Saturday, November 8, 2014

On Silence and Noise

One Saturday evening some friends and I went the the Festival of Toy Music at the Brisbane Powerhouse. The day had workshops for kids in the afternoon and then in the evening a concert in two halves. 

We arrived a little late to the first act, a trio who were crouched on the stage floor with an array of noisy toys and melodicas, which they would alternate between. After a minute or so it became apparent that there was one very vocal child in the otherwise quiet theatre. 


The kid's questions continued, every couple of seconds 


A short respite, and then:


I was irritated at first. I'd spent the previous month going to noise art gigs, where silence is very important, and had approached listening to this in a similar way. I was po-facedly trying to absorb the rich sonic timbres of the cow bleats,cackles and whoopee cushion farts coming off the stage. Trying to experience the performance as a piece of capital 'A' art. 

There were many children in the audience and only this one was being disruptive. I pegged the kid as a Steiner or a Montesori child, the mother not wishing to interfere with his precious self-expression, at the expense of the 248 other people in the room. Why couldn't this woman see that? Take your child and leave out of respect for the performers and consideration for the people who spent money on tickets.

My annoyance crumbled instantly when a skinny vegan looking guy on stage picked up a bag pipe with glittery party blowers on the end and started making a cacophonous mewling, and the kid yelled out:


The kid had taken the whole thing to a new level of absurdity. It had become hilarious. 

If you were to adopt John Cage's philosophy it would dictate that the kid was part of the piece anyway. All atmospheric sound would be considered part of the performance, no better or worse than the music on the score. After all, music is always sound taking place at one moment in time. 

It's a misconception that Cage's 4'33 is just intended to be four minutes thirty-three seconds of silence. It's also whatever happens to be taking place at the moment the piece is performed, not just in the performance space, but also internally, in the inner world of the listener, in his/her consciousness. In a way it is the ultimate Buddhist anthem. 

My first reaction to the kid was not as a Buddhist however, but as a musician. I felt sorry for the performers on stage. Silence is pretty much the highest compliment an audience can give a musician.
All the more powerful because of its scarcity. 

Whenever I think of silence I remember my first performance at the Woodford Folk Festival, after ten years of playing noisy pub and club gigs.  Early in the set there was a moment where I had to play an introduction to a song, just me on the guitar.  Suddenly what I was playing seemed to burst into colour, it became louder, more vivid. I had a shocking revelation that it was because of the power of a large room of people all listening to what I was playing. 

Usually the audience will settle into its own style of listening, and obviously the performance space has a lot to do with this. Generally too, unless it's a theatre environment (like the Festival of Toys was) the audience are left to police anyone who is being annoying.

Some performers deal with it themselves. Before I ever heard Brisbane band George's music, their singer Katie Noonan was notorious among other musicians for her defence of the silence during their shows. She would ask simply ask people to be quiet or leave the room. I found this very gutsy and well beyond my range as a performer. 

The pianist Keith Jarret has been known to scold audience members just for coughing, accusing them of having a "failure of concentration". 

I understand this impulse. When you play to a hushed room (and the performance is working), the silence becomes another instrument, but in many ways it's more powerful than that, because it's an existential reflection of a shared moment in time. It's a chiaroscuro backdrop that throws every note forward and gives it extra dimension and weight, and,  when the silence is left to hang there by itself the audience and the performer become one big ear, listening, dangling over the abyss together.  

The risk of remonstrating an audience member is that it can backfire. My wife Kate and I were playing in Launceston once to about 300 silent people and one table full of very drunk people who were having a good time right at the front. During a soft ballad, a few members of the audience shushed the noisy table. Throughout the rest of the show the drunk table shushed ironically every time there was a quiet part in a song. 

The fact is, it's much better to play to a noisy room than an almost silent one.How you deal with it is down to the individual performer and audience. Kate never asks anyone to be quiet, but she has on occasion pointed out she could hear every word in someone's conversation. My friend Ben while playing at the Basement reached breaking point and said "This is our last song now and I'd really like to enjoy it, so can that table over there please shut the fuck up for just three minutes." He received hearty applause from the rest of the audience who had been suffering in silence. 

