Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sterne Isn't Dead

It's just on holiday. Back in January. Enjoy your Christmas thing.

Friday, November 30, 2007

This Is Just A Tribute

Your dad is not only famous but adored, revered, often beyond the bounds of common sense, by a large, loyal and vocal fan base. You're an excellent musician in your own right, but you've inherited little of the old man's creativity, and your recorded output is patchy. In terms of public perception, at least, you're destined to live out your life in your father's shadow. How on earth do you deal with this?

Here's a novel idea: why not embrace it?

It's tough to evaluate Dweezil Zappa's Zappa Plays Zappa, which I saw last night at one of Melbourne's least rockin' venues, Hamer Hall. I went in expecting...well, I don't know what I was expecting. As a friend put it, the show was either going to be a cheesy cash-in or a loving tribute; fortunately it turned out to be the latter. I didn't like everything about the show - there were things I wish they'd done differently, songs I wish they'd played but didn't, songs I wish they hadn't played but did - but I liked most of it and thought a good deal of it was brilliant.

Basically what Dweezil has done is put together a killer band, rope in some old stagers from Frank's various touring outfits (the Australian tour features vocalist/guitarist Ray White and fretboard-wanker extradinaire Steve Vai), and absorb as much of Frank's soloing technique as possible to provide a familiar anchor for the audience. Last night's setlist was mostly dirty rockers and extended guitar jams, which I found a touch disappointing given the show started with an incredible performance of "Dog Meat" (link is to a video of the orchestral version). Still, it was all good. The band were great (marimbas! whammy bars! Scheila Gonzalez playing two saxophones at once!), the set was varied, the jokes were (mostly) funny, the audience enamored. The only thing missing was "Inca Roads" - and, of course, Frank.

In contrast to his father, live footage of whom was projected judiciously throughout the show, Dweezil is relaxed, even self-effacing, on stage. It was touching to watch Dweezil tearing through a guitar solo while he watched Frank tearing through the same solo up on the big screen. But Dweezil is no dummy - tribute was paid to Frank, but for the most part the music was allowed to stand without overt reference to its composer. Zappa Plays Zappa was entertaining but it was also admirable in its restrained but genuine sentimentality, its playful yet subtly deferential approach. Dweezil deserves respect as musician and band leader, but also as custodian of a particular strand of Frank's music. It's hard to imagine anybody other than Frank himself doing the job better.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

"I used up three silicon-lined vaginas..."

Norman Mailer has been posthumously awarded the 2007 Bad Sex In Fiction Award for this touching depiction of the incestuous conception of Adolf Hitler, as found in Mailer's final novel, The Incestuous Conception of Adolf Hitler:
'Are you all right?' she cried out as he lay beside her, his breath going in and out with a rasp that sounded as terrible as the last winds of their lost children.

'All right. Yes. No,' he said. Then she was on him. She did not know if this would resuscitate him or end him, but the same spite, sharp as a needle, that had come to her after Fanni's death was in her again. Fanni had told her once what to do. So Klara turned head to foot, and put her most unmentionable part down on his hard-breathing nose and mouth, and took his old battering ram into her lips. Uncle was now as soft as a coil of excrement. She sucked on him nonetheless with an avidity that could come only from the Evil One - that she knew. From there, the impulse had come. So now they both had their heads at the wrong end, and the Evil One was there. He had never been so close before.

The Hound began to come to life. Right in her mouth. It surprised her. Alois had been so limp. But now he was a man again! His mouth lathered with her sap, he turned around and embraced her face with all the passion of his own lips and face, ready at last to grind into her with the Hound, drive it into her piety.

Nothing like a Hound driving into your piety, eh ladies?

The stated purpose of the Bad Sex Award is to discourage "authors and publishers from including unconvincing, perfunctory, embarrassing or redundant passages of a sexual nature in otherwise sound literary novels." In fact, the award's real value is to give juvenile-minded sub-editors and lit bloggers the chance to roll out some obvious innuendo. I recommend "stiff competition", "between the covers" and, if you're desperate, wanton use of the phrase "offending passage".

The Bad Sex Award is good for a laugh an' all but it's a shame that the organisers can't be bothered doing it properly. So to speak. Tom Fleming, who helps run the thing, says, "It takes a reading of the whole novel to decide the winner - only then can the sex be seen in context." Yet the nominated selections lack any context whatsoever. Mailer's offending passage looks like bad sex writing to me, regardless of its context, but the same can't be said of Jeanette Winterson's nominated excerpt:
To calm myself down and appear in control I reverse the problem. 'Spike, you're a robot, but why are you such a drop-dead gorgeous robot? I mean, is it necessary to be the most sophisticated machine ever built and to look like a movie star?'

She answers simply: 'They thought I would be good for the boys on the mission.'

I am pondering the implications of this. Like a wartime pin-up? Like a live anti-depressant? Like truth is beauty, beauty truth? 'How good? I mean, I'm assuming you're not talking sexual services here.'

'What else is there to do in space for three years?'

'But inter-species sex is illegal.'

'Not on another planet it isn't. Not in space it isn't.' ...

'So you had sex with spacemen for three years?'

'Yes. I used up three silicon-lined vaginas.' ..
I haven't read The Stone Gods but I suspect this excerpt shows Winterson indulging in the ancient Japanese art of pisstaké. The BSA doesn't distinguish between deliberately tasteless or clumsy writing and writing that is tasteless or clumsy because its author has gotten carried away with his or her own magniloquence. (Paul "a demon eel thrashing in his loins" Theroux, I'm looking at you.) Have a look at the excerpt from Against the Day that made the 2006 shortlist. It's over the top and B.R. Myers would hate it but it's so obviously deliberate that even those unacquainted with Pynchon would surely get the joke, especially when he ends the scene with, "But here let us reluctantly leave them, for biomechanics is one thing but intimacy quite another, isn't it..."

It's ironic that the organisers of an ironic writing award can't seem to recognise ironic writing. While I enjoy chortling immaturely over such unlikely combinations of words as "She hadn't shaved, and her fanny looked like a tropical fish or a bit of old carpet", the BSA is, not unlike Uncle Alois' "battering ram", a bit soft and ultimately pointless.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Shorter Terminator 2

John Connor: You've come from the future to protect me? Who sent you?

Arnie: You did.

John Connor: So...if I sent you then obviously I'm not going to be killed by the other terminator, or by anything else, at least until I've sent you back from the year 2029. So why worry? Let's just kick back and listen to some Gunners.

Arnie: Um...

The End

Friday, November 09, 2007

PM Denies Ordering Sandwich

Prime Minister John Howard has denied ordering a sandwich from a Sydney café yesterday afternoon.

While campaigning in the seat of Wentworth, Mr Howard was overheard telling staff at the La Dolce Veleno café that he "would like to order a sandwich". When presented with a ham and salad sandwich and a bill for $6.40, Mr Howard refused to pay, claiming that he hadn't placed an order.

"Look, I don't want to get into a debate over semantics," Mr Howard said today. "Clearly, however, there are those who for political reasons choose to interpret the phrase 'I would like to order a sandwich' as constituting an order for a sandwich. All I intended to express was that ordering a sandwich would – were I to do it, which I didn’t – be something that I would enjoy, or like, if you will. Unfortunately I left my senior citizen discount card at home yesterday and there was no way I was paying six dollars for a sandwich that Janet could make for seventy-five cents.”

Mr Howard then delivered a stinging attack on the media for “misleading the Australian people by accurately reporting my statements”.

“I’m no English teacher, and as previously stated I’d like to avoid a debate over semantics, but it does strike me that if you lot [the media] are going to report what I say as if it actually means what it sounds like it means, then this kind of trouble is inevitable. ‘I would like to order a sandwich’ could mean a lot of things. I might have been expressing a desire to place the ingredients of a sandwich in some kind of order, or to place a sandwich in order with other items on the menu, say from healthiest to least healthy. I might even have been suggesting that I would like to order – that is command – a sandwich to serve its country in the fight against terrorism. In fact, I now recall that that's precisely what I was doing. And Mr Rudd, by criticising me for doing this, is guilty of politicising the troops. By whom I mean the sandwich I was ordering. And for that he should be ashamed."

Monday, October 22, 2007

Cave In

I was walking down Chapel St a couple of weeks ago when I spotted Nick Cave eating breakfast. We struck up a conversation – God, songwriting, heroin addiction – and before long he asked me to sit in with the Bad Seeds. “You look like a pretty happenin’ dude,” he said. “How’d you like to sling a six string for me some time?” I told him I’d be honoured, but had to confess to not knowing how to play the guitar. All Cave said was: “Twelve months ago neither did I!” The upshot is that his people are going to call my people and Nick and I are gonna rock out and stuff. Fuck yeah.

