My classy cufflinks, purchased at op shop in Melbourne during MICF. Perfect for weddings, less so for funerals and baptisms.
So I'm at a wedding, seeing relatives I mostly only see at weddings and funerals, and someone asks me what it is I’m doing these days, which is always a fraught conversation cos at best I can say, ‘I’m a freelance sub-editor – I put pun headings on articles I’ve fact-checked, corrected for grammar and spelling, turned into much better pieces of writing than when they were submitted; I’m a broadcaster – I frequently guest on peoples’ radio shows and talk about comedy and/or music; I do open mic stand-up…’
It almost always ends up with backhanded compliments that are really just thinly veiled statements of utter disbelief that could be reduced to the question, ‘Do people actually pay you for that?’
If I’m to be honest, I’d reply, ‘Not nearly as often as I’d like’.
Actually, if I’m to be really honest, I’d reply ‘No’.
This time I was able to say, ‘I’ve just been in Melbourne for the comedy festival, producing shows’ and that’s not embarrassing at all, cos that was quite successful and people actually did pay me for that. (Thanks people, you know who you are.)
And then came the inevitable ‘what were the shows’, which is fine, cos they were both good and people came and bought tickets and watched and stuff, so even if I have to begin with, ‘someone you’ve probably never heard of because they weren’t broadcast in the Gala…’, I don’t mind making sure they’ve heard of the shows and the people now. You know. For next time.
My rather awesome design for the ARTsie fARTsie poster…
But this time I didn’t quite get to talk up Julia Wilson and Greg Parker in Julia Wilson & Greg Parker are ARTsie fARTsie; I only got as far as Chris North’s show The Bloke’s Guide to Getting Married, when a second cousin I hadn’t seen for a while – since the last wedding or funeral we were both at – said, ‘Why have I heard of that? I must have read a review… no, wait a minute – I have a friend who goes to Melbourne and Adelaide every year for Adelaide Fringe and Melbourne Comedy Festival. He saw Bloke's Guide to Getting Married and raved about. I want to see it. Make sure you tell me when it’s playing in Sydney…’
And I was happy because I didn’t have to feel like the pitied, unsuccessful, probably gay relative (not that there’s anything wrong with that [hand gesture]™) at the wedding for a change. Well, I still fall into that demographic as far as most of the relatives are concerned, but now there was one less; one who’d come to see the next run of the show, what’s more.
Andre Moonen’s rather awesome design for the Bloke’s Guide poster
As a freelance writer/broadcaster/nerd, life is always famine or feast. If you’ve been visiting this website regularly but not seen an update in a while, chances are we’re in one of the tighter periods. Don’t fret – there are two things you could choose to do – one is a coping mechanism, the other is a remedy. I reckon you should do both:
a) Visit my tumblr account, which usually just receives feeds from everything else I do over the net. When I can’t afford to keeps this blog running, that’s where I shall update. But first:
b) Make a donation to my paypal account so I can afford to continue waxing lyrical about the various interests that keep you coming back here.
In fact, consider making one even if you visit regularly and I update regularly, or if you just stumbled onto this site after googling the phrase ‘stand and deliver’ in the hope it’ll help you compose that term paper on the film starring Lou Diamond Phillips or provide information on Adam and the Ants or an 80s cover band.
What I’m saying is, what ever your reason for being here, please help keep informed, independent journalism alive – and my idiosyncratic ramblings – and consider clicking the button. Cheers.
It’s a strange thing, how, as you get older, you somehow learn to appreciate country music. Proper country music. The outlaw variety, with – as Frank Zappa said in the song ‘Truck Driver Divorce’ – ‘steel guitars crying all over it’… sung by proper country singers like Marty Robbins and Johnny Cash. But pre-American Recordings with Rick Rubin Johnny Cash. Certainly not Shania Twain country.
Shania Twain first appeared on the scene when I was still working in a top 40 chart music store. Or rather, its Classics and Jazz department (ie ‘classical music’ and jazz, but calling it ‘classics’ meant it could be show tunes and middle-of-the-road older stuff as well…)
I couldn’t help but give her a nickname. That’s what we did with all artists. New Kids On The Block were New Kids With No Cocks. Val Doonican was Val Croonagain. The Doors were The Bores (were they ever!) Neil Young, as time went on, lived up to his nickname of Neil Old. The Rolling Stones were the Strolling Bones. Kate Ceberano And Her Jazz Sextet were Kate See-no-bra And Her Tit Sex Jizz. Bob Dylan was Baaaaaaahhhhhhb Dylaaaaaaaahhhhhn (but you had to do his voice when you said it). And Shania Twain was… well, you had to pronounce her first name like an Aussie country bloke saying ‘showing ya', so it was like ‘sho’in ya’. Her name was Sho’inya Twat.
