Thursday, April 29, 2010


Bone tired. Life tired. Tired old routines, winding down to what feels like an ending.

Turn it into something. Life's too short for this.

Time to think about what comes next.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

A bright glamour of moonlight

There was a rough stone age and a smooth stone age and a bronze age, and many years afterward a cut-glass age. In the cut-glass age, when young ladies had persuaded young men with long, curly moustaches to marry them, they sat down several months afterward and wrote thank-you notes for all sorts of cut-glass presents - punchbowls, finger-bowls, dinner-glasses, wine-glasses, ice-cream dishes, bonbon dishes, decanters, and cases - for, though cut glass was nothing new in the nineties, it was then especially busy reflecting the dazzling light of fashion from the Back Bay to the fastnesses of the Middle West. After the wedding the punch-bowls were arranged on the sideboard with the big bowl in the centre; the glasses were set up in the china-closet; the candlesticks were put at both ends of things - and then the struggle for existence began.

F Scott Fitzgerald is one of those dazzling writers, like Capote, whose words are painfully beautiful to read. As a reader you drink in every delicious word, greedy for more... but as a writer, it will always stick in your throat a little that you'll probably never write anything this good.

"The Cut Glass Bowl" is one of my favourite Fitzgerald stories. It centres around Evylyn, who grows from young, beautiful and callous:

"You remember young Carleton Canby? Well, he was very attentive at one time, and the night I told him I was going to marry Harold, seven years ago, in ninety-two, he drew himself way up and said: "Evylyn, I'm going to give a present that's as hard as you are and as beautiful and as empty and as easy to see through."

... to a disappointed woman, lonely within the marriage her youthful indiscretions undermined. The story's surface gleams with Fitzgerald's trademark sassy, Jazz Age style, but the undercurrent is his great terror of lost youth and beauty. All wrapped up in a dark, disconcerting tale of choices and curses, and a cut glass bowl.

Fitzgerald's turns of phrase are just delicious. "If Evylyn's beauty had hesitated in her early thirties, it came to an abrupt decision just afterward and completely left her". Her husband Harold, "like all men who are preoccupied with their own broadness, was exceptionally narrow".

I always find Fitzgerald a bit of a paradox - for all his characters "fastnesses" and licentiousness the stories usually have quite an old-fashioned moral... His effortless descriptions are intoxicated with the beauty of women and fashion and grand homes and things; but the characters who themselves become too fixated on beauty and things are the ones who ultimately get their comeuppance.

Harold had gone upstairs, so she stepped out on the porch for a breath of fresh air. There was a bright glamour of moonlight diffusing on the sidewalks and lawns, and with a little half yawn, half laugh, she remembered one long moonlight affair of her youth. It was astonishing to think that life had once been the sum of her current love affairs. It was now the sum of her current problems.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The Green Ray

Sooner or later, everyone goes to the zoo

Ladies and gentlemen, we'd like to play a little tune for you.

I dedicate it to a man who doesn't think he's seen anything good today.

Cameron Frye, this one's for you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Come in, spinner

Clovelly hotel was packed yesterday for the Anzac day two-up session. They'd set up two grandstands so that hundreds of people could play and watch. Weirdly it's the first time I've ever actually seen two-up played. Took a little while to catch on to how it works, but the whole raucousness of it is infectious. I never realised the betting was so haphazard - basically if you want to bet heads, you hold up the amount you want to bet next to your head, then you find someone in the crowd who's willing to make the same bet for tails and you work it out amongst yourselves. Guess that could be why the game's only legal one day a year, it's pretty hard to enforce the rules and could quite possibly end up in fisticuffs if the general atmosphere of the day wasn't so chilled.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Lest we forget

It's a muted rainy morning, with a chill well worth cracking out the first porridge of the year (topped with oozy brown sugar, of course). Seems weird that it's wet and chilly today, because it's Anzac Day; which to my memory was always a huge deal in the St George calendar, and I always recall them as being outdoor, sunbright days.

