Or How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love Procrastination
Friday, December 29, 2006
It's my last night in South London - tomorrow I strike out on my own, and I have a room in a flat in Kensington to call my own. I'm excited and I'm anxious. It's going to be cold, it's going to be lonesome (as opposed to lonely), and I'm going to get very bored at nights, because I don't want to buy a guitar or a new laptop til my next pay. So I expect a lot of reading time.
Christmas was quite relaxed. I called people from home and if there was an underlying theme, it was how nothing has changed. Only real bit of gossip was two friends who finally hooked up. Then again, I don't know what I was expecting. Nothing really happens. And when it does, it's usually bad. It cured a big bout of homesickness though.
And I guess that's a wrap for 2006. What long, strange trip. I have to keep reminding myself I'm in fucking London. Me and my friend Emily almost got run over today and I thought, hey, better than being run over at home. I'm in the land of Sherlock Holmes, Harry Potter, Monty Python and East 17.
Hope you have a happy new year, and had one too.
London (Balham - for the last time)
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Album of the year. This album has soundtracked my year, all my ups and downs, left and rights, the laughs, the dancing, the silliness, the sadness, every moment.
I've had it just about all year. It only really hit me in March, when the first song, Don't You Think It's Time, was basically on repeat play every day, after work, walking to the bus stop. It's simple acoustic hymn to future, better times, seizing the day, and I used to leave work every day thinking I had to do more with my life.
Later in the year, when the album came out, I was in love with it. The hidden track, Me & My Friends, had lines about sitting alone while everyone else is sending text messages. I loved the line, and it reminded me I was the only single guy in a five piece band and I was the only one not going home to someone.
Friend, the second track, I would listen to walking around Enmore in Autumn, thinking about the line "It's true everybody knows/people come and people go" and realsing some friendships fade and that's okay.
I saw Bob play a few times over the year and I remember synchronise dancing with a friends to I'm Coming Around at the Annandale. And discussing how Sadness & Whiskey, my favourite song, sounded a bit like a Weezer song at Newtown RSL.
I would sing harmonies openly and loudly at my desk to the new mix of Nowhere Without You and when work, life and everything got too much in the winter, I would listen to the Battle of 2004 with it's sad refrain of "I'm coming down.." over and over again.
In September I would listen to Rocks In My Head when I thought maybe I had made a stupid decision. And every time it rained, I would think of The Great Unknown's middle eight, the stupidly simple "I guess I'm stuck in the rain again."
When I finally left Australia and I felt like singing Darlin' Won't You Come ("...run away with me") and make somone come with me. And now that I'm here, tonight, I was walking through Covent Gardens, Don't You Think It's Time came on the ipod, and it was like walking through a silent crowd, as the remains of Christmas lights withered the streets.
See, you had to be there to appreciate it - and you weren't. And I don't really mind if you never hear this album, and if it means nothing to you. It meant a lot to me, and you had to be there to really get it. Oh, I can recommend it on it's musical merits or something. But that's not why I treasure this record. It's because it was my year in song.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
I'm a recent convert to Belle and Sebastian. This is the first B&S album I've bought as it came out, and it's not really what I expected. This sounds more like a glam rock Bowie album.
Two things make this record better their best since If You're Feeling Sinister, which is now ten years old. 1) The record began without lead singer Stuart Murdoch, with the band just mucking around. The result is it never sounds like a band backing a songwriter, but rather a full band. 2) Stuart wrote all but one song in the end, anyway. So it doesn't sound like a mix tape of singers and songwriters.
The band are simply on fire. It's fun, it's groovy and heck, even a little sexy. It's 70s rock and 70s soul. There's a bit of Thin Lizzy, Stevie Wonder and plenty of sing-alongs. And the bass is right up the front and funking everything up. The singles - Funny Little Frog, White Collar Boy and The Blues Are Still Blue are the best singles they've ever released. They, god forbid, rock.
They aren't the only ones. There's at least three other songs that would sound great on radio. But thanks to Murdoch, they will never be considered cheap knock offs. He fills the songs with his unique point of view. Funny Little Frog is love song to an imaginary lover. And there's plenty of stories about lost and lonely young men and women. There's no way you can figure them all out in one listen.