That has no bearing on this news story, reported by The Daily Beast, about Shania Twain shacking up with Frédéric Thiébaud, the pair having consoled each other after Marie-Anne Thiébaud nicked Twain’s hubby, Robert Lange.
So I was just being a vain fool late at night and decided to do a Wikipedia search for my name.
Now here’s the thing: a lot of my blog entries have been cited in Wikipedia entries – some under my real name, ‘Demetrius Romeo’, which I was still using when I started blogging, some under the name I’m more commonly known by, ‘Dom Romeo’.
Imagine my surprise when, reading through the list of results to the ‘Demetrius Romeo’ search, having passed entries for Tara Moss and Akmal Saleh that link to this here blog, I got to the 13th item. It’s between entries for the New York City Ballet’s Spring 2009 repertory and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
That’s pretty funny.
But I knew what it was about – when I interviewed Graeme Garden for the first Goodies reunion tour of Australia, he commented about campus life at Cambridge University, where he cut his teeth in student revue, by making a joke about being a member of the Cambridge University National Trust Society. Think about it as an acronym.
There it is in the Wikipedia entry, under the ‘Spoonerisms and acronyms’ heading, in the ‘Linguistic variants and derivatives’ section. The references is footnoted as number 81. The 81st footnote sends you to the Graeme Garden interview on this blog.
But the best thing in this Wikipedia entry is the ‘See Also’ section. It re-directs to another entry, for ‘Scunthorpe Problem’. The ‘Scunthorpe Problem’ is the internet phenomenon of spam filters preventing messages getting through because they include certain innocent words that contain a combination of letters that constitute a banned word. ‘Scunthorpe’, the name of a town in North Lancashire is one such word that causes spam filters to block a message. In fact, in 1996, residents from Scunthorpe could not register email addresses with AOL, because of that special combination of letters contained in the name of their town. Penistone in Yorkshire gave rise to similar problems. So did Lightwater in Surrey, and the Lancastrian town Clitheroe .
But my favourite part of the entry carried the title ‘News articles damaged’. Turns out a news site run by the American Family Association (AFA) automatically censored articles. So a piece on sprinter Tyson Gay defaulted to being about Tyson Homosexual. Other vulgar words would similarly be replaced by safer alternatives. So ‘ass’, for example, would become ‘butt’. Which is fine, until you want to talk about clbuttical music, or a politically motivated killing, better known as a buttbuttination.
Finished the final performance of Crossing Over, my 2010 Melbourne International Comedy Festival show with two brilliant comics and great friends, Chris North and Julia Clark; spent a couple of hours drinking and then eating with Kat, a punter I met after the show; went to the final Festival party and actually stayed for most of the night – something I rarely do. Now I'm wide awake for no good reason, so it's about time I returned to this all-too-often neglected blog.
Saturday turned out to be a good day of photographs. A buddy who shall remain nameless showed me an excellent cookbook he managed to snaffle a copy of – The Pasta Bible. I've blogged poetic about my passion for pasta before.
What makes this book excellent is that it's the impossible to locate first edition – impossible to locate because it's been pulped, on account of an unfortunate typographical error that occurs in the recipe for Spelt Tagliatelle With Sardines.
In the second column of ingredients there is an item that I can only assume was supposed to be black pepper. My questions are as follows:
How radically do you have to misspell 'pepper' in order to have it default to the word the spell checker chose?
Or was it a Freudian slip – revealing the author's true feeling about that thing that isn't pepper?
And why did no sub-editor pick up the error before a major print run and subsequent recall and pulping?
That was a pretty good morning. But before its end, the day got much, much better.
In the Peter Cook bar of Melbourne's Town Hall, I ran into Amanda Buckley, an awesome actor and impro comic, who announced, "Dom! I was looking for you yesterday – I was in a cubicle in the women's toilet and took this photo…"
At this point I had no idea where exactly Amanda was headed with this information; she had pulled out her mobile phone and was searching through the photos. Do I want to know what it was she photographed in the loo?
"People must have thought something weird was going on, because I burst out laughing, and then I took a photo…"
Still not sure what I was about to see, she handed me her phone. She had photographed this graffito in a cubicle in the women's lavatory on Collins St, outside of Melbourne Town Hall:
How cool! Best review of the festival. And possibly the title and poster of my show next year!
One afternoon in 1980, when I was in Year 3, my mother looked up from a school notice I’d just handed her and said, “Oh. Who else was given a note like this to take home?”
