May Daze

My daughter moved to Canberra in January. Not long after, we made arrangements to visit her for her birthday at the end of May. Since then, delays in the sale of our house have meant that settlement, and our subsequent move to a new house, have ended up coinciding with our return from Canberra. It was likely to be a hectic few days.

My anxiety levels were already at ‘eleven’ before landing in Canberra. I spent the entire flight worrying about all the things I had to do when we got back. My daughter, E, and her boyfriend met us at the airport. They then proceeded to argue all the way to our hotel. Canberra is a small city, but its road system is designed to cause the maximum frustration and confusion. Often, traveling from point A to point B is no simple matter. E and her boyfriend argued about the best way to get to our hotel, then about their comparative driving skills. By the time we got to our hotel I needed some tranquilizers and a soft pillow.

We were only in Canberra for five days, but it seemed a lot longer. Every morning I woke at 3.00am and lay huddled in the freezing dark worrying about things I had forgotten to do at home, or imagining all the things that could go wrong on ‘moving day’. I imagined the removalist’s van bursting into flames. I imagined them not turning up at all, and our possessions left by the side of the road. By the time I got up I felt sick. I spent the rest of the day stumbling around like a zombie.

Concerned about my debilitating anxiety, my daughter gave me a hypnosis cd that promised to provide peace and tranquility. I listened to it in the evening after we’d returned to our hotel room. A monotone voice soon lulled me to sleep. Unfortunately, I still woke up at 3.00am the next morning. I didn’t feel at all tranquil or peaceful. I was cold, tired and pissed off. I tried listening to it a few more times and either fell asleep or developed a headache.

Meanwhile, our time in the national capital passed pleasantly enough. We visited galleries, museums, restaurants, shops and monuments. We also went to Cockington Green, a village of miniature buildings. I wasn’t as awful as you might imagine, although I did find myself fighting the urge to impersonate Godzilla and stomp on the little people and buildings.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I relaxed the entire time I was in Canberra. It wasn’t the fault of the city or my daughter or even the hypnosis cd. I just couldn’t stop worrying about the upcoming move. From the moment we arrived back in Adelaide I was busy packing and making lists of things to do.

On the day of the move itself I awoke at 5.00am. By the time the removalists arrived at 8.00 I had all of our possessions ready to load into the van. I’d done everything but actually drag the stuff down the driveway. The removalists were two beefy guys who made moving enormous pieces of furniture looking simple. I tended to heighten this impression by attempting to move things on my own and appearing weak and pathetic. Within an hour or so they had everything we owned stacked neatly into the back of their truck.

Of course, the van didn’t burst into flames, and everything was delivered to our new address and unloaded without incident. That night I slept more soundly that I had for several weeks.

I have to remind myself that worrying doesn’t achieve much besides encourage stomach ulcers, tension headaches and wrinkles. And the things I worry about never actually happen… do they?

Candy – a Review








I really wanted to like Candy. After all, it’s not often I get to review a movie bearing my own name. But despite my best efforts to embrace the film, something about it fell short, and I came away feeling somewhat disappointed. Given the strength of the source material it really should have been something special, rather than a solid but unremarkable drama.

Candy is based on the semi-autobiographical novel by acclaimed Australian poet Luke Davies, and details the relationship between the titular Candy, a beautiful young artist, and Dan, her aimless heroin-addict boyfriend. The movie makes some alterations to the story, omitting some scenes and characters, while developing others. Candy’s parents, merely background characters in the novel, have been given a higher profile, and the couple’s heroin-addict friend and mentor, Casper, has also become a more important figure.

The movie follows the couple’s gradual decline – from the first euphoric encounters with heroin, to the descent into prostitution and petty crime, and the inevitable madness and dissolution. It’s a grim tale, and there’s not much in the way of a plot beyond this sketchy outline. Candy and Dan experience the occasional glimmer of hope, a lighter moment or two (thanks mainly to Geoffrey Rush’s Casper), but for the most part it’s pretty desperate stuff.