Anzac Day is surely the most Australian holiday of them all - it celebrates a bitter military cock-up, it comes with gambling and heavy-drinking rituals, New Zealand is involved.... Back in primary school there was always a big lead-up to it. There would be drawing and colouring competitions for the younger kids, and as older kids everyone seemed to end up writing melodramatic poems or letters from diggers to their sweethearts/mothers, dipped in cold tea and edges burned with a pilfered cigarette lighter for that authentic old letter aesthetic. There would be a march, all the kids in their school uniforms, and wreaths piled on the war memorial in the main street before the last post played. And is there any melody so simple and so haunting as the last post? A tune where the weight of so many fallen young men lies in the silences between the notes.

Anzac Day is the "sunburnt left ear" poem read aloud on ABC Radio by a man with a cracking voice, while you help your mum mix golden sugar and rolled oats into biscuits. It's a young Mel Gibson making you cry in Peter Weir's beautiful Gallipoli. What are your legs? Steel springs! What are they gonna do? Hurl me down the track! How fast can you run? As fast as a leopard!

And that's what Anzac Day is really about - and that's why those rituals of childhood aren't so irrelvant, even though we didn't really understand it then. Anzac Day is a day when we must remember all the boys who gave their lives, proud and shitscared all at once, so that we can live the way we love in this country we love. We must not forget the slaughter, the lost youth. And we must not forget the futility all those deaths, and the men who came home but broken, and the people they were lost to: and we must make sure it never happens again.

Best weekend ever?

Brunch beers. Ferry on Sydney Harbour. Luna Park. Milsons Point markets. Powerhouse Museum. 80s nostalgia. Designgasm. Chinatown. Cockle Bay Wharf beers, Panthers ahead at half time. Centrepoint Tower, crammed in a lift with a hundred Chinese tourists laughing at my enormous feet. Trying on perfumes and turbans at David Jones. Trains. Luna Park, every ride possible. Freezing on the ferris wheel, diagonal rain. Coney Island, fortunes told by ancient machines. Scamming the last ride on the Wild Mouse. Water taxi. Strawberry ice-cream cone. Over 500 photos. Delicious exhaustion. No words.

The gorgeous Henrik last night predicted, from all the way over in Sweden, that this would be "the best weekend ever and it hasn't even started yet". So far, he's on the money. We haven't even got to Anzac Day two-up and public holiday barbeques yet. So happy.

Thursday, April 22, 2010


This amazing beetle flew onto my purse a couple weeks ago. Wish I'd got it in focus :(

Wednesday, April 21, 2010


She said: when you come back from the bathroom, you have to have learned something, and then teach it to us. We were in Oxford Street's take on an American diner, snug in a booth, the remains of chilli fries and the crumbs of a burger scattered between us. The kind of place where the waiter offers you three beers, and there's no haggling over what kind because there's just one kind. The bathroom was papered with instruction manuals. How to avoid terrible pick-up lines. How to emergency land a plane. How to determine if your date is an axe murderer.

Watch out for people that kick small animals, apparently. Also: waiter, you said the burger did not need a pickle. It was a great burger. But there is no burger than cannot benefit from a pickle. Times like these, I miss the States.

Life is full of lessons lately. Not all of them fun, but it's good to be learning.

Oh, and PS - fantastic Mr Ford himself has kindly supplied the missing poem from yesterday's post, and was even magnanimous about me incorrectly attributing the editor poem to him. I tip my hat to you, sir.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

"The Figure 5 in Gold"

Painted by Charles Demuth in 1928, this is a painting that hangs in the Met, which I adored for its fantastic back story. Particularly as it's about the interplay of inspiration between artists of different disciplines, not exactly collaboration, but a work that wouldn't have come about without the work of another artist. Or, in this case, poet: William Carlos Williams.

Demuth's "abstract portrait" pays homage to his friend Williams' poem The Great Figure.

Among the rain
and lights
I saw the figure 5
in gold
on a red
to gong clangs
siren howls
and wheels rumbling
through the dark city

Within the portrait Demuth arranges shapes and symbols related to Williams - the poet's initials, the names "Bill" and "Carlo". And the colours of course perfectly capture that zinging kinetic tension of the shiny red firetruck, emblazoned with its figure five, in gold.

Perhaps Williams' most famous poem is this one:

This Is Just To Say
I have eaten
the plums
that were in
the icebox

and which
you were probably
for breakfast

Forgive me
they were delicious
so sweet
and so cold
It's recklessly simple and so sensuous - it always leaves me craving cold ripe plums, the ones with bittersweet black skin and ruby flesh, that leave juice running down your hands at the height of summer. It also leaves me feeling deep sympathy for whoever the note was intended for.

