Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Tough crowd

This song is so old, but for some reason I am obsessed with it lately. I have a live version on my iPod where the singer (umm his name is FIFE DANGERFIELD, just quietly)'s voice cracks out at the end. This album version is ever-so-slightly less magical, but still good. Also, these are pretty much my dance moves.

So long, Sydney...

Home at a stately (!) midnight after the launch of the Oculi photographic collective's book commemorating their first ten years (well worth checking out!), and sleep beckons BUT there is grilled cheese and mixtapes to be made for tomorrow's roadtrip back toward Queensland.

This whole week's worth of work has been one of those "if you can't say something nice, don't say anything" situations... so suffice to say, it will be lovely to head toward home. Even better with some Grizzly Bear and the XX and Blakroc and Hall & Oates....

Tonight's event was a great celebration of the hard slog of independent photographers banding together. David Marr, who wrote an introduction to the book, tipped his glass to the irony that even some of Sydney's best photographers still called for a stringer-together-of-words to launch the book. Photographer Steven Siewert said some lovely words too, to "hereby declare this book open!" But knowing some of the guys behind this work, and the passion and dedication they have to photography, it was a privilege to be there. Seriously, can't recommend Oculi highly enough if you're a fan of photography - from Siewert's beautiful documentation of the rockabilly scene to Andrew Quilty's Kerouac-meets-the-outback travelogues and James Brickwood's burn-out-to-fade-away depictions of youth culture, and much more.

Was also a delicious bonus to catch up with my favourite boy genius journalist Erik Jensen. But, if you'll excuse me, I have driving CDs to compile.

See ya!

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Faux Frenchy, no chic

The beret - does it say "Max Fischer"? Or just "I'm-reading-a-book-about-France-and-way-too-impressionable"? Swear I bought it before I started the book, and sometimes you need a warm hat on a rainy day, and, and... ok. It's lame.

But don't underestimate the power of the beret. I bought this one on the weekend as a replacement for my previous beret, a red one. The red beret found itself at the centre of a farce of almost Monty Python (or perhaps Fawlty Towers) proportions in late 2008.

While lounging at a girlfriend's place, the beret slipped off unnoticed. Weeks later, while cleaning under the bed, said girlfriend found said beret. In the exact position it would have landed, had it fallen off some beret-wearing trollop while she ravaged my friend's fiance. It seemed a logical conclusion at the time. So you've been warned - berets are capable of almost derailing engagements.

My boss lent me the book, Lunch in Paris by Elizabeth Bard, I think in an attempt to cheer me up and get me more focused on work. Considering the book is solely about falling in love with a dreamy French dude and eating constantly (seriously, there are recipes book-ending each chapter), it may have the opposite effect and drive me out of the country. It's fluffy stuff but quite deliciously observed and written. I loved this line:

One evening in May, I walked out of the Louvre just as they switched on the exterior lights. The statues of scientists and philosophers that line the balconies were lit from below like children telling a story with a flashlight to their chin.

1.5 days until my housemate and I hit the road and head north - to Queensland, to hometowns and to family; and in my case to muddy country races, cake-fuelled cards tournaments with Nanna and a bevy of long lost old friends. Bring it on.

PS There's another Max Fisher that almost rivals the one Wes Anderson created. At 96 he was worth $775 million and the oldest dude in the Forbes 400! God bless the internet.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The 'Fern

Big Red and I languidly explored the back streets of Redfern on a sweltering Saturday just passed. So many secretive little laneways I forget to peek down now I've got my commute down pat.

Found a garage sale, a little impromptu community garden, random signs and graf and paste-ups...

And on the way home, this. It was as cute as it looks.

Collateral damage

So after a break-up there are lots of things you have to give up because they're too painful and loaded with memories. Certain songs, books, even items of clothing must be abstained from. Certain bars, cafes, street corners and even occasionally whole suburbs are off limits. Maybe someday you'll get them back, but you gotta be patient. It sucks, but anyway the flip side of this coin is that you start to realise there are things you're totally okay about keeping even after you let go of the person who introduced you to them.

Case in point: big, dumb movies, and the consumption of alcohol while laughing at said big dumb movies.

Seriously, I'm as pretentious as they come. And sure, it just started as an ironic hipster joke that simultaneously bought me cred as a tolerant girlfriend, to get hammered and sit through the bombastic likes of Wolverine, Terminator Salvation and that awful Transformers sequel. But there's a spate of great movies coming out in the next few weeks, and the feeling I get from watching the trailers - a combination of excitement, and the urge to reach for the nearest three bottles of cheap red wine - tells me this obsession has gone beyone irony.

#1: Clash of the Titans

Epic sweeping pans? Check. Vague mythological references? Check. Very Loud Music Punctuating Extremely Obvious Taglines? Check and check. Plus, Sam Worthington in a breastplate. Oh, and GIANT SCORPIONS. Pass me that cleanskin and phone ahead my order for a bacon sandwich tomorrow morning, this is going to need a lot of booze to process.

#2: Kick Ass

And specifically, Hit Girl. Not sure that this will be dumb, but it will certainly be big. Nearly lost it when I saw this trailer cold. Mum: this involves a small girl dropping the C-bomb and decapitating people, so maybe skip this one.

