28 December, 2011

Here In My Car Again

This is what's going around on the 6-stack CD-player in the car at the moment.

Let It Bleed (1969) Rolling Stones
Let It Bleed is generally held to be one of THE quintessential late-60s albums. And this despite the fact that its 5th December 1969 release date meant that it was only available for the last 26 days of that decade. But never mind that. The album has a dark, brooding vibe to it that very much fitted the mood of the times.
I first heard this album when I was 14, in the middle of 1974, and it quite simply floored me. The intriguingly spooky introduction to Gimme Shelter, the country-flavoured Country Honk - a Hank Williams-inspired version of their earlier hit Honky Tonk Women, some more dark atmospherics on Live With Me and Midnight Rambler and one unsung track, Monkey Man that should be as well known as the song that follows it to close the album, You Can't Always Get What You Want. It has bright production values at odds with the slightly muddy sound of most Stones' albums up to that point, driving rhythm section and a track listing that would cover all of the Rolling Stones' major influences and directions.

This album marked the period of transition when Keith Richard was playing almost all of the guitar parts - the dearly-departed Brian Jones features on just two tracks, on neither of which he plays guitar. Likewise, there are only two songs featuring the incoming Mick Taylor.

The album is coloured throughout by some very rootsy instrumentation like violin, mandolin, and slide guitars and heralded the Stones' intention to make increased use of outstanding session musicians like Leon Russell, Al Kooper, Ry Cooder, Merry Clayton and Bobby Keys.

Never A Dull Moment (1972) Rod Stewart
Hey, where are you going? Come back here. Now look, Rod Stewart made some really good music prior to his 1976 departure from the Faces. Before he seemed to become, well, a bit of a tosser. But in reality, most of us would have seized the same opportunities that Rod did if they were presented to us. Would we be yelling "No, get away Britt Ekland, leave me alone..."? I don't think so. The guy's allowed to make a good living. Besides, to those in the know, everything up to that execrable Atlantic Crossing (1976) jumping off point is good enough to still regard Rod Stewart very highly.
Rod's previous effort, Every Picture Tells A Story (1971) is a rolled-gold classic, and Never A Dull Moment would be the follow-up that stopped just a little short of that. It employs the same personnel as Every Picture, from his Faces bandmates keyboardist Ian McLagan, bassist Ronnie Lane and the ubiquitous Ron Wood on guitar as well as hand-picked mates like ex-Jeff Beck Group bandmate Mickey Waller on drums and classical guitarist Martin Quittenton.

The catalogue of Rod's great cover versions grows with the inclusion of Jimi Hendrix's Angel featuring knockout open-tuned guitar by Ron Wood, and Dylan's Mama You Been On My Mind. The songwriting synergy between Stewart and Martin Quittenton follows on from their earlier collaboration Maggie May to this album's hit single You Wear It Well.

Mystery To Me (1973) Fleetwood Mac
Lindsay Buckingham and Stevie Nicks were still two years in the future when this album, featuring singer-guitarist Bob Welch and guitarist Bob Weston, was released. The group had reached something of an impasse with internal harmony disintegrating and sales nowhere near record company expectations.
Apparently Bob Weston was having a fling with Mick Fleetwood's wife Jenny, younger sister of George Harrison's wife Patty Boyd, and that led to understandable tensions and Weston's departure soon after this album made it into the shops. It's got a lot of soft-rock on it, not an indictment if it's done well, and mainly funk-influenced songs from Bob Welch, but there are a few outstanding Christine McVie sad-girl-in-love piano ballads with that exquisite contralto voice of hers up front. Bob Weston is an amazingly versatile guitar player and the unsung rhythm section that gave the band its name, (ie Mick Fleetwood and John McVie) fattens the sound.

Stand out tracks are: The City, a Bob Welch composition on which Weston plays slide guitar through a wah-wah pedal and gets a sound too good to have been heard neither before nor since; a Bob Welch-led cover of the Yardirds' For Your Love; and any of Christine McVie's.

