Titans of Aussie rock


Over the last couple of months we’ve seen the death of two Australian music legends, brothers George and Malcolm Young.

George was a driving force behind the Easybeats, who were a great Australian band of the sixties. They had a bunch of songs chockful of classic guitar riffs, and in Friday On My Mind, one of the most perfect songs of the era. Later George joined with fellow band member Harry Vanda to become a legendary song-writing and production duo.

Malcolm was the younger brother of George, and with his brother Angus formed the nucleus of one of the greatest rock bands of all time, AC/DC. It’s hard to imagine two better rock guitarists than Malcolm and Angus Young.

Vanda & Young guided AC/DC to the top of the charts, with Bon Scott as their lead singer. These are all fucking legendary names, and a great era of Australian guitar rock.

As it happened I watched a dramatization of the Easybeats story a few weeks ago, followed on by a fascinating documentary on the music and characters of that era, and the Albert’s sound – the production company that broke, and then nurtured these great performers.

I was just a kid back then when AC/DC where making it, but have sketchy memories, especially of the classic video of AC/DC performing It’s a Long Way to the Top on the back tray of a truck driving down Swanston street. Great video, great song. A few years later I remember my best mate and next door neighbour, Peter Woody, buying the Back in Black LP and us playing it on high rotation. And for many years I can recall a piece of graffiti scrawled on a bench at Montmorency railway station: Bon Scott lives!

I was rapt watching these shows, nostalgic, but also fascinated by the stories and the progression from those early days to a professional and mighty music industry. It made me realise things I’d never really taken much notice of until then. I knew Stevie Wright, and have his epic song Evie on my iTunes. What I hadn’t realised was what a powerful and charismatic front man he was. For a little fella he packed a lot of power in his voice and performance, and more attitude than ultimately he could survive. I came away convinced than in the story of Australian rock music he’s one of the three outstanding front men – he, Bon Scott, and Michael Hutchence. What does it mean that they all died prematurely?

Like so many I loved Bon Scott. He had the perfect voice for a rock band like AC/DC, a powerful snarl laden with rugged experience. Added to that he had a style that at a distance seemed menacing, but in fact he was a rad Aussie, a larrikin with energy you could bottle. He was on the edge and liked it there, and it captivated thousands of fans like me. He wasn’t just a voice (like Brian Johnson), he was a persona. I’m one of the old school fans who think the Bon Scott years were the best of AC/DC.

I remember the days of Aussie guitar bands and pub rock and in your face attitude and they’re just great memories. We’ve been lucky.

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What they don’t teach in school


I wandered down before to get my morning coffee. In my hand was a voucher for a free coffee leading me to somewhere different to where I usually go. It took me to a bar in a laneway with long rows of spirits on the rear wall. I’d been there a few weeks before, just checking it out. At that time I noticed a couple of large stainless steel barrels bolted to the wall advertising unpasteurised Carlton Draught. Now Carlton is not my beer of choice, but intrigued by it I made enquiries. At the back of my mind was an old bar in Queen street called the Snakepit that once advertised that it had shipped in its Heineken direct from Holland – and it was mighty good. And so I asked the question, and though it was only just past 8am the bartender poured me a quarter glass to try out.

This time I fell into a conversation with the bar manager as he sniffed at some fresh cut mint leaves, exclaiming at the aroma. “All set for your mojito’s?” I said, by way of conversation. He nodded his head and we fell to talking. Somewhere along the line I mentioned the Caipirinha. “What’s that?” he said.

I was surprised. I thought everyone knew about the Caiprinha. I explained to him, it’s a tasty Brazilian cocktail, the key ingredient a Brazilian spirit called cachaca – like rum, sort of, but different. Great on a hot day. He was fascinated to the point of gratitude, and promised to look into it.

What are they teaching in schools these days?

Mediocre experiences


A few weeks back I was quite frustrated at work because it appeared everything I set out to do would ultimately be gazumped by my manager. It felt as if she resented me doing these things, even that was my job. There were many examples of that, some of which became quite amusing – such as the time I had done 80% of an initiative when she decided to do her own version of it. I sat there as she spoke to a guy upstairs explaining what needed to happen, then floundered as he asked some well considered questions about it. It got so that she stood up and asked if anyone had the information he was asking for. I considered remaining silent, but piped up: “actually…” and I handed over a comprehensive briefing document I had prepared as part of my work. A minute or two later she stood up again pleading for help. I waited a beat or two then piped up again. “Here you go,” I said with a smile to her questioner, handing him a calculator I had created as well. Of course what happens now is that he will take my work, complete the job as required, and she will claim the credit.

