29 December, 2010

Here In My Car...

This is what I've got on the 6-stacker CD player in the car at the moment. Not a bad sequence of albums.

Blonde On Blonde: Bob Dylan
why it was initially disappointing but is now growing on me

Look closely at the front cover. Let your eyes go out of focus a little bit. Could you do what the young woman in the record shop did when she saw me purchasing this album? Could you exclaim "Oohhhh, that old Dr Who has a CD out?" I suppose not.

This 1967 double album, the first two-record set release by a major rock artist, is something of a wine-dark sea, running a disappointing gamut from the dirge-like ragtime of Rainy Day Women to the novelty-song-only Leopard Skin Pillbox Hat. In between, there are some good, but not great songs, like Stuck Inside of Mobile and Juat Like A Woman. But even the pretty good songs like Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands are ponderous and overlong.

So even though it's regarded as a classic, and is 9th on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of all Time list, don't let that fool you. It's really for fans only. I suppose you'll have to count me in with that lot because bugger me but it hangs together quite well after a few listens.


Led Zeppelin II: Led Zeppelin
how I'd forgotten what a great album this was

Alright, I'm still a rock snob. But not nearly as much as I used to be. Back then, I'd go out of my way to downplay this album, and the even more popular Led Zeppelin IV. The true rock snob, you see, will inevitably elevate the lesser works of great artists over their better-known classics. So where Led Zeppelin are concerned, it's their eponymous debut album and Led Zeppelin III that get all the rock-snob praise.
And after not having listened to this album in its entirety for well over thirty years, my vestigial rock snobbery had convinced me that it wasn't any good. Wrong. Dead wrong. This 1969 release is a great album that combines Led Zeppelin's blues credentials with the heavier spheres they were taking rock into on the ubiquitous Whole Lotta Love, Heartbreaker, Living Loving Maid, The Lemon Song and Bring It On Home. And just a dash of English-folk-inspired balladry as well on What Is And What Should Never Be, Thank You and Ramble On.

And here's a tip - try to imagine the impact it would have had if you were hearing it for the first time back when it was first released. That makes it even more mind-blowing.


American Beauty: Grateful Dead
how you can like an album a lot, even in spite of itself

They're an elusive lot, the Grateful Dead. Their archetypal psychedelic album, Anthem of the Sun (1967), is something of a stinker but this 1970 release seemed to be pretty highly regarded. So I bought it and immediately felt I'd been taken to the cleaners. It's country rock of the type that all of the old psychedelic acts seemed to be making around the 1969-70 period.
But on first listen, it was just too cornpone, and at the same time phoney, like they were cashing in on a fad. And then I kept listening. And grew to appreciate it.

During the recording of American Beauty, Jefferson Airplane, CSNY and the New Riders of the Purple Sage were all using Wally Heider's studio complex and the Dead took a little comfort from all of them to infuse this album with its unmistakeable feel.

The opening track, Robert Hunter and Phil Lesh's Box of Rain is just a beautiful song. And the rest of the album flows nicely from there. With plenty of pedal-steel and mandolin. The country-rock flavour is more rootsy than what other acts in that pantheon like say, Neil Young were producing at that time, so I think it's probably a bit less accessible.

The cover contains an ambigram - you can read the title lettering as American Beauty or American Reality - wow!


Burn: Deep Purple
I am nothing if not self- indulgent

I would probably not like this 1974 album, the first from a new Purple lineup, all that much if not for one thing: the singing of the new guys - vocalist David Coverdale and bassist Glenn Hughes. There are a number of songs where they share lines in a call-and-answer type way and the counterpoint their two very complementary voices provides is quite thrilling.
The title track is a riff-driven, first-growling, then screaming classic. Might Just Take Your Life and Lay Down Stay Down both rock right out, putting Hughes up front with Coverdale. And let's not forget Mistreated, another Blackmore masterwork.

I don't think this album will do for everyone, though - it's an indulgence of mine, or at least the part of me that still thinks tight pants and shoulder length hair and the music that tends to go with them, are really cool. Funny thing, the mastering makes this a very loud album. I usually have to turn the volume down a couple of notches when it comes on. But not always.


So What: Joe Walsh
I didn't think he'd be a "Best of only" guy, and he's not

I bought The Best of Joe Walsh when I was about 17 and thought it might be about all I'd need from this guitar slinger. Look how wrong you can be.
I've always been an admirer of Joe's guitar playing (a languid-sounding kind of pyrotechnics) and his singing grows on you in a Dylanesque kind of way. The definitive version of the classic Turn To Stone appears here, as do other Walsh live staples as Time Out and Help Me Through The Night.