#3: Iron Man 2

Jon Favreau made me cringe so much with his character in Swingers, but I forgive him every painful second of that answering machine message for making the Iron Man movies. I'm no comic buff but surely Iron Man is one of the all-time best adaptations, almost purely because of Robert Downey Jr's charisma. These movies are at once winking at you about the general dumbness of Marvel action movies, and unabashedly reveling in the fun of excess.

Now is it too much to hope to recruit a partner in witty snark by the time these start coming out in April?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Eye candy

Ready, able

Have been listening to Grizzly Bear's Veckatimest while bike-riding the last few days. Cruising to those sounds at high volume, after pretty much just rolling out of bed and into a helmet, is like an extension of dreaming.

Don't those creepy plasticine figures remind you of something though?!

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday in the park

It's an autumn Sunday afternoon hot enough to pretend it's still summer!

... the flowers are out, as are picnickers, barbequers, and kids' birthday partiers.

Took my mummy for a bike ride to the park...

...She doesn't like having her photo taken either!

Handsome's darlings

Meet Cherry and Valentine - the beginning of the harem of our virile yet cute blog mascot, Handsome Darling.

The only thing better than mini sausage dog puppies? MORE mini sausage dog puppies. That will someday spawn EVEN MORE sausage dog puppies! If only they'd incorporated more puppies into the syllabus, I might have done better in maths at school.

It's a cookie-baking, paper-reading, bike-ridin kinda Sunday.....

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Single Man

Have been hanging to see A Single Man and finally did tonight, with my mum who's staying in Sydney for a few days. Oddly the last few times she's visited we've ended up partaking of distinctly gay-themed entertainments. Coincidence, I swear, but I think she thinks I'm challenging her.

So - A Single Man. It's the film based on Christopher Isherwood's 1964 book of the same name, directed by former Gucci designer Tom Ford. Set in 1962 California, against the backdrop of the Cuban missile crisis, George Falconer (Colin Firth) is a gay literature professor deep in grief for his lover of 16 years (Jim, played by Matthew Goode) eight months after his death in a car accident. George drags himself out of bed, makes himself human through an elaborate grooming process, and steels himself to "just get through one day" before the suicide he has planned that night.

The film is uncomfortably good at expressing the interminable inertia of depression. Ticking clocks are a recurring image, and George's day passes in slow motion as he wills himself through every minute. But there's also incredible beauty as George's senses are heightened by the knowledge that this is his last day on earth, and he becomes transfixed by tiny things - a woman's cat's-eye make-up, a young girl's kneesocks, a beautiful spanish male prostitute's smoking mouth. Almost imperceptibly, the grey palette we're viewing the story through flushes with colour and warm light. Ford does a wonderful job of showing the world through George's eyes.

We feel George's impotent despair too. There's a scene of macabre comedy as George tries to find the right position in which to shoot himself. Lying on his bed, propping himself up against the wall with a pillow... you can see he's utterly concerned with how it will look when he is found, and also the mess that will be made. He drags a thick sleeping bag onto the bed and zips himself awkwardly inside, and struggles to manouveur the pistol inside his cocoon. And then the phone rings, and he lies still for a moment, awkwardly exits the sleeping bag, and answers: "No, I haven't forgotten your gin, I'll see you in ten minutes."

Julianne Moore is lovely as Charley, a faded beauty and past love of George's who remains his bestie. They get drunk over dinner and dance and fight, and the actors' chemistry renders realistically all the flaws and omissions of long-term friendship. Nicholas Hoult (the kid from Skins and About A Boy) feels a little unnatural, with his incongruous tan and American accent, as a student hitting on George. But Firth's performance is virtuoso - amid all the swirling light and colour and period design, he is calm and still and genuine.

Fashion is foreign to me, so I can't give you much context on Tom Ford. But I feel like I know him in a small way, through the sense that I get from this film that he has made, in which nothing you see is an accident. Every room, every set, every prop, every angle, every drift in and out of focus, every bloom of colour and light has been considered and planned just so.

This sense of arrangement is echoed in George's behaviour - his precise drawers of stacked socks and papers and fresh starched shirts; his laying out of his funeral outfit with specific written instructions about windsor knots; his desk covered with the keys and papers and notes he knows will be required after his death.

Among us there walks a certain kind of narcissistic introvert, who won't tell you their tastes but wants desperately for you to approve of them. So they develop an immaculately "accidental" semaphore of cultural cues, books and magazines and accessories and photographs and CDs sprawled everywhere in what seems a casual chaos, but which is precisely calculated. Nothing is an accident. That's what I see in Ford's direction and George's character.

It's not a movie for everyone - Ford's focus on aesthetics and slow motion can get a little ponderous. It's a sensual film more so than a sexual one. I found it heart-breaking and gorgeous but my mum thought it was "just ok". If you've seen it, I'd love to know your take....

Frankie, I DO give a damn

"While it might feel like everything's been done before - it hasn't been done by you.

