Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

12 albums that made an impact on me

I was tagged in one of those “list 12 albums that made an impact on you” memes doing the rounds on Facespace. Not necessarily the best or your favourites, but albums that made an impression that stuck. Presented below in chronological order.

1. Garbage: Garbage
In 1998, a family friend noted that I had No Doubt’s Tragic Kingdom in my record collection, and suggested that I might like this band called Garbage. I happened to have a couple of their remixes lying around – one of ‘Milk’ from that year’s Hottest 100 compilation, ‘#1 Crush’ from the then-ubiquitous Romeo + Juliet soundtrack – and became instantly obsessed with them. One day, I marched into HMV and asked to listen to Garbage at the listening station (remember when that was a thing?). The album opens with four seconds of clattering cacophony, before dropping away to silence. I thought the CD was scratched, but then the music returned, before dropping away again. I was blown away. Of course, loud-quiet-loud is the oldest trick in the music producer’s book, but I didn’t know that then. This album changed everything I’d learned about music from watching Rage and Video Hits. As anyone who knows me knows, this band has cast a long shadow over my life. I’m still a Garbage fanatic (embarrassingly enough, we called ourselves Trashers around the turn of the century), and flying to London to see the band play this album front-to-back for its twentieth anniversary was a highlight of my life to date.

2. The Cardigans: First Band on the Moon
I think The Cardigans get short shrift. They’re a very smart, constantly evolving band. The core of the band met through a love of metal, but turned their abilities to creating a 60s pop pastiche sound. They then paired it with subtly devastating lyrics: “We’ll never have the guts to discover/We’ll choke on it and die,” Nina Persson sweetly sings to her lover on my favourite track, ‘Choke’. Since then, they’ve released albums built on genres as diverse as electro and Americana. But before they did that, they released this oddball album, catapulted to prominence by the success of ‘Lovefool’. My friend Freya lent me her copy, and I remember talking to her about it outside our music classroom one day. “I can’t quite figure it out,” I said. “It’s not quite pop, and it’s not quite rock.” “Yeah,” she said. “It’s alternative. Duh.” Well, this little genre descriptor blew my world wide open, and I began to seek out music that didn’t fit in on the charts, or on the  Offspring-dominated airwaves of late 90s Triple J.

3. Kylie Minogue: Impossible Princess
I received this for my twelfth birthday and abandoned it shortly thereafter. Discovering Garbage had led me to Hole and Marilyn Manson and The Smashing Pumpkins. I was way too hardcore for Kylie fucking Minogue. But I came back to it several years after, and was really amazed by it. Not only was it a brave move – turning her back on a lucrative pop career to sign with an indie label – it was a fucking great album. Stylistically, it’s all over the shop – the album’s Wikipedia page mentions drum and bass, indie rock, trance, Motown, trip-hop and “tribal-Celtic pop”. But that’s what struck me then and sticks with me now: it’s the sound a woman looking everywhere and trying to find herself, creatively and personally. Kylie put her whole self into this album, and you can hear it.

4. David Bowie: “Heroes”
One can only read so many articles about Garbage or Placebo or any of the other bands I was listening to before coming across a reference to Bowie. So I trundled down to the library (remember when that was a thing?) and borrowed this on CD. It was more than 20 years old at that point, and it still floored me. The sturm-und-drang of ‘Beauty and the Beast’, the demented groove of ‘V-2 Schneider’, the deeply weird hymnal ‘Sons of the Silent Age’: I’d never encountered music which so gleefully eviscerated the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus pop song format. I immediately set off on a journey through Bowie’s catalogue which continues to this day.

5. Veruca Salt: Eight Arms to Hold You
Goddamn, I love this album. I will never go into the fray to defend it as an important or even especially good album, but this album rarely leaves my phone. (Same goes for Rebecca’s Empire’s Way of All Things and Deadstar’s Somewhere Over The Radio – I’ve got a lot of love for albums that everyone else forgot about long ago.) Its bubblegum-grunge gives me great joy. Special mention to Skulker’s Too Fat For Tahiti, an album in a similar vein that was much-loved by my group of friends at the time.

6. Tori Amos: Under the Pink
The turn of the century was all about singer-songwriters for me: Fiona Apple, Jeff Buckley, PJ Harvey, Kate Bush. Tori Amos was the first of them, though. It’s worth mentioning that I borrowed my mum’s copy of this album. That was a pretty tough pill for an adolescent to swallow: perhaps my parents weren’t total losers who had no idea about what was good after all. (Future records pilfered from Mum’s collection include k.d. lang, Enya and The Corrs.)