It must have had much the same effect on Adam Ford, who wrote a great little book of poems called Not Quite The Man For The Job (Allen & Unwin, 1998, tragically out of print - has anyone seen my copy?!). This may out me as the poetry ingrate that I am, but since I found this book in our high school library it's remained my favourite poetry of all time. Except maybe Prufrock, but that's another story. Anyway. Ford did a fantastic poem in response to Williams', along the lines of "damn you, you've been eating my fruit for weeks, now I'm hungry and you're dumped".

As soon as I find my copy of the book I'll post the poem, but for now here's another poem as a consolation prize (in the Phoenix sense of consolation prizes, ie, equally awesome):

Living With An Editor

after fumbling through
the cupboards
i leave a note:
where the hell
is my small
little frying pan
missing in action
for weeks?

the request came back
with red texta
all over it
& a response
that read:
can't process
the information-
too many adjectives
& unnecessary
targeted audience
doesn't care about
the plot

We're signing off the magazine tomorrow. Things always get a little mental around this time. Right now I'm in bed under a blanket of A3 proofs, covered in scribbled corrections. Proofreading: it makes reading fun-proof. But this little poetic diversion was a nice respite....

UPDATE: Not that this detracts in any way from the magnificence of the last poem, but it is in fact by Alica Sometimes. Sorry! Adam has been kind enough to include his poem in the comments. x

Monday, April 19, 2010

Getting Calder

As a lazy man once said, I don’t know much about art, but I know what I like. Beyond the usual pretty stuff – Rodin, Klimt, Miro – I love art that’s witty, not pretentious, occasionally humorous, and with a good back story. Enter Alexander Calder.

I hadn’t heard of him before I went to New York, but once there I bumped into his work so many times we must be meant to be. First I stumbled into an exhibition of his jewellery at the Met. They weren’t your average baubles – no gold or jewels here. Calder used brass wire, curled into spirals, hammered into flat shapes, making spiky necklaces and head-dresses. I would later learn that this is Calder to a tee- using simple, everyday materials to make quirky yet beautiful and functional pieces. One lovely piece was a brooch called “V For Victory” – designed in 1944 to celebrate the end of the war, it was modelled around the morse code.

A few days later I discovered a Calder retrospective at the Whitney, a gallery that specialises in American art. Here I saw some of the abstract “mobiles” he’s famous for. But what I found most interesting, and the exhibition was beautifully curated to tease this out, was his creative evolution to that point.

The exhibition focused on "The Paris Years", where he went to study and work on his art in the late 1920s, aged around 28. Prior to that he had become quite well known for his cartoons and sketches - beautifully vivid linework devastating in its simplicity. There were lively ink and watercolour sketches of various animals at the Bronx Zoo - Calder actually put out a book for children with tips for how to draw animals. His parents were both artists, and though he showed talent and inclination as a child - making toys and "valentines" for his parents, as well as drawing - they encouraged him to complete his studies as a mechanical engineer.

Before he went to Paris he was regularly published in The New Yorker and other publications with his idiosyncratic impressions of city life, Central Park, and his lifelong obsession: the circus.

When he got to France, Calder started making his wire 3D caricatures of people. The shadows they cast add another dimenson.

He was particularly enamoured of the exotic Negress performer Josephine Baker, making about five full sculptures of her - although apparently at the time all of Paris was obsessed with her. Something to do with her penchant for topless Charleston-dancing perhaps?!

At the time he was regularly moving between Paris and New York. There is a proliferation of drawings and sculptures from this time, caricatures of notable people, but mostly animals and circus acts. With a bit of a performer's streak himself, Calder was not satisfied merely with vividness - he wanted actual movement. And so he created his circus figurines, with mechanisms and puppet-like cues, and began to perform with them. He took his circus back to the US regularly and soon his props and the equipment for their maintenance filled five large trunks.

I couldn't take photos and didn't dare try to draw his works, but they were unspeakably lifelike despite their simplicity. The exact curve of a horse's neck, or a monkey's tail. And witty too - a cow sculpture had a spiral wire cowpat in its wake, while "pigs" showed the boar mounting the sow and a baby piglet formed inside her belly!