A few of his soon-to-be bandmates from the Eagles sing backup, and the album showcases the variety of influences Joe Walsh has always brought into play.

But if you skip the drunken All Night Laundromat Blues, I'll understand.


Stripped: Rolling Stones
why I wouldn't ever dare disparage these guys

This 1995 album is just superb, and I'm the kind of Rolling Stones fan who still refers to Ronnie Wood as "the new guy" after 35 years. There should also be a DVD - bugger me it was shown on TV in about 1996 - but the Stones are nothing if not enigmatic about DVD releases - the 1968 Rock 'n' Roll Circus wasn't released until 1996 and 1974's Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones has only just made it into the shops.
The title is a play on the "unplugged" phenomenon, which was just about running its race by this time. But it isn't The Stones Unplugged, or even playing stripped-down versions of their hits at all. No, this is very much a beefed-up Stones from what live audiences had come to expect from them.

You see, the Rolling Stones have always stripped down many of their songs into loose arragements of the original for their concerts. Mick Jagger sometimes seems to be phoning it in, slurring further his already slurred drawl. And then they're also the kind of band you need to be hearing on a good night, too. During the same Voodoo Lounge Tour that produced this offering, I saw their second show at the MCG and was very pleasantly surprised at how good they were.

But for this album, they revamped the set-list for boutique live shows and recorded some less well-known early songs like Spider And The Fly and I'm Free live in the studio. The result is, put simply, the Stones as you've probably always wanted them to be.

The opening Street Fighting Man has much of the feel of the original studio recording restored and on Angie and Wild Horses they've gone to some lengths to come up with exciting guitar arrangements that are faithful but still varied enough to make you sit up and take notice of what Keith Richard and Ron Wood are doing. This applies across the whole album as they take a lot of care over Let It Bleed and Sweet Virginia.

But there's a standout - they do a sensational cover of Dylan's Like A Rolling Stone!


I won't kid you - this is the kind of album sequence that makes me look forward to driving. And has me jumping in the car on the slightest pretext.

16 November, 2010

Repartee

TLOML's maiden name is Italian. In the Sicilian dialect from the area her dad comes from, it translates as box, or casket. But over most of the Italian peninsula it means protective head covering. This includes hoods, welding masks and helmets, particularly bicycle helmets.

She gets annoyed when I mention this. And if the three stooges want to have a little fun at her expense, they'll use her maiden name when talking about helmets or any kind of safety headgear.

Now, my family name is Scottish and Irish, and translates as someone engaged to establish or maintain a garden.

So when Curly informed us this morning that he needed a new bicycle helmet, TLOML thought for a moment and decided they'd better go get one tonight after school.

So I told Curly, "You couldn't be in better hands, y'know. If anyone's going to know how to get you a great bike helmet, it's the former TLOML Bike Helmet herself."

This got three big laughs. And a fourth, if you also count me laughing at my own wit.

"Yes, and it's lucky I actually live up to my name, as opposed to dad, who is useless in the garden despite having the near-perfect name for it."

This got even louder laughs. I didn't feel disposed towards helping the cackfest along any.

"You nailed me", was the best I could come up with as I slunk out the front door.

08 November, 2010

Things I Just Never Took To I: Horse Racing

Over at The Scrivener's Fancy a while ago, Tony Martin wrote a piece covering ‘Things That Everyone Else Is Into, But Which I Have No Interest In’. Have a read of it, sure. Just don't go on and on about how much funnier his article was than this one, alright?

This series is not one of those Grumpy Old Men-style rants about all of the things that piss me off. Fucking hell, you'd be here all night! No, this is more a list of things I just never took to. Things I feel a barely-disguised, hostile neutrality towards. Like Sweden's approach to Germany during WWII. Like every first date looked at me. I think we've gone about as far as we can go with the metaphors.
Horse Racing:
It used to annoy the absolute bejesus out of my 13-year old self that I had to endure every race form the Saturday Melbourne race meetings while I was waiting for the World of Sport Football Panel to come onto our black and white TV. Racing was a blocker. I'd made a half-arsed attempt to convince myself that I could get into it when the 50c mum put on Rain Lover for the 1969 Melbourne Cup paid $1.65 for a place.

But later that year, joining schoolmates from St Brendan's PS helping out at local stables in Flemington made me aware that horses put out a lot of shit. And the universal method of cleaning out their stalls was to do it with your bare hands and not complain. I wondered if a lot of horsy girls didn't have that piss-their-pants fixation with horses drop away completely at about the same point in the journey.