Back at the Toy Festival, the house lights came up for interval and I could see the noisy kid in question. He appeared to be a special needs child. I was reminded of the episode of Extras where Ricky Gervais' character tells off a kid for being noisy in a restaurant not realising the child has Downs Syndrome. 

The second half of the show featured the performer Margaret Leng Tan from New York, featured on the bill as "The Queen of the Toy Piano." It became clear early on that Margaret was taking things pretty seriously, unlike the fez wearing Adam Simmons in the first half, who cracked jokes to the audience as his ensemble's light-activated toys failed to activate due to an unanticipated staging error (i.e. it was dark). 

I scanned the audience for the boy and his mother again. She had moved from the centre of the room to nearer the aisle, but the child was silent throughout Margaret Leng Tan's first few numbers. Every now and then between songs, he would ask "IS IT OVER?" Not in a rude way, although he did seem as if he'd read my mind after one particularly lengthy piece featuring the slightly out of tune toy piano. Margaret Leng Tan chose to engage the boy saying "You're being such a good boy." It seemed slightly uneccessary, given that he was being such a good boy. Perhaps she had been listening to his outbursts during the first act and was anticipating him being disruptive. 
Then, after her amusing one minute distillation of The Ring Cycle, Margaret called down to the boy "Okay, this next piece is very difficult, so you're going to be very good and very quiet, aren't you?" 

The boy's mother called back "It's okay, I am leaving anyway." She took her son and left.
My friend Will got up and left also, in solidarity with the boy and his mother. Will, incidentally is a much more accomplished and successful musician than I am. Later I found that he went to apologise to the woman for Margaret Leng Tan's attitude, feeling responsible as a fellow musician (clearly he is also a much more successful and accomplished human than I am too). The mother had thanked Will, looking tired.  She said, "We are ostracised wherever we go."

Monday, April 22, 2013

In memory of Chrissy Amphlett...

Dear Chrissy,

For a long time there, whenever your name came up in conversation, people would say "Is it true she pissed on stage once?"

This would infuriate me.

I understand every great rock star must have a surrounding mythology. But it seems unfair that Bob Dylan gets to be the eternal rambler and Jimmy Page the dark master of witchcraft while you got to be the woman who peed in public.

But that apocryphal widdle is unimportant, always was. It's an annoying example of how our brains remember the sensational. It's not their fault, it's in the wiring.

When people would say that (and thankfully I think that era passed long ago), I would answer in different ways:

"Is it true she pissed on stage once?"
What's true is that she fronted a hard rock band in the early 80s when it was almost unheard of for a woman to do so. They did rough-as-guts pub gigs in venues bikies were afraid of making a scene in. And she owned those rooms.

"Is it true she pissed on stage once?"
I don't know but she is one of the greatest singers to front a band in history. Bon Scott, Robert Plant, Mick Jagger, Chrissie Amphlett. She's right there on the list.

"Is it true she pissed on stage once?"
Shut up. Her voice is incredible. Theatrical but not melodramatic, a perfect mix of chaos and control.  She is one of the greats. Don't you get it?  It's irrelevant. STOP IT!!!

I  first heard your voice when I was about eight.  My family was living in the residency of a tiny country school at a place called "Clintonvale." There were 19 students in total, and one teacher who was my Dad.

It was a sheltered Catholic community.  When my classmate Danny Ramsey brought a Gene Simmons KISS mask to school, a group of the school's leading personalities announced it was the work of the devil and buried it under the library.