7. Yeah Yeah Yeahs: Fever to Tell
I felt so out of place when I moved to Bathurst for uni: a gay kid in a country town; an introvert with loud, attention-seeking tendencies; a weirdo at heart who could passably masquerade as a normal. I’m so glad I met my friend Steph in the first few weeks. I felt like she and I were on the same page, and she made the next three years a whole lot more bearable (and, at times, even fun!) We shared a love of PJ Harvey, and she introduced me to heaps of music. First up was Peaches, who taught me that you could turn your anger into fun instead of fury. (Plus, nothing makes you feel like a grown-up like blasting a song called ‘Fuck The Pain Away’ and not having to worry about your parents giving you a lecture on appropriate content.) However, Yeah Yeah Yeahs have had the most lasting influence on my taste in music. Before then, all of the music I liked had a glossy sheen – when listening to Marilyn Manson and PJ Harvey, I gravitated towards their polished late 90s albums, rather than the early lo-fi stuff. Yeah Yeah Yeahs gave me an appreciation for scrappier, rougher-sounding music. Putting on this album takes me straight back to 2004, when I’d walk to uni while listening to the tape (!!!) I’d made from Steph’s copy on my Walkman (!!!). It’s worth noting that for the next three years, I was so broke that I think I bought just 10 or so albums the entire time. A lot of my ability to discover “new” music depended on browsing Steph’s collection.

8. The Knife: Silent Shout
This album is still creepy as fuck. I discovered it just before moving to Sydney, at the height of the Bang Gang/Starfvckers electrobatshittery. There are lots of albums I associate with that time, but this kicked off a lot of the music I got into over the following years: the electro-industrial of Ladytron and Angelspit, the Gothic melodrama of Emilie Autumn and The Birthday Massacre, and of course The Presets, Cansei De Ser Sexy or whatever else they were playing at Club 77 on any given night. I still get a kick out of listening to those bands, but this album holds up incredibly well. It was also the start of my real love of electronic music: before The Knife, I was a piano-or-guitars kinda guy (with the notable exception of Jesse McCartney).

9. Lo-Fi-Fnk: Boylife
This amazing Swedish electro-pop duo never get the credit they deserve. I always keep their three albums on high rotation, but it’s their first that sticks with me. I discovered it just after moving to London, and I connected with the album’s lyrics, which come from the point of view of two boys stepping out into the big bad world for the first time. Listening to this album now brings back such clear memories of walking through the streets of London, terrified and excited.

10. Jenni Vartiainen: Seili
Jenni Vartiainen was part of Gimmel (“sparkle”), a trio who won the Finnish equivalent of Popstars. She then went solo and released a ho-hum piano pop record before going all Kylie on us an crafting a relatively dark and damn near flawless masterpiece. Vartiainen and her producers blend traditional Finnish folk instrumentation with modern pop production to great effect. The album is named for an island in the Finnish archipelago to which lepers were banished to die. The apocryphal story is that they rowed there in a boat, which they had to break apart to build their own coffins. Isn’t that a delightfully dark image?

11. The Sound of Arrows: Voyage 
A flawless pop album, from start to finish.

12. Ulrik Munther: Allt Jag Ville Säga
This album hit me for six when it came out last year. Munther was a pleasant pop pixie, having competed in Lilla Melodifestivalen (essentially Eurovision for kids). He released a couple of catchy English-language albums, produced in tandem with pop songwriters from around the world. For his third album, he sang in Swedish, collaborating with a Swedish playwright who’d never written a song for the lyrics and wrote all the music himself. Like Impossible Princess and Seili earlier on the list, this was a risky career-changer that paid off. Songs like the ‘Nån Gång’ (“someday”) are straight-up toe-tappers, but the album also has some of the sweetest, saddest songs I’ve ever heard. The title track (“all I wanted to say”) breaks my heart every time.

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Supervixen

Shirley Manson is walking towards me.

Shirley Manson is walking towards me. My brain can barely process this fact. This woman, the striking singer in alt-rock outfit Garbage, adorned my school books, my bedroom walls, my fridge doors since I was 12 years old. I packed all my posters up when I finished university, but Manson and her bandmates – Duke Erikson, Steve Marker, and super-producer Butch Vig, the man behind Nevermind – still have a special place in my heart and record collection.

