Sunday, May 29, 2005

Off The Rails

I remember, way back in the 1980's being sure to listen in to Marcus Lush doing talkback on Bfm and then seeing him on the old Neswnight, where Alison Mau never quite knew what to make of her co-host. I think the last time I actually heard much of him on radio has been transcribed - it was his interview with Bono just before they took the stage in the way too over-produced Zoo TV tour, where the site maintainer describes Marcus as a "weeny and whacky Auckland DJ by the name of Marcus Lush, who has a somewhat unique style of interviewing that is often hard to comprehend and understand". I guess I formed opinions of him in that time, such that it surprised me that he moved to Bluff to take up a job as breakfast host on Foveax Radio. More surprising is the obvious relish with which he has taken to travelling around New Zealand on the remnants of our passenger train system, along with more extended rides on freight trains. He claims to love trains so much that he couldn't see Lord of the Rings ("no trains, you see") but hopes that King Kong will be a bit more promising.

But I am so glad that he did, even if I have had to miss a couple of the programmes thanks to having other things to do. They've been part homage (tonight's account of the trains on the Rimutaka incline and the men who made it was a good example), part physics (such as the explanation of the ventilation system in the Otira Tunnel), part social history and at all times leavened by Marcus's whimsical approach. I loved the way he just took over making toasted sandwiches for the bus passengers during their lunch break at the Otira pub, or his interrogation of the fish and chip shop people at Tokomaru about the components of a Colin burger. Isn't it great - not just that in small town fish and chip shops, burgers can be personalised and named after the customer who likes them, but also that these tiny wee stories can make it onto TV. Oh yeah, then there was the episode in which he installed himself in a cottage in Kaikoura to take up trainspotting

I'd have liked these programmes to have both been longer and to have had more of them, so we could have spent more time watching the world go by out of the train-driver's seat or had more historical footage cut in. But you can't have everything, and what we did get was a lovely combination - just the right amount of Marcus in relation to the other things we did get to see. I wonder if they'll be selling this on video?

So - good luck to Marcus in his next venture: he filmed this in the down time before his new gig as evening talkback host on Radiolive (nice to see that he will continue to live in Bluff).

Tuesday, May 24, 2005


(by AL Kennedy, pub 2004, Jonathon Cape)

Disclaimer: I am not an alcoholic. Apart from one bad snatch of time, when I could see the usefulness of alcohol in erasing the gap between then and death, I have never even given serious contemplation to getting drunk. I only know one seriously alcoholic person, unless you count my mother who, when confronted with living on her own for the first time in her life, decided to have no alcohol in the house in order to avoid temptation. So, I am not well equipped to judge the authenticity of AL Kennedy's novel, which has an alcholic as its central character, but it seems plenty authentic to me.

The book starts brilliantly - not only are readers having to get acquianted with what's going on, but so too is the main character - someone we eventially learn is a 37 year old woman called Hannah, someone who has amassed a portfolio of complete loser-type jobs: "washing underwear in a theatre, stacking shelves, cleaning rental power tools, slotted together grids of doubtful purpose, folded free knitting and/or sewing patterns into women's magazines, sorted potatoes, telephoned telephone owners to tell them about their telephones, and spent one extremely long weekend in a hotel conference suite, asking people what they found most pleasing about bags of crisps". It takes Hannah 200 pages of the book before her "whole long explanation" of her life drops into her "eager and uninvited" and causing her to shudder her joints and concentration and jerk to a stop.

But at the beginning, we have an awakening:
And I apparently begin with being here: a boxy room that's too wide to be cosy, its dirty ceiling hung just low enough to press down a broad unmistakable haze of claustrophobia. To my right is an over-large clock of the kind favoured by playschools and homes for the elderly, the kind with bold, black numbers and cartoon thick hands that effectively shout what time it is whether you're curious or not. It shows 8:42 and counting. Above, is ageneralised sting of yellow light.
But I dont know which one - night or morning. Either way, from what I can already see, I would rather not be involved in all this too far beyond 8:43.
Memory seems to come back to her in episodes: she goes down to breakfast and encounters this wispy fellow she has never seen before, not according to her memory anyway. Then it hits her: she slept with him the night before and even has his credit card as a tangible reminder. Then there are recollections of her most recent job, as a carboard packaging salesperson, until the day she tried being kind to an old woman in a wheelchair but managed to let go of the wheelchair as it went over the kerb, spilling said old lady into the street. And then there are memories of Robert, and her family and so on.

