Tuesday, 10 April 2018

Come Said The Boy

'Come Said The Boy' was a chart-topping song released by the Australian band Mondo Rock in the year 1983. It is the creepiest song ever written!

It tells the exploits of a teenage couple during a 'party night at the end of school' where at least one of the protagonists has a sexual encounter for 'the first time.' There is nothing wrong with this as subject matter per-se, but the voyeuristic nature of the song, combined with the fact that Mondo Rock's lead singer Ross Wilson was 36 at the time, makes me a little uncomfortable.

When I hear the song, I can't help but think of the phenomenon known as Toolies - adult males who prowl Schoolies' Week on The Gold Coast every year, preying on drunk and naive young women.

I am not accusing Ross and his band mates of this, but I do have a mental picture of Mondo Rock spying on the beach from a nearby high-rise through a pair of binoculars, making notes on teenage mating rituals so they can mine some material and write a classic teen anthem.

A lot about the song doesn't ring true to me - although, I must admit - I have no personal recollection of 'party nights at the end of school.' This is because most of these parties for me involved drinking two VBs and passing out on my friend's driveway. 

I suppose in hindsight 'the first time' might seem like a life-altering event for most, but it was probably nowhere near as eventful as the chorus-dripping guitar, arpeggiated synths and dramatic minor chords in this song would have us believe. Adults would probably like to think this song might be the soundtrack to their 'first time', but I would suggest something more like 'The Benny Hill Theme' as an appropriate analogy.

Also, the lyrics of the song suggest the woman 'knew some older men' and I guess it's good that they don't seem to pass judgement on her for this, but it's telling that this fact was even mentioned at all.

Because of the beach setting, the boy in the song is presumed to be some fit, muscular surfer dude, but when the lyrics come to the part where the girl asks him to 'come on be a man for me', I can't help thinking of a wheezing, asthmatic nerd, whose pasty white skin can barely conceal his racing heart jumping out of his chest with anxiety. Surely, the pressure from this sort of request would be a deal breaker for him and he would excuse himself, adjust his classes, take a puff on his inhaler and go off to finish his cryptic crossword in silence?

Maybe I'm simply not the key demographic for this song, but I was 12 when it was released and that should be an ideal age. I find it interesting that the song has been so widely accepted and even covered by such divergent talents as John Farnham and Tex Perkins. A quick look on Spotify also reveals a jazz-influenced acoustic version which conjurs up images of an even older voyeur spying on young teenagers - and more disturbingly - it makes me consider old people reminiscing about their own exploits... Maybe they're still at it!

Perhaps the original isn't so bad after all - I'll let you decide:

Saturday, 27 May 2017

How far can too Fargo?

For such a tiny place, a lot of big things seem to happen in the town of Fargo.

After the successful Coen Brothers movie, audiences could be forgiven for thinking the story of a bungled kidnapping, orchestrated by hapless car salesman Jerry Lundegaard, would have been the end of trouble for the town. Surely, the shocked residents could now breathe a sigh of relief and return to their unremarkable lives?

Unfortunately for them – No!

Luckily for us, author and TV writer Noah Hawley (Bones, Legion) saw further menace lurking under the surface and has so far devised three successful series about other sinister goings-on in the town.

The Coen Brothers’ shoes are big ones to fill, so Hawley kept fans on side in the first series by cleverly keeping to the formula that made the movie work, focusing on a domestic issue between a man and his wife, which then careens madly out of control. In the subsequent two series, however, Hawley really managed to pull out all stops and put his own stamp on the show.

The major difference in the second series is that it’s a period piece set in the 1970s, with immaculate sets, costuming and a sepia-toned look that really brings the era to life.

The plot involves another story of domestic turmoil, but this time painted on a bigger canvas and most notably featuring other story elements such as faux documentary footage and an unexpected extra-terrestrial visitor.

The events in season two revolve around Kirsten Dunst’s character Peggy Blumquist accidentally running over local bad guy Rye Gearhardt, who is momentarily distracted by what appears to be a UFO. The UFO could just have easily been a cat, a faulty traffic light, or ice on the road, but making the distraction an extra terrestrial simply emphasizes how absurd and unpredictable life can be – and there is plenty of absurdity in Fargo.

