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2 Who or not 2 Who

Earlier this month (November 2004), Pete Townshend announced via the official Who website that he and Roger Daltrey were getting together in December, with whatever bits of song they’d managed to write thus far, in order to see if it was worth proceeding any further with plans for a new Who album. The project was apparently tentatively title Who2, clearly a reference to the remaining original members of the band.

Okay. The name sucks. But what about the idea?

A friend of mine likens the concept of new Who songs to re-animating a dinosaur skeleton.

I disagree.

When I saw The Who at the Sydney Entertainment Centre some months ago, I was impressed: despite lead guitarist Pete Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey illuminated by a spotlight as a duo, accompanied by a backing band who spent most of the evening in the shade, they were good. The backing band were essential to the enjoyment, providing the solid bed upon which Pete and Roger could rock.

And what a backing band: Zak Starkey, forever destined to have the middle name ‘Son-of-Ringo’, was the perfect drummer. Simon Townshend – slated to appear  downunder as The Who’s guitarist in a mid-90s tour that was, thankfully, called off (see, the world really is wonderful!) before it could taint the outlaw memory the band had created in their one and only previous Aussie tour, in 1968, when they were given the bum’s rush out of the country for being ‘unruly’ on a flight – backed up big brother Pete as rhythm guitarist. Pino Palladino, session bass player extraordinaire deputised for the most recently departed Ox, John Entwistle. But it was John ‘Bunny’ Bundrick, on keyboards, who proved his worth, playing fantastically.

Indeed, ‘Bunny’ delivered the most gorgeously majestic introduction to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, that Daltrey had to go and ruin. That’s right. Ruin. Daltrey’s onstage ‘move’ for most of the night consisted oof swinging the microphone by its lead, often having it wrap around him and then unwrap before he’d catch it. Only, one time, it led to the ‘Spinal Tap’ moment of the evening, when he dropped the damn thing. Which resulted in a faulty connection, static, and ultimately, malfunction. But only at the most delicately dramatic moment of the evening, after that awesome introduction that reigned over ‘Love Rein O’er Me’. And there was no choice: stop the song mid-verse, pick it up again. However, rather than risk ‘Bunny’ attempting to reproduce that brilliant intro again, and failing, they chose to pick it up from the verse.

But that was ultimately forgiveable. Why? The true test of whether this version of The Who cut it was with songs like ‘Who Are You’. In fact, specifically the song ‘Who Are You’. The choruses were faultless, with perfectly falsetto’d ‘Hu! Hu! Hu! Hu!’s following each ‘Whoooooo are youuuuu?’.

Those harmonic interludes of “Whooooh-aaaaah-ooooh-aaaaah-ooooh-aaaaah” were, likewise, note-perfectly reproductions of that song. It was heaven.

The band played their token new ‘single’ – the recently recorded ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ (a tribute to Elvis and rock, based around the ‘I Can’t Help Falling In Love With You’ melody) and ‘Old Red Wine’. The songs appear as ‘bonus’ tracks in the recently released singles box set and the most recent Who compilation The Who: Then & Now. It was after playing the songs that Pete admitted that they were considering recording a new album. The cheering didn’t increase noticeably, but nobody boo’d. Clearly, we’d given the idea our approval.

So back to the new album.

I think the idea is almost, but not quite right, and even though Pete and Roger don’t realise this, the people around them certainly do. Consider again their greatest hits collection Then and Now


Does it look familiar to you?


Hint: the word ‘fab’, describing the ‘new recordings’, is a bit of a give-away.


If you’ll recall, The Who’s ‘The Kids Are All Right’ always was the best Merseybeat song that The Beatles never wrote. So it’s kind of fitting that The Who are ‘ripping off’ the ‘ripped’ artwork for The Beatles’ Anthology series.


Indeed, The Who could have gone all the way: instead of Then and Now they could have called the album Yesterday And Today, like the Beatles did, in America, in 1965. And there you have the perfect solution to the problem. With the passing of Keith Moon (drums) and John Entwistle (bass), The Who have lost their rhythm section. All The Beatles have left is Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr – their rhythm section. They should combine forces and record an album as The Whotles.

Unfortunately, another band has beaten The Who to this collaboration: former Beach Boy Brian Wilson has already let slip, in interview, that he intends to record with Paul McCartney next year. It won’t be the first time: Paul McCartney munched a carrot on the original recording of ‘Vegetables’, for the ill-fated Smile album (which, nearly forty years later, Brian Wilson has gone and re-recorded). Macca also appeared, along with Eric Clapton and Elton John, on Wilson’s album Gettin’ In Over My Head earlier this year. However, next year’s collaboration may prove to be more significant. Which is fitting: two great bass players who are also pushy song writers who orchestrated their respective bands’ best albums, who also happened to be born within days of each other, and admire each other greatly… most likely we’ll get a Beachles album before we get a Whotles album.

Like, uh, Rolling Stone

I was amused to discover a couple of weeks ago that the greatest song of all time, topping a list of five hundred songs as voted for by a panel that included song-writing music types like Elvis Costello and Joni Mitchell as well as critics, turns out to be Bob Dylan’s ‘Like A Rolling Stone’. Number two on the list was ‘(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction’, by the Rolling Stones. And the list was published in the music magazine entitled… Rolling Stone!

I realise other commentators ran with this at the time of publication – the irony… or coincidence… or shameless self-promotion entailed in the top positions of the list. But if this is clever marketing or self-aggrandiszement on the part of that magazine, good luck to them! It’s worth noting that no other publication is in a position to pull the same sort of stunt. How could Mojo, say, execute the same sort of subliminal reinforcement? They’d be hard-pressed to name The Mojos or the Smokin’ Mojo Filters or even Modjo as being responsible for the best songs of all time; and not even Elvis Presley’s version of ‘Got My Mojo Working’ is going to make an appearance near the top. Although maybe The Doors could get a mention somewhere for ‘LA Woman’, in which the Lizard King babbles about a ‘Mr Mojo Risin’’ (an anagram of ‘Jim Morrison’, and the pseudonym under which he’d resurface, after faking his own death, apparently; which is why many fans believe that bloated corpse fished out of the Parisian bathtub and sealed inside a coffin without an autopsy or even a proper examination is someone other than his Regal Lizardness!)

And as for New Musical Express – well, the NME clearly doesn't have a hope in hell. Unless, of course, it manages to name Public Enemy topping a ‘most influential hip hop band’, or some such.

I’ve obviously milked the idea as much as possible, but before I leave it, I just want to point out one interesting fact that I discovered, a context for which may never arise in conversation again: the title of the magazine Uncut is an anagram of ‘U cunt’!