So when Manson extends her hand and says “Hi, I’m Shirley”, I have to take a deep breath to prevent myself screaming “I KNOW, I LOVE YOU” at her.

After nearly 20 years in a consistently successful group, she could well be a bit of a diva. However, in interviews, she always seems thrilled and privileged to be in her position. After a seven year hiatus, the band released their fifth album, Not Your Kind of People, last year, and the band’s reasonable fears that their audience had forgotten them proved unfounded. In person, Manson is a delight. Sure, it’s her job to be personable in this pre-show meet-and-greet, but she goes beyond being polite and perfunctory. She tells us about the tour (this was their last night in Australia), the band’s upcoming plans, and so on. I wish I’d mentally prepared for it a little more like an interview – now I’m thinking, Guh, I’d love to know what her favourite Garbage b-side is – but I hadn’t wanted to make her feel like she was being grilled by a journalist. (We were ostensibly there as professional guests of the venue – this wasn’t a fan meet-and-greet.)

After five or so minutes of chatting, she signed our records and posed for a few cheeky photos (“You can ask me for more than a photo, baby” she joked, AND I DIED).

With the Queen of the Fucking Universe.

With the Queen of the Fucking Universe.

Not that it matters so much, but she’s also beautiful in person: taller than I expected (even accounting for her heels), great skin, a warm smile. She joked that a lady over 40 always wants the flash on, but she looks much younger than her 46 years. She did the rounds and we went to meet the boys. Duke was much chattier than he usually is, Butch was a mild-mannered but enthusiastic conversationalist, and Steve was very sweet but very shy – he was slowly moving away from us through the entire conversation until he was almost against the wall. Butch was looking for a Sharpie to sign our records with, and I mentioned that Shirley had walked off with mine. She heard from across the room and yelled “HEY!”, stuck her tongue out and pegged it at me, giving a big belly laugh as I flinched. Horsing around with Shirley Manson? How is this even happening?

Conventional wisdom says you should never meet your idols – one way or another, they’ll disappoint you. I’m thrilled I met mine – they couldn’t have been more pleasant. This was actually my third of four encounters with the band over the course of their tour, but it was certainly the most memorable. (An aside on the tour: the band nailed it. Shirley’s energy is incredible and her voice sounds better than ever.) I thought it would be hard to top the previous Wednesday’s experience: it was my birthday, and Garbage were playing in Melbourne, so of course I took myself down there as a birthday treat. By sheer chance, my friend Aaron was sitting next to Butch on the flight from Sydney to Melbourne, and Butch invited him (and, by extension, me) to the band’s soundcheck before the show. We waited outside the venue in the rain before being ushered inside where – holy shit – Garbage were standing on stage. Shirley chatted to us before playing a short set, even taking a few requests: she laughed when I requested Fix Me Now, a track that hasn’t been played live in over a decade, and jokingly told my friend Daniel to fuck off when he requested b-side Deadwood, but when Aaron requested Cup of Coffee, she said “Ooh yeah, I’d forgotten about that one”. They played the song for us in soundcheck, and again in their Melbourne and Sydney shows. After this incredible, intimate performance by my favourite band, they came down to say hello.

When it was my turn for a photo, I was too dumbstruck to speak, but forced my mouth to move. After apologising for gushing, I told them how much I loved their music, that I’d first heard them on my twelfth birthday and, what with that day being my twenty-seventh birthday, how special it was to meet them. (Yes, I was aware when saying all this that I had become a teenage girl.) Lo and fucking behold, Garbage then sang Happy Birthday to me.

I’ve got to say, I don’t envy the life of a touring rock star. You’ve always got to be prepared: Aaron ran into the band at Sydney airport, while I ran into Butch in Melbourne. Butch was super pleasant when I interrupted his coffee, and Shirley looked incredibly in her picture with Aaron, despite the early morning flight. But it shows, they’ve always got to be ready to run into an enthusiastic fan. The next week, when the band arrived at the after-party, they were swamped. Shirley spent half an hour posing for photos, and was pleasant and smiling the whole time. I was actually the second-last person to have a photo with her (couldn’t resist one more), and she still had the energy to exchange a few words and a smile. However, the entire time, she’d been slowly gravitating towards a roped-off area reserved for the band, and she never reached it. I guess she just decided to go up to bed and order room service before the 33 hour flight back to the States the next day. (They were flying home via Seoul – now that they’re not on a major label, it seems they’re more price-conscious.)

