Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Captain, Covered

Speaking of tribute albums, I have been listening to one called Fast 'n' Bulbous: A Tribute to Captain Beefheart. Released in 1988, the album is OOP or at least that's the claim of the blog I got it from. It is not an especially good album, although it is interesting to hear XTC doing "Ella Guru" and I could listen to Sonic Youth's version of "Electricity" again if I was suddenly divested of every other recording I own. The remainder of the album mostly consists of vaguely familiar post-punk groups like the Membranes and Dog Faced Hermans proving themselves incapable of either emulating or appropriating the Captain/Magic Band's charm, skill and sheer out-thereness.

In high school my friends and I had strong opinions about which bands were supposedly "uncoverable". I think we all agreed that Zeppelin were untouchable (we had typically limited teenage boy points of reference/reverence) and we demanded from covers of "coverable" bands a certain level of faithfulness to the original. Fiddling a bit was fine but the original structure and (as far as possible) instrumentation should be left alone. Tricky's "Black Steel" was probably the song that persuaded me that you could tear apart a composition to the point that it was distinct from the original - in some cases better than the original - tear it apart so that what made it a good or interesting song in the first place was still there somewhere, only transformed, embedded in the new song. Tribute albums generally offer surface readings at best, "punk versions" or whatever the particular comp's flavour might be. It's a futile and unrewarding approach and a strange way to pay tribute to an alleged influence. Far more interesting is P.J. Harvey's method, which involves embedding musical and lyrical allusions to Beefheart in some of her otherwise original songs. Harvey's is a tribute that operates from within the music, an acknowledgment of influence that is essential to the song instead of crassly opposed to it.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Tribute Album Pays Tribute To Bands That Have Paid Tribute

A tribute album released this week aims to highlight the achievements of contributors to tribute albums. A Tribute To: A Tribute To Bands That Have Paid Tribute features twelve up-and-coming local bands, covering classic cover versions that have appeared on other tribute albums.

Mark Spark, founder of Good Freak Records and coordinator of the A Tribute To project, says the album performs the dual role of exposing listeners to new acts and honouring those who have paid tribute in the past.

"A band like [A Tribute To participant] Crucial Rust have spent years playing pubs, without getting the recognition they deserve," Spark says. "But once people hear their cover of Four Non Blondes' cover of Zeppelin's 'Misty Mountain Hop' from Encomium: A Tribute to Led Zeppelin, I predict big things, maybe even community radio airplay."

Other highlights include Little Mario's rendition of Body Count's cover of "Hey Joe" from Stone Free: A Tribute to Jimi Hendrix, the Electric Arseclowns' take on Decembers January's contribution to Many Miles Away: A Tribute to the Police, and Pliant Giant's version of Sense Field's cover of "Caribou" from Where Is My Mind: A Tribute to the Pixies.

Spark says the project was inspired by the recent success of his label's Grope the Pope: A Punk Tribute to John Paul II compilation.

"It really struck a cord. Some of the bands who contributed to that album are now getting two, maybe even three, gigs a month."

Spark expects still greater things from A Tribute To.

"A bunch of unknown bands performing covers of other unknown bands' covers of well-known songs - how can it fail? Frankly, I think we've got a number one album on our hands."

*

This post is part of an occasional series in which old material is dredged up and reposted for the benefit of the three people who have joined the Sterne readership since late 2006. It originally appeared on April 27, 2005.

Monday, May 26, 2008

Employed

After 3 1/2 months of searching I have finally landed a job. In the words of Michelangelo (turtle not artist): Awesome!

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Four not especially interesting & completely unrelated items

1.

The Footy Show
's ratings have dropped by 15% in the past two months. I suppose it could be due to Sam Newman's disgraceful denigration of Caro Wilson; I prefer to think that it is actually a delayed response to this cutting piece of satire. (Note "debate" in comments.)

2.

I swapped shifts with someone this weekend so I'm working tomorrow instead of today. I received a call this afternoon from the person I swapped with who told me that she had just had a Bad Customer Experience of Biblical proportions. Apparently the customers in question kicked up such a fuss that the police had to be called. This was after almost an hour of the customers flinging bullshit "legal" threats, insults, and refusing to leave until their demands were met. From what I was told, the customers were wrong wrong wrong and are now far less likely to achieve a satisfactory outcome than they would have if they'd played it nice. Anyway, my co-worker said that her first words once the customers finally nicked off were: "I wish Tim had been here - he would've just told them to piss off." So I obviously have a reputation as either a) a straight-talking, no-bullshit kind of guy; or b) an utter prick.

3.