- Louise Bannister, founding editor of Frankie magazine, at SemiPermanent Sydney

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Anti-social media

Last night Portable presented two of the founders of Refinery29 in a talk at the Museum of Sydney, discussing fashion and social media. It was interesting stuff, particularly seeing how fashion, traditionally an industry slow to adopt new technological trends, has embraced the internet. Luxury no longer means limitation and exclusivity; the new luxury consumer is chasing individuality and customisation. Anyone can drop a few grand on a designer dress; now fashion idolises the unique, the challenging, and pieces with a back-story.

The way fashion brands and media are integrating e-commerce and online sales is quite ground-breaking. It's hard to see at this point whether there's a lesson here for monetising journalism, which is the issue my industry is most concerned with at the moment. Where a fashion news site can unite "information and actionable material", for example a street style photo with a breakdown of where to buy the items, complete with links to the brands or even the site's own online store, a straight news site is trying to sell the medium itself. If that makes sense. It's been a long day!

Anyway, it's a little off topic but the thing I was most struck by at the Refinery29 talk was the behaviour of the MC. Patty Huntington is a local freelance fashion journo who's done very well at building her reputation through blogging and social media. Patty brings excellent experience and insight to her writing as well as style, humour, fun and a nose for breaking news. She's written for me for the Walkley Magazine and I found her great to work with. But while she was interviewing Philip and Piera from Refinery29, she was tweeting.

This photo is terribly dark - Huntington is at right.

I'm talking about breaking eye contact during an interview to tap away on a Blackberry. Now, I understand that her social media coverage would have given the event more attention that it might have recieved otherwise. I realise that her Twitter followers would have wanted to know her thoughts on the event as it unfolded. She was doing her job. But it just seemed quite rude. What is the etiquette here? Am I being old fashioned?

I couldn't help but think of a sketch on The Daily Show last year when Jon Stewart took aim at all the old media heavyweights suddenly taking up Twitter. He crossed to a correspondent in the show's fake news style, and while she was reporting about the adoption of social media she kept stopping mid-sentence to update her Twitter feed. Maybe this is where we're actually headed - it wouldn't be the first time The Daily Show has broken a real story!

This social media stuff is big, and it won't go away. Last night they said that FourSquare is expected to be even bigger than Twitter. Not to mention the implications of something like ChatRoulette. Our very notions of privacy and publicity are changing. Our work no longer begins and ends at certain times and in certain places - we're always wired in.

And maybe no one cares what I'm doing right now, what I ate for breakfast or what hilarious graffiti I just saw, but because I have the technology I'm going to publish that information anyway. All I know is that those people tweeting every two minutes must be missing out on a few real interactions. All this social media might not be making us anti-social, but it is changing our understanding and expectations of relationships and communities.

Wednesday music fix

My friend Todd was down from Brisbane last night, to play a gig with his band The Bloodpoets at Oxford Art Factory. Taking band photos is something I still need to do a lot of work on, but these ones came out kinda cool. The band's name kinda says emo, but their songs are actually really catchy pop songs with elements of rock, punk and even a teeny bit of ska thrown in. Props to Bec for managing to bust out some dance moves, there was not much space at all!

The following band, Static Silhouettes looked all of 17 collectively, but were fantastically good. When he spoke between songs we weren't convinced the singer's voice had broken, but once he was singing you couldn't take your eyes off him. May or may not have bailed the kid up while he was sitting out on the street in the van, hours later, and I was pleased to hear there looks to be a record deal in the works. Seriously, you heard it here first. These kids will be big.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You do the math

The more I hear about the new muppet movie that's in development, the more I am worried that I am just a fictional character being manipulated in some god-like author's meta-universe, a la Sophie's World. Because, seriously?

Written and starring Jason Segel - comic genius, puppet fetishist and all-around tall drink of water


Directed by James Bobin of Flight of the Conchords



If the movie consists of the muppets bouncing on waterbeds, singing Serge Gainsbourg songs and eating peanut butter from the jar with a spoon while Segel cracks jokes naked, then I'll know I'm somehow psychically manifesting this whole thing.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Out on the weekend

Tried and failed to sell someone on Neil Young on the weekend. There must have been many beers involved, because I have two-and-a-half decades of fandom and structured argument for his genius. Young's career as a musical chameleon means that many people have totally different ideas of him. The best known persona is that of his big commercial breakthrough album, 1972's Harvest. Yep, the one with "Heart of Gold".

It's a gentle, folksy album backed by the Stray Gators. Before that Young had done straight rock and blues jams, but a back injury forced him to make a literally laidback album with Harvest - it was the kind of music he could make in a rocking chair.

Twenty years later Young reprised a lot of the Harvest themes with his Harvest Moon album, a very sweet love letter to his wife Peggy. The title track features the the amazing use of a broom for softly swept percussion. But there's also a great song called "Unknown Legend", which was covered beautifully by TV On The Radio's Tunde Adebimpe in the film Rachel Getting Married.

There are so many Neil Young stories I'll have to do a better post another time. I mean, Kurt Cobain quoted Young's lyrics from Rust Never Sleeps in his suicide note. He rocked out with Pearl Jam when he had his 90s resurgence as the "Grandaddy of grunge". Where do you think Powderfinger got their name from? He spent most of the 80s trying to piss off his record label by making horrific concept albums, sometimes in rockabilly and electronic style. He's a cantankerous old bastard who's still incredibly prolific, and retains the same idiosyncratic, shaky childish voice.