Unlike the weekly newsletter or an excursion consent form, which would have been distributed to every student in the class, this notice had come in an envelope and was given to only certain students. It explained that the school had been approached to provide kids for a spot of filming, to take place at a park after the day’s lessons had been completed, and inquired whether my parents would give permission for me to be involved. (It was long before the days of Bill Henson.) The body seeking to have the footage shot was SBS, the ‘Special Broadcasting Service’ that was about to launch a new television station that would cater to ‘multicultural Australia’ with multilingual programming (that is, shows that wogs would want to watch). Well – would cater to multicultural Sydney and Melbourne, initially.
Much as the ABC was ‘Channel 2’ for most people back then, we knew SBS as ‘Channel 0’. Although the nought was a numeral, it was always pronounced ‘oh’ rather than ‘zero’. On air, voice-overs would also refer to the station as ‘channel oh-twenty-eight’ (Channel 0/28). I have no idea how that worked – which parts of Australia could turn a channel dial (because it was the age of dials, and not buttons and remotes) to ‘28’ when they only seemed to go from zero (yeah, all right, ‘oh’) to only as far as ten. Although, anything was possible in the old days of analogue; old television sets had a setting on their channel dials for a station between 5 and 6. It was 5A. Why? What got broadcast on 5A? Who by? And to whom? (The answer, I discovered while writing this, is Riverland Television Limited – a commercial station broadcasting in regional South Australia.)
Anyway, point is, SBS was about to launch Channel 0/28, and so Mama Romeo surmised there’d be a fair whack of other non-Anglo Australian parents reading a copy of the same letter that evening. And she was right. While token whiteys were also approached – they outnumbered us at the school – the closest of my mates who happened also to be second generation Australians were certainly invited to partake. Tony, whose family came from the same southern Italian village as mine, and Clement, who was – and still is – Chinese Malaysian.
So one sunny afternoon after school we were collected by a chartered bus and delivered to a park. I’ve no recollection which, nor of the teachers and possibly even parents who accompanied us, but I do remember Japanese kids playing cricket nearby, and being approached, with my best friend Clement, by one of the crew as we stepped off the bus. A tubby little Italian and a Chinese kid fitted the bill perfectly. We soon had our ankles bound in order to partake in a three-legged race. We were clearly ‘the compliant ones’ rather than The Defiant Ones.
We only feature for a few seconds, but I’m sticking with ‘feature’ over ‘appear’. I don’t know why they went for it – well I do, actually. We’re coming last in race, but I know I’m giving it my all.
Despite the fuzziness of the screencaptured image (the videotape hasn’t dated well, and there’s not much call to digitally remaster a 30-year-old station ID) you can see me, the fat kid on the right, powering on. Look at the pair on the left having trouble holding onto each other, their legs going in opposite directions… despite the binding at their ankles, they’re clearly competing against each other.
I was lost in the moment. I must have been – I was too young to worry about making a dick of myself in public, and didn’t know enough to be conscious of the cameras. Neither did anyone else, I’m sure; we were just kids. But in the second take (there were at least two) they moved me ‘centrestage’, as it were. Although hidden by an audience cut-away, you know there’s a second take because there’s a continuity flaw: Clement and I change sides.
That I’m getting right into it is evident even in this poor-quality image. Look at the expression on my face! And maybe there’s a subtext being conveyed: those foreigners – they may not be at the forefront of society, but gosh, they work hard! Although that’s not any more deliberate than the parallel I’ve already drawn, between the three-legged race consisting of foreigners and outlaw fugitives. More amusing are some of the broader signifiers that, 30 years on, come across as funny.
Why is it that the baby most keen to read a book happens to be Asian?
The Australian flag makes a dark-skinned child flinch – shouldn’t that be the effect of an American flag?
Does the fact that the tailor shop is called ‘Klein’s Clothes Clinic’ suggest the schmutter trade runs in the family, but there was a disappointed Jewish mother who really wanted a doctor for a son?
Were cops that polite to new Australians ever in the history of white occupation? (Possibly, back when cops, too, were new Australians; but I suspect they called themselves ‘English’ then, and were nice only to people they called ‘sir’.)
Is it wrong to note that it’s the less white-looking kid in the canoe who has the ‘Bankcard’ symbol on his shirt, and may well come from a family with a shop or restaurant so successful that they actually used Bankcard facilities often enough to warrant related merchandise such as clothing?
Do all Italian men in Australian television have to wear moustaches so that we know they’re Italian?