This riled me up at one stage. It was mighty frustrating, but it was the ethics of it that really troubled me. It seemed I put in most of the intellectual work before she would swoop in and, in the words of Beyonce, “put a ring on it.”

Then I let it go. It was making me unhealthy, then one day I figured there was no future in it and decided just to let it go. Be it on her conscience. Let her God deal with her. I would do my work as ever and refuse to be drawn into it. Not as if I could do much about it anyway. I felt immediately better.

Then today I had a much delayed one on one meeting with her. There was no unpleasantness, but it left me feeling very sour.

My theory had been that she felt under pressure with a new boss and wanted some credits in the bank, which is why she came over the top of my work. I think there’s some truth in that, but there is a more fundamental reason also. She is a bit of a control freak. She want’s hands on, wants to get things done just the way she wants, and, as I’ve experienced many times before, can’t help but interfere. There’s something very ego centric in this. She’s one of these people who uses ‘I’ when a ‘we’ or an ‘us’ or something less specific would be better used. It’s not necessarily claiming ownership of these things – though it sounds like it; rather it is the way she views things, from the first person specific.

Even though I have let things go there is some tension in our relationship. I’m a strong character to. There is something of the control freak in me also, but in this case at least I can excuse it as she’s interfering in my work, rather than the other way around. She knows that I’m not as compliant as the others who work for her. I have my own opinions. Sometimes I’m forceful, and mostly I’m confident. I respect ideas more than I do titles.

But hey, I’m letting it go. It’s just a job. But then again today she begins to interfere in what I’m attempting to do, and the problem is she does from a position of power, but not knowledge. She’s a smart woman, but this is my profession, not hers. I don’t have all the answers, but I understand the process to get them. I start ambivalent. I’m not a dilettante, I’m a professional. And so it’s very frustrating having to deal with what I think are uneducated directives.

Then there was a moment. I explained how I was sitting in tomorrow with someone to listen to their customer conversations and understand how they go about their job. She looked at me sceptically. “What benefit is that going to give me?” she said. I took a deep breath. It starts with knowledge, I said. I need to understand something first before I can look to change or enhance it.

It’s an elementary concept, and a void opened in me having to explain it. Suddenly I realised there was little future in this relationship. If she cannot understand this then there is a whole world of knowledge we have at odds. And if she continues to question and look to dictate all I do, and constraining me from other activities, then there can be no productive future.

I already knew this in a way, but I had put it off. Now I felt it in my chest.

About the time I decided to ‘let it go’ I also decided to set myself to get a new job by March next year. It was simple to me. Life is different things to different people. For me it’s about experience and learning. Cliché as it is, it’s a journey, and I’m conscious of starting in one place and progressing through time and location. I’ve been lucky, I’ve experienced a lot, bad as well as good, and though I’ve forgotten a lot I still retain much of what I’ve learned along the way. I’m not learning anything here though, and the experience is mediocre. I haven’t got the time to waste.

Dunkirk


I was thinking recently that there are few really intellectual movie directors these days – or maybe it’s the stories that are missing. I mean stories that really challenge and make you think, that posit alternative views or defy established frameworks. Most movies these days are entertainment, though sometimes the entertainment is high art, brilliantly conceived, brilliantly executed. I have no argument with that, and take as much pleasure in it as the average man in the street – I love movies. There are view though that start with an intellectual viewpoint – most are fantasies in some way, or renderings of reality either historical or fictional. They are human dramas that explore feelings and confrontation, or escapist pictures that take us on an extended ride. Often times you’ll come out of the cinema and for hours later the images will reverberate in your mind, and possibilities echo – but equally the story will be forgotten come the next day.

Probably my favourite modern day film-maker is Christopher Nolan. Recently I sat on my couch and re-watched a couple of his big movies, Inception and Interstellar. Both are fabulously imaginative films that bend and warp your mind with the possibilities and conjecture they present. I love both movies, as much the second or third time around as the first. For someone who loves to believe in extraordinary possibilities I lap these up.

I’m a man who wants to believe in the extraordinary, in ghosts and vampires, in alien worlds and time travel. I love physics, and the thought that we are the tiniest of tiny specks at the corner of a tiny galaxy is both astounding and thrilling. I want the world to be more than it appears because I like mystery and wonder, want to be intrigued and led on by it. I want more than what I see, and yet I’m also a rational being – I can believe in the physics, but no matter how much I wish it I can’t conceive of heaven or hell.