Seeing him live with my Dad on the 2003 Greendale tour was one of the most special shows I've ever seen.


There's a free party at Cockatoo Island this Saturday arvo, for the "screening" of a radio doco about Arthur Russell.

Monday, March 15, 2010

This is how we walk on the moon

It's like two years since I saw Wild Combination, a documentary about avant garde musician and occasional disco star Arthur Russell. So my impressions at this point are pretty much muted and blurred by the intervening years, the soft focus of memory and all the wine consumed that night. But whatever started me listening to Arthur again, that's the kind of music that it is... overlapping at the edges like 3D images before you put the glasses on... gentle like the milky sleep fog of waking up without an alarm clock... bedded down within a vague hissing like a cassette recording of a cassette recording of a cassette recording.

Not sure I can do this man's story justice, and just reading the documentary synopsis on film-maker Matt Wolf's website, it says it all pretty perfectly so just watch me cut and paste:

WILD COMBINATION begins in the bucolic landscape of Oskaloosa, Iowa. Chuck and Emily Russell remember their precocious son Arthur’s early inspirations. As a teenager in the 1960s, Arthur was obsessed with Timothy Leary, John Cage, and Beat poetry. Clashing with his parents’ Midwestern conventionalism and inspired by these figures’ counter-cultural imaginations, Arthur ran away from home. He joined a Buddhist commune in San Francisco, and he met his lifelong mentor and collaborator, Allen Ginsberg. Allen described Arthur as “delicate, exquisite-minded, youthful, and at the same time oddly reticent.” The two collaborated on a number of recordings. But when the commune tried to take away Arthur’s cello, forcing him to secretly play in a closet, he followed his greater musical ambition, and he joined Ginsberg in New York.

Arthur began working with Philip Glass and other composers in the avant-garde music world, specifically at The Kitchen, where he became musical director in 1974. He composed melodic orchestral music and absorbed the vanguard ideas of the new music scene. Simultaneously Arthur discovered the liberating social and aesthetic possibilities of underground discos. Under the guise of various monikers—Dinosaur L, Loose Joints, Indian Ocean—Arthur produced playful and eccentric disco records that became hits of the pre-Studio 54 era.

The rules and codes of established genre didn’t apply to Arthur. The serialized patterns of minimalist symphonies resonated with the repetitive rhythms in dance music. Likewise, the utopian social settings of the early discos were like the Buddhist commune Arthur had once known. With childlike innocence and fun, Arthur ambitiously explored all of these possibilities.

He fell in love with his boyfriend Tom Lee, and the two moved in together in the East Village, next door to Allen in a building populated by poets, musicians, and artists.

But despite Arthur’s musical talent and ambition, he was often tempered by self-defeating career choices and alienating perfectionism. It seemed that Arthur was creating a kind of utopia, where the absorbing process of making music was his life. Finishing his work was a secondary concern. Collaborators moved on to new projects, career opportunities passed, and Arthur began working alone in his apartment. What resulted was perhaps his most fully realized body of work, "World of Echo." These transcendent solo cello-and-voice songs were like intimate diaries that fit somewhere between lullabies and art songs.

It seemed that popular success was within Arthur’s reach: He believed these diverse musical projects would reach a wider audience. But the devastation of AIDS cut Arthur’s career short. When Arthur died, he was puzzlingly lost in obscurity. His 1992 obituary in the Village Voice read, “Arthur’s songs were so personal that it seems as though he simply vanished into his music.”

I remember being tremendously moved - not just by the eerily beautiful music, and Wolf's gentle, observational style of film-making - but particularly by Arthur's parents. Good, simple Midwestern folks who were totally supportive of Arthur's lifestyle and loves, as wildly divergent as they were from the world his family knew. Might need to splash out on a DVD to see this again...

Spin cycle

Lots of discussion about cycling in the media in the last few days. Last night Liz Hayes strapped on a helmet and hit the road with muppet NSW premier Kristina Keneally for Sixty Minutes. "Vicious Cycle" played up the extremes of the conflict between motorists and cyclists in Sydney, but the issues at the heart of the story are real and need to be addressed.

The stats have it that 1.4 million bikes were sold in Australia last year compared to 1 million cars, and it's the ninth consecutive year bikes have outsold cars. I'd like to know what percentage of those bikes are pink and trailing streamers and sold around Christmas-time, but it's still a shirtload of bikes.

On Saturday the Sydney Morning Herald splashed a similar story on their front page, proclaiming Sydney as "The city that hates bikes". (cover your ears, Big Red!)

There are a couple of catalysts for all the coverage. A US academic is publishing a paper in the Journal of Transport Geography, showing his findings that Sydney is really not a nice city for bike riders. The City of Sydney has also pledged $76 million for a network of 200km of bike lanes throughout the city's streets, and there's talk of a cyclists' centre (secure lock-up facilities, showers etc) being built at Taylor Square to encourage bike commuters.