China’s Princess Turandot


The offer to interview the principals from the cast of China’s Princess Turandot was one worth taking up, particularly because there'd be the presence of an interpreter. In my mind’s ear I heard those Foreign Correspondent or BBC World Service stories where the soundbite begins in another language, but fades as the translation begins over the top. Here’s what the finished interview (as an MP3 file) sounds like, as lifted from the ABC NewsRadio Music News broadcast. Initially, I was chatting to Mr Sun Yong Bo, Ms Liu Pin and Ms Zhu Qin, who sat before me in the classic ‘v’ formation in that order, so that Ms Liu Pin was the centre of attention. Although I directed some questions to Mr Sun Yong Bo and Ms Zhu Qin, the fact is that a more direct story is told by editing together just the ones directed at Ms Liu Pin. I was startled to learn that ‘martial arts’ is one of the four artforms that comprise this production, and am looking forward to seeing it for myself!

Demetrius Romeo: How does China’s Princess Turandot differ from Puccini’s opera Turandot?

Ms LIU PING: The difference between China’s Princess Turandot and Puccini’s Turandot is that we add a new character which is Handmaid Liu Er who is quite important and she reveals a simple but very strong fact, that love conquers all, and in China’s Princess Turandot we want to show people what the beauty is, what the kindness is, and what the truth is. We use the character Handmaid Liu Er to reveal all these things. So there is a big difference.

Demetrius Romeo: Musically, does it differ at all?

Ms LIU PING: China’s Princess Turandot combines the music factors in one – that is, the traditional opera, and also the traditional Chinese folk songs like ‘Jasmine Flower’ – and most importantly we put Sichuan Opera as the main musical factor in this performance.

Demetrius Romeo: When composers – Western composers – used to write their operas and set them in places like China, and Japan – I’m thinking of Gilbert & Sullivan’s The Mikado as well – they were often choosing places for their exotic remoteness from where they were. [1] How do you capture the difference, the exotic nature? Does it come into it? If it doesn’t, is it just a matter of dealing with the universal themes that everyone understands: the love, the truth, the beauty.

Ms LIU PING: Basically, this is a combination of the Orient and Occidental scenes, so actually, we want to capture the answers, like you said; we want to reveal what the true beauty and the true love, and also the truth is. Mostly we’re taking some other kind of patterns to reveal this, mainly by means of Chinese traditional drama, especially Sichuan opera.

Also, this is a story re-created by the Chinese, so we add some characters and we add some other plots. So our purpose is not to create the Western opera one hundred percent; this is not our ultimate purpose. Our purpose is to pull them together and to reveal a common sense.

Demetrius Romeo: LP, is this a lead role that you’ve aspired to, that you’ve always wanted to play, or have you always had similar roles as the beautiful princess?

Ms LIU PING: Yes, actually, this is quite a new role because it is quite a challenging one. Also, by playing this sort of new character, I have to perform and I have to reveal all of the five talents of Sechuan Opera. That is, the singing, the dialogue, the dancing and the martial arts. So it’s a complicated role. It’s quite challenging, but I love it.

Demetrius Romeo: Do you think that Quentin Tarantino might snatch you up for his next Hollywood blockbuster, having to achieve all of that in one performance?

Ms LIU PING: Yeah, actually, we hope so. We know that Quentin Tarantino tried to absorb a lot of things, like Hong Kong legend. But actually, Chinese drama is quite colourful and quite versatile. I do think he could absorb a lot of things from it.

Demetrius Romeo: If there was only one reason why someone had to come and see this show, in your mind, what is that one reason?

Ms LIU PING: The biggest selling point is the unique features of the Sichuan Opera. We have various kind of singing styles, we also have dialogue and martial arts in this Sichuan opera. So this the strongest selling-point to the Australian people.

1. That, at least was Beyond the Fringe satirist, occasional brain surgeon and performance director Sir Jonathan Miller’s justification of chosing the British seaside of the 1920s as the stylistic underpinning for the ‘look’ of his production of The Mikado. His is the one that featured Eric Idle in the role of Ko-ko. Which is why I bring up a production supposedly set in Japan; I wasn’t merely lumping all the productions set in the Orient together. Purists of course are incensed that anyone would dare deliver Gilbert & Sullivan with any variation to, say the D’Oyly Carte version, as if the work is some sort of sacred doctrine from which there must be no variation (on pain of finding it interesting, I suppose). But then it’s worth pointing out that the full title of this musical by William Schwenk Gilbert and Arthur Seymour Sullivan is in fact The Mikado or: The Town of Titipu. That’s like some Aussie, circa 1964, writing a musical set in Italy called The Generalissimo or: The Town of Poobumweebum.

Who’s That Little Old Man?

“I rang up on the fourteenth of the fifth about Gerry and the Pacemakers…” the customer began.

He was a little old man in little shorts that were pulled way too high. His clean-shaven face had those errant patches of wiry grey strands that old-timers inadvertently sport – small clumps of whiskers that had somehow managed to elude the razor. His Buddy Holly thick-rimmed glasses had flip-top shades in the ‘up’ position.

“And we were holding it for you?” I enquired, slowly rising from the stool behind the counter as he nodded. “Was it a CD or a record?” I asked, about to make my way to the far end of the space behind the counter, to the milk crates on their side that constitute the ‘hold’ box. “CD,” he replied.

“What name was it being held under?” I asked, as I pulled out all the CD-sized bags from the milk crates. Although I didn’t catch his name, I realised that as it was now the thirteenth of the month, anything put away on the fourteenth was at least a month old; if he had phoned to ask us to put it away, there was little chance that it would still be in the ‘hold’ box. But I checked each bag just to make sure.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” I explained to him back at the counter. “Our policy is to only hold something for a day without deposit. We need a deposit to hold it for a month. When did you say you rang us to hold it?”

“The fourteenth of the fifth.”

This time I actually heard him. “Fourteenth of May?” I said, disbelief in my voice. It was now mid-November. But he was an old-timer after all; there was probably nobody to bring him into the city. “I’m so sorry, Sir, there’s no way we’d keep something on hold for six months even with a deposit. But let me check to see if it’s still in stock.”

Only the items deemed ‘collectible’, ‘fragile’ or still shrink-wrapped actually contain their discs – they are kept behind the counter or in locked cabinets. All the other CD and DVD covers on display are empty cases, their discs filed — alphabetically by artist — in a set of drawers behind the counter. And, luckily, there was a Gerry and the Pacemakers disc in the drawer – Ferry ’Cross the Mersey, a live collection of the band’s best-known songs with an additional smattering of unlikely covers, recorded and released in the 80s. Although it took a while, I located the case and, inserting the disc, popped it on the counter in front of the customer.

“Here you go,” I said. “‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’.”

“Yes,” he said, “that’s it. ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’.”

“Yes,” I said, with a contented smile. “‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’. That will be ten dollars, thanks.”

“Isn’t it free?” the man asked me.

“I’m afraid not,” I said, proffering a brief courtesy laugh. “It’s ten dollars.”

I stopped laughing when I realised he was serious.

“I thought it would be free,” he said.

I felt myself stand a little taller, heard my voice hardening ever-so-slightly. This is an early step in a process of behaviour I regularly display that is best described as ‘turning into Basil Fawlty’. Under pressure, in retail, I frequently find myself turning into one of those tense, coiled, John Cleese characters that, on the verge of emotional explosion, enunciate every syllable through clenched teeth.

