About Graham Catt

Graham Catt is a South Australian poet and writer of short stories. Sometimes he takes photos.

Thinking can kill you

The mind is its own place, and in it self
Can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.

John Milton

 

I am always baffled by reactions of anger to news of a suicide. I can recall a work colleague once hurling books and papers around her desk when she’d heard that a friend’s friend’s uncle had killed himself. She didn’t even know him.

As someone who has experienced such desperation, my own reaction is one of deep sadness and empathy. It’s not hard for me to imagine what the person might have been going through, and why he or she might have taken such steps.

To be trapped in your own negative thoughts and emotions is indescribably painful. Unlike a bad physical experience, you can’t walk out of your own mind. The bad experience is happening inside you, and there doesn’t seem to be a way out.

Not that long ago, I found myself awake at 3.00am worrying about a mysterious stomach ailment I’ve acquired and its affect upon my life. After an hour or so of hideous, grinding ‘thought’ I suddenly ‘came to’, as if from a dream, and realised that my thoughts had been dragging me deeper and deeper into a mental, and physical, quagmire.

‘You’re no good, you’re pathetic, you’re weak, you’re not normal…etc’

This cycle of ugly self-criticism was like a coil, pulling my mind and body tighter into itself. I could feel the negative emotional energy in my chest, my neck, my limbs – a heavy, dark static.

Becoming aware of these thoughts and sensations is the key to overcoming them, but it isn’t always so easy to do – and it’s certainly not easy to remove yourself from them when they have become your ‘reality’.

The origins of depressive thoughts are many and varied – rejection, divorce, death of a ‘loved one’, disablement, sickness, losing a job, financial mismanagement, an accident. Sometimes there may not even seem to be a specific reason for being depressed.

Over time, these depressive thoughts acquire an emotional force, and together they form a bundle of negativity that lives inside you, and emerges as though a dark cloud when triggered by the ‘right’ situation or sensation. This ‘trigger’ could be anything – a memory, the actions of a partner or work colleague, or something you saw on television.

This negative force can even seem to arise without provocation – suddenly, you’re overcome by feelings of self-loathing or anger or deep sadness! Where did it come from?

During my 3.00am ordeal, I’d started worrying about a stomach sickness, and within an hour, had turned the situation into a fully-fledged assault on my self-worth. What sort of day would I have had if I hadn’t realised what was going on?

Realising that you can step back and observe your own thoughts is a revelation, but it’s only the first step to finding your way out of the void of negative body-mind experiences.

 

 

Port of Morrow – a Review

It might just be me, but the start of 2012 has seemed dismally short of great pop albums.

Thankfully, The Shins have helped remedy this with their first lp for five years – and the first on Mercer’s own label, Aural Apothecary – and it’s full of hooks, great melodies and memorable tunes. Since Wincing the Night Away in 2007, the band has seen an almost complete change in line-up, with James Mercer, now the only original member.

The new album – Port of Morrow – is possibly less guitar, more keyboards oriented than previous lps, but there is no great change in sound. This is not surprising, given that The Shins have always been almost a solo project for Mercer. On this album, his voice dominates, the intelligent, clever pop lyrics front and centre.

The album opens with one of its highlights, Rifle’s Spiral. Flickering guitars, bobbing bass, and bubbling synths provide the backing to a cryptic portrait – ‘viscera unfurls as you rise from your burning Fiat’ and ‘you were always to be a dagger floating straight to their heart’.

Second track, Simple Song, the first single, is, as the title suggests, a more straightforward love song. The song builds up nicely through the first verse and bridge, with backing harmonies and layers of guitar, then falls away beautifully in the chorus, leaving Mercer’s voice and a simple keyboard line to carry the gorgeous melody.

My life is an upturned boat, marooned on a cliff, you brought me a great big flood, and you gave me a lift, girl what a gift, and you tell me with your tongue, and your breath goes in my lungs, and we float over the rift.

It’s Only Life and September are both slower in tempo, both echoing the songs of Neil Finn (this is a good thing). Bait and Switch, on the other hand, is 70s power pop – jerky rhythms, electronic burps and an urgent, manic chorus backdrop a tale of temptation and betrayal – how she got in, I’m not sure that I know, two weeks on and my spine was in traction, my eyes in a basket.