Anyway - after visiting Piet Mondrian's studio a few years later, Calder suddenly "got" the concept of abstraction in a blinding flash of inspiration. He rushed out a series of drawings, floating disconnected objects and lines in space, and set about making them into sculptures.

Again, the concept movement in space drove him, and many of these sculptures included motors to facilitate movement.
The "mobile" was his breakthrough - weighted objects suspended from the ceiling, that needed only the slightest breeze or push to set them in motion.

My favourite was just a small ball and a larger iron ball suspended on wire from the ceiling, with a scattering of glass bottles, tin cans, wooden crates and a small gong around it in a circle on the floor. The sculpture swayed slightly in the air, the small ball ever tantalisingly close to knocking into something. Because, drawing on that circus performer's instinct, the piece was all about anticipation. Most magical of all was that a guy would come in periodically with what looked like a huge cotton swab, to poke the mobile ever so gently and make it dance! What an awesome job.

I'm struggling to put it into words here but I just loved the sense of Calder as this guy so enthusiastic about life, the world, art, performance. He saw the world around him, loved it, and made all his glorious miniature homages. Saw the elegant simplicity in nature, drew it without lifting his pen from the page, and transferred that confident, unerring design aesthetic into sculpture, performance and craft.

Monday bike love

Holy convergence of sexy things! Bikes + Pantone colours + Sweden:

In conjunction with Milan Design Week, the Italian bicycle manufacture, Abici launched four new Pantone colours to ride including Turquoise 15-5519 and Mimosa 14-0848.
(For The Love of Bikes)
But wait! There's more!

Note Design Studio have designed a unique Stockholm line for the stylish Italian bicycle manufacture Abici, where the colors from four different iconic buildings in Stockholm have inspired the colors of the bicycles. There is a yellow, a red-orange, a white and a blue, — can you guess the buildings that inspired them?
(Design Milk via For The Love Of Bikes)

Delicious.... As is the back-rack basket Alison now has on the Heartbreaker, courtesy of her new lover. (That's Big Red in the backround, naked of baskets and nonplussed) Not that I'm jealous or anything...

Can you tell I'm on deadline?!

Sunday, April 18, 2010

This week's flowers...

... they smell amazing.

And it was nearly worth working on a Sunday to cop this sunset on the way home. Nearly.

Whatever you want

Paul Dempsey played a sold out Metro last night, with Dan Kelly in support. Dan's an old favourite of mine, but times have changed since his grungy bedroom blues with the Alpha Males, and his trajectory through yacht rock seems to have culminated in some new tunes and a new band. A band which, to a man, wore sarongs. And hats - the drummer in a pith helmet, DK himself with an old-school aviator's helmet atop his head like a leather condom.

He's never been short on confidence - albeit delivered with an idiosyncratic insecure swagger - and made the ballsy move of closing his set with two new songs. Definitely interested to hear his new album, Dan Kelly's Dream, but I think his astounding debut Sing The Tabloid Blues will always be my favourite. The boys I went to the show with found him hilarious: "I'm Dan Kelly and this is my band, Dan Kelly and the Dan Kellys, now here's a new song from my new album Dan Kelly's Dream - it's called 'I'm Dan Kelly singing about being Dan Kelly'".

Not sure why I was suprised that the venue was so packed for Paul Dempsey. In all the times I've seen him play as frontman of Something For Kate the band has always rocked it, and his solo material is great. Plus he's a strappingly tall, fairly gorgeous dude with an amazing gravelly voice. From the first song he owned the crowd, and they sang along every word from Everything Is True.

But best of all were the covers. SFK used to do a killer "Rock The Casbah", and sure enough Dempsey picked a couple of classics - totally unexpected but well enough known for everyone to go nuts. He did "Miss You" and "Born To Run". Can you even imagine? And THEN he did what my friends and I had decided not to get our hopes up about, and played some Something For Kate. And not just any song, but "Whatever You Want", the opener to my favourite album Beautiful Sharks.

Le sigh. So it was a way more energetic show than I was expecting, and the crowd really lifted it to another level. Unfortunately cameras weren't allowed (which I didn't realise until after I took photos of Dan Kelly!) and I had had one too many gins to pull off the stealthy paparazzi moves. So please content yourself with grainy YouTube footage....