Candy will remind you of other ‘heroin movies’, however, it has neither the humour of Trainspotting, nor the visual style of Requiem for a Dream, to offset the relentless squalor. Apart from a handful of scenes, the incidents are generally mundane and unspectacular – Candy and Dan shoot up, sit around, steal things, and shoot up some more. In its favour it does offer a more realistic portrayal of the addict’s lifestyle than either of the aforementioned movies. This is due, for the most part, to the fabulous performances of the two young leads – Abbie Cornish as Candy, and Heath Ledger as Dan.

Cornish and Ledger are well supported by Noni Hazelhurst and Tony Martin as Candy’s parents. The few scenes featuring all four actors are among the best in the film (in particular the doomed ‘country lunch’).

There are a few other standout scenes. The sequence detailing Candy and Dan’s efforts to stop taking heroin is appropriately horrific, and the couple’s marriage reception is cringingly awkward (Dan shoots up in the toilet then falls asleep while talking to Candy’s relatives).

The film’s conclusion is one of its weaker points. Unlike the novel, in which Candy and Dan’s relationship just fizzles out over time, the film attempts to end their romance in one dramatic scene. The resulting encounter is somewhat forced and doesn’t quite ring true.

Go and see Candy, if only for the performances of Abbie Cornish and Heath Ledger. It might not be the best film you’ll see this year, nor the most entertaining, but its portrayal of love and addiction is honest, insightful and quite moving.

Corduroy & Cabbage 5 – The Lucky Socks

I don’t think I ever had a real conversation with my first ‘girlfriend’. We met in the shelter shed of our Primary School during the summer break. We held hands and kissed. She was buck-toothed and greasy–haired and I was a skinny, scrawny kid with pimples. I don’t even know if I liked her, or she me. But it seemed like the thing to do, and it was certainly something different, so I went along with it. When we went back to school after the holidays she sent one of her friends to tell me that I was ‘dropped’. I don’t blame her.

Then, as now, I only seemed to really like the girls that had no interest in me. There was a short dark girl called Lesley in Infant School who I told was ‘sexy’ without having any idea what it meant. And a skinny English girl called Carol whose house I used to find reasons to loiter outside on the weekend. Much later, towards the end of High School, I developed my first teenage ‘crush’ on a girl called Marcia.

I been in the same class as Marcia throughout most of Primary School, and saw her often in High School, but I’d barely ever spoken to her. I’m not sure why I suddenly found her so attractive. She was a bit of a tomboy – loud and boisterous, even a bit obnoxious at times. She hung around with the ‘sports crowd’ during recess and lunch, played football and soccer with the boys. We couldn’t have been any more different. But one day I woke up and decided that I loved her more than anything else in the world and couldn’t live without her.

I began to structure my days in order to spend as much time in her company as possible. I tried to sit near her in class. I tried to walk where she would walk, and hang around the areas she frequented. I even feigned an interest in sport and sat around the oval hoping to ‘bump’ into her. But despite all my efforts she never seemed to notice me. It was as though I was invisible.

Even my efforts to enlist ‘supernatural’ forces failed. On the days I was most likely to see her I wore my lucky socks. I even had a ‘special’ Thin Lizzy song I played in the hope that it would somehow plant a loving image of me in her mind. I tried spells and potions, and all manner of ‘magical’ chants, but nothing worked.

As the months passed, and the obsession with Marcia started to form an ugly knot in my belly, I decided to confide in a friend. His advice was simple and to-the-point. “Tell her you like her,” he said. “I can’t do that!’ was my horrified response. But the choices were that simple, either I told her how I felt, and lived with the consequences, or forgot about her, and concentrated on other things (like my schoolwork).

The following day, I was careful to leave the school grounds at the same time as her. As we lived in the same direction, the fact that I was walking behind her was not all that unusual. But normally I would keep a safe distance, too scared to actually communicate with her. This day I sped up and drew alongside.

“Oh hi,” I said unconvincingly, as though I had just noticed her.

“Hi,” replied Marcia, with a not-too-unfriendly smile.

“Um…er…Marcia,” I stammered, wanting to get straight to the point. ”I really like you.”

“Oh…er…I like you too,” said Marcia. “But not in that way. I have a boyfriend y’know.”

“Um…er…oh,” I continued. “Okay…er…goodbye then…”

I then pretended I was heading in another direction and disappeared down a side street that would lead in the opposite direction to home. I felt embarrassed, foolish, stupid, clumsy and heartbroken. But I also felt relieved. The tension that had gripped me for months was finally gone.