Then there is the really out-there stuff. Song for Sunshine and We Are the Sleepyheads are almost psychedelic. Only two songs - Another Sunny Day and Dress Up In You sound like B&S of old - sensitive, poetic story songs with many verses. They give the album much needed space.
So I'm going to stop describing an album you may never have heard and just say, somehow, Belle And Sebastian of all bands has made my favourite party album this year. There's only one low moment - To Be Myself Completely, written and sung by guitarist Stevie. It just doesn't compare to the wonderful multi layered fun that Stuart Murdoch has come up with.
I've had this album since February and I still listen to it regularly. It may lack the bittersweet reflections they are known for, but who cares? Sometimes you need to stop thinking and just dance.
Monday, December 25, 2006
The last Youth Group album, Skeleton Jar, was such a big record for me. It was the soundtrack to some big years in my life. And it's so often you wear out a band by doing that. So, I wasn't that excited about a new Youth Group record. I was ready to like it but not love it, add it to the collection, listen to it for a couple of months, see them live a few times, and move on.
So I was nicely surprised by how good this album is, and how it just slowly won me over.
First thing that's striking about this record is the confidence, and then second is the economy and the cleanliness. It's just a solid, not-flashy album. Sometimes it gets very pop, very catchy and at others it's beautiful and intimate, but it's never cheap sounding, everything is warm and precise.
Start Today Tomorrow sums it all up. It's a simple Dylany/Donovany acoustic finger picked thing, and they've put the perfect string arrangement behind it. This is not the sound of a mid level indepedent Sydney four piece. It sounds like a classic cut from million dollar record.
But if that was all, then it would hardly make this a special record. What makes this album so special is Toby's songs, and the things he writes about. Skeleton Jar was coated in sadness and regret. Casino Twilight Dogs is about release and in some ways, being reborn.
And this hit me on a deeply personal level this year. I listened to tracks like Let It Go, On A String, Daisychains and Sorry, and realised that I needed to change my life. And it gave me support and confidence to see those changes through once I did. Listening to Daisychains, and the sorrowful pleading of the line - "I could have spent all summer sitting here making daisychains" - it puts a lump in my throat as think of people I could have happily wasted more time with, but didn't.
There are so many moments like that. Let It Go's full of them - "I will hold you as you start to slip/This will feel like dying". And Toby Martin is still one of the great literate lyricists, referencing Panasonic, Napoleon and other random things to make his points. Still, as much as I can ramble on here about how good this album is, in the end, this album just ended up meaning a lot to me.
If you need more convincing, check out the glorious Under the Underpass, which reminds me of Springsteen's Thunder Road with it's sense of living young even when we might not be anymore. Or Catching And Killing, the oddest single of the year with it's fumbling bass line and spitting surreal lyrics. It's a great album by anyone's standards.
One final word on Forever Young, the cover that ends this album that has exploded in Australia. It's not their best song but it's a spooky version of a very disturbing song. It doesn't truly fit on this record but it's hardly a terrible track. It ends the album on strange note - the optimism that fills the record is undercut by the idea the singer is about to kill himself and his partner. And maybe the whole album is that naive too.
I've worn out Skeleton Jar. It was a time and a place that is over. Casino Twilight Dogs will probably remind me of 2006 forever.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
In Barney Hoskins book Hotel California, photographer Nurit Wilde has this to say about Neil Young: "I thought that the ones whose lyrics I loved must be really smart. And I found out that some of them weren't smart, they just seemed to have some sort of instinctive feel for words. Neil was one of those." Reading that quote made me think of Luke Steele.
So let's get right into the meat of it - Personality is a huge album. The name Brian Wilson was bandied about alot in reviews (along with George Harrison). Lots of strings, keyboards, backing vocals, whistles and bells. But it's all done for emotional resonance, and backed up by some of Luke's strongest and most coherent songs.
The big title, the big album cover and the big sound actually do too good a job at hiding what are really simple songs and simple, evocative and beautiful lyrics. Like Neil Young, Steele does in very few words what others take albums to do. "I gave you everything you needed/You needed more" says it all, so simply. In one of the album's highlights - the stunning Miles Away - when Luke sings "I couldn't tell you why I was so cold," you don't have to know what the hell the story is, it's just a great line of regret. That song, like so many on this album, evokes the soaring ballads on After the Goldrush.