Anyway, I was reminded of this almost totally fabricated encounter by the news that Cave is being inducted into the Aria Hall of Fame next Sunday night. He sounds bloody rapt:
"I'm actually dreading it to be completely honest because I have to go to the ARIA Awards," Cave said.

"That's something I've been avoiding for 25 years because I think it's so f...ing tedious.

"But I think I'm allowed to come in the back door, get inducted - however they're going to induct me - and leave and go and get a kebab."
What is the Aria Hall of Fame, anyway? It's not actually a hall, of that I am pretty sure. What is the induction process? Is there paddling of swollen arses - with paddles?

Friday, October 19, 2007

Weekend Reading

- Simon Sellars on the Ballardian nature of 21st century Australia.

- Fact Magazine interviews Burial ahead of his forthcoming album Untrue.

- Yet another interview with Tom McCarthy.

- Amazing images of places where vehicles are left to die.

- k-punk on John Foxx's Metamatic.

- Radiohead's "All I Need" as rendered in lolcat images. Awesome.

- Update (20/10): Ooh, new Scarecrow!

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Free to a good home

18 books, five in hardback, all g. to ex. cond., author a fuckwit.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Radiohead Don't Really Like Your Recent Stuff, Either

According to a new report, the majority of the members of British rock group Radiohead are unsatisfied with your latest musical offerings and prefer your earlier, rockier sound.

The group, whom you have criticised in recent years as "pretentious" and "too arty for their own good" are likewise disparaging of your own output. Guitarist Ed O'Brien says, "You have exchanged inspired indie rock for insipid electro noodlings". Meanwhile, bassist Colin Greenwood claims that he feels "betrayed" by your recent material's lack of chorus hooks.

Eighty-percent of the band feel your latest single lacks the "late-night pub sing-along" qualities of your earlier hit "Cad", with only Jonny Greenwood conceding that your new direction is "interesting, if not entirely satisfying".

This is not the first time you have been drawn into a war of words with a major act. In 2003 your criticism of Metallica's St. Anger album led Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich to label you a "talentless piece of ass mucus", dramatically effecting sales of your debut album, Crotch Pony Sauce.

Your latest album, Please Dispose of Yourself Thoughtfully, is available through Shock. Thom Yorke says it "sucks".


This post originally appeared on Sterne on April 8, 2006. It is republished here to honour the new Radiohead album, In Rainbows, and the many, many stupid things that have already been written about it.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Yeah right

I am so right-brain. How about you?

My first thought was "Wow, that animated silhouette is hot!" Don't think that's got anything to do with my brain, though.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

How much am I willing to pay for Radiohead's new album?

Honestly, nothing for the download (released on October 10), but I will be shelling out the £40 for the discbox. This is Radiohead we're talking about, after all.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Ennui

Only French can express how bored with blogging I am right now.

Saw Battles at the East Brunswick Club on Tuesday night. They were better than anything.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Pods or peds

'Contemporary fiction,' I said to Jimmy, 'is either pod or ped. Left-hand rack, you'll observe, begins with J.G. Ballard. Super-Cannes. Pod-meister. Suburban solipsism: world in a windscreen. Right-hand rack is ped. The walkers. W.G. Sebald, Austerlitz, Rings of Saturn. Sit at your PC as you sit in the car: pod person. Lose yourself in the rhythms of the walk: pedestrian. Stately prose, Sebald.'

'Stephen King?'

'Pod. By instinct. He tries to walk down a road, a redneck runs him down. Know your limitations. Stick to genre.'

Iain Sinclair, Dining on Stones, p. 130

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

The APEC Drinking Game

It's APEC time, and you know what that means - protesters, police baton charges, fulminating pundits, increased threat of terrorist attack and world leaders wearing floral jackets. If you find it all a bit too much to handle, the APEC Drinking Game might be for you.

You will need: functioning liver, things to drink, access to a range of corporate media.

The rules are quite simple: whenever one of the following things happens, you take the appropriate drink. Please note that vomiting is not only allowed but is actively encouraged.
  • Newspaper headline includes one or more of the following words: "SHAME"; "ANGER"; "FURY"; "UNAUSTRALIAN": drink shot of vodka. If headline includes exclamation mark, drink a further shot.
  • Andrew Bolt has apoplectic fit: drink two large gulps of beer or wine.
  • Awkward on-camera conversation between John Howard and any Asian leader: take a swig of whiskey or other hard spirit.
  • Phalli at the ready!: drink your choice of cocktail.
  • Morris Iemma looks stern: drink five raw eggs.
  • Protester wearing Che Guevara t-shirt: drink a six pack of Jack Daniels and Coke.
  • Reporter uses phrase "plastic cups of urine": drink plastic cup of urine.
  • Riot police remove or cover name badges: poke tequila worm up left nostril.
  • World leaders pose for group photo wearing ridiculous "cultural" jackets: drink the little bit of sick that has come into your mouth.
  • John Howard baffles assembled leaders with cricket references: skol fifty-two cans of VB.
  • Dirty bomb: drink everything you can lay your hands on.
Cross-posted at Snarkeology.

New Ballard, New Baker

Ballardian passes on Bookseller.com's news that J.G. Ballard's autobiography, entitled Miracles of Life, will be published by Fourth Estate in Feb 2008. Fourth Estate's editorial director Clare Reihill said:
“J G Ballard has been a giant on the literary landscape for the last 40 years [...] and his long-awaited autobiography will be an exceptionally important and momentous publishing event. For fans of this work it will be a very insightful read. He has narrated his life exceptionally well, showing how events in his life have influenced his work.”
Meanwhile, Ed Champion has some news regarding Nicholson Baker's forthcoming book, Human Smoke:
There is not yet a subtitle to this 800 page opus, but the book is described as “a meticulously researched, astonishingly new perspective of the political, social, religious, and economic events throughout the world in the years preceding World War II—an invaluable work of nonfiction and an impassioned, persuasive call for pacifism.”

[...]

It also describes Human Smoke as “weav[ing] together the events and individuals that unnecessarily enabled or prolonged the irreparable damages of the war, including hundreds of often-overlooked facts, quotes, and articles that were frequently published in The New York Times, TIME, and countless other sources, which have been easily accessible to readers for generations.”

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Video Night

Jon and I watched Brick last night. I enjoyed it but it doesn't stand up to any kind of analysis or even casual reflection. The underlying concept - the film essentially transposes the conventions of Chandler-esque noir onto a high school setting - never develops into anything more substantial than a gimmick. At first it seems clever, but as the story progresses the high school setting becomes irrelevant. The script is patchy, too, especially the faux-noir dialogue which is highly stylised in the expected manner but not stylish enough to compensate for the woodenness with which it's delivered. Not a great film, then, but watchable enough - a good effort as my rather condescending tennis coach used to say.

By the time Brick finished we'd ingested enough beer that watching Rocky seemed like a brilliant idea. Turns out: it wasn't. I was disappointed to learn that "Eye of the Tiger" originates in Rocky III, but at least Rocky has the scene where Rocky pummels a side of beef, which is something I'd not previously imagined anybody doing. Otherwise Rocky is the stuff of midday movies. Our rating: two busted thumbs down.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Very Special Episode

We interrupt our regular programming to bring you, er, this:



















In the immortal words of Kevin Bacon in Tremors: "What the hell is goin' on? I mean: what the hell is goin' on?"

Friday, August 17, 2007

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Faceplant

Facebook. Everybody's talking about it but you can't see what it is unless you sign up. So I signed up - and I'm still not sure what it is. What are you supposed to do with it? I tried the "stalk your ex schoolmates" search (not its real name) and unearthed several people I don't particularly want to reconnect with. Not that there's anything wrong with them - well not all of them - just that I have nothing to say. One girl - I suppose she's actually a woman, now - apparently went to both high schools I attended yet I can't remember her from either. I found a few other people I know but I'm not sure why we need to become Facebook "friends" as well as actual friends. And what's this "Poke him/her!" business?

Facebook and I are a bad match given it's a social networking site and I have no social network and don't really want one. Sitting on my own listening to music, on the other hand, is something I do understand so I have bitten the unexploded WW2 shell and joined Last.fm. I like the idea of tracking my listening, at least that portion of it that is done on my computer. I also like the "radio stations" that you can stream by entering the name of an artist or genre. Those with a burning desire to see what I've been listening to can click on the Last.fm link in the "Sterne" section of the sidebar. (Update 13/8: Forget the link - we have sidebar widget!)

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Pleasant Enough Yarns

The Booker longlist has been announced. Ladies and gentlemen, start stifling your yawns.

