Or How I Learnt To Stop Worrying And Love Procrastination

Friday, November 28, 2008


A friend asked me to write a few thoughts about Melbourne for possible publication. Here's what I wrote.

Melbourne must seem exotic to most parts of the world. But it’s most exotic to the people of Sydney.

The (two) centuries old argument of which is better – Sydney or Melbourne? – continues to this day. We may never have a consensus, but there is something about Melbourne that is like nowhere else in Australia. It’s little wonder that the rest of the country looks at it, and scoffs.

The biggest complaint about Melbourne is the weather. Decades before global-warming became a catch phrase, Crowded House wrote ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ about their adopted hometown. A morning can be so hot, you wish you could be one of those men who walk around without a shirt. That same night you will find your running for shelter as your socks get wetter and wetter. True Melbourners have learnt to ride it out. The rain wont last. The heat will go. The winds will pass. Change is normal for Melbourne.

It’s biggest compliment is the arts. Sydney has the film studios, the record companies, the government and business. But somehow Melbourne has wrangled the nation’s cool. It’s a city where creativity thrives. Cheaper than Sydney, it attracts the young and creative types in droves. And not just from Sydney, but from all over the country, and especially the country side. If your dream goes beyond having a big office in a skyscraper, then Melbourne is the city in Australia that can make that dream come true.

It’s almost an embarrassment of riches. So much so that even the locals will argue amongst themselves about what part of Melbourne is the coolest.

There is the south, by the water, which has St Kilda at it’s heart. A beach and a famous esplanade frames the area. The it follows a curve around the water, an inviting smile that leads you to another smile – a huge clown face that leads you to the tacky yet charming set of carnival rides known as Luna Park.

The south is relaxed. Days in the sun, on the beach or in the parks. Late afternoons in bars, or in the shops along the super wide roads. Even the sidewalks feel like they are too lazy be too close to each other. Then wind down the nights on the rooftops of someone’s terrace as the sun sets. Travel a bit wider in the south to find Prahan, with it’s hip clubs and second hand shops, which ends at the Astor – Australia’s greatest repertoire cinema.

But many would argue that it’s all about the north! The symbolic heart is the suburb of Fitzroy, with the long Brunswick Street full of all manner of shops. A down-home Asian grocery, an indie rock venue, an up-market pizza joint, an adult book shop – most likely in a row. And hey, why not have some street art that double as benches? It’s where the Melbourne art scene comes to show off it’s colours. Writers, musicians, students and more mingle in the cafes where you can barely find a seat that’s not covered with pamphlets and flyers.

Fitzroy at night is not as glamorous as some places but there is that Very Melbourne thing of choice. If you’re bored of the gallery opening, just wander down to the club that’s having a Japanese noise band night, or watch a local band at any second bar, or find a chilled little wine bar to melt away the hours. Sure, it’s a little pretentious, and maybe even a little proud of it. But it leaves the rest of us looking in, and only a hard heart will not have some sense of curiosity.

The north spreads out too. The Italian area, which has Lygon Street at it’s heart, has some of the best Pasta in Australia if not the world. And the art house cool of Fitzroy has started to drift north into suburbs like Northcote.

But it’s the area known as the City that is the heart of Melbourne. It’s a perfectly set grid – no winding roads here. This perfect grid with the big shops, and then smaller streets with smaller, cooler shops. I’ve spent so much time in Melbourne, but I could walk through a few thoroughfares, turn into an alley here, turn right that way, turn around there, and find myself lost. In the best way. Might as well sit yourself in a little cafe, or check out that little elegant bookshop. You’ll find your way out.

But getting a bit lost is the best way to explore. One of my favourite record shops (Basement Discs) is actually in a basement, below a cafe. My favourite cafe (Cookie) is above a second had record shop. You could walk right past my favourite Italian place without noticing it at all. I’m always being taken up some stairs, around a corner, to somewhere both literally and figuratively off the beaten path.

There are big things in the City too. The big shopping strip which is Bourke St runs through the heart of the City. Somehow they managed to squeeze a world class University, a seedy Red Light district and a Chinatown in there somewhere. Not to mention thousands of tourists.

Best of all, the City has yet to turn into a collection of faceless office buildings – although some parts of it are getting close. But it’s hard to imagine them knocking down the old train stations, the old theatres, the old expensive hotels. It’s part of Melbourne’s character. Again, it’s ever changing. You’ll find an old stone bank building next to a flashy new age sneaker shop, and back again.