“I’m sorry, Sir, this is a shop,” I began to explain in a patronising tone. “The way a shop works is that I give you stuff in exchange for money. This is known, from my point-of-view, as ‘selling’. From your point-of-view, it is ‘buying’. So I cannot give you stock for free. You have to give me money for it.”

“Okay,” he said, never losing his pleasant, genial, shorts-too-high, some-whiskers-missed old man demeanor as he handed over two five-dollar notes.

I shook my head after he left, but didn’t have any time to think about it because I had a few customers in need of attention.

However, before long, the old man was back.

“Look,” he said, “I got to the corner and decided I don’t want it unless it’s free.”

I paused for a moment, attempting to process this information. But it was no use. “I’m sorry?” I demanded.

“Well,” he said, “I thought about it, and realised that it hasn’t been quite six months yet; this should still be free.”

“Tomorrow will be the fourteenth of November,” I explained, “six months after the fourteenth of May. We are shut tomorrow. This is as close to six months being up as we can get. But it doesn’t matter. I still don’t understand – why should the disc be free?”

“You said that you don’t need money after a day, but after six months…”

I took a deep, emphatic breath that cut him off.

“What I said was, we hold things for customers for a day without a deposit, or a month with a deposit. If we hold it for a day without a deposit, then you have to come in and buy it, or leave a deposit; if you leave a deposit, then, within the month, you have to come in and buy it, otherwise it goes back on the shelf.”

“Oh well, I don’t want it unless it’s free.”

Another deep breath.

“This is a shop,” I began again, carefully. “We sell stuff. Why should I be giving this to you for nothing? Do you go to other shops and ask for things for nothing?”

“No,” he said.

“Then why are you coming here to ask for free stuff from me?” I was uncomfortable. I didn’t understand. I really wanted to, but I didn’t.

“I don’t know,” he said, “I just thought of it.”

“You just thought you might come in here and ask for something for free?”


It was no use. Comprehension and I were not within spitting distance of one another. “Did somebody put you up to this?” I demanded, just in case.

“No. I just don’t want the CD anymore. I’d like my money back.”

“But I don’t understand. Why? You just bought it. I just sold it to you. Why should it be free?”

“I just think it should.”

On the verge of losing it, I tried one more time.

“I still don’t understand,” I began, relatively calmly. “Shops have been in existence almost from the beginning of time, and they all work the same way: you want something, you exchange something of value for it, in this case, money. When do you get stuff from shops for free?”

“Sometimes things are free,” he reasoned, hitching his shorts up that extra half a centimetre or so for emphasis as he delivered what he must have imagined was the clincher. “Sometimes you might win something when you go to the club. Then it’s free.”

I didn’t know anything about any clubs, but I knew about give-aways on th radio, so I tried to run with that example.

“Okay, so, say you ring a radio station and win something from them, they have to send it out to you.”


“So why are you trying to get this CD for nothing from a shop?”

“Because I thought it would be free.”

Now we were going in circles. Ten dollars was not enough justification to embrace the insanity that was slowly creeping over me. I wondered who’d believe me when, some time in the future, I try to re-tell this story.

“I’d really just like my money back,” the old man said. “If it isn’t free, I just don’t want it.”

I’ve never been in this position before, but I’d been near enough to it to know that no matter how you try to rationalise what has happened, no matter how calmly and sensibly you attempt to reason, there is no way out, really. It’s much easier just to give in.

“You know what?” I said, “I’m gonna give you your money back, and then I want you to leave this shop and not come back. Is that okay with you?”

“Yes,” he said, all genial shorts-too-high old man again.

I took ten dollars out of the cash register. But before I handed it over I decided to have one more go.

“Okay. Let me try to understand. Six months ago you rang us and asked us to hold a ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ CD for you.”


“You wanted it then?”


“But you don’t want it now.”


“Because we didn’t keep it on ‘hold’ for you.”

“That’s right.”

“Would you want it now if it was still on ‘hold’ for you?”



“Okay,” I said, taking the plastic bag with the compact disc in it over to the ‘hold’ box, and then sauntering back to the counter.

“Hello, Sir,” I said pleasantly, as though I’d only just caught sight of him. “I suppose you would like the ‘Gerry and the Pacemakers’ CD we’ve had on hold for you for nearly six months.” Before he could trick me by saying “no”, I dashed to the ‘hold’ box for the disc, and handed it to him. “Here it is, that’ll be ten dollars thank you, you wanted it, now you have it. The transaction is over.” I put the money back into the cash register as he shook his head and walked out, a little older and somewhat less genial, his shorts still way too high.

I was reeling from the experience, and needed to tell someone about it in order to try to make sense of it, so I rang the boss. When I got to the “… and he thought it should be free,” part of the story, he said, “Why? Because it wasn’t delivered in thirty minutes?” He couldn’t make sense of it either.

Suddenly, a slightly younger, taller, bald man with a moustache underlining an aquiline nose — essentially the spitting image of Jerry’s Uncle Leo on Seinfeld — was standing at the counter with that damn Gerry and the Pacemakers CD.

“That old guy’s an idiot,” Uncle Leo announced, before I - goggle-eyed and open-mouthed - could say anything about the CD in his hand. I assumed he worked in one of the other music shops along the street and he was going to tell me that shorts-too-high old man had been performing his routine in there as well. I didn’t care. I’d gotten him to take the CD and give me money. The transaction was over.

“He certainly didn’t seem to understand the concept of ‘retail’,” I agreed, hoping Uncle Leo did. I didn’t want that bloody CD back.

“He won a competition for a free CD of his choice from the shop two doors down,” the man said, pulling a second, and, truth be told, better Gerry and the Pacemakers CD out of a bag.

Jesus H.M.A.S. Christ! Now it all made sense. The little old man had phoned six months ago about a Gerry and the Pacemakers CD that would be held for him to pick up for free, because you can win free stuff in competitions at clubs. He had won such a competition. It was just that MY SHOP WASN’T THE SHOP RUNNING A COMPETITION THROUGH THE CLUB!

All of this must have gone through my head in an instant, because my immediate reply consisted of the following sentence fragment:

“But I’ve just been…”

After a pause, I started to feel remorse. “I absolutely tortured…”

“Yeah, he’s an idiot,” Uncle Leo let me off the hook again.

“That’s as may be, but, knowing that he’s an idiot, shouldn’t you have come with him?” I demanded.

“I had to wait in the car,” he explained. “I was in a loading zone.”

“Oh, you bloody idiot...” I thought to myself, putting the CD on. “Life goes on day after day/Hearts torn in every way,” Gerry Marsden reminded me as I withdrew those ten dollars one last time from the cash register, defeated.


That shop I was in when visited by the little old man has subsequently closed. That fact that it was on a clear slide towards its ultimate end - too many 'ten-dollar shops' and eBay teaching everyone the cost of everything and the value of nothing - explains why I went to some length to become the sort of shop assistant who would impress Ronnie Barker’s ‘Arkwright’ character from Open All Hours.

