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?

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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…