Teaser (1975) Tommy Bolin
I'm inclined to be a bit evangelical about this James Gang and Deep Purple guitarist who died of a heroin overdose in 1976. Being into him is like being a member of a secret society of guitar-players. Hardcore Deep Purple fans tend to snort when his name is mentioned.
For Bolin's only Deep Purple album, Come Taste The Band, no homage was paid to Richie Blackmore. Make no mistake, that was a Tommy Bolin album that one, and damn good because of it. This contemporaneous solo effort, his first of two, mixes funk, hard rock, reggae, jazz and even a dash of glam in its song structures.

Bolin's voice is subdued and languid but it's his guitar-playing that permaeates the whole album so richly. He is an exceedingly distinctive player with a wide range of great signature licks, many of which are repeated, but why not? They sound great. He seems to use slide more as an effect but Wild Dogs showcases his capacity in this area.

Standout songs on the album include; the slightly campy title track; the glam album opener The Crunch; the jazz-flavoured Savannah Woman; and Wild Dogs, but the song-quality is even right across the album from an artist who was just starting to achieve his considerable potential.

Robin Trower Live (1976) Robin Trower
You could say, as many have, that Robin Trower is a Hendrix imitator. However, if you did, my response would be, "Yes. And did you also have a point?" If rock music's history isn't one of musicians borrowing from their major influences and extending them, then good evening, I'm Jimmy Page. This is one of the best live albums ever made, and captures the essence of Trower's power trio and its material.

If anything, they have a sound and style similar to Cream and The Jimi Hendrix Experience. Trower is a brilliant player and gets that extraordinarily bluesy front pick-up sound from his ever-present Stratocaster. Too Rolling Stoned, Living in a Daydream and the best-ever version of Rock Me Baby will make you sit up and take notice and it's one of the few live albums from the 70s full of very lengthy tracks that just never wear out their welcome.

Front Page News (1977) Wishbone Ash
The first I heard of this group was awareness of their 1975 tour of Australia. A couple of years later, a mate dragged me over to the speakers at his 18th birthday party and insisted that I listen closely to their 1974 double-live album Live Dates. I had to acknowledge they were pretty good, with two, count 'em, two, hot guitar players.
Their 1973 album Argus had gained a lot of attention and that would be their zenith in record sales. But that doesn't mean they weren't producing good music. This album has a great selection of tracks where the two guitars of Andy Powell and Laurie Wisefield intertwine beautifully. All of the band-members of this English group were superb musicians and bass-player Martin Turner's voice is a little reminiscent of Jack Bruce, only more restrained.

They can be heavy enough but also demonstrate English folk influences on a great many songs. Diamond Jack is my all-time favourite Ash song and there are ballads and flat-out rockers on this album that proceed without a wasted minute anywhere.

It's a great album from a band that I expected to view as a youthful infulgence when I took the record out of the rack for the first time in many years but in music at least, youth wasn't wasted on the young.

29 July, 2011

Out of the Past I

I wondered whether this was too pissy to post about. Then I had a look through the Lad Litter archives. And came to the conclusion that this might just be the equivalent of a Foreign Policy White Paper by comparison with some of the complete piffle I've churned out on this blog. Plus, it gave me a pretty good excuse to use the title of my all-time favourite film to head up a post. Evocative, no?

I'm on Facebook. I have the security settings on Friends Only, but my name and profile image are searchable. I'm not on it all the time like some, but I do attend to it by putting up the odd smart-aleck comment on my wall and the occasional patronizing and by-no-means-heartfelt "like" on friends' wall posts. It's the nature of the medium, boys and girls. Facebook, where the shallowness glows wanly through even the densest layers of mock-sincerity.

But I'm not really as cynical about Facebook as all that. No, if used for niceness and goodness instead of meanness and rottenness, it works pretty well. Except for the people who seem to think you're important enough to send a friend request to, but that you lack the critical cachet needed for them to actually reply to any message you might send them.

But as I said, it's not like I check in on Facebook all that often, just now and then. So it was something of a surprise to find about a month ago that I'd received a message from someone whose name I didn't recognize. The message wanted to know if I was the same tall Lad Litter with long blond hair who'd gone to a particular inner suburban high school. She identified herself by mentioning that she'd dated a mate of mine from those days. I told her I remembered her well, but not to leave the porch light on for any long blond hair.