Christopher Nolan is of similar ilk if his movies are anything to go by. He is fascinated by the same possibilities – fake realities, black holes, mind bending possibilities. He is such a master that the worlds he creates have both depth and intelligence. Is he an intellectual movie director? I don’t doubt he has a significant intellect, but though our minds become engaged with his films, they operate on a level that is more visceral. The wonder we feel comes from our gut. Later I might find myself exploring his worlds with my mind, reminded of the wonder, but I am not made to think differently, just more.

On the weekend I caught up with his latest movie, Dunkirk. I’m late to this party, with it being much lauded when it came out a few months ago. It’s different from Nolan’s more recent films in that it deals with a historical moment. Like Saving Private Ryan, it is a rendering of a key moment in World War Two.

It shares a kind of fidelity with Saving Private Ryan: it feels true, it seems authentic. This is what it was like, you think. You realise how rare it is to feel that. This was more than entertainment, it was supra-entertainment. It was different to Saving Private Ryan in that it does not contain the hectic onrush of action, but rather is a series of set-pieces that move forward with their own momentum before joining together a single narrative thread. It’s a much quieter movie, without the bombast, and certainly not the brutality and gore of the other movie. Nolan is less interested in representing that.

I was surprised in fact in how little the enemy intruded into the story. They were represented obliquely, a presence over yonder, pressing hard but unseen; and in the disembodied presence of Me-109’s doing battle over the English Channel, and HE-111’s swooping in to bomb minesweepers. Nolan is telling England’s story.

I used to be a big student of military history. I knew well that Germany had squandered its chance to drive the British and French allies into the sea at Dunkirk. Instead Hitler had called a halt and gave permission to Goering’s Luftwaffe to make the kill – at which they failed abjectly. History might be different now had Hitler let Rommel have his head – the English were ripe for the execution. Even knowing all that I was surprised at how ineffective and remote the Luftwaffe were as rendered in this movie.

This is a great human story that very effectively gets at the complex set of emotions the various participants experience and deal with – the shell-shocked survivor, the admiral trying to get survivors off the beach, the desperate soldiers looking to flee thwarted at almost every turn, and the decent, gentle English sailor doing his bit to save the day.

As entertainment this was enthralling, like watching a story with a ticking clock. I know how history tells how it turned out, but it was the individual stories that kept me at the edge of my seat. As I said, it felt so real – this is just a movie but, you think, it happened just like that. If not this salty skipper, then there was another just like him on that day.

A lot of people are saying this is the best movie of the year. I can understand that. It’s the best movie I’ve seen this year, and I can’t wait for Nolan’s next.

This is not an intellectual movie in the sense that it poses questions of us, but it is a movie conceived of and made with great intelligence and intellect.

How to sledge


It’s cricket season again and the Poms are over trying to defend the Ashes. We’re two tests into the series and with them down 2-0 it’s not looking good for them.

Like every year I’ve watched the cricket pretty closely. I was pretty confident going into the series that Oz would reclaim the urn, but England have been more disappointing than I expected. Right now they’re on the verge of being a rabble.

In Brisbane they were well in it for three days before collapsing in a heap. In Adelaide they were behind right from the start, rallied briefly, before once more losing by a lot.

One of the ongoing conversations has been about sledging. It seems an issue most series these days. I’m not fussed much by it one way or another, mostly because it never really did much for me. If I was ever sledged it was more likely to fire me up than put me off, but mostly I couldn’t care less. I wasn’t much of a sledger myself, but only because I couldn’t be bothered. If anything I was more likely to sledge when I was a batsman than I was when in the field, though I stood by many times as team mates would sledge opposition batsmen. I found most of it pretty lame. The best stuff had some wit to it.

I remember I used to think you had to earn the right to sledge. Once you actually achieved something of merit then you could have a crack at the other team, but not till then. I still watch the coverage occasionally these days I find myself disapproving of some of the sledging – not so much because of what’s being said, but because it seems an unworthy or wasted effort. For me it’s rarely a moral judgment – though I adhere to the common convention that personal life should be off-limits – and more of a practical consideration.

As an Australian sledging comes easy. We’re notorious for it, but I don’t think our critics understand the source of it. I don’t know if it’s any different today, but growing up as a schoolboy I was subjected to sledging all the time, and gave it back to. Most of it was the good natured rough and tumble between friends and familiars, but the interaction day on day meant that the words came easily to the lips. Others might think it strange, but it was normal to abuse and mock within our circles.

I thought nothing of it myself until I went