Another album highlight – No Way Down – sounds almost celebratory in tone, while its lyrics describe crooked politics and America’s economic troubles. It’s a curious combination, but the tune is fabulous.

A tiny few are having all the fun, apologies to the sick and the young, get used to their dust in your lungs.

The second half of the album is filled with slower tracks; For A Fool – with its twanging guitar and delicious swoon of a chorus, Fall of ’82 – another portrait, complete with 70’s horns, and 40 Mark Strasse – a song of unrequited love: You play in the street at night, blown like a broken kite, my girl you’re giving up the night, are you gonna let these Americans, put another dent in your life.

The title track finishes the album with more cryptic lyrics – a glimpse of the apocalypse perhaps: Life is death is life, I saw a photograph; Cologne in ’27, and then a postcard, after the bombs in ’45, must have been a world of evil clowns that let it happen, but now I recognise dear listeners, that you were there and so was I.

The Shins are not groundbreakers or experimenters. In fact, their sounds and style are pure 60’s/70’s pop. In fact, on Port of Morrow they sound most like Crowded House, hardly cutting edge, but an indication of the songwriting strength.

The Shins do what they do extremely well, and I’m happy for them to keep on doing it.

This must be the place – a Review

This must be the place is the new film from acclaimed Italian director, Paolo Sorrentino. It features a compelling central character and lots of memorable images but, unfortunately, doesn’t do very much with them.

Sean Penn is Cheyenne, a bored, retired rock star (with an uncanny resemblance to The Cure’s Robert Smith) who lives in an Irish mansion with his adoring wife, Jane (Frances McDormand). Cheyenne is quietly spoken – his voice little more than a whisper – and due to a back problem, walks with a stiffened zombie-like shuffle.

We are introduced to Cheyenne as he stumbles around Dublin suburbia, frightening shoppers, obsessing over his share portfolio, or playing matchmaker to a couple of young friends. We also meet a mother grieving over the disappearance of her son, Cheyenne’s obnoxious friend, and a rock band looking to record their first album.

When Cheyenne hears that his father is dying, he travels to New York, but arrives too late to patch up a longstanding rift between the pair. He learns that his father – a Holocaust survivor – had spent his life searching for the Nazi officer who’d terrorised him. Cheyenne decides to take up the search.

The remainder of This must be the place ventures into familiar ‘quirky’ road movie territory, as the rock star travels aimlessly across the US, meeting an assortment of oddballs and eccentrics.

While Penn’s performance is one of the film’s highlights, the uncommunicative nature of the character makes it very hard to empathise with him, or even understand his motives at times. Initially, the Frances McDormand character provides us with a ‘window’ into Cheyenne’s world, but once the ‘action’ moves to the US we are on our own.

The American portion of the film is filled with secondary characters, but none are given any great depth, and they seem to come and go without purpose. For example, Cheyenne befriends a lonely waitress and her son, and a bond seems to grow between them. However, before the relationship can develop, or acquire any purpose in the film, Cheyenne leaves them, and their appearance seems ultimately pointless.

This must be the place looks lovely and every frame appears painstakingly constructed. Yet this also lends the film an air of pretentiousness, as does the movie’s preoccupation with odd, unexplained images or scenes. At times, the film even resembles a music video, with its succession of seemingly unrelated images.

I really wanted to like This must be the place. It has all the elements of an interesting, entertaining movie, but somehow fails to deliver.

I wonder if it’s because it doesn’t know what kind of movie it wants to be – a serious examination of war crimes and the Holocaust, a reflection on fame and its consequences, or a simple ‘fish out of water’ comedy.

In the end, unfortunately, This must be the place is none of these.

 

Reviewed by Candy

Single Men of a Certain Age

There was this suspicious looking guy at the beach last weekend.

He was middle-aged, balding, a bit flabby, and alone. And he was dressed for winter – jeans, shirt with collar, boots – when it was warm day.

I saw him lingering awkwardly around the café, sipping on a bottle of water, and decided to keep an eye on him. There was something about him that was not quite right.

