Spontaneous Admonition

Some time between the end of school and the end of a Bachelor of Arts degree, some friends got together to make a pretentious black and white short film in which my big hair and bushranger’s beard pretty much shared top billing with a chess piece.

During the ‘down’ time, we took to recreating the cover of the Beatles’ Twist & Shout EP – the photo in which the band are captured in the air. Rather than have the camera running while we all jumped at the same time, and then editing it, or (somehow) taking a still from it of us in mid air, we foolishly decided that the optimum way to proceed was for us to jump, with the cameraman trying to click the ‘record’ button at the precise moment we reached what would be the nearest thing to a ‘zenith’.

State-of-the-art camcorder technology of the early nineties, along with the limitations of the human reflex meant that, unlike the Beatles, we were never captured at our highest point in the air. Instead, in that split second between us reaching the highest point in our rise, and our landing on the ground again, we somehow detected that we were plummeting and that the red ‘record’ light was not yet illuminated on the camera.

Our method of dealing with this knowledge was, of course, to run at the cameraman screaming. By which time the little red light was illuminated, because he had started recording. Which made for great viewing, when you watched the ‘rushes’: what you see is a bunch of guys suddenly appearing from nowhere, running at you screaming that you’re a bloody idiot, or words to that effect.

Imagine if life was really like that: every time you got something wrong, people would appear out of nowhere and swear at you.

I have, of course, experienced the real-life version of this, in the form of unsolicited e-mail. Sent by somebody I’d never met, not even through a mutual friend, it consisted of a single word:


ASSHOLE

After days spent trying to work out what exactly it was that I’d done, and who I could possibly have done it to, I realised that it was most likely something I wrote about the Doors or INXS that had produced this unsolicited e-mail.

Turned out it was the latter.

(But I don’t really think I got it wrong, personally.)


No, that’s crap; this is cool!

If you have any sense of taste whatsoever and even the most minimal of intellectual faculties, here is a blog entry for you – some bright spark has logged onto Amazon, looked up some of the contemporary works of cinematic, literary and musical art widely considered to be ‘classics’ and logged the least favourable reviews that have been posted.

They’re hilarious!

Here is an example of a review of the Beach BoysPet Sounds:


“This is not the Beach Boys. It can't be. Why? No beach songs! I thought it was some kind of joke. All 'Pet Sounds' offers is the opportunity to hear Brian Wilson whine for forty minutes, backed by elevator music.”

And for the film Casablanca:

“I’m pretty sure I will enjoy it a lot more when Warner Bros finally gets around to releasing the colorized version, the way this movie needs to be seen – the world is not black and white, why should our movies be?”

And finally, Norah Jones’s Come Away With ME:

“Puke, puke, puke. Can you hear me puke. This is 100% rectum. Her dull voice bodes poorly with the cheesy backing music. Sounds like a bad night club singer.”

Ready to read some more?

Strap yourself in for the Amazon.com Knee-Jerk Contrarian Game.


Finally A Use For Spam!

Andrew at www.dirtynerdluv.org has made a cultural breakthrough worthy of a Nobel Prize or at least an award of some sort. In his entry “Spam and the modern novel” he suggests that the names of characters in “your bad first novel” could be derived from “the names the spam mail people use to trick you into signing up for a porn site or buying Viagra online”. He offers some great examples.


Charles & Amanda

Another Saturday, another wedding. This one was scary: out the front were sunglassed and besuited ‘men in black’ types, handing out copies of the ‘Order of Service’; on the way upstairs a sign insisted that there be ‘No Paparazzi’. Dubbed (by its perpetrators) The Society Wedding of the Millennium™ this marriage involved a current batch of talented individuals and their extended network of friends – a bunch of people I have, for the most part, known for a decade, most of whom I haven’t seen for the better part of it. Indeed, many constitute my own unreliable memoir (for that must be the collective term) of expats, ever-so-briefly repatriated for the sake of this event. All the blokes scrubbed up well. It was the women – (sigh; as Allen Ginsberg never said, “I saw the best minds of my generation on Manning Bar balcony, in skimpy tops”) – who I hadn’t seen for ages that I most regret having to scarper from.