It's hard to know how it will all work, and there are bound to be even more teething problems as we try to work out how bikes and cars will share the road. But it's so good to see the council recognising the role bikes can play in a great city - relieving traffic congestion and pollution, encouraging fitness. At a simpler level too I reckon riding a bike makes you appreciate your surroundings more - you smell freshly cut grass or what people are cooking for dinner, you have time to notice sunlight and flowers and random street art. Although riding through George Street will almost certainly never be like this!

Parts of Sydney are already bike-friendly. My commute from home in Randwick to work in Redfern is idyllic, weaving through parks and composed almost entirely of bike path, so I don't need to go on the road at all. But on the occasions I've had to ride into or through the city, it's a different story.

There are almost no bike paths. Many of the streets are one way, the lanes are narrow and drivers are aggressive. There are too many pedestrians for riding on the footpath to be an option (this is also illegal, unless you're a minor). I understand why drivers get frustrated with cyclists flaunting the road rules, but when the environment is so against you it becomes that much more tempting to run red lights and weave between lanes to try to get through.

Can we also recognise that just as there are good and bad drivers, there are good and bad cyclists? And not all bike-riders are Lance Armstrong wannabes or kamikaze couriers. Generally those who wear lycra have a pretty different ethos about bike riding to those who don't. (I am sure there is a laboured pun here about crazy lycra riders - "American Cyclo"? "Lycrapaths"?)

Beyond Sydney, Brisbane has already invested quite a lot in cycling infrastructure in the last few years. I believe at the moment they're looking at introducing a bike hire scheme like they have in Paris. This led the Courier-Mail to do some scare-mongering headlines (no really, I shrieked), like "police vow to crack down on drunken cyclists".

In Canberra there are bikes everywhere, it's so flat it seems a perfect biking environment. But hills aren't always enough to deter a bike culture. Look at San Francisco, the most bike-lovin' city I've ever seen and also the hilliest! Bike path on almost every street, people cycling everywhere, no helmets necessary.

And then there is the promised land of bikes - Holland. A truly evolved nation, where biking is so naturally part of people's lives that they can do almost anything while pedalling - hold an umbrella, make phone calls, eat sandwiches... The bikes over there are mostly laid-back townie style, heavy-set but beautiful and made for an ambling pace, always with chainguards and mudguards so that the girls can pretty much wear couture while cycling and not be concerned about getting grotty.

We can dream....

Sunday, March 14, 2010

The howling fantods

The American Society of Magazine Editors have just named this year's nominees for their annual awards. They're called "the Ellies" because their trophies, designed by Alexander Calder, are stylised elephants. Calder is something of an obsession of mine but that's a post for another time.

I've been luxuriating in the ASME's 2009 compliation of The Best American Magazine Writing. Nobody, but nobody, does long-form magazine pieces like the Americans. Highly recommend this piece from Esquire's Chris Jones, "The Things That Carried Him", which tracks the body of US soldier killed in Iraq through all the protocols of being sent home for burial; it then delves backward in time into how he died, and why he joined the army in the first place. It's exquisite, moving stuff - Esquire has a great history of stylish but very substantial war reportage, from Hemingway to Michael Herr.

But the piece that's really stuck with me is David Lipsky's Rolling Stone profile of an incredibly talented writer who killed himself in 2008. It's a lengthy read but please check it out: "The Lost Years and Last Days of David Foster Wallace". It was all I could do not to burst into tears on the bus while finishing it. One of those pieces of writing you don't want to read another word of anything else after, to hold onto the way it made you feel.

More than just an investigation of a writer and what made him hang himself, it's a pretty profound study of depression, despair and how harrowing the writing life can be. Wallace was the son of a philosophy professor father and english teacher mother, and grew up precocious and articulate. But far from a bookish type, he was tall, rangy and dabbled quite seriously in football and then the junior tennis "show".

A lot of those personal experiences are poured into Wallace's masterpiece, Infinite Jest. I've honestly lost count of how many copies of Infinite Jest I've bought, lent and gifted. It's not light reading in any sense - a labyrinthine, unwieldy work of genius, 1000-odd pages, the size and weight of a housebrick. Studded with elaborate footnotes, spanning a future north American continent and questions of environmental destruction, Quebecois seperatist terrorists, elite tennis, mind-altering drugs, avant-garde film-making, rehab facilities, family tragedy and so much more.

The meandering narrative is driven by a film called Infinite Jest. It's circulating on videotape in unmarked brown paper packages, marked only with a hand drawn smiley face, as a weapon of said terrorists - because this is a fatal entertainment. The video is so good those watching it cannot walk away from it, and sit, soil themselves, starve and eventually expire in a state of catatonic bliss while the tape rolls on.

The book follows a fairly vast cast of characters who at first seem to have nothing in common; the narrative rolls on in ever-smaller circles until toward the end you see just how interconnected the seperate story strands are. At that point the reading process takes on a kinda religious fervour, as you start to see how breathtaking the scope of the story is and the book builds toward its climax. As it explores themes of obsession and addiction, reading Wallace's prose becomes an addiction in itself.

Back to Lipsky's profile. I think it captures really well the writer's terror of inertia, and the dangers of insecurity. A friend from college days, Mark Costello recounts a bleak period for Wallace.