Why are some non-religious people attracted to the idea of a church wedding? Is it purely aesthetic - as is well known, whatever they might say to the contrary all women secretly dream of walking down the aisle while the church organist pumps out "White Wedding" - or is it some latent deference towards the church as a traditional symbol of authority? I suppose family pressure plays its part for some couples, but if that pressure isn't really a deciding factor, if it is purely for form's sake, then isn't a church wedding just slightly hypocritical?

4.

We took the kids to Luna Park today. As with Notre Dame cathedral or Survivor it is very difficult to imagine Luna Park as something new. It almost feels as if it was just there when da white man rocked up, already salt-bitten and outmoded. Anyway, the girls enjoyed themselves, the sun was shining and nobody died in a malfunctioning-ride incident. We even scored some heroin!*

*Just kidding - we had to settle for ice.

Saturday Saloon

An open thread where, at your weekend leisure, you can swill 100 proof rotgut, shoot somebody for cheating at cards, catch VD, or stage an unconvincing fight scene.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

So, who wants to move to NZ?

Mr Peek has posted the "trailer"* for the new Baz Luhrmann film, Australia. It is quite possibly the most vomitous thing I have seen in ages, and that includes Ladette to Lady. Baz Luhrmann is vile enough when he confines himself to ruining Shakespeare and making pretentious perfume ads; Baz in epic mode is just too much of an already bad thing. No doubt the sycophantic jingoists in our mainstream media will oblige the great auteur by providing plenty of hype, the New Idea crowd will flock to see Hugh in a drizabone (with whip!), and everybody will pretend that Nicole Kidman can act, Luhrmann's a genius, and we're all so grown up now we've got a fillum named after us. Can't bloody wait.

* Didn't these things used to be called "previews"? I hesitate to ask because it makes me sound like the guy - sorry, bloke - who wrote to the Green Guide this week to have a hissy about the supposed "American stupidity" of radio and news personalities reading 1300 phone numbers as "one, three-hundred" instead of "thirteen hundred" which, Mr Arthur Comer of Sebastopol asserts, is the Australian way. Is Mr Comer correct? Does Australia have a rich tradition of saying "thirteen hundred" instead of "one, three-hundred" of which I have somehow remained unaware thanks to the Americanisation (or as our American overlords would have it: Americanization) of our language?

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Packing My Library

I spent yesterday afternoon listening to Ornette Coleman's "relaxing and soothing" At the Golden Circle records while boxing up the majority of my books in anticipation of moving house. The remaining books - about 100 titles - fit on three-and-a-bit shelves, not so much a library or collection as a glorified tbr pile.

Packing my books was slightly depressing. Most of them were purchased since we moved in here almost six years ago and I've done a lot of work in that time - an entire degree, plus blogging, reviews, etc - while more or less encircled by them. While I am largely devoid of bibliophilic sentimentality, I retain the emotional attachment to books I developed during childhood. Put simply, I like being around books. Sometimes I even read them.

Yet there is something to be said for downsizing, if only temporarily. Overstuffed shelves can be daunting - too much choice, too difficult to navigate. Every one of the hundred-odd books I have available to me now is appealing in a way that many of them were not prior to yesterday. Reducing the scope of my collection has somehow resulted in an increased sense of its potential.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Schembri Ah Um

After an evening listening to Vince Jones and Katie Noonan, jazz naysayer Jim Schembri is now a jazz yaysayer. Sort of.
The real revelation of the evening, though, was how relaxing and soothing it all was. This was quite contrary to my view that jazz was like listening to fingernails down a blackboard.
He says that like fingernails down a blackboard are a bad thing.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Wheel of Fish

Last Wednesday night my partner Belinda and I went to a taping of Nine's all new old game show, Million Dollar Wheel of Fortune. Belinda is in line to be a contestant but is a bit nervous at the prospect (she has a phobia of oversized, prize-bearing wheels) so we thought an evening's reconnaissance might be a good idea. Turns out: it wasn't.

You probably think you've been bored by tv but I reckon that you haven't really been bored by tv until you've been bored by tv live. The first hour of the taping was taken up with filming promos. This involved host Tim Campbell - ex Home and Away, I'm told - and co-host Kelly Landry posing on the set and saying things like "It's Australia's new favourite game!" and "The wheel is back!" in a decidedly insincere manner. Even Shaun "Cossie" Cosgrove, who was on audience warm-up duties - which seems mainly to involve distracting the audience from the artificiality and occasional ineptness of the on-camera team by means of a constant stream of dad jokes and sexual innuendo dating from the "classic" era of British sitcoms - struggled to maintain his preternatural joviality during this tedious business.