Again, the singles are the strongest songs. God Lead Your Soul and Devil In My Yard are pop classics, the later sounding like later era T.Rex, and far more guitars than a decade of Beach Boys records put together. But it's the brilliantly titled I Understand What You Want But I Don't Agree, with it's nod to Raspberry Beret, that really shows how inventive Steele can be. For all his misses and experimentation can be forgiven for the slices of pop bliss that he finds. No other Australian musician would go so far for a song.
To the charges of overproduction, I will say, yeah, maybe. It's no more produced than All Things Must Pass, most baroque pop bands (Left Banke etc) or even Beck and Elliott Smith. It's lush, but it's hardly symphonic. And it's so much better than being a cliche driven four piece, like the oufits that ex-members of this band tend to form. It fits nicely next to Wilco's Summerteeth and Phoenix's United.
It's sad that this album wasn't a hit like Lovers. It's possibly better. So much more coherent than that record, Personality should have done for the Sleepy Jackson was Unit did for Regurgitator. Stelle is still the only artist in Australia capable of making something on the level of OK Computer, because he's the only one willing to go so far, and so loudly.
Detractors can stay in your fucking little indie band and write your fucking little indie songs.
I get annoyed when artists like Bob Dylan, Neil Young etc make these sorts of lists. Modern Times was good, but is it realy one of the best albums of the last 12 months? The most interesting musical work? Relevant? Will we look back at 2006 and think of Modern Times?
Bob, Neil, Bruce, Elvis Costello and a bunch of others all released albums this year but there was one old fart that made a record that I thought truly breath-taking, truly 2006, and truly one of the top albums of the year.
Simon is a great songwriter, singer and an acoustic guitar player. But his best work has always had stunning production. The darkness of Sound Of Silence, the huge Phil Spectorness of Bridge Over Troubled Water and the world music colours of Graceland all make Simon one step above, say, James Taylor. After a couple of samey low-key albums, Simon has found a collaborator that bring his sound into 2006 and beyond. His name is Brian Eno.
The album starts How Can You Live In the Northwest? Not a political critique, but a wonderful circle of questions we ask of eachother ("How can you live in the northwest? How can you live in the south?") but it's the sound of the thing. Distorted e-bow'ed guitars, humming and buzzing...it sounds like Wilco's Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.
It's a gorgeous sounding album. I can't think of a Paul Simon album that has this much guitar, this many keyboards or this much distortion. It's not Nine Inch Nails, but it's not James Taylor either. Look, it sounds like Actung Baby, ok?
In interviews for this album, Simon said that now, being 64, no one wanted to hear about him having sex. So that was the challenge...no love songs. Or at least conventional ones. Fathers & Daughter is, as the title suggests, a touching song about his daughter. Another Galaxy is about the freedom felt by a woman who runs away on her wedding day. His lyrics are playful and insightful as always. The premier Paul Simon site, Lasers In the Jungle, has essays on the first few songs and it's pretty easy to get right into them and unravel the wealth of images in there. It's a delight!
Last year I loved Songs For Silverman by Ben Folds for it's maturity. That's a big selling point for Surprise too. It's a gentlemanly album, about looking at the world of the past and future, with tenderness and hope, from an older age. Simon himself sings on Outrageous: "It's outrageous a man like me standing here and complain/but I'm tired/900 sit ups a day/I'm painting my hair the colour of mud/mud ok?" Later he asks "Who's gonna love you when your looks are gone?". It's definitely not a flower power pop song like Mrs Robinson. That was a long time ago.
And the cover? Simon just has no sense of design. Bad album cover after bad album cover. Still, it's his best work, I would say, in 30 years.
Saturday, December 23, 2006
Friday, December 22, 2006
Thursday, December 21, 2006
So they toured Australia and played to a less than full room apparently. And I got offered tickets and turned it down. A "the" band from the UK? No thanks. No one told me that they were fronted by a gay man who loves Supertramp.