Viewers were a little frustrated that this UFO element was never explained, but perhaps it represented a theme that has so far featured in all the Fargo interpretations: the random element of chance.

Sci-fi is again featured in season three. A case of mistaken identity leads to the death of grumpy Octogenarian Ennis Stussy. When his step-daughter goes through the old man’s belongings, she discovers that he was once a pulp science fiction writer who used the pseudonym Thaddeus Mobley and wrote a trashy science fiction novel ‘The Planet of WYH’

A fair chunk of an episode is dedicated to animating ‘The Planet WYH’ which is about a robot trapped on earth for millennia. The sequence ends up being a fairly effective rumination on loneliness and a great piece of exposition on a character, which we also learn was cheated by a crooked Hollywood producer.

The way in which Hawley uses science fiction reminds me of American post-war novelist Kurt Vonnegut, who used science fiction elements to great effect to emote the trauma and absurdity of war in his famous novel Slaughterhouse Five.

The credits for Fargo always open with the announcement that ‘This is a True Story’, but only the most gullible viewers would believe this claim.

Maybe Hawley is implying that one can’t exist without the other. All stories are inherently fiction, but also that fiction can be used to explain a greater truth?

I have no idea if Hawley is a science fiction afficionado, but the fact he was the creator of the Marvel series Legion suggests he might be. I think that ultimately, like all good writers, Hawley simply likes pulling threads and seeing where they lead.

I personally would follow any thread that leads to Fargo. There’s always something unexpected happening there – and that’s the truth!

Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Arrested Development

I went down to the Coburg RSL recently on the premise of seeing some local bands. Secretly, I think I just didn't want to watch the Federal election coverage on my own and needed beer and a big-screen TV for company.

During the course of the evening, I bought a two-dollar raffle ticket and was surprised and delighted to hear my number called out over the PA when the raffle was drawn. I never win anything!

What would the prize be? 

A meat tray? Free beer? An overseas holiday?

I gleefully raced to the stage to receive my prize for the evening, which was presented by local celebrity and pensioner-transvestite Barb Wire.

I tried to hide my initial disappointment, when I realised that the prize I had won was actually a couple of Mr Men books.

Always being the optimist, however, I consoled myself with the thought that I could give the books to my daughter.

Except I couldn't - my daughter was now eight and way too old to read such simplistic fare as 'Mr Men.'

It occurred to me that she wouldn't be able to appreciate these books again until she was about 17.

There was a period just after I left school where a lot of people I know (including myself) seemed to revert to a child-like state. With the benefit of hindsight, I can now see this for what it was: teenagers desperately clinging on to the last vestiges of childhood before having to confront the realities of the adult world.

We would all get about town at night wearing our Mr Men t-shirts, silly hair colours and brightly coloured converse, while either studying at uni during the day, or, in my case, working some menial office jobs to save up enough money for the next weekend. I was more juvenile than most - I had a pair of Thomas the Tank Engine slacks at one point!

Maybe we should have been saving money for a deposit on a house as part of a portfolio that we could negative gear in our later years, but it seemed important at the time to just blow off some steam. Perhaps some of the people who were really responsible in those early years are the ones that are going through a mid life crisis now?

Eventually the fascination with childhood waned somewhat and I went the other way instead by ironically dressing like an old man in slacks and a cardigan. It's a look I've kept to this day, but it becomes less ironic as the years go on.

Fashions come and go, of course, but it always strikes me as strange when I look at old photos now from the early days of photography and everybody seems to dress so uniformly and look so serious. I think it had to do with the expense of taking pictures before they became a much more disposable commodity. Hence, taking a photograph was a 'serious' business.

Or perhaps life was just harder?

The paradigm certainly seemed to shift after World War II when youth became something to be celebrated. It even became something to aspire to from the 1950s onwards. It seems that generations before that were eager to 'grow up' and be like their parents. Perhaps the sour expressions in some of those early photos were actually a result of crushing responsibilities at what we would now consider these days to be a very young age.

Behind the stage at the Coburg RSL there are some sombre silhouettes of soldiers which, on the evening that I attended, were contrasted rather sharply with the ramshackle indie bands playing.