Saturday, April 17, 2010

West End story

If ever you find yourself in Brisbane on a Friday night, here's my recipe for an outstanding evening. You will need:
  • shoes comfortable enough for a good few hours' dancing and stumbling
  • at least two fabulous friends
  • a functioning sense of humour
  • little to no dignity
Step 1: Preparatory beers at the Boundary Hotel in West End
From the sticky tiles to the toothless regulars, the Boundary is the kind of pub that's almost impossible to find these days, at least outside of small towns. The barmaids are surly, but you can hardly blame them when you consider their clientele. It's grotty and unpredictable and without fail the house sound system plays Fleetwood Mac and Neil Young's Harvest. With the scale of development in West End (the HiFi Bar is next door), this utopia may not last. Revel in the filth while you can.

Step 2: Dinner at Green Bamboo
At least, I think that's the name of the place. It's a block or so down toward Vulture St from the Boundary, and serves up super cheap, super delicious Vietnamese/Chinese food. BYO some cheap wine from the Boundary bottle-o (friends and I have found critical mass at one bottle per person) and be sure to order the salt-and-pepper whole flounder. (pictured) It will blow your mind. But the lights are very bright and sooner or later you're going to want to head...

Step 3: Back to the Boundary for Blind Dog
Best bluesman I've ever seen, with the possible exception of an amazing night in a Bleecker St club, is Blind Dog. He wears a top hat, and along with a revolving-door cast of backing players has had the Boundary's Friday night residency for as long as I've known the pub to exist. He's ubiquitous around West End, and the folklore goes that he could have been a huge star and followed his talent anywhere - but he found Brisbane's going rate for heroin the most agreeable and never left. The dancefloor packs out for his laidback blues jams, and it's also fun now and then to indulge in a sport we like to call "slut or prostitute?". You never know who you'll bump into. But you can be assured of a memorable evening. Let's danz!

Manic pixie dream girl

It was The Onion AV Club’s film critic Nathan Rabin who coined the term "Manic Pixie Dream Girl", as part of a review of Cameron Crowe's painful flop Elizabethtown. The MPDG is a stock character usually found in indie films penned by morose hipster dudes; identifiable by her sprightly cuteness, delightfully zany demeanour, and the fact she seems to exist only to inspire the male protagonist. And she's petite. They’re always bloody tiny. Quoth Rabin:

The Manic Pixie Dream Girl exists solely in the fevered imaginations of sensitive writer-directors to teach broodingly soulful young men to embrace life and its infinite mysteries and adventures. The Manic Pixie Dream Girl is an all-or-nothing-proposition. Audiences either want to marry her instantly (despite The Manic Pixie Dream Girl being, you know, a fictional character) or they want to commit grievous bodily harm against them and their immediate family.

They are the girls of Garden State, Elizabethtown, Almost Famous... Ever since Natalie Portman passed Zach Braff her headphones promising the Shins would change his life, or Kate Hudson gently rearranged Patrick Fugit’s face to make him “mysterious”, or Kirsten Dunst made the most impossible road-trip-scavenger-hunt-mix-tape for Orlando Bloom, the bar has been raised for real life girls who hope to fall in love with non-threateningly cute nice boys with decent taste in music.

So I got to thinking about MPDGs because I finally watched 500 Days of Summer last night. In this case the lovely Zooey Deschanel is the MPDG to Joseph Gordon Levitt’s foolishly romantic greeting-card-writer. It was a pretty film to see and hear, gussied up with a self-consciously hip soundtrack and twee directorial touches like impromptu musical numbers, flashes of animation, and of course the hopscotch timeline-jumping structure.

I had high hopes for this movie, and I was conscious of it pushing all my buttons. Everything - from Summer’s toile wallpaper and vintage dresses, to the 70s-faux-timber veneers of the karaoke bar and stuttering sunlight filtering through train windows - seemed calculated to seduce a certain kind of self-conscious retrophile Gen Y. In its way, the film is just as mannered as A Single Man.

But for all the elevator meet-cutes and playing-house-in-IKEA dates, for all its surface beauty to make you wriggle with pleasure, the characters are pretty hard to like. Sure, Summer is gorgeous and you can totally see why sales increased by a couple hundred percent the summer she worked at the ice-cream shop. But she’s also kinda hollow behind the quirk, and emotionally detached to the point of being almost sociopathic – though she is totally upfront from the beginning that she doesn’t want a relationship.