I remember being home one lunchtime and Dad blasting "Boys In Town" on the stereo. He was pacing up and down and rhapsodising about  the simple, punchy lyrics of "Boys In Town." About how a stream of mostly one syllable words perfectly tell the singer's story: "Get this bus in top gear / get me out of here…"

To me a perfect song is one where the singer's persona and the lyrics of a  create and strengthen each other.  "Boys In Town" and all of the other songs on the "Monkey Grip" EP are brilliant examples of this. After listening to the album you come away with a sense of a person who is using a tough exterior to cover an incredible vulnerability. Someone who is at once innocent and world weary. Fearless and damaged.

The world that these lyrics spoke of was one of inner-city excess and desperation. Of drugs and sex and heartbreak. All adult stuff, all fascinating and mysterious and a universe away from Clintonvale.

I loved the Monkey Grip record, and above all the others I loved the song "Elsie". It is a hypnotic portrait of a desperate woman living in a seedy flat in Melbourne. Obviously you know this, having written it...

"She just sleeps all day in her squalid little slum
and takes little white pills to make her body feel all numb
and it's dark and dirty and there's nothing left to eat
And in her heart there's a feeling of defeat
Smells of bugs and fornication
And a bottle of cheap scent"

In the nightmarish reprise, you scream over and over, "Open the door, Wally! Open the fucking door!" I had no idea who Wally was or why he was opening the door but it scared the living shit out of me.

A few years later we moved to the regional town of Toowoomba. Puberty hit me and turned everything upside down. I was being crushed by an ocean of horniness. I forgot about your music for a while. Iron Maiden seemed to voice more accurately my concerns - things like the ancient Egyptians, samurais and the problems facing a WWII flying ace.

Then one day I was home sick  from school and saw that the movie of Monkey Grip was on TV. I hadn't realised your Monkey Grip EP was a soundtrack of a movie that was an adaptation of a book. Imagine my surprise when I saw Noni Hazelhurst off Play School was playing the lead role. Imagine my surprise when Noni took all her clothes off. I vigorously and repeatedly reevaluated my ideas about Noni and then, afterwards, renewed my acquaintance with the appropriately titled Monkey Grip album.

Late one night on Rage the "Boys In Town" music video came on. You were everything a fourteen year old boy dreamed of. You posed and pouted and jeered and played with your skirt.

Around the time I was sixteen you released the single "I Touch Myself." It wasn't as hard edged as your previous material, and so I didn't like it as much, despite being able to relate to the lyrics.

One night I was reading George Orwell's 1984 and found the line "bugs and fornication" in it. It's a memorable pairing of words and I recognised it instantly as being out of the song "Elsie." I suddenly had this weird feeling of seeing one of your songs before it was written.

Fast forward twelve years or so and I had become a musician, dropped out of Uni, played in pubs and lived a lot closer to the urban squalor the Monkey Grip soundtrack paints. Through the whole time I remained a fan.

I had been seeing a girl for a couple of years, Kate, and was shocked to learn that she would be performing with you in a show called Women In Voice.

As soon as I found out you were on the bill I began to fret because I knew the day was coming when I would have to meet you. I was terrified. I began to plot ways to avoid it happening, I knew nothing good could come if it, and I would just clam up and embarrass myself and stain my whole concept of Divinyls and ruin the chance of ever enjoying your music again for the rest of my life unless it was in some masochistic way.

Anyway, one night, Kate rang me. She sounded very drunk and needed a lift home from an impromptu Women In Voice cast party. I agreed on the condition that I didn't have to come inside, as I was not yet mentally prepared to meet you.

After sitting out the front of the party with my car engine running for twenty minutes, ringing Kate over and over I realised I was going to have to go in and get her.

Inside, the members of the cast were taking turns singing unaccompanied songs to each other. The show's Director was singing a broadway tune and doing high kicks while everyone clapped along. Someone handed me a joint and without thinking I frantically smoked half of it in long, deep inhalations.

As soon as I passed the joint on, I realised I had made a terrible mistake.
A familiar panic rose in me. Everyone appeared strangely caricatured, the broadway song suddenly sinister. Fight or flight kicked in. I had to leave.