It finally comes to her that she's in a hotel outside Heathrow, to where she has fled after escaping from a detox centre in Canada. From that point on, there is a fairly straight-forward narrative flow of events. Except that, by the end, you're left wondering if she ever actually left the detox centre. Brilliant: for a drunk, the idea is that they are never sure what's actually happening and what's a product of the drink. So - if Hannah can't be sure, nor can we.

One thing that does seem certain is the effect of her drinking on her family. Although she has no recollection, it becomes clear that time after time she has called on them to help her out. I don't know which is sadder: her brother can't do it any more, it is too much for him, but he has kept a key for her apartment:
Sorry for copying your key. I thought in the end I would need it. To come and find you at the end.
Don't make me.
Just typing that brought more tears to my eyes. But then there are her parents: they don't have the emotional strength to break free, they have to help out their daughter every time she goes off the deep end, because that's their role as parents - even though every time they see her, they have absolutely no idea what to expect of her, although being let down is the norm.

The other main character is Robert, another drinker - they connect through a shared knowledge of really tragic music, and there is a certain beauty to their relationship even if together they have double the trouble keeping off the bottle. Inexplicably, Robert then disappears - there is a suggestion to break free of his drinking, but we never really know.

But the most important aspect of this book is the simply wonderful writing. I've long heard about AL Kennedy, and how she's one of the more important up and coming writers (twice a Granta young Brit writer to watch). Here is apple juice being poured into a glass "like a muscle perpetually flexed and reflexed, the honey-colored heart of some irreversibly specialized animal" and then Bushmills "the rounded corners and the dapper weight and the elegant cut of the label ... a long, slim doorway to somewhere else".

There is no real answer to why Hannah drinks - she starts on cider while at school, so probably knows nothing different. It might be that Robert drinks because he was in the house when his father killed his mother, but Kennedy really leaves us to draw our own conclusions. That's the great thing about this book - there is no heavy-handed author decreeing that Hannah must get better because a happy ending is called for, but it is not impossible that she does indeed get better - if, indeed, much of the story is taking place while she's having the DT's in the detox centre.

Monday, May 23, 2005

So THIS is why they invented the internet?

There's this tree nursery in Ireland, see, and they're all environmentally friendly and the like so when they send out stuff with paperclips, they ask if the recipient would be kind enough to return the paperclips next time they're corresponding. One of their more devious colleagues decided to have some fun with this organisation, so posted a plea on the interweb for people from all round the world to send them paperclips. A month on, there has been a veritable deluge of paperclips descend upon the tree nursery people, and they have absolutely no idea what is going on, even though there has been the occasional clue thrown in for good measure.

Saturday, May 21, 2005

Space Dust

(Arc Cafe, Dunedin, 20 May)

Wow! Several years ago, the guys at Crawlspace (RIP) made me buy a Space Dust CD, telling me that they were one of NZ's coolest bands. I bought it and loved it, but have never managed to see them live. I've fixed that now, and god, these guys are making just the sort of sounds I love. The key instrument is Duane Zarakov (forrmer King Loser) on drums, producing long meandering narratives backed up with heavily distorted guitar and bass. Then there's a guy with an insane keybaord, sometimes downright cheesy, and an equally insane style of playing the sax. Almost as much jazz improv as rock and roll. And don't let us forget Violet on vocals - not so much singing, as giving spoken word commentary. There were a few screw ups - she got a bit clever with her pedals in the last song and managed to silence her voice - but in a couple of her songs, I was strongly reminded on the Fiery Furnaces.

Ooh - must go, the Puddle is on (how great is it that Arc gives us computers to update from mid-gig.

Update, still at Arc. My God, the Puddle do some long gigs! Over 90 monutes in and they're still going strong. A very tight performance tonight, great texturing of the bass guitar with lead and his voice, even if I really have no idea what he's singing about half the time!

Back to Violet: there's the voting for the top foxy female at the BNETS. I was a bit embarrassed by the youthfulness of the choices available. If I could have voted for someone like Violet, I'd have done so. I was sitting here watching her, she seems great, and the odd thought occurred to that there's actually only one degree of seperation between me and her - I could probably make wheels turn so that I get to meet her.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Nick Cave, Bad Seeds and random gospel singers

(St James, Auckland, 13 May)

It was looking like being an ugly night. David Kilgour was playing, an acoustic set, and the audience was getting restless and loud. Those who had come in early to stake out a place for the main event became quite aggressive when a big fellow, tall as well as wide, burst into their midst. He made matters worse by trying to have the fellow in front of him pass his empty bottle forward: the Australians around him were saying that Aucklanders don't do that, provoking a long tirade on the fucked-up-ness of Aucklanders, its not like that in Wellington. Plus numerous references to how he'd seen Nick Cave the night before - he even leant on me to tell me so. Then another fellow pushed his way forward, making the first interloper turn on him. Nasty words were spoken, punches were imminent.