And it's not like there was any tyranny of distance, either. I grew up close to Moonee Valley, played football and cricket for the clubs that also bear that name, and include among my contemporaries many with a keen appreciation and significant weekly investments in the Sport of Kings. And for the last 22 years, Flemington Racecourse has been at the end of my street, for fuck's sake. Spring Racing Carnival? I'm almost oblivious to it. Hell, a lot of people who go are oblivious to it.But do I actively dislike it? Well, no. But I do have one issue. It bothers me not a jot that rich, famous people have it so much better than everyone else. There's an extent to which I even think that's as it should be. Just in case I'm ever rich and famous. But I don't like the way the Spring Racing Carnival, and its press coverage, is so insistent about rubbing our noses in it. That's all.

25 September, 2010

All Roads Lead To Rome - Eventually

As most of you know, I work in the city. And I don't mind the daily train trip in and out, going from Newmarket inbound on the Craigieburn Line, to Flagstaff Station on the Underground Loop in the morning, and then out the same way in the afternoon.
I leave work at around 5pm, which puts me on time for the 5:14 to Craigieburn. And if the 5:14 is too jam-packed to get on, which happens around once a week, the 5:22 is usually okay. But not always. Sometimes the 5:22 is just as crowded and then I'm stuffed. Because the next two Craigieburn trains run express between Kensington and Moonee Ponds, which means Newmarket is by-passed so those trains are effectively no good to me.

And it shits me. There must be a solution... wait! I think I've got it!

Craigieburn trains are interspersed with Sydenham and Upfield Line trains, all of which stop at North Melbourne. So if I get on a Sydenham or Upfield train arriving at Flagstaff before the next Crigieburn train, I can get out at North Melbourne and walk up and then down the ramps to the Craigieburn Line platform. Even if that train is jam-packed, there are stacks of people who disembark at North Melbourne to hook up with Williamstown and Werribee Line Trains. So no matter how chocka that Craigieburn line train was to begin with, I can always get on at North Melbourne.

I never have to miss a train home again! Ever!

Period of daily train travel taken to arrive at this stunningly simple course of action? 2.25 years.

Draw your own conclusions. But I'm on the verge of working out where babies come from too.

21 September, 2010

Classic Albums Augmented I: Rubber Soul

Over at The Rising Storm, Len Liechti compared the varied track listing of the two versions (UK & US) of the Rolling Stones' 1966 Aftermath album and concluded that "it’s always fun, if ultimately pointless, trying retrospectively to construct the perfect album by arguing what should have been added or left off".
Pointless fun? Sounds like a great idea. Let's do it.

But pardon me if what I'm about to say appears sacrilegious. This series of posts is just a matter of having a look at a few notable albums and how they might have differed via the addition of contemporaneous singles. Some would have been enhanced, others would have been left with their status unchanged. And in one case, a less-than-ideal album just might have gone from self-indulgent failure to near-classic.

The Beatles:
Rubber Soul - Day Tripper; We Can Work It Out;

Rubber Soul has long been regarded as a fine album. It is often cited as the first album that was more than just a collection of songs. And Rolling Stone put it at Number 5, if you don't mind, on its list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. So I'm not saying it's deficient in any way, just that it could have been even better.

The opening track, Paul McCartney's Drive My Car, has a contemporary feel even today with its sinewy guitar lines and urgent vocals. Three of the most poignant ballads you'll ever hear in Norwegian Wood; Michelle; and Girl are interspersed throughout the track listing. It's a litany of great Beatles' songs and you could imagine the four songs already mentioned plus probably I'm Looking Through You; In My Life; and Wait all being hit singles instead of album tracks.

There was a lot of experimentation on Rubber Soul by contemporary standards. Backwards guitar solos, the sitar on Norwegian Wood, pianos sped up to sound like harpsichords, and clear influences from India to the US West Coast. The overwhelming majority of it sounded good, which is not always the case with experimentation. There would be a lot more of this on the next two albums from the fab four, Revolver and Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band but Rubber Soul laid the bedrock for it.


And if you were listening to this on its first release, you might have pondered for a moment why the almost simultaneous December 1965 double-A side single release Day Tripper and We Can Work It Out didn't make it onto the album. But back in 1965, it's likely you would have bought the single anyway.

Day Tripper opens with one of the most recognizable guitar riffs in rock music and is a beautifully structured song. It's mainly a John Lennon-composed song, but one where Paul McCartney contributed the verses and sings lead vocal during the verse. Essentially a 12-bar, the Beatles had to do something to make their contribution to that form stand out. They do it by transferring the riff to the much-higher sub-dominant for a BIG key-change. This is held in a jam-like middle-8 while the vocals and guitars ascend to a crescendo that leads very deftly back to the riff.

McCartney's singing is a pure throat-shredding scream (lots of luck nailing that one, cover bands) and as with their very best songs, all vocalists can be heard distinctly through the harmonizing. This was one of those great times when a huge hit was also a seminal moment in rock history.