When I got home I threw my lucky socks into the incinerator.

The Ear of the Beholder

Sometimes I really think that reviewers have too much power. I am still scratching my head over the Weekend Australian’s review (13/05/06) of the new Fiery Furnaces album. The reviewer, Elisabeth Knowles, deemed the record to be so poor as to rate no stars at all. No stars! Isn’t that the kind of rating you might reserve for a compilation of Duran Duran b-sides, the A-ha tribute album, or Ozzy Osborne’s covers collection? The worst you can say about the Fiery Furnaces is that they are pretentious. But to say that the album has no value at all is a substantial claim.

Personally, I find ‘Bitter Tea’ more accessible than either of their last two efforts ‘Blueberry Boat’ or ‘Rehearsing My Choir’. In fact, if you can get past the inexplicable mood changes, unnecessarily complicated arrangements and backwards vocals, the album contains some fabulous pop moments.

Reviewers elsewhere have also found plenty of worth in ‘Bitter Tea’. Uncut magazine’s four-star review sums the album up as ‘clever-clever, emotional-emotional avant-pop’, while Mojo gives the record three-stars and describes it as containing ‘soft-psych gems’ and ‘a lovelorn mini-suite of baroque synth-pop’.

So what are we to conclude? Am I, and many of the world’s music reviewers, suffering from some sort of mass delusion, or is Elisabeth Knowles the only person on the planet with properly functioning ears. The sad truth of the matter is that many potential listeners will be turned off by Ms Knowles review and miss hearing something unique, stimulating and, yes, I admit, challenging.

Quite often, of course, the opposite occurs. How often have you read a rave review, gone out and bought the record, only to discover that the album far from the classic described? Only a few weeks ago, in (once again) the Weekend Australian, Iain Shedden gave the new Vines album a rare five-star review. I was, quite rightly, suspicious of such a build up and thought I’d wait until I’d read a little more feedback before buying the album. Subsequent reviews described ‘Vision Valley’ as ‘mediocre’, ‘predictable’ and ‘mundane’. Not usually qualities attributed to a five-star album.

Perhaps we should be ignoring the opinions of so-called ‘experts’? After all, what qualifications does one need to review music? Or is it just a matter of being a little more discerning when reading reviews? A matter of reviewing the reviewers? What exactly should we be expecting from these people?

I would expect a serious reviewer to be familiar with the artist’s music, as well as the genre in which the artist works. I would expect the reviewer to approach the work in question with an open mind, and at least attempt to understand what the artist is trying to achieve. I would expect the reviewer to identify both the good points and the bad, and to be able to justify a particularly bad review (or good, for that matter) with well considered arguments.

I might be taking this all a little too seriously, but a review that offers anything less really shouldn’t be in print. Elisabeth Knowles doesn’t attempt to understand or analyse ‘Bitter Tea’. She doesn’t attempt to identify anything positive about the project. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that she hadn’t even listened to it all the way through, such is the dismissive nature of her review.

She might have given her friends a chuckle by trashing the Fiery Furnaces, but a ‘no stars’ review of their new lp in the country’s national newspaper is impossible to justify, and probably irresponsible.

I’ll still give her one out of five stars for the effort.

GM Walker – Guest Poet

This month I am pleased to feature poetry from G M Walker’s new collection blue woman, which was launched last month by Jude Aquilina and Graham Rowlands at the SA Writers’ Centre.

G M Walker has published in Friendly Street anthologies #17, #18, #21-#30, SideWaLK 9, Fingers & Tongues (Paroxysm Press – 2002), Reclaiming anthology: healing our wounds (2005), FunHouse #3 (2005) and ArtState #25 and read her poems at many spoken word venues and festivals in and around Adelaide.

for Clive

I people my memories
with images of you


sex in the suburbs

3am – I am woken by
‘are you gonna give me a fucken root or what?’
so loud – so close
I thought he was in my bed
just my downstairs neighbour
they have 4 or 5 kids already
I hoped the answer was no

long and black

Café Bravo – Norwood
I order a long black
she says
like your hair
I laugh
different from the usual response
like your men