However, imagine how much funnier the whole ‘theatre of the absurd’ incident would have been had we not had a Gerry and the Pacemakers CD in stock. Pants-too-high would have made me search the entire premises, ‘cheese shop sketch’-like, until I found something that he actually wanted… and then he would have wanted to have it for free!

Further thoughts on Spam

One of the devices multinational corporations use to win and maintain increased market share is to introduce new lines of product. These new lines may not be as successful as the pre-existing flagship product; indeed, they may only break even, or operate at a loss. But they keep competitors off the shelves, ensuring that the company continues to rack up sales in that sort of product. The best examples of such product diversification can be seen with Coca-Cola.

Retailers who stock Coke must also stock Vanilla Coke and Cherry Coke and Diet Coke and Diet Coke with Vanilla and Diet Coke with Lime. Depending on the sort of retail premises, this may mean not stocking any product manufactured by rival cola company Pepsi. But in addition to Coke, the retailer may also have to take Fanta, also manufactured by Coca-Cola Amatil. Once upon a time, Fanta was an orange fizzy drink. Now it means an entire rainbow of different coloured fizzy drinks. Coca-Cola also offer Sprite, a lemonade that competes with other lemonades. Mount Franklin bottled water is also a Coca-Cola product. If all of these various soft drinks are stocked, the consumer seems to have a lot of choice, while only one company has all of the profits.

One of the most alternative of cola alternatives is no longer an alternative at all. The bitter Italian cola known as ‘Chinotto’ may offer a world of difference to Coca-Cola, but have a close look at the label of the next bottle you buy, if indeed you buy Chinotto. If it is manufactured by Bisleri, it will bear the trademark lion-in-a-circle, with a ribbon draped across it claiming it to be ‘tradizionale’. This not-so-dynamic ribbon device also graces the bottom of the label, circumnavigating the bottle with the words “Tradizionale Chinotto Tradizionale Chinotto…” repeated ad infinitem.

Traditionally, Chinotto was a bitter drink manufactured from the bitter chinotto orange, also known as the Seville orange, and sung about by Elvis Costello in the song ‘Tart’, from the album When I Was Cruel:

Hear silver trumpets will trill in Arabic streets of Seville
Oranges roll in the gutter
And you pick them up
And peel back the skin
To the red fruit within

But the flavour is…
And the flavour is…

Reading the fine print of the label on the bottle of Chinotto reveals no evidence of the chinotto orange. Instead, it says


So there you have it: maintain market leadership by introducing a multitude of variations.

(Interestingly, ‘Bisleri’ began as an Italian company founded by Felice Bisleri in 1967. It also marketed fresh drinking water in India. Bisleri Mineral Water continues to exist in India but its website gives no indication of it being part of the international Coca-Cola Amatil empire. That the sale and distribution of the product has been halted due to health issues suggests that there is no relationship.)

So back to Spam, currently undergoing a $4.9 million campaign to rejuvinate it and give it more appeal. If the good people at Spam Pty Ltd really want to make their product central to the eating habits of the greater population, they really should take Coca-Cola’s example and start devising a wider range of menu items – taking up entire aisles in supermarkets.

Apparently, the name ‘Spam’ is derived from its content of ‘spiced pork and ham’. If they can put spiced pork and ham in a can and call it ‘Spam’, why stop there? Why not spiced beef called ‘Speef’?

Okay, lingering vestiges of negative press from the infamous mad cow disease epidemic may result in limited appeal, but what about a halal or kosher version of the product, using lamb?

Admittedly, there will be a slight problem since confusion will arise between the spiced pork and ham product, Spam, and the spiced lamb product, Spamb. However, in those cultures that make no bones about consuming goat, you have the halal/kosher Spoat, and in the more ‘genteel’ cultures, Sputton. (As we all known, the spiced lamb would always only be Sputton done up as Spamb anyway.)

But why stop there? Why not, for the truly posh, spiced game meats, liked Spenison? A fowl range would also be a winner. Spicken for the everyday consumer, with Spail, Spuck and Spurkey for the well-to-do and, on special occasions, the common-as-muck as well. The truly posh can of course indulge in Spescargot and Spaté.

There is no reason not to venture into the water also. Spish products could be marketed for consumption on rice as Spushi or Spashimi (I can never remember which is which), and for the truly lucrative Japanese market, Spale products, at least until whaling is well and truly outlawed. No, I mean really well and truly outlawed. No, I mean really, really, really cross-your heart, hope to die, we may even consider signing the Kyoto Protocol, outlawed. No, really.

In Africa, where the impending world food shortage has already begun to have an effect and poachers are killing wildlife and selling it as ‘bush meat’, a little bit of monkey, say, could be made to go a long way with the right combination of whatever it is they put in Spam. Make way for Sponkey, not to mention Spinoceros and Spelephant.

I’m particularly looking forward to investing in shares of the company’s Spaussie range of Spuisine: kangaroo and rabbit culls will finally provide a lucrative industry – aside from pet food (sorry, that’s an unfortunate mental image to conjure when discussing tinned cold meats) – when Spangaroo and Spabbit hits the market. Again, ‘boutique’ lines could be introduced to include Sprocadile and Sparramundi, not to mention Sprawn, Spobster, baby Spoctopus and Spaviar. If other protected species get out of hand, there’s always the likelihood of Spoala, Spombat and Spallaby. But we’d have a hard time distinguishing Splatypus from generic roadkill-in-a-can, Splatterpus.

With such a range of spiced meats available, there is no need to ever eat dodgy, fast-food alternatives whose meat products contain god-only-knows-what – like hot dogs and hamburgers – ever again. Although, what would be more likely (and could drive the value of shares through the roof) would be a hostile take-over, by Spam, of a pre-existing fast food chain. Consider: SpacDonalds could introduce a range of Spamburgers as well as Spicken McNuggets. Or maybe Spizza Hut would offer the ultimate Speat-lover’s Spizza with Spepperoni and Spalami along with the usual Spince sauce and Spam.

For the stay-at-home types and the health conscious, it will only be a matter of time before the offal of the vegetable kingdom – peelings, the woody bits where the edible bit was once connected to the plant, and any other bits that are traditionally fed to rabbits, put in the compost heap or thrown away – can be boiled down and mixed with gelatine to make some sort of tinned Spegetable equivalent.

“Spammity spam, lov-er-ly spam,” indeed!

Absolute Commitment: Lano & Woodley Revel in the Build-Up

Lano & Woodley must be on tour somewhere. The interview I did with them for their show Bruiser is getting heaps of googled hits at the moment. So I thought I should locate this article and post it. It’s long and indulgent, and first appeared in 1997 in issue four of my ill-fated and short-lived comedy zine, Stand & Deliver! (hmm, that title has a nice kind of ring to it, doesn’t it!). I’m not surprised by my seriousness in approaching the comedy, only that I sustained it throughout out the article. Furthermore, despite Colin making it plain and obvious by saying so, I never realised back then how much Lano & Woodley borrow and follow on from Laurel & Hardy: naive, innocent, child-like two-man slapstick. This is even more evident in a show like Bruiser, that sees the pair taking turns at playing each other’s girlfriend, as well as each other. The other great characteristic they share with Laurel & Hardy – apart from the fact that there are times when you feel they could afford to originate more material instead of forever drawing from their earlier work – is that they are hilarious.