Eventually he found a patch of grass and squatted with crossed legs as though about to meditate. He took a notebook from his backpack and started scribbling in it, while watching the parade of joggers, bikini girls, surfers, kids and families that filled the promenade. Then he pulled out a camera and took a few pictures – of the beach, the sky, the clouds. At least, that what it seemed like from where I was sitting – they might have been sneaky pics of kids!

What was he up to? Was he a pervert? On drugs? Was he dangerous? Or just deranged?

Well, he was me! I was taking a rest after walking several kilometres from a nearby beach.

And the above observations are the thoughts I imagine pass through the minds of those not in the same demographic – i.e. male, single, middle-aged. For I’ve noticed in recent years, that the unmarried or unattached S.N.A.G. (sensitive new age guy), while acceptable in the twenty-to-thirty age group, somehow morphs into the S.M.A.C. (sleazy middle-aged creep) when he hits his late forties and fifties, at least in the eyes of many people.

My daughters, both in their mid-twenties, first alerted me to the phenomenon, when they pointed out that my habit of talking to little kids and babies at the supermarket was probably scaring the parents. A young father might be able to get away with it, or a hobbling, silver-haired octogenarian, but not a balding, spectacle-wearing middle-aged male like myself.

I have since kept well away from playgrounds, toy stores or any such places, lest I be nabbed as an undesirable, my repulsive visage flashed across the pages of the Sunday Mail.

But the phenomenon is not confined to the ‘relationship’ between the single S.M.A.C. and children. For example, I’ve noticed that younger women react differently to single middle-aged men, as though the man’s marital status might represent a serious threat to their physical wellbeing.

This is well illustrated by a story my daughter told me. She once worked in a small office in which there worked many young women. There were also a couple of married guys, a few older married women, and a fifty-year old guy who lived alone. He collected jazz records, liked to travel and go to the opera. My daughter befriended him – after all, he seemed nice enough and talked about interesting things.

Unfortunately, my daughter was unaware that this man – due to age, gender and marital status – was ‘untouchable’. Her female colleagues ridiculed her – and the poor S.M.A.C. – until she desisted from talking to him again.

In John Irving’s book, The World According to Garp, Garp’s mother, Jenny – a single mother by choice – refers to herself as a ‘sexual suspect’.

I think this term sums up the S.M.A.C phenomenon. ‘Normal’ men do not reach middle age alone. There must be something wrong with them. They are diseased, damaged, deranged or dangerous. They are sexual suspects!

Of course, without hard evidence, such a hypothesis is bound to make huge generalisations, reach faulty conclusions, and be warped by personal experience. I can only say in my defence that I hope these are an unconnected collection of observations.

But spare a thought for the single S.M.A.C next time you see a movie or TV show about a child molester, serial killer or random pervert. Is he a middle-aged male? Is he single? Balding? Does he wear glasses?

No wonder people run away from me!

 

by Max Funt 

Curb your Enthusiasm – Season Eight – a Review

When a television comedy enters its eighth season you expect it to be ‘jumping the shark’ pretty soon, if it hasn’t already done so – in an effort to recharge a flagging show, its producers will desperately (or lazily) introduce a kooky relative, a mad dwarf, a man from space, or all three.

I initially thought Curb your Enthusiasm might have reached its ‘shark-jumping’ moment in Season Six, when Larry reluctantly takes in a family of black refugees. Then, in Season Seven, it was a Seinfeld cast reunion that smelled a little too much of ‘shark’. But both seasons had their share of solid stories and very funny situations.

Season Eight greets us with little novelty at all, apart from a mid-season switch to New York locales. And it might be one of the strongest seasons yet.

Larry and the Curb team have always been adept at juggling multiple storylines, then having them come crashing together in some outrageous conclusion. But I don’t think they’ve done it quite so cleverly and hilariously as they have in Season Eight.

For example, Episode Three manages to combine a golf tournament, a Palestinian chicken restaurant, Marty Funkhauser’s return to devout Judaism, an affair, a couple of annoying habits and Larry’s ‘social assassin’ skills to wonderful effect – along the way are many memorable Larry ‘moments’. (‘I’m going to fuck the Jew out of you,’ shrieks Larry’s Palestinian lover, while Marty Funkhauser fumes under his yarmulke in an adjoining room.)