Buongiorno’s – Adelaide
I order a long black
he asks
what’s wrong with short blacks
I laugh
he is
short and black

the swan

six months after my lover died
I found myself sitting on a park bench
by the River Torrens wondering
what kept me from throwing myself in
I could think of at least one person who drowned there

a black swan waddled towards me
stood in front of me
started preening itself – exposing hidden white feathers
I marveled at the agility of its neck
how it could reach every part of its body

a couple in matching blue outfits jogged by
a young family on bicycles rode between us
the swan stopped – waddled up
to my park bench then past
onto the parklands behind

it was a beautiful day
other swans were in pairs followed by their young
splashing about in the water – I noticed the sunshine sparkling
on the river then looked again into its murky depths
my eyes filled with tears

the swan returned
this time he came right up to me
his red rimmed eyes stared into mine
he started to peck both of my outstretched legs
tenderly – gently pecking up and down
then my hair – he stopped – looked at me
continued – my shrieks of laughter
did not scare him away

after ten minutes
I said “Mr Swan thank-you, but
I have to go now” – he backed away
allowed me to get up and walked with me
part way up the parklands









blue woman is available in good book shops, published by Bookends Books (bookends@chariot.net.au) and distributed through Wakefield Press (http://www.wakefieldpress.com.au/), or can be purchased direct from the author (gmwa10@yahoo.com.au).

To hear G M Walker read from blue woman please come along to the SA Writers’ Centre on Friday 26th May 2006. G M Walker is one of four poets reading on the night. Full details as follows:

Bookends Poets – Readings from Poets
published by Bookends Books
Friday 26th May at 6.30pm
at the SA Writers’ Centre
2nd Floor 187 Rundle Street

Featuring:
Kate Deller-Evans, Steve Evans,
David Mortimer & G M Walker.

all welcome – light refreshments available
Bookends books on sale
Bookends Books and Music
PO Box 216 Crafers SA 5152
(08) 8339 2483

Copyright

Please note that all material appearing on this website is protected under Copyright laws and may not be reproduced, reprinted, transmitted or altered in any form without express written consent of the author.

Saving the Chicken

We’d counted on capturing the chicken on Sunday morning, assembling nets, boxes and a foolproof plan. However, on Saturday night a fierce storm struck the city. I was home alone trying to concentrate on a writing project, but I spent more time worrying about the chicken. The rain verged on torrential, falling in cascades from the guttering above the carport, and the wind was so strong it blew the rain straight in at the lounge room windows.

It was after 10.00pm when I finally decided to go out into the storm and find the chicken. I couldn’t imagine it living through the night. Apart from the wind and rain, the temperature had dropped sharply. It was icy cold. I put on two layers of clothing and some thick boots. Our one torch was broken, so I opened my bedroom windows and switched all the lights on in an effort to throw some light on the chicken’s hiding place. But once outside it made no difference. I could see nothing. The wind and rain whipped at my face, and the bushes and vines in the front yard slashed at my face and tangled round my legs.

On my first attempt, I scrambled around the base of the bush. I’d seen the chicken nestled right up against the plant, and imagined this providing the best shelter against the weather. Visibility was so poor I could only scrape around blindly in the bark and leaves, hoping to scare her into the open. But she was nowhere to be found. Already drenched and cold, I retreated to the house to reconsider my approach.

Maybe she had gone in search of shelter elsewhere. Maybe she had finally gone home. I had to be sure.

I ventured back out into night, but this time approached the bush from the front. Here the garden sloped up sharply from the road. I clambered up the slippery incline and grabbed at the lower branches, pulling myself up the final metre or so. I pushed my way into the bush; its wet leaves scratching at my face. Almost immediately I spotted the chicken, a dark shape against a darker sky. She was huddled in the higher branches, a bedraggled, forlorn figure. At first I thought her beyond my reach. I leant against the branches in front of me and reached out with both hands. Any moment now she would leap into the air, squawk and disappear.

But I moved steadily and surely, and grabbed the bird with both hands. She struggled momentarily, but without much energy, and I was able to get to the house without dropping her, or falling over on the slippery ground. I placed her gently into the pet carrier I’d had waiting by the door and took her inside.

