Wednesday, January 31, 2007

10,000 Tools

Jon and I are off to see Tool tonight. Although I've been listening to them for nigh on fourteen years, it'll be the first time I've seen them live. Jon caught them on their last tour, so I'm expecting plenty of post-show comments along the lines of "Sure they were good, but not quite as good as last time". Because that's the kind of petty, small person Jon is, just ask anyone. Anyway, it should be a great show, and the only thing I'm worried about is, well, the presence of a certain type of Tool fan. I'll let the band's singer, Maynard James Keenan, explain:
[You play] heavy music, and your record company, which has never owned an album anything like what you're doing, immediately markets you to the obvious stinky kid with the dreadlocks and the B.O. and the urine on his shoes because he's been sleeping in his own filth in a festival in the middle of the rain. They basically market right to that guy. And then you realize the only people showing up to your shows are those primates—these weird, cretin people… Then, let's say you're at a coffee shop, and you've got a friend sitting next to you, and you've been reading some Noam Chomsky, or you're reading The Onion, and you look over and see a bunch of kids [who] look like they could be made of cheese, because there are flies everywhere. And you go, "Hey, you want to go where they're going?" and everybody goes, "Fuck no." And they're wearing Tool shirts. Why would you want to go there? Why would anybody other than those kids wanna go see Tool if that's our representative in that area? So it ends up being a no-win situation. Of course, that's a completely extreme example.
Surely it's measure of our love for this band that we're willing to brave hordes of cheese people to hear their music. Then again, this is Melbourne. We're cultured and shit. There probably won't be any smelly, violent bogans at tonight's gig. Right?

Full report tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Blog of the Year

We are pleased to report that Sterne was last night named Blog of the Year.

The award was presented by the Global Sterne Group, of which Sterne is the founding, and indeed only, member. GSG chairperson Tim Sterne commended his blog for its "unceasing commitment to cutting-edge satire, cultural and political insight, and uproarious comedic writing."

The GSG Best Blog Writer award went to Tim and Jon Sterne - only the second time in the award's two year history that is has been shared by two nominees.

Jon Sterne told reporters: "This year's field was full of talent, and the voting really could have gone either way. Obviously I voted for myself, but I never thought Tim would vote for Tim. Again. I guess it's just one of those freakish results that you get in a democracy."

Tim Sterne added: "I think the real winner today is us."

Monday, January 29, 2007

Bad News, Good News

Bad news:

Good news: Cate's still the critics' choice for this year's MILFs.

Big Day Lout

Chomsky tells The Beast:
A crucial totalitarian principle is that the state is identified with the people, the culture, the society. For those who adopt that principle, criticism of the state is hatred of the country. In the old Soviet Union, for example, dissidents were condemned as "anti-Soviet" or "haters of Russia," because they condemned policies of the Holy State...The US is alone, to my knowledge, outside of totalitarian states, in that concepts like "hate America" or "anti-American" are adopted...
I can't speak for the rest of the non-totalitarian world, but we certainly don't go in for that sort of thing in Australia. Oh, but wait:
Police sniffer dogs roamed trains looking for drugs, while wide-eyed neo-patriots did their best to sniff out un-Australian attitudes at the Big Day Out in Sydney yesterday.

Thousands defied organisers' suggestions that they leave their flags at home, turning out loud and patently proud with their nation's ensign.

Some appeared willing to fight for it, others used it as a citizenship test on a T-shirt. Many wore the flag with the words "Support it or f..k off" or a caption: "If you don't love it leave".

Little trouble was reported during the event, with few willing to challenge the aggressive sentiments. Most of the 50,000-plus crowd was white Anglo-Saxon Australian, and any minorities kept a low profile.

BDO attendee and "wild-eyed neo-patriot" James Hirst, 28, told The Australian:

"I'm a proud Australian, mate. If you're not in it to win it, what are you doing here? If you don't root for your own, who do you root for?"
Sorry - "root"? Unless Mr Hirst was suggesting a quickie behind the porta-loos, his usage sounds suspiciously un-Australian to me. I hope somebody Aussie and proud smacked him one for that.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Simplified Things For Simplified Minds

Jenny Diski notes a new publishing trend:

As a result of market research, which has brought us so much of value over the years, Weidenfeld and Nicolson have come up with 'Compact Editions'. Tag line: Great Books in Half the Time. According to their market research (quoted in a small note Saturday's Book's section of the Guardian) many readers are put off by the 'elitist' image of classics and by their 'daunting length and small print'.