And there is so much more. Just outside of the City lies two big stadiums. One is the classic Melbourne Cricket Ground (although you’d call it the MCG). The new and controversial culture park that is Federation Square. And the whole city is linked by the most Melbourne of Australian icons – the tram. It’s slow, it’s frustrating, it’s always full. But if you need to go somewhere and a tram doesn’t take you there, then you probably don’t really need to go there.

Oh, and a big ugly casino. And a murky river. And an international racing course. It’s all in there somewhere, all before you really reach the identical looking suburbs that belong to Melbourne in name, but never in style.

Maybe Melbourne doesn’t have the easy wins that a city usually has. No world famous structures. No great historical resonance. No big business mecha. But what it lacks in the One Big Reason to go, it gives back in the hundreds of smaller reasons. Any given day in Melbourne can be completely different from the next. Depends which way the wind blows, or maybe there will be no wind at all. Change, after all, is normal for Melbourne.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Australia - The Game

So it takes this to inspire me to write

Australia - the Game.

Yes, it's a viral game about Australia, made to promote Australian tourism and Baz Luhrmann's new film.

I refuse to let my home be driven to stereotype. Bad enough that the Ozmusic stand at conventions have blow up kangaroos. Luhrmann, how I have hated you for years, but this takes the cake.

When I grew up in Oz, I did not get raised on a farm. I remember the bicentennial, in '88, and promoting of Australia as multicultural and modern. Larrikin culture, although having a place in our history, is as dated as the drunken Irish or pencil moustaches on Frenchmen. We used to be proud of our pacific nature. We used to be proud to be a young country, making our mark, with little burden of history.

Howard did more than anyone else to destroy this, and he brought back the white Australian Policy in culture if not in law. Australia is stuck - there's no racial minorities on Neighbours or Home And Away, nothing in our culture that reflects us. It's just an easily digested cliche.

The game has a Drover (as one newspaper put it, that's Aussie-speak for Cowboy), chasing cattle around. Oh, what to do, for that country I love so much. Rehional Australia is dying a slow death. I've heard some commentators say this this summer will make or break. More farmers are packing it up, the culture is dying. And someone has put a $130 million bet that tourism is the answer?

There's so many problems here. Someone has to save the outback for one. But that is such a huge issue.

Australia's cultural image is still stuck in the past, and doesn't reflect the 85% of the population who do not live on an cattle ranch in Kimberley. Yes, the Australian sun burnt landscape is lovely, but it's really nothing but cool looking dirt. What about the culture, and the people.

The two films that most spurred on tourism in my time is Notting Hill and Amelie. Both were small stories, and love letters to something particular about a culture. Both were modern. And yes, both were cleaned up, idealised versions too. But both are also great movies (kind of) beyond their postcard nature. There was at least a plot.

Australia needs help. And maybe all is not lost. This could be the prog rock before the punk. Maybe it will inspire a generation of Australian film makers, writers, musicians, actors, painters and people to not sell a cheapened version of our culture. Fuck pandering to the cliche, I'm going to tell my story.

Anyway - enjoy the game. If you like driving cattle.


Monday, July 07, 2008

Thursday, July 03, 2008

You only know where you are when you move

Start of summer has meant a lot of travelling of late. So much to say, and really, no time to do it. New York was amazing. Boston was heart warming. And me, I am tired.

I came back to a day of paint balling. Who knew pain could be so painful? Short trips, long trips, all sorts of random business to get me through the summer. My first year here, I sat around in Summer, wondering how everyone else got so organised. This year I'm getting there.

Again, no real point, just checking in.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

7 and 7 is

A friend told me once, and it’s stuck with me, that men go through crises every 7 years.

Not saying that I’m going through a crisis (any more than usual) but as I approach 28, it’s been on my mind.

28 is a bit of a nothing age.

A bunch of us get married and have kids. A bunch of us start really making good strides professionally. You may lose one or two on the way. This looks like it will happen every few years ago. Maybe it’s just a big circle from here on in.

So is it true this crisis happens? At age 7? I don’t remember. 14 – puberty. A given. Rough times all round I think. 21? Sure. Leaving the safety of home and childhood notions of things. It’s scary.

But 28?

Is this related to what is known as the 27 club? Kurt Cobain, Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Brian Jones are the most famous. But lets not forget Chris Bell of Big Star, a band I adore. D. Boon too. All haunted men. And to look at a photo of any of them, men I respect and admire, and to think that in any of those photos they are younger than me. Just weird.

