Friday, 27 July 2012

Talking Heads: 77

I never get accused of being overly romantic, but there are certain objects and pieces of music that I feel a fond attachment to because they remind me of people, places and good times. One such object (and piece of music) is the Talking Heads debut album 'Talking Heads: 77'. I was buying this album when I first met my wife.

It was at radio station 4ZZZ's market day in the mid 1990s. We were both playing in bands that day and were introduced by my friend Cass. My wife's going to kill me for saying this, but she was wearing a summery dress, long socks, short hair and her trademark impenetrable-yet-eternally-unimpressed gaze. I'm sure there might have been other girls around at the time who would have easily fallen under the spell of my ample charms, but I found the challenge of impressing Edwina irresistible.

It is now some 17 years later and I still don't think I've managed it. I was watching an interview with Nick Cave recently and he was asked what kept him writing music. Nick replied that he was constantly trying to impress Mick Harvey. Maybe I would lose all motivation if I managed to impress Edwina.

Some may say that 'Talking Heads: 77' isn't a particularly romantic album - especially with it's most famous single being 'Psycho Killer', but most of the songs do deal with relationships even if it's with inanimate objects such as 'The Book I Read' or the building where you are going to live in 'Don't Worry about The Government'.

There are, however, a lot of the songs which are specifically about human relationships even if they might have cynical overtones; such as the jaunty album opener 'Uh-Oh,  Love Comes to Town', the militaristic sounding 'Tentative Decisions' or the tense and neurotic 'Who is it?' The album does finish on a high note, though, with the simple but effective 'Pulled Up' which is about rising above despair because somebody has faith in you... If that song isn't a perfect summation of new love then I don't know what is!

Beyond the music, however, there is an air of cautiousness between the musicians. As this was their debut album, Talking Heads were still developing their relationships as well. The chemistry between the band members is undeniable and you can sense the excitement and the feeling of possibilities that the band can explore. I like this early period of the band for this reason and find it more interesting than their 'Stop Making Sense' period where Talking Heads are overshadowed by too many session men which makes it seem like more of a 'Las Vegas' version of the band.

I recently purchased the excellent 'Chronology' DVD by Talking Heads which has some very early footage of the band performing, as well as some TV appearances. The band always seem very shy and guarded in TV interviews but on one occasion bassist Tina Weymouth uncharacteristically and candidly said she hoped the band would go down in rock history. You can sense this pull between this caution and ambition on 'Talking Heads: 77'.

If you don't think 'Talking Heads: 77' is an analogy for young love then I probably shouldn't mention where I invited Edwina to on our first date. I was obsessed with this band from Logan City in Brisbane called Just Bitchin' who had just released a debut EP called 'I Like to Fart'... It was terrible! When I look at the EP now it seems like the whole thing was just a front for some sort of drug-ring as the inside cover had contact details underneath a bowl of chopped-up marijuana. The half baked songs mainly concerned running away from the cops.

Edwina politely declined my invitation to attend one of their concerts - but it was an important test for a young relationship - 'How much of my puerile sense of humour are you willing to take?' It seems Just Bitchin' was a step too far, but at least Edwina found the invitation amusing. I, myself, wisely did not attend the concert either.

Considering that Just Bitchin' is the other option for our relationship album, I think slow-dancing to Psycho Killer by Talking Heads on our next anniversary doesn't seem like such a strange idea after all.


Friday, 20 July 2012

This Unsporting LIfe

I don't go to the pub nearly as much as I used to. On a rare visit a couple of weeks ago it occurred to me that I've used up all my drunken pub stories that I endlessly re-hash by including them in this blog. You, dear reader, are my equivalent of a long-suffering but patient friend who wearily listens to the same-old stories as I blather on until time immemorial.

Thanks for that!

One observation that I've failed to include in a blog so far, and that I always mention to Melbourne friends (especially those who play music), is that people involved in the arts in Melbourne seem to think there's no conflict of interest between pursuing a more intellectual pursuit such as music or poetry and barracking for your local footy team on the weekend. You can't have it both ways! In Brisbane when I was growing up you had to choose one or the other.