I won't be reading any of the listed titled for the obvious reason that most of them will turn out to be unmitigated crap. I say that with some confidence given that I read most of the 2005 longlist and fair sample of the 2006 longlist. I have however already trudged through the Peter Ho Davies novel, which I reviewed for the SMH in March. The review doesn't seem to be online anymore, so here it is:
The Welsh Girl

In 2003, Peter Ho Davies was named in Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists list, a kind of bookie’s (or possibly Booker’s) form guide to literary colts and fillies. Granta’s list has proven remarkably prescient over the years, but with Davies the editors took their soothsaying to a new level, selecting a writer who was certifiably young and British but who wasn’t actually a published novelist. Four years on and Davies has finally delivered his debut novel; the question is, has he delivered on the hype?

The Welsh Girl begins with intimations of intrigue. It is September 1944 and Rotheram, an escaped German Jew seconded to the British Political Intelligence Division, is sent to Wales to assess the sanity of former Nazi deputy leader Rudolf Hess, and thus his suitability for trial at war’s end. Rotheram expects to have a role in any postwar legal proceedings, but the Hess assignment turns out to be a ruse to get Rotheram out of the way; the same prejudice that caused him to flee Germany will now prevent him from participating in bringing the Nazi leadership to justice. Instead, Rotheram is to act as liaison to the camps that have been established in Wales to house POWs captured in the European campaign. It is a second exile, a relegation to the periphery.

It is also something of a short circuit of reader expectations. Rotheram, Hess and the spectre of Nuremberg disappear, and The Welsh Girl evolves into a knotty rural drama, packed with moral dilemmas, wuthering weather and the expected array of colourful types down the pub. In alternating chapters we are introduced to Esther, the intelligent but sheltered daughter of a Welsh nationalist grazier, and Karsten, a handsome German NCO who, having surrendered to the British at Normany, ends up in a POW camp near Esther’s village.

Inevitably, Davies draws Karsten and Esther together for one of those unlikely collaborations that mutual longing – although not necessarily for one another – sometimes conjures. In fact, despite the incongruity of their union, the German soldier and the Welsh farm girl share a common status. Karsten may be literally inside but he is a natural outsider, while Esther is so far outside her native community she is practically neck-deep in the Irish Sea. The reader recalls Rotheram: isn’t he also, in many ways, an outsider? And isn’t the village riven with various permutations of the outsider/insider dichotomy? And isn’t Wales itself an outsider nation? And isn’t – well, you get the idea.

The Welsh Girl is full of this kind of thematic interplay, but Davies’ schematic, join-the-dots approach reveals a lack of faith in his potential readership. He might have left us some work to do but he seems determined to ensure that we don’t miss a trick. Reading The Welsh Girl quickly becomes a largely passive experience: open wide for the Big Theme!

Subtract the slightly hectoring authorial presence and The Welsh Girl is a pleasant enough yarn enlivened by moments of understated perception. Davies made his name with short stories and, despite its page count, The Welsh Girl at times has the intimate feel of a miniature. Small, significant things – the communal life of sheep; the shock of a missed period; the face of a stranger behind barbed wire - are evoked with care and grace. If only Davies had resisted the urge to stitch these elements together with neon thread he might have produced something subtle and telling.
In other words, The Welsh Girl is a Booker novel through and through, its accessible characters and big themes delivered in solid prose - the full "literary novel" experience. Toby Litt was allowed to be considerably harsher than I dared be on this asinine genre in his review of Justin Cartwright's The Song Before It Is Sung (which, oddly enough, I also reviewed for the SMH):

Here is the conventional form of a contemporary literary novel. There is a prologue, occasionally in italics, in which it is suggested that there is some sort of worthwhile mystery - a lost canister of film footage, a dubious inheritance-with-strings. This is meant to get the pulse racing, in a minor way; nothing too extreme. After this, the novel splits. Two stories are followed, often in alternating chapters. There is a contemporary character who, for one reason or another, is inexorably drawn into examining the reasonably distant past. And then there are the characters of that past, going about their fairly historically accurate business (because research must be seen to have been done).

Between the two stories there are, needless to say, poignant parallels and clarifying contrasts. Sooner or later, probably sooner, the contemporary character becomes aware of the worthwhile mystery, and sets out to solve it. And the fairly historically accurate historical characters, with all their past-is-another-country pungency and profundity, bumble about creating and revealing the worthwhile mystery. By the end, the contemporary character will have semi-solved the mystery - while at the same time suffering some emotional damage and achieving a moderate redemption.

Just as it is inevitable that Throngar the Brave’s plucky little band of misfits will defeat Zograx’s hordes to regain the Chalice of Power, or that Nurse Modest will overcome both rivals and misunderstandings to find herself in the tender arms of Doctor Yearn, so it is inevitable that the hero or heroine of literary fiction will gain knowledge, suffer damage and be moderately redeemed.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Reflexxions

The Von Südenfed album was in today's mail. There are three main reasons why people will buy this album: one, because they like Mark E. Smith; two, because they like Mouse On Mars; and three, because they like umlauts. Those who happen to like Smith and Mouse on Mars and umlauts will be especially well served by Tromatic Reflexxions; the rest of humanity will have their usual diverse response, some liking it, others preferring the sound of stubbled surfer types with acoustic guitars, still others not even bothering to listen to it owing to their lack of stereo and/or functioning eardrums. Funny old world, innit.

The reviewer meme for this album is either to mention how strange a collaboration Von Südenfed is or to mention how strange it is that other reviewers keep mentioning how strange a collaboration Von Südenfed is. I'm going to run with the latter because it allows me to mention, as examples of precursors to the Von Südenfed project, such iconic-rocker-meets-electronic-group collaborations as David Byrne and X-Press 2's "Lazy", John Lydon and Leftfield's "Open Up", and that song Iggy Pop did with Death In Vegas. Readers are invited to provide their own examples. I promise to be awed by your erudition.

The album's first four songs seem to be representative of its overall sound. "Fledermaus Can't Get It" sounds not unlike LCD Sound System as fronted by somebody's drunk war veteran uncle. "The Rhinohead" is a surprise, being a pretty straightforward pop-rock tune with Smith actually singing for the first time since I don't know when. "Flooded" is great mid-tempo bleep-and-squelch, while "Family Feud" is a real triumph of ultra-precise programming and general Smith insanity. "I am the great MES" the great MES mutters again and again. Good to see the collaborative environment held his ego in check.

I've only had a cursory listen to the rest of the album but it appears to be of consistently good quality. So, you know, do yourself a favour.

Monday, August 06, 2007

The Simpsons Movie

The Simpsons Movie is funny, or at least it's funny enough. The show is unwatchable these days but the movie tones down the reflexive irony and manages to wring some good material out of a very, very tired set of characters. Still, it's a stale old scene and the film contains zero dramatic tension and lacks any real purpose outside of the expected cavalcade of moderate hilarity. Although it runs to eighty-five minutes, the movie somehow contrives to feel emptier than a single episode from the show's golden years. If you've seen one of the many episodes in which Homer has to overcome his manifold deficiencies and prove himself a good husband and father then you've basically seen the movie and might as well just wait six months and watch the funny bits on youtube.

Random thoughts (positive):

- After years of desperate storylines in which the Simpsons must help/shelter/adopt supporting character x, the filmmaker's decision to relegate the vast secondary cast to a handful of cameos was a smart one. Flanders gets a (naff) sub-plot with Bart, but otherwise the residents of Springfield do their thing where they do it best: in the background.
- Casting regular guest star Albert Brooks as the bad guy was a good move, reviving memories of his classic turn as the megalomaniac Scorpio ("He'll sting you with his dreams of power and wealth!")
- Celebrity appearances are kept at a minimum. Tom Hanks has a funny spot, but otherwise that's about it. I bet Ron Howard's pissed off he wasn't asked to appear.
- Spiderpig is brilliant.

Random thoughts (negative):

- Considering how many great episodes focus on Lisa, it's a shame she's given little more to do in the movie than make eyes at yet another sensitive Springfield newcomer.
- Also, Marge tends to work best when she is allowed to function as something other than Homer's foil. Unfortunately here she is reduced to nagging-wife mode.
- Bart has a very funny bit (literally) but otherwise comes across like the early-nineties throwback that he is.
- The attempts at satire are deadly dull. Considering the state of the world atm you'd think the writers could have come up with something sharper than a few half-arsed digs at the environmental movement and Arnold Schwarzenegger.
- The various jokes at the audience's expense are gratuitous and unfunny, the film's equivalent of the show's now-standard device of openly referring to the cynicism of a storyline or character as if that not only excuses it but makes it funny when in fact it does neither.
- &c

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Old Prats (Say So Much Crap)

Elton John yesterday:
Sir Elton said the internet had "stopped people from going out and being with each other, creating stuff", and it compelled them to "sit at home and make their own records, which is sometimes OK but it doesn't bode well for long-term artistic vision".
Elton John in 2005:
Elton: Your album [Mylo's Destroy Rock & Roll] and the Killers' album are my favourite albums of the year... Where did you record it?