But scarper I had to: there was a dancefloor ticket to Radiohead with my name on it. Indeed, I even received a round of applause from my table when I got up to leave. One of the re-pats insisted that I must stay while another deeply regretted the fact that he couldn’t join me. And in fact, when I first received the invitation to this wedding, I confessed to the happy couple, Charles Firth and Amanda Tattersall that I’d be leaving early. “C’mon Charles,” I insisted, “I’d leave my own wedding for a Radiohead concert.” He laughed and said “I might want to go to the concert, too.” I had to offer the last word: “that’s quite ironic, because I might want to stay to consummate the…”

This vulgar attempt at humour was politely tolerated, and understandibly so. Charles Firth may not be a comic genius, but he is the sort of talented humorist who may well be described as one by future generations – as long as he doesn’t make the mistake of believing his own hype, such as pronouncements by people like me that while he is not exactly a comic genius, he may well be described as one some time in the future. So Amanda Tattersall, his then-wife-to-be, was used to such politically incorrect statements being made. The beauty is that Amanda works in politics; she is the Special Projects Officer of the Labor Council. She couldn’t possibly have a sense of humour that was well-informed and tolerant at the same time. And yet she’s marrying Charles Firth – so she must.

The ceremony itself was spectacular – a comedy extravaganza to which I will fail to do justice in attempting to describe. For starters, the Wedding March, composed by Elliott Wheeler, contained the requesite cadence point that said to the bride ‘wait here and be admired by everyone’, and then, ‘get ready to walk down the aisle’, at which point she tearily embraced her parents. Then, I swear, the music was composed so thoroughly and excellently that it ably communicated the message, ‘hang on, I know you're ready to go, but there’s just a bit more extemporising on this theme’. And then, ‘okay, ready? Well I’m not. A bit more fanfare and development.’ The dearly beloved that had gathered were laughing in all the right places. Finally, the music enabled the bride to take that walk. Who on earth understands music and comedy well enough to compose music soliciting perfectly timed laughter? Elliott Wheeler, evidently.

The wedding party consisted of two camps described, in the ‘Order of Service’, as ‘The Bride’s Supporting Cast’ and ‘The Groom’s Supporting Cast’. The former, listed ‘in no particular order’, included such personages as a Chief Whip/Patron Feminist, a Bridemaster, a Ring Master, an Eyewitness to Nuptials (apparently “The person legally required to declare, ‘Officer, I saw the whole thing’”) and a Reader of Engels. The latter, listed as ‘from Best to Worst’ included the Best Man, the WeddingCorp™ CEO, the Middle Man, the Lord of the Ring and the Worst Man. There was a Civil Celebrant, but more importantly, there was also an Uncivil Celebrant, played by Toma Dim.

The ceremony, commencing with the directive that “during the first part of the service, the Guests should mill awkwardly and not sit down”, began at 3:45 pm with The Panic of the Groom, followed twenty minutes later with The Sheepish Re-admission of the Groom. Then The Triumphant, Unflappable Arrival of the Non-Panicking Bride took place, to that fantastic Elliott Wheeler soundtrack. More entrances of pageboy and bridal party until The Bride’s Parents Bless Her Self-Propelled Decision to Wed, followed by ‘the first unscheduled piece of silliness’. The first unscheduled piece of silliness turned out to be the Ceremonial Signing of the Pre-Nuptual Agreement. (This was humorous; it had to be. Pre-nuptual agreements aren’t recognised in Australian law.)

The first, and only, reading was taken from the Book of Engels (Chapter 4, Verse 2), which spoke of the role of the woman in marriage, and is taken from the chapter entitled ‘Origins of the Family’. The marriage vows were especially funny; Charles vowing to agree with Amanda after a long argument, but only when he knows that she was right; Amanda promising to honour and respect Charles's media empire, trifling though it still may be (see here and here); and Charles, raising the biggest laugh, by acknowledging how important Amanda is to his life, even though he thought he was pretty damn cool before he met her; but I’m not going to do anyone justice paraphrasing and misquoting the gags. Suffice it to say that there were plenty of media-types and their loved ones looking at each other, absolutely cacking, agreeing that Charles and Amanda ‘had raised the bar’. I don’t know whether I should campaign for a DVD release with commentary, or just steal the tapes and bootleg it myself. I really regret having to leave before the speeches. But then again, I don’t, for the simple reason that I had a dancefloor ticket to Radiohead.

Unlike last week’s wedding, at which champagne flowed after the ceremony and not before, this time I stood in the wrong place, refused to put my glass down and failed to turn down refills, all the while snapping shots with my other hand. Thus, I don’t have many photos of the evening. Certainly, few that I am proud of.

Okay, just the one.

Andrew Hansen and Sholto Macpherson pose while some woman unwittinglly gives us a bit of cleavage action.

andrewsholto

I was very pleased to catch up with an old friend, Gregor Stronach, whose partner I couldn’t help but inadvertantly assault. When we were having cigarettes on the balcony, I ashed in just the right spot where the wind could catch it and blow it straight into her eye. Later, as the first course was being served, I managed to splatter her with chicken gravy as I failed to hold the serving dish horizontally (too much champagne). It’s a good thing I got away when I did.