We Can Work It Out shifts in and out of 4/4 and 3/4 time, and sounds quaint with John Lennon's harmonium being a distinctive feature of the song. Like Day Tripper, this is another rare collaboration, with verses by McCartney and a chorus and middle-8 by John Lennon. The vocals are earnest and convincing, and switch back and forth between optimisim and pessimism. The Beatles had argued over which of the two songs on the single should be the A-side and so this record became the first-ever double A-side. However, it was We Can Work It Out which proved the more popular in airplay.

So Which Tracks Would Miss Out?
On an album with 14 tracks? None, not even the Ringo song, What Goes On. And the length of the album would stay under the LP limit of 45 min, with two great additions to the track listing.

17 August, 2010

Voices From The Blogroll II

I only just noticed the other day that one of my earlier posts, Voices From The Blogroll, had the Roman numeral I appended to it, indicating the eventual arrival of a sequel. I had no such intentions, but my blogroll's been made over a bit since that post so I really should introduce you to a few very interesting people.

Audrey
The author of Audrey & The Bad Apples is Clementine Ford, an Adelaide-based writer and broadcaster. If you thought there were some right-wing nutters in the Melbourne tabloid media, the City of Churches has a cast of regulars to make them look like the Oxford Union. So it's a tough town in which to be one of the voices of reason. Writes warmly and honestly about personal matters too.

DK Presents
This music-based blog provides a really eclectic mix of album and artist reviews, much more so than what's usually found within the narrow confines of this blog. Delves into jazz and blues and manages to encapsulate what would normally be lengthy back-stories. Can cause you to reappraise your views (read prejudices!) about certain artists and their output.

Ears On Stalks
Boo had already made a name for herself with her other still-extant blog, The Galloping Skirt. A keen observer of the extraordinary in the everyday. Makes the personal universal.

Fifi Dangerfield
The Perth-based Frankie writes poignantly and yet matter of factly about her life there. I like the kick-arse iconography too.

Grog's Gamut
A political blog of some note. The best of his high-quality posts are those that deconstruct wrong-headed spin.

Happy Endings
Want to hear the viewpoint of a sex-worker? You've come to the right place. CJ works as a masseuse in a parlor in south-east Pennsylvania. A unique perspective with a clear leaning towards witty myth-busting.

Lady Pants
My only worry is Sydney might not be big enough for this 28-year old. She has a nice way with a snappy comeback and writes perceptively about her life in a vibrant metropolis. Maybe it is the Emerald City after all.

Lexicon Harlot
Interesting aspects of the English language are covered by this talented writer and knowledgeable linguist. Never pedantic, she always relates her arguments to meaning.

Lorna Lino
You could spend hours on her iconography alone. Fantastic images of women from the past, many juxtaposed ironically. And then there's her writing - always entertaining, she segues back and forth from the topical to the personal.

Man At The Pub
No, not the nasty drunk you try to avoid at all costs. This personal blog is always a little on the wry side and downright hilarious for it. You sometimes need to look very closely at the images.

Mike Fitz
Lean and Green. And why not? Somebody's gotta hang onto their principles. This activist is also a software architect. Work, life and community. Not a bad mix.

Much Ado About Sumthin'
Alternately prolific and dormant, Steph is one of the doyennes of blogging. Hilarious and not a little titillating, she also manages to make her legions of blogfans (I'm not kidding: 120+ comments per post, for chrissakes) feel special. Gives all comments a personal, and personable, response.

Penguin Hunter
Geoff is a comedian based in regional Victoria. The Penguin Hunter Diaries used to be wide-ranging but are now devoted largely to Geoff's passion for golf. Available for product endorsement contracts.

Phishez
This was one of the first blogs I ever followed. She's twenty-something and lives and works in Sydney. Quite a stylish writer whose voice is unique. Another blogger who takes great travel photos.

Sixth In Line
Writes about writing. Always thought-provoking. Great interplay in the well-stocked comments section too.

Veni, Vidi, Blogi
Ah, Latin. There's no other language does it quite as well. This guy says he's trying to be wry. And I reckon he succeeds. Another clever linguist.

15 August, 2010

Some Classic Albums: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly III: The Ugly

Anthem of the Sun - The Grateful Dead:

I gave a curious workmate a lend of this album not so long ago. He didn't think much of it. Me either. I told him I didn't know if I'd ever bother to play it again. This was the Grateful Dead's "psychedelic album". Back in 1967, everyone was doing it. Sgt Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band; Their Satanic Majesties Request; After Bathing At Baxter's. Y'know, months in the studio, plenty of drugs, finally free to express themselves meaningfully, music would never be the same again, etc etc.