Australian author David Malouf talked about a different 7 year theory in his book Johnno. In it, the title character explains how the human body completely regenerates itself every 7 years. All the cells that make you up, none of them are more than 7 years old. For Johnno, this means it will only take him 7 years to shit every part of Brisbane out of himself.

So is that a part of it? It’s because you’re someone new, all over again? Like a mini-version of Saturn’s return. Maybe you’re born again, every 7 years.

The last really odd ting for me about 28 is that there’s a song I love from ten years ago, about being 28 (by Tim Rogers). Funny how the 18 year old me heard that song, and silently became it. I guess I’ll be fully formed next year…


Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Since Page One

The BBC has just announced Steven Moffat will be taking over Doctor Who in 2010. It’s amazing how this guy keeps popping back into my life every so often.

I would be a different person if not for watching Press Gang when I was young. The story of teenage kids that ran their own newspaper, it was full of great plot twists, fantastic dialogue and…in Spike and Linda…shaped all my young notions of courtship and love. Every 4:30pm I would come home from school and turn to the ABC, and catch up with my friends at the Junior Gazette.

(Favourite episodes: At Last A Dragon – Spike and Linda’s first date. The Rest Of My Life – Spike is caught in a building explosion. The Last Word – when a kid with a gun invades the Junior Gazette. Day Dreams – an imaginary future for the team.)

I didn’t know anything about Steven Moffat at the time. I didn’t know that every episode was written by the same guy. I didn’t know that the vision he had also led to many awards being won. I just loved the show. It was easily my favourite show at the time, as a kid, and it inspired a teenage me.

Many years later, almost ten years later, I came across a show on late night ABC called Coupling. It was an energetic and exciting sit-com about 6 friends, and the adventures of finding a partner in your twenties. The dialogue was super smart, and the show format was inventive – one episode was a split screen all the way through. Another was the same nine and a half minutes repeated 3 times from different perspectives.

It made a big impact on me, at that time in my life. I bought all the DVDs and watched them all. And this is where I realized that the guy who wrote this show was the guy responsible for Press Gang. The similarities were there. The dialogue, the inventiveness of the form, and most importantly the romance.

(Favourite episodes: The Man With Two Legs – Jeff falls in love but ends up telling her that he’s an amputee. Split – Steve and Susan break up, leading to a battle of the sexes over a split screen. Naked – Jeff’s birthday becomes a disaster. Nine And A Half Months – the finale, and a baby.)

Friends and I used the terms pioneered in this show. The Sock Gap. A girl I could not get out of my life, we called her the Unflushable. As I was going out more and meeting more people, all those odd encounters, faux pas, and miscommunications were so well portrayed in Coupling.

He has written four episodes of Doctor Who, and they are easily the best four. The Empty Child and The Doctor Dances won so much acclaim – a kid wearing a gas mask in WWII, the introduction of Captain Jack and all sorts of goodies. The Girl In the Fireplace was such an intricate, beautiful love story that crosses time and space (with lovely French-ness) and finally Blink, which barely had the Doctor at all, but the most brilliant villains (don’t blink!).

By all accounts Moffat’s always been a big fan, and it’s heartwarming for me to see this man, who has brought me so much happiness, getting his dream. The point of all this, I guess, is that I feel this way at all. I feel like I’ve known Steven Moffat for so long. He was there when I met Linda Day and courted her. He was there when I got trapped under that building. He was there when I made a fool of myself in a bar with a pretty girl. He was there when I fought clockwork mechanical soldiers in the far flung future (ahem).

Anyway, good work old friend. Looking forward to seeing you quite a bit more.


Sunday, May 18, 2008


So if you're wondering why this blog is so blank, it's because I have been focusing my writing energies on other things. One of which is the online revival of Strum, my old zine. Although revival may be a generous term.

This blog is by no means dead. I have some new pieces of the boil...

But check out Strum and tell me what you think...

Sunday, April 13, 2008


I have not written for a while. Here's what's going on.