I wondered what these diggers would have thought about the generations that proceeded them? Undoubtedly some would not approve of a seeming lack of responsibility and a focus on the individual, but I think ultimately what they were fighting for was a freedom of expression and with that, there also comes a need to accept points of view that differ from your own.

* * *

After the gig I went home and sat down to read my Mr Men books with a glass of wine. 

When I opened them, I was surprised (and a little bit disappointed) to find they were not story books after all, but Mr Men notebooks.

This was something I could use!

In the weeks after winning the books, I have put them to use making 'To Do' lists of my daily responsibilities. Finally I have found a happy medium between the adult world and the childish.

My daughter likes to draw in the books as well!

Thursday, 31 December 2015


It's amazing how standards can slip over time. I once said I'd never participate in the American tradition of Halloween, but I eventually succumbed along with the rest of the population when it became too mainstream to ignore. I freely admit that I now enjoy Halloween, but it's come at a price. Halloween has dissolved my last vestige of dignity and turned me into something I swore I'd never be - a face painter!

During previous Halloweens, I've made a token effort to join in and have worn my old velvet smoking jacket, sheepishly telling any confused onlookers that I was Gomez Addams from The Addams family.

Nobody was convinced.

This year I decided that I wanted to impress my daughter Clementine and go to some actual effort and maybe even manage to scare her. She always seems to watch passively as people are torn limb from limb on television, but is strangely scared of such mundane things as ants and cuddly yellow labradors in real life.

I wanted her to be scared of something fantastical for a change!

I decided that Tim Burton's character Beetlejuice would be the perfect balance between not being frightened at all and being emotionally scarred for life, so I set about devising the perfect costume.

As something of method actor, I researched the character thoroughly. I watched the movie Beetlejuice, studied the character' mannerisms and even bought a copy of 'Harry Belafonte's Greatest Hits' which is featured in the movie.

The costume seemed easy enough to make, I'd simply buy an old black suit and paint white stripes on  it. This took a lot longer than I thought and was fairly labour intensive.

For the wig, I reluctantly had to buy an official Beetlejuice wig from a costume shop. I modified it somewhat by cutting the hair shorter to match the character in the movie and cutting out the 'fake' receding hair line. Nature seemed to have covered that base for me already.

The only other thing I needed was make-up, which I also bought from the local costume shop.

When Halloween came around we were both ready to go 'trick-or-treating.' I was dressed as Beetlejuice and Clementine was incongruously dressed as a dinosaur.

We gathered at the local park with other families to terrorise the neighbourhood in hordes. I wasn't prepared for the reaction I received when I turned up.

Maybe I'd done too good a job, but people seemed genuinely pleased to see me and were alarmingly keen to interact with 'Beetlejuice.'

This is when I realised I was not truly committed to the character.

Children and adults alike came up to me and excitedly yelled 'Hey Beetlejuice, how are you?'

It stopped me in my tracks as I searched for a response.

In the movie, Beetlejuice would have replied in a gravely tone, danced around maniacally, groped a nearby woman and greedily devoured some live insects.

I prepared my response with this in mind.

'Pretty good, I guess', I replied laconically, with my arms dangling uselessly by my side.

My admirers smiled weakly and walked away looking somewhat disappointed.

I thought back to the only two acting roles I had done in short films - 'slow-witted council worker' and 'momma's boy'. Were these the roles that would define me forever? Was this limited emotional expression all that I could conjure up?

I dejectedly walked around the streets of my suburb, Pascoe Vale, with the other parents and our children in tow. We were all concerned by the mixed message we were sending about not talking to strangers and taking lollies off them. Apparently on this one day it's okay!

On the way home I stopped for a bottle of wine at the local bottle shop. The man behind the counter still recognised me as Beetlejuice even though I wasn't wearing the wig anymore. It seems my own hair would have sufficed the whole time!

When I got back in the car I noticed that people were pointing at me excitedly as I drove off. They were happy to see Beetlejuice! I did a victory lap of the car park smiling maniacally safe in the cocoon of my own vehicle. I felt a sense of elation. I now understand why people like to be Santa Claus. It's great to make make people feel happy and take them out of the mundane.

Clementine and I went home and watched 'Hotel Transylvania' before I sent her off to bed.