And what of our hero, the hangdog Tom, whose every facial expression retains something of the puppy looking up with unshakeable admiration of the one who keeps kicking him? He victims out on how Summer screwed him over, when he was the one who took it as a challenge when she said she didn’t believe in love.

This emptiness is a classic MPDG side-effect, as the fabulous Rachel Hills articulated well on her blog, Musings of an Inappropriate Woman:

In a way, it felt like [Elizabethtown’s] Claire and [Garden State’s] Sam were male fantasies of an alternative ideal woman with about as much real depth as a paddling pool - on the surface, they seemed like women of substance, but they didn’t act like real people. Unlike the male characters, their actions didn’t seem to result from logical motives. They existed purely as catalysts to help their respective male protagonists along on their journeys.

You can sense a hefty dose of fantasy fulfilment from the film-maker, which is perhaps not entirely accidental when you consider Tom’s trajectory and the fact his little sister has to tell him “next time you look back on it all, don’t just think about the good stuff”. But all the cultural references feel a little forced – The Smiths are the band they first bond over? Tom is blown away because Summer can carry a conversation about Salinger short stories? Really?? If you’re going to be so condescending about how cultured these crazy kids are, at least try to amp up the obscurantism.

But perhaps I’m too cynical. I did, after all, watch the movie at home alone on a Friday night, to dull the squeamishness of accidentally glimpsing via Facebook my ex cavorting with bikini-clad, barely-legal backpackers throughout Asia. I may not be the person this movie was made for. Then again, I might be exactly that person.


The AV Club lists 16 films featuring MPDGs throughout the ages

Jezebel’s take on the feminist implications of the MPDG

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hump day poetry

I wear the beret
For le bad hair day
But my colleagues
Just think it's le ghey

Autumn is well and truly here - crisp mornings and evenings where the darkness falls fast and heavy. There's something penetrating about the sunshine at this time of year - all light and no heat.

Instituted a laptop ban last night and consequently slept over eight hours. Feels weird not to sleepwalk through the morning for a change...

Monday, April 12, 2010


A couple days just wasn't enough time in the George. Missing it. Even though our house is totally old and crumbly... with no shower, only a claw-foot bath... and the halls are piled with old books and yellowing newspapers and boxes of old junk. It's home and there is nowhere else like it. Mum and dad love pottering in the garden - dad with his vegies, mum with flowers and ferns. A few years ago a plot of mint went crazy and spread throughout the lawn. Now, every time dad mows it's like living in a mojito. Delicious.

Our house is opposite the town fire station, and every Monday evening the firies sound the alarm to practice their moves. The siren is weirdly pitched and drives all the dogs in the town crazy. It's probably close to a decade since Jack, our imaginatively named Jack Russell Terrier, met his fate beneath the wheels of a passing motorist. But to this day, every time the siren starts up I still expect to hear Jack's whining bark at the front fence.

It Still Moves

“Monty was a very nice alpaca, though he could be quite stubborn at times. He requested only the finest brown M&Ms and edible anal beads.”

Trawling through old files on my laptop, I just found some notes from an interview I did with My Morning Jacket frontman Jim James, back in late 2006. It was only an email interview, which is probably lucky as I may have passed out from nerves if I’d had to speak to Jim – if pressed to name a favourite band, MMJ would be it. And because he also seems like a pretty weird guy.

The band were promoting their double live album and DVD, Okonokos, in which a searing MMJ concert was bookended film-student-style with random scenes of an old-time guy and an alpaca. Hence, Monty.

It’s a weird pattern that I never love bands more than in the incarnation in which I first discover them. For example, You Am I’s #4 Record isn’t perhaps as canonical as Hourly Daily or Hi Fi Way, but ever since I fished it out of a $5 bin at the St George electrical store in the late 90s it’s been my favourite of their albums.

Similarly, as talented as Jim James and co are, I think I’ll always feel they peaked with the first song of theirs I ever heard: "One Big Holiday" from their third album It Still Moves (2003). It was one of those moments when you're stopped stock still by a riff on the radio, immobile until you can put a name to the magic.

It’s hard to describe the band’s sound because it’s changed so much over the years. Their earlier albums were at once as sparse as the Kentucky horizons that spawned them, and intimately humming with their trademark lashings of reverb. I always remember a reviewer described The Tennessee Fire (1999) and At Dawn (2001) as sounding as though they were recorded in a grain silo.