Granted AFL is the sport of choice in Melbourne and I will concede that it is way more graceful than Rugby League, which is the king of sports in Queensland. However, there probably isn't much intellectual difference when you consider players from both codes are prone to waking up in pools of their own vomit on the pavement outside of casinos. I will admit to a double standard here. If Keith Richards did something similar I would probably say 'good on ya mate', but if it's some overpaid AFL star, then I'd probably cluck my tongue like some mother hen and say it was disgraceful!

I think part of my disdain for organised sport came about from the undue emphasis put on it at schools. It seemed like any drooling troglodyte could get a scholarship if they were halfway decent at Rugby and school funds seemed to be poured into ovals and sporting equipment rather than cultural or academic endeavours (the art building at my high school was a demountable building by a river that would regularly flood).  I also think that Rugby added to the 'cultural cringe' aspect of Australian culture where any form of art that did not come from America or England was seen as 'inferior'. Rugby was okay to like because it was a Queensland product and had no airs or pretensions.

My dislike of Rugby in the early nineties was so intense that once I was having a discussion with a guy in a pub and he mentioned an altercation he (allegedly) once had with Rugby League legend Wally Lewis. Apparently my drinking buddy once called King Wally a 'dickhead' and was subsequently pinned against the wall as Wally 'tried to strangle him' and dared him to say it again. In my mind this put  my friend in the league of a folk hero such as Ned Kelly rather than a loud-mouthed idiot who was probably just spouting a bunch of bullshit.

I'm not so gullible these days and I really don't have anything against people who play sport, but I can't understand why people watch it. Every time I see a cricket player standing motionless in a field on the TV I'm instantly transported back to my childhood and long afternoons at home in the stifling heat. I can still hear the sound of lawnmowers doing their endless ballet with machines in adjoining similar-sized tract-housing blocks separated by steel-mesh fencing. When I watch TV I'm hoping to be transported to somewhere beside the mundane and televised sport doesn't really do it for me.

I suppose ultimately I've never understood the 'Us' versus 'Them' mentality especially when people will refer to a win by their team on the weekend by saying 'we did it!'. It seems a bit unfair as a supporter to use the collective 'we' as the players did all the hard work and training, so therefore they should take all the credit.

I think the difference between Brisbane and Melbourne is that Melbourne was never as culturally isolated as Brisbane and Melbourne had a larger population that was able to support the arts community. Hence Melbourne's art community was never threatened by the AFL as there was room enough (and funding enough) for both.

Melbourne is also a much more culturally diverse city than Brisbane and I think Identifying with your local AFL club helps foster a sense of community regardless of your background. I reluctantly admit that's a good thing even if it a perceived solidarity rather than an actual one. From what I read about Queensland's new Premier Campbell Newman cutting initiatives like The Premier's Literary Awards and even The School Band Competition, then I don't think this sense of division between the sporting and arts communities will dispel anytime soon in Queensland.

* * * * * *

There's an old man that sits outside the house across the road from ours. We wave at each other regularly and talk occasionally. I find him hard to understand as he's from another country (I think he's from Turkey, but I may have just misheard him).

One of the first things he ever asked me was where I was from. I sheepishly answered 'Brisbane'. He said that I misunderstood and he wanted to know where my ancestors were from. It occurred to me that I had never really considered this and I felt strangely embarrassed when I said 'I suppose my background is English and Irish'. I felt like a loaf of white bread as I stood on the pavement talking to the man. I sensed the man had a lot of national pride in his homeland, even if I haven't yet figured out exactly where that homeland is.

I could hear the sound of mowers in the background.

It must feel good to belong.

Saturday, 14 July 2012

Selective Amnesia

One of the first forays into parenting I remember taking was an informative but mildly humiliating class at the Royal Women's Hospital in Melbourne. I felt like a school-boy as I listlessly sat at the back of the class while we were instructed on how to fold a nappy. I was vaguely paying attention and probably trying to stick spit balls to the ceiling, when all the males in the group were suddenly asked to demonstrate what they had just learned in front of the class.

