Friday, April 27, 2007

Swelling Itching

"Peter Andre in brain scare"

The jokes, one suspects, are busy writing themselves.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Under Review

I keep forgetting to mention that of late I've been writing some book reviews for the SMH. The latest is of Rohan Kriwaczek's An Incomplete History of the Art of Funerary Violin.

Friday, April 20, 2007


UFOs, the Kennedy assassination, ghostly entities fondling Dan Ackroyd in the night - we live in a world that is fair bursting with unexplained phenomena. But nothing, not even the creepy Ackroyd thing, is as bizarre as a certain Christmas card I received last year.

All seemed perfectly in order when I retrieved the card from my letter box. On the front of the envelope was my name and address. Letter perfect; no mistake.

Turning the envelope over, however, I noticed something strange: a personalised sender's address sticker bearing the name "S & M Murphy" and an address in Shellharbour, NSW. All very well, except that I don't know anybody named S. Murphy, nor anybody named M. Murphy, let alone a couple with the unlikely initials S & M Murphy.

Oh yeah, I also don't know anybody in Shell Harbour. I don't even know where Shell Harbour is!

It gets weirder, though. The Christmas card itself features the following message:
Trev, Mel, Mitch, Cooper + Max

Merry Christmas + Best Wishes For 2007

Murph, Mel, Sally + Andrew

So basically one group of people I don't know has somehow mailed me a Christmas card intended for another group of people I don't know. How, I wonder, is this possible?

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Sterne Short Film Festival

Our first entry is a savage entertainment industry satire from one of Australia's rising margarine commercial directors. Don't forget to look out for the traditional Sternefest "theme" which this year is: a general lack of talent! So please, sit back and enjoy:

The Enchanted Wood (dir: Casper Van Vandercasper)

It is late 2006 and the famous Australian actor John Wood is attending a meeting at Melbourne’s GTV Nine.

Nine Exec: Thanks for coming, John. If you don’t mind I’ll get straight down to business. We’ve got a new lifestyle show planned for next year and we think you’d be the perfect host.

John Wood: I see. What’s it called?

NE: Wine Me, Dine Me. You see, we thought—

JW: Sixty-nine me.

Awkward pause.

NE: I’m sorry?

JW: Sixty-nine me.

Slightly longer, slightly more awkward pause.

NE: Er, anyway, as I was saying, it’s shaping up to be a great show. Obviously we already have a few similar shows like Getaway and Postcards but with Wine Me, Dine Me

JW: Sixty-nine me.

NE: Um, well, yes. I mean no. I mean…The bottom line is, John, we’d love to have you on board so what do you say?

JW: What was the show called again?

Executive laughs nervously.

NE : Now, John, I’ve already mentioned the show’s title several times so if we could just—

JW: My short-term memory is not what it used to be. Please, what was the title again?

NE: Um, Wine Me, er, something-something.

JW: Dine Me?

NE: Yes, that’s it. Wine Me, Dine Me.

JW: Sixty-nine me.

Awkward pause of epic proportions.

NE: John?

JW: Yes?

NE: Do you have a problem with that particular title?

JW: What title?

Executive dabs at forehead with a handkerchief.

NE (almost whispering):Wine Me

JW: Keep going.

NE (choking on the words): … … …

John Wood makes carry-on gesture.

NE: … … Dine Me.

JW: Sixty-nine me.

Executive stares at Wood in disbelief before burying his face in his hands. Wood watches quietly. Finally the executive raises his head and wipes the tears from his eyes.

NE: John?

JW: Yes?

NE: Would you like me to, uh, sixty-nine you?

Wood brushes some lint from his trousers.

JW: Well, it was standard procedure at Seven. [He stands and begins to disrobe.] Just be gentle with Sergeant Croydon. He’s a bit groggy at this time of day.

Fade to black.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Reading & (Not) Writing

I borrowed Kelly Link's Magic For Beginners from the library today. I was looking forward to reading it, but when I got it home and was examining the front matter, as I like to do, I noticed the following quotation from Michael Chabon:
"A new Fountains of Wayne album, a new Wes Anderson movie, a new short story collection by Kelly Link - and once more, for a little while, the world is worth saving."
So ok, a writer I can't stand compares Link to a band I'm indifferent to and a filmmaker responsible for the only film to date that I have walked out of halfway through. Not exactly promising.