And then I looked up and you were walking towards me. You glowed. I thought meeting famous people was supposed to be surprising for how human they looked in real life. You didn't look human. Your fierce eyes. Your flaming red hair. You looked like a god.

Kate said, "This is Keir, my boyfriend. He has thousands of questions to ask you."
My mind screamed, "Not now! Not now! I am not ready!"

"Well how about you start with one," you said. You waited.
My mind went blank.

"Um. Well, now that you're actually here I can't actually think of anything." I said.

You rolled your eyes and turned to leave. Kate, seeing my big chance to meet one of my heroes was about to be lost, said the first thing that popped into her mind. She said, "Is it true you that you did a shit on stage once?"

Instead of answering Kate, you spun on your heel and fixed me with a ten thousand watt stare. "Is that all you care about?"

You walked away.

I stood there, my mind racing, trying to think of something to salvage the moment in some small way.

"Were you reading 1984 when you wrote the song 'Elsie'?"


"Um, I just, I was reading George Orwell, 1984 and I ah..-noticed the phrase "bugs and fornication" in it I was wondering if it was, er if you…"

I realised I was accusing you of plagiarism, "Er sorry, sorry."

But when you turned around, your expression had softened. "That song must mean a great deal to you."

What followed was like a bizarre dream, you told me all about recording the Monkey Grip record, and  Divinyls early career. When it was your turn to sing a song to the room, you chose to sing "Elsie."

You were so generous of spirit. And yes, you seemed vulnerable under a tough exterior.

Today I heard that you died, and like thousands of people around the world I am thinking about you.

I feel sad, and look to the cliches for comfort. One cliche is that you'll live on in your recordings, through all the people who listen to them. I find I believe that.

Woven through all the music that has been playing behind my life so far on car stereos, at parties, in bedrooms, smoky lounge rooms, in hateful bars and clubs and battles of the bands, by choice or just randomly, woven through all of that is your voice. Thank you.



Sunday, November 13, 2011

Men of Letters

Women/Men of Letters is an ongoing charity event run by Michaela Mcguire and Marieke Hardy. It raises money to support an animal shelter. It involves the lost art of letter writing. You read your letter out to a room full of nice people.

The theme for the day I participated was "A letter to the woman who changed my life."

Dear St Columba of Rieti,

I am writing to you in the hope you may be able to help me out of a bind.
I read on Wikipedia that you are the Patron Saint to turn to in matters of sorcery and witchcraft, and frankly, I hope that you will be the second woman to change my life. I will tell you about the first later.

I know it's a bit rich asking for your help, given I am not a Catholic or even baptised. 

In my defence though, I did grow up surrounded by Catholics. The country school I attended, Clintonvale State Primary, had 19 students and one teacher who was my Dad.  My family were one of three in the entire district that wasn't Catholic so I absorbed a lot of Catholicism by osmosis. For example, I still love to get drunk and feel guilty about it afterwards.

I am sure you would have approved of the pious atmosphere at Clintonvale Primary. One day my classmate Danny Ramsey brought a Gene Simmons KISS mask to school. All the other students said that KISS were devil worshippers, and that their band name stood for Knights In Satan's Service. They confiscated the mask and buried it under the library.
When Danny Ramsey protested that it was a birthday gift from his mum, we hurled large pieces of cactus at him. 

Around this time (grade three) my best friend Lawrence Ryan told me that a lady who was a devil worshipper had been jogging in the park in Warwick and one of her boobs had fallen off. When the ambulance came, they found it on the ground, full of maggots.  This definitely happened, and if you don't believe me, just ask Lawrence's Aunty, who doesn't have a phone.  

Of course St Columba, you have seen way weirder stuff than this, having raised the dead and toured the Holy Lands without your body, so I'm sure you totally get it. My point is that I was not without spiritual guidance. And I can't say I wasn't warned about the devil. 

My parents, one Atheist and one Agnostic were unaware that in Clintonvale I had started praying. I mainly prayed for Donna Cootes to love me, but I also prayed for selfless things like having a spaceship land in the school grounds and take us all for a ride.  I see that just recently the Vatican has announced it's okay to believe in aliens, so I think you'd have to agree I was way ahead of you guys on that one. 