I also let her know that I hadn't maintained contact with her old boyfriend for long after school had finished and had no idea where he might be. That didn't seem to faze her, so we exchanged messages about current events and figures in our lives and briefly and superficially discussed my reluctance to engage in any cavalacade of reminiscence about that time. It's been quite a lovely correspondence.

But back in 1976, she used to wait in the mornings at the Mt Rd tram stop at the top of my street. I'd cycle past on the footpath on the other side of that busy road. She was on her way to the Catholic girls' school in North Melbourne and used to wait there with a friend. We'd be looking at each other as I rode past, the two girls and I, but without any interest, just awareness. Some mornings I'd wave to them, but I can't remember if they ever waved back, or just rolled their eyes. If it was eye-rolling, someone had given them sound advice.

It was such a small part of all our days that I'm sure none of us gave it much thought at all. Besides, they looked a couple of years younger than me too.

Late December of that year seemed replete with balmy, well-lit evenings and it was my ritual to walk our dog across the park out the back of our place, south along the Moonee Ponds Creek valley, and have a cigarette in one of our kitchen window’s blind spots. Once I'd crested the low hill that put me in Travancore, walking through the naturalized aniseed, I met a bloke I knew on his way to see a mutual friend and neighbour of mine. We smoked and then headed back in the direction of my place. As soon as we'd retraced my steps over the hill, we saw two girls sitting having a chat right in the middle of the park.

Our path was going to take us close by them, but before any awkward encounter could take place, my dog Tiger had sidled over to make friends. The ol’ tail-wagging icebreaker was in top form and seemed to be demonstrating an aptitude for social graces that would elude me for quite a few years more. It was about then I realized it was the two girls from the tram stop. And they’d both turned out to be very attractive.

My Facebook correspondent, Leslie, was tall and with long straight brown hair parted in the middle. It’s a look that just always seems to work. As well, she seemed graceful and smart. Her friend Lisa was a stunner. Maybe a bit Mia Freedman-ish with a dash of Sigourney Weaver, although both were unknown in 1976.

I can’t remember much of what was said and it’s probably just as well. Because I’d be guessing that the other guy and I would have been talking a whole load of complete rubbish, trying all-too-desperately to be funny and probably not succeeding. Somewhere during the conversation they worked out that I was the guy on the bike and that sent them into hysterics. I just had to giggle along nervously in the hope they were laughing with me, not at me. You can never be completely sure about that.

But they seemed okay with our gormlessness. So it was nice to learn a couple of weeks later that Lisa had met this guy she really liked. Yeah? It was my neighbour, whose girlfriend lived in Lisa’s nearby street who told me this. He’d heard it from his girlfriend. And his girlfriend reckoned the guy was me.

01 July, 2011

The ICE Queen Cometh

I sometimes get text messages from TLOML at work. No, not the Liz Hurley-Shane Warne type. Just mundane family stuff like, would I pick something up from the supermarket on the way home? Did I remember to call our accountant? That sort of thing. Alright, usually there'll be one of those cheesy little emoticons attached, but nothing salacious. Certainly nothing in the kick-arse department, that's for sure. No, if I need a bollocking, that can wait till I get home.

Except for the text I received one morning this week. It was from a newly-created contact, Your Wife, which I hadn't entered myself, and went something like this:

The name is TLOML, you smartarse bastard! And don't you forget it.

I don't mind admitting I went immediately into kangaroo-caught-in-the-headlights mode. What was going on? Had some psychopath tapped into my phone? Wait. Wait a minute, that would represent an obvious but highly plausible and dramatic segue from a couple of previous posts. And would mean that the author of this blog actually has something really interesting and continuity-friendly happen to him from time to time. No, that couldn't be it.I thought I'd better give TLOML a ring to see if she knew anything. I'm pretty sure I gulped audibly just before calling her.

"Hi. Um, did you send me a text message a little earlier?"

"Yes, I did."

Alright. So, what was it all about?"

"Well, see if you can work it out."

"Don't be stupid. I have no idea what it's about."

"Alright then."

She hung up. I had some serious thinking to do. What could I have done to have made her so angry, for chrissakes? And no, I can't write "and then it dawned on me" because bugger me it just didn't. I went on with work for about another couple of hours. Alright, and THEN it dawned on me. I'd heard on the radio just before Christmas that emergency services authorities were recommending people save the phone number of their next of kin in their mobile phone address books so that if anyone was ever injured and unconscious, direct contact with their next of kin could be easily effected. The suggested universal acronym was ICE, for In Case of Emergency.