Later in the season, we learn of Larry’s traumatic childhood Mister Softee memories, the results of which ruin a softball tournament and his sex life. The same episode includes some very funny scenes with a damaged car passenger seat (‘This chair is a fuck machine!’ declares Leon).

As usual, there are appearances of ‘real life’ celebrities. Larry battles Rosie O’Donnell for the affections of a bisexual lover, angers Ricky Gervais by talking throughout his stage performance, and in the season finale, Larry feuds with Michael J. Fox, claiming that Fox is taking advantage of his Parkinson’s illness to get back at him.

The only disappointment with Season Eight is the departure of Cheryl Hines, who played Larry’s extremely patient wife. With their divorce finalised in the first episode, she only appears in one short scene.

There is no one outstanding episode – like ‘Beloved Aunt’ in Season One, or ‘The Doll’ in Season Two – but that is possibly because they’re all pretty, pretty good. They’re so good it’s quite possible the show has a few more ‘sharkless’ seasons left in it.

Long live Larry!

Reviewed by Candy

Season Eight of Curb your Enthusiasm will be available to buy on DVD in Australia in June 2012.

Reign of Terror – a Review

Another month, another Brooklyn-based electronic duo with a new album! But unlike Chairlift, whose forebears might include Eurythmics and the Human League, Sleigh Bells seek their inspiration from the likes of Joan Jett.

Their first album contained its fair share of frivolity amid the endless metal riffing, and at least one perfect pop song in Rill Rill, but the follow up – Reign of Terror – finds them in a far darker place, and the album suffers for it.

Their ‘agenda’, as the album title might suggest, is one of confrontation and violence. This is further alluded to in the lyrics of first track True Shred Guitars.

On your knees, on your knees, suffer please.
On your knees, carry me, M16.
If you’ve seen what I’ve seen, bury me.
Burn the streets, baby please, finish me.

But the details of their ‘agenda’ are never revealed. Who or what are they against, if anything? Why the repeated references to self-destruction?

Of course, this metal and death fixation could be part of the fun, it just doesn’t sound like fun!

One of the most appealing aspects of Treats was the interplay between Miller’s guitar work and the voice of Alexis Krauss – sometimes sweet, sometimes sassy. Reign of Terror turns the guitars up to 11 at the expense of the vocals, which makes the already ambiguous lyrics even harder to hear.

Many of the tracks suggest a conflict, with the protagonist both attracted and repelled (often violently) by the subject. Track 3, Crush, is a good example.

I gotta crush on
I gotta crush you
Baby please
I gotta crush on
I gotta crush you now.

And in Road to Hell.

Don’t run away from me baby
Just go away from me baby
Don’t run away from me baby
Just go away from me baby.

There are some good tunes here – End of the Line, Comeback Kid and You Lost Me are all winners – but the lyrics of even these slightly sweeter sounding tracks are just as tortured. For example, End of the Line opens with this grim image.

The nightmare lies in the mourning
When the birds are bleeding.

Not a great way to start the day, I’d suggest.

So – what to make of Reign of Terror? I’m a little disappointed and feel they’ve made a few mistakes. I’d like to see them drop some of the metal clichés and posturing, and stick to great tunes. I wouldn’t class this album a failure by any means; I just think they’re capable of so much more.

Review by Tidy Boy

Carnage – a Review

We’ve all been in the sort of situation that requires we behave with tact and restraint, rather than the seething anger we actually feel – disputes with neighbours, family quarrels, traffic incidents etc.

Carnage, the latest film from Roman Polanski, is about one of those situations. Only on this occasion, despite the best intentions of most of the participants, tact and restraint are abandoned in favour of hysteria.

Ethan, the son of Michael and Penelope Longstreet (John C. Reilly and Jodie Foster), has been hit in the face with a stick, resulting in some damage to his teeth. The protagonist is Zachary, the son of Alan and Nancy Cowan (Christolph Waltz and Kate Winslet). All four parents decide to meet at the Longstreet’s apartment to discuss, and hopefully resolve the situation.