I walked into the bathroom. When I turned the light on a stranger appeared before me and made me jump backwards.

I'd forgotten I was still wearing the Beetlejuice makeup!

Ironically, Clementine remained unmoved by my costume, but I had managed to scare myself.

I studied my face in the mirror. The sweat from the evening had made my make-up run and achieved the 'sinister' effect I was looking for hours earlier. It actually took a few seconds of careful study to identify myself under my disguise, but I was relieved when I finally did.

I dropped Clementine back to her mother's place the next day and started cleaning up after our Halloween extravaganza.

I considered what to do with my 'Beetlejuice' suit. It would have been easy enough to drop it off at St Vinnie's, but instead I thought I'd hang it up in the wardrobe in case I needed to concur up his powers again.

I spent the evening casually watching TV when suddenly a spider appeared in the corner of the room.

I contemplated him for a while.

'You look delicious,' I thought to myself, before cackling maniacally.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

Goodbye Cody

One of my earliest memories of our dog Cody was watching him sliding across the polished wooden floors of our house in Lutwyche. He was about three months old and wasn't properly house trained.

He was weeing in the house.

I'd never owned a dog, so I panicked and slid him across the floor, thinking it'd be the fastest way to get him outside. Perhaps I'd overestimated my strength, or hadn't anticipated the lubricating factor of his urine, but he ended up tumbling down the front steps.

I felt incredibly guilty.

He was fine.

I've always had a strange sense that my timing is off with people in the world. This feeling is no different when applied to Cody. When driving to pick him up for the first time from the pet shop, my ancient Kingswood chose that trip to dislodge the axle from the engine mount. I sheepishly asked friends to pick my dog up instead.

Despite our shaky beginnings, my girlfriend Edwina and I both came to love Cody. I can't speak for her, but I loved him in a way that I didn't know I needed. Cody was a kelpie-cattle dog cross requiring lots of attention and exercise. I was a fairly self-involved, under-employed, lazy, dreamer that lived in my own headspace. Cody helped me learn how to get out in the real world, and I can thank him in part for making me a relatively healthy individual these days. People that know me now may think I haven't changed much, but just imagine how much worse-off I'd be without Cody!

Eventually, Edwina and I got married and Cody was the 'best man' at our wedding. This may seem a bit indulgent, but it did save us from having to choose a human to play the part, and spared us
from any hurt feelings that may have been felt from people being 'passed-over' in our selection process. Once again Cody had come to our rescue!

It was only about a year after our marriage that we decided to move to Melbourne, and of course we took Cody with us. I felt a bit sorry for him because he didn't have as much room to roam in his new surroundings. He was, however, getting older and slowing down.

Our daughter Clementine was born about a year after we moved.

Being a new father, working part-time and being a carer for a baby girl left me feeling completely lost, but luckily Cody managed to help me out once again. He was still active enough
to enjoy visits to the park, so we'd spend many hours, on a daily basis, just frequenting the parks in our neighbourhood. Without Cody, we'd have been stuck at home all day.

Sure, Cody could've been a liability around children, but he had such a gentle nature that nobody seemed to mind (most of the time). Clementine and Cody had a love-hate relationship, but she also owes a debt to Cody, because she would often proudly introduce Cody to other children as 'her dog' to break the ice.

Everybody needs an 'in.'

As Clementine grew older, Cody became less of a focus for Edwina and I. Clementine took up an increasing amount of our attention. Unfortunately, it was around this time that my relationship with Edwina was coming apart, for reasons that were both beyond our control and due to both of us being too stubborn to express how we really feel.

This distance between Edwina and I made me feel jealous of Cody.

I'd often feel like I couldn't do anything right and have to walk on egg-shells, while Edwina wouldn't say anything and let Cody get away with crimes like licking the dishes in the dish washer. Why wasn't I allowed to lick those dishes clean? Oh, how I envied Cody's freedom of expression.

Cody was diagnosed with cancer during the last few years of his life and it makes me feel bad to say it, but I did not appreciate the expense of his treatment and the hour-long trips out to Box Hill to visit the dog oncologist on a tri-monthly basis. This was exacerbated by the fact that Cody considered Edwina to be the pack master. I know this is true because if the family was walking together and I wandered off by myself, Cody would only briefly hesitate. If Edwina wandered off he would staunchly refuse to budge. I was second-in-command at best!