Mylo: I made it in my bedroom on a Mac G4. I didn't have any money to make it. The computer cost me £1200. I got an educational discount because I got my brother to buy it. I didn't have any old analog synthesisers, I had illegal downloads of software. A few bits of additional equipment would probably bring the total cost up to £1500, then there were the records I bought to sample from. That was probably another £100. They cost about 50 pence each ($A1.20).

Elton: Amazing. I am the biggest technophobe of all time. I don't have a mobile phone or an iPod or anything. But if I was young, these are the records I would have made instead of being a singer-songwriter.

Saturday Salon

A closed thread where, at your weekend leisure, you can remain taciturn about anything you like.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Mean Cuisine

A new feature here at Sterne in which we review items from the popular sixth food group: the processed. First up:

Campbell's Velish


Canned soup is notoriously foul. Queen Victoria herself is said to have dropped the f-word when presented with a bowl of what appeared to be bloody saliva that her kitchen staff alleged was a decanted tin of tomato and basil soup. Luckily the good folk at Campbell's have put on their thinking socks and pondered the problem of how to make canned soup taste better. Their solution? Put it in a carton!

The weird thing is that it seems to have worked. Velish is not too bad at all. Pour it into a bowl, microwave it for a couple of minutes, prepare some buttered toast for dipping, crumbling and general mopping duties and you've got yourself a pretty good lunch. Having tried Velish you'll be throwing your old tinned soups in the bin, and possibly spitting on them in disgust, which will at least make a change from spitting them out in disgust.

So far I have tried two flavours: Roasted Vegetable With Garlic is like a good lover - smooth with the slightest hint of garlic; Provincial Vegetable is chunky but it's still soup, not a wannabe-stew concoction like some chunky soups. I also have a carton of Butternut Pumpkin in the pantry but I'm hesitant to try it. Some soups can be faked but Butternut Pumpkin isn't one of them.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Ingmar, Not Ingrid

I checked our Quickflix queue yesterday morning and was surprised to see that they'd sent us Persona, despite it being about twenty places from the head of the queue. Just hours later it was announced that Ingmar Bergman had died.

The other DVDs they've sent are After Hours and Ghost Dog. I hope Martin Scorsese and Jim Jarmusch have their affairs in order.

UPDATE (1/8): This is getting weird. The last DVD we bought? The Passenger.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Publishers in book rejection shock!

Everybody knows that publishing houses are staffed exclusively by idiots. To prove it, I recently copied out the first tablet of the Epic of Gilgamesh - in the original Akkadian but retitled as The Frivolity of Beagles and with the character name "Gilgamesh" changed to "John Tesh" - and posted it off to a bunch of publishers. Shockingly, not one publisher recognised this classic of world literature. One respondent suggested I read Janet Evanovich's How I Write: Secrets of a Bestselling Author to learn how to "inject some sass" into my story. Another commended my "earthy voice" but found the story dated and confusing. Still another admitted that he hadn't bothered to read my submission at all: "Might I suggest that you make use of a word processor next time? Chiseled clay tablets are unwieldy, and, I might add, hurt like hell when dropped on one's foot. Also, a living language would be nice."

The wholesale rejection of "my" book is disturbing on two counts. First, it defies belief that people employed to read manuscripts for publishers aren't able to immediately identify any given work from any point in the history of literature, even if that work has been mocked up to look like a new, unpublished submission by an unknown author. Second, it demonstrates the lack of taste that is endemic in the publishing industry. These ignorant, clerk-type people with no literary sensibilities are being allowed to act as gatekeepers, and it is impossible to get quality material through. Not only did they knock back Gilgamesh - it's only been a classic for 4000 years! - but they've also rejected my original thriller The Field of Black Cabbages: A Detective Philip Spanx Novel. Philistines, the lot of them.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Deathly Hollow

I don't give a good goddamn one way or the other about Harry Potter, but I do enjoy a spot of wilful contrarianism. The Guardian arts blog could use more posts like this one in which Nicholas Lezard throws stones at a bee hive:
Here, from page 324 of The Order of the Phoenix, to give you a typical example, are six consecutive descriptions of the way people speak. "...said Snape maliciously," "... said Harry furiously", " ... he said glumly", "... said Hermione severely", "... said Ron indignantly", " ... said Hermione loftily". Do I need to explain why that is such second-rate writing?

If I do, then that means you're one of the many adults who don't have a problem with the retreat into infantilism that your willing immersion in the Potter books represents. It doesn't make you a bad or silly person. But if you have the patience to read it without noticing how plodding it is, then you are self-evidently someone on whom the possibilities of the English language are largely lost.

This is the kind of prose that reasonably intelligent nine-year-olds consider pretty hot stuff, if they're producing it themselves; for a highly-educated woman like Rowling to knock out the same kind of material is, shall we say, somewhat disappointing.

Luckily there are plenty of commenters on hand to refute Lezard's charge of a Potter-led "retreat into infantilism":

I mean COME ON PEOPLE for Christ's sake!!! Nicholas Lizard's just jealous of JK Rowling cos he couldn't write an exciting book that people love!! I bet the books he likes are really boring like Dickens and Shakespear.
She provides fun and excitement for kids and adults alike and what's wrong with that???!

And anyone who wants to 'review' and 'criticise' her books is just jealous and sad and you should just GET OUT MORE!!

Friday, July 13, 2007

Very Little Gravitas Indeed

Despite the shrill outcry from the usual fashionable pundits and professional whingers, the controversial British documentary Down the Gravity Well was broadcast on the ABC last night. Subtitled "Exposing the lies that are keeping you down", the film argues that the theory of gravity is scientifically unsound and has been foisted upon the world by a self-interested cabal of scientists, politicians and airline industry figures. According to the film's director, former pogo stick manufacturer Marvin Bamyasi, "Gravity is the Big Lie of the modern era. It's really insidious the way kids are indoctrinated with this 'what goes up, must come down' ideology all the way through school. No wonder so few adults are willing - or able - to question the lies of the 'Newtonian Nazis'."

The ABC ought to be commended for screening this important documentary. It was thrilling to watch as one by one the sacred cows of the gravity affirmation movement were beheaded, skinned, butchered, and minced into cheap burger meat. I have long argued that gravity is merely ghost story for grown-ups, designed to drum up funding for scientists and force the rest of us to use costly forms of mechanised transport when in fact we might, were we to ignore the nay-sayers and embrace a gravity-free existence, simply float through the air like so many dandelion spores. Down the Gravity Well makes a similar point and backs it up with science so hard you could bash a gravity enthusiast's head against it until he (or she - some of the worst ones are shes) bled grey stuff from his (or her) nostrils.

To give one example, gravity "experts" claim that the gravity exerted by Earth (the name of the "planet" so-called "scientists" allege we inhabit) can be expressed as 9.8 m/s2, where 9.8 is kilometres per hour and m/s is something just as unlikely and "sciency"-sounding. Yet Bamyasi points out that even in the models used by gravity affirmationists this rate of acceleration varies depending on lattitude. It seems even the "orthodox" "scientific" "community" is riddled with doubts about the equation 9.8 m/s2, yet they have the audacity to expect the rest of us to abide by its dictates whenever we wish to fall from a ladder or catch a sack full of anvils that has been tossed from a ninth story balcony.

Down the Gravity Well is equally strong on the political dimension of gravity affirmation. In one pivotal scene, Bamyasi interviews Brian McFadden, founder, executive director, research co-ordinator, OH&S officer, and janitor of the influential think tank The Brian McFadden Institute. According to McFadden, "Gravity affirmationists are consumed by a hatred of positive vertical movement. They cannot bear seeing something go up that does not immediately come back down to their own pitiful level. The fundamental tenet of gravity affirmation is that you and I and that painting on the wall and this microphone and so on are all subject to and complicit in gravity and therefore the same in some fundamental way. You can draw your own conclusions about the implicit politics of the theory, although I'll give you a hint: communism. The fact that gravitational influence is extended to encompass non-human and indeed non-organic objects is further cause for concern. It is almost pantheistic, an irrational religious substrata to the movement's more explicit social and political goals."