I’d like to point out how wrong such broad observations are, how ignorant you’d have to be to make them – but 30 years on, I’m an Italian with a moustache. So the only generalisation I can speak about authoritatively is the one that, for me, happens to be true. Of course, I don’t have a moustache in the ad; I was only nine when it was made and puberty was still a matter of – oh, I don’t know – months away. But I know the station drew an audience who saw the ad repeatedly because, by the mid-80s, well past puberty, I was still being almost recognised in the street: “Aw mate – you know who you look like? That guy on Channel Oh!”
I still get on television from time to time, either as a guy laughing (and hiding an edit) in the audience of a comedy performance, or as an extra in a comedy show sketch. Fittingly, my next appearance, in the background of a sketch, will again be as a token Italian, pretty much because, for all intents and purposes, I still look like someone on Channel 0.
I was flattered to discover on my Flickr page, a request that a photo I took (with either my phone or a none-to-flash digital unit I’ve had for about five years) be added to an online ‘Flickr Group Pool’ called Modern Times: Modernism in Australia. Chuffed, how could I refuse? It's this image of the AWA Tower on York St in Sydney’s CBD, seen, I think, looking back from further south along York St.
I’m not sure when I first became aware of the AWA Tower, although it would have been after stepping off a bus at Wynyard – something I only started doing as a way of life in 1990, when I started going to university in the city. Until then, trips to the city were few and far between, and – apart from trips in with school friends to visit all our favourite secondhand and import record stores one day during each set of school holidays – would have mostly been made by car, avoiding that part of the city altogether.
The infatuation with this tower atop its art deco building, emblazoned with the AWA logo, relates back to a childhood memory of the same logo on the side of a big box, in our garage. The box must have once held a television, though not ours. The first one I remember us owning was a black HMV model, the letters standing for ‘His Master's Voice’, with the standard logo of ‘Nipper the Dog’ paying attention to a gramophone horn from which a high fidelity reproduction of that sound must have been emanating. That was eventually replaced, in the late 80s, with a colour Rank Arena model. So how the box came to be in our garage is anybody’s guess.
Under the logo were the words Amalgamated Wireless (Australasia), which itself seemed interesting and mysterious. I’d never heard of, and so had no concept of, amalgamation or Australasia. I do also remember a couple of television advertising campaigns that I linked back to that box: AWA/Deep Image ads for television sets, with a jangly pop jingle of some kind. Later on there was an ad for the utter chaos society would descend into if all the AWA devices suddenly disappeared. I can’t remember what they all were apart from perhaps radar devices, in whose absence, a ship got lost, and utter gridlock as all the traffic lights malfunctioned. The same result would ensue in this part of the city if all drivers were as inexplicably infatuated with the AWA Tower as I am. I certainly think of it whenever there is a reference in the press or online of Australian Workplace Agreements, as they’re always followed, in parentheses, by the phrase’s initials: ‘(AWA)’.
I came across an old notebook – about A6 in size, with a solid cover in a truly sickeningly bright shade of yellow. Only the first twenty or so pages are written on. It appears to be a kind of work book-cum-diary and, in addition to a school timetable, contains truly execrable poetry that can best be described as the kind of song lyrics written by a pretentious, geeky teenager. To wit:
Why do you hold back And then stand upon my toes?
Against the fence, your [sic] too intense To try and grasp my prose
The fact is, they are indeed the kind of song lyrics written by a pretentious, geeky teenager. I was that pretentious, geeky teenager, and they are my song lyrics, dating back from – for me, half a lifetime ago – January 1989. (The song went on to be called ‘A Bluer Shade of Deep’, the title at once inspired by both George Harrison’s ‘Deep Blue’ – originally the flipside of the ‘Bangla Desh’ single and now located at the tail end of the newly remastered Living in the Material World CD – and ‘A Whiter Shade of Pale’ by Procol Harum. It was going to be part of a heavy concept album, to be entitled either From the Sublime to the Ridiculous – And Back Again! or, possibly, I Am My Own Phallic Symbol. It was brimful of self-righteous arrogance.)