Also of note at the after party: they had deep-fried cheese. It was glorious.

As you may know, I’ve worked as a freelance music journalist for seven years, interviewing several of my musical idols, and even enjoying a casual friendship with some of them. Funnily enough, I just found a draft I wrote after I hung out with one of my favourite Sydney bands, Faker, after a preview of their then-upcoming album. I was a bit starstruck, but I now play Words With Friends with the guitarist, who’s a lovely chap, and sometimes run into the singer at the pub. I’m telling you this not to boast about my glamourous, celebrity-strewn lifestyle, but to demonstrate that I think I’m pretty impervious to the allure of celebrity.

That is demonstrably untrue when it comes to Garbage.

The reason I’m a music writer probably has a lot to do with Garbage. I’d “gotten into” music a few years before I heard them, – Alanis Morissette, No Doubt and, umm, The Corrs – but their music opened my ears to what one could do with a recording studio. I still remember hearing Supervixen for the first time, at a listening booth in HMV. The song opens with four seconds of discordant guitars and clattering drums, before dropping away to complete silence. No residual cymbal clash or feedback: silence. It was unnerving. I thought the playback was faulty until it happened again. Silence as a sound effect: it made a big impression on how my young mind understood music. To this day, I love a lot of music that some critics disparagingly call “over-produced”, who use the studio to really fuck around with sound.

The music aside, Shirley was (and is) a personal hero of mine. In the 90s, she was brash, even filthy in interviews. She said things that often shocked me (it may surprise you to know I was a little prudish when I was younger). She’s less alarming now, but I think that’s more about becoming older and wiser than for any fear of offending. Then and now, she’s owned her femininity and her sexuality; called bullshit on sexism, racism and homophobia; and been honest about her flaws . Growing up, I related to what she said about feeling ugly and weird throughout her youth. The fact that this strong and beautiful woman had doubts about herself made me realise that we all do; there’s no sudden level of beauty or success that will turn us into faultless and fearless individuals.

I related to her lyrics, too. That’s not special – just try and find me a teenager who doesn’t have personally meaningful lyrics scrawled across their pencil case – but that didn’t make them any less profound to me. Whether it was an emotionally-healthy crush (“I would die for you…I’ve been dying just to feel you by my side”, from #1 Crush), generalised angst (“Somebody get me out of here, I’m tearing at myself”, from Medication) or my impending loss of faith (“If God’s my witness, God must be blind”, from As Heaven Is Wide), there was a Garbage lyric for my adolescent self to cling to in any troubling situation.

Even now, when I run into school friends, they ask if I still listen to Garbage. They defined my youth in particular and, I’m surprised to realise, my continuing adulthood. I was so thankful to Shirley and the boys for being so generous with their time and energy when I met them. I’m not interested in meeting celebrities to tick one more famous person off the list, but after these four people made such an impact on my life, I appreciated the opportunity to put my hand in theirs and thank them.

So Garbage: thank you. You changed my life and I’m happier because of it.

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Camping and cancer

As evidenced by the title of this blog,I’m a man in his mid-20s who feels a little out-of-place at times. Usually, it’s because I’m a cynic at heart. This cynicism was tested this weekend when I participated in the Relay For Life. This is an event organised by the Cancer Council, who provide grants for research and support for those living with cancer and their carers. Having lost my aunt to cancer a couple of months ago (and my grandfather a few years ago – he was old, but it still wasn’t his time), it was a cause close to my heart. (I do consider myself very lucky, though – three of my four teammates have lost immediate family members to cancer in the last few years.)

At events like this, candles are always lit and “inspirational” songs are sung. I usually just roll my eyes (metaphorically, of course – to do so literally would be rude), but it was harder to maintain that icy exterior when your friends are crying as they remember the lives and struggles of their loved ones. Things with names like “ceremony of hope” always make me a little queasy, but as we walked around the relay track with candles, I couldn’t help bu feel a little moved.

The relay track I just mentioned was a muddy ring around the oval in Kiama, a gorgeous town down the south coast of New South Wales. The three friends who lost immediate family members to cancer all grew up in the area; one lost his sister, and his parents organised this event. The idea is that you walk all day and camp overnight, and get sponsored for your ordeal. We arrived a little late (we had to drive from Sydney) and set up our camp, and finally hit the track an hour after everybody else. We walked all afternoon, although the rain clouds rolled in and out, but by early evening, the rain was there to stay. The organisers closed the track as it was too muddy (plenty of kids were slipped and sliding through the muck, and having a great time of it), so we bunked down in our tent for the night with cheese, wine and a game of Uno Stacko!