The poor thing was absolutely drenched, and for the first ten minutes or so, I thought I might have been too late to save her. But as she dried off and become familiar with her surroundings, she gained energy. Within half an hour she was hopping about the cage and clucking enthusiastically. Later on, when I attempted to clean up a fresh chicken turd, she scrambled over my shoulder and flew across the room. After several minutes of chasing her in circles I came to the conclusion that she was not about to die.

The next morning, we took her back to her home. I was surprised to discover that her owner was not nearly as old or disabled as L had described him. In fact, he seemed just as capable as me of catching the bird. In any case, he led us through his ramshackle yard to a makeshift chicken hutch. Scrambling and scurrying in and around the hutch were several little hens like ‘ours’ and a more colourful rooster. When ‘our’ chicken spotted her friends and relations, she began clucking with excitement. She was out of the pet carrier before I could even finish opening the door, and joined the other chickens in a silly little dance about the hutch floor. It was a nice moment.

I was still pretty annoyed with the chicken’s owner. I couldn’t understand why he hadn’t made a greater effort to retrieve his pet. But he said he was pleased and seemed sincere. He even offered us free karate lessons.

The Go-Betweens and Me

in memory of Grant McLennan

Back in the early 80s the best place (or, should I say, the only place) to hear new music was local community radio station 5MMM (now known as 3D). It was where I first heard so many bands of the era – The Cure, Associates, The Birthday Party, Laughing Clowns and many more. It was also where I first heard The Go-Betweens. It was some time in late 1981/early 1982. They played two songs, one of which was ‘It Could Be Anyone’ from ‘Send Me A Lullaby’. The track reminded me a little of Talking Heads, one of my favourite bands at the time, so I went out and bought the album. I loved it immediately. The music did possess many of the qualities of Talking Heads’ early work – a certain naiveté, a spiky post-punk guitar sound, and unusual song structures. But there was also something indefinably Australian about the record; perhaps it was the rawness of the recording, perhaps it was simply the photos of suburban Brisbane on the inner sleeve.

I bought their following record ‘Before Hollywood’ as soon as it was released. It was a giant leap forward for the band in every respect – the sound was rich and expansive, the lyrics evocative, and the tunes quite beautiful. I loved the up tempo pop tracks like ‘Ask’, ‘Before Hollywood’ and ‘That Way’, but I also loved the quieter atmospheric pieces like ‘Dusty In Here’ and, of course, ‘Cattle And Cane’. The album was one of the best of that year, and I decided that The Go-Betweens were one of my favourite Australian bands, along with the aforementioned Laughing Clowns and The Birthday Party.

I saw them in concert soon after the release of ‘Before Hollywood’. They played to a packed crowd at Adelaide’s Tivoli Hotel. I found myself crushed against the far right-hand side of the stage, but still loved the show. The band stage dynamic was already established by that time – Robert the showman, playing it up for the crowd, and Grant contrastingly quiet and shy. It was the first of many times I saw the band play live during the 80s.

I declared each subsequent album after ‘Before Hollywood’ their ‘best yet’ – ‘Spring Hill Fair’ with its wonderful pop moments; the atmospheric soundscapes of ‘Liberty Belle’; the sunny shimmer of ‘Lovers Lane’; and ‘Tallulah’ with its strings and gorgeous vocal harmonies. For quality and consistency the band’s only rivals were R.E.M. and The Smiths, yet they were virtually ignored by mainstream Australia, who were more concerned with atrocities such as Moving Pictures, Pseudo Echo, Swanee, and (shudder) the Uncanny X-Men.

Despite the indifference of the mainstream, Grant McLennan and Robert Forster, along with Nick Cave, Ed Kuepper, Dave McComb of the Triffids, and others, were forging a unique, distinctively Australian music. Inspired by the Velvet Underground, Television, The Stooges, Patti Smith, punk and post-punk, they took the elements of rock ‘n’ roll and bent them through a peculiarly Australian prism, utilising local landscapes, characters and situations. Grant McLennan’s contribution was considerable, his evocative lyrics rich with detail – mudflats and mangroves, butchers and battered wives, a house of tin and timbers.