The one thing that Cody and I really connected over was the fact that he knew how I was feeling more than anybody in the house.

Edwina and I eventually decided to go our separate ways, but before we did we had to sell the house we owned together. I was devastated on the day of auction, but Edwina and Clementine seemed completely calm and in control. I sat and brooded while the auction was in process, when suddenly Cody jumped up, licked my face and eventually fell asleep on my feet.

It made me feel infinitely better.

I had decided before the house settled to take a trip to Brisbane. Before sunrise on the day of my flight, Cody had a seizure. We rushed him to the emergency vet at Tullamarine. He was in such a state that Edwina and I knew he wouldn't survive the weekend, but we couldn't bring ourselves to admit it to each other. She dropped me off a few hours early at the airport, where I had too much time to think about what had just happened.

I called Edwina just before the flight and offered to stay in Melbourne for Cody's final hours. It seemed incredibly cruel to me and bizarre that we could once again not be 'there for each other' and it reminded me of when we first picked up Cody and my car broke down. My timing was never right!

Edwina eventually said that it was okay to go and to try and think of the good times.

Nothing came to mind.

The only image I could think of was Cody sliding down those front steps all those years ago. Then I realised why I couldn't think of the good times.

"There's just too many," I said to Edwina, before hanging up and tearfully joining the line for the flight.

Luckily, flight attendants at airports are used to seeing people cry. The woman who took my boarding pass offered the usual sympathetic smile, which was followed by a shifting gaze. It seemed to say, "Please sir, there is a long line to get through, can you please hurry along?"

I'm not a superstitious man, or a man of faith, but there's part of me that can't help but feel the timing of Cody's death signified that he couldn't make the choice between Edwina and I, as we went our separate ways.

People are wired to see a face when they look at the moon, or try and look for a narrative to a story when there isn't one. Rationally, I know that it was simply Cody's time to die.

I like to think it was serendipitous, however, that the last thing I said to him was simply this:

"Cody, you're a good boy"

Saturday, 25 July 2015

Bad Taste

Recently I've been looking around at household furnishings and have come to a startling conclusion - I have terrible taste!

I 'm not appalled by this insight. I'm rather proud of the fact.

I realised I would much rather paw though mountains of wood-veneer panelled sideboards, kitschy commemorative coffee mugs and velvety paintings of big-eyed children, than endless aisles of assembly-line Ikea furniture.

I felt the need to re-assert my love affair for kitsch after realising that my furnishings of questionable taste had silently dwindled and disappeared over the course of ten years of marriage.

On a recent expedition to replenish my supply, I came across a print that I remember fondly from my childhood, which stopped me in my tracks. It's a print that even I have to draw the line at for being 'too much.'

A quick Google search reveals that the print in question is titled 'Wings of Love' and is by the artist Stephen Pearson. It features a rather overtly sexual image of a man being delivered to his lover on the wings of a swan in some fantastical realm. Apparently it first appeared in print in 1972 and has sold some 3.5 million copies. It's not as rare as I suspected!

It left a lasting impression on me (and probably started me down the road to kitsch fandom) when I first saw it hanging above the bed in the house of our neighbours from down the road. Our neighbours were a family called 'The Gradys.'

Even though I would have been seven or eight years old, it struck me as rather incongruous to see such an exotic and fantastical image featuring perfectly-sculpted Da Vinci-esque specimens of mankind hanging above a bed in a low-set 1970s brick house in the outer Brisbane suburb of Alexandra Hills.

I only have vague recollections of The Gradys, but I remember the parents being rather conservative and dumpy-looking - not hideous, but certainly not of the calibre of human specimen that was depicted in this painting. I suppose we all need something to aspire to!

There was something very pagan about this picture. I found it weird that The Gradys would own such an image, because as far as I remember they were god-fearing Catholics. There's a possibility I may have jumped to conclusions about this, because Mr Grady was a carpenter and had a beard.

Anyway, I wondered on what level they might be appreciating this painting and what kind of things they were getting up to behind closed doors. Was there at least some level of irony involved?