A wave of terror crashed over me, but luckily I muddled my way through and was only mildly chastised by the midwife taking the class. My reasoning for not paying strict attention was that if I didn't get it right the first time, then surely I would have plenty of time to practice?

During the same class a video was played of a woman giving birth at home under a midwife's supervision. They described the different types of drugs available - from mild pain killers to basically not feeling anything from the waist down, like some sort of unfortunate passenger in an horrific car crash. The woman in the video had a reasonable amount of chemical assistance, but that did not stop her from screaming as if she had just been splayed asunder from within.

'And this is a best case scenario!' the midwife added with a sadistic grin.

The strangest part of the video happened moments after the birth when the woman, exhausted, sweaty and covered in various types of her own bodily fluids was handed her baby and exclaimed 'That wasn't so bad after all!'

Everybody burst out laughing.

The midwife explained this phenomenon as 'selective amnesia' and said it was most likely an evolutionary phenomenon that allowed women to forget the horrors of childbirth, so that they could continue having children without being haunted by the horrors of the first time.

When my daughter Clementine was born it didn't seem as bad as the video (but then I wasn't the one doing all the work) and my wife didn't seem permanently traumatised. Also, I was proved correct and over the intervening years I had plenty of opportunities to change my daughters' nappies.

She's four years old now and luckily those days are over, but this week we went to the doctor for something I had been dreading for some time - the four-year-old vaccinations. All previous vaccinations were fine because she was too young to understand what was happening. This time, however, we had to think of a cover story and decided the truth was the best option (or a version thereof). My wife and I decided to tell Clementine that she would be having an injection that would hurt a bit like a bee sting but it would give her super-powers like her favourite animated super-hero 'Bolt' - the wonder dog.

I watched her excited face as she went into the doctor's office ready for her injections and could feel tears welling up in my eyes. Earlier in the week I had been watching the new series of comedian Louis C.K.'s show and he had wisely stated that 'parent's are the first assholes your child will meet'. This phrase echoed with me as we walked into the doctor's office.

Before the vaccinations there was a questionnaire to see how Clementine had been developing. A sense of panic set in. I didn't know I was being tested as well! Suddenly I felt as I had in the parenting class when I was asked to fold a nappy.

We were asked general questions about Clementine's sleeping and eating habits and Clementine was asked to identify colours and to draw a picture. She's pretty good with verbal communication and identifying things but not much of a drawer at this stage. I felt like interjecting and saying it wasn't fair because she was asked to draw with pencil and paper when she is much better at drawing with the iPad.

Luckily we seemed to pass the nurse's scrutiny and for another year I can sleep in the knowledge that A Current Affair aren't going to knock down my front door and try to 'interview' me as part of their 'parental monsters' expose.

Clementine only cried a little bit during the injections and honestly I think we felt worse than she did. On the way home I bought her a book as a present for 'being brave like Bolt'.

While Clementine was recuperating pictures of her as a baby and toddler came up on our computer screen-saver. In almost all of them she looked happy and was smiling. These photos, following the events of the day and how well she had coped, made me realise that she is growing up and those days have passed. I filled me with a sense of sorrow which I suppose could be called nostalgia.

A friend of mine visited from London a while back and reminded me that on his previous visit Clementine was throwing up after every meal. I was surprised at the time that I had forgotten such a major inconvenience. It occurred to me that men get selective amnesia as well. If I think hard I can access all the suppressed memories that make the parenting experience not so rewarding: Tag-team parenting, social isolation, endless boredom, sleepless nights and temper tantrums. None of these aspects incite feelings of nostalgia, but even with these hurdles I would have to concede that ultimately it's all worth it. Especially when you see your child making progress.  I guess we'll keep her - for now.

A few hours after the injections, Clementine asked when her super powers are going to start working. I wonder if children get 'selective amnesia' as well?

I feel like such an asshole.