When I was in grade six we moved to Toowoomba. I could tell it was a big city because it had a McDonalds. 

For high school my parents sent me to Toowoomba Grammar.  You'll be pleased to know that my grade eight science teacher, Mr Rudolph, was a very devout man. During one lesson on physics he told us that there was no such thing as perpetual motion - it was impossible.  Despite this, he said, two of his friends once drove all the way across the Nullabor with no petrol in their tank, just by using the power of prayer. Mr Rudolph said if we were interested in hearing more of this sort of thing, or even if we weren't but liked free pancakes, we should come to the Inter School Christian Fellowship meetings held every Tuesday lunch.
While ISCF was no where near as cool an acronym as KISS, the pancakes were a real drawcard.

At the meeting , Mr Rudolph told us the story of one of the members of his youth group. She had been walking around, smoking lots of marijuana and didn't know why. "Why are you doing that?" they asked her. "I just don't know," she would say, "I don't know why I'm doing it." 
Nobody at the youth group could work it out. Then one day they realised she had been listening to  "Another One Bites the Dust" by Queen on her walkman. Hidden under the music was a backwards message that said "it's fun to smoke marijuana".

Mr Rudolph played us a video which seemed to feature my entire music collection. 
It turned out Iron Maiden, Twisted Sister, even XTC were in league with the devil. They confirmed that KISS was indeed an acronym for Knights In Satan's Service, AC/DC for Anti Christ Devil's Child and  WASP for We Are Satan's People. 

Overnight my albums had become dark and fascinating. I could feel them luring me towards evil. 

At another ISCF meeting, a mysterious guest from outside the school came. He stood at the front of the room and looked at us all. After a moment, he announced he had the power to see demons, and that he could see them right now. They were hanging off our backs and sitting on our shoulders, whispering in our ears, telling us to sin. Demons of pride and hatred and lust. 
Lust!  No wonder I was so horny! It all made perfect sense. I ate my free pancake.

Columba, I know you can relate when I say there was an internal battle going on between good and evil inside me. Throughout this time I had become obsessed with the guitar, in particular, trying to play the guitar as fast as humanly possible, with no regard for timing, dynamics or taste. The pivotal moment came when I saw the movie "Crossroads". Not that travesty starring Britney Spears. This Crossroads was all class. It was the Karate Kid with guitars.

In the movie Steve Vai plays a guitarist who has signed his soul over to the devil in exchange for the ability to shred heinously on his axe. That means "play guitar well".  I saw him and I wanted to be him. 

And here is where I got myself into a pickle, St Columba, please forgive me in advance.

I prepared a contract  between myself and the devil. In exchange for my eternal soul, I would become the best guitarist in the world in a famous rock band. I cut my finger open and signed my name in blood, then burned the contract and scattered the ashes. I had learned the finer details on how to do this from my ISCF friends.

Within months my guitar chops were blazing. Sure, I practised a lot, but it was obvious to me it was mostly the devil making good on his end of the bargain. I stopped attending the ISCF meetings and started sinning in earnest.

St Columba, I confess that I smoked a lot of cigarettes, got drunk for the first time and had sex with a post pack. I won't go into details here. 

I bought remaindered Penthouse and Playboy magazines off my friend whose parents owned a news agency and sold them at an outrageous profit  to the boarders at school. Now I could eat all the pancakes I wanted.

I must have been listening to a lot of Queen too, because pretty soon I was smoking heaps of marijuana and I didn't know why. One day the Gideons visited our school and handed out pocket sized Bibles. Me and my friend Dave discovered that their pages were the perfect size for rolling joints.
That summer I worked my way through nearly the entire Book of Revelations. 

The ISCF had made it very clear to us that sex before marriage was a big no no, but I knew those rules no longer applied to me.
Still, no matter how hard I tried, I couldn't stop being a virgin.  