A strong argument well made, but sadly the film's message was blunted by the ABC's attempt at "balance". In his interview with Bamyasi, Lateline's Tony Jones came across as belligerent and biased. At one point he challenged Bamyasi to defy the so-called "laws of gravity" without assistance. When Bamyasi proved incapable of doing so, Jones practically crowed. Yet one suspects a set-up. Bamyasi has given demonstrations of his disregard for "gravity" on several occasions, including an unassisted flight over the Grand Canyon that was filmed for a cable tv special. Plainly, his credentials are not in doubt, so the question becomes: was artificial gravity produced in the ABC studios in order to humiliate Bamyasi? Were the filmmaker's trousers stapled to the chair? Next Jones will be telling us that Bamyasi didn't make the Statue of Liberty vanish, or that he isn't married to a German supermodel! Such are the delusions of the chattering classes.

Despite Jones' antics, I reiterate that the ABC deserves every plaudit for broadcasting Down the Gravity Well. Bamyasi's film is doubtless unpalatable to many, but then the truth often is. The director's next project, a documentary refuting the existence of the Atlantic Ocean, promises to be just as contrarian, and just as powerful. One hopes that the ABC will again put its ingrained prejudices aside and allow the truth some airtime. One also hopes that Down the Gravity Well has dealt the cult of gravity affirmation a fatal blow. I write this sitting at my desk, weighed down by centuries of superstition and propaganda. Perhaps you, however, are reading it while floating around your room - around your city, your world. Perhaps you are free. And I'll bet the air really is better up there.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Book Review

The book in question is about eight inches tall and five inches wide with some three hundred and twelve pages of text, plus sundries, contained between its covers. The front cover features, along with the title of the work and its author’s name or pseudonym, a depiction of the silhouette of either an owl or a hunch-back against a grey stone wall. In the owl’s (or hunch-back’s) hand is a revolver, possibly (spoiler alert!) service issue. The back cover features an author photograph that I elected to cover with masking tape before I commenced reading.

The book is written with consummate competence. Characters are introduced and described, conversations take place, chapters begin and end with calming regularity. The main character, for whom the book is named, is skilfully drawn, although his hanging and quartering leave much to be desired. The story is well plotted and not once does the author give away the surprise ending – not even at the end.

In comparison with other recent major works, the present book is slightly less good than the one about the suburban family who are superficially perfect but in reality are a seething mess of resentment and hatred whose empty lives are emblematic of the modern human condition let’s all kill ourselves; on the other hand, the present book is slightly more good than the one about the guy who is middle-aged and going through a crisis that mainly involves having an affair with a younger woman and experiencing extended sequences of remembering stuff from his youth.

If I had one complaint about this book, this paragraph would be several sentences shorter. Despite its well-writteness, the book’s success is undermined by its author’s insistence on showing off. Time and again the reader is confronted by incomprehensible foreign words and phrases (“The maitre’d handed me a menu”; “Zis is – how you say? – most désagréable”; “Nine!”). Then there are the in-jokes and word-plays, the most egregious example being chapter eight which is written entirely in semaphore. In addition, the book exhibits a lack of heart, of soul. If only the author had followed the advice offered by his book’s title, this may have been the masterpiece of the season!

That said, the author is obviously talented and one can only imagine what his future holds. I personally envisage a steady rise to moderate popularity and critical success followed by a sudden but not unexpected fade to a lower tier where he will toil ceaselessly and fruitlessly until finally cirrhosis of the liver or some other pathetic writers’ ailment delivers him from this vale of tears into the ever-loving robéd arms of God the Almighty. But that’s just me. Maybe he’ll just win the Booker and have a whole bunch of wives.

In any event, the present book is certainly readable, provided one has the necessary level of English comprehension and a functioning eye or two. While not quite a rollicking good read it is nevertheless thought-provoking and not all of the thoughts it provokes are about the things one could be doing if one were not engaged in reading the book. It is above all a warm book, especially when ignited with the aid of matches or a cigarette lighter, and one whose wisdom and joy will fill the reader’s heart, especially if the reader happens to fall prey to an insane scientist bent on creating a grotesque human-book hybrid. In summary, this is the perfect summer read, although please note that this assessment is based on a simulated summer reading environment and may not reflect the book’s performance under actual summer reading conditions.

The Dark Side of the Moonie Wedding

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

New, funny ones

Woody Allen has a new book out. Titled Mere Anarchy, the collection has a lot to live up to considering that Allen's Complete Prose is one of the funniest books ever published. In fact it's three of the funniest books ever published.

In other news, a bunch of my/your favourite bloggers/people you've never heard of have teamed up on a new blog, Snarkeology. Go and give them some love.

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Diceman Readeth

I can't decide which novel to read so I have assembled six books that are either on my informal to-read pile or that I have been meaning to read for years. I have shuffled the books then laid them out in the following random order:

1. The Country Girls, Edna O'Brien
2. The Waterworks, E.L. Doctorow
3. The Pesthouse, Jim Crace
4. The Shipping News, Annie Proulx
5. The Private Wound, Nicholas Blake
6. Winterwood, Patrick McCabe

And now I take a dice and roll it...

ONE!

My fate has been sealed.

Gosh, I bet you wish you had my life.

Friday, June 15, 2007

"I Know I'm Crap": Oldfield Bones Self

This has got to be the most bizarre post-axing statement I've ever seen:

Lisa Oldfield has blamed herself for The Catch-Up's demise, issuing a public apology to say "I know I'm crap".

Describing herself as a "pompous" character with "no talent", Oldfield said it was mostly her fault the Nine Network decided to axe the show.

The Catch-Up finale will air today at 12pm (AEST).

"My only regret about doing it is that I dragged down three brilliant performers," she said of her co-hosts Libbi Gorr, Mary Moody and Zoe Sheridan. "I know I'm crap. I'm sorry that I've brought this upon them.

"I think Australia has had an absolute gutful of Lisa Oldfield — I know I've had an absolute gutful of Lisa Oldfield. I can't imagine me darkening anybody's TV screen again any time soon."

I have nothing to add, other than to say - who the fuck is Lisa Oldfield? In any event, her statement - and its prominence on the ninemsn homepage - is obviously an attempt by Nine's management to distance themselves from yet another dud show. Turns out it was all Lisa Oldfield's and Mia Freedman's fault.

The Herald Sun has more Oldfield self-flaggelation:
"I'm just the most irritating individual you'll ever meet. I'm a pompous snot and I brought them all down. But they went down fighting."

...

"I'm not surprised it was axed, because we all followed the ratings and it wasn't hitting the mark," she said.

"But we had fun and I learned so much from Libbi (Gorr) -- like how to be a complete bitch."

Cripes.

So now I'm curious. Does anybody want to own up to watching The Catch-Up? I once saw the opening credits - soulful Oprah-esque music, the hosts "dancing" - and switched immediately to Dr. Phil. Er, I mean the ABC midday news. Was The Catch-Up really that bad?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Big Brother Criticised For No-Brainer Stance

Channel Ten's reality programme Big Brother is embroiled in yet another controversy after the show’s producers declined to inform housemate Gavin Stubbs that his brain has died.

Stubb’s brain reportedly passed away late on Sunday, yet Stubbs remains unaware and continues to participate in household activities.

Big Brother spokesman Brian Shshmith told a media conference that the programme was acting according to Stubbs’s own wishes.

“Prior to entering the house Gavin informed us that brain death was a potential issue and he specifically requested not to be told should he suffer the loss of that organ while he remained a housemate. Gavin made it clear that he has never been particularly close to his brain and did not wish his Big Brother experience to be interupted were it suddenly to die.”

Media personality Andrew Bolt told Sterne that he found the producers' stance "inhumane".

“I think all right-thinking people would agree that Big Brother’s producers have an obligation to tell Gavin about his brain death. I speak from experience, because several years ago a good friend of mine took me aside and told me with great sensivity and respect that he thought my brain had died and dropped out of my bumhole. That was when I knew I was ready to be a News Ltd. columnist.”

The Inexplicable Nineties

Those who profess themselves unable to believe in the reality of human progress ought to cheer themselves up by a short study of the 1990s. The War on Terror, the Bush Administration, Osama bin Laden, the Frat Pack itself, will then seem a light price to pay for no longer being in the 1990s.*

Many of the things that sucked in the nineties were merely incarnations of the Platonic Form of suckiness. Others however were so specific to the period, so enmeshed in the cultural matrix, whatever that is, that they stand now as essentially nineties slices of suck and probably all but inexplicable to anyone who wasn't there.

The film Wayne's World is a good example. For those too young to remember - Sterne is big with the kids - Wayne’s World, like Citizen Kane, was based on a popular Saturday Night Live sketch. Mike Myers played heavy metal fan Wayne Campbell, host of “Wayne’s World”, an amateur tv show broadcast from his parents’ basement with the assistance of his dopey friend Garth (played by Dana Scully). Wayne’s age was difficult to determine - he was apparently either meant to be a teenager with progeria or a middle-aged man in a bad wig and a baseball cap. In fact Wayne was a teenager (the progeria angle went unexplored) who was merely being portrayed by a middle-aged man in a bad wig and a baseball cap. That, friends, is the magic of moofies.