Was it possible that TLOML had been looking for a contact in my phone's address book, seen her number under ICE, and taken offence? Yes, it was. So I called her back.

"TLOML, listen don't hang up - I think I know what's happened."

"Really? Go on."

"Well, do you remember when I told you how I was listening to the radio and someone from one of the Emergency Services was talking about how difficult it was to to contact the next-of-kin of people who had undergone significant trauma like in an accident and might be unconscious or in shock? And how everyone was being urged to save their next-of-kin's phone number under ICE for In Case of Emergency? Do you remember that?

"Oooohhhhhh, yes I do."

"So you saw that your mobile number was saved as ICE and jumped to what conclusion exactly?

"Um, that you had me saved under ICE in your phone so that when I called you to get you home from the cricket club you could show everyone that The Ice Queen was after you and everyone could have a good old blokey laugh at my expense."

"What?! How's that going to be funny? If I was going for that sort of cheap laugh you'd be saved as Party Pooper Central, Leader of the Opposition or The Handbrake. At least give me some credit."

"Alright, I'm sorry then."

And then we got the giggles. We're still laughing about it.

30 June, 2011

My Favourite Psychopaths

I wrote this letter to one of the higher-ups in the Victorian Education Department late last year.

Dear Phillip,

I have an issue I would like to discuss with you concerning Solar Hills PS, where I was Leading Teacher (ICT-Middle Years) between January 2004 and May 2005.

I left SHPS to go on WorkCover after suffering a stress-related illness due to workplace bullying by the Principal Min Worland and then acting A-P Gavroula Parageorgiou. My subsequent WorkCover claim detailed the harassment I had been subjected to and was accepted by the insurer CGU without proceeding to a Conciliation Hearing. I have been led to believe that claims must have an uncommonly strong basis for this to occur. I learned at around this time that I had become the fifth Leading Teacher or above to leave Solar Hills PS in six years. Two of these senior staff had transferred out, one had re-graded to speed his exit and one had, like myself, gone onto WorkCover, never to return.

The formal complaint I made against Gavroula was upheld and the investigator, then acting Western Metropolitan Region Director Noel Downs informed me that she had been given a warning. The claims I made against Min could not be substantiated as some incidents I described in the complaint had occurred while no-one else was present. I also believe there was a reluctance on the part of SHPS staff members who had witnessed Min’s harassment to put themselves in a situation where they might become the next target. I have the letters from WMR on file.

Having maintained semi-regular contact with a couple of staff members from SHPS I have been very disheartened to learn that there has been no leavening of the situation. I have heard that WorkCover claims for stress-related illnesses by SHPS staff members have continued and compassionate transfers have been granted to some teachers. Others have managed to transfer or find employment elsewhere via fortuitous natural attrition. Still others remain at SHPS.

Some weeks ago, I visited a staff member, Desi Simonidis, in the Mercy Mental Health Unit. Desi is an Education Support Officer of some 30 years standing at SHPS and is much-loved by the whole community. That wasn’t enough to protect her from being targeted by Min & Gavroula. She’s home now, but very unwell. Seeing Desi brought it home to me that something needs to be done.

Min & Gavroula habitually create conflict where none is necessary, construct adversaries out of thin air and simply must have a target. I wonder as I write this exactly who among the current staff has found themselves in Min and Gavroula’s cross-hairs because they: came up with a good idea before Min & Gavroula did; asked a question thought innocuous by everyone except those two; received praise from a staff-member that Min or Gavroula don’t like; noticed that the staff consultation provisions fall well short of those in the Agreement; or shown interest in AEU involvement. Or for no particular reason that anyone can discern.

These people have subjected teachers and ESOs to some terrible treatment over the past ten years. Unfortunately, many staff have not felt confident enough to make a formal complaint, so to be fair, neither WMR nor DEECD may have seen the accumulation of evidence necessary for them to be in a position to take firm action.