Then I met Tammy LeStrange.

I saw her after school at McDonalds hanging out with Harry Delbrige and his girlfriend. I called him up, asked him who that girl in the pink miniskirt was and could I have her number. He said he'd ask. Two hours later my phone rang. It was Tammy herself.

"So, Harry says you think I'm hot?" she said.
"Um yeah." 
"Well," she said "Do you want to have a root then?" 
 "Oh...Yes please."

I don't know why I told you that Columba. I guess I thought you might be curious, seeing as you went to your grave a virgin and all. No offence.
Please watch over Tammy.

I didn't worry too much about school, safe in the knowledge that my contract with you-know-who would soon pay off and I'd be set for life. I know what you're thinking St Columba, and you're right. They call him the devil for a reason! 
But I've always been pretty slow on the uptake. For example,  I never saw my own face in profile until I was nineteen. It was a real shock.  Similarly, I didn't realise that the devil wasn't living up to his end of the bargain until I was thirty. 

I was already three years older than Hendrix, Joplin, and Kurt Cobain had been when they died.

The bands I had played in over the years: Uncle Stinky, More, Funk Me Dead, Cradle, Seethe, Eat Biscuits, GACK, Dogmachine, Earthfish and Complicated Game had all either broken up, failed or no longer required my services. 

Now I was in a band called Transport. We were all ageing, and saw it as our last shot at the big time. To show our dedication we got band tattoos.Transport had gotten further than any other band I'd been in:  we had a song on high rotation on Triple J and a real manager. She got me a meeting with the music publisher and ex-member of Icehouse Keith Welsh. I was pretty excited, thinking it might lead to a big break for us. Keith shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said "You're past your use-by date."  

I didn't know it at the time but I had already fallen in love with the woman who would completely change my life. Katie was also a struggling musician. After much debate about mixing business and pleasure, I started playing guitar for Katie and writing some songs with her. When she needed a whole new backing band, Transport stepped in. Over the next couple of years her success grew and grew.

Often, Transport would play an early show backing Kate in front of a sold out crowd and then go to another venue and play our own show to five bored punters. Kate got a record deal while Transport maxed out our drummer's credit card touring the country playing to nobody. The day Kate was presented with her first gold record, I watched all my dreams come true, but not for me.  

Look,  I'm not complaining in any way.  I 'm extremely grateful. If it wasn't going to happen for me, having it happen for the person I love most in the world is the next best thing. And I still get to play guitar and write songs for a living, which, let's face it, is like having won the lotto. 

But as I get older, my own certain death has become less of a concept, and more of a feeling in my spinal column.
St Columba,  I'm not sure if I believe that lady's boob fell off in Warwick, or if prayer can run a car as well as petrol or if there are demons hanging off all of us making us sin. I don't know if there really is someone called the devil, and I'm not sure you can even read this letter. But, for some reason, it's not hard for me to believe I might have a soul. Please can you help me get it back ?

I've reviewed the small print in my contract with the devil, and I think I have a good case. It said and I quote "I will become the best guitarist in the world" unquote , and quote "in a famous rock band" unquote. My wife Katie has attained a B grade level of fame at best and plays pop music, not rock. And Steve Vai is still the best guitarist in the world. I think you'll agree, the devil didn't honour his contract.

I'm sorry, no, I don't have a copy, I burned it.

Yours faithfully,


Sunday, July 17, 2011

When I Was A Boy...

When I was a boy the idea that you could ever print your own t-shirt at home was unimaginable. You could get your own shirt printed by a screen printers but it was prohibitively expensive. The most affordable option was t-shirts with felt lettering.

When I was a boy, pre-email, we wrote letters by hand, with a pen and posted them to our grandmothers. In one of my letters I mentioned that I admired the fretwork of a Swedish guitarist named Yngwie J. Malmsteen. 

I liked Malmsteen's playing for one reason: he played really, really fast. As a fourteen year old boy, that is all I wanted to do. Play the guitar really, really fast.