So I'm waking up early in the cold, foggy, plane stopping mornings and catching crowded tubes. But it's great. A great job, a big change, and things are moving quite quickly. I've looked at a place and hopefully I'll get it.
I've come into work at the Christmas season so there's not a tremendous amount to do, and lots of long lunches. It's tiring. So tiring that I fell asleep on the tube. I'm back at the same company I was working with 2 years ago, an I'm getting emails from spammers who've held onto my email all that time. But the people here are very nice.
So, I'm still in Balham, and will be over Christmas. I'm really looking forward to sleeping for a few days, and call a wrap to this huge year.
Have a happy holidays, everyone!
Friday, December 15, 2006
For those tuning in late, Lisa and Kim are from Melbourne, Australia. We became fast friends in Paris, hung out in Spain and they've since been to all sorts of places, and have come back to London. What can I say about them. They've been keeping me entertained and making me miss Australia. They are pretty much on their return journey home, where I'm still going to be here, on my own for the holidays. In any event, it's great to have the band back together for one last show.
So I'm beginning to get the swing of swinging London. I feel like I've adjusted to the weather. It's like swimming, just keep moving to keep warm. I'm more than fine getting around. I've gone back to giving people exact money and not rounding up or down to the nearest 5 cents. I know Debenhams from my Marks And Spencers.
Like I said, it's all been a bit touristy these last few days. Palaces, parks, statues, towers, famous album covers and more. Kim took this fantastic photo of me at Trafalgar Square:
We also saw some theatre in the West End, an amazing performance of Chicago. In the foyer was a poster of Ashlee Simpson, who played Roxie but had since left. A shame. But it was amazing to see some real theatre.
It's bittersweet though because after this weekend I rejoin the workforce and pretty much knuckle down for the holidays. Next step is to sort out banking and then getting a place, hopefully sooner rather than later.
Hope everyone's doing well. If you haven't gotten a postcard from me, it's because I haven't been manage to send even one yet.
Friday, December 08, 2006
I also start my new job in a week. I realised a flaw in my thinking. I deliberately packed very little for my backpacking. Now I have about 7 t-shirts to last me a year. And one towel. True bachelor living awaits me.
I have finally taken to being a tourist here. Wandered around all the usual - Buckingham Palace, the London Eye, Big Ben, some museum hopping and more. I also spent about an hour in Sister Ray, an indie record shop on Berwick Street, ie, the street on the cover of What's the Story Morning Glory.
I'm completely undecided about what guitar to buy, although I guess a new laptop now takes priority. I want to get something weird, something not found in Australia.
I wish I had something more funny and interesting to say. I did see something called a 'Dog Toilet' today, which was basically a sand box in a park. That was pretty funny.
So overall it's about a 7 out of 10. It's going to be a boring Xmas of working. And I realise that January here will be quite different to the ones in Australia. No laid back afternoons in a beer garden, no Big Day Out and side shows to round out the month. Just another, normal, everyday month.
(future blogs may be scanned from handwriting)
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
I used to have a filing cabinet. It was, however, 2006, and I for one was racing head first into a paperless society. I'm trying to think of what was in it. Some manuals I was given from someone who did part of my job once. Older documents that was left from the person who once owned the filing cabinet, Lots and lots of those manilla folder like things that held the paper.
One day I had the brilliant, brilliant idea to chuck most of it out, put all the folders into the top drawer of the filing cabinet, and put snacks into the bottom drawer. And it was usually Tim Tams. If you are not Australian, you might not know them. They are a chocolate wafer biscuit with a chocolate cream centre all in a chocolate coating. They are yum.
Every now and again, you could get Tim Tams for $1.99, on special. Much better than when I had a craving and I bought a pack from the petrol station on Enmore road for $4.50. My favourite was the double coat chocolate ones.
I remember once, on Sunrise, there was some controversy about Tim Tams. I think it had to do with the number of Tim Tams in a pack, and how the double coat ones were two less than normal ones. Well, someone who worked for Arnotts wrote in to Sunrise and told us all it was cos the double coat ones were just plain thicker and less fit in a pack.