Before I quit banging on, I must add that the caricature is the work of Nick O’Sullivan.

“That’s the first time anybody has referred to our work as ‘a body of work’,” announces Colin. He is extremely chuffed, but also slightly stunned – more at the concept of actually having an oeuvre than at the prospect of having it analysed. The Adventures of Lano & Woodley is about to begin on ABC as the Monday night comedy, a new series written and starring Colin ‘Lano’ Lane and Frank ‘Woodley’ Wood. I feel that the series builds upon themes and issues initiated by their book Housemeeting (1996). It demonstrates characteristics that are apparent throughout their work. “That’s good,” Frank says, beaming his approval.

Many commentators see Lano & Woodley as the classic slapstick duo – straight man and funny man, necessarily in that order. While their work obviously contains slapstick, the pair are more like two kids. Lano is the relatively straightforward one, an older, more practical, bullying leader to Woodley’s forgetful, dependent daydreamer. But both Lano and Woodley are the funny man, and they’re with me on this one:

“If you’re gonna latch onto someone, the clown and the straight man is the simplest way to look at it,” observes Frank. “We’ve never thought of it that way. We’ve always thought of it less like Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis, and more like Laurel & Hardy, where there’s a status relationship, definitely, but they’re both funny. They’re both telling jokes.” The popular perception of Lano & Woodley arises because Col is the “‘straight’-looking” one but, according to Frank, that’s part of the duo’s ‘thing’.

As straight as Colin may appear to be, there are moments when a deranged alter ego bleeds through. When he laughs, for example, his amusement topples over into mania, his bottom jaw threatening to drop off its hinge at any moment prior to his explosion, as if he is part of an animated Terry Gilliam segue another sketch. I think it looks beautiful.

“Not to me it doesn’t, not when I look back,” Colin says. “I just find it frightening. Disturbing.”

Childlike characters have existed in the duo’s work as far back as when they were still a trio, with Scott Casley, known as The Found Objects. A favourite skit involved kids daring each other to jump into a body of water from an impressive height.

“I’ll go if you go,” was Lano’s promise.

“You’d better go, Colin,” Frank would warn. “If you don’t go…”

On the count of three, Frank would hurl himself into the ‘river’ below, only to find that Lano had piked. “Colin, you didn’t go!”

Memories and past experiences continue to be utilised in the duo’s new work. See in Housemeeting, for example, the urban myths that comprise Frank’s hard-luck stories regarding his sister. They include the burst pimple that disgorges baby spiders and the roll of film developed long after the robbery revealing the need for a new toothbrush – the sort of stories that, when heard as a kid, conjure vivid images that pretty much stay with you. Cleverly, Frank dismisses his sister’s apparently fabricated stories by ascribing her need to lie to the trauma she suffered as a teenager when a psychopath “jumped on the top of her car and banged a severed head on her roof”. “Those urban myths are definitely things that are kicking around in your head,” Frank agrees. The ‘psychopath’ urban myth also turns up in an episode of The Adventures of Lano & Woodley entitled ‘Tonight You Die’.

In the same episode, Lano and Woodley rent a scary video. While they are watching it, someone phones their house and announces, “Tonight, you die!”

“The prank call actually happened to a friend of mine,” Frank explains. “He got out the video Friday 13th and watched it. Just when the film finished, the phone rang. He picked it up and someone said, ‘tonight, you die!’ They never found out who it was.”

There are other items in Housemeeting that you will recognise, experiences that you never thought anyone else would share. One section has Frank and Colin locked in the bathroom. Frank, staring at the floor, notices shapes and figures in the lino:

He saw a flying goose and an old woman’s face. He saw a bison and a screwdriver. There was a blob that, with a bit of imagination, looked like the drummer from Culture Club.

I tell the pair that there is an old man in snow goggles on my bathroom floor.

“Yeah,” Lano agrees, “you’re just having showers for years and years and years, and you keep on looking at the same bit of floor saying, ‘That, that is a goose. That is a goose!’”

Woodley concurs: “The more you look at it, the more it looks like a goose.” He thinks for a moment. “No-one’s ever pointed that bit out from the book, have they Col?”

“No,” Colin admits. “In fact, I don’t even know what he’s talking about.”

My immediate misgiving, approaching The Adventures of Lano & Woodley, is the premise of the show: two out-of-work bachelors sharing a flat, engaging in the typical plotlines. Squabbling and desperate owing to a dearth of nookie, the holiday that goes awry, trouble with the neighbours, even the ‘Halloween night’ story, all correspond to episodes of Bottom. Is it merely coincidental that Lano and Woodley managed to acquire Bob Spiers – director of Bottom – to direct the first two episodes?

As it turns out, the production company Working Title declared an expression of interest in Lano & Woodley after they took out the ‘Perrier Award’ at the 1994 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Past successes like Four Weddings And A Funeral enabled Working Title to hire the best talent available. Woodley admits that he had no idea who Bob Spiers was at first, but his and Colin’s jaws “just hit the floor” when past credits like of Fawlty Towers, A Bit of Fry and Laurie and Absolutely Fabulous were listed on the man’s CV.

My misgivings are ill founded; since Lano and Woodley are who they are, familiar themes have been given suitably surreal twists. Like in the first episode, in which Col’s imaginary girlfriend ‘Jenny Window’ dumps him for Frank. (Is the similarity of Jenny’s surname to that of George Glass, Jan Brady’s imaginary boyfriend from an episode of The Brady Bunch, another early memory that has informed Lano and Woodley’s work?)

Lano and Woodley aren’t exactly strangers to television, frequently appearing on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. There have been other serious offers prior to Working Title’s approach for this new sitcom. “We could have made TV in Australia years ago,” Colin says, “but they would have wanted to make it at Australian levels of funding and quantity of shows. Like, twenty-six episodes with a budget of twenty bucks an episode. Whereas, if we were going to make a series, we wanted to make it properly.”

Possibly there was something to prove, since earlier television appearances have been relatively low-key. “We were on Big Gig maybe ten times,” says Frank, “but only about twelve people ever saw us.” Usually there was a State of Origin footy match, or Bangkok Hilton on another channel at the same time. So now Lano and Woodley have a series. And they’ve made it properly.

Actor/writer/talker Warren Coleman served as ‘director’s observer’ on The Adventures of Lano & Woodley and insists that Colin Lane and Frank Woodley, as executive producers, were “consulted on all major decisions, and things pretty much happened the way they wanted them to.” This is evident right down to the theme song, which they themselves wrote. Their friend Mal Webb, from the band the Oxo Cubans, arranged the song.

“Rather than finding someone who’d done a lot of TV and film stuff who was sitting at their synth in a little home studio, churning it out,” Frank explains, the decision was made to find someone “who is actually a brilliant multi-instrumentalist.”