My grandmother, as thoughtful then as she is now, had a t-shirt made for me. It was blue with white felt lettering and it said "YNGWIE J MALMSTEEN." 

The first band I was ever in band was called Black Perspective. This now strikes me as being an odd name for a group of middle class white boys attending a Grammar school. But when I was a boy that kind of thing never occurred to us. I am from a pre-Simpsons generation, very earnest by modern standards.

When I was a boy Simpsons were washing machines

The other members of Black Perspective used to get very annoyed with me because I didn't care about playing chords or even making music. All I wanted to do was jump around and play really, really fast. And very loud.

This was pre-Jack Black style semi-ironic rock'n'roll celebration. This was before " a rockstar" became a commonplace feature of every second advertising campaign.  Rock was a tangible, knee-weakeningly cool force of nature.

Dave, the other guitarist in the band was a more refined player. He was a multi-instrumentalist and had great stylish and musical technique. His older sister was a fucking pain in the arse. 

At some point Dave had started inviting her to our band rehearsals.  She didn't even go to school. She was an adult. 

She would sit there with her silly face and make all sorts of dumb comments like, "Keir, you should stop playing guitar solos over the whole song", and "Keir, why don't you turn your amp down? I can't hear the drums." Yeah. yeah, whatever, Yoko. Way to kill the magic.

We had recruited one of the boarding school housemasters to be our singer. Colin was an athletic, straight-laced guy of about twenty. He was in the Inter-School-Christian-Fellowship. He was taking classical voice lessons. He was taking them very seriously. Especially the bit where his teacher told him,  "open the back of your throat like you are yawning." 

Colin opened his throat so wide he always had a strange look on his face when he sang - like he'd accidently swallowed a whole pickled onion. His technique also made him sound almost exactly like Fozzy Bear. And he seemed to not like pronouncing the letter "t". His delivery of Queen's "I Want it All" for example: "I wonn-id all, I won-id all, I won-id all and I won-id now."

We were entered in Toowoomba's radio 4GR Battle of the Bands. Dave's sister was of the opinion we needed a band uniform, just like The Beatles. We should all wear blue jeans and have matching band shirts. She volunteered to organise it. All we had to do was give her a white collared shirt and $7. 

On our last rehearsal before the competition Dave's sister came with our shirts. They were all adorned with the same felt lettering as my Yngwie J  Malmsteen shirt.  Big block letters across the back saying "Black Perspective." Except on mine. It said "BLACK PERPECTIVE." It was too late to change the shirt, so I just wore it.

The 4GR Battle of the Bands seemed to be nearly all old guys with long hair drinking rum and playing hard rock.  
I wonder what they made of us. Four middle class schoolboys and a fully grown man singing Jimmy Barnes' "Working Class Man" in a Fozzy Bear voice. I ran around playing loud solos on top of everything, duckwalking and sliding across the stage. I got carpet burn. On the final chord of the song, Colin attempted a theatrical jump in the air and miscalculated his landing, rolling hard on his ankle and spraining it badly, crying out in pain.

Well, when I was a boy, that's what we called rock'n'roll.

"Woah, he's a working class man. Isn't he chaps?"

Monday, April 18, 2011

The "Thing Thing"

Last year in Vancouver we played in a bar that had a chap working behind that bar and that chap had a tattooed scrotum. 

This didn't come out immediately of course. We had to get to know him first. After our show, as sometimes happens, we hung around and drank until the early hours of the morning. That was when the tattoo came up. It's probably in bad taste to post it here, but, what the hey, it's the sort of thing you just can't describe so:


Anyway, it turns out that the guy with the tattoo plays in a band and they are on Nickelback's label. 

On their first meeting with Chad from Nickelback he sat them down at a big conference table. They were talking music, Chad was leaning back in his chair and the conversation is flowing. Chad says all of a sudden, "You guys hungry? Who's hungry? Who feels like eating?"

"Oh..yeah, sure, why not," they say politely.

