would play You Wouldn’t Like Me by Tegan and Sara (Naturally). Whether any of my various Diane Court’s climb out of their windows is entirely unpredictable because as the opening line of the song says:

I feel like you wouldn’t like me if you met me… but don’t worry there’s still time

Wednesday, 5 May 2010

Sixth Time Is A Charm: Tegan and Sara: The Tivoli 4th May 2010

Casual music fans often look at me in wonderment when I say that I have not only followed Tegan and Sara around Australia, but that I have also seen them six times in four states, in just two and a half years. ‘How could the sixth time be in any different than the first?’ they ask. Well let me start by saying anyone who needs to ask this question does not understand the majesty that is the Quin Twins. Every Tegan and Sara gig is different, each with their own charms, each with their own stories. In the event that I have kids, I will be able to at least share three memorable stories each for the six gigs I have so far attended as I pass on my albums to them.

This particular gig had a special significance for me, for I got to share the experience with two of my greatest friends. Candy, a fellow Tegan and Sara nut/stalker, I have attended five of my six Tegan and Sara gigs with her, she knew what she was in for, and just like me could predict each song within its opening bar. Krista by contrast was a Tegan and Sara 'virgin' and despite extensive foreshadowing by yours truly she seemed to be completely blown away by the experience, just like Candy and I were in Melbourne during our 2007 tour for our first ever show. We officially have another convert to the Quinist religion.

Before the main event arrived we were confronted by the two support acts. First up were The Jezebels a Sydney band that supported Tegan and Sara when I saw them in Adelaide at the beginning of last year. At that time the band were a pathetic mess, disjointed, uneven, a touch arrogant in their performance. However in these past 17 months they have markedly improved to become a tight, cohesive live act who recognise their strengths lie in the melodramatic, a lead singer Hayley Mary who is an exciting mix of Katy Steele and Katie Noonan, and violent percussion which drives their songs. Unfortunately the same praise cannot be heaped upon second support act Astronautalis (yes, Tegan and I don’t get that name either), a hip hop artist from the US who seemed violently out of place with the crowd. Imagine Eminem high on crystal meth and you might understand his pathetic act. Granted, I am not his target audience for I hate all hip hop, but his half an hour set seem to drag on for eons, using the same tired jokes and his ‘singing’ (i.e. screaming incomprehensively) sounded like fingers being repeatedly scratched on a chalk board. Only two people could rescue me from this catastrophe: Tegan and Sara, and that’s just what happened.


(Set list care of fellow Tegan and Sara mega fan Sarah Currin who managed to get it from guitarist/keyboardist, and all around good guy Ted Gowans)

The set started off with four of my favourite tracks from Tegan and Sara’s latest album Sainthood, which were superbly recreated in their live format. However I was worried after hearing the first six songs that none of the Quin Twins legendary banter would surface. Boy was I wrong. Tegan started in top form recounting how she was still recovering from jetlag and as a consequence consumed a (sugar free!) Red Bull resulting in her becoming hyper talkative. In trademark fashion she told the audience she regretted during her laundry the afternoon before as she was forced to sleep in a bikini top and short shorts facing a mirror (cue wolf whistles from yours truly and all the other Tegan worshippers). The hilarity continued throughout the set.

The thing that stood out about this setlist in particular was how perfectly paced it was. Audience favourites from Sainthood and The Con dominated the middle portion of the set with a reworking of Monday, Monday, Monday from their second record If It Was You, which was transformed into a slow tempo ballad. In fact this was the dominant trend throughout the night. I have always regarded Tegan and Sara as a very muscular, high energy live band, but this time it was the down tempo numbers that were my favourites. These included an acoustic version of their collaboration with dutch DJ Tiësto I Feel It In My Bones, which was purely masterful, and the original demo version of The Con’s lead single Back In Your Head, both performed during the five song encore.

The banter continued as Sara performed two songs with the lighting on the audience rather than the band, making sure to complement the crowd on their ‘above average attractiveness’. Tegan also kept the laughs coming with her frank, insightful and satirical comments on Australia’s gay marriage laws, and later in the set remarked that she wished she could invent a time machine to transport herself to an hour earlier so she could ‘Shut the fuck up’ my favourite banter moment of the night. If the time machine ever existed I’d kidnap the second Tegan and take her home with me, and I’m sure I’m not the only one who wished that were the case.

So as I heard Living Room close their set for the sixth time. I was already planning how I could see Tegan and Sara for the seventh time. There’s a reason they are my favourite live band. Sure they are great musicians, but what you see is what you get: quality music, no bullshit, lots of laughs and one hell of a good time.

Thank God for Tegan and Sara!

Monday, 3 May 2010

Character Rundown

Endless debates occur about what the best thing in life is. Some would say it’s a fantastic live gig, others would say its having great sex, or watching a moment in a television show that makes your jaw drop. Those three would definitely rank up there for me, but of course it is different for everyone. The televisual moment happened for me today in fact, watching the latest episode of Breaking Bad. During different times in my life I would have emerged with different answers depending on the mood, the day or the time. For all I know the best moment in my life probably hasn’t occurred yet at age 26.