Wayne’s World was released in February 1992 and was a huge success despite being so February 1991. The big hair, the lame catch-phrases (“Schwing!”; “Dude!”; er, "Dudette!"), the guest appearance by Alice Coooper – what freakin’ decade were we in? And check the soundtrack: it’s got “Dream Weaver” on it, fer feck’s sake.

Wayne’s World may be anachronistic but it remains a valuable document. For one thing, its cast is a veritable who’s who – or, to be precise, a who’s that? - of nineties mediocrities. Rob Lowe, Tia Carrere, Lara Flynn Boyle, Chris Farley and Ed O’Neill are just some of the credits that ring vaguely irritating bells. Wayne’s World also provides a disturbing insight into the collective funny bone circa 1992. Few in the noughties would see the humour in a scene depicting four men driving around in a small car headbanging to a twenty-year-old glam rock song but, as some old limey once said, the past is another country. Maybe we ought to nuke it.

* This paragraph is more or less stolen from Lucky Jim.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Laid Out

Yet more layout changes. Much more fun than actually writing content. It probably looks crap on IE; in fact it probably looks crap on anything.

If anyone cares the header picture is a still from René Clair's 1924 short film Entr'acte (available at Blockbuster - get it first time or it's free!) showing Erik Satie and Francis Picabia firing a cannon.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Carry Stress In The Jaw

Longtime readers may remember that about a year ago my mouth exploded. I dutifully staggered off to the dentist who charged me a large sum to do not much, then told me it would cost an even larger sum to fix my teeth. Since I didn't, and don't, possess a large sum, and since the dentist was a bit of a cow, and since my teeth have generally behaved themselves, I never made a return appointment.

So of course now whatever problems I had last year have gotten worse and I've spent the last week enduring a steadily increasing toothache, sore gums, etc. It's not completely foul like last year's bacteria attack - no pus, no ulcers - but it's become impossible to ignore so I've obtained an extension on my credit card limit in anticipation of a financially (and probably emotionally) crippling visit to the dentist.

The question is: which dentist? I'm not returning to the condescending bee-otch I saw last year, that's for sure and certain. So I'm open to suggestions from you, dear reader. Got a decent dentist, by which I mean a dentist who is not an obvious sadist, has pleasant-smelling breath, attractive assistants, and who doesn't actively seek out expensive stuff to do to your teeth? Oh yeah, and is located in Melbourne's eastern suburbs.

Friday, June 01, 2007

The Stack

The idea here is to note down thoughts about some of what I've been listening to lately. (N.B.: this is completely different to Ben's posts where he notes down thoughts about some of what he's been listening to lately. For one thing, he has a pile of CDs whereas I quite clearly have a stack.) I plan to do this regularly, although it'll probably be superficial and sophomoric in the extreme. I should mention that the stack in the photo is several stack-generations old. Some stack members remain, others have been replaced, still others have joined separatist movements and have begun their own stacks elsewhere in the house.

Orpheus, The Lowdown by Peter Blegvad & Andy Partridge (2003) is actually a poor choice to start with as it is destined to remain aloof from the stack, packaged as it is in a kind of paperback-sized digipack. There's not a lot of conceptual packaging in the CD era, or the post-CD era, as I suppose we - if not specifically I - have now entered, and when it is attempted the results are usually pretty bad (see: Tool). Orpheus is an exception. There's a crispness and subtlety to the packaging - the elegant lyric booklet, the obliquely illustrative photograms - that perfectly complements the album's content.

Orpheus is a combination of spoken word and sound collages that occasionally threaten to turn into songs. It's detailed, deliberate music, and remarkably unified considering it was recorded over a thirteen year period; at the same time, each track is a discrete unit of intention and meaning, with little repetition of sounds or ideas. Overall, this is a sparse-feeling recording, Blegvad's deep voice enunciating over soundscapes that are occasionally bright but never colourful - the aural equivalent of a solarised image.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

I Know Where You Live #11

Last November Jon posted the tenth instalment of I Know Where You Live. Having proven our critics wrong (some guy two years ago: "They'll never make it to ten!") we then proceeded to sit on our thumbs and twiddle our buttocks, or something along those lines, for the next five months. During that time loyal Sterne readers have voiced concern that we no longer know where you, or indeed anybody, lives, and expressed disappointment that this should be the case, especially given the sheer volume of living that goes on in this country, often with our knowledge. Fear not, however, for IKWYL is back, and this time we're crossing the border into NSW to have a look at that bustling burg, Gundagai. Ladies, take a Bex; menfolk, do try to contain your tumescence.

I owe the discovery of Gundagai to the conjunction of a broken car and a surly mechanic. The car belonged to my parents (note the past tense: it has since been shot). The mechanic belonged to Gundagai, and probably still does unless he's managed to purchase his freedom. Car and mechanic were brought together when the car - in which I was travelling, along with my partner, youngest child and parents, to our international drug cartel's AGM in Wollongong - broke down on the highway twenty k south of Gundagai. We called the RACV, the RACV called the NRMA, the NRMA called the ACCC, the ACCC told the NRMA they had the wrong number, the NRMA hung up and called the RACV, the RACV called us to pass on the number for the NRMA. Finally a mechanic was despatched from Gundagai to collect us and our ailing vehicle. Upon arrival in town, the mechanic used an intricate system of grunts and flinches to convey to us that our car was fucked and that we'd have to wait five hours for a hire car to be driven over from Wagga, the sole hire car in Gundagai being a Ford Festiva and therefore suitable only for transporting families consisting entirely of small children or hobbits.

As you might expect, we were rapt at the opportunity to spend a few hours wandering the streets of this quaint country town in the 35+ degree heat. Gundagai is truly the jewel in the crown of whatever the name is of the region it’s in. John Curtin practically said as much in 1942 when he stopped en route to Canberra for a bite to eat and a swallow to drink at the Niagra Café (note: not actually proximate to or in any way associated with Niagra Falls). The crockery used by the wartime PM is now displayed in the Niagra’s window. Legend has it that if you stare at Curtin’s unwashed coffee cup and repeat his name five times the PM’s ghost will appear and grant you one wish. You will of course immediately find yourself somewhere other than Gundagai.

Long before Curtin rode into town Gundagai was a favourite haunt of many bushrangers including Captain Moonlite, Captain Starlite Express, and the notorious Lieutenant-Colonel Daylite Savings, who fled to Gundagai after an extended campaign of curtain fading and tomato over-ripening in the Goulburn Valley. “The road to Gundagai” is of course famous for the “dog on the tuckerbox”, a forty kilo rottweiler who, upon learning that Gundagai was his master’s destination, sat on his tuckerbox and refused to budge. The dog’s calcified remains continue to momentarily distract thousands of motorists each year while inexplicably inspiring only the worst poets and songwriters.

Gundagai is clearly a tourist mecca, and indeed a bill is currently before the NSW parliament that would require all tourists to face Gundagai and pray five times a day. There is so much to see and do – from the historic bridges to the abandoned asbestos mine – that a mere afternoon is barely enough. Luckily we had to stop on our way home to collect the car, only to find it wasn’t yet repaired and we had to spend another few hours in good ol’ Gunners. What blessed luck!

Unfortunately, we were too busy eating pastry goods and bickering to enjoy the town’s most revered attraction, Rusconi’s Marble Masterpiece. Local monumental mason (read: enormously fat bricklayer) Frank Rusconi spent twenty-eight years carving a miniature Baroque Italian palace from 20, 948 pieces of local marble. The result is now on display in the Gundagai Tourist Information Centre, itself carved by Frank Rusconi out of 20, 948 pieces of local cow. The stench is truly awe-inspiring, and will leave you gasping for air long after you bid Gundagai farewell. Which, of course, is what we ultimately had to do. As we left, I raised my hand to salute the mechanic whose lack of dedication, aversion to hard work, and can-not-do spirit had resulted in our having been delayed not once but twice on our trip. Seeing my gesture, the mechanic muttered something quaint and country, raised his own hand, and threw a spanner at my face. But we were already hooning out of town, leaving Gundagai hacking its lungs out in a cloud of its own dust.

Gundagai: 2.5 droplets of John Curtin’s spit out of 5.

The Complete "I Know Where You Live"

The Complete "I Know Where You Live"

Frank, fair, often fallacious impressions of every town and suburb in Australia*.

#1 Frankston
#2 Olinda
#3 South Morang
#4 Bacchus Marsh
#5 Camberwell
#6 Nunawading
#7 Caroline Springs
#8 Ouyen
#9 South Yarra
#10 Daylesford
# 11 Gundagai

*Excepting the several thousand we didn't get around to.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Remember when this blog had actual content? No, me either. Neither.