Luckily, the lights dimmed, flared, and there was Nick Cave, his four gospel singers and (you know something, I never actually counted them) some Bad Seeds. The audience hushed and, apart from the random calls for songs, were not heard to say another word for the next two hours. For once, I even have playlist goodness:

Abattoir Blues
Messiah Ward
Hiding all Away
Red Right Hand
City of Refuge
Get ready for love
Easy Money
The Weeping Song
Babe, you turn me on
The Mercy Seat
O Children
There she goes, my beautiful world

Encore 1

Come into my sleep
God is in the house
Do you love me?

Encore 2

The Ship Song
Stagger Lee

A couple of nice moments: one audience member yells out "I love you". Nick's response - "I love you too, I love you all". Nice. Then when he's busily singing, can't remember which song, but it was one of the quiter ones, some fool is yelling out for the Ship Song. Nick just drops a new line into his song "Time for you to be silent" and carries on. I don't even know where to begin with the standouts for the night, since pretty much everything was fabulous. I loved the way the audience was SO quiet for the whispered passages of God Is In the House, the way that so many had sung along with the Weeping Song. The strange thing was how Stagger Lee was such a perfect climax to the night that when he finished and the lights came back on, everyone seemed satisfied, there was no expectation that he be pressed for any more songs. And, really, it was a pretty generous performance - he must have been on stage for a good two hours.

I know I went up to Auckland with extremely high expectations - saying that once I've been to a Nick Cave gig, then I'll only need a Tom Waits gig and I'll be happy to die. The thing is - the night met all those expectations and more. The other thjing is - he promised he'd be back, in "about two years". I think I might just go.

One mistake I made - I was wearing a jacket: rather than make a trip to the hotel to drop it off (I still haven't found the coat check at the St James), I figured that since he'd be suited up and dancing, I's be OK doing the same. Bad move - he had the whole stage to prance about on.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Music Week

I can't believe the amount of music that seems to be pouring in to my life at the moment, and with some big releases to come (White Stripes, Ghostplane, Cassette & Phoenix Foundation are all on the near horizon) and my general addictive behaviour, there is little chance of a slow down. I still have stuff I bought ff trademe before Chrustmas I have yet to listen to.

Over the past week, I've only managed to listen properly to four new CD's - while I have been listening to Horsepower a bit to get ready for Pegasus, that doesn't really count as new. Nor does the Nick Cave B Sides and Rarities because I haven't got past the first disc yet. What I have been listening to has been a pretty mixed bag. Two of the CD's were a complete surprise - one in a good way, the other not so much.

That was M I A's Arular. There's a fair amount of talk about her being a Sri Lankan Freedom fighter of some sort - har dad was a Tamil Tiger - so I had expectations of a tough-talking MC over bhangra. Now, that would be a cool CD to have. Spin is just silly when it says this will be the "best political album this year". Sure, there are some songs which have political content - for example, Sunshowers is about a Muslim being gunned down simply because he was Muslim - but they are in the minority. No doubt it is cool to like her for her background, but when that background makes only a faint impact on the music, it does become rather irrelevant. In fact, the lyrics are no stronger than you might find on a typical pop-dance music CD, and that is ultimately what this is. A couple of the songs bordered on, but just missed being, cheesy. The interest is in the music and the particular styles and sounds of her voice. There are nods to pretty much every urban music style there is, I've seen it called a musical collage, although throughout each song there is a pretty simple underlying structure. I suspect that this would sound awesome on a proper club soundsystem, turned up way loud. One thing I really wish she had not done: she's borrowed the hiphop own-name referencing "Hello, this is MIA...", endlessly repeated in Amazon. I can see why it has been rated so highly at Pop Matters, it just isn't so much my thing.

Then there was Fat Freddys Drop's Based on A True Story. These guys had initially refused to even talk about releasing a studio album, believing that they could only do what they do live. So, they released the Live at the Matterhorn and left us to believe that would be it. Ironic really, given Mu's production skills. Listening to this CD, there are no single standout moments - indeed, I left it to just repeat on the stereo three times and it becomes a gorgeous seamless loop of music, with wonderfully mellow instruments (less dominant horn section than I remember from their live shows) and Dallas on main singing duties. Simple soulful lyrics.