Not writing was the kind of symptom that presents a problem of its own. "He could get himself into places where he was pretty helpless," Costello says. "Basically it was the same symptoms all along: this incredible sense of inadequacy, panic. He once said to me that he wanted to write to shut up the babble in his head. He said when you're writing well, you establish a voice in your head, and it shuts up the other voices. The ones that are saying, 'You're not good enought, you're a fraud.'"

Found it freaky that Wallace had his own version of what I call the Five Year Cycle:

"I'm this genius writer," he remembered. "Everything I do's gotta be ingenious, blah, blah, blah, blah." The five-year clock was ticking again, He'd played football for five years. Then he'd played high-level tennis for five years. Now he'd been writing for five years. "What I saw was, 'Jesus, it's the same thing all over again.' I'd started late, showed tremendous promise - and the minute I felt the implications of that promise, it caved in. Because see, by this time, my ego's all invested in the writing. It's the only thing I've gotten food pellets from the universe for. So I feel trapped: 'Uh-oh, my five years is up, I've gotta move on.' But I didn't want to move on."

He describes a depressive crisis.

It was the worst period Wallace had ever gone through. "It may have been what in the old days was called a spiritual crisis," he said. "It was just feeling as though every axiom of your life turned out to be false. And there was nothing, and you were nothing - it was all a delusion. But you were better than everyone else because you saw that it was a delusion, and yet you were worse because you couldn't function."

Wallace could be recognised by the bandanas he started wearing while studying at University of Arizona, where it was so hot he was sweating over his pages as he wrote. "I began thinking about the phrase 'keeping your head together'. It makes me feel kind of creepy that people view it as a trademark or something - it's more a recognition of a weakness, which is that I'm just kind of worried that my head's gonna explode".

Jonathan Franzen, author of The Corrections, was one of Wallace's best friends.

"I remember this being a frequent topic of conversation," Franzen says, "his notion of not having an authentic self. Of being just quick enough to construct a pleasing self for whomever he was talking to. I see now he wasn't just being funny - there was something genuinely compromised in David. At the time I thought, 'Wow, he's even more self-conscious than I am.'"

David Foster Wallace Fansite "The Howling Fantods"
DFW on cruise ships: "A Supposedly Fun Thing I'll Never Do Again"
Read Infinite Jest. Give yourself a good few months, but read it.

You looked so pretty....

Friday, March 12, 2010

Tea and self-sympathy

Hmm. Think I finally just found a tangible downside to life as a singleton. Finding an amazing new recipe on Smitten Kitchen and not having anyone to email it to, exclaiming "let's feast on THIS upon rolling out of bed on Saturday!"

Unless... anybody in the Sydney area up for a breakfast date this weekend?

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Big Red

Best band T-shirt ever? It hits my trifecta: pun + bike + muso I like.

After work, when I loosen the lock binding my bike Big Red to a Redfern railing, I like to sing "Unchain My Heart". Cuz, y'know, my heart belongs to her. Found her in roadside collection while walking home tipsily from the races, like a perfectly timed delivery from the recycling gods. We've been inseperable ever since. Except for my dalliance with Baby Blue in Brisbane, but I don't like to mention that in front of Big Red. She's looking at me suspiciously as I write this.

Big Red has been making some funky noises lately. Not the good kind of funky. A lot of clicking and clanking and involuntary changing of gears while grinding up hills.

I'm not the mechanical type. At all. So I was very excited to take advantage of a free class in bike maintenance tonight. Props to Waverley Council for such a great community initiative. So I've finally learned how to change and patch a bike tyre. Now I know the proper way to clean and take care of the parts, and I know the parts' proper names!

But I also now know that Big Red has a broken back axle... and I'm not going to be able to fix it myself. Sad face. But we're gonna get through this together, girl.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Oh my! NY!

Having a bit of an arts and crafts night (don't ask) and while going through a shoebox of ephemera from my overseas trip - a million and one postcards and ticket stubs and museum maps - I came across a couple of mementoes from a memorable night in Greenwich Village. Prancing around the city and drinking red wine solo, as was my wont, I stopped into an underground blues bar off Bleecker Street. The music was phenomenal!

Anyway, the night ended many hours later, shivering in Strawberry Fields and strewing shop-lifted flowers on the John Lennon memorial. I had been adopted by two well-meaning Argentinians, Lennon fans both, who steered our course cross-city via subway, scandalised that I had contemplated leaving New York without seeing Strawberry Fields. Somewhere between Central Park and my Upper West Side pad I managed to lose my gloves - not advisable in snowy early January. My last night in Manhattan was spent wondering if my popsicle fingers would ever regain feeling.

But I'm getting ahead of myself. The funniest thing about this night was not laughing in the 3am snow on the steps of the Natural History Museum, or even ringing Steven Spielberg's doorbell and sprinting away. It is contained on a small scrap of paper torn from a Terra Blues program, and with it comes a vague memory of a precocious lad who looked all of 14, in bowler hat and horn rim glasses. On one side, it says "may I ask you for a drink sometime?". On the other side is an email address and the words "take a chance!..."

