Sex and the Suburbs

It’s a dreary late Sunday afternoon in Adelaide and I find myself slouched on the sofa watching ‘Sex and the City’ on dvd. (My daughter had left the disc in the player and I was too lazy to hunt for anything else.) I may as well have been watching the antics of an alien culture for all the sense it made to me. Do women really think and act like that? But it wasn’t just the women, at one point a montage of men aired their views on women, and I was equally baffled. Maybe I just lead a sheltered social life. Maybe I’m just expecting too much that ‘Sex and the City’ should even slightly resemble reality. Should I be viewing the show with the same suspended disbelief usually reserved for ‘The X Files’ or ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’?

I’ve never picked up a woman on the street, at the gym, or even in a bar. I’m actually even afraid to smile at a strange woman lest she should scream or call for the police. And the concept of a ‘one night stand’ is as mysterious to me as spontaneous human combustion or the workings of a microwave oven. It’s hard enough to meet anyone with whom you develop any rapport, let alone someone with whom you are happy to romp naked upon first meeting. Yet ‘Sex and the City’ would have me believe that sex is available at the drop of a hat (well maybe not a hat, but at the drop of something).

But maybe there is something wrong with me. Maybe I should be dating a different woman every weekend. Maybe I should be seeking sex in elevators and nightclub lavatories, with beautiful aerobics instructors, models and artists. After all, I haven’t always been so timid. I was once slightly adventurous when it came to such matters. But never once did a woman respond to me like Carrie does to Mr Big (or countless other men) when he slips her a flirtatious smile or remark. (That may have something to do with the fact that I don’t have a chauffeured limo, wear expensive clothes or smoke cigars, but I might be wrong.)

An attractive woman did once smile at me in the supermarket. In fact, she came back and passed me again with the same grin. Later, I saw her working in a nearby shop and asked if she wanted to meet for a coffee during her break. “I don’t have a break,” she answered, a look of terror on her face. “What, today?” I queried. “No, never,” she replied. I took that as a rejection of sorts.

Another time I told a woman I’d seen every day on the bus for six months that she always looked stunning. She went red, said “thanks”, but never caught the bus again. Did I say something wrong? Does the word ‘stunning’ have an alternate meaning that I’m not aware of? Such a scene in ‘Sex and the City’ would be the prelude to a passionate affair.

What we really need is a series called ‘Sex and the Suburbs’, where average-looking people go about their average lives, not eating at expensive restaurants, buying expensive shoes, and not having sex with a different beautiful person every night.

It might make for dull television, but it would make me feel a little better.

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Corduroy & Cabbage 3 – Bully For Me

I don’t know what it was about me that attracted the attention of high school bullies. I wasn’t fat or short, I didn’t wear glasses or braces, I wasn’t odd-looking in any way. I was utterly ordinary. I was, in fact, exceeding quiet and went to great lengths to remain anonymous.

Maybe they sensed that if pushed far enough I would lash out, say or do something in a pathetic effort to defend myself, and give them an excuse to punch me in the face. I lost count of the times I would be standing with a group of friends and passing bullies would single me out as the one to antagonize.

It usually started with some ridiculous preliminary banter. They would say something like – ‘That’s a nice watch.” If I said – “Yes, it is, thank you’ – they would accuse me of being smart and stuckup. If I said – ‘No, it isn’t’ – they would challenge me for disagreeing with them. It didn’t matter what I said, within minutes I would end up in a ‘head-lock’ with someone punching me in the face.

During the middle years of high school avoiding the bullies became my primary objective. I avoided the school toilets (what is it about bullies and toilets!) and the canteen. Recess and lunch breaks were spent in the library. While before school I didn’t linger in the yard but went straight to class. The most dangerous periods were between classes when walking from one building to another. I soon learnt to know what classes the bullies had, and which route I had to take in order to avoid them.

I didn’t expect to have to worry about them in class, however, the climactic episode of my bullying experiences occurred in the middle of science lesson.