Yet my mind has an in built ranking system. Everything on every subject is ranked. Favourite TV show, favourite album, favourite band, but everyone has those. Have you ever thought about your favourite day in your life? No, it is not the best day in your life, just your favourite. I have been keeping track of my favourite day in my life for nearly twenty years and the day has changed four times. It’s the one day I would want repeated 10,000 times over if I starred in my own version of Groundhog Day, if I were to be so lucky. I will never tell anyone what this day actually was if anyone asked me directly. I can’t even remember the date (and this is highly unusual for my near photographic memory). But I will say I wasn’t expecting it to be my favourite day when I woke up that morning. In fact halfway through the day it remained nothing special, and then it changed within 30 seconds based on one random act of spontaneity. As much as the list making system is subject to change, it doesn’t budget for such miracles of joy.

The above paragraph acts as a metaphor of my life. Having acquired a disability from birth is the closest thing one can get to having a conditional life. If someone gave you a description of my life and asked you to live it for an indefinable about of time would you accept the terms? A supposed higher being would come up to you and say:

You will live a happy, well adjusted life. The people you love will love you back ten fold. But hang on a sec, you will have a permanent physical disability, and for every piece of happiness you gain, an equal amount of private struggle will consume you. Your life will be highly scheduled and ordered, but beneath the surface cracks will appear in your routine and because of this you will experience forms of indescribable joy. You may go on to have an influence in the wider world, but this remains undecided, contingent on the paths you choose to follow.

Sounds like a character rundown for a TV show doesn’t it? It could turn into a cheap soap opera, a gritty drama, or even a romance. But never a comedy. Too many struggles for a comedy. Since I was a little boy I’ve always imagined my life as a real time television show, a Truman Show before that become a part of popular culture. Plot would move slowly along, characters would arrive with huge back stories, and then mysteriously disappear. Characters whom the imaginary audience thought were gone would resurface and shape the narrative in incomprehensible ways. The show would end when I died, whenever that may be, the last viewer having finally turned off their TV. The afterlife could be a hackneyed tribute special where the viewers could relive their favourite moments over and over again. Lets just hope they agree with me on their favourite day.

When you think of life changing moments do your rank them according to their current importance? Do you collate lists of people you think have had the most impact on your life? Do you have theme music running through your head when you encounter your multiple villains? Does time literally stop for you when you encounter the person you love more than any other? Yup, maybe it’s just me.

The one major advantage that television writers have over me is that they can control the characters and plot. Yet here I am upon receiving a character run down, which I didn’t ask for, being asked to remain the only constant in a sea of uncontrollable events which I can not possibly alter.

Again I ask, if you were an actor and your agent asked you to take the character rundown as described above, would you? Me, I’m still undecided.

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Does the Method Matter?

Sometimes I find life so very frustrating. Things I can see that are very obvious to me are things others cannot see. The reverse is also true. They say patience is a virtue. I pretend I am patient, but really I’m not. Beneath my calm exterior lies a mind that runs a million miles an hour. Sometimes this is an asset sometimes it isn’t, particularly when your body moves as slow as mine does. A million scenarios play out in my head that never come to fruition. Every contingency is accounted for. In these imaginary scenes I am brave, I am strong, and I say the things that are on my mind. Reality is far different.

And so I come here to say the things that I am too cowardly to say. Last week instead of writing here I wrote to some friends documenting the events of the last six months. They know me well in one of my two lives: the calm controlled bureaucrat who never second-guesses himself. However what they did not know about was the emotional rollercoaster of the past six months. Without even realising it, it seems that I have become very good at compartmentalising my emotions. Writing the events out in chronological order was briefly cathodic until I realised how many of the little things that I deemed so important were not included. I think I must have written about a 1000 words all up, but everything I was feeling would surpass the word count of my 100,000 word thesis. I have become very good at writing down my emotions not so good at verbalising them.

So I stopped writing here for a short period because this place has become somewhat of a crutch, because now I know that just about everyone important in my life comes here to read what I am feeling. That’s OK to a certain extent, but it has become a way for me to duck very important conversations that I need to have. It is so easy to think ‘I don’t need to say this out loud because I’ve already written it out countless times’. Perhaps actions speak louder than words, but does a conversation have more meaning than a thought provoking note or letter? Does the method matter as long as it said one way or the other? Does the answer to this question change depending on the topic of conversation? I have been weighing up these questions for many months and every time I think I am powerful enough to have a one to one conversation, I retreat back into the written word. The computer, along with the wheelchair it seems has become a physical barrier without me even realising it.

I was having a conversation with a friend of mine last week. They had just completed the Myers Briggs personality test, in order to gauge their own personality and they were asking me whether their results matched my perception of them. This test has extreme measurements, are you thinking or feeling? Extrovert or introvert? I have taken this test twice eight years apart, each time with the same very definite result, but as strange as it sounds I adopted the same personality when taking the test: the clinical, academic type who is confident, even a dash arrogant, a solid decision maker, strong and brave. I wonder if however my results would be different if the test measured my emotional intelligence alone. Sometimes I think that I can be very emotionally intelligent, other times I feel like an emotional cripple that is as weak if not weaker than my exterior. This seems to be the case recently. Until I am brave enough to verbalise the important feelings to the right people it will remain so.