Single of the week, however, comes from the world of Its an older CD (2003), but I'd not heard it before although I've wanted it for a while. Thea Gilmore's Avalanche is a fine album, she has a lovely voice and some great lyrics, but the absolute standout is its eighth song, Razor Valentine, with a dreamy triphoppy texture, and her voice put through some sort of filter that flattens out a lot of its nuances.

My personal fave for the week, however, was a complete suprise. I've had the Toy Love LP for ever, drag it out every so often for a play but have never been blown away. Of course, none of the members of Toy Love ever liked that record, so it evidently didn't give a very faithful account. But now I have Cuts, I played it all the way as I drove to Christchurch, and its great! It starts with a bounce, on Squeeze, and despite being a punk record and, despite the overtly uplifting lyrics in Based on A True Story, was actually the better at being uplifting. Take the second track, Rebel - there is just something so cheerful in the lines "He don't know the name/of the song he's whistling/He says what he likes/Cos nobody's listening/He's a mod and he's a rebel/Lives so high cos he knows/He'll never find his level". The next couple of songs are great pop songs, at least they would be in my kind of world - Don't Ask Me and Sheep. Not that a song with lines like "The doctor's taken three quarters of my brain/and I'm banging my head against old brick walls/But it doesn't hurt at all", particularly when sung by Chris Knox, won't go down too well with the civillians.

And then there's Cold Meat - that dead pan delivery of "Why don't you
fuck yourself"

gets me every time.

Tuesday, May 10, 2005

I Blame the Sunday Star Times

OMG - my secret girlfriend, so secret she don't know I exist, Renee Zellwegger has just got married, to someone she met this year, at a Tsunami relief gig. I knew I should have been there.

In another OMG, I've just done something unprecedented. I was so touched by something that Anna wrote, that I clicked on her wishlist and sent her a CD.

Anyway, I often don't read the SST, because I don't think it justifies the cover price, but if I'm in a cafe and there's a copy available that no-one else is reading and I don't have an engrossing book with me then, yeah, I'll give it the once over. A couple of weeks ago, in their Sunday magazine supplement thingey, there was an article about men's jackets and how with a flash jacket, you could get away with pretty much any kind of fashion atrocity. I've been chattering for a while about my desire for a velvet jacket, but my searches on trademe for velvet clothing has only come up with a bewildering array of velvet penis pouches, so I've not done anything about it.

But then in this Sunday magazine article, there was a velvet jacket. Of course, the photo was pretty small so I couldn't get much detail. The brand, Working Style, just happened to have a store in Christchurch so when I went up for the Children's Hour gig, I popped along Colombo Street to check out their window. They did have a chocolate brown velvet jacket in the window, but my eyes were caught by the incredibly colourful assortment of Italian silk ties - very shiny. Now, I wore a tie every day for about ten years straight and have a job where I might need to wear one maybe twice a year. So, Italian silk ties are not something I have given much thought to but when I saw these, I just had to have one. Well, two actually, as there was a free shirt coming with every pair of ties.

So, last weekend, after the SJ Fits, I persuaded my companion to defer her need to go to the Cookie Time shop in favour of a quick visit to Working Style to check out the ties. Turns out that they were $150 each. Turns out that that wasn't enough to stop me from buying two. But it gets worse. I asked about the velvet jackets, and did the sensible thing by asking if there was a sale coming up. Turns out there is. So, I can't leave without at least trying on a velvet jacket, the chocolate brown one was looking very yummy. One of the fellows put one on me and I'm thinking I'm looking very snazzy, so I'll put it on layby. But then the other fellow comes along and says "ah, but that's the wrong size, just try out this black one". I take one look in the mirror and its "where's the nearest money machine?". It turns out there's one across the road.

I have never spent so much on a single item of clothing in my life! $700. Plus the two ties, of course. Nor have I ever spent an hour in a clothing shop - in fact, I don't think I've ever been in a posh men's clothing shop like this one in my life, where all of the clothing is hand made and expensive ($90 for a T-shirt!) - I'm more of a Hallensteins or Farmers sort of guy, even the warehouse has sold me a few items of clothing. For the posher styles, I haunt trademe. I have definitely never had a clothing purchase where the director of the company has given me a business card or been willing to adjust something (the shirt's sleeves were a bit long) and courier it to me for free. But the clothes are gorgeous. And, to supplement my silk ties, I have just bought 24 ties off trademe - I think I might be commencing some sort of style offensive on campus.

Monday, May 09, 2005

B-Net Awards

Jessie started this, so I'll chuck in my two cents and all. Voting runs for another few days, until 13 May.