And before I could even say the words "what is this, primary school?!", he had run away in a flash of Williamsburg-standard-issue flannel.

Just one more thing. Maybe the best thing about New York is the little dedications on the Central Park park benches. Each one a short story.

Dog days, part deux

It was an afternoon that merited an extra two bike laps around Centennial Park on the way home. The breeze was warm, and alive with the smell of freshly cut grass. It may be autumn now, but there are few smells more summery than sun-warmed expanses of newly shorn lawn.

Best of all though, was how many people were out with their dogs. Big fat woolly dogs, curly-tailed cocker spaniels... loping and lolloping, tongues lolling, down hills and in tail-chasing circles.

Damn I'm jealous of all you people with puppies! I think we're overdue for an update on our blog mascot, Handsome Darling. Reboot? I know it's your birthday tomorrow, maybe you could put a party hat on him and let him blow out your candles?

Monday, March 8, 2010

What a dag

Sick from work today, I rallied to make a roast pork dinner for eight and was quite gratified by the results. Quite aside from the failsafe strategy for compliments of making guests wait three hours (and numerous bottles of wine) before they see their dinner, there are few foods more immediately satistfying as sizzling, salty pork crackling.

But this post isn't about pork. What is it about? I was going to recount some of the night's more amusing double entendres and malapropisms (and "that's what she said"s), but I fear they were moments you had to be there for. Oh yes - that's it.

At dinner last week with David Finkel he mentioned that at the Perth Writers' Festival someone had described him as "a dag", and asked what it meant. Unbidden, my mother's words surfaced in my mind, but I bit my tongue until I heard my boss, an educated and erudite dude, spout them verbatim. "A dag," he opined, "is the fly-attracting shit clustered around a sheep's arse."

"In America, we call that a 'dingleberry'," said David's daughter Lauren.

Which, we scrambled to say, wasn't the spirit in which the remark was intended. To call someone a dag is to compliment them for the Australian-loved values of simplicity, a lack of pretension and laconic good spirits. Yet another case of lost-in-translation, I guess.

Spent this morning watching the Oscars in my illness. Listening to Martha Wainwright now is making me realise how I conflate her and Maggie Gyllenhaal in my mind. Two beautiful, saucy ladies. But of course - how great is it that Jeff Bridges finally got his Oscar?!

"I'm sorry, I wasn't listening."

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Streets of my town

I've been thinking about Australian music from an international perspective lately; what are the songs we want to be known by, by someone who doesn't know us?

I keep coming back to the pop greats, this 80s sound of great Aussie pop/rock. The Church, The Triffids, The Go-Betweens, and above all, Crowded House. There's a certain magic in the production of all these bands around the late 80s, early 90s; all shiny shiny treble guitars, clean and reverberating with all the enormous breadth of the panoramic Australian horizon. Can we even claim Crowded House as definitively Australian? Certainly not as their very NZ incarnation, Split Enz. From this period you can't deny the best song is "Message To My Girl", a very special song to me.

Though I'm frightened by the words
Think it's time that it was heard
So I'll sing it to the world
A simple message to my girl
No more empty self-posession
Vision swept under the mat
It's no new year's resolution
It's more than that

Fuck, this song was made the year I was born.

And even from the Crowded House days, god, it's hard to pick a single song from this band. I'm having a great time on YouTube, ogling youthful Neil Finns wailing I'd better be home soon and so on. "Into Temptation", that delicious lyrical tryst of lusty longing.

The most Queensland of them all is, of course, the Go-Betweens. Friends know of my obsession with someday writing the book about Grant McLennan.

And don't the sun look good today?
But the rain is on its way
Watch the butcher shine his knives
And this town is full of battered wives

It doesn't get much better.

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Good Soldiers

Had the supreme pleasure of hearing David Finkel talk about his book The Good Soldiers with cheeky foreign correspondent Eric Campbell last night. David's a Pulitzer-winning journalist from the Washington Post who spent eight months embedded with a battalion of US soldiers in Iraq as part of the surge in 2007. His book has been hailed as the definitive account of the Iraq war - some are saying it's one of the best books on war ever.

What seems to make the book special (and I'm still waiting to read it) is that instead of analysing politics and policy, David simply tells the stories of these 800 optimistic 19-year-olds who get blown up, mutilated, killed, disillusioned and sent back home to try to readjust to normal life. And unusually for a book about embedding, it's not in first person - there is no trace of David in the book.

Hearing David speak about the book was moving, and occasionally harrowing; I can't imagine what it must have been like for him. But as he graciously says, he at least had the luxury of taking breaks from the constant tension of East Baghdad, and months of writing a book to try to make sense of the experience. The soldiers had neither of those outlets.

For me the most moving part of David's talk was when he spoke about the responses he's had to the book from the soldiers themselves, and their families. He sent copies of the book to all of them, and the families of the men who didn't make it back. He said there were two general responses. One was from soldiers who would say "Thank you. People ask me what it was like in Iraq and I can't talk about it, I don't want to talk about it, but now I know I can just hand them your book and tell them to read it."