It so happened that one lesson I found myself at the back of the class on a desk adjoining another which seated a group of the worst bullies in my year level. One, in particular, seemed to have singled me out as a regular target. His name was Neville Camberwell. He was skinny and scrawny, had long stringy hair and a mean little face. He and the others decided to shoot spitballs at me. At first, I attempted to ignore them. But it was difficult to pretend that there weren’t great globs of spit clinging to my neck and cheek, and scattered across my workbook, and in the end I told them to ‘piss off’.

Of course, the teacher happened to hear me, not the spitting bullies, and made me move even further back in the room, actually behind the table of bullies. I was now completely out of sight of the teacher, and closer to the bullies. They continued their bombardment, until once again I reacted, probably with something ineffectual like – ‘Please stop it.’

The next moment, Neville Camberwell was standing in front of my desk. ‘Ya gonna stop me!’ he taunted. There was no way out of it. I had to do or say something. A string of suitable responses flitted through my head – ‘Fuck off and die’ and ‘Eat shit’ and others. But I went with, of all things – ‘Get lost, you skinny weed.’ It was enough. Neville hurled himself at me, overturning the desk, tipping papers and books onto the floor. We were a tangle of legs and arms. One moment I had my arm around his neck, the next, he was trying to wrap the power cord from an overhead projector around my throat.

The fight wasn’t stopped by our science teacher, who still had no idea what was going on, but a teacher from an adjoining area, who had noticed the commotion. We were both dragged to the principal’s office and interviewed at length about the incident. A note was sent home to my parents, but beyond that, I wasn’t punished.

There were other bullies and other incidents after that, but nothing quite so ridiculous. Thankfully, by Year Eleven, most of the bullies had left school or had been expelled, and I was finally able to breathe easily. I was even eventually able to use the school toilets.

The Generation Rap, Part One












Teenagers disagree with their parents. It’s a fundamental fact of life. This can apply to decisions about jobs and partners, or things as trivial as tv shows, songs and t-shirts. If the parent likes something, the teenager will not, and vice versa. Since the advent of rock ‘n’ roll in the 50s, music has assumed an integral part of a teenager’s ongoing battle against their parents.

My eldest daughter began listening to pop music in the early 90s, the era of grunge and the slacker. Unfortunately for her, I was listening to the music her peers were embracing – Nirvana, Smashing Pumpkins, Beck, Nine Inch Nails etc – which meant she had to work harder to find something new, something that I didn’t listen to. So she went back to the 60s and early 70s and discovered Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Beatles and so on.

My other daughter, L, has not had the same difficulty. She has found a music all her own – hardcore rap. Angry young men with chains and tattoos and leather, singing about bitches and hoes. It is one of the few genres of popular music (along with heavy metal and all its sub-genres) that I just can’t stomach.

Of course, L is delighted by my reaction to her music. In fact, I am sure she deliberately plays it loud in order to get a complaint from me. She almost seems disappointed if I don’t complain. Conversely, she ‘hates’ everything I play. She calls it ‘Dad’s music’ and says that it ‘all sounds the same’ (funnily enough, this is what I say about rap music). I really don’t see how Belle And Sebastian, The Birthday Party, Bjork and The Flaming Lips sound the same, but anyway…

In an effort to try and bridge this generational void of misunderstanding I asked L if she would like to participate in a little ‘project’. I suggested that she give me her ‘Top 10’ rap or hip hop songs, and I would make a concerted effort to listen to them and try to see past the stereotype and cliché. I would then provide her with my own ‘Top 10’ songs and she would spend some time learning to appreciate them.

She agreed, and after much deliberation, gave me a cd of her favourite songs. I’ve made an effort to play the cd – without cringing or moaning, and with an ‘open ear’. And this is what I’ve heard.

1) Hilltop Hoods – The Nosebleed Section

This tune isn’t bad at all. Built around a nice flute/string sample and a catchy chorus. The lyrics are nonsense, of course. I’ve listened to the song several times and still have no idea what a ‘Nosebleed Section’ is. There’s some old fashioned vinyl scratching (surely a cliché by now) and references to ‘peeps’ and ‘bros’, but for the most part, this Aussie hip hop track is devoid of American slang (no hoes or gangstas). After all, Christies Beach (the home of these ‘hoods’) is hardly Compton or the Bronx.