+ I have resigned from my current job and will be starting a new job
+ Doctor Who has restarted and it's terribly exciting.
+ Winter is over. We had some snow, now the nights feel like they don't end. It's great.
+ I am still in love with REM's Accelerate.
+ Have decided that Creedence Clearwater Revival were the greatest band ever.
+ Spending a lot of my Sunday afternoons listening to podcasts - Enough Rope, NPR Fresh Air, Sound Opinions, Prairie Home Companion are my favourites. I can imagine this quirk of listening to my talk shows will last me well into old man-ville.
+ Just tonight I've decided to give up trying to plow through the religious pompous crap that is the Pilgrimage by Paulo Coelho.
+ So, I moved onto a book about the founding of Google. Once again, computers are the new Rock 'n' Roll.
+ French lessons have begun again. I actually think I'm doing ok. Don't ask me to say anything.
+ Watched Millions recently and wonder why I ever gave up on Danny Boyle.
+ Catching up with my movies - Sideways, Little Miss Sunshine and more...
+ Saw 'Jersey Boys'. Need to do more of that stuff.
+ Very much loving Popdose.com, especially columns like 'When Good Albums Happen To Bad People'.
+ Started mucking around with Muxtape
+ Was good to see a lot of people after SXSW. Looks like this will be an annual thing.
+ Desperately trying to catch up with everyone.
+ Not been keeping up with the blog. Actually, I have been. I have been writing but not finished many things. Will do soon.
+ I'd say, 7 out of 10.


Sunday, February 24, 2008

I Like What They Say

I saw Nada Surf play at the Scala this week.

Their 2002 album ‘Let Go’ has been a constant companion. I love a lot of music, but this is one of the very few records that I am always listening to.

My friend Simon gave me this album out of nowhere. He had an advance copy, and he’s one of those older guys who I always admired. He had not just great personal taste, but he could nail what records you would like with just a few simple questions. And he got this one so right.

I wrote a few months ago about Pet Sounds, and that funny relationship you have with an album you have known for many years. Not a record you loved for a while then went back to. But one where you know all the parts. When the band played Inside of Love this week, and that tinkly guitar part before that big last chorus kicked in, it felt like home.

The other odd thing about this record is that it has meant so many different things t me over the years. It started as a record for unhappy times. Lots of listening to this record in the dark, smoking my eyeballs out, feeling pretty crap. Then it became a dark party record. Songs like Happy Kid and Hi-Speed Soul were the soundtrack to my first steps towards being really, really decadent (in my own way). Sitting at a corner at Death Disco while they played another shit Strokes song, and then just giving into the moment. Those upbeat songs ran through my head in those moments. Later on, I decided to rip off this album in any way I could in my own band.

Even the individual songs have flip flopped over the years. Take ‘Inside Of Love’. It’s sadness was well soaked up by me when a relationship that meant a lot to me dissolved to nothing. And then shortly after, when I met a girl who also loved this album, it became a hymn of hope.

(And again, I hopelessly ripped off the riff to this song for own of my own.)

I told everyone I could about this record. I worked for the record company that was distributing this album in Australia, and every few weeks I would order another bunch of copies and just give it away. I paid good money for it on vinyl (with an alternate tracklisting – the record collector in me had a nerdgasm), and downloaded plenty of bootlegs.

They have a new album out. It’s called ‘Lucky’, and it’s been 6 years since Let Go. And I find it funny how many people ask me what I think about it. Even seeing Barry and Casey in Sydney, over a few beers, we had to get back and talk about this record. It’s just a part of my life, of our lives.

Lately, this record has come to be something quite soothing to me. With not a lot of drama in my life, it’s become a warning of traps I fell into in the past. If that makes any sense. It’s just interesting that this album has changed again.

Its also interesting when I think of the time I loved that record for the first time, there were other albums that I loved. Weezer’s Pinkerton. Belle And Sebastian’s If You’re Feeling Sinister. Even Wilco’s Being There, what I consider to be my favourite album…according to my ipod I have not listened to some songs on that album in over a year.

So that’s me and Let Go. I don’t really care if anyone else ever discovers this album. It doesn’t really appear on many greatest albums lists. But I’m thinking this is probably my new favourite album.




Wednesday, February 20, 2008

My heart won't stop

I am so tired. I've had a biggish night of dinner and laughing at a tv, some walking and of course a long day at work. I am utterly exhausted.

And I can't sleep. It's 2am, and I have been lying here for three hours.

When I close my eyes my brain still feels wide awake. Maybe it's something on my mind, but this is usually the case anyway.

Its really quite horrible. My body is not in anyway wired. In fact, I barely want to get out of bed to get water or anything. I'm wasted. Yet I know I'm not sleeping.

This happens every so often. A lot less in the past year, but still several times a year. And I've eaten well today. No coffee since this morning. No soft drinks at all. Even had a glass of wine with dinner that should be soothing me. It's not.

I even yawn. My eyes don't want to stay open. My arms and legs sag, like bean bags in their own funny way. But the vicious circle is I'm trying hard to be relaxed. And after several minutes and I just have to toss and turn a bit. And we're back at the bottom of the hill.