I remember when in high school, a bunch of us used to have video nights. This was before we had girlfriends. It was a grand tradition. We'd all go to someone's house, get lots and lots of videos we would not get through, have pizza and snacks. The older we got, the harder these nights got to organise. I saw lots of great films cos we would often take a punt on things. But anyway, I remember one time, and I still remember this clearly, we introduced Demi to drinking milk through a Tim Tam. I remember his look of hesitation when he started, and the look of joy on his face when the milk hit. It also works with tea but the Tim Tam self destructs quite quickly.
(If you somehow have access to Tim Tams but have not tried to drink milk, tea or coffee through it, here's what you do: Get a Tim Tam. Get yourself a beverage. Now, bite the tiniest bit off both ends so the wafer shows through. Just a tiny bit. Basically, circumcise the biscuit with your teeth. Just do it. You'll thank me. Then, holding the middle of the Tim Tam, use the now open ended Tim Tam as a straw. This only works once so be prepared to scarf down the Tim Tam and also it could get a bit messy, so have tissues ready.)
So I'm missing Tim Tams. Especially the Double Coat. And the caramel centre. The White chocolate ones are ok. I usually love white chocolate but the scientists at Arnotts are yet tp crack the code on that one. And the original is also great.
Marianne tells me I can get Tim Tams at Tesco and it wont cost too much. I'm going to go check it out tomorrow.
Monday, December 04, 2006
Let me digress. One day, many moons ago, Warwick at Greville was dealing with a customer who didn't like Paul McCartney. I'll paraphrase, but our anti-McCartney-ist, let's call him John...well John just thought Macca was a bit of a lightweight. He's pop waste. Especially Wings. Where's the balls? Where's the passion? Compared to Lennon's best solo work, which came roaring like fire from the stomach and the heart, Macca was a wet blanket.
To which Warwick responded: It's not his fault he lived a blessed life.
Which is true. He did. He was the victim of divorce, sure, but he took it in his stride. He was in a great band, made millions, laughed his way through it, married early, very little baggage and didn't find religion. Would you want him to write and sing something like 'Mother'? No. So he has his detractors but he's happier than the lot of us. Yes, it means he churns out mundane work sometimes, but the guy's blessed, what do you expect?
So I haven't made McCartney's millions, but I'm feeling pretty blessed. I sat today in Kensington Gardens, drinking a coffee and thinking about Peter Pan (it's set in that park). And thinking, for the first time ever, that things have turned out kind of all right for me overall. And any time anyone has ever said to me "You'll be fine", I've always brushed off, but they are right.
Again, let me digress. I remember something Judie said..."It's not like you're whole life is going to fall apart because you haven't booked a hostel for one night. Like, I lost everything in my life and then I died because I didn't book a hostel for one night."
Anyway that's a long ramble into what I want to say, which is I've had a good life. I really have.
I met someone today who knew someone I used to know. Who passed away, and who I miss dearly. I mumbled and stumbled my way through the conversation. And yeah, there are down times. Things go wrong. But I feel like I've made so many right moves. Like every job I've left there has been mixed feelings, but it always ends up that I left at the right time. I've made more right choices then wrong choices. Even when I've been off course, something there knocks me back on it.
So I followed my heart out of Australia. Then followed it Spain, which led me to London, which is exactly where I need to be right now. I feel like it's coming together, and the future is bright. And I look back, and I have no complaints. And few regrets.
I don't know what you think of Wings. It could be the self indulgent ramble of someone happier than you. A boring tirade that is without heart, fire or balls. Four colours, no edges. That's fine. Whatever makes you happy, I guess. But it's not my fault.
(it's late, I ramble. I prefer McCartney over Lennon. Superman over Batman. Brandon over Dylan.)
So I left Paris for London and I've been here a few days now. I'm staying with Marianne and Tim. They have been lovely to me.
I'm not writing much because I already feel I'm living here rather than adventuring here. I haven't done many tourist things. Have not been to Abbey Road. Have not seen Big Ben or the London Eye. I did find the statue of Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
I've gone for a few jobs and it looks like I might have gotten a good one. Been going out a little but mainly trying to get settled. Trying to figure out which neighbourhood to live in.
There's more to write but I'll do it more later. This is just a little update for those who are wondering.
Look Cath, no swearing at all.