2) Kanye West – Golddigger

The strength of a rap or hip hop tune will often depend on the strength of the samples chosen to drive the tune – their originality, arrangement etc. This Kanye West track uses a piece of old-time gospel (or something that sounds like old-time gospel) as its foundation, producing an unusual rhythm and rhyming pattern. It’s an original sound. The lyrics detail the exploits of the ‘golddigger’ who ‘ain’t messin wit no broke nigga’. She is ‘trouble with a capital T’, using her lover’s money to fund liposuction and dress like Michael (Jackson?).

3) Missy Elliott – Work It

I don’t mind this at all. Lots of squelchy synth, beeps and whistles, some elephant sounds, over a minimal drum track. Quite catchy. Missy seems to be rapping about sex. What else could be made of lines such as – ‘…put the pussy on ya, just like I told ya…’ and ‘sex me so good I go blah blah blah…’ Mixed in with the sex talk is a fair amount of nonsensical wordplay. It’s all fairly light and silly.

4) Nelly – Ride With Me

This has a nice, summery feel, some pleasant rhythm guitar. But it’s so damned repetitive that by the time it fades out you never want to hear it again. The lyrics are a mystery –

Fuck me good
Suck me good
We be them stuck niggas
Wishin you was niggas
Poppin like we drug dealers
Simply cause she bug mackin
Honey in the club, me in the benz

There’s something about drugs, and something about money. There’s a little sex and some violence. Beyond that I’m lost.

5) Snoop Dogg – Drop It Like It’s Hot

I get the feeling that this is some serious gangsta shit! Lots of violent imagery and talk of Crips, pimps and hoes. But then there are also lyrics like this –

So don’t change the dizzle, turn it up a little
I got a living room full of fine dime brizzles
Waiting on the Pizzle, the Dizzle and the Shizzle

It’s all very Dr Seuss. The music is also on the silly side, featuring minimal percussion, cheesy synth and mouth sounds.

6) Pegz – Back Then

Another Aussie hip hop outfit. Starts out with a nice jazzy sample. Like Hilltop Hoods these guys don’t attempt to sound like their US counterparts. In fact, if anything, they seem to deliberately accentuate their Australian-ness. The lyrics list lots of 80s pop culture events and personalities, but I’m not sure exactly what they are trying to say –

Back then wasn’t easy
Back then things worked out
Back then I wish you were now

Do they want then to be now? And which bits? The clothes? The food? Or do they wish they could go back in time?

7) Scribe – Dreaming

Scribe raps about his youth as a poor kid with dreams of becoming a star in New York. It’s a familiar rags-to-riches story about making dreams come true and never giving up etc. It’s a dreary tale over dreary music. Yawn.

8) Tupac – Changes

Whether or not you like Tupac’s ‘Changes’ will depend on your feelings towards Bruce Hornsby’s 80s FM standard ‘The Way It Is’. Personally, I can’t stand it, so that pretty much ruins the Tupac song for me. The rap lyrics are admirable though, in that they at least attempt some insight into the state of black America, rather than simply recount the rapper’s experiences with bitches or guns.

9) Eminem – Marshall Mathers

I’m curious to know who it was that first declared Eminem a genius. And I wonder if it was because of songs like this, which is simply a rant against anyone perceived to have crossed the rapper. Britney Spears is a ‘retarded bitch’, New Kids on the Block ‘sucked a lot of dick’, and boy/girl groups make him sick. He gets stuck into his mum, his ex-wife and her attorney, and doesn’t speak very highly of the gay community (to put it mildly).

And it might just be me, but doesn’t Eminem sound a lot like Donald Duck.

10) Eminem – Stan

This is a ‘story song’ in which one of Eminem’s fans, the titular Stan, kills himself because the rapper does not reply to his fanmail. This guy sure must think highly of himself to imagine that anyone would be so stupid.

The best thing about this (by far) is the Dido sample.