How do you sleep? Who teaches you? I vaguely remember primary school, and the counting sheep trick. That has never worked for me. how do you relax when you have trouble sleeping? Even more cosmetic things like pillows and what to wear. On your side, or on your back? No one teaches us. So I'm just guessing. I would like to know how my hair gets the way it is come morning.

So writing this has wasted some more minutes. The rest of the night will pan out like this. Around 3, 3:30, I will get really annoyed I'm not asleep. I will roll around and just try and force myself to plateau out. Around 4:30 I will start feeling really guilty about tomorrow and start trying to convince my body that it will be hurting tomorrow, that we have like four hours left. By 5:30 I will be thinking I might as well lie here for a bit longer and then go straight to work, nuking my system with coffee to get by.

Then by 6 I will fall asleep, and wake to my normal alarm, and feel like hell.

I can't even do anything. I can't read. I can't listen to music. That is commiting myself to no sleep. I have to hope that somehow, some way, I will sleep very soon. I can't miss it when it happens.

So I better get back to it. This could be the moment.


Sunday, February 17, 2008

Everybody here comes from somewhere

The new single by REM, Supernatural Superserious, is fantastic.

Biases on the table time. I’m a huge REM fan. I can’t think of the moment where this band got me. At my age, they were already all over the radio by the time I was aware of them. The One I Love, End Of the World, Losing My Religion, Everybody Hurts, Man on the Moon, What’s the Frequency…all songs that were such a part of my language that I never had to study it. I just picked up being an REM fan.

The last couple of records have had moments of beauty, but were generally uneven. They were downbeat, folky and overall dragged on a bit. But the promise of the new album Accelerate is that’s it’s back to rock. The single certainly harks back to Monster era R.E.M.

It really taps into what I love about REM. It’s a thrill ride of guitars and hooks. It’s a song for everyone, with a dash of sentimentality and hope. It hints at what I really love about the albums by the Hold Steady of late. That even a small life should be separated.

The whole thing is over in just over three minutes. We’ve had a stadium winning riff, a brilliant opening line, and a revitalised band crashing into a song. There’s the Peter Buck guitar. Mike’s flawless harmonies. A killer chorus, that riff again, and an ending as wonderful and mysterious as anything they’ve ever done before. Supernatural, superserious? I have no idea what Stipe is on about.

There’s no words to describe it. It’s been a while since I have listened to a song over and over on repeat, like I have with this song. And it’s no “Good Vibrations” or anything. But for me, this is the meat and potatoes of what makes me a music fan. The sustenance I keep returning to.

I can’t wait to hear it live. Stipe, looking over all of us, in the wasteland.

You gotta hear it.


PS. Terrible clip though

Monday, February 11, 2008

Quit this crazy scene

This is the counter argument.

I am in a very, very small town in Germany. My guide tells me you can walk from one side to the other.

Its a cool little modern place. All the mod cons. It reminds me of my though that I won't move back to Sydney but to Perth, or Brisbane. Younger, smaller, cooler.

This place revolves around simpler things. A horse riding festival. The tragedy of an old lady being hit by a truck this morning is on everyone's mind.

This is community. Walking down the road and seeing people you know. Shopkeepers that say hello.

So. International city vs. Small town. Tough call.


In (possible) Germany

I'm in Cologne.

This place is not new to me as an idea. I even thought I might come here years ago. Now it's something else.

I am thinking of the David Malouf idea that your body regenerates itself entirely in 7 years. So the person I was seven years ago, all the things I did, I should have shat that all out.

A hair in the sink is a memory. I like this idea. A new person every seven years. Slowly though.

Some things have, or are coming to an end, in my life of late. I'm thinking of new things to fill it with.

Anyway not much to report other than here I am in Cologne. Doesn't mean much to you I'm sure. but I'm in Cologne and ready for new things.


Sunday, February 10, 2008

The Internationalist

I have a dream that one day I will see a truly internationalist city.

London does pretty well. This weekend has been, just for example, I went down to Soho to see Chinese New Year’s festivities. I met people in an Irish bar and had Vietnamese noodles on Greek St. Got some Indian takeaway for dinner. Spent some time in a comic book shop, which is the most American thing I can think of. It was Waitangi Day (or New Zealand Day) this last week. I’m off to Germany tomorrow.

The most Australian moment was listening to my podcasts and catching up with Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope. He talked to Lindsay Fox about trying to save Ansett. And Jimmy Barns and John Swan, about growing up poor in Adelaide.