The other response he described was from the father of a soldier that had died, I think his name was Josh Reeves. David had been there when Josh was hit with an EFD (a remotely-triggered, lethal makeshift explosive) and watched with a group of others from the battalion as his shredded remains were rushed to the doctors. Josh had lost a lot of skin and flesh around his legs and bum and all over really, and as someone vigorously performed CPR, bits of him were actually falling off. David became aware of a small object skidding across the floor, landing near his foot. And in the retelling of this scene he struggled with whether or not to include what he said, knowing that somewhere this man's father would read it. He decided to put it in. "That's a toe."

Later he heard from Josh's father. But rather than the "sonofabitch" reaction he was expecting, the father gave him heartfelt thanks. "Because of your book I got to spend the last hours of my son's life in his company."

Damnit, I'm tearing up now just writing this!

Later I hit it off over dinner and lots of wine with David's awesome wife and daughter, while David and Eric traded (literal) war stories. Will write more about the book when our boss brings back the office copy and I can actually read it!

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Mixed business

So I'm making a mix tape. A privileged few know that it's only a very privileged few for whom I ply this ancient craft. If eyes are the window to the soul, mixtapes are the equivalent of the soul handing over its diary, uncovering its scars and exchanging whispered secrets all night in the dark. That special.

Making mixtapes is art and science. You want to show off your awesome taste, but also make something they'll love and listen to over and over. How do you balance impressive obscurity and feelgood hits? Do you go with a genre or theme - or let Otis Redding rub shoulders with Royksopp and the Modern Lovers and be damned? Structuring also presents a challenge - you need to allow for light and shade, but every opener and closer must be immaculately chosen. And then there are liner notes and artwork to tangle with. Phew!

It's a pretentious quirk to keep referring to them as mixtapes when no one has the patience, or indeed the equipment, to actually do them on cassette anymore. But I think the best mixtapes, even on CD, retain a kindred spirit with their magnetically spooled ancestors. Respect for the brevity of the format. A desire to be listened to in toto, in sequence, without fast forwarding (in bygone times, such would wear out both the tape and your Walkman batteries). And an invitation to obsessive overanalysis that goes hand in hand with its take-me-everywhere-with-you portability.

Yup, the only thing better than making the perfect mixtape? Is recieving one.

For more on mixtapes and their cultural significance, see:

Note: those pictured above aren't mixtapes, but oft-recycled cassettes of band interviews from my salad days as a street press rock journo. Too many great interviews to pick a best one, but I think the worst was being so awed by Paul Kelly I ran out of things to say. And the weirdest was a stoned Daniel Johns talking about putting peas in his iPod. Good times.

Dudes who stare at goats

Just caught a preview of The Men Who Stare At Goats, it's a movie I recommend highly if you're into screwball comedies with tenuous links to journalism, war and reality. Did I mention the cast? George Clooney, for all the mums out there (though, I must admit I'm coming around to this one). Ewan MacGregor, for all the younger ladies who like their heartthrobs to have done their time in drag, musicals and Star Wars. Anonymous hippie boobs in hot tubs, in a cameo role, for one-track-minded dudes. And, for those who just can't let go of The Dude, my newest burning old man crush, Jeff Bridges.

Popcorn Taxi put on a great event and staged a transcontinental skype Q&A with Jon Ronson, author of the book the film is based on. Ronson said he felt disconnected from the film overall - there's a tendency for those making Hollywood films not to want the author around "making them feel guilty" - but liked it and likened it to "Little Miss Sunshine goes to Iraq".

Synopsis: Ewan MacGregor plays Bob, a cuckolded Michigan journalist who decides to go to Iraq to prove to his wife (and her one-handed suitor) that he's not a wuss. There he meets Lyn Cassady (Clooney), a guy who claims to be a former member of the U.S. Army's New Earth Army, a unit that employs paranormal powers in their missions. For mine the best scenes are the flashbacks to the New Earth Army's creation by Bridges' character.

I was suprised to hear Ronson say that most of the crazier stuff in the film was actually the factual stuff; the outlandish interrogation tactics, the military's research into super powers. Apparently the real person Bridges' character was based on was brought in to consult on the film from its earliest stages, totally bonded with Bridges and was blissfully happy with his performance.

It's a beautifully shot film - all the sweeping panoramas of the Iraqi desert were so immaculately sculptured it was hard to believe they were real. The use of music was ostentatious and joyful. Supergrass' "Alright" intercut with real news footage over the opening credits was a little jarring, but the use of my favourite bike-riding song, Boston's "More Than A Feeling" (Clooney's character found it easiest to tap into his Jedi powers through "drinking, and soft rock") was fantastic.

One of the unexpected pleasures of the film was a sweet, sweet irony that according to Ronson didn't occur to the filmmakers when they were casting. When Clooney's character is teaching MacGregor about the New Earth Army he repeatedly refers to them as "Jedis". Considering MacGregor has played Obi Wan Kenobi it must have been hard for him to keep a straight face while asking what Jedis are and do.

So does Ronson believe it's possible to stop a goat's heart simply by staring at it? Or even a hamster??

"I guess if you stare at any animal long enough, it'll die."

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Everything's rushing past a little grey at the moment. Be back soon. x