The Guardian reports:

The first six titles - Anna Karenina, Vanity Fair, David Copperfield, The Mill on the Floss, Moby-Dick and Wives and Daughters - are to be released in May and will doubtless be snapped up by students eager to cut down their reading time.

Indeed. Alan Bissett will be delighted to learn that the cabal of priest-like academics that populate university English departments is busy renouncing its elitist stance in favour of churning out potential Compact Editions readers:

Some weeks ago a friend who teaches English Literature at a one of the new universities told me (despairing) that her department had decided to take To The Lighthouse off the syllabus for 3rd year undergraduates because it was too difficult.

There will be English graduates who have not read certain books because they are too difficult, and literature teachers who think they have done their job. And supply and demand being what it is, now there is a publisher who will provide for them.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

If he only had a brain...

"Don't tell me what's great," thunders Alan Bissett at the increasingly desperate Guardian Arts Blog. "Oh no!" cry the meek and humble readers of the world. "You don't mean--" "But I do," says Alan, having a break from thundering. "Literature fundamentalists want to tell you what to read [he's thundering again now], and if you prefer Tom Clancy to James Joyce they will laugh at you and you won't get invited to their birthday parties!"

To support his iteration of this common "argument", Alan compares lit snobs to religious nuts:

"The industries surrounding art - criticism, reviewing, arts academies and courses - have given art the status of a secular religion. For worshippers of literature...there is a God and the Son: Shakespeare and Joyce, about whom no dissent is permitted - only endless, arcane study of what these sacred texts mean."

Then he throws a hissy because Joyce didn't consider Alan's tastes when he was writing Finnegan's Wake and Ulysses.

"I have a first-class degree and a masters in English Literature, and I've read plenty of difficult books, so if I can't enjoy Finnegan's Wake, or large parts of Ulysses, where does the fault lie? With me? Or with an author who was lucky enough to write baffling, unreadable prose during a period in which it was the vogue to elevate baffling, unreadable prose?"

Back to those rascally elites again:

"A novel or poem which requires a university education - or an expert on hand to 'explain' it to you - might represent a failure of communication to most people. Instead, if you don't 'get' it, you're just not in the club."

Then the religious analogy starts throwing up some weird imagery:

"There exists a canon of holy works - from Homer to Rushdie - chosen by a cabal of priest-like academics in order to demonstrate and disseminate their conception of great literature. What are university English departments if not faith schools..."

A "cabal of priest-like academics", eh? I was down at La Trobe uni last week, enrolling in my Dip. Ed. (teachers: another bunch of elitist wankers) and I wondered what all that chanting was coming from the English department. Doubtless some kind of sacred ceremony, complete with readings from Samuel Beckett and the ritual burning of an effigy of Bryce Courtney, or perhaps - dare we hope? - the real Bryce Courtney.

"...the ones that I did enjoy I eventually killed, chloroforming and pinning them like butterflies in my essays, taking them apart to see how they worked."

Goodness - effort! Close reading! It's a travesty! When I studied literature at uni we just described how warm a book made us feel inside and left it at that.

Anywoo, you can understand why Alan is so pissed off. With the bookshops chock full of Finnegan's Wake and other arty farty elite-pleasers there's hardly any room for Alan's own novels. As for column inches, fuhgetaboutit. It's page after page of highbrow obscurantism in the weekend papers, designed to elevate the tastes of a cabal of priest-like reviewers and keep the masses in the gutter. Check out the current features on the Guardian's books page: Ian Rankin, Doris Lessing, a profile of a former prostitute and crack addict turned memoirist. Do they think we've all got first class degrees in English or sumthin'?

Alan Bissett's argument ponders its next move.
"Now what was I doing? It was something to do with
brains, but did I want to get one or eat one?"

Tips For Writers

Henry James or Gertrude Stein or somebody else, maybe the guy who checks your water meter, once warned, "Tell a dream, lose a reader". Presumably this axiom only applies if you tell the dream in writing. If you tell it verbally, then your sum total of readers will probably remain static, unless a reader happens to be eavesdropping and becomes disillusioned with you after hearing about that recurring dream in which you are making out with a purple gibbon on top of a combine harvester.

"Tell a dream, lose a reader." It's one of those golden rules of writing that get trotted out all the time, and like most golden rules it makes as much sense as a beak on grizzly bear. I mean, "lose a reader"? Who gives a shit? Unless you only have one to begin with, I doubt losing a reader - especially a reader who is obviously such a prissy git anyway - is going to make much difference to your reputation.