I’m still doing French lessons, and downloaded the trailer to The Diving Bell And the Butterfly. And, of course, British things everywhere. Oh, and my whiskey is from Scotland. And Isabelle is in Belgium. And I looked at an Italian suit.

I’ll stop making lists now and get to my point.

My point is, wouldn’t it be great if the best of this, was what the world is like? Or maybe some parts of the world.

Because I don’t like that Star-Trek-y vision of the future where everyone dresses the same. Even though there are all sorts of races and creeds, everyone is the essentially the same. Boring.

I always took languages for granted in school. Now I wish I was forced to learn them a bit more. At the Indian place, I wish I could order food in Indian. Just a few phrases.

So imagine a large cosmopolitan city with a flavour of everything. All races mixing, mingling. The best of everything – great food from all cultures. A place you can get an authentic Irish stew in one place, Wasabi peas next door. Every book shop and CD store has foreign language sections as a given. Not just America and Britain. Your average pop culture fan should know the big stars in Swedish cinema. Churches of all kind. All that stuff.

There are reasons against this. I love fact France, and Paris especially, has laws that has stopped big corporations building big nasty skyscrapers. But my history is I was born in a Commonwealth colony of China, and grew up in Australia, a multi-cultural society (we used to be proud of that…). I’ve had a taste of mixed culture overload. I want more. And I don’t feel strongly aligned with anything, so I want a taste of everything.

I got an email today, a general one, from our Israeli office, with a review of an album from Israel’s biggest music web site. Isn’t that great?

I feel like things like the Euro, budget airlines and the Internet are bringing us closer. I can’t wait to see what kind of world my kids grow up in. Dare I dream this world might actually turn out great?

The Earth

Monday, February 04, 2008

The Emotional Middle Class

We are the spoiled.
The emotional middle classes.
With our minds in the washer,
And our heads up our asses.

When there’s so much to be doing
But we just stay indoors
Taking things as a sign
When they never mean more.

Circling around the airport
We are never going to land
Because our feet can’t touch the ground
Til someone understands.

We should be animals!
We should be engines!
We should not be worried
About the centres of attention.

But we are spoiled
The time in our mind passes
As if it has all day
The emotional middle classes.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Show Me the Money

At the moment, Guy Hands, the newest owner of EMI, in unveiling his new plan for the company. He will cut 2000 jobs, refocus on A&R, rewrite the model to attract more revenue from touring and merchandise, and do away with things like advances* (in favour of a reward system) and even management structure throughout the world.

There is a lot I can say about why this model is insane. But the point is - EMI don't sell CDs. They sell artists. And yet their whole plan is about making more money of the artists' output, than investing in the artist.

So you have a company that has no staff left to take care of the artist, and a very public backlash from the major artists, and they expect to sign new bands for less money and ask them to give EMI more ways to make money off them?


Worse still, this could kill EMI. And it’s smaller, more famous labels. Parlophone, who had the Beatles. Capitol, home of Sinatra, Beach Boys and Crowded House (also the Beatles in the US). Virgin Records. Hands will either sink it, or turn them into corporate brands like Paramount.

So maybe I’m being a stick in the mud here. Yes, I’m biased. I’m a big fan of the old labels. They loom large in my legend. Mo Ostin is my hero the same way Bob Dylan is my hero. My interests in music extends past the sound, to the culture of it all. Album covers to radio stations, great music venues to musicians favourite films. To me that’s all part of the rich tapestry of being a music fan.

I also played in bands for a long time. And in a funny twist, I hated marketing anything I was involved with. When it came to playing music, any thoughts about leaking tracks or viral campaigns (let alone corporate sponsorship and digital royalties) were not anything I gave a shit about. I didn’t start writing songs so I could make my childhood dreams come true of assigning ISRC codes to tracks.

(Fuck, I didn’t even like mastering)

And I know a lot of people in bands, and want to be in bands. And I have conversations with those people. And we all want to make money, but we all want to play music. Its common for a band who has some audience to take a low advance for higher royalties. REM did that back almost 20 years ago. Are EMI going to try and convince bands to take the money over exposure? Where does that lead them on their second album?

It’s the problem with the Radiohead model. They made more money than ever, but sold less albums. Sure, they do more than enough of both to survive. But so many bands don’t. And will Radiohead continue to lose their audience now?

But at the heart of this is the philosophical argument for me. I work in the industry of music. There is a ‘coolness’, an un-attainability. A credibility, at heart, to put out music to the world. And by the world, I mean taxi drivers, nurses and kids in the suburbs, not what the Indies are doing.