Anyway, I read the first story, "The Faery Handbag" and I'm pleased to report that it was better than Chabon's "recommendation" had led me to expect. Not particularly original or innovative but funny enough and clever enough to make for an enjoyable fifteen minutes' reading. I'll try to jot down some more detailed thoughts when I've read more of the book.

Speaking of jotting things down: my god writing is tough at the moment. Back when I used to watch (but not play) a lot of sport I could never understand how a person could "lose form" and all of a sudden be incapable of doing something they had previously done well or at least competently. But over the past few months I have felt my writing mojo slipping away and I have to concede that I am out of form. Not that I don't write mostly crap when I'm in form, but now even writing crap takes enormous amounts of energy. Taking time off from blogging didn't help; so far returning to blogging hasn't helped much either. But I do think that the only solution is to write my way back into confidence. Drinking might help some too. Expect a lot of drunken, half-arsed posts for the next little while. And probably for some time after that.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Ragin', Full-On

I've seen enough episodes of Rage to know which video clips I never, ever want to see played again. Choosing a twenty song playlist is a much tougher proposition. And check out the criteria: "Selection will be made on the basis of creative strength of the list and accessibility to the rage audience." But at what point does the "creative strength" of a playlist start to effect its "accessibility to the rage audience"? And how do they quantify either criterion? I suspect they'll just pull playlists out of a hat until they get one that won't require too much rummaging in the archives.

When I first heard about the Invade Rage competition I was enthusiastic. But then I remembered that I live in 2007 and thanks to Youtube I can watch on demand almost any music video I want. I also have a blog, so if I want to share my reasons for liking a particular video clip I have a forum available on which to do so, and that is not limited by running times or production conventions. I am also free from consideration of audience sensibilities. Having thought about all this, and having pondered the vague competition guidelines, I am now wondering if I ought to bother entering at all.

But of course I will. I'll even post the playlist here when it's done because god knows it's never going to get played on Rage.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut

Last year, I referred to Kurt Vonnegut as the "great benevolent uncle I never had". Doubtless that phrase sounds painfully sentimental, especially in light of his death, but the feeling behind it was, and remains, genuine. Given this, I feel a strong desire to write something to commemorate Vonnegut's death. However, I fear becoming maudlin should I attempt to do so; I also fear appearing self-absorbed. After all, I didn't know Vonnegut the man, I was simply one of many who read and enjoyed his books. So this post is not an obituary. While it is ostensibly about Vonnegut it is actually, inevitably, more about me, and I apologise in advance for that.

Vonnegut was the first writer I encountered who was making a conscious attempt to move beyond the boundaries of genre. (Ballard was a close second.) I came to Vonnegut through sf and in fact Sirens of Titan remains one of my favourite sf novels. The real eye-openers however were his early - and arguably only - masterpieces, Slaughterhouse 5, Cat's Cradle and Mother Night, all of which I first encountered in my mid teens when my taste in literature was limited to the po-faced intergalactic chess games mapped out by Frank Herbert and the like.

Vonnegut was from somewhere else: Tralfamadore, perhaps. His books were full of slogans, or parodies of slogans ("So it goes") and childish sound effects ("Poo-tee-weet"). Twee, homespun wisdom gave way to despair which in turn gave way to the blackest satire. Mother Night was the real killer: a sharp, funny novel that also happened to have a Nazi propagandist for a main character. It had me shaking my head. Was this sort of thing allowed? And: where can I find more books like it?

Of course by the time I got around to reading Vonnegut he was well past his prime, in terms of both output and relevance. The books I loved were, I discovered, icons, relics really, of the sixties. But there is something in Vonnegut's books that drew me in, and I assume that something is still potent today, still drawing people in.

That something is, I suppose, Vonnegut himself. Like his hero Mark Twain, Vonnegut's personality - his literary personality - permeates almost every sentence he ever published. It's even there in the early sf stories: the sardonic, deadpan humour, the flashes of melancholy, of anger. Few writers feel as there as Vonnegut does. The connection is intimate but never cosy, and you are always half-aware of its artificiality, as indeed you should be. This is where the "benevolent uncle" simile comes in. Vonnegut feels close, but somehow removed, like an uncle you love but only see once or twice a year. He is full of sage advice, full of funny stories, and often just plain full of shit, but behind his every utterance is a generosity and a moral force that is unfailingly enriching. Everyone should have an uncle like that.

Cross-posted at Sarsaparilla.



Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Two Fascinating Facts About Tina Brooks

1. Tina Brooks was not a woman.

2. Tina Brooks was a man.


Monday, April 09, 2007

Nativity in Black

Black Sabbath
Black Sabbath

Ozzy Osbourne's voice is deeper and rougher than on later records; it sounds partially developed in the manner of cartoon characters before the actors voicing them have settled into a groove. The analogy is appropriate because in 1970 Ozzy was yet to become the heavy-drinking, bat-biting, ant-snorting character of popular lore. The band's persona, however, is fully formed. Track one - "Black Sabbath" itself - begins with rain, a tolling bell, thunder, and a particularly satanic riff before Ozzy begins to drone:
What is this that stands before me/Figure in black which points at me/Turn 'round quick and start to run/Find out I'm the chosen one/Oh no!
"N.I.B." aside, the remainder of the album is not as explicitly gothic as the title track, although "The Wizard" does have a Tolkien-esque flavour. There's plenty of good and/or cheesy moments, but nothing here that matches the band's best material. Black Sabbath is more an exercise in mood, a Hammer horror film transliterated into a hard rock album.
Big black shape with eyes of fire/Telling people their desire/Satan sitting there he's smiling/Watches those flames get higher and higher
Dennis Wheatley certainly has a lot to answer for.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

The Adventures of Dr Hercules: A Serial

Part One: The Whimper of Whipped Cream

Then he woke up and realised it had all been a psychotic episode.

Dr. Hercules wiped the sweat from his brow and smiled sheepishly at Margaret, his Lover, who was standing in the ensuite doorway, shielding her modesty with an origami swan.

"I apologise if I said or did anything to cause you concern," Hercules told her. "I deduce from the scratch marks on my arms that I was having the 'burrowing cockroach' hallucination again."

" said they were trying to get into your veins so they could eat your [gulp] immortal heart!"

Hercules roared. Then he laughed.

"Oh, the grotesque consequences of a psychotropic drug habit! I keep meaning to give the things up, but then I think, no, what if next time I don't have visions of vampiric sandwiches or I don't attempt to ride the neighbour's dog to Spain? Think what I might miss out on!"

Margaret fled the room in tears. Captain Mustaki entered, twirling his multifarious moustaches.

“Ah, my dear Captain,” said Hercules, “friend, confidante and subordinate partner in the most successful crime-fighting duo since Cagney and Lacey. How goes it?”

“Poorly, Hercules, poorly,” replied Mustaki. “For you see, there has been a murder!”

“Most foul?”


“Tell me Mustaki, were there any chickens involved?”


“Chickens. You know, fowl?”

The Captain’s left moustache drooped. “No,” he said quietly.

“Mustaki," Hercules said sternly, "you need to find yourself a good woman, impregnate her with your moustachioed seed and have her gestate you a sense of humour.” Hercules leapt to his feet, almost knocking Mustaki sideways with his flailing appendage.

"Thank you for the tip, sir," Mustaki said as he watched Hercules dress.

"Well, best be careful or I'll give you the rest," replied Hercules, donning his pince-nez and codpiece.

"This crime..." Mustaki paused for a moment, lost in thought, " disturbs me, Hercules."

"How so?"

"Well, by virtue of its being a murder. You know how sensitive I am about that sort of thing."


"And, sir," Mustaki paused again, before gulping down the oyster of trepidation and continuing: "and there is also the minor fact that the victim is, well, your exact physical double!"

The house trembled as Hercules hit the floor.

"Bastard floor," he said. "That'll learn you to creak in my presence! Now, Mustaki, what was it you were saying?"

The Captain's right moustache drooped.

"Never mind, sir. However, your inattention reminds me of a story old Grandma Moustakopoulos used to tell on dark nights when the goats were in season and the olive preserves were nervous."

Suddenly the power went out, plunging Hercules and Mustaki into slightly less light than they had been enjoying. Simultaneously there was a scream from downstairs.

"Margaret!" cried Hercules, racing out the bedroom door.

"Hercules!" cried Mustaki, racing out after him.

"Mustaki!" cried Hercules's valet who had all this time been standing silently at the foot of the bed. As the valet began spot-cleaning Hercules's mattress he pondered the fate of his master and his master's faithful servant, Mustaki, of whom his master was also master.

"What adventures they will have!" he remarked, shaking his head and kneeling to better attack a particularly crusty deposit. "What adventures they will have!"

Will the valet's prediction come true? Will Mustaki be allowed to finish his doubtless fascinating Old World folk tale? What is the fate of Margaret? And what of the body, Hercules's mysterious doppelganger? Answers to these questions and others should be sent to the usual address because frankly we're all out of ideas.