Adam, Anna, myself, Mischa and Pam, ready to fuck cancer's shit up (in Adam's charming words)!

Hitting the track

Being the day after the royal wedding, a couple of blokes were offering pictures with Prince William for a mere $2! What a bargain, and what an honour! :P

Adam, Mischa and I settling into our tent

So it was a cold night. We didn’t know enough to lay a tarp beneath our tent before erecting it, so the damp seeped through the floor and our thin foam mattresses. But despite it all, it was fun. I’m a real city boy: although I like visits to more rural areas (like the place where I grew up), I always feel a little uneasy there. This was a very different experience for me, and I look forward to doing it again – hopefully with warmer weather!

The Kiama Relay For Life raised $100,000; my team raised $2,500 (which is $1,000 more than the goal we’d set!) If you’d like to donate, you still can at here. Don’t worry if you can’t – I’m sure to hassle you for it next year ;)

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Kylie Minogue: Impossible Princess

For my twelfth birthday, I received Kylie Minogue’s Impossible Princess (and The Corrs’ Talk On Corners, but that’s another story). I enjoyed the album for a couple of years, but disavowed all knowledge of it when I discovered rock and roll. I positioned myself as pretty alternative in my teens, and only came back to pop in my twenties. I especially came back to Impossible Princess, which I think is an underrated classic, especially by Minogue’s own fans. It’s a strange avant-pop disc, a mixture of house and trance music, rockabilly and jazz. It was released at an interesting point in Minogue’s career: she left her major label after releasing her fourth album (thereby fulfilling the terms of her contract) and signed with indie label Distortion. She released a self-titled album that included Confide In Me, and accrued a bit of street cred with Where The Wild Roses Grow, her duet with Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds. The single Put Yourself In My Place is pretty indicative of the album’s adult-oriented pop feel.

There are many parallels to be drawn with this career move and Sweden’s Robyn a decade later. Both were teen pop stars in their native countries, with some success abroad; both were written for and produced by professional songwriting teams; both felt like they’d painted themselves into a corner too young. Robyn had recorded a song with electro duo The Knife: she thought it was the future of her music; her label hated it. She started up her own Konichiwa Records, and released a self-titled album to much acclaim. Her label are probably kicking themselves now. Not so Minogue’s former label: Impossible Princess sank, bubbling out a couple of under-performing singles on its way down.

And that’s a real shame. It was a brave move. After having four albums written and produced for her, and co-writing a few songs on one, Minogue took creative control of the Impossible Princess sessions.

The album doesn’t fit in her ouvre at all. This is made especially clear when she performs songs from the album live. Kylie Minogue is a great performer – if you’re into that sort of thing – but the jarring songs from Impossible Princess don’t mix well with her shiny pop show: the desperate sing-speak of Too Far, the stream-of-consciousness mumbling of Say Hey, even the upbeat rockabilly of I Don’t Need Anyone and Some Kind Of Bliss. Nevertheless, Kylie herself obviously has a lot of affection for the album: the songs have made an appearance on every subsequent tour, and she recently mentioned Tears, one of the album’s outtakes, as her own favourite Kylie song.

The album sold poorly, but Kylie – who I think is an excellent businesswoman who knows exactly what she’s selling – turned this into a strength. Without the popular support and budget to put on a large-scale tour, she dubbed the concert series Intimate & Live, performing smaller venues with a stripped-down production. The resulting live album is an interesting record of her career at that point, as it contains dramatic reimaginings of her previous hits: I Should Be So Lucky as a jazzy torch song, Put Yourself In My Place as a folksy ballad, even the recent Did It Again as a country-style stomper.

Well, this has been a bit of a ramble, hasn’t it? I have a lot of affection for this album – I think it’s a classic, really – but can also understand when it doesn’t gel with people. If you’re a fan of Antigone, Roísín Murphy and other artists operating on the fringes of pop music, I suggest you check it out.

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RIP: My boner

So, today is International Women’s Day. Hooray! Women deserve several centuries devoted to celebrating the excellent things they have done, but I suppose a day is a start. Today is for them, and I don’t want to stomp all over them with my male privilege, but for this one comment: WHAT GIVES WITH ALL THE FEMINISM-PHOBIA, LADIES??