From the reverb-soaked freak-folk-rock-country of the early albums, they sharpened up their sound to make rousing balls-and-beards rock with It Still Moves, their first album for a major label. 2006’s Z saw a further, freakier evolution into stadium-sized belters like "Gideon" and "What A Wonderful Man", with more than a hint of soul influences creeping in, and even touches of reggae (“Off The Record”). Haven’t yet spent much time with their latest, Evil Urges, but from what I’ve heard Jim’s embraced the soul falsetto even more. If there's one consistent way
to describe MMJ? It's real, honest, earnest American rock and roll.

The band have a reputation for killer live shows – they once played a four-hour set at Bonnaroo – so when I finally got to see them play in New York, ringing in the new year of 2009, it was on. Never mind that I knew no one – I was not going to miss this gig. In the end I met some wonderfully friendly bogans from Boston, who were perfect to share the moment with. In fact they were so generous with beers and the odd sneaky joint, now that I’ve found the setlist from that night online it’s bringing back all sorts of memories... And oh wow - you can actually listen to a recording of the set: (there are 36 tracks!)

That night, MMJ played an epic couple of hours. There was even an intermission, and as well as all their hits they covered Curtis Mayfield, Kool & The Gang, Marvin Gaye and “Islands In The Stream”. By the time they closed with “One Big Holiday” I was screaming every word. It was one of the best moments of my life.

“I am in Tennessee, out in the middle of the woods, staring at a computer screen. The perfect blend of tranquility and technology,” wrote Jim in that 2006 interview. Through both his love of soul classics and the spiritual references that often creep into his own songs, he seems like a very spiritual, philosophical guy. But my favourite quote concerns the band’s reputation as extremely hirsute dudes – I think I’d asked whether the beards held some Samson-like strength.

“I try not to think about my beard that much… but I do love it and believe every human looks best with his or her god-given beard. I believe one’s powers lie within and no change to physical appearance can stop that!”

Amen to that.

Old school

In 2005 my very best friends Reboot and Emily came out to the George to help celebrate my 21st birthday. It was a sultry November night and the annual fete at my old primary school was on. So we drank beers, and danced with my old teachers and the people I went to kindy with, before going home to eat the cake Reboot had painstakingly decorated.

It was the Women's Weekly Birthday Cakes cookbook's typewriter cake, with smartie keys and a musk stick return lever and mint-slice paper rollers. I think most of it ended up in our faces and hair when we had a food fight, but it's still the best cake I've ever had.

A lot's changed since 2005! Degrees done and dusted, towns and cities plundered, jobs and lovers earned, spurned and burned. Last weekend the three of us were together for the first time in many months, if not years.

Emily now lives in London with her new husband Ed. I'd been a little worried the UK's soggy climate and lack of career opportunities for agronomists might have been getting her down - but seeing her and Ed visibly radiating love and happiness I realised she's in great hands. Theirs is that ageless kind of love you occasionally see - on a dancefloor they're like infatuated teenagers at a school disco; in a quieter moment they could be a couple who've held hands in silent contentment on the same verandah for decades. And Reboot? Only the strongest, and funniest, girl I know. And, um, glamazon much?!

Emily told us that in their London flat, she only has one photo on her dresser. The one from the night of the typewriter cake, where we're all pissed on XXXX Gold and hideous but so, so happy.

Making new friends is great. But old friends never go out of fashion. Love you guys.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

A day at the races

They don't call it the sport of kings for nothing. Racing has it all - magnificent animals, intense competition and consummate sporting skill. All heightened by the faint but ever-present risk of danger and a distant whiff of corruption.

Nothing beats being there trackside, where anything can and will happen. Where fortunes are won and lost, hearts filled and broken, and the manicured and coiffed get horrendously drunk and fall over. I'm by no means an expert, but I have spent a little bit of time at Royal Randwick, Eagle Farm and Doomben, and loved every minute.

There are few more piquant outlets for people-watching, as young and old alike succumb to the lure of easy money and overpriced alcohol. As the day wears on, see fascinators slump lopsidedly, high-heels become untenable torture implements, and unruly cleavages threaten to spill forth from their double-sided-tape shackles at any moment.