This could all come from the fact I watched Jerry Maguire recently. And yes, he went for the money. But the success came with the personal touch. Investing in your artist – taking the risk together. You have to protect, as well as exploit, your artists. But artists don’t work for the record company. The record company works for the artist. And EMI is going on about putting artists on a salary.

Strange comment alert: the music industry is a beautiful thing. When it works. Elvis Costello’s career was so well managed. He had a talented artwork person behind him. Great label. Good manager. And they rode the pipes to a degree of superstardom. Now he plays around the world all the time. There arer so many, many positive stories. The Zombies in America scoring a hit with Time Of the Season. Drums on Sound Of Silence. Musicians having a sympathetic circle around them can only lead to good.

The general consensus seems to be: from the music industry – shock and disgust. From the two guys in the Indie sector – joy. From the business sector – loud applause. Time will tell. I hope he doesn’t destroy EMI, but if I was a betting man I would be betting he will.

Today is not a good day for music.


Other points to note.

Hands, from an investment background, is sending out a lot of press to the business side of newspapers. It is, of course, great copy in that section of the paper. If a company like, say, Motorola, can cut staff and costs, in actually encourages people to do business with them. The same cannot be said in music. Why would a band sign to you if you have no support staff or money? It’s a really fundamental error there.

Guy Hands has done an interview where he claims to have paid £40 for the In Rainbows box set. His credibility is paper thin. Geez. Doesn’t he know that what we deal in is credibility? That is number 2 from music. That’s image. Idiot.

* Advances. Bands get ‘advances’, that is, a sum of money, that is paid back to the record company through album sales. It can come in all sorts of ways. A recording advance is simply a label putting up the money for studio time. Tour advances is when a label puts up the money for a band to go on tour. The most talked about advances at the moment is the signing advance. When you sign a band, you usually give them an advance. There is DEFINITELY a side of it where it’s a back slap, but essentially, it’s money for the band to live on. Buy some new guitar strings, get a haircut, don’t worry about where your next meal is coming from, you concentrate on doing what we are paying to be.

It is, essentially, NHS/Medicare for musicians.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

We shared some history, this town and I

There’s a bit of catching up to do on this thing.

The last few months have been up and down. There was a big issue at work that almost made me walk away. Emergency passed, but I’ll be frank; it shook me up. More than anything it was because my happy little bubble of being in London got truly burst.

Life picked up again and I spent some weeks at home.

I have so much to say about Australia. So much. Friends. Family. Elections. Houses. Music. Life.

I loved my time there. My friends (who let’s face it, are still the only people who might be curious enough to be reading this). But there was such a feeling of leaving things unsaid.

The song that comes to mind is Flame Trees by Cold Chisel. It’s such a great song. I felt like the only tourist in town. Visiting where others live. A strange pinch in the gut when conversations would lead to things happening after I’ve gone. Get togethers I wouldn’t be a part of, gigs coming up…etc.

So, not shitcanning anyone or anything here, but since I’ve been back, the common question is, of course, ‘how was Australia?’

I’m not sure what to say. It wasn’t, clearly, a three week concentration of the best things I could ever do in Sydney, slipped right back in and lived like a king. And that’s not anyone’s fault.

The really odd thing upon returning is how much THE question, the ‘how was Australia?’ question, is asked with sympathy over here. It’s more a sense of ‘did you get through it?’.

I feel like, I barely did. I got to see a lot of people – but not enough. I wasted a lot of time. I got pretty stressed to the point of intense sickness. All the places I couldnt wait to go back to, didn’t feel like home. Everyone says I’d be surprised how little changes. But I was more put off by the small changes that did happen.

It’s not a new feeling, I’m sure. Flame Tree alone nails it, and nailed it a good 20 years before I felt it. The saving grace is the words from someone I didn’t know very well, sharing a cigarette in the London cold, telling me it gets easier. It’s just odd, and completely unexpected, that Sydney would not be easy.

The one practical lesson that floats up immediately is to not do things for old times sakes. The townie was a bit depressing. Where as seeing friends new houses and things seemed very exciting. Still, it felt like I’ve arrived very late at a party, and I’m far too many drinks behind to catch up.

I love Sydney. I spent a surprising amount of time on my own, though not by choice. Stuck somewhere or other and I found myself wandering through a lot of old haunts. The sun setting whilst walking through Camperdown Memorial Park one day. Walking over the Harbour Bridge. Even Parramatta, the crazy expanding Borg Ship that is Parramatta.