I’m really perplexed by it. I was most alarmed when I read this guest post on Mia Freedman’s website a few months ago. Beth Noble, a 24-year-old woman, wrote about how she can cook, but chooses not to. Fair deal.

“I can’t cook a roast and hem a skirt at the same time. But I can manage to have a career, keep a wide circle of friends, travel and study. So maybe the kitchen light doesn’t go on as much as it would have 50 years ago, but that’s why we all moved out of 1955 and into 2011. Power to the Modern Day Women who believe we can have it all.”

Excellent. No problems there. However, she also confusingly states:

“I am not a feminist by anyone’s standards.”

Umm, Beth, you’re a feminist by my standards. It seems Beth misunderstands the term a little (and no surprise there, since she refers to “heels” as “heals” in her blog header). Beth believes that she should be allowed to choose whether to cook or not. She works, travels and studies. Not only that, but she voices her opinion, and believes her words have value, that they should be read.

She’s absolutely right, by all accounts, and that makes her a feminist.

She explains herself by saying:

“Up until I left school, I firmly believed I would get married and raise a family (with a cooked dinner on the table every night). Basically I dreamed of walking in the footsteps of my mother.”

I wonder where she got this idea that feminism and motherhood and marriage are mutually exclusive institutions. Does the idea that the only feminists are hairy-armpitted lesbians still exist? My mother is a feminist: an attractive and intelligent woman, she got married young and went into teaching, before leaving to raise me and my siblings. Since I was a teenager, she’s had a very successful second career as a counselor.

Every step of the way, she exercised choice. She wanted to marry my Dad, and she still wants to be married to him. She wanted to have children. She wanted to go back to work. It’s thanks to feminism that she lives in a world where she can make these choices, or the converse: she could choose to leave my father, she could have chosen to remain childless, or to remain unemployed and live off government benefits. I think a feminist is someone who believes all of these choices and more should be available to women.

I consider myself a feminist, and I hope my mother does too. I should ask her today how she feels about the word “feminism”. I think she’s a wonderful woman who has never been trapped by her gender. I hope she considers herself a feminist. I hope my goddaughter, my sister, and all my younger female cousins, do too. I hope they understand that there’s nothing scary or distasteful about demanding to be treated fairly, and that there’ll always be men like me doing their best to support those demands.

Ladies, you’re the best.

P.S. I wrote this, and then realised I may not have bothered, because in this article, Clementine Ford writes an insightful and hilarious satire of what people seem to think of when they think of feminism.

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A Small Victory

So, Ron Wilson apologised.

“As a journalist my job is to present an issue from different perspectives. If anyone took offence at anything I said during the interview I apologise. I fully support the gay community in its campaign to promote the issue of gay marriage and I congratulate the gay and lesbian community on the success of Mardi Gras.”

And here, boys and girls, we have a study in the difference between “I’m sorry I offended you” and “I’m sorry you’re offended”, which places the fault with the offended party. Still, it’s the best we can hope for: this is the go-to apology for the privileged. Rather than reflect on why their comments were offensive, they issue a blanket apology for hurt feelings and leave it at that.

And I’ll leave it at that, too. I don’t think Ron Wilson is a bad person. I don’t think he’s particularly homophobic. But his comment was out of line, and this instance proves that the queer community has a voice, and that we will use it when we need to. Hopefully, Mr Wilson and other newsreaders will watch their words and use their brains when next handling queer events and issues.

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Our top story tonight, straight white man offended by people who aren’t all those things

Today, my little corner of the internet was atwitter (ha ha, see what I did there?) after newsreader Ron Wilson made offensive comments about the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (a fantastic event that I participated in for the first time over the weekend, but more about that later). Ron Wilson has been a newsreader on Channel Ten for nearly twenty years. I’ve grown up with him in my living room but never given him a second thought, kind of like a bland, distant relative you only see at Christmas time.

Well, today he kicked over the Christmas tree and told his niece that Santa wasn’t real.

Interviewing Mardi Gras co-chair Peter Urmson, called the Mardi Gras disgusting. Watch below.

“Some of the spectacles you’re seeing, I’m assuming would even make you cringe,” he said, helpfully assuming that Mr Urmston shares his sensibilities. Mr Wilson, he is co-chair of the Mardi Gras. Do you think he’d be committing so much of his energy to a venture that made him cringe? “It becomes an exploitation almost of a sexual image rather than trying to explore the diversity of lifestyle,” he continued.