And psychedelic rock is a sub-genre that I have a considerable soft spot for. Because at worst, even the ordinary psychedelic LPs still had at least two or sometimes three really good songs on them. But not Anthem of the Sun.

The Grateful Dead were unable to settle on a studio after finding facilities in New York and LA unsatisfactory and ended up completing the album in their hometown San Fancisco. Warner Records got very antsy about the time and expense the album was devouring. So the fractured nature of Anthem of the Sun's genesis is writ large in the quality of the material. Aimless, overlong jams pad out the album and I honestly couldn't think of one good song.

There are also a number of live tracks. I'm inclined to the view (and you can shoot me down for this if you like) that live tracks belong on live albums. The Grateful Dead's reputation as a great live band might take something of a tumble with a few listens to these tracks. And they sound like padding. I've always thought Goodbye Cream a terrible album due to its live-tracks padding.

Finally, after a few recent listens to this album, I was left with one huge unanswered question: where do you find the real Grateful Dead? They made their name during the psychedelic era, but this, their signature psychedelic album, is lousy. Their two most highly-regarded albums are Workingman's Dead and American Beauty, but these belong in the country-rock firmament and so their best stuff is actually a departure for them. I know, it doesn't make sense.

So I still think of the Dead as something of an enigma, one I haven't yet been able to unravel.

Anthem of the Sun at amazon.com - MP3 files and reviews


I normally try to steer clear of absolutism. So okay, I might like Bob Dylan a lot, but I can understand someone else not liking Dylan. The same goes for the Rolling Stones, the Who, Eric Clapton, you name it. If people just aren't that into them, I believe I can see where they're coming from. I really do. But not only do I not like the mid-60's Los Angeles-based Love's second album, I don't see how anyone could.

This is a stinking, steaming pile of complete shit. It sounds like a parody of self-indulgent, flighty, whimsical 60s music. I kept seeing it on those lists of the 20 Greatest Albums of All Time that kept appearing in the press during the 90s. And then, I shit you not, it came in at 40 on the Rolling Stone list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time!

I'm sure you can imagine that I bought this album expecting exciting new worlds to open up for me, as they did when I explored albums by The Byrds and The Doors. And it was a reasonable expectation, considering Love were one of the top bands on the LA scene during that seminal period from 1964-1966 that also gave rise to the Byrds, the Doors and Buffalo Springfield.

And like much of the output of that LA scene, Forever Changes is folk-oriented more than anything - but this isn't the kind of folk that Dylan might have generated. Nope, this is more the earnest undergraduate Poetry Major type folk, with mincing vocal stylings by Arthur Lee. Think Johnny Mathis. And then the lyrics are laid over atrociously annoying melodies and there's far too much in the way of strings and brass.

Redeming features? In short supply, but they include high production values - it's a much clearer, vibrant sound than anything Buffalo Springfield or The Byrds were getting on their records. Some songs display similarities to the kind of innocent trippiness that would be better realized a little later by star-studded British psychedelic band Traffic, so Love might even have been a little prescient. But they still sound like phonies.

So why is it regarded highly in some circles? Well, back in 1966, Love had the almost irresistable ultra-cool mix of black and white guys in the band. And they had two prolific and, it must be said, original, songwriters in Arthur Lee and Bryan McLean. I also think there were a lot of people making bets on the future of what would become rock music, and Love had all the trappings of the very now.

John Densmore said in his autobiography Riders On The Storm that he would rather have been playing drums with Love than the Doors. I had to reread this to be sure. Rather be with Love than The Doors?!? You've got to be kidding. He wasn't.

But look, it might well be that Love had a lot of fleeting LA street cred, but their music just wasn't substantial enough to make them sound like anything better than a fad.

Forever Changes at amazon.com - MP3 files and reviews

11 August, 2010

Some Classic Albums: The Good, The Bad & The Ugly II: The Bad

Blue - Joni Mitchell:
I hadn't heard much of Joni Mitchell's music. Just the 1971 hit Big Yellow Taxi and her version of Woodstock, which she wrote. Neither of which I was particularly enamoured of, but people raved about her, so I figured there must be something going on. Maybe there is, but I didn't find it with this album. Its formless and whimsical, like she's just piss-farting about. Don't get me wrong - whimsy can produce really good music. Just not in this case.

And yet, Blue was an almost instant critical and commercial success, peaking in the top 20 in the Billboard Album Charts in September 1971 and also getting to 3 in the British charts.What I do understand about Joni Mitchell is that it might well be a case of some people getting her and some people not, with me firmly in the latter category. What I hear as shapeless, meandering quasi-melodies with what seems like two octave shifts in every line, others undoubtedly hear as well crafted, tantalizingly-structured, not easily accessible songwriting and unique singing from deep inside a beautiful soul.

