Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

Grace Jones

The other week, I won tickets to go and see Grace Jones. Woo hoo! I’d been thinking of going, but the $150 tickets were a bit of a turn-off.

I’d seen her a few years previously, performing at the Sydney Festival First Night. (For non-Sydney readers, the First Night is the opening night of the Sydney Festival, the city’s biggest arts and theatre event. A lot of the artists perform for free in the city’s thoroughfares and parks – Martin Place, Hyde Park, the Governor’s Domain – and it turns into a big street party!) She was wonderful and, as a friend pointed out, danced just like me – all limbs and wild enthusiasm. Her core costume consisted of high heels, fishnet stockings, a black corset and a black g-string! To that, she added sculptural hats, billowing capes and other costumes to dramatise each song, and went up and down and around on a hydraulic stage.

The hydraulics were missed at the Enmore Theatre last Tuesday, and she completely changed outfits several times. This meant longer changes, but more dramatic costumes. Below is one of my favourites. She sang one song (Sunrise Sunset) while wearing it and sitting on a stool, a spotlight on just her face. Then she got up and swayed in it while she sang La Vie En Rose. Towards the end, she began spinning, revealing the fact that the dress was just strapped to her front: her back and buttocks were bare, and she looked amazing for 62!

Other costumes included: a tribal-print bodysuit with a butt-length white headdress; a black-and-red PVC catsuit with a dozen whips attached to it; a beaded skirt in the colours of the Jamaican flag (which also showed off her butt as she flicked it around); a black-and-gold skull mask; diamante-studded disco pants and a matching hat that acted like a disco ball when hit by a laser.

It was a really creative production. Not all of the experiments worked, but I liked the way she played around with the conventions of a stage show. For example, she had a video screen, but for one song, she danced behind it like a wayang kulit (Indonesian shadow puppet). The theatricality was often broken, though, when she’d continue chatting to us as she was off-stage, changing. And goodness me, she was all kinds of crazy, and full of who-knows-what substances. Lonh, meandering stories, told in her deep accented voice and punctuated with belly laughs. It felt a bit like a drunk aunt having a conspiratorial chat at Christmastime.

Anyway, great show. Below is the video clip for Williams’ Blood, one of my favourite tracks from her latest album, Hurricane. It’s made up of footage from the tour, which gives you a bit of an idea of the craziness.

Filed under: music

Ugh

So, you may or may not know that I love Kate Bush. Love. I’ve learned the choreography from her video clips, trawled record stores for old vinyl singles. (This was in the olden days, before Limewire and iTunes made finding b-sides easy.)I’ve written essays on her, read books on her.

However, I understand why some people don’t. One friend described her work as “exhausting”, and it’s pretty apt: with her art school aesthetic, her busy sonic production, her earnest lyrics, she can come off like an irritatingly precocious teenager. But I think she’s brilliant. I read an article today which described Kraftwerk as having “basically invented the future”. That’s quite an apt description, but I think Kate Bush really saw where things were going. While Kraftwerk and the New Romantics who followed were busy fiddling with synthesisers and drum machines, Bush was merging computer-generated music with organic sounds. She stretched traditional instruments like piano and even her voice to their extremes, foreseeing the way pop music would evolve after the plasticity of the 1980s faded away.

Anyway, nowhere was her vision of the future more apparent than on Deeper Understanding a track from her 1989 album The Sensual World. In that song, the protagonist “turned to [her] computer, like a friend”, predicting the rise of the MySpace generation. Now, Deeper Understanding is the first single from the forthcoming Director’s Cut, an album on which Bush recontextualises songs from The Sensual World and its follow-up The Red Shoes, while keeping elements of the original recording. I approached this project with caution: Bush has never been one for looking back, and these two albums are probably the weakest in her ouvre. That said, they’re also the most in need of an overhaul.

So here’s the new Deeper Understanding.

If you listened to it, you will be aware that it is terrible.

In 1985, Bush rerecorded her hit 1978 single, Wuthering Heights, because its production sounded dated, and yet here, she inexplicably keeps that elastic 1980s bassline. She’s also kept the dial-tone of a modem, a long-dead sound in the mix, and added bursts of static, a remnant of analogue technologies. Catch up, woman; it’s the twenty-first century!

Bush used to do incredible things with her voice (on one of my favourite tracks, Leave It Open, Bush recorded a phrase, played it backwards, learned to sing it backwards, recorded that and played it backwards, resulting in a very wobbly effect); now, it sounds like she just selected the “underwater” effect on ProTools. She stripped out the otherwordly vocals of the Trio Bulgarka, a Bulgarian folk group she admittedly overused on these albums, and replaced them with a fucking harmonica solo. Her voice sounds haggard, too: of course, her voice has aged (it was beautifully mellow on 2005’s Aerial), but this performance gives none of the charisma we’ve come to expect from her. It sounds like she recorded the song sitting in bed.

So my hopes are low, but any Kate Bush album is better than none at all…right?

N.B. If you haven’t encountered this woman, here she is at her most magical. Ignore the dodgy video clip, and hear the warmth Bush brings to this ballad constructed around nothing but a simple drum pattern and synth line.

Filed under: music

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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Celebrity Stylists

I’ve been cleaning out my cupboards the last couple of weekends, and today I found a notebook I use to scribble down phone numbers, shopping lists and the like. Before I threw it out, I flicked through it quickly to see if there was any important information in there.

Well, this isn’t important, but it is amusing.

One night a few months ago, some friends and I went out for drinks and dinner in Newtown. We found ourselves following a line of conversation that we found hilarious: imagining what famous bands and singers would name hairdressing and beauty salons if they opened them. The one that started it all was imagining Steve Tyler of Aerosmith, opening a salon called either Aerosnips or Hairosmith. In the morning, I jotted down the ones I could remember.

  • Britney Shears
  • Lady Barber
  • Spray-Z
  • The Artist Formerly Known As Rinse
  • Locks Of Seagulls
  • Mötley Hüe
  • Mariah Hairy
  • Spice Curls
  • Marilyn Handsome
  • Fitney Houston (okay, by this point we were thinking up names for gyms, too)

We amused ourselves greatly. Can you think of any others?

Filed under: silliness

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.

Filed under: Uncategorized

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”.

Filed under: Uncategorized,

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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