When the band announced a new album in 2000, after a break of 10 years, I was not alone in fearing for the worst. What were the chances of the band regaining the creative spark that produced a string of such great albums? How many bands had reformed after such a break and gone on to produce material of worth? I needn’t have worried, for ‘The Friends Of Rachel Worth’ was a fine album, while last year’s ‘Oceans Apart’ stands amongst their best work. There was no reason they couldn’t go on making great music for as long as they wanted.

Unfortunately, that was not to be. With Grant McLennan’s passing the Go-Betweens’ story sadly and suddenly comes to an end, and I feel as though a little part of me has been lost. The Go-Betweens have soundtracked my adult life, each album linked to a particular period, each song evoking an image, a mood, a memory. Grant McLennan wrote a fair share of those songs – ‘Right Here’, ‘Streets Of Your Town’, ‘Going Blind’, ‘Bachelor Kisses’, Bye Bye Pride’, ‘Finding You’ and many, many others. They are songs that will remain special to me for the rest of my life.

And, I guess, this is how we seek consolation in a time of sadness. In the knowledge that Grant and The Go-Betweens will live on for decades to come – through their wonderful, wonderful music…

Corduroy & Cabbage 4 – The New Boy

I was 10 years old, about halfway through Primary School, when I first met Luke. He’d just started at our school after moving into the area and was seated at a desk near me. He was a stocky, slightly chubby, boy with wavy brown hair and brown eyes. He wore glasses, which gave him a serious, studious demeanour, as well as gray school slacks and jumper, unlike the rest of us, who were dressed in the rag-tag fashion of 10 year olds of the time.

Everything about Luke was different to me or my other friends. He was born in Australia, while almost everyone else I knew was born in the UK. We lived in Ingle Farm, a young, still developing suburb of uniform housing, new lawns and immigrant families. Luke lived in Valley View, which lay on the ‘other side’ of Wright Road, where every house was different, and there were hills, trees and a meandering creek.

Luke had older siblings, while I had three younger sisters. His parents were older than mine too. An older family might have accounted for the calmer, much more pleasant atmosphere at his house. Compared to the chaos of our house, with four squabbling children, and a menagerie of pets, Luke’s house seemed almost tranquil.

His family lived in a new house on a sharply sloping block. His father was always working in the garden when I visited, and there was usually a mound of dirt, sand or gravel waiting to be shoveled or wheelbarrowed. Luke and I turned these giant sandpits into vast cities, complete with roads, skyscrapers and dams. Our imaginations seemed to spark when we were together, and our games would invariably become more fantastic and elaborate the longer we played.

Our creative collaborations soon included writing and drawing, and we began to put together a series of little ‘books’ (made from A4 pages folded in half and stapled in the middle) called ‘Parade Of Monsters’. It was more like an encyclopedia than a set of stories, as each book introduced a new group of ‘monsters’, and described their habits and habitat. They generally lived on islands with odd names – Stinkyshoe Island, Anklebone Island – and had names like Pupo or Blotto.

After the completion of ‘Parade Of Monsters’, Luke wrote stories about new characters – the Cheapsteaks (each one named after an American state), Bing Bong of the Mark Patrol, Nosey Parker, Mr Manta and others. Meanwhile, I started work on an epic three-part ‘novel’ called ‘Tale Of The Ring’. As can be guessed from the title, I was a big Tolkien fan. I also loved CS Lewis and Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books, and the ‘Tale Of The Ring’ included elements of all these influences. The central characters were Mungy (who looked suspiciously like a Marshwiggle) and a little dragon called Mingie.

Luke and I then expanded our invented universes to entire planets. I called my planet Sapphire, while Luke settled on Bauxite. We designed every element of these worlds – cities, animals, vegetation, transportation, even water and power supplies. We filled books with maps, designs and diagrams.

Our teacher that year was a grim disciplinarian called Miss Barker; a short, bulldog-like figure renown for her habit of spitting while she spoke, and using a megaphone unnecessarily during recess and lunch (e.g. when you were right in front of her). I don’t think she smiled the entire time we were in her class. She certainly didn’t like our extra-curricular activities, sneering at our ‘silly books’, and even confiscating them if she caught us working on them in class. Miss Barker’s opposition to our projects didn’t deter us; in fact, it seemed to spur us on to even more elaborate projects.