This isn't happening. It would have been interesting, maybe even good, but I don't have time to put the thing together. Basically it came down to a choice between one full-time project that would consume all of my writing/thinking resources (ie. the lit journal) or a bunch of smaller projects that I can work on concurrently. The latter better suits my circumstances and temperament. That said, thanks to everybody who emailed me about getting involved.

I've got some short book reviews appearing in The Big Issue over the next couple of months and there are some longish blog posts I'm attempting to get up to scratch. Illness continues to slow me down with whatever caused this now causing inflammation of the lining of my right lung. Again, nothing life-threatening, just painful and annoying.

I have however managed to make a tentative start on writing one book (fiction) and a slightly more confident start on another (non-fiction, albeit extremely subjective). The fiction idea has been percolating for about six months; the non-fiction idea came about thanks to a confluence of thoughts and experiences towards the end of last week. I expect to have both books finished c. 2025, so keep an eye out.

Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Sittin' on the dock of the 'Bay

Ten years ago during the half hour I was interested in Something For Kate I bought a copy of their Intermission EP. It cost me $5.

Today I sold that EP on eBay. After a minor bidding war it went for $40.

Capitalism rocks.

Author as Adjective #1

wodehouse
adj.

The feeling that one has already read the book one is considering buying, then buying it anyway just in case one hasn't read it, only to discover five copies of the book in question on one's shelves. For example: "I felt really wodehouse in the bookshop today because I thought I'd already read Summer Moonshine, which is the one about the romantic imbroglios and the aunts, but then I wondered if I was getting confused with Summer Lightning, which is the one about the romantic imbroglios and the aunts, so I bought them both just in case."

Originally posted as comment at Laura's. I'm really low on blogging inspiration right now.

Friday, May 18, 2007

Broken Hearts Are For Assholes

Monday, 2 a.m., I woke suddenly, covered in sweat and clutching at my chest, within which two enormous, invisible hands were apparently squeezing the life from my heart. Belinda was with Charlotte in Sydney visiting family, so with nobody to turn to for comfort I spent the next twenty minutes or so pacing the house, oscillating between two thoughts: 1) I am not having a heart attack. After all, I’m only twenty-eight; and 2) I’m having a heart attack! And I’m only twenty-eight! As my discomfort increased and the pain radiated up to my shoulder then down my left arm, the latter thought gained ascendency and the former started to feel like wishful thinking.

I decided to call Nurses on Call. The nurse-on-call was friendly and calm – until I described my symptoms. “We need to get you to a hospital immediately,” she said in a voice that I can only describe as grave, the connotation being that if I didn’t get to hospital immediately a grave is exactly where I’d end up. “Stay on the line,” she continued, “I’m going to call you an ambulance.”

When the ambulance arrived I was bundled into the back, given some kind of emergency heart attack medication as a precaution, then hooked up to a heart monitor. The paramedic and I watched the spastic rise and fall of my heart-rate on the read-out.

“You seem a little anxious,” he said.

“Just a little.” Gritting my teeth against sarcasm now in addition to pain.

“Well, there’s certainly something going on.” We watched the numbers dance. 97. 135. 62. 124. “We’d better get you to hospital and have it checked out.”

Want to see a doctor fast? Turn up in an ambulance complaining of chest pains. Within minutes of arriving I was transferred to a bed and given more medication. I was put on a heart monitor and had blood tests and a chest x-ray. I was given oxygen for my blood and a breathtaking shot of morphine for the pain. One nurse kept touching my shoulder and calling me “darl”. Another gave me funny little smiles of support every time she walked past. My parents sat on either side of the bed stifling yawns. The man next to me – a drunk, evidently, sleeping off a binge – moaned and sang and snored. His curtain remained closed but for some reason I imagined him looking like Unhygienix, the fishmonger from the Asterix comics. I hadn’t had a lot of sleep.

By six-thirty it was becoming clear that I hadn’t had a heart attack. But, quoth the doctor, “something is going on”. At about seven I was admitted to hospital for the first time in my life and placed in the Coronary Care Unit for observation.

I’ll keep the account of my time in CCU brief. It was boring enough at the time even with the threat of heart disease or whatever to ponder. Doctors and nurses came and went, running tests and performing examinations. The word "infarct" was used with abandon. I studied at length a framed print depicting a nondescript rural dwelling, generously if inexplicably donated to the hospital by a Mr and Mrs Napper in 1997, and found it overwhelmingly dull. Meanwhile my heart-rate had levelled out to a resting average of 100, thirty more than is normal for an adult male. Any movement – peeing in a bottle, sitting up, giggling at the word "infarct" – caused it to shoot right up. There was no evidence of damage to my heart, but, as my nurse kept reminding me, “Even so, this is not nothing. This is something.”

Not something life-threatening, though, so in the early evening I was shifted to a ward. I was still being monitored, but now I had a remote unit to carry around so I was able to sit in a chair or visit the toilet. At this point I felt pretty relaxed. I had a book to read, a tv to watch, food to eat. Oh, and apparently I wasn’t going to die just yet. That always lowers the tension somewhat.

Lunch time the following day I was discharged. Final diagnosis? Pericarditus, an inflammation of the pericardium, the sac that surrounds the heart. It’s generally a benign condition, although I’m going to have to take it easy for the next week or so and watch out for a recurrence. Four days later I seem to be recovering nicely, although I’m still easily tired and there is some residual soreness.

Emotionally I feel strangely brittle, which I guess is understandable. Staggering out my front door to meet the paramedics I did wonder if I would ever return. Melodramatic? Perhaps. But fear of imminent harm, of death, is still profound even when, with the benefit of hindsight, there was no objective reason for it. I also feel as if I have seen the last of my (blessed, extended) youth. Apart from the occasional illness I have been healthy all my life and thus in a certain sense disembodied. Ultimately though the body laughs at such dualist fantasies. "When I go," it says, "I’m taking you with me." I’m not keen on getting too introspective here, but I have to say that I find that thought immensely troubling.

Still, I don't want to overstate the existential angst: I'm not dead and I'm not dying, at least not more than I was before. It's hard to be upset with that outcome.

Rubbing Will Only Make It Worse

Time was people being attacked by a shark were content with punching the beast on the nose. These days everybody's mind is in the gutter:
[A]ll she could think of was beating it off before it could savage her teenage son wading alongside or the three-year-old on her hip.
Sick. And in front of the kids, too!

Saturday, May 12, 2007

"My heart is made of gravy"

As you can see I have made some changes to the sidebar including moving the - newly expanded - links to a separate page. I'm afraid that I might have inadvertently deleted or overlooked some blogs that I'd previously linked; if so, please leave a comment and I'll rectify it.

Listening: Wowee Zowee, Pavement

Reading: House Mother Normal, B.S. Johnson

Dreading: having to go to work in about half an hour

Merry Saturday to all.

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Idea For A TV Show

Title: Simon & Simon

Premise: The two actors who played Simon Kelly on Hey Dad! meet and become gay lovers. Together they solve crimes.

Cast: Christopher Mayer as Paul Smith, Paul Smith as Christopher Mayer, with special guest Charles "Bud" Tingwell as "The Guy Who Played Nudge".

Blog With No Roll?

Every time I try to update the blogroll the java popup thingy Blogger makes you use crashes my browser. It's pretty annoying, but I wonder if it's of any consequence. Do people still use blogrolls? I can't remember the last time I clicked on a blogroll link, here or elsewhere. And if I'm not doing it then hardly anybody else is either, me being one of those trend-setting types you read about in the Sunday Age and all.

So: would dumping the blogroll be considered a breach of etiquette? Or, if maintaining a list of blogfriends is absolutely essential, even though the list serves no practical purpose, could I just shove it down the bottom of the page? You know, where nobody would see it.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Exploits of Engelbrecht

Copies of Maurice Richardson's The Exploits of Engelbrecht are very scarce and very expensive. Right now you can pick up first editions for between fifty and $169 from Abebooks - not exactly First Folio prices but a fair fistful of dosh for a mid-20C hardback by an obscure author. There was a cheaper ($25) 1977 paperback available last week; it now sits on my desk, threatening to distract me from The Paucity of Scope or whatever the title is of the tedious Barack Obama book I'm meant to be reading.

Richardson was admired by Moorcock, Ballard and other New Worlds writers but he is little known today. The only substantial reference I could find online is this article about his meeting Aleistair Crowley. The article describes Richardson as "a sceptical humanist fascinated by freakish religions, and even more by the odd characters connected with them". The Exploits of Engelbrecht, comprising stories that had previously appeared in a magazine named Lilliput, was first published in 1950. There appears to have been no further editions until the paperback reprint in 1977, after which the book again went out of print. In 2000 the brilliant Savoy Books published a new hardback edition; it, of course, is now virtually impossible to find.