When I put it to the acting WMR Director at a 2006 interview that the school deserved better and could WMR not see a pattern in WorkCover claims emanating from SHPS, he told me that WMR were well aware of the situation. I don’t know if it’s a case of just waiting for the 60+years-old Min to retire and hope that the situation is resolved that way but Gavroula recently became the successful applicant for the A-P position and if anything, she has been a baleful influence on the gullible Min. The point being that no improvement should be expected while Gavroula is A-P, let alone if she was to become Prin.

When I left SHPS I felt that I had to forge ahead. I’d made a formal complaint after all, so I’d done my bit and to pursue the matter further might have appeared vexatious. I am satisfied with the way WMR investigated and acted upon my complaint back in 2005. But I had hoped that the warning to Gavroula might bring about some change. That is not the case. I want to emphasize that I am not seeking to have that matter re-opened, unless as part of an accumulation of evidence against Min and Gavroula.

The problem is that once clear of that very toxic work environment most people don’t want to be reminded of it, despite feeling greatly aggrieved and concerned for those who remain. I feel a bit guilty about not having followed things up and wish to see something tangible done about these very real threats to the health and well-being of hard-working, committed staff-members in a good school. One that is long overdue for some positive leadership.

I would appreciate any opportunity to discuss this matter with you and be grateful for any advice you could give me as to how to proceed with this.


13 January, 2011

You Can Run But You Can't Hide IV

You might remember a tale of some minor work-related travails of mine from a while ago, related here, here and here.

It seems the object of my disaffection is acting on the unofficial advice given to her - she returned from Family Leave for about six months and now she's back on it again. During her return we neither spoke to, looked at, nor acknowledged each other in any way. We also went to some lengths to avoid being in the same vicinity.

That's a perfect resolution no amount of mediation could have produced.

08 January, 2011

Classic Albums Augmented II: Highway 61 Revisited

Bob Dylan:
Highway 61 Revisited - Positively 4th Street
This post is part of a series where I piss-fart about, quite gratuitously, with the track-listing of some great albums.Although this is the album that is often perceived as Dylan's breakthrough electric opus, he'd already gone electric on the previous LP Bringing It All Back Home, his fifth, where side one opens with Subterranean Homesick Blues. But then, there are so many misconceptions about ol' Bob it's no wonder he seems to hate his fans at times and doesn't mind showing it.

It starts with the hard snap of a snare drum - the instantly recognizable opening of Like A Rolling Stone. Al Kooper was just there to observe the sessions but ended up playing the distinctive organ riff that makes the song so special. The lyric is a denunciation of a woman Dylan knew, and both Joan Baez and Marianne Faithfull have been suggested as the song's subject.

Dylan would continue the sneering with the similarly-themed Ballad of a Thin Man to close Side One of the original LP release but before then gives his characteristic black humour a run with Tombstone Blues, reminiscent of Subterranean Homesick Blues and much of his subsequent album Blonde On Blonde.

It Takes A Lot To Laugh, It Takes A Train To Cry is the album's only ballad but Queen Jane Approximately is a song of caustic yearning, the humour returns in laugh-out-loud proportions with Highway 61 Revisited and then there's the edgy but still poignant Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues.

I won't argue with Rolling Stone, who ranked this LP at 4 on their list of The 500 Greatest Albums of All Time. It's a pretty sensational collection, after all.

So could it be improved? I think so, yes. And including the single Positively 4th Street would do just that. This song is almost a fraternal twin to Like A Rolling Stone: there's organ here too and the same kinds of lyrical and musical tones and themes which would enable it to fit very nicely on this album.

If you'd bought Highway 61 Revisited on its first release and thought highly of Like A Rolling Stone, then Positively 4th Street would have seemed like an almost perfect follow-up single. The two songs seem to go together in the same way that the Kinks' You Really Got Me and All Day and All of the Night do.

Positively 4th Street is generally held to be disparaging the Greenwich Village folk crowd who accused Dylan of selling out when he went electric and eschewed the folkiness of his earlier output. The main subject has been postulated as Bob's ex-girlfriend Suze Rotolo, the beautiful young woman on the cover of The Freewheeling Bob Dylan, but like much Dylanology, this remains unverified.

There you have it: a great album just got even greater. Thanks to me.

So Which Tracks Would Miss Out?None, just shorten Desolation Row a little - there's no need for a song to run for 11 minutes for chrissakes.