The following year, Luke and I said goodbye to Miss Barker. We were also put in different classes and, as is so often the case with childhood friendships, we drifted apart and found new friends. Years later, towards the end of High School, we became friends again, and we are friends still, but there was a period of six or seven years during which we had little or no contact. It was during this period of separation that we each destroyed the books we had written as children, as well as all the maps and drawings. They were just too embarrassing for young boys entering their teenage years.

I did manage to save my two ‘epics’ – ‘Tale Of The Ring’ and ‘Invasion Of The Coobah Monsters’ (which was never completed). I don’t recall how or why they escaped the incinerator, but I’m glad they did. They are like strange relics from another age, written by someone familiar, yet unfamiliar.

And sometimes, when leafing through the yellowed pages of these books, memories and sensations from years ago will pop into my mind – a Saturday afternoon playing in Luke’s backyard, meeting him before school to swap the latest stories, or staying up late in my room with a pile of maps and drawings, imagining a new and exciting world.

For a glimpse of some of the drawings from these early books click on this link.

A Chicken at my Window

Early one morning, in that blissful pre-alarm semi-sleep state, I heard a clucking outside my window. For a moment I thought I had dreamt the sound, but I opened my eyes, rolled over, and the sound persisted. The window is an arm’s length away from my bed; so I dragged myself towards it, propped myself up on my pillow, and poked open the Venetian blind with my fingertips. Now there wasn’t any doubt. There was a chicken in my front yard. It clucked away happily to itself while scratching through bark chips and under bushes. It was a small red bantam hen, its feathers an almost metallic bronze in the morning sun.

When my cat discovered the chicken, it scrambled up to the window and forced its way through the blind, leaving its rear legs and twitching tail on my side, while salivating against the glass. Meanwhile, I ate breakfast, showered and dressed for work. By the time I walked out to the car, the chicken was nowhere to be seen. It was almost as if I had dreamt it.

But the next morning it was back again, clucking and scratching just outside my bedroom window. I discovered that after its morning feed, the chicken would climb into a nearby bush, where it would roost on the higher branches for the rest of the day. I began to worry that it wasn’t getting enough to eat, and began leaving breadcrumbs on the ground around the bush where it hid. My daughter, L, built a hutch out of boxes and left it near the bush in the hope that the bird would crawl inside to keep warm.

The chicken was still outside my window on the weekend, so L and I set about trying to find its home. We each took a different street and began knocking on doors. I didn’t think that the question – “Do you keep chickens, or do you know of anyone who does?” – was that weird, but judging by the looks and responses I got, I may have been mistaken. One woman looked at me with the kind of face one would reserve for someone from another planet.

L had similar experiences, however, at her third house, she got lucky. She was told that an old man in the adjoining street kept bantams. She found the house, knocked on the door, and was greeted by an elderly man who moved stiffly with the aid of a walking stick. It was, indeed, his hen, although he hadn’t noticed it missing, nor did he display any gratitude that we had found it. He explained to L that he was crippled and could not come to collect the hen. He asked that we catch and return it to him.

I was relieved to find the chicken’s home, but less than enthused by its owner’s response. Nevertheless, we set out to try and capture the bird. Our first attempt failed miserably, and the chicken simply flew into a nearby tree and refused to come down until we’d left. We then developed strategies involving boxes, blankets and a variety of disguises, but the chicken was too quick for us, and we only succeeded in scaring it into an adjoining yard. This arrangement suited me fine, but L was not impressed. “We can’t just leave it there,” she whined. She needn’t have worried. Within a couple of minutes it was back in our garden.

A new week started, and the chicken was still living in the bush outside my window. Every morning I would wake to its silly clucking. I would get up, feed the cat, and then shuffle outside to feed the chicken. It came to expect me, and would wait on the doorstep, do a little dance when I opened the door, then dash back to its hiding place in the bush, until I’d left its food and gone back inside. Begrudgingly, I grew to like the chicken, and looked forward to saying “hello” to it when I came home from work each day, and when I got up in the morning.

Some mornings it would climb up on my windowsill and peer in at me. This would excite our cat greatly and it would climb up and press its nose against the window. The chicken didn’t seem to mind. In fact, it almost seemed to be taunting the cat.