But put it this way: if I was in charge of security at my local shopping mall and had to find a way to stop teenagers from hanging around, I'd be piping this album through the PA.

Sailin' Shoes - Little Feat:
So many people I admired sang the praises of this outfit that I probably had unrealistic expectations. I thought maybe they might sound a bit like the Allman Brothers, or Atlanta Rhythm Section, or maybe Lynyrd Skynyrd. Or possibly even the Rolling Stones.

Little Feat recorded this album at Sunset Sound Recorders in Los Angeles, where the Stones' Exile On Main Street was being finalized in 1972, and apparently the two bands got along like a house on fire and traded a few licks during whatever down time the Stones' had. It was even rumoured that listening to Little Feat had influenced the songs on the "country side" of the Stones' double album, but this is very much unconfirmed.

What Sailin' Shoes sounds like to me is like an album of sub-standard outtakes from the Grateful Dead's country-rock period in 1969-70. I can't think of a single song that stands out as a really good track. The songs are lacklustre and unmemorable. Neither the country nor the rock really works and they certainly don't blend very well on this album.

But there's one thing about Little Feat that makes me not want to give up on them completely: the guitar playing of Lowell George. He is one of the greats of the slide guitar with a uniquely fluent, bluesy style. It's difficult to understand why he wasn't given more prominence on Sailin' Shoes. It might have made a few songs passable. His playing on a 1979 cover version of I Can't Stand The Rain from Thanks, I'll Eat It Here, his only solo album, is terrific. And on a cover of a disco song, for fuck's sake!
A great many players have cited George as an influence, particularly Mick Taylor, who started using a heavy spark-plug spanner after he saw Lowell playing slide with one.

I don't normally use this expression, but for Sailin' Shoes, it's the most apt description I can think of:

meh

09 August, 2010

Brushes With Fame IV: Sophie Lee

It was twenty years ago, today. I was sitting in the Sale of the Century contestants' dressing room, one of many opening off a narrow corridor, waiting for shooting to start. Five episodes, a whole week's worth, were due to be shot that day, in Monday-to-Friday order one after the other, with just a brief interlude for costume and set changes in between.

The other contestants had all gone off on the introductory tour of the studio. I was sitting watching daytime television. As this was taking place at Channel Nine's Richmond studios, it kinda figured that there was only one channel available. I was leaning back in my chair with my back to the dressing room door when I heard a long, languid sigh from the open doorway behind me.

"This is sooo boring."

I turned around and it was Sophie Lee, then host of the linking segments between Bugs Bunny cartoons shown during kids' viewing time. The joke around at the time was that as much as the cartoons had universal appeal, Sophie had her own male-dominated fan-base too, and was dressed to keep them interested.
"What are you here for?"

"Oh, I'm one of the contestants on Sale of the Century today."
"Well, why aren't you taking the tour with the rest of them?"

"Um, I - I did it last week and they said I didn't have to do it again, so I'm here watching TV."

"Ohhhh, so you're the champ," she said, one eyebrow arched rather, um, archly.
"Yes, well," I stammered, "I - I had a bit of luck during the final episode last week and..."

But she'd already turned around and walked away.

We're still in contact though.

02 August, 2010

Great Gigs IV: Mick Taylor at the Lone Star Cafe

We were at a loose end in New York City, my two mates and I. It was late December 1986, and we'd been in The Big Apple just a few days. We'd seen the hit novelty movie Crocodile Dundee at a cinema just off Times Square the previous night. Thought it might be an idea to check out a band. So I went downstairs from our hotel room to a chilled-to-the-bone December afternoon on 47th St in Midtown Manhattan. I walked past steaming manholes and walk-up brownstones until I found a newstand and grabbed a copy of the Village Voice.

The gig guide at the back contained some good news for me. Well, actually it was sensational news. The Lone Star Cafe in Greenwich Village had the Mick Taylor Band playing that night. Ex-Rolling Stone Mick Taylor is one of my all-time favourite guitar players. And I'm not alone in that.
But first I had to be certain. Mick Taylor can be a fairly common name. I've known three of them in Melbourne alone. Plus there was a Michael Taylor who played football for Collingwood and another who played cricket for Victoria. That's five all up. And the Lone Star Cafe sounded a bit country to me. What if the Mick Taylor playing there was some good ol' boy from Lubbock, Texas and not the ex-Rolling Stones guitar player? A simple phone call to the venue sorted out any possible mistaken identity and we were off to check out the guy who replaced Brian Jones in the Stones in 1969 and Ronnie Wood's predecessor.