So there we have it. I liked Missy Elliott, didn’t mind Kanye West, Hilltop Hoods and Pegz, and couldn’t stand Eminem or Nelly. The rest fell somewhere in between. I guess, like any genre, rap or hip hop is going to have its good and bad. And determining what is good and what is bad, in the end, comes down to personal preference. I just wish that rappers didn’t do the ‘hand thing’.

Next month I’ll let my daughter dissect 10 of my favourite tracks. After reading my comments on Eminem she might not react with a lot of enthusiasm.

Corduroy & Cabbage 2 – The Boardies

For a few short years in the mid 70s the skateboard made a spectacular comeback among the kids of Ingle Farm. Overnight, it seemed, every second kid on the street was out on the footpath or in the road on a skateboard. It didn’t take me long to join them. Of course, in the Catt tradition, I had to ‘make-do’ with little more than a roller skate nailed to a piece of wood. No one laughed at me openly, but I imagined my friends giggling behind my back.

Still, I was out there with the rest of them, crowding the ramp in the local supermarket carpark, or hurtling up and down the many alleyways that linked the streets of our neighbourhood. We held impromptu competitions, performed acrobatics, raced each other the length of the carpark, until the security guards or police chased us away. My skateboard wasn’t the most agile and certainly didn’t look very cool, but it was light and fast, and I was able to keep up with best ‘boards in the street.

There were three main gangs in our district – the skinheads, the surfies and the rockers. Of those, it was the rockers who seemed the most threatening, with their check-flannel shirts and ripple-soled shoes. They hung out at a takeaway chicken shop on the main road, or gathered in the local shopping mall on a Thursday night when the shops opened late.

At the height of the skateboarding craze we decided to add a fourth gang to the equation – the boardies.

We imagined ourselves some kind of urban surfers, our long hair flowing in the breeze as we sped along on our ‘boards. There was talk of a gang t-shirt, a logo or emblem. I bought a necklace with a skateboard shaped pendant. We talked about fighting, and thought it would be cool to invent a new martial art combining kung-fu and the skateboard.

But despite our best efforts to create a ‘buzz’ about the new gang, the boardies failed to develop any kind of mystique or ‘cred’ among the local teenagers. At school one afternoon I turned conversation to gangs. Everyone reeled off the usual list – the skinheads, the surfies and the rockers. ‘What about the boardies?’ I asked, safe in the knowledge that no one present knew of my involvement in the fledgling gang. ‘I hear they’re pretty tough!’

‘The boardies! Isn’t that just Robbo and a few dickheads from around your way?’ replied Scott with a snort.

I shrugged and remained silent, turning a dark shade of scarlet. Maybe the world wasn’t quite ready for the boardies.

In any event, by the end of the summer, the skateboarding fad had passed, and everyone was moving onto better things – BMX bikes, video games etc. My own skateboarding career ended when I hit a piece of gravel at full speed. My skateboard stopped, but I kept moving, and ended up sliding for a couple of metres on my face. My front teeth were smashed, one of them ground down to a stub. I stumbled home to horrified parents with a mangled face and blood-soaked t-shirt.

Corduroy & Cabbage 1 – Caught Out

Although I haven’t always hated sport, it’s never been a pastime to which I have been naturally drawn. My early Primary School teacher, Mrs Jolly, was so convinced that I would end up a scientist that she allowed me to miss out on Phys Ed class so that I could sit in the classroom and read about primates or geology. And I can recall my mother berating me for not wanting to join my father kick a soccer ball around in the park. I liked dinosaurs and space ships. Sport just didn’t interest me.

But later on in Primary School things changed. I found myself in a group that hung around the sports equipment Store Room. During lunch and recess breaks, it was our responsibility to ensure that equipment was borrowed and returned according to School Policy. It was a position of tremendous power. All of the boys in this group were athletically inclined and played sport whenever possible. I joined them in games of cricket during summer, and football or soccer in winter.

I never excelled in these games, but I also wasn’t totally hopeless. I had good reflexes. I could move quickly and catch or kick a ball without too much difficulty. My problem was not physical – it was psychological. What I lacked was a competitive nature. If there was a fight over the ball, an argument about rules, or any sort of disagreement, I would just back down or walk away. I was not the sort of person to start cheering if we were winning, or cursing if we lost. I didn’t care enough.