Googling Gregor a little later, I discovered Gregor’s Semi-Automatic Live Journal Updater™. Perfect for the lazy blogger.


Off The Record…

“How do they fit so many songs on something so small?” the customer enquired. He was holding a copy of The Beach Boys Greatest Hits, a twenty-track compilation, on compact disc. It was the late 80s , and although compact discs were still relatively new, the man was in his late twenties, so it was fair to assume that he knew what they were and, more or less, how they worked.

At that stage of the game, we music shop assistants were encouraged to politely enquire of the older customers, prior to taking their money, whether or not they in fact owned a CD player. It often saved a bit of bother later in the day when they’d return product they couldn’t possibly use. The best response I ever received was from a matronly old biddy in her lawn bowl whites. Her response to “have you got a CD player?” was to announce, “I have a washing machine!” Rather than listen to her list her whitegoods, I just let her go. She didn’t return disappointed, but the man in his late twenties did. “It’s not a record,” he explained, handing tThe Beach Boys Greatest Hits back to me. “No it isn’t,” I agreed. The proof, had anyone required it, was etched into the lacquered surface of the disc: an engraving that spiralled from the centre to the edge, left by the stylus that had skidded across its spinning surface.

Not that such a scratch should have interfered with the sound quality of the disc, if the initial news reports hailing the dawn of the digital music revolution were anything to go by. Early ‘Ripley’s Believe It Or Not’-style stories – like the one about the surfing piglet and the rattle snake slithering across the desert with its head stuck in a beer can – appearing in the ‘human interest’ slot after the weather would show how you could smother a CD with tomato sauce, towel it off, bung it into the CD player and still enjoy perfect sound reproduction.

We soon learnt that CDs weren’t so indestructible, but they did prove more durable: by the mid-90s records were phased out in favour of the new format that took up less space, and, it was argued, offered better sound quality. It didn’t take long for the old format to be widely considered obsolete. I remember overhearing a little boy on the other side of a music shop counter trying to convince an incredulous playmate that his grandpa had “heaps of those big, old, black CDs that you have to stick needles into!”

By the mid-90s, a whole generation that had never bought or played a record was coming of age. Here was the first bunch of people in living memory whose vocabulary did not include terms such as ‘gatefold’, ‘flipside’ or ‘inner sleeve’; they were ignorant of the differences between seven- and twelve-inch singles; their hearts didn’t race at the at the merest whiff or trace of the heady and addictive smell of freshly pressed vinyl in a laminated cardboard cover. A whole generation who didn’t know the pleasure of collecting records. Meanwhile, their parents were busy updating their collections, replacing records with the equivalent CD titles.

Of course, vinyl enthusiasts disagreed that CDs offered better sound quality. If you took care of your records and had a decent sound system (ie a turntable, an amplifier and a set of speakers, each of which cost more than a CD player), your records sounded better than CDs because, they argued, the sound records produced was “warmer” – whatever that actually means. Besides, some instruments – particularly acoustic ones – had a tendency to sound “sterile” when recorded digitally.

Afforded the opportunity of hindsound (the aural equivalent of ‘hindsight’) it now can be said that, given a pressing in good condition and good equipment on which to play it, records can produce a comparable sound to compact discs. Furthermore, we are now allowed to admit that there were times when CD mastering left a lot to be desired – capturing and reproducing the limitations of the original recordings, such as tape hiss and signal loss, with the highest fidelity. It took a lot of technological jiggery-pokery to actually recreate that “warm” sound of a record. We know this, even if we still don’t quite know what “warm” means, because, in the case of some artists, their entire back catalogue has been or is being re-released for the third time with alleged better sound quality. By the time you’ve listened to your third copy of your favourite David Bowie, Elvis Costello or Rolling Stones album on CD, you really ought to know whether you’re actually getting your money’s worth this time. However, where vinyl enthusiasts have been vindicated most openly is in the case of original mono pressings of some classic albums. Listen to original mono pressings of Velvet Underground albums, or the Beatles’ ‘White Album’, or early Dylan, and if they don’t quite jump through the speakers and rip your bloody arms off the way Aunty Jack once promised to, they certainly box your ears – in the nicest possible way, of course.