Chad more or less snaps his fingers and his assistant comes in. Chad hands him a one hundred dollar note and says, "Hey, go and get us...twenty cheeseburgers." That's right, twenty.

"Ah, we're vegetarians," says one of the band.

Chad pays no heed and continues talking music. In no time the assistant is back and Chad upends the bag and pours all the cheeseburgers on the table and instructs the band to just go for it. That's just the way Chad rolls. 


You see, Chad likes his fast food. Actually, it's sort of a badge of honour, because before he ever made it he used to work behind the counter in McDonalds. Now Chad has made it he can buy as much of that shit as he wants.

In fact, sometimes Chad is hanging out with friends having a good time he'll say
"Anyone hungry? Whose hungry? Who feels like eating?
Then he'll say "Who wants to do the Thing Thing?"

Him and his friends will get in Chad's car and drive down to McDonalds - the same McDonalds where he used to work before he hit the big time. Chad will waltz into that McDonalds and say, "Gimme The Thing Thing"

The "Thing Thing" is what Chad calls it when you order one of every single item on the McDonalds menu. Every single thing. A small coke, A medium coke, A large coke. A small fries, A medium fries, A large fries. Et cetera. The whole menu.

Yep. Chad orders the Thing Thing, pays for it all and then him and his friends eat it. 

Keep your overpriced watches, Maseratis and champagne. Keep your bullshit status symbols.

When it comes to celebrating your success, Chad from Nickelback is the king. The king with The Thing Thing. 

Friday, April 1, 2011

Why Rebecca Black Is Better Than Your Band

The question of authenticity is a curly one. A lot of criticism leveled at any band or artist is that they're not authentic. That their motivations are suspect. That their intention is not to express themselves, but to sell records. 

Fair enough.

I demand the same from any musician I listen to. I want to know what I'm hearing is expression, not a sales pitch. Otherwise what's the point? 

I think it was Brian Eno who said that the last challenge a modern artist has is to convince the audience that his or her art is genuine. 

This is certainly true in music currently labelled "alternative".  When I watch this music I see an overwhelming amount of energy spent on appearing authentic. Guitar just messy enough to appear unplanned. Drums engineered painstakingly to sound like a lounge room recording while still having all the ballsy kick of a  Black Eyed Peas dance floor hit.

Don't get me wrong...I love these guys, they just look the part.

Much of this alternative music is just as sales-driven as any mainstream pop. The difference is pop doesn't try and disguise its motives. It earnestly strives to connect with as many people as possible. It doesn't hold itself up as high art. 

Both are constructed in the same way, framed in identical three and a half minute song structures. In other words, it's all just pop music. The difference is, one branch of pop is preoccupied with proving how totally not-pop it is. 

Which brings me to Rebecca Black and her viral hit "Friday."

Rebecca Black is a thirteen year old girl who like many other thirteen year olds dreams of being a pop star. Her song "Friday,"  is so transparent it may as well be about a thirteen year old girl who dreams of being a pop star, rather than ...partying, partying, fun, fun, fun, fun.  

"I'm a negative creep! I'm a negative creep! I'm a negative creep and I'm stoned!"

Millions of people around the world are sharing this tune (73 million (?!) at last count). They are sneering at it, ridiculing it and comparing it to the "authentic" artists they listen to. 

But when I watch "Friday" I see something that is so lacking in self-consciousness that it is refreshing. It's clumsy, it's pure, it's naive, and it's joyful. It's the kind of music people make when they don't know any better. It reminds me of making music when I was thirteen years old. In a word it's authentic. Not even the vanity label her parents paid to produce it could disguise the truth of it.

One thing is for sure: it's way more authentic than the work of a lot of musicians currently shitting on it.

Do I think it's clever or insightful or relevant to me? Fuck no. I never need to hear it again. But I'm not thirteen.  

And there is not a single shot of a laundromat in the whole clip.

"It's know...we're hot but we have to still do our own washing?"