Eventually, I decided that cricket was the sport for me. It did not involve much, if any, physical contact. It seemed relaxed and civilized. My best friend at the time, Kevin, had reached a similar conclusion so, for a couple of summers, we took our cricket very seriously. We practiced all day every day, regardless of the heat, and sometimes continued well into the evening. Some nights we would still be trying to bat and bowl in near darkness. There were no cricket nets in our neighbourhood, so we practiced on the concrete cricket pitch in the middle of a nearby school oval. There was only the two of us – a bowler and a batsman – no wicketkeeper. If the batsman were to miss the ball it would continue hurtling away behind them, eventually trickling to a stop near the far edge of the oval. We took turns fetching the ball. On a bad day we would spend the whole time running after the ball.

I was similarly keen to practice on my own, and spent hours hitting a tennis ball against the side of our house. At one point I decided I was going to be the new Jeff Thomson and would bowl an actual cricket ball at a strip of brickwork near the back door. If I missed the brickwork the ball would thunder into the door, to the horror of my mother, who would be working in the kitchen on the other side. By the end of that summer, there was a sizeable dent in the door and the wall was dotted with red marks.

My cricket phase culminated in the joining of a local team. Neither Kevin nor I were good enough to make the top league, but we just scraped into a ‘B’ team, a motley collection of nerds and misfits not deemed worthy of the ‘real’ team. I should have realized that things were not going to turn out well when I ended up in hospital after the first practise. I was sent to field at mid-on, and found myself facing the afternoon sun. I didn’t see the ball. Apparently, I didn’t even move my arms to shield myself. One minute I was standing, the next I was on the ground. Both of my eyes swelled up so badly that I could barely open them. When I got home later that evening my mother, convinced I would never see again, burst into tears.

After a couple of weeks, I went back to practise, and played my first game a few weeks after that. I didn’t get to bowl. I fielded at fine leg or third man. And I batted at 10 or 11. Then, the following week, someone else took my place and I watched from the boundary. This continued for most of the season. I played a couple of games, took two off, played another one, and so on. I think my highest score was about 16. Kevin did not fare much better, but at least the rest of the team knew his name. I was just this anonymous skinny kid that turned up to every practice but never got to do anything.

Once again, I don’t think my poor performance really had anything to do with ability. Given a decent chance and I probably would have done well. But the opportunity for me to bat or bowl came along so rarely that I invariably ‘froze’ and either bowled badly or got out immediately. And while cricket was not a contact sport, and did not require overt physical aggression, it did require an aggressive nature of sorts – a sense of competitiveness. The loudest kids got to bat first and bowled all game long. It didn’t matter that they were not all that good. If they were ‘pushy’ they got their way.

Kevin and I dropped out of the team after that one season, and I eventually gave up my dreams of becoming the new Jeff Thomson. My mother might have been disappointed, but I’m sure she didn’t miss the sound of the cricket ball smashing against the kitchen door.

David Mortimer – Guest Poet

This month I am very pleased to feature poems and images from David Mortimer’s second collection, Red in the Morning, which was published late last year by Bookends Books.

Red in the Morning is a collection of 99 poems grouped month-by-month, along with 15 original works by photographer Josie Mortimer, the poet’s sister. The poems reproduced here are: firstly, the title poem; secondly, a tribute to Robert Johnson, the American blues singer from the 1930s; and thirdly, a poem written at the time of the Australian waterfront dispute in 1998 – brought to mind as we face even more threatening industrial times in 2006.