One thing is for certain, the painting cemented the idea in my mind that a lot of weird things were going on in the 1970s!

I may go back today and check to see if 'Wings of Love' is still available for purchase. Maybe I can hang it above my bed and scar another generation of young children's developing minds with thoughts of what kind of person I actually am.

I'm fascinated to know if the painting still has the power to confound.

If nothing else, at least it would be a constant reminder that I need to go to the gym!

Friday, 5 June 2015

My Night at the Footy!

The zombie horde on the way to the MCG.
I've lived in Melbourne for eight years now and have never had the inclination to go to an AFL game - until now!

An invitation to the Richmond versus Essendon Dreamtime game from my workmates, combined with a desire to broaden my horizons, found me marching with the zombie-like horde towards the gates of the MCG on a chilly Saturday night.

After feasting on a dinner of reasonably priced hotdogs and pies, we entered the hallowed grounds of the MCG, where we were efficiently processed and marched towards our seats.

I felt a giddy thrill as I stared out at the grounds. I think this was more a result of the steep incline of the stands, a fear of the altitude we found ourselves at and a shortness of breath from the climb, than any genuine love of the game.

It was something of a mad scramble for everyone to get to their seats and there was a lot of sitting and then standing to let others pass. There was a polite level of apologising that you would expect in a crowded outdoor event. I considered this to be just part-and-parcel of the game and living in a civilised society.

There were a group of about four or five girls directly in front of us, however, who took exception to this constant interruption.

They stood out immediately to me because they were dressed as if they were heading to a nightclub more than a sporting event and were speaking loudly in a bored, spoilt, privileged and entitled tone that can only be reserved for one dreaded section of society - the American tourist!

"I'm literally dying!!" a girl with a cowboy hat drawled, as she stood to let a sheepish and frail-looking couple in their 60s pass.

The dialect of these girls was classically Californian from the 'Valley Girl' school of mangling the Queen's English. I listened intently to their conversations. They would often try and parody this type of speech, but they seemed unaware that it was only marginally different from their own way of speaking.

The 'view' from my seat.
Before we arrived at the MCG, we went to the pub, where I was passionately arguing that there are good people all over the world and ultimately we are all the same. I still believe this, but watching these girls getting up every five minutes to buy beer and pizza, swinging their selfie-stick dangerously over the heads of punters in front of them and only watching the game through the screen of their smartphones, made me briefly reconsider my stance.

I sat next to my friend Jo. She also sits next to me at work. I always considered her to be a very gracious, polite and caring person who would not hurt a fly, but once the game began and she let loose with a barrage of taunts for the opposition, I suddenly began to fear for my life. I was worried the players would not be able to hear the half time siren and wouldn't know when to stop. She was so loud she was even able to briefly distract our American friends from their endless selfies!

It was clear from Jo's barracking that the team we were supposed to be supporting was Essendon.

I could really only tell what was happening on the field by the reaction of the crowd, which was not helped by our physical distance from the ground. I have to admit to often getting distracted by a lone seagull that was circling overhead and sometimes not remembering which end of the ground my new team 'Essendon' were supposed to be running towards. I was relieved that my friend Andy explained to me after the game that the teams swap sides every quarter. I could now rule out my fears that I was suffering from early-onset Alzheimers or was about to have a stroke.

Luckily, our American friends got bored at about half time and left, which made it easier for me to concentrate on the second half of the game. I was actually getting swept up in the barracking, but it was clear from at least one Essendon fan behind us that things were not going well. He went from being broadly encouraging at the start of the game to referring to the team as 'a bunch of retards' by the second half.

In spite of all my attempts to remain positive, ultimately Essendon was defeated by Richmond - 59 to 71. My friends sat in silence as I grappled with a new, strange and unfamiliar feeling of solidarity. Eventually we decided to go for a drink, even though we were in the middle of the Richmond heartland. This would make the defeat all the more bitter.

As Richmond fans filed past our seats, I realised I had gone from being neutral to finding a new kinship with Essendon supporters. I even felt a bit of animosity towards one Richmond fan who gave me a superior grin as he filed past my seat, resplendent in his yellow and black scarf and beanie. I reluctantly stood to let him pass.

"I'm literally dying!!" I thought to myself.