I'd seen Mick Taylor once before at the Chevron in Melbourne in 1982. If that was the realization of a dream, this took it up a notch. I was going to see Mick Taylor. In New York, for fuck's sake!

We caught a cab downtown and ate at a cheap Mexican restaurant in the East Village. But still got to the Lone Star Cafe just in time to snag one of the last available tables. The joint was starting to fill up as the support band, a blues outfit from Chicago, went through its final set. Our waitress reluctantly introduced herself. She didn't seem to like the look of us and it soon got to the mutual stage. My experience of the Big Apple is that it is NOT a friendly town. But we were prepared to peacefully co-exist with her. The Japanese couple sitting opposite were nice though, and we exchanged pleasantries with them until Mick hit the stage. Just as the guy was assuring me that "Everrywun rrliike Rorrrling Stonez."

Mick kept things pretty bluesy throughout his two excellent sets. And there were no complaints. The audience were way too cool to call out the names of Stones numbers. He played a couple of songs from his excellent eponymous 1979 debut solo album and I was rapt that the knowledgeable crowd reacted to these little-known gems. He even dipped into the Clapton catalogue with Key To The Highway. His singing was fine. Nothing to write home about but well-suited to the material.

And Mick Taylor played great guitar. His sound and his style were just beautiful. He's a really sweet blues guitarist and I suppose I'd rather listen to him cut loose than anyone. I heard recently that Slash rates him as a major influence (I'll update as soon as I track down a link for it) One thing that's always struck me about his slide guitar playing was that he seemed to do a fair bit of it in standard tuning, unlike Keith Richard who wouldn't use a standard tuning if his life depended on it. So it was tempting for rank amateurs like me to think they could go home and just churn it out like Mick. Fat chance.

When it was over, our waitress gave us the bill as perfunctorily as her service throughout the evening and we argued amongst ourselves about the tip. Suitably warmed by the drinks and the fact that I'd just spent an evening with one of my idols, I argued for ten percent, what I thought would be the base rate for tipping based on what I'd gleaned form the last few days in New York. They were either a cheapskate regular crowd at the Lone Star or she hadn't been making much in tips because she whooped and high-fived. She might have been taking the piss, but it was the first time she'd looked happy all night. Not like me.

During a break earlier in the evening, the guy next to me at the urinal said something that still haunts me. Nothing to do with size, you sillies. No, he mentioned that if I'd been there the night before, I would have seen Keith Richard on stage with Mick and his band. According to this bloke, Keith had strolled around from his nearby Greenwich Village home and got up and had a blast with his ol' Stones offsider. I thought the guy might have been mouthing off and didn't give his info much credence but bugger me if I haven't read of exactly what he described referred to in separate interviews with both Mick Taylor AND Keith Richard a couple of times since. Missed it by THAT much!

Update!

Mick Taylor performing with the band at around the same time as this gig occurred.


29 July, 2010

Chandleresque

Introduction:
Long-time readers of this blog will know that I'm an ex-teacher. I now work at the office of the Victorian state authority in charge of regulating the teaching profession. It's not a bad spot.Teachers have to pay $70 per year to be registered so to say we're about as popular as a Jap on ANZAC Day with some of our constituents is putting it mildly.
Every so often, staff organize lunchtime seminars on topics of general interest. A guest speaker will come in and talk and answer quesions for about 45 minutes. They've all been very entertaining. At one of these lunchtime seminars earlier this year, the guest speaker was writer Shane Maloney. He's published quite a bit of crime fiction and it's very good. He told us that he'd been influenced by writers like Hammett, and Chandler and Peter Corris in building a distinctive style that was of Melbourne's milieu, and he's right, you do get that feeling from his books.
What happened was, Shane Maloney arrived a little late on this particularly hot day. He apologised and then told us a bit about himself. His wife was a teacher so he understood us. We were in the extortion racket, he said. Pretty funny guy. And he'd been Cultural Director of Melbourne's 1996 Olympic bid. Somebody may have organized hookers, but it certainly wasn't him.

Anyway, there's a staff newsletter that goes out once a week and I put together a review of Shane's visit. Being something of a Chandler afficionado I thought I'd have some fun with it. But the Communications Manager couldn't publish it and I was inclined to agree with her. One of the characters was based on a colleague, you see. And there was just the one key phrase that made it inappropriate. See if you can figure out which one it was.