Best video: To be honest, I didn't watch them all, because the music is going to play a big part on what I think is the best video, and I don't really do Tha Feelstyle nor Savage. The Mint Chicks one was OK, but in the showdown between SJD and the Fanatics, my vote had to go with the Fanatics. I like seeing Sean in his little blue car, but I like the mix up of the Fanatics better. And Models is a great song.

Best Live Act: This was hard. I saw Jakob, Trinity Roots and the Mint Chicks in 2004 and have not seen either Kora or Shapeshifter, although I know they're both great. How do you set the greatness of Jakob against the greatness of Trinity Roots? I think Jakob will get this nod, to reflect the accumulation of times I have seen them; they have been outstanding every time.

Most Promising: I have only seen two of these acts and liked but one of them. I guess that means Emerald Green gets it - since she's mighty nice, then that's all to the good.

Best Downbeat: I love love love the Trinity Roots album, Home, Land and Sea. Thank God its not up against the Fat Freddy's Drop one.

Best Hiphop: Easy - P-Money's Magic City.

Best Electronica: I really have been meaning to give the Agent Alvin and Pitch Black Cd's a good listening to, but that hasn't happened. So, almost be default, it is Rhian Sheehan: Music for Nature Documentaries - it is a lovely album, however.

Best Pop Release: Some might kill me for this, but I found the Pluto CD to be somewhat less than it could have been, too average in many of the songs. I haven’t heard the Betchadupa CD and Fly My Pretties hasn’t grabbed me. So, it was a showdown between Pine’s Akira Sunrise and SJD’s Southern Lights, a showdown that was too close to call, so I flipped a coin. Akira Sunrise got the nod.

Best Rock Release: Another hard choice. The only one I could scratch was Deja Voodoo’s effort. The second cut took out The Fanatics and the Mint Chicks, but it wasn’t easy – a nice reflection of the strength of NZ music. So, it came down to Batrider’s They Said You're Hideous v The Shocking Pinks’ Mathematical Warfare. Tough, as Batrider had my favourite live track of 2004 but I think across the whole CD, Mathematical Warfare was stronger.

Best Compilation: I didn’t even know that Pacific Heights was a compilation. Looking at the tracklisting, I am still not convinced. Str8 from the Streets – never heard of it. Pick of the Litter wouldn’t really make it, as I’m not that into punk, although I have just bought this. There really is no contest: Loop Select 006: Kono CD.

Best DVD: Sorry Blink, but there’s no contest here. Flying Nun Second Season is my history.

Best Unreleased Song: I had to cheat a little here, as I could only download the first minute. The Operation Rolling Thunder track was just gathering momentum at that point. I might have voted on faith and gone with “Hitchcock” from the Phoenix Foundation, but my vote was for the Checks “Mercedes Children”. After all, I did have a dream in which they performed three songs for me, so it was the least I could do.

Best Song: My first impulse was to go for SJD’s “Superman You’re Crying” but “Dead” by the Fanatics made me pause. I went with my first choice.

Best Album: This raised a familiar conflict – a three way shoot-out between SJD: Southern Lights, TrinityRoots Home, Land and Sea and The Shocking Pinks Mathematical Warfare. I went with Mathematical Warfare.

Most Outstanding Musician: Now here’s a really hard set of choices to make. Paul McLaney, Sean Donnelly, Mu, Barnaby Weir or Rhian Sheehan. I have albums from all of them and will buy simply on the basis of the involvement of any one of these guys. It resolves itself into Rhian Sheehan v Mu, and I think I go with Mu on this one. Actually, no, I’ve changed my mind – he gets best producer and Rhian is most outstanding musician.

Best Producer: Mu. I don’t actually know the others well enough to vote for them.

Best Cover Art: No vote.

Best Male Vocalist: Paul McLaney is great. Shayne Carter is great. Dallas Tamaira is great. SJD has potential to be great. Since this is my one chance to vote for Shayne, lets do it.

Best Female Vocalist. I’m not convinced Anika Moa did enough in 2004 for my vote. I love love love Sarah Chadwick’s fractured vocals, especially live. Nothing more need be said.

Best Male Fox: I am not well equipped to judge this category, but I’m thinking I’ve seen better looking fellows than any of these guys. Both David Kilgour and Graeme Downes are foxier than our man Shayne, for example. So, I think I’ll not vote.

Best Female Fox: I can’t remember what Jessie’s “without question” fox even looks like, which suggests that Sjionel didn’t make the same impression on me, although when the Coolies played, I danced in a stupidly happy state as soon as the drums kicked in and had no time for anything else. Kirsten Morelle does nothing for me, and while I adore Ruth Carr, if we’re going for straight foxyness, it has to be Sarah Chadwick.