On Wednesday, the weather changed for the worse, and dark clouds blew in, along with a chilly wind. The chicken spent less time in the open, and more time in the shelter of its bush. I could see its football-shaped silhouette in the half-light of evening, perched on a branch in the middle of the bush, its little head bobbing nervously.

The following morning it did not greet me at the door, nor the morning after that. But I could still see it hiding in the bush. I’d bought some proper chicken food at a local pet store and left a pile of it on a sheltered patch of dry ground. The chicken eyed me cautiously from its hiding place. It seemed thinner than it had when it first arrived a week earlier. I hoped I was just imagining things. I really didn’t want to chicken to die.

It’s now early Saturday evening. The chicken is still out there. I can see a dark chicken-shape in the bush. I wonder if it’s cold or lonely. I wonder if it’s hungry. I worry about the wind and the rain. I worry that the chicken might not make it through the night.

All of a sudden the chicken is the most important thing in the world.

Just like the Fambly Cat – a Review








With the release of their album ‘The Sophtware Slump’ in 2000, Grandaddy were hailed as part of a group of bands (along with Mercury Rev, Sparklehorse and the Flaming Lips) rewriting the American songbook for the 21st Century. The band’s preoccupation with human/machine relationships and societal decay even drew comparisons with the likes of Radiohead. But the follow up, 2003’s ‘Sumday’, disappointed many, with its repetitive song structures and limited sonic palette. Given the promise suggested by ‘The Sophtware Slump’ the album seemed a sideways, if not backward step.

Three years on, and we have the latest, and last, Grandaddy album. The forthcoming release of ‘Just like the Fambly Cat’ was announced at the same time as the band’s dissolution. After 14 years of recording and touring it was felt that the band had simply run its course. Unfortunately, there is some evidence of that here. It is not surprising, given the circumstances, that the album has a fragmented, incomplete feel, but there is also an unhealthy serving of filler.

That’s not to say that the album is all bad – it’s not. There is, in fact, a far greater variety of sound and mood on this release than ‘Sumday’. It’s just that there are also a greater number of less-than-satisfying songs here. Two of the best (almost) bookend the album – ‘Summer…It’s Gone’ and ‘This Is How It Always Start’. Both songs are concerned with loss and dissolution:

Summer…it’s gone,
I don’t know where everyone went or where I’ll go
Summer…it’s gone
Now it’s clear that no one is showing up here.

And;

This is how it always starts
Order falls apart
Things were stable yesterday
But now they’re blown away.

Given the band’s decision to call it a day, the lyrics are especially poignant.

Elsewhere, Grandaddy demonstrate their more playful side while still addressing issues such as alienation and loneliness. The narrator of ‘Where I’m Anymore’ is lost in suburbia amid garage sales, ice cream trucks and exercise equipment. While low-fi rocker ‘Jeez Louise’ details a failed teenage romance where ‘your mom always hated me’.

One of the album highlights, ‘Elevate Myself’, opens with a Devo-esque riff before plunging into a stream of synth bubbles and electronic gurgles, over which Jason Lytle sings:

I don’t want to be a part of all the quality that falls apart these days
I’d rather make an honest sound, watch it fly around, and then be on my way

It’s a rejection of modern pop culture that cleverly employs a host of modern pop sounds.

Other tracks are not so successful. The largely instrumental ‘Rear View Mirror’ and ‘Skateboarding Saves Me Twice’ sound like sketches rather than fully developed songs, while ‘The Animal World’ is a repetitive drone. ‘Guide Down Denied’ is also dreary and repetitious, outstaying its welcome well before the track’s six-minute running time. And it’s not just this song that is guilty of running over time. The album as a whole drags on beyond the one-hour mark. The shedding of some of these lesser songs would have only been an improvement.

In the future, when we talk of Grandaddy, and their brand of quirky indie pop, we will refer to ‘The Sophtware Slump’ or ‘Under The Western Highway’, not ‘Just like the Fambly Cat’. But the new album is probably a fitting conclusion to their career. It’s jumbled, strange, scruffy, sad, sweet, patchy, moving, fuzzy, frustrating and funny – just like the band really…