Witness as the unfortunate side-effects of a few too many beverages, usually so well-concealed, become commonplace and public: the removal of shoes, the pashing of unworthy suitors, teary emotional outbursts and, let's face it, vomiting. God, the races are great. All the folly of the sozzled human condition writ large.

But there's one thing that's perhaps even better than stumbling off the packed train to Ascot, heaving with goonbag-clutching students, into the heady aroma of fresh-baked-fake-tans, hairspray and horseshit. And that's a country race day.

Forget manicured lawns and meticulously maintained track. Your average country racetrack gets a workout once or twice a year; it might even be in someone's back paddock. There'll be a rickety rail, and once the nags jump the only way you can tell where they are is by looking for the large cloud of dust. On the way in, pay a few bucks for the race book - it won't take too long to read and will be filled with novelties like seven- and eight-year-old horses doing their last dash before the glue factory.

The Flinton Easter races are held on a station a few minutes out of Westmar. There's a shed, a bar, and the stables and betting ring are simple structures with rooves of box leaves and branches, added to year by year. A handful of bookies make the trip out and run the odds old-school style - all pens and paper and gladstone bags, no computerised systems and (I could be wrong) no trifectas for gawd's sake.

The mood is somewhere between a bush school fete and a B&S - little kids queue up for the foot races, which have suprisingly lucrative cash prizes. Nannas catch up on gossip over checked tablecloths and styrofoam cups of tea. For every girl in a flawless outfit there's one who hasn't worn a dress since their school uniform. And for the blokes there are no ironic trilbies or faggy fedoras - your work Akubra will do just fine, thanks.

After dark the band kicks in and the dancers kick up the dust. In past years rains have turned the event into a mudbath, but this year the air was thick with dust and insects buzzing halos around the floodlights. The only beer is XXXX Gold. The wine ran out hours ago. Your phone has no reception. If you're a vegetarian, you had better have packed your own food, and if you don't like Cold Chisel you're out of luck. It's heaven.

Later the Lions Club volunteers will flick the lights off to try to dissuade bleary-eyed punters from the bar, and the party will move to the carpark, where the age-old battle of the car stereos will rage. Swags will wriggle with dalliances as short-lived as the few bucks you made on the Cup. Mozzies will bite, boys will fight and those red dirt stains will never come out of your dress. All too soon the sun is rising, someone is retching metres away and you're cursing those last seventeen drinks. But you'll do it all again next year.

Sunday, April 4, 2010


From St Kilda to Kings Cross is 13 hours on a bus, sang Paul Kelly. Well apparently, from Sydney to St George is about four days in two cars and with a range of companions. Aimee was a total gun on the driving, and especially entertaining when she got excited every time we drove over a bridge. (Spoiler: we drove over quite a few bridges).

After driving from about 1.30 to 8.00pm on Thursday we stopped for sleep and steak sandwiches in Coffs Harbour. That is one sleepy town! Even the lure of a cover band that sounded like karaoke couldn't keep us up.

Friday morning we continued northward, via all the Big Things - the Big Prawn and the Big Banana. Caught glimpses of the ocean through the gorgeous lush hinterland around Ballina and Bangalow. Detoured through Byron Bay, where Bluesfest patrons were still guzzling their morning soy lattes and wheatgrass shots, and hippy buskers lined the streets. Finally got to Brisbane, where I bid Aimee adieu and spent some quality time with young Louis.

Friday evening set out from Brisbane with my mum and sister in our car The Dominator. (So named for its enormous stationwagon length and girth). Dining options were limited on Good Friday in Toowoomba, where we stayed that night, so don't tell Jesus but we might have accidentally eaten some bacon on a pizza.

Saturday morning dawned and the Fletcher girls hit the highway bound for Easter races at Flinton station, which you hit about an hour before St George. With a few decades of practice under our belts, it's a road we could drive in our sleep, though that's generally not advised as safe driving practice. After the recent rains the views weren't as dry as usual. But in stark contrast to last year's Flinton races, at which afternoon drizzle became late-night-dancefloor-mud-bath, it was a dry, hot day and dusty night. Will post more about the joys of country racing soon.

Camped out Saturday night, woke on Sunday to a carpark full of walking wounded, walk-of-shamers and the sounds of heinous hangovers. Finished the final hour's drive back to the George while eating chocolate eggs and hot cross buns. And finally, four days later, I was home.