Imagine what Coleridge, whose most famous poem allegedly came to him in a dream, would say if you told him not to tell a dream because - oh no! - you might lose a reader. He'd probably tell you to bugger off, or maybe ask you for some spare change so he could go buy some smack.

What if it's a really hot dream? I'd take my better dreams over novels any day, and I bet Henry James would have too, although his dreams were probably all repressed and airless whereas mine are liberated and exhilarating, albeit mostly about making out with purple gibbons on top of combine harvesters. But surely there is a market for that kind of thing? No?

In summary, Henry James or whoever - can somebody Google this? I don't have time - is wrong. Dreams are important to fiction of all kinds, including literature. A case in point: I Dream of Jeannie. I dreamed of Jeannie too, and it gave me more pleasure than reading The Portrait of a Lady. Except for the bit where the lady "does" Boston. That was pretty hot.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Rock On, Aussie, Rock On

We at Sterne are patriots - or, as Dr. Johnson had it, "scoundrels" - so it pains us that organisers of the Sydney Big Day Out are discouraging concert goers from bringing along Australian flags out of fear of nationalist violence. Not only is this "discouragement" unAustralian, it is also downright unrock. If popular music is about anything, it's about conformity, obedience, and respect for the values of the broader community. Waving an Aussie flag while moshing is a time-honoured tradition. Back when I could be bothered attending music festivals, the first thing I packed, after my cigarettes, pre-rolled joints, two litre bottle of Southern Comfort and Coke, ripped flanelette shirt, earplugs, glow-in-the-dark condoms, amphetamines (strictly for dealing), giant inflatable novelty hand, toilet roll, bong, fake ID, counterfeit tickets, and fifty dollars stolen from my mum's purse, was an Australian flag or two. Who died and gave BDO promoter Ken West the right to deprive thousands of music-loving youngsters of the opportunity to do the same?

What Ken and his organisation of anti-Australian fascists are forgetting is the innate respect Australians have for their flag. All Australian school children, even the really stupid ones, learn that the dignity of the flag is paramount [Fig. 1].

Fig. 1

A special subject, Flag Fundamentals (Non-Semaphore), teaches Australian high school students the basics of flag protocol, based on Sir Stephen Bloke's 1957 pamphlet, The Australian Flag: A Guide for Young People and Foreign Types. Chief amongst Bloke's prescriptions is that "the flag ought not touch the ground, lest its purity be sullied by the filthy soil of the country it represents". Flag-bearers who find themselves bearing a particularly large Australian flag - and it's a case of the larger the better, really - are therefore welcome to climb atop the shoulders of their countrymen [Fig. 2]. If no countrymen are available, the bloodied, unconscious body of a non-countrymen is acceptable.

Fig. 2

Bloke stipulates that two flags may not be flown from the same flagpole; however, multiple flags may be displayed as part of a sleeveless vest/small-flag-on-plastic-stick/cape combination [Fig. 3]. Flags may also be worn as a skirt substitute, but only (Bloke insists) "by white women of sufficient hotness of arse as not to denigrate the flag with unsightly fat deposits" [Fig. 4].

Fig. 3

Fig. 4

When indulging in fist-pumping, wog-pummelling, or other exuberant hand/arm manoeuvres (eg. Nazi salute), the flag may be set aside on an appropriate receptacle (eg. the bonnet of a Kingswood; wife) or employed as an extension of one's body [Fig. 5]. The flag must, however, remain in sight at all times, "lest," to quote Sir Stephen, "it fall into the hands of communists, homosexuals, communist homosexuals, and/or other flag-desecrating enemies of democracy and the missionary position."

Fig. 5

While on Australian soil, the Australian flag must be flown higher than that of other nations. A rare example of Australians breaching flag protocol is shown below [Fig. 6], where the Australian flag is flown considerably lower than the Nando, the official flag of Portugal. One can only hope that the flag bearers in question quickly pulled said foreign standard to the ground and set it on fire. Bloody wogs and their flame-grilled peri-peri nonsense. What's wrong with a good old lamb chop?