I was pretty inspired by it all, an there is something I want to say about all that stuff. Like I said, I have a lot to say about Australia and I’m writing a lot of it down.

So since being back, it’s been pretty normal up and down of pretty normal life. Christmas was, well, it happened. New year’s was good, an nicely sensible. Back at work and very busy. I was already working last January, and for the first time in London, looking over the cold Winter of Kensington, I think, here I am again.

Which is all a pretty long way of saying, not much to report. Things are… fine.

Thursday, January 03, 2008

Love, Power And Responsibility

An Open Letter To Joe Quesada

I wanted to write about your editorial decision to separate Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson in the Spiderman comics.

You have made many claims that a single Spiderman is a better Spiderman. It gets more into the core of the character. The struggler. The melodrama. The soap opera. By making Peter single again, it will tap into the golden spirit of Spiderman.

Fuck the golden era of Spiderman.

If you were to retell those golden stories now, it would be a dated pile of shit. Terribly ham fisted plots, one dimensional characters and cheap pulp novel dialogue. We really, really, need to say goodbye to the Stan Lee era of comics. The era when comics were made for an unsophisticated child audience. Because that is no longer your audience.

You can’t expect to turn back time and get Paul McCartney to wear a Beatles wig and write you a new Can’t Buy Me Love. You can’t expect Dylan to write another Times They Are A-Changin’. And you can’t change the modern Peter Parker into the nerdy, struggling teenager, being terrorised up by Flash Thompson (or some updated version).

There is a unique quality of comic book serials that is, as far as I’m aware, unwritten about. That is it’s strange use of time over a long period. Batman is 70 next year, yet still has a decent set of abs. It’s something that cannot happen in TV shows, as people age. And I can’t think of anything other than comics where you have characters that survive continuously for 50 year plus without “aging”.

But not aging doesn’t mean not changing. Superman was a villain when he started. Over the years, talented writers and artists refined him into the classic image of him. They introduced kryptonite years later. Perry White. The bird/plane line. Then the up, up and away line. The whole Smallville thing. Then Supergirl came a long.

Superman is such a great example, actually. Because in so many ways, the public view of him is frozen in that first, Richard Donner directed Superman movie. The phone booth. The glasses. Lois and Jimmy. But so much has happened to the character since. On an adventure level – the dude DIED. On a personal level, he shares his secret with Lois. Characters have to grow.

And Spiderman is no exception. If, as you claim, that the core of what sets Peter Parker apart from Batman and Superman is the secret identity side, that Peter is dealing with the true struggles of life behind the mask, then I don’t see why that has to change when he’s married.

A good writer, and there are many, can turn the Batman/Robin relationship into a powerful drama. A man with HUGE parental issues trying to be the guardian of an angry, reckless kid? There is a wealth of stories here.

I’ve never been married, but I can imagine dealing with life is not necessarily easier. And think of all the great modern fiction about married couples, as they struggle to make their marriage work. Set that to the backdrop of “great power comes with great responsibility”. Drama. Struggle. Soap Opera.

In the end, I don’t think you have a bad premise. You have a bad approach to writing. There are no bad stories, just stories badly told. And having no good stories for a married Spiderman is not going to help you find them for a single Spiderman. You can’t use a 64 track recording studio with a one track mind. And stop looking to the Stan Lee era to solve your problem.

Why do I care so much?

Because I love, more than Peter Parker (the name of my first ever band too), I love Mary Jane. I love that relationship. I grew up with it. I fell in love with it. As a teenager, reading the comics, it was (as I’m sure was the writers intention) how I felt about girls, right there in four colour. And I followed it all, rooted for Parker all the way. And when they got together, it meant a lot to me. It made me, lets face it, think about Love.

(And yeah, OF COURSE it’s fictional. Yes. It’s just a character. So was Dumbledore. And it was pretty sad when he died, wasn’t it? So shut it.)

So seeing you piss on that, Mr Quesada, all those good times I spent disappearing into that world, is sickening to me. It’s like finding out that those love songs I love were written and performed with indifference.

And think of all the writers who poured their own hearts, and their own stories, into Peter and Mary’s. But you’re the Editor In Chief of Marvel Comics and I’m not. But I’ve lived through many of you, and someone will come along and correct this. I lived with John Howard for 11 years. I can wait this one out.

And even if it never happens, you wont be able to rewrite the history in my mind. When I think of Peter Parker, I will think that he loves Mary Jane Watson, and she loves him right back. Always.