Initially, the Longstreets are almost overbearing in their hospitality, with Penelope talking without interruption, and Michael forcing food and drink on the more restrained Cowans. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Alan Cowan is less than pleased to be there, paying more attention to his mobile phone than the matter at hand.

The meeting is drawn out further when Nancy, suddenly nauseous, vomits across the Longstreet’s coffee table, on which there are several expensive art books. As Penelope’s already nervous disposition deteriorates, the afternoon starts to go downhill, particularly when Michael introduces a bottle of Scotch.

Couples turn on each other, husbands scream at wives, the women laugh at the men.

Carnage is based on the play God of Carnage by Yasmina Reza (who also co-wrote the screenplay). However, there is no attempt to hide its stage bound origins, with the entire movie (barring the short scenes that bookend the film) taking place in the one apartment. For me this worked in the movie’s favour, adding a claustrophobic effect – for the characters, there is no escape, only endurance.

The pleasures of Carnage are watching Foster and Winslet – two of the best female actors of the past 20-30 years – in full flight. Jodie Foster’s transformation from genial host to apoplectic wreck is amazing. But Reilly and Waltz are no slouches either. Waltz plays his cynical lawyer with relish, as though amused with the havoc he is helping to wreak. Reilly too, reveals himself to be far from the friendly host he might seem.

Carnage will make you laugh and squirm – often at the same time. It’s a small, intelligent film with great dialogue and superb acting. If you prefer guns, robots and car chases, I’d suggest you stay away; otherwise it’s definitely worth seeing.

Stick around for the end credits too, as you’ll notice the two sons reconciling in their own way, suggesting that perhaps we unlearn as we grow older, and not the other way around.

 

Review by Candy

Everything’s Gone Greenish – New Order in Concert

I saw New Order play at the Thebarton Theatre 25 years ago, and remember being very disappointed. The sound was atrocious, the band seemed pissed off, and they played a short set of obscure album tracks, b-sides and thrashy versions of otherwise likeable songs. The only semblance of a hit was ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’. The event wasn’t quite damaging enough to warrant a sacrificial burning of my New Order collection, but it made me wary of committing to any future New Order live experiences.

In the years since I’ve seen video footage of many competent, even very good, live New Order performances. Was it possible that my 1986 experience was a rare aberration? Did Hooky have a headache? Did Gillian forget to plug in her keyboard? Was the band under some sort of collective trance that made their music almost unlistenable?

Whatever the reason, when it was announced that the band were reforming (minus Hooky) and touring Australia, I jumped at the chance to see one of their shows, assuming that they’d overcome whatever ailed them on their ’86 tour. The temptation was too great! Would they play ‘Your Silent Face’? Would Bernard wear shorts? Would Gillian press the wrong key and summon the Walrus from Hell?

And so, I found myself, along with thousands of others, jammed into the Hordern Pavilion on an unusually wet and cold night in March. The excitement was palpable – fans with greying and/or receding hair donned New Order t-shirts, others wore Gillian masks, while a small minority wore black armbands in protest at Hooky’s absence. I managed to get a seat to the right of the stage – not the best spot for sound, but the view of the stage was good.

After a brief introductory ‘Elegia’, the band launched into a stomping version of ‘Crystal’, followed by the highlight of their ‘Republic’ album, ‘Regret’. From there, the band went from one great tune to another – ‘Age of Consent’, ‘Ceremony’, ‘Temptation’, ‘Krafty’ and so on. While the sound tended to get a bit murky at times, it was mostly excellent, particularly on those tracks with an electronic heart. ‘Bizarre Love Triangle’, ‘Blue Monday’ and ‘Perfect Kiss’ were all especially good, but it was a version of ‘586’ which was the highlight of the night for me.

The only complaint I had was their insistence on playing ‘Love Will Tear Us Apart’. Although it wasn’t so much that they played it, but how they played it. For me, the song works best with restraint and subtlety, allowing the simple melody to shine through. Their version at the Hordern Pavilion was more akin to Status Quo than Joy Division. They even employed a bizarre shriek during the chorus, which was perhaps meant to represent Ian Curtis’s reaction to this horrific rendition.

Despite this hiccup, the show was over too soon and we were tossed out into the rain, humming ‘Blue Monday’ in time to the sound of traffic and water as we plodded towards home.