RED IN THE MORNING

The red-in-morning-sailor’s-warning thing
Lights your back, your skin, our whole room
In the slow strobe of an emergency ward

Quieter than thought, than thought can even be thinked
Everything is water-colour linked
Water-colour warned
Warned in its waters

Against embarkation, dies illa
A day when setting out is dangerous, beset

At the beginning, before the start
For any with eyes open
We are given the universal colour of threat
The bard weather-wise
The words curt

THE JOY OF PRECISION: ROBERT JOHNSON

Singer song wrought voice guitar supreme
Beyond mastery of craft aware, intent
That no thing shall be other than it is
By any thickness, settled in, called same
And each from each the soul/strings/self laid bare
As this this this this this
Shall own themselves, repeat only themselves, prepare
Only the deepest, freshest, truest, wildest named and struck
Resonance of meaning all through meaning’s
Straightest dance, sweetest play, signally astringent, precipitous
Aching entertainment’s inward mirth
Of impossibly precise sheer joy


THE FACTS

Find a forum
Bounce around until
You find a forum, don’t be still
You’ve got to keep moving, as the blues kill
Anything that stands too long
In one place, once
Without sanctuary
Or grace

The hail
Flying sharp
And many-sided will
Razor any fabric any length to lace
Unsinew strength and punch a pattern; spill
The heart of any goodness down the salt of any hill

Unless
You find the space
That grounds and shelters
There in time to trace, expand
And mount a case, expound the virtue
And the vice; and hope to cut down inlets
Close down angles that must face the coming
Snarl for access of that whirling hound
Whose muscled hackles rise in turning
Bare computation of a corkscrew’s chance to
Radiating hatred out of meat-dead eyes
The wave of cruelty/ too-much-knowledge/ violent haste
Lays waste, gnaws inward
Likes the blood to race
And yet taste
Chill












Red in the Morning (ISBN 1 876725 63 X; RRP $22.95; published November 2005) is available in good book shops, published by Bookends Books (bookends@chariot.net.au) and distributed through Wakefield Press (http://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/), where Mortimer’s previous collection Fine Rain Straight Down is also available, along with collections by Elaine Barker and Tess Driver, in Friendly Street New Poets Eight (Wakefield Press 2003).

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Fade to Red – a Review














For me, one of the musical highlights of 2005 was getting to see Tori Amos in concert. I was especially thrilled to be sitting so close to the stage. I was, in fact, so close that I could have thrown my underpants right onto her keyboard, had I felt the urge. Thankfully, there were no such ugly scenes and the evening ended with an unsoiled Tori and lots of very happy fans.

A new dvd collection, ‘Fade To Red’, will bring back memories of that evening for some people. It is a 2 disc compilation of most (but, not all) of Tori’s promotional videos, from her earliest singles, to songs from her last lp ‘The Beekeeper’. A collection of this sort can make for dull viewing, but for the most part, this is a visually rich affair, from the dream-like images accompanying ‘Caught A Lite Sneeze’ to the snake-dancing and rat worship of ‘God’.

Unfortunately, the collection also highlights the drabness of some of her more recent work. Videos for ‘Sweet The Sting’ and ‘Sleeps With Butterflies’ from ‘The Beekeeper’ are among the more uninteresting. Like the music itself, they really lack the spark and inventiveness of earlier work.

For me, the highlights are the videos from the ‘Little Earthquakes’ period, particularly ‘Crucify’ and ‘Winter’. Tori looks so fresh-faced and vibrant, with her flaming red hair and scarlet lips. She even manages to make playing the piano look sexy.

The real treat for fans is the Tori Amos commentary. It’s as idiosyncratic as might be expected. We learn about Tori’s obsession with Ann Boleyn, her experiences with e-culture and what is feels like to wander through a forest blind-folded. It is also refreshing to hear her admit that she has ‘no idea’ what the video for ‘Tallula’ is about, rather than attempt some pseudo-psychoanalytical deconstruction of the work (which features Tori in a plastic box, a couple of scientists and a tightrope walker).

Other extras include two ‘bonus’ videos and a short ‘behind-the-scenes’ feature of the making of the film clip for ‘A Sorta Fairytale’. This video actually features some of the ugliest imagery I’ve seen in a pop video. (Tori’s head has been grafted onto a leg. The singing head rides a skateboard, falls into the gutter, then hops to the beach, where it meets Adrien Brody’s head (which is attached to an arm). The heads kiss and live happily ever after. Creepy!)

This is an essential purchase for fans. The uninitiated will probably wonder what all this fuss is about.