A further delightful twist to the music, and a testament to Webb’s talent, is the closing theme: each episode ends with a different version of the opening theme song. Apart from the reggae version that ends the first show, each re-arrangement is of a musical genre somehow significant to the episode. Episode 2, for example, closes with a hard rock version of the song, tying in with the leather-bound punks that feature in the story.

There is a striking physicality to Lano and Woodley’s work, apparent in Woodley’s ‘wobbly’ tantrums and Lano’s grotesque laugh and self-assured swagger. The common slapstick fare of pratfalls and summersaults, resulting in ‘hurties’, are present and accounted for. It is almost surprising how entertaining all of this is, although Colin is again taken aback when I voice these sentiments.

“Have you had that experience in the past, finding slapstick not funny?” he asks.

The answer is yes. Nowadays slapstick is a dated comedic subgenre that seems to related more to the old, bald man getting his forehead slapped repeatedly amidst scantily clad women on The Benny Hill Show. Or B-grade black and white (or badly colourised) 1930s films that used to be broadcast on Saturday afternoons (always interspersed with that advertisement for Bex which sounded as though it was being spoken by Don Adams!) until about the mid-80s. Seeing such ‘comedy’ now always forces you to wonder how you could ever have found it funny in the first place. And yet, if Frank’s little hat conjures up vaguely remembered images of an old series entitled Mack and Myer for Hire, they are remembered fondly. The premise of Mack and Myer – two bachelors sharing an apartment, failing at every job they attempt – is again familiar, for that is the premise of Lano & Woodley. Each episodes opens with a sacking from another job.

Lano and Woodley have no idea who or what Mack and Myer are, but Colin comes out in defence of slapstick. He blames any of its failings on poor practitioners.

“There’s unfunny slapstick, there’s funny slapstick, there’s ill-conceived slapstick,” he says. “Because our whole show is based on the interaction of these two characters, it should really mean that whatever they do, if it’s in character and if it supports the whole concept of their relationship, it should be funny. So it shouldn’t really matter what we do or what sort of slapstick we use. If I hit Frank over the head or if he hits me after I’ve been niggling him for ten minutes, it’s going to be funny.”

Woodley has his own theory:

“I’ve got a suspicion that one of the differences between good slapstick and bad slapstick is the bit that come before it. If you watch Maxwell Smart or Clouseau, they put absolute commitment into the bit that comes before it. They don’t rush into the ‘getting hit on the head with the blunt instrument’ stage. They really revel in the build up.”

He illustrates his theory with an example from Peter Sellers:

“There’s a bit where Inspector Clouseau’s been put back on the beat – it was in Pink Panther XII or something – and he’s strolling down the street with his baton. He sees this spunky girl coming the other way and he very smoothly looks at her, gestures a little hello, and knocks himself in the eye with the baton. That’s the joke that a bad slapstick comedian might have done badly, but there’s something about how smooth he was, how much time he took before he hit himself in the eye. Good slapstick has something to do with the characters and not rushing it.”

Land and Woodley agree that it is ultimately the context in which the particular shtick appears that ells you whether it is funny or not. Is it rushed? Is the build-up plausible enough to lull you into a suitable willful suspension of disbelief? Because sometimes, even if you see the punch line coming, if it is still delivered correctly, if the lead and the feed lines create enough tension and expectation, the release that the punch line offers can still be a corker. In fact, it shouldn’t really matter if you can see the gag coming. It never used to, anyway: the genre takes its name from a device used in performances of bawdy French farce some centuries ago: to indicate to the audience the appearance of hilarity, a stagehand made a loud sound by striking a stick. It was the ‘slap stick’, providing the aural cues much as the sound-effects team matches the ‘boing’ (and the ‘crunch’ and the ‘slap’) sounds to Australia’s Funniest Home Video clips.

The pair cannot explain adequately how they hit upon slapstick as their mode of performance.

“It’s really hard for us to actually give you a concise answer about how it evolved,” says Lano. “It was just really lucky. I was at drama teacher’s college and Frank was selling sandwiches in the city to offices, and a friend recommended that I go along to this theatre called St Martin’s in Melbourne.”

It was at St Martin’s that Colin Lane met Scott Casley, and in no time, Colin, Frank and Scott were playing Theatresports and developing their own brand of comedy.

“We never ever sat down and had a conceptual discussion about what sort of comedy we would do. We just used to write down the stuff that would make each other laugh.”

Hailing from the same basic socio-economic demographic, each had a sense of history and humour similar enough to enable them to gel together easily.

“There was never any conscious planning of ‘you be the low status guy, I’ll be the high status guy and Scott will be the father figure’,” Colin explains. He confides that, even though it’s embarrassing to admit, (“maybe more of less for you, I don’t know,” he adds, looking at Woodley), the characters these men play are exaggerations based on their real characters. “I’m kind of a little bit egotistical and I fall over that every so often. Frank is a bit naïve about how the world operates, but in an endearing way. There was no conscious decision, but it evolved.”

Frank adds his firm belief that everyone has “a natural way of showing off or performing,” and these characters are obviously theirs. If someone wants to try to be funny there’s a “particular way that comes naturally” to the individual.

Humour definitely comes naturally to Lano and Woodley. One of my favourite performances took place on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. The routine involved squirting ‘juice’ from a hollowed ‘orange’. It was unfortunate that someone forgot to fill the orange before the show. But the improvising that took place trying to cope with the empty orange was so much fun that it looked almost as though that was how they had rehearsed it. Even now, I’m not sure whether I saw a mistake being coped with so well that it looked rehearsed, or a gag rehearsed so well that it looked like a genuine stuff-up.

Colin, however, will have no undue praise. “It was all just truthful panic,” he explains. There was no great wit or skill there as far as I could see. It was just honesty.”

Frank wants to try to explain to me that their ability to cope arises from their experience. But when he explains that they’ve “actually been working together for ten years”, Lano interjects:

“Help me! Help me!”

A courteous pause for laughter, and then Frank continues: “you’ve got that level of trust. A friend of mine once said, ‘when you guys do your act, it’s pretty good, but when you fuck up your act, it’s fantastic.”

Lano thinks that this is the basis for their success. People “are on the edge of their seats because we’re so on the edge of failing.”

According to Woodley, they’re “not really quite good” at what they do, and Lano agrees:

“We’re not quite good enough but we just manage to carry it off.”

I’d like to think this is false modesty, but once again, I can’t tell whether this is how they really rehearsed it and it’s all an act, or if they mean it. A motto in some comedy circles is Ars est celare artem: “The art is to conceal the art.” Lano and Woodley seem to do so with expertise.

Woodley confesses that about two thirds of their live show is rehearsed, and then most of what’s left may look like impro, but is mostly “stuff we’ve done before. We draw on ten years of material and it feels like impro to the audience.” There is also a smidgen of genuine, bona fide improvisation. But “when you’re swapping between new material, old material and improvised material all the time, the audience doesn’t know when you’re actually improvising, or when you’re doing material that you’ve rehearsed.”