Mr Urmston conceded that “our community is extremely colourful, and we celebrate our diversity through…” before Mr Wilson interrupted, saying, “With respect, there’s a difference between colourful and disgusting.”

Mr Wilson, saying “with respect” doesn’t automatically convey respect, just as pre-empting a racist statement with “I’m not racist, but…” doesn’t mean the statement isn’t racist.

Channel Ten issued a non-apology, pulling the old trick of apologising “if” anyone was offended, not apologising for the intrinsically offensive nature of the comments. “It is not unreasonable for alternative views to be put to organisers,” they said, and this is true. Some people do find Mardi Gras offensive, and if Mr Urmson had been asked what he thought of those people’s viewpoint, it would have been a legitimate question. However, Mr Wilson rudely interjecting in Mr Urmson and using a loaded word like “disgusting” placed a value judgement that has no place in objective reporting.

I called Channel Ten to register my complaints (and the woman at the other end was very polite and pleasant, and deserves some kind of medal for listening to irate viewers while displaying such patience, although Channel Ten, what gives with the crappy lo-fi rip of the Law & Order theme song as your hold music?), and encouraged my Twitter followers to do the same. One comment suggested that this was a case of “a few queens making a mountain out of a molehill again”, and so I stopped to try and look at my reaction objectively.

And do you know what? This isn’t a molehill. Mr Wilson, standing atop the mountain of straight white male privilege, hurled a hurtful boulder down on those of us trying to clamber up the slopes. Perhaps Mr Wilson is clueless rather than hateful, as suggested by his suggestion that the gay community “lets time take care of the gay marriage issue rather than pushing it.”

It’s not particularly insightful to point out, but one imagines that the right to vote wouldn’t have come to African-Americans if they “let time take care of it”.

So maybe he’s clueless, but it’s still worth making noise over that. His thoughtless comments can have a real impact on how people see the gay community and how they treat it. Ten’s Los Angeles correspondent Daniel Sutton found it “interesting that many in the gay community are agreeing with the validity of Ron Wilson’s question”. Several problems there, Daniel, but first up, it was a statement, not a question: “there’s a difference between colourful and disgusting”; “I’m assuming would even make you cringe”; “it becomes an exploitation almost of a sexual image rather than trying to explore the diversity of lifestyle.” Mr Wilson dictated to Mr Urmson, rather than asking an open question and entering into a discussion about mixed attitudes to Mardi Gras within the gay community.

On a tangential note, I’m a little baffled by people who are offended by Mardi Gras. What I loved about it was the inclusive, supportive mood. When my float reached the end of the route, my boyfriend, friends and I doubled back to watch the rest of the parade, and we cheered for everyone: the polyamorists (who I don’t believe posit a healthy model for relationships), the Raelians (who are batshit insane fools a step below Scientologists who believe humans were created by an alien race called the Elohim) and the hardcore bondage enthusiasts (who simply enjoy activities I’d rather not partake in, but thanks for asking). I wouldn’t want to do what these people do, but I was thrilled that they had the right to do it. So who are these people who sit at home, begrudging us that right? Are they jealous of the sexual freedom we enjoy? Are they worried that we will try to gay-rape the world given half the chance?

I don’t know. I don’t know whether to be angry or sad when I encounter those people. But I do know we have to speak up when some douchebag journalist thinks insulting and degrading us is simply “providing balance”.

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Ugens Sang: The Sound of Arrows – Nova

The Sound of Arrows make my heart sing. The Swedish duo are like Pet Shop Boys without the snarkiness. Now, I love me some sarcasm and wit, but The Sound of Arrows simply make joyful, uplifting electropop. Their debut single, M.A.G.I.C., was – if you’ll excuse me going to the most obvious place – magical, all glockenspiels and children’s choirs. Follow-up single Into The Clouds was an absolute corker, a dreamer’s anthem of rising above yourself and your circumstances. I have fond memories of walking through my then-new home of North Kensington in London with this song on repeat – the perfect soundtrack for a boy who felt his life was about to take flight in the most extraordinary way.

(Ha! I’d love to go back in time and mock that boy and his dreams.)

I love the band’s unique visual style: silhouettes and fantasy landscapes, it matches the “epic twee” sound of their music.