Fig. 6

Such infringements are thankfully rare. The majority of Australians just want to show their pride by respectfully waving their nation's flag, or respectfully wearing it as a cape, or (respectfully) in the form of a bikini or souvenir shopping bag, or by forcing people to swear allegiance to it on pain of being beaten and humiliated, this last merely an ad-hoc recreation of Australia's new naturalisation ceremony. Ken West's fears are unfounded and, need I repeat, unAustralian. As Sir Stephen Bloke put it almost fifty years ago, "The Australian is a born patriot, naturally respectful of his flag, and deadly to those who would scorn it." If I may offer a contemporary spin by way of paraphrasing a legendary Aussie band, to those about to rock, I salute you - but only if you're draped in the good old Aussie flag.

(Photo sources: 1, 2 & 5, SMH; 3, 4 & 6, Warren Hudson.)

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

A Minor Matter

This morning I used the last of the milk, leaving Belinda with nothing to put on her cereal. She was pretty upset, but I told her to shut her speech hole. "Listen, toots," I said, "ninety people died in Iraq today, most of them kids. Compared to that, this is a minor matter."

Later when I was bringing in the bins, I noticed that our recycling bin had somehow ended up in the middle of the road and, what is more, caused a three car pile-up. "Is that your bin?" shouted some guy who was lying on the nature strip trying to untangle his intestines. I told him it was. An ambulance dude butted in: "You realise that three people have died because of your negligence?" "Seen the papers today, chump?" I said. "Iraq. Ninety people dead. Mostly kids. This?" I waved a contemptuous hand at the roadside carnage. "This is a minor matter."

After lunch I caused a bit of a ruckus by chasing the neighbour's dog up a tree. "Phisbie is terrified of heights!" the dog's owner told me. I offered to climb up and beat the dog into submission, but the owner wouldn't have it, so I punched him to the ground. "Your behaviour is unconscionable!" he shrieked. "You know what's fuckin' unconscionable?" I said. "Ninety dead kids in Iraq. Most of them kids. What's one dog up a tree compared to all those dead kids?"

The shit really hit the fan when Belinda got home from work. She'd found out about my affair with the maid, and she'd also found out that the maid was not a maid but a prostitute, and not a woman but a seven foot transvestite named Craig. Even worse, she'd unearthed my stash of bestiality porn, my amphetamines lab, and the illegal casino I've been running out of our laundry. "What do you have to say for yourself?" she asked, applying electrodes to my man bits. "Um," I said, "ever heard of a little place called - Iraq?" She said she had. "Well, ninety kids died there today. Ninety. Kids. Wouldn't you say that compared to that - compared to the deaths of ninety kids in Iraq - that this petty domestic dispute is really just a minor matter?" She agreed, then she turned on the juice. "Jesus, woman," I said, fanning my smoking sack. "This is assault!" "Maybe," she said, "but you do know that ninety kids died today in Iraq. This," she sent another burst of electricity through my body, "this is just a minor matter."

Friday, January 12, 2007

Establishment newspaper defends establishment author against, er, the establishment

From the Guardian blog:
He has now won a Costa prize twice - once for his first novel A Good Man in Africa a quarter of a century ago, and again this week for a thriller Restless - yet some in the literary establishment still feel slightly guilty about enjoying William Boyd. A Boyd novel is not as angry as an Amis, not as exotically strange as a Rushdie, occasionally too neatly tied together for its own good - in short, perhaps, a little too bourgeois, or, perish the thought, too readable.
Or, perish the thought, not really all that good. Just who are these establishment types losing sleep over enjoying Boyd? As tends to be the way with this kind of article, the author doesn't say, raising the possibility - gosh, not again! - that we have here yet another example of the "literary snob" strawman. He certainly is a busy chap these days.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Compensating For Age

Now that Christmas, New Years Eve and other such wearisome pastimes are well and truly behind us, it’s time to kick back, relax, and try as hard as possible to forget about the dread inevitability of another holiday season lurking just around the corner, readying itself to jump out and cosh you between the eyes with a weighted stocking in roughly twelve months time. And as you finally get ‘round to throwing away the grot of Christmas past – empty bottles, gifts that you hated, the body of the puppy that turned out not to be for life (or not my life, anyway) – one’s mind can’t help but turn to certain other detritus, the removal of which would make not only next Yuletide but life in general ever so much more palatable.