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Tin City

Recently I unearthed another of my childhood stories. Unlike my greatest literary achievement 'The Beginning of Life on the Moon', 'The Tin City' has remained sadly unpublished.

Which is a pity, because 'The Tin City' is as important to the travel-writing genre as 'Life on the Moon' was to science fiction. 

On the surface it is the story of a small-boy's trip to the town of Stanthorpe with his family, but, like all good travel writing, there is a lot of subtext which puts it more in the league of writers such as Ernest Hemingway or perhaps Jack Kerouac's 'On The Road', rather than light-weight adventurers such as Michael Palin.

Even as a child, I seemed to understand that any journey 'without' is really a journey 'within'. The excitement expressed at the beginning of the story where I rush home from school gradually dissipates as the story unfolds. Disillusionment sets in while I sit watching my parents drink endless cups of tea while talking and watching TV. This is almost certainly intended as an allegory for life, as the excitement and wonder of the world as a child are replaced by the mundane realities of adulthood. Perhaps, too, this 'endless talking' is a political comment about the lack of action from our leaders. A rest-stop at 'Cunningham's Gap' where we eat biscuits 'faster than you can say' is an especially astute observation about rampant consumerism.

Besides these obvious themes there are also some intriguing mysteries set up. Why was Auntie Dora not home when we went to visit? Was she hiding? Also, the names Dora and Dori are very similar. Is this alluding to the same person with a Jekyll and Hyde complex? Perhaps Dori represents the embracing nurturing side of nature (Mr Jekyll) and Dora represents the destructive wrath (Mr Hyde).

The most sinister character of all I believe is 'Uncle Charlie'. When the family goes to the winery it is said Uncle Charlie found the wine 'quite pleasant'. Is he an alcoholic?

The story ends on a decidedly ambiguous note. I say that we 'saw many interesting things'. But did we? The rich metaphorical descriptions at the start of the story (I especially like the description of the car leaving for holidays) seems to have dissipated in favour of a rote re-telling of things as they happened by the end of the story. It seems like the author is lying to himself.

Anyway, I've included the story in two forms for you to enjoy. The first  is simply a more coherent version of the original stream-of-consciousness manuscript.

I hope you enjoy it on as many levels as I did. 

Trevor Ludlow

I was coming home from school on the seventeenth of October on Friday afternoon.

I was thinking about the adventures that I would be having on the weekend.

So I ran the rest of the way home. When I got there I thought that mum would have waited for me to come home to help pack, but sure enough all the clothes had been packed away neatly.

So I sat down at the table and had dinner. After dinner I started to get tired, so I put my pyjamas on and went to bed.

Next morning I woke up full of excitement, so I jumped out of bed and got dressed.

I had my breakfast and jumped in the car ready for my trip to Stanthorpe - meaning 'Tin Village'.

Dad was already behind the wheel of the car and everything was rearing to go.

The engines roared as the wheels spun and finally we were on our way.

After many long hours we reached Cunningham's Gap and boy was I glad to step on solid ground again.

Auntie Gene who had made the trip with us bought all these lovely biscuits which disappeared faster than you could say. Anyway all good things come to an end.

So we set off again for Stanthorpe. Finally we made it then we got two rooms in a motel.

The adults sat down sipping tea in front of the tv.

We decided to go see our Great Auntie Dora, so we set off to find Auntie Dora.

Luckily Auntie Gene knew where she lived.

So we set off to her house.

When we got there we found that she wasn't home.

So we went back to the motel.

Then we found a note under the door.

We read the note that said they were back on the farm.

So we then drove to see them.

We parked out the front and went inside. We were greeted by another of our Aunties - Auntie Dori.

We were greeted with a warm welcome.

We went inside and sat down.

The adults talked as usual.

After a while we decided to go to one of the local wineries.

So we hopped in the car and drove off.

Once we got there we walked in. My sister and I waited as the adults sipped some very nice wines. Our Uncle Charlie who had also decided to come with us found the wine quite pleasant.

After a while it started to get dark so we hopped in the car and drove off.

Before going home we went to Pyramid Rock. 

We saw many interesting things.