"Abstracted from the Chronicles of the Surrealist Sportsman's Club", The Exploits of Engelbrecht offers fifteen surrealist twists on the clubroom anecdote. The first story, "The Night of the Big Witch Shoot", is pretty much what it says on the tin.

The vicar with Bell, Book and Candle and holy water spray leads the choir through the cemetery and they beat about among the gravestones shouting: 'Hi cock! C'mon out of that, granny! Only another half hour till day-break.' Then you hear them yell: 'Witch over! Mark Warlock! Wizard on the left,' and what with the screeching of the witches and the whirring of the broomsticks there's row enough to put up the devil himself.

Engelbrecht himself plays a more active role in the second story, "Ten Rounds with Grandfather Clock". Engelbrecht is a dwarf and a "surrealist boxer", the "champion of all Time" - meaning of course that he's won a lot of fights against clocks. This story describes Engelbrecht's bout against a particularly heavyweight opponent.

Grandfather Clock is hoisted into his corner and he stands there during the preliminaries while they pull the gloves on his hands, wearing his dressing gown of cobwebs, looking a regular champion every minute of him. And when they hand him good-luck telegrams from Big Ben, the Greenwich Observatory chronometer and the BBC Time Pips, he strikes thirteen and breaks into the Whittington Chimes.

The next story is about a round of Surrealist Golf, which is much like regular golf except there's only one "devilish long" hole. "Par is reckoned at 818181, but anything under 1000000 is considered a hot score." Honestly, how can I resist? Barack might just have to keep his American dreaming to himself for a few hours..

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.

Monday, May 07, 2007

Over the weekend...

...I read The Vesuvius Club by League of Gentlemen writer/performer Mark Gatiss. It's an amusing pastiche - think Flashman by way of James Bond with ambience by P.G. Wodehouse - but not quite the outrageous barrel of monkeys it was clearly intended to be. The first half is great fun: Lucifer Box, portraitist and superspy for the Edwardian equivalent of MI6, swans around London being caddish and witty while getting drawn into several plots that you just know are going to end up merging. By the time they do, Box has travelled to Naples and the book has essentially become the kind of thriller it was formerly extracting the piss from. There's even a ticking-time-bomb finale, fer chrissakes. Not a bad book though, and Box has a lot of potential.

I also finished reading Barrington Bayley's The Garments of Caean. Bayley is no stylist but his occasionally clunky prose doesn't detract from the entertainment offered by his ideas. The plot is pretty inventive too, hinging on a parasitic sentient suit that controls its wearer. There's one scene in which the suit, lacking a convenient human subject, fills itself with thousands of flesh-eating flies, kills the crew of a spaceship, then makes off with it using its fly-hands to manipulate the controls. You don't get that in Proust.

Edusnark

When I made my triumphant, much-lauded return to blogging last month, I made a mental resolution not to indulge my penchant for invective as frequently as I had in the past and to avoid applying the hatchet unless the book/film/whatever in question really deserved it. So far I've been good, but then I found out that my extremely cranky, eighteen-month-old post on Dead Europe is listed as a web resource for a lecture on the book at Victoria University! They must have been hard up for resources considering I didn't even finish reading the thing. But I guess the moral is you can never escape your archives. Unless you delete them, or alter them in a Ministry of Truth-esque falsification of the historical record. Which of course I would never do.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

April Reading Round-Up

Nova Swing, M. John Harrison. I didn't fully understand this book while I was reading it so discussing it at a month's remove is a tough ask. Harrison is one of those writers whose work is simultaneously thrilling and frustrating. It doesn't lend itself to easy comprehension, but you don't mind having to re-read because the writing is so good. Nova Swing isn't as good as Light (to which it is a sort-of-sequel) but it's still good stuff - so good that soon after finishing it I went out and bought all the M. John Harrison books I could find. I realise that's one of those classic pieces of reviewer hyperbole, but in this case it happens to be true.

Update (4/5): Nova Swing has been awarded the Arthur C. Clarke Award.

Wizardry and Wild Romance, Michael Moorcock. I'd already read "Epic Pooh", an all-out assault on the Inklings and their legacy, and the most interesting essay in this collection. It's a fine polemic, well-informed and often dripping scorn: "Writers like Tolkien take you to the edge of the Abyss and point out the excellent tea-garden at the bottom, showing you the steps carved into the cliff and reminding you to be a bit careful because the hand-rails are a trifle shaky as you go down; they haven't got the approval yet to put a new one in." The rest of the book is a kind of potted history or survey of "epic fantasy", developed thematically - and with zero claim to objectivity - under such headings as "The Exotic Landscape" and "Wit and Humour". All very interesting, although a bit short. Apparently an updated edition was recently published that covers developments in the field such as Harry Potter, Philip Pullman and Terry Pratchett.

Peace, Gene Wolfe. Like Harrison, Wolfe writes subtle, nuanced works of fantasy that you know you’re only half grasping even as you read them. Peace is a modernist patchwork of stories within stories that illuminate – and obfuscate – the life of a small-town industrialist. Sound boring? Well, the small-town industrialist is also a serial killer, but you have to pay attention to spot it. (Spoiler warning. Oh, too late.) The more I’ve thought about Peace in the weeks since I read it, the more impressed I have become. As a result, I have half a shelf of Gene Wolfe novels to read once I’m done with M. John Harrison. Special bonus Gene Wolfe trivia: Gene Wolfe was part of the engineering team that developed the machine that cooks Pringles chips. Astounding!

Slaughterhouse 5, Kurt Vonnegut. Sheer bloody genius.

Virtual Light, William Gibson. I have fond memories of the earlier "Sprawl" series of novels and stories, so I was surprised to discover in Virtual Light just how poor a writer Gibson actually is, or at any rate can be. There’s some really lazy writing in this book, and it’s conceptually weak too, an example of “fake sf”: drop the incidental technology and the story could be set in the present. Even the “virtual light” glasses that are plot’s prime mover are little more than a fancy bit of surveyor’s gear. Lame stuff.

Started, didn’t finish: Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell. I’m not going to piss all over everybody’s favourite Booker runner-up but frankly it didn’t do it for me. I made it halfway through, so I guess I missed out on the bits where Mitchell knits it all together (he does knit it all together, right?). I found it all quite dull, a succession of empty pastiches that I didn’t care about. Sorry, Beth.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A Full Life

Reading: The Garments of Caean, Barrington J. Bayley.

Listening: Golden Cleaners, The Cleaners From Venus.

Watching: My eBay watch-list.

Writing: Bugger all.

Caring: A lot - in the Faith No More sense.

Plotting: See below.

Thinking: As little as possible.

Eating: Vegemite on toast.

Dreading: Doing the grocery shopping this afternoon. Oh, and global warming, nuclear war, etc.

Failing: To do anything remotely productive with my life.

Succeeding: At wallowing in self-pity over perceived failure to do anything remotely productive with my life.

Laughing: At the increasing absurdity of Neighbours' storylines.

Wishing: I owned a more comfortable pillow.

Making: Annoying clicking sounds with my front teeth.

Disliking: The exhorbitant cost of buying books from the UK.

Going: Out for dinner to celebrate my mum's birthday.

Selling: My soul to the lowest bidder. So far there have been no takers.

Drawing: The short straw and a long bow.

Drinking: Instant coffee.

Stroking: My pussy.

Buying: Obscurities.

Wondering: Why a couple of emails I sent last week have been ignored.

Spooking: The horses.

Despising: Pretension, arrogance, spitefulness, apathy.

Exhibiting: Pretension, arrogance, spitefulness, apathy.

Wishing: For intergalactic peace.

Suffering: Mild headache, indigestion (the Vegemite on toast), gammy knee.

Collapsing: In a heap.

Ending: This post.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Wanted

Contributors for a quarterly online journal or review or whatever you want to call it.

Here's what I'm after: long- and short-form reviews of new or old works; critical essays (on individual authors/artists, movements, trends, genres, etc); interviews; innovative fiction and poetry of a high standard. Literature will be the main focus, but I hope music, film and other cultural pursuits will feature prominently too. Within that ambit I'm interested in covering pretty much everything, from the highest art to the lowest brow, from the old and perhaps forgotten, to the new. Ideally, contributions will be smart, original and funny, the work of intelligent enthusiasts rather than dry academics - although intelligent, enthusiastic, non-dry academics are more than welcome!

If you're at all interested, leave a comment or send me an email (bel_mcdonnell AT optusnet DOT com DOT au). Please note that this project is not a blog (although it may end up being hosted by a blogging service) so I'm not necessarily seeking a long-term commitment.