Anyway, the band have been silent for close to two years now (excepting a Lady Gaga remix that I prefer to the original) and it’s destroyed me. Finally, this song has been released. It didn’t grab me like their other two songs, but it’s still wonderful: a euphoric track, with the beats pushed up further in the mix and the odd but welcome addition of trance synths.

It’s a stupid and outdated strange way to release a song, though: the video debuted on Popjustice this week (unusual in itself – most bands these days release a song and wait a few weeks to unveil the video) and the single isn’t to be released for more than two months. That’s silly. We live in the information age. The Sound of Arrows can count on me to throw them all my money at the time and place of their choosing, but I imagine most people would take a video rip of the song and forget about it by the time legal purchase came around.

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Småsnak

I was making a cup of tea in the office kitchen yesterday, when one of my various superiors wandered in. She set about making a cup of tea, and asked, “How are you, Liam?”

(This has always impressed me about her: she was introduced to me just once, at a very busy day of team building exercises during my first week with the company, and she’s never forgotten my name. It’s a skill that I, as someone who can put names to faces as well as he can build a bridge to New Zealand, can only dream of.)

I told her I was good, but tired. She made some comment about it being a Monday, and I sympathised, but pointed out that the day was over. Neither of us asked the other what we did over the weekend, what we were working on, or anything else specific.

It was quite impersonal.

And it was great.

See, I love small talk, but I didn’t realise how much until I went travelling. Having worked in hospitality and retail, I’ve tired many times of saying “Hi, how are you?” (although during busy periods, this turns into “Hihowareyou” or simply “Hhhhhhhhhhh”). But I like being on the receiving end: chats about the weather, asking if the other’s day has been busy, finding out if they’re working an early or late shift. That said, I totally understand people who dismiss it as meaningless prattle (but have no tolerance for those who are aggressive or rude to some poor underpaid teenager who is only trying to be polite as part of their job).

When travelling, I could go several days as a functional mute. Communication often became a series of mimes, or an insulting approximation of the local dialect. And it wasn’t just the language barrier: I thought that the sneers delivered to me by Dutch checkout chicks were mine alone, but they were just as dismissive of my Dutch friend’s banter. Getting to England was no better, where the checkout chicks won’t smile, let alone have a chat with you.

The first morning I woke up in Australia, I went down to the bank. I realised I’d forgotten my PIN during my year away, and went inside to rectify the situation. The woman was stupendously friendly: asked how she could help me and, when I explained the problem, she asked me where I’d been and how it was. I was ready to smother her in kisses, having braved the indifference of the staff of Morrison’s at Shepherd’s Bush just days earlier.

And so, no matter how often I miss Europe, small talk reminds me that, no matter what other problems my country has, it’s a friendly place full of friendly people, where someone will smile at me for simply buying a bottle of milk.

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Månens Sang: Enya – Anywhere Is

I’ve been slack. Again. I really should give up the pretence of blogging, but I keep hoping it will click for me. Work has been really busy for me, and Danish classes have resumed. Not too mention I’m three months into a relationship, and that takes up a lot of time and energy when you’ve spent a quarter of a century being single.

Anyway, this is the song of the month, rather than the song of the week: since the end of January, I’ve been obsessed with Enya. South African hip-hop outfit Die Antwoord recently released a remix cover of Orinoco Flow, arguably Enya’s most famous song. My friend Clem enjoyed it, but commented that it wouldn’t be as great as it was if the original version was so magical.

And so, I asked my mum to bring down her Enya CDs when she next visited me. Mum played a lot of Enya when I was growing up, so I’d subsequently dismissed her music as naff. But do you know what? Clem’s right: this stuff is magical. Nobody else sounds like Enya does. The way she layers her voice and instruments is gorgeous, and surprisingly intricate. A lot of the music brings back memories for me: Mum would always play Watermark and Caribbean Blue at dinner parties, so the songs bring back memories of her 90s perm, her puffy sleeves and the smell of her Opium (the fragrance, not the drug).

I’ve listened to Enya hundreds of times in the last few weeks, but this is the one I love most. I love the cyclical vocal melody and the gently booming percussion. I even love the rather trite lyrics. I really love the hilariously literal video clip: “the moon upon the ocean” = shot of the moon over the ocean; “the shells upon the warm sand” = shot of a girl holding a shell to her ear. Amazingly, it reached the top ten in the UK. (Enya is actually a fascinating commercial force. She has become incredibly wealthy, despite never performing concerts, which is damn near impossible in today’s music industry.)

Anyway, enjoy or scoff.

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