After the promos three contestants were brought out and the taping proper began. Because it was a test episode, the contestants weren't eligible to win the prizes they were playing for, although a producer assured us that they would get "something" for their efforts. Possibly they were rewarded with one of the lolly snakes that Cosgrove kept suggesting he kept in his trousers, nudge nudge, wink wink. Campbell fluffed his lines a few times which brought the production to a halt while tapes were rewound and Landry's highly impractical dress was refortified to prevent her breasts from popping out at least before the next break. The show's format may have been tweaked for this latest incarnation but its sexual politics remain mired in the 1950s. Landry, whose verbal contribution to the entire episode ran to something like four sentences, is there solely to look pretty in a short dress and high heels, eye candy to keep dads at home happy while the missus serves dinner. Depressing, but hardly surprising given this is the network that brought you, and inexplicably continues to bring you, the comedy stylings of Sam Newman.

The "million dollar" thing is a con. The final round prize wheel now has a wedge worth $200 000. Get to the final round, spin up the 200 grand and solve the puzzle and you've got a fifth of a million. Do that five nights running and you're a millionaire. So it's technically possible. It's also technically bullshit.

Watching the taping was much like watching the show at home only much more drawn-out and you couldn't just switch it off and read a book. The most interesting aspect of the evening was the make up of the audience. Most in attendance were potential contestants, partners of same, or interested onlookers. Some, however, were clearly regulars - one family (mum, dad, an amorphous mass of children) looked like they'd been hanging around GTV's Studio 9 since the final episode of Hey Hey, It's Saturday. Then there were the Rupert Pupkin-esque fame whores who joshed with Cosgrove and fired off (dud) witticisms at the cast and crew during lulls. Of course we all had to clap and shout like maniacs; while most people shouted things like "Top Dollar!" or "Go, Denise!", I amused myself by shouting "Take the saucepans!" and deliberately not smiling so I wouldn't be shown in any promo shots of the audience. Belinda, who is the outgoing, non-misanthropic half of our relationship, won a double pass to Hoyts La Premiere for her clapping/shouting skills. So I guess there's something to be said for having an extroverted, enthusiastic personality. Or at least shacking up with somebody who does.

(Oh yeah, the post title is explained here.)

Recent Acquisitions #2



















Clockwise from top left: Postwar, Tony Judt; Darkness Visible, William Golding; ABR, May edition; The Solitudes (the book formerly known as Aegypt), John Crowley; The Rhetoric of Fiction, Wayne Booth. The latter will be added to my shelf of unread lit crit.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Brow beaten

"The middlebrow rarely consider themselves as such and, the mediocre, almost never..."
Whereas, presumably, the highbrow have attained such clarity of perception that not only can they assess themselves as being above the herd, they can also access the thoughts of the cretinous middlebrow masses: "...quite a few of John Irving's, or Toni Morrison's, fans probably think of themselves as highbrow readers; I'm willing to bet a night with William Robins that the authors themselves would agree."

Look, you'll get no argument from me about the existence of a middlebrow "literary fiction" mainstream supported by a well-lubed marketing and media machine. You'll also get no argument from me that this entrenched system results in a lot of bad art, non-art, and Ian McEwan profile pieces. I do however tire of the middlebrow-baiting in which some of our more venerated lit bloggers consistently indulge.

I'll win no friends by saying this, but the constant reiteration of highbrow gripes against the middlebrow mainstream is redundant and often overlaid with a generous glaze of self-congratulatory smugness. It stuns me that Dan Green, who has been blogging at The Reading Experience since January 2004, thinks it worthwhile to once more point out that mainstream "literary" culture is lazy, lacking critical judgment, driven by marketing, and little concerned with formal experimentation. Is this really news to anybody? It can't possibly be news to Green as he has been riding this hobby horse for years.

Green's post does not build upon previous arguments, it merely restates them. Green's position has become a pose and his commenters are ready to vogue to his rhythm: "The mediocre is the medium in which a lot of people live. They don't know how literature is more interesting; they've never experienced it"; "always slam the mediocrity that capitalism continually elevates and valorizes--its part of any intellectual's duty"; "Why do we continually find it shocking that most people are mediocre and like mediocre works? That's the very essence of mediocrity!". Here we see the same blithe, breathtaking arrogance and certainty that one often finds in the middlebrow criticism Green disdains.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Channel Ten News To Be Replaced By High-Pitched Buzzing Noise

The Ten Network has announced that its nightly news bulletin will be replaced by an hour of static accompanied by a high-pitched buzzing noise.