Colin’s best example of quick thinking – real improvisation saving a routine gone horribly wrong – is of an Adelaide Festival Show from a couple of years back. “I lost my voice completely in the first song and I was shitting myself because it was the opening night. Frank stood behind me and sang while I moved my mouth and people thought it was brilliant. They thought it was ‘genius’.” Colin won’t agree, but several thousand Lano and Woodley fans can’t be wrong: it was genius.

Still, Frank has another example that balances the accident ‘genius’: a sketch so brilliant that when performed correctly looks as though it’s gone wrong. It involves Frank atop a wardrobe with Colin trying to get him down by shaking it (a routine revived for the television series).

“Col pushes me and I say, ‘I wasn’t actually expecting that, that’s not how we did it in the rehearsal’. We do that every time, and I make it look like I wasn’t expecting it.”

Naturally, it looks as though Frank is coming out of character and halting the routine to berate Colin. But Frank telling Colin that that wasn’t how they rehearsed it, is exactly how they rehearsed it.

“The audience is never really sure,” Frank says. “Someone said to a friend of mine, ‘they stuffed up on Hey Hey the other day; Colin nearly knocked Frank off the wardrobe. My friend replied, ‘no, they do that every time.’ ‘No,’ the person insisted, ‘not in that way; this was real…’.”

When Woodley sums up with “We’re fluctuating between genuine and rehearsed fuck-ups…”, Lano becomes a little paranoid.

“You didn’t do it on purpose, did you?” he asks of the empty orange incident.

“No, not at all…” replies Woodley. “I couldn’t believe it when I squeezed it and nothing came out.”

Tom Jones was also guesting on Hey Hey that night, and Frank confides that “a very surreal moment was when I was walking backstage and Tom Jones was coming the other way, and I said to him, ‘If you ever do an act with an orange, make sure you fill it up, Tom’.” And that certainly wasn’t how he’d rehearsed it!

Warren Coleman’s Observations on The Adventures of Lano & Woodley

I was the director’s observer on The Adventures of Lano & Woodley, which meant I got to watch the director work. You don’t have any responsibility, and nobody’s really after you for anything, but you get to learn how to do stuff. I’ve been angling for some time to try and get some kind of ‘directing observation’ deal with the ABC because they’re hard to come by. The first thing that came up happened to be Lano & Woodley and it happened to be when Bob Spiers was coming out. So it was kind of ideal for me, because I finally got to see the great man at work, so to speak.

Bob Spiers is an interesting man. Very matter-of-fact and unpretentious. He rarely talked to Lano and Woodley about why he thought a joke was or wasn’t working; he always knew where the gag was coming from and was a very hands-on guy. He was very improvisational. He did little things, like put a camera up shooting through the kitchen window, as he often did in Absolutely Fabulous. He built floors on the set. Normally in studios, they build sets directly on the floor, and it feels like a set rather than a real place. But because he did it that way, it meant that they really had a sense of being in a real place. It meant that you could see a full-length show of the actor, because the floor can be included. For some gags, it’s really important.

Colin and Frank were very much involved in the putting together of the show; they were the executive producers. They were involved in it in every respect, right down to the editing of it. They were consulted on all major decisions, and things pretty much happened the way they wanted them to.

Spam’s New Look

LONDON: Spam, the luncheon meat which valiantly sustained the country’s war effort only to suffer so cruelly at the hands of Monty Python, is being relaunched in the UK.

A $4.9 million campaign features TV advertising for the brand, portraying it as British – despite the fact it was invented in America and is produced in Denmark.

Spam estimates the brand is worth $32 million in the UK, where sales are growing by 9.7 per cent a year.

It has also found infamy as the nickname for junk e-mail.

For a brief moment, I honestly thought this little blurb, appearing in the right-hand margin of one of those colour supplement-bearing celebrity gossip compendiums that masquerades as a newspaper each Sundays, would be talking about dodgy, unsolicited e-mails instead of the dodgy foodstuff (with emphasis on the ‘stuff’ rather than the food, of course).

I couldn’t resist posting an MP3 file of ‘Spam’, the Monty Python sketch it inspired. I finally understand Terry Jones-as-pepperpot-running-the-caf’s cry of ‘bloody vikings’ during the ‘spammity spam, lov-er-ly spam’ choruses – a reference to the Danish producers of spam.

The sketch dates from the penultimate episode (although recorded first) of the second season of Monty Python’s Flying Circus and also appears in the form most people know it (and from whence I lifted it) on the recording known – depending on which edition you purchased – as either Another Monty Python Record or Another Monty Python CD or Another Monty Python Album. It’s the one with the classical record cover, Beethoven: Symphony No. 2 in D Major, scribbled out, and the new title scrawlded in the top right-hand corner. (My father genuinely wanted to know who had scribbled on the record cover when I first owned the record. It was an early Australian pressing, on the Phillips label, that I picked up in an op shop in the late 80s!) The sketch also appears on the compilation The Final Ripoff.

A version of just the ‘Spam Song’ closes the compilation of songs called Monty Python Sings that was issued in 1989 to commemorate the twentieth anniversary of Monty Python’s Flying Circus – and sadly came to mark the passing of Dr Graham Chapman, who died that year. The song was initially issued on the flipside of ‘The Lumberjack Song’, in the early 70s. At least, it’s called ‘Spam Song’, but it is in fact the entire sketch and the song.

“‘Flowers-in-a-can’ by any other name would still smell as sweet…”

A friend of mine has devised a couple of mottos – truisms, in fact – to live his life by:

Air conditioning is the difference between a good time and a great time.


You shouldn't have to pay for parking or sex.

The latter one especially is a sure-fire platform for election to local government, mark my words.

However, he recently came up with a new one, the veracity of which, I’m sure you’ll agree, is also irrefuteable:

You shouldn’t be able to tell when someone’s done a poo at work.

I’m not sure exactly how he derives these maxims – whether he posits such statements and then tests them empirically, or if he comes upon them merely by deep reflection. However, this latest one comes from, he says, personal experience:

“Our work toilet is just a dunny and one of those ridiculous tiny rectangular basins. The whole area, similar in size to a telephone box, is located right near Reception. Often, when couriers or clients come in, their first whiff is of faecal matter mixed with ‘flowers-in-a-can’.”

Turns out that the other philosophers my buddy works with aren’t as enlightened as he is.

“We are also having trouble finding (and keeping) a receptionist,” he says. “We’ve had about six since June - some are temps and some are full-timers. The full-timers we’ve had last on average three days.”

Here’s the clincher:

“We couldn’t work out why – the job/salary isn't that bad and the people here are friendly enough - oh hang on, she has to sit outside the toilet door.”

The irony is that my friend works for a waste disposal firm!

Postscript: I just had a thought: if you were a pathologist, say, and you worked maybe with the oncology unit of a hospital, and you had to analyse stool samples, then my buddy’s latest motto doesn’t hold true: if your job is to analyse stool samples, then you should be able to tell when someone’s done a poo at work; if you can’t tell, then you’re probably not going to be very good at your job!