The Writer Who Arrived Late
I wasn’t doing much that day. The frosty blonde who walked into my downtown office looked like she might change that. She eyed me slowly and carefully, like I was something she’d just stepped in, and arched a manicured eyebrow at the Clayton’s bottle on the desk. I shrugged. All class, she raised the bottle to her mouth and uncorked it using her teeth.
She took a long, slow swig and shuddered. Giving her the once over, I could see she was a little on the short side, but with the kind of upholstery that could make a bishop want to kick a hole in a stained glass window.
“Call me Bridget,” she said. “I know a guy wants to meet you. Name’s Maloney. He’s waiting outside.”
“I bet you know a lot of guys, Bridget. Can’t think why any of them would want to meet me. What’s his angle?”
“His bio’ll say he’s a crime writer. The funny stuff. Booked him to crack gags at a lunchtime seminar and he didn’t show. I found him impersonating a foetus in a lane outside. The guy’s a mess.”
“Suppose you tell me how else you’re mixed up in this.”
“Me? I’m a fan of his. Least, I used to be.”
“Okay, show the comedian in. And then scram. Floozies like you I can get wholesale."

He was the kind of tall, stoop-shouldered streak of misery who looked like he’d been slapped around. By a dame. All his life. His oversized glasses sat crookedly on his sallow face. Plenty of laughs so far.
“What do you want, Maloney?”
“I need some protection. The tough guy kind. I think my wife’s trying to get rid of me.”
“What makes you think she’s not on the level?”
“She’s gone and got herself registered with VIT. Then I get this phone call from some dame in the VIT office asking me to come in and shoot the breeze. I’m supposed to be there now.”

“Can’t help you, Maloney. I don’t do matrimonials. But that’s not the whole story either. In my line of work, you get used to taking slaps from guys the size of beer trucks. Or the occasional slug from a pearl-handled .22 straight out of an alligator purse. But if there was any sort of law in this town, it’d say don’t tangle with VIT. I don’t like ‘em. Nobody does. And I don’t like the racket they’ve been running shaking down teachers these last eight years. But we both know a bankroll fed by a guaranteed $70pa from 110,000 chalk-jockeys can buy a lot of nasty friends. So far, only the ambulance chasers and yellow press have had the guts to try to put a kink in their hose. I figure if your wife’s mixed up with them, you’re already near the top of the coroner’s dance card. And I’m not going to be the sucker wiping up the grease stain left behind once they’re through with you.”
His bottom lip trembled like a Liberal leader making a concession speech on election night. He was drenched in sweat. Sure it was hot, but not enough to explain that amount of perspiration. It was starting to spread out across the carpet like ink on blotting paper. And I was almost starting to feel sorry for him. Almost.

“Tell you what, Maloney: I’m not taking your case, but I’m damned if I can let a string-bean like you go in there without some kind of cover story. I’d feel like an accessory. So listen and listen good. This may be your only chance. Walk in all hot and bothered like you are now. That way, it’ll look like you at least tried to be there on time. Make all the right apologetic noises but don’t labour it. Nobody likes a milquetoast.

Turn on the charm. Start with a slow smile. And let ‘em know you’re onto ‘em. That you’ve got a make on their racket. Hell, even show a little knowing admiration for the kind of cunning needed to get a stranglehold on the teaching caper in this town. Do that, and they’ll be grinning at you through their shark-teeth like you’re one of them, a co-conspirator.

Once they’re hooked, you can take ‘em through the reading process from their point of view and then hit ‘em with an insightful history of your writing. Why it reads the way it does. How your main character, ALP drone Murray Whelan, came into the world and how he makes his way down its mean streets. Then give ‘em the inside dope on the crime-writing schtick: how you gotta play the game the way other crime writers have, but with your own angle, not following a recipe.

Throw in a few celebrity name-drops whenever you can too. Everybody loves insider gossip. That kind of stuff’s been filling seats since before Vesuvius gave Pompeii a makeover. And don’t back off on the zingers, either. They’ll get restless if the wisecracks slow down to Monash Freeway speed.”

He was nodding like one of those toy dogs all the Sunday drivers used to have in their back windows.
“Have you got all that?”
“Yeah, I got it.”
“Just one more thing Maloney: if you had anything to do with that failed cheapskate Olympic bid all those years ago, don’t mention it. There’s a lot of people still sore about that.”
“Thanks. You’ve probably saved my life.”
“Think so? You’re wife’s a registered teacher. They don’t let go easily…“

Epilogue:
Maybe you had to be there. But I've read a couple of Shane Maloney's books and they stack up pretty well. During his talk, he explained how he'd worked out who his protagonist was going to be. He thought Peter Corris' private investigator Cliff Hardy was a good fit for Sydney, and Bondi in particular, but he couldn't see a shamus quite suiting Melbourne. So his protagonist Murray Whelan is an ALP staffer whose chief domain is Melbourne's northern suburbs. Two of his novels have been adapted into a couple of pretty good films, Stiff and The Brush Off starring David Wenham as Murray Whelan.

So, did you work out which bit rendered it unsuitable?