Network spokesman James Maneri says that if the experiment is successful other shows could be replaced by so-called "minimal sensory stimulation programming".

"We're certainly trialling different things. For example, this week's episode of Rove was canned in favour of a continuously looped twenty second video of a polar bear excreting a garden gnome. The ratings were actually higher than Rove's recent figures, while the quality yield remained much the same with far less cost to the network. Our research indicates that many viewers felt that footage of a large mammal expelling a garden ornament from its anal sphincter made for a refreshing change from Rove's tiresome schtick."

Maneri says that despite the changes, Ten is still devoted to delivering a high quality news service.

"Our commitment to journalism hasn't changed; what has changed is our approach. The era of tv news as a slick, researched, scripted package of coherent sounds and images presented by authoritative newsreaders and trained reporters is over, and the era of the high-pitched buzzing sound has begun. This is going to be good for Ten, good for television, and, I think, bloody good for Australia."

Ten's High-Pitched Buzzing Noise News will broadcast at 5pm weeknights from next Monday. Network insiders describe the noise as "Eeeeeeeeee!"

Booker Idol

The Best of the Booker shortlist has been announced:
The Ghost Road, Pat Barker (1995)

Oscar and Lucinda, Peter Carey (1988)

Disgrace, J. M. Coetzee (1999)

The Siege of Krishnapur, J. G. Farrell (1973)

The Conservationist, Nadine Gordimer (1974)

Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie (1981)
The public/publisher marketing departments now have until 8 July to vote for their Booker winner of choice.

BoB is a flawed, cynical concept, but it's still good to see the wonderful and neglected J. G. Farrell on the shortlist. Nadine Gordimer? Not so much.

Monday, May 12, 2008

What I did on my holiday from blogging

Looked for work, mostly, but unfortunately I didn't find any. I've had a few interviews but mostly I've encountered indifference, insincerity and incompetence. (Three "in" prefixes in one sentence? No wonder I'm unemployed!) If I had a soul or believed in the existence of same I'd say that it has been comprehensively crushed. I'm not eligible for the dole because Belinda earns above the threshold and therefore I am (apparently) her responsibility. I can't put into words how wonderful it is to be a physically and mentally competent twenty-nine-year-old with a university education and almost fifteen years of employment experience who is living as the dependent of another adult. Well, not entirely dependent - in a further indignity I have returned to my previous job to fill in for a co-worker (and friend) who came down with a slight case of malignant-tumour-on-the-spine a couple of weeks after I "left". Although my friend's health issues certainly put my own problems in perspective, it's still discomfiting to think 1) that I am back doing a more limited version of my old job, and 2) that my friend's cancer is essentially paying my half of the rent.

Speaking of rent, our landlord is selling up, leaving us up a certain well-known creek without a certain well-known propulsion implement. The house is being sold with us in it but Denver, the real estate agent who pops up every few days to quote Dale Carnegie at me, reckons the buyer will knock the place down to build a brace of townhouses. Given how crappy the house is, I reckon Denver (mention of whose name inevitably invites a mental rendition of that 80s classic, "Theme From 'Denver the Last Dinosaur'") is spot on. So we're looking for somewhere to live as well as dealing with frequent visits from Denver, the landlord, and various tradies who have been engaged to spruce the place up as cheaply and tackily as possible. (Did you know they still manufacture mission brown?) No open house inspections yet, but it's on the cards. I plan on cooking fish, garlic and onion wrapped in a wet sock the night before.

Recent Acquisitions


















Clockwise from top left: Lanark, Alasdair Gray; Pump Six and Other Stories, Paolo Bacigalupi; The Essential Ellison, Ellison, et al; Strange Things In Close Up, Howard Waldrop; Slouching Towards Bethlehem and Sentimental Journeys, Joan Didion.

Pump Six arrived in today's mail courtesy of its publisher, Night Shade Books. I want to get back into reviewing new/newish fiction and I'm looking forward to writing about Bagigalupi's debut collection.

*Shuffles awkwardly into the room*

Um, hi.

I know I said was going to set up shop elsewhere but every time I began jotting down ideas for blog names, possible content, layout, etc, I felt a longing to be back here at Sterne, where life is simple and expectations are low. I feel more kindly towards the place than I did in the dark days of Feb/March; in fact I feel more kindly towards most things than I did in Feb/March. The main reason I've decided to return is that instead of allowing me plenty of time to write non-blog stuff, not blogging has had the opposite effect. Aside from job applications the last time I wrote anything longer than two sentences was on March 9, which is a pretty piss poor effort by anyone's standards. So I'm back. Again. For now.

Ok.

/sheepishness

Wednesday, May 07, 2008