"Alone, even doing nothing, you do not waste your time. You do, almost always, in company. No encounter with yourself can be altogether sterile: Something necessarily emerges, even if only the hope of some day meeting yourself again." (E.M. Cioran)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007

New Jacket

On his return from a work trip to Malaysia, Stephen gave me a jacket he'd bought there for me, as a gift. After reading the blurb on the jacket's shop tag several times, I am still perplexed:

"Hot Wind signifies the spirit after dark. It is the spirit and soul that provide positive energies and winds by stimulating their nerve to realize their dreams and enjoy every moments of life. It is a street wear brand that explores into their mysterious side and breaks beyond their depth inner feelings that ultimately sparks off the attractive and sexiest chemistry."

Friday, January 26, 2007

Australia (Invasion) Day

Here we go again - another Australia Day - or otherwise known as 'Invasion Day'. And out come the Aussie flags in ever-increasing numbers which, until very recently, used to be rivalled by quite significant numbers of Aboriginal flags also. Lately, the latter are rarely seen, but after all, this is John Howard's Australia and we're almost as jingoistic as the Americans these days. Up at Woolworths supermarket this evening, the entire checkout area was decked out in them - almost as if they were Christmas decorations.

But there's something very creepy going on here. When the organisers of yesterday's 'The Big Day Out' (annual, all-day, multi-band, music festival in Sydney showgrounds) decided to ban the Australian flag from the event, due to increasing incidences of racist outbursts (eg the Cronulla beach riots of just over a year ago), where (generally white) neo-nationalist yobbos would wreak racist havoc under the flag's banner - often draping themselves in it - the media whipped the story up as a big issue, dragging politicians in to comment. Of course, Howard said that any event that asks for the banning of the flag deserves to be banned itself. Results of commercial TV surveys showed that 92% thought it was wrong for the organisers to do this, with only 8% thinking it was the right thing. Therefore, the organisers were forced to offer their apologies and regrets over suggesting such a thing. And at 'The Big Day Out', record numbers of Howard's youth were draped in their beloved flag. No surprise there.

But what is it that this piece of cloth actually represents? What's to love? Seems to me it's more about dividing, rather than uniting - groups of people trying to claim it as theirs and so setting others apart/making them the enemies of it. As I said, this is John Howard's Australia. And in this, an election year with a new Opposition opponent doing well in the polls, Howard seized an opportunity to look 'green' (imitating George Bush yet again!) by appointing the scientist and environmentalist, Tim Flannery, as 'Australian of the Year'.
What a hypocrite!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Lou Reed's 'Berlin' at the State Theatre, Sydney

What a treat. The chance to see Lou Reed perform his seminal 1973 concept album - the maligned and often dismissed, ahead-of-its-time 'Berlin' - as a multi-media song cycle - the headlining act of this year's Sydney Festival. Before Sydney, 'Berlin' had been performed over four nights at 'St Ann's Warehouse', a New York artspace, a month earlier. Clearly, this was an opportunity not to be missed.

The show, directed by the artist/film maker Julian Schnabel with Bob Ezrin, the original album producer, and Hal Willner as music producers included strings, horns, choristers (12 singers from the Australian Youth Choir) and touches of cabaret. The band included Lou's long-serving bass player, Fernando Saunders, with Tony Smith on drums, Steve Hunter on guitar (who played on all the original recordings) and Rob Wasserman on upright electric bass. Guest vocalists included Antony Hegerty (of Antony and the Johnsons) and soul diva, Sharon Jones.

The show played out like a sort of Brechtian fable - the melancholy story of a relationship with its blissful beginnings and indulgences and its decline into abuse, burnout, despair and ultimate tragedy. Lou Reed has this amazing ability to bring stories from such melancholic underworlds to life and make them beautiful. He is able to 'report' them without moralising and when performed, they are poetry. Julian Schnabel's set included screens printed with subtle 'Oriental' designs and calligraphy, with filmed scenes illustrating the story - while remaining impressionistic and non-dominant - projected onto them. Highlights for me were 'Men of Good Fortune', which was nicely cynical and could've been, at least in part, about any number of modern-day tyrants, 'Oh Jim' (especially the stripped-down part), 'Caroline Says' (especially II) and 'The Bed'. Sublime.

After the songs were finished (it seemed as if it'd only been a few minutes), I was wondering if the audience's thunderous pounding for an encore would be fruitful. After all, 'Berlin' had been performed. However, back they came - albeit without the strings, horns and choir - just Lou, the band, Antony and Sharon. First up, they launched into 'Sweet Jane'. I started thinking that it was too much of a crowd pleaser and that it might ruin the mood, but when Sharon Jones took over and gave it the soul treatment, I was won back all over again. After this, things quietened down and 'Candy Says' was next - performed as a duet between Lou and Antony. I hadn't seen Antony before and I was gobsmacked - brought to tears in a matter of seconds. He has a voice that I can only describe as something between Nina Simone and an angel, but there is more to it than that. He injects so much feeling and pain that it is almost unbearable. The final song of the night was the strong and grinding rock 'n' roll of 'Rock Minuet' from Lou's 2000 album, 'Ecstasy', which he'd performed during his last visit in 2000.

All in all - totally killer!

Friday, January 12, 2007

Another train trip to the 'burbs

A blazingly hot summer day and I'm off to the hospital dental clinic again in Sydney's far west, by train. So, what did I see along my way? Well, in the city, before I'm even at the train station, it's just endless brand names and designer everything on every single person I come across. Shopping is now the official national pastime and designer labels give us our self-esteem - well, it certainly seems that way.

Then the train. A couple sitting opposite me look like off-duty police constables - exuding an attitude of distrust towards anyone in their vicinity, including me. The woman was heavily pregnant and attentive to anything her man said to her, demonstrating her approval of his comments with affectionate pats on his knee, while he maintained his look of indifference. His nose was snout-like and he wore one of those ubiquitous t-shirts printed with splatters of dye and the words 'CULT' and 'INDUSTRIE' in a sort of stencilled/branding style - as if they were stamped on bales of wool. Sitting next to me was a young woman, her feet squeezed into pointy-toed stillettos. Her toes stopped before the pointy part and were squeezing out the sides. During the entire trip, she was plugged in to her iPod and just stared straight ahead. The music must have been loud because it just went 'CALASH CALASH CALASH' the whole time. She wore those huge square'ish sunglasses - like every other woman on the train - that Paris Hilton was wearing (her 'trademark', so the media informed us) when she was in Sydney a week or so ago.

On the way back, the carriages were packed - a father with three mischievous children climbing all over the seats opposite me and a couple of old-timers next to me. At Strathfield, another old man got on, wheeling a suitcase and decided to squeeze in next to me backside first. I just saw this huge bum coming towards me and he smelt strongly of (a certain) haemorrhoid cream. For the rest of the journey, I could feel his thighs jammed up next to mine and smell the haemorrhoid cream.