I am talking, of course, about elderly relatives. No trash would seem in more dire need of disposal. Wouldn’t Xmas be infinitely more appealing, more bearable without the wet and clammy kisses from Great Aunt Maude? Minus the endlessly repetitive conversations with Pops, as he forgets your name, the date, where his teeth are, and basic bowel control every five minutes? Lacking Cousin Ethel’s comments about the filthy Japs next door eating nothing but cat? Or without Uncle Roger’s traditional festive grope? Isn’t it about time that, instead of suffering dutifully through yet another tiresome family engagement and wondering that your DNA could be shared by so vile a crew of ambulatory prunes, you simply gave Grandmère a tot of sherry, led her gently down to the end of the garden, and with all due tenderness and respect, clipped her? Rather a 12 gauge with love therein, than being told once again you look like your dad, except girlier…

Oddly enough, the answer to all the above questions is ‘no’, although not for reasons moral, legal or even hygienic (the latter is a factor, mind: turns out old ladies smell even worse on the inside). But before you cry foul, and question ol’ Jon’s hitherto unflinching dedication to violent solutions, let me explain by means of a rather non-sequitous digression.

Recently, for reasons beyond comprehension but which may have had something to do with the friendly bottle of vodka I’d just shared lunch with, my aimless feet led me towards a pokies venue. By and large I am not a gambling man (gambling generally requiring money, and money having a loathsome habit of not belonging to me) but being in a frivolous sort of mood, I sat down at one of the glittering neon beasts and fed it a couple of shekels. And was promptly bewildered.

Have you ever tried playing the pokies? I am, appearance and inarticulacy to the contrary, a reasonably intelligent chap: I once read an actual book, and if prodded hard enough can recite pi to three places. My huge and pulsating brain can not, however, fathom how to operate a pokie machine. There are whirring rows of symbols and digits, and labyrinthine patterns to follow, and options to maximize your betting potential; there are buttons which, when pressed, make the machine scream and light up orgasmically, and buttons which, when pressed, don’t do anything; there are gaudy pictures of pirates, and geishas and fat men with cigars who occasionally prompt you to pick a card, any card; there is constant loud music piped straight out of an elevator somewhere in the depths of hell. Nothing follows any logical rules. There are no instructions. It is terrifying, and then it all stops and you are two dollars poorer and on the brink of an epileptic seizure.

It is a proven, scientific fact that no sane, able-minded, balanced individual can comprehend the Byzantine laws that govern the playing of pokies. As I gazed around me that afternoon, though, I saw that the room was jam-packed with the grey husks of a nursing home holiday field trip, who were not only managing to work the damn machines, but were regularly winning, and enjoying themselves to boot. That day, my curiosity and cupidity were both piqued. Spurred on by intimations of impending wealth I have since learned that leading gerontologists have recently discovered that one’s ability to recall (for instance) whether or not underpants are worn on the outside operates in inverse proportion to an instinctive understanding of when to double down, and which particular sequence of blinking lights is most likely to precipitate a spill of twenty cent coins into your lap. The body may be a drooling wreck, and the IQ reduced to that of the average bowl of custard, but in every wrinkly lurks a potential gold mine.

Ladies and gentlemen, I implore you: resist your urges, however natural, and do not send your elderly relatives to be made into glue. The power of the grey dollar is yours to harness – and I do mean literally. I have invented a comfortable by unyielding yoke with which to strap Granny or Gramps down in the local RSL or golf club pokie room, and will gladly sell the blueprints to regular Sterne readers at a generous discount (comes with free optional funnel, tube and bucket attachment: time is money, and toilet breaks are dollars down the drain). At an investment of $10 each and a Vegemite sandwich per day, I currently have Aunty Maude and Uncle Roger turning over, on average, a 75% profit. Don’t miss your chance to benefit from the wisdom of your elders! Their generation has seen two world wars, watched man land on the moon, witnessed new horizons of possibility come into view, and played their part in making all we take for granted a reality: they have earned our respect; now, let them earn us some pocket money too. Somebody’s got to keep us in Gucci handbags, after all.

Sunday, January 07, 2007

The Jimmy

In terms of frivolity, it's not quite the equal of a hat with a radio on it...

...but a Jimmy Jacket still frivs a good deal.

Basically it's a giant condom that you're meant to "roll on" your beverage of choice. As you can see, the packaging reiterates the maxim beloved of health studies educators that anybody can drink a beer, but it takes a "real man" to first wrap said beer in a novelty latex sleeve.

Anyway, I am obviously not a real man because I can't get my Jimmy Jacket on. I struggled with it for a full five minutes, but just couldn't get the damn thing onto my stubby. I haven't had this much trouble since... well, never mind. But at least the beer was still there once I'd finished fumbling.