More significant than the shit lyrics, written more than half a lifetime ago for me now, are the diary entries. This one is particularly meaningful:
On Monday 30th (of January) – the tail-end of the school holidays – my mates Noz and Damien have come over to watch a U2 video. I’ve played them something called ‘Telling…’, which I recall was a song, now lost, called ‘Telling It Like It Is’. (It was a thinly veiled personal attack on someone who I thought was behaving insincerely. Such things, as a geeky teenager, are worth turning into songs.) The ‘getting there Willy-baby’ reference is most likely some 3-unit English work, to be completed over the holidays, that was left to the absolute last moment – we were studying [Willy-baby] Shakespeare’s comedies, Twelfth Night and The Tempest
But more important than this, it seems the following day, January 31, 1989, is the auspicious day on which I appear to have “acquired” my first two Frank Zappa albums: Joe’s Garage Act 1 and Studio Tan. I actually remember buying them, at my favourite halfback book and record store, in Dee Why, on Howard Avenue. I guess there were no Beatles-related albums of interest that day. And I got right into it, clearly, having knocked off a quick sketch of Frankie himself, in ink. I can’t help marvelling at how my shit writing – the product of a St Kieran’s primary school education (pretty much everyone in my year from there still has crap handwriting) hasn’t changed at all in nearly twenty years.
However, over the next couple of pages I note the acquisition of further albums – as if that was the most important thing I was doing at the time, that required preserving for posterity.
Even though his contract with EMI had expired and his albums were, once again, pretty much deleted, you could still find the odd Frank Zappa album, brand new, on a shelf – old stock that had failed to sell. So I soon had a copy of Frank Zappa Meets the Mothers of Prevention - European Version from a David Jones store. You used to be able to depend on the music sections of department stores for old gems that had spent quality time gathering dust in a store room. Sale time was particularly good to pick up deleted items at bargain prices – I once picked up a copy of the shaped picture disc single of the Rolling Stones’s ‘Brown Sugar’, with ‘Bitch’ on the flip side, for three dollars.
Somewhere in between or soon after those albums, I know I returned to that halfback book and record place to discover Overnite Sensation and Just Another Band From L.A. I remember running into my buddy Fiona Hastings that day. She was on her way to a funeral for the mother of a friend, at St Kevin’s Church at Dee Why.
I distinctly remember that Frank Zappa album number seven for me was the predominantly live Roxy & Elsewhere – it’s not annotated in the little yellow notebook but I recall finding it in the two-dollar rack at the Dee Why Loan Office, on my way to a meeting of the Warringah Shire Youth Council. Since it was a double album, it cost me $4. Another time, in that same pawnshop, on that same rack, I found a copy of George Harrison’s Concert for Bangla Desh, in its box, with the yummy full colour booklet. Three records. $6. The box had seen better days, but was still none too shabby. Records and booklet were still immaculate. But that’s another story.
From Roxy & Elsewhere, all the way up to last year’s Wazoo, (80-odd albums in all) it all gets a little fuzzy. Bought them all, but stopped writing it down each time.
But all that’s by-the-by.
The thing I love most in this note book is a stupid little drawing entitled Black Führer: an African American has a parted fringe and toothbrush moustache, a laAdolph Hitler. The parted afro was inspired by my own unruly hair, always a bitch to comb into anything but a duck’s ass, and to some extent, by Gene Wilder as he appears in Young Frankenstein.
Thoughtless racism or inspired, absurdist satire? I'll let you be the judge – although I think it’s probably a little bit of both.
I suppose I’d better offer some background. My dad worked in the construction industry. He had a tractor equipped with a back hoe and a front-end loader, which he drove around on the back of a big International tip truck. He’d often be hired to clear land, dig footings, pools and driveways when a house was being built, or to cart the rubble away when it was demolished. As a result, there was loud earthmoving equipment around our house that would make noise from the early hours, before work, and late into the night after work when repairs were required, or teeth or buckets had to be replaced on the back hoe.
Thus, despite a garden full of fruit trees, we never had cicadas around our house in summer – all scared away by the vibrations and noise. (Flies and mosquitos still thrived, rest assured.) Once the old man retired and sold the equipment, the bugs teemed. A follow-on effect was a multitude of spiders. Sure, there was always a redback in the proverbial woodpile, the odd funnel web surfacing to make a more obvious nest if something big was left on the front lawn, and heaps of ‘garden spiders’ that thrive in the summer. Now, however, we have a cicada breeding ground.
And during the spring and summer, every day presents a different, elaborate spider web. Or one arachnid empire that contiues to grow!
I usually grab the digital camera and take a quick snap of the web, knowing full well that even were I to manage to keep the right things in focus, it’s still not going to look anything as impressive in the photograph as it did in real life. So when I recently transferred about a year’s worth of random spider and spiderweb photos to my computer, only a handful came close to looking good.
The post script to all of this is that, after processing these images late into the night, I of course was plagued by dreams, bordering on nightmares, of encounters with spiders, the one I awoke from involving an extensive network of webs in and around my computer and desk, heaving under the weight of nasty looking spiders. Which, metaphorically at least, is now exactly the case.