David Bowie: A Reality Tour

Appearing in this month’s FilmInk is the following article. Handed a pre-release video of the new David Bowie concert DVD and a copy of the press release that I could re-write as I saw fit – with the understanding that I include some quotes from the Sydney press conference of Bowie’s recent world tour – I decided to re-write a decade-old (more-or-less) piece celebrating the great album that was Outside. Writing from the position of arrogant self-righteousness is remarkably easy, particularly when you believe it to be justified. However, in ‘reality’ (so to speak) I like Bowie’s ‘Tin Machine’ output a lot more, and Heathen slightly less than I make out below. However, if you don’t care enough to own a lot of David Bowie music (more the fool you, I say!) the essential releases of the last decade or so are the soundtrack to the BBC miniseries Buddha of Suburbia (not covered in the article), Outside, Earthling and the new David Bowie: A Reality Tour DVD. Oh, and of course, if you live anywhere else than Australia, where the DVD has already been available for at least a fortnight, you’re probably already over it. That’s just the nature of DVD consumption in the modern age.

In 1995 David Bowie served notice with the single ‘The Heart’s Filthy Lesson’, the opening salvo of his greatest return-to-form album in just about forever. The album was 1. Outside: The Nathan Adler Diaries, the first in a proposed series of concept albums set in the future and featuring detective Nathan Adler. On Outside, Adler was in pursuit of a serial killer who perpetrated ‘art murder’ – the ritualistic re-arrangement of the victim’s body parts in a pretty pattern. Whatever you think of the concept, any Bowie fan will tell you Outside was a brilliant album – bringing together some of Bowie’s best collaborators.

Bowie’s next album Earthling was not part two of the Nathan Adler diaries but was still a fantastic album, even if some people want to dismiss it as merely ‘Bowie’s drum ’n’ bass album’. (Ask them to define ‘drum ’n’ bass’ and see if you get a decent answer. Then ask them if the Beatles are now ‘drum ’n’ bass’ since they’re down to just the rhythm section: Paul and Ringo. And then tell them to piss off; Earthling is a fantastic album.)

By the new millennium, David Bowie had inked a deal to form an all-new label (ISO) with a new distributor (Sony), the first release tipped to be Contamination – part two of the Nathan Adler diaries. The deal went ahead, but the album never eventuated. Instead Bowie released Heathen, reuniting him with Tony Visconti, a producer he seems to return to whenever it’s time to regroup. ‘Heathen’ was universally dubbed a fantastic album (true!), a ‘return to form’ (true!) and Bowie’s best album in the last decade (Ba-bow! Thanks for playing. That prize goes to ‘Outside’). Heathen was followed by Reality, and David Bowie did something he hadn’t done since Earthling: he’d produced two fantastic albums in a row. Then the announcement came: David Bowie was embarking on his ‘Reality Tour’, his most extensive trip around the world in about a decade, and his first tour to Australia since the 80s.

At the press conference the most important question, “You used to record concept albums about the ritual art-murder of children – before you had one of your own in the house. Will Contamination ever see the light of day?” wasn’t asked. But “How has being married and becoming a father changed and influenced you this time around?” was. Bowie had married supermodel Iman at the front end of the 90s, his 1993 album Black Tie, White Noise, opening with the celebratory instrumental ‘The Wedding’. It was a new beginning: his 1990 ‘Sound + Vision’ world tour had put all of his previous stage personae – and (thank God!) his erstwhile ‘heavy metal’ band Tin Machine – to bed. But, David pointed out, he hadn’t changed because he got married and became a dad again, he got married and became a dad again because he’d changed.

“I seemed to have come to a place where I felt grounded and I understood a lot more about myself and my immediate environment and how I react to things,” he said, “and my writing has taken a turn for the positive.” Readily admitting a tendency to vacillate between good and bad moods, the decade’s domesticity had enabled David Bowie to avoid a “pessimistic, negative, even nihilistic frame of mind”. Clearly then, there would be no Contamination or any other continuation of the Nathan Adler diaries. David Bowie may have begun his career as an outsider, a space oddity loving the alien, but the man had finally fallen to earth. Reality was an attempt to ensure that he remained grounded.

“It’s been pretty depressing in New York over the last two or three years,” he said, “and I really wanted to put something out that had some strong positive point to it and that was just a joy to play on stage.” The result was an exciting live show that concentrated on the music. According to Bowie, his performances had “never been so clean and so unencumbered.” Considering, particularly, that our last view of Bowie in Australia was with his ‘Glass Spider’ tour, this was an amazing proposition. “I’m up with there with a really, really, great, strong band,” he insisted, “just interpreting my songs that I’ve done over the last thirty-five years.” From a rotating set list of sixty songs, some of which haven’t been performed live in the last couple of decades, the ‘Reality Tour’ offered over two hours of hits, significant album cuts, and the best bits of his last two albums played by an excellent band that featured some of the best musicians he’d worked with throughout his career. They even taped a gig – in Dublin, two months into the tour.

Unfortunately, before the tour ended, David Bowie was taught his own heart’s filthy lesson: he stopped mid-show due to pain from a ‘pinched nerve’ in his shoulder. Then the final eleven dates of the ‘Reality Tour’ were cancelled as Bowie underwent emergency heart surgery to clear a blocked artery. Who knows how long it will be before he prepares a band and a tour like that again? You’ve just got to be grateful that you got to see it – if you did get to see it. And if you didn’t, you’re about to get a second chance: David Bowie: A Reality Tour is being released on DVD, mixed in 5.1 surround sound by Tony Visconti. Think about it: David Bowie, live in concert with one of his best bands, on his best tour, at one of his best gigs. The release of Contamination notwithstanding, it couldn’t really get much better than this.

…So I suppose the rainforests will grow back as well!

A mango tree in full bloom had me quite excited a couple of months back. There are few pleasures like fresh mango on a summer day.

Then tragedy struck.

Okay, I admit, I sound like “a bit of a git”, being able to enjoy Australian winters that are warmer than most European summers, yet the prospect of an Aussie summer bereft of mangoes is like pizza without melted cheese. It’s just not right.

Thus, something – a rat, a possum or a flying fox – devouring the flowers before the fruit has developed, is a bit of a downer. Sure, it's not as bad as a tree full of immature fruit losing the lot in a hail storm, but it is sad.


And yet, it looks as though this might be another good summer for mangoes after all, for, over the last month or so, the tree went into bloom again.


And it gets better: in addition to extensive blooms, the tree is beginning to fruit.


If this all sounds frivolous – which it is, particularly if you got here by seeing the title of the post and expected something a little more high-falutin’, ecologically motivated or politically based – rest assured that I don’t take it lightly: I know I have to enjoy all of this while I can. Australia is still in the throes of an intense drought, its rivers are suffering severe salination. It is, apparently, the ‘world’s driest continent’. The next world war will probably be fought over fresh water and not fresh food – because even though world supplies of food should run out by mid-century, apparently, we at least can start eating each other. But none of this is going to matter in the short term. Not to me, anyway, when my beard is matted and funky with the golden nectar of fresh, homegrown mango!