While record collectors stuck by their favourite format, their lives were made difficult by the fact that new records had become an expensive indulgence stocked only by certain specialist stores, imported from overseas as the Australian dollar continued to lose ground on the foreign market. At least, for a time, they could find sought-after titles in second hand shops at a decent price. Meanwhile, a lot of other music lovers have subsequently started to come to their senses, realising that there is more to recorded music than just the music: there is also the packaging, and the sentimental value invested in it. While Japan has begun to reissue CDs in miniature replica album sleeves, complete with facsimile inner sleeves and posters, there are people who are keen to just own their favourite records again, with the cover art and sleevenotes they don’t have to go blind trying to enjoy, and – if pressed to admit it – that “warm” sound they still can't quite define. However, re-purchasing the records you once owned and loved is now an expensive exercise, and often a work-intensive one, taking place either on-line or in specialist collector stores. Demand has ensured that they are no longer as cheap as they were when you were replacing them with CDs. Despite this, discerning collectors turn down those compact discs because they still know full well:

“It’s not a record”.


ADDENDUM
Thinking about the habits of record buyers, and an unfortunate addiction to this here blogging business, led me to dust of this piece of writing that has been kicking around for a couple of years. It was composed during the lead-up to one of the Glebe Record Fairs (inaugurated and run by Egg Records) with the encouraging information of the owner that “we know people at newspapers and could maybe get you editorial”. As usual, it got me didley squat – but I’m quite happy with the writing that resulted, apart from the fact that after such a good start and an excellent (for me) series of gags, it ended weakly with no real conclusion. And in the end, even as a minor record collector, I don’t think that I agree with my ‘findings’ as such. I don’t particularly care much for mono first editions of anything, although mono editions of Beatles records interest me when the mixes or edits differ markedly to their stereo equivalents (the mono Sgt Pepper’s, for example, features a shorter version of ‘She’s Leaving Home’, in a higher key – well, it doesn’t really, it features the same one sped up a bit – as well as a number of other anomalies and variations; the mono ‘White Album’ has a shorter version of ‘Helter Skelter’ because it doesn’t fade back in after it fades out – unfortunately depriving monophiles of Ringo Starr’s shouted statement, “I’ve got blisters on my fingers!”).

In addition to collecting Beatles song variations, some albums must be owned on vinyl purely for the packaging. The original pressing of the compilation album Monty Python’s Instant Record Collection, for example, came in an elaborate cover that could be folded and inserted in such a way as to resemble a whole pile of records. The Japanese ‘LP replica’ CD reissue has yet to be released.

Apart from that, I’m usually interested in owning different editions for the variations in artwork or content – there’s an English pressing of Cream’s Wheels of Fire, for example, that saw fit to ‘improve’ upon Martin Sharp’s excellent psychedelic artwork by printing it in negative and reversing the front and back covers. Thus, collecting vinyl mostly seems to come down to the medium rather than the music, but to explore this properly would require a whole other piece of writing.





Heartless Bastard Me

I was just doing my Sunday thing, sitting behind the counter in Egg Records’ city store, wishing some customers would come in and buy stuff, when all of a sudden a woman strode purposefully in, parked herself directly in front of the counter, and thrust an open lecture pad in my face.

Damn, I thought, this is going to be one of those nuts who either


a) compiles lists of millions of titles of albums, and stands by while the shop assistant searches from one end of the store to the other in order to confirm, John-Cleese-in-the-Bookshop-Sketch-like, that we have nothing on the list currently in stock,

or

b) compiles lists of millions of titles of songs, and stands by while the shop assistant searches from one end of the store to the other in order to find out that the few albums that actually feature one, or if you’re lucky, a couple, of songs from the list, are unsuitable because the other songs contained therein already reside somewhere else within the customer's collection and must not be replicated, or just do not appeal to the customer’s taste.

Not that there’s anything wrong with either of these things; technically, searching the store from one end to the other is what I’m paid to do. It’s just that if the customer searched the store from one end to the other, rather than standing back and letting the shop assistant do it, there’d at least be a chance of the customer stumbling onto some other gem worth spending some money on.

Rather than one of the infuriating lists, the woman’s lecture pad bore a scrawled note informing that in addition to being mute and an orphan, she was bereft of a husband and had not seen her daughter for nine years, despite having searched desperately for her, but as her most immediate problem was hunger, could I possibly help her out by handing over ten dollars? When I informed her that I in fact couldn’t, she stalked out in silence, making a dismissive gesture that, strictly speaking, wasn’t obscene, but certainly conveyed the spirit of obscenety.

More obscene, however, was the realisation, the second after she’d left, that I probably should have offered her a couple of bucks in exchange for letting me take a digital photo of her and her note.

Does this make me a bad person?

What about if I scrawled the offer down in a notebook of my own and flashed it at her?

God must certainly think so; I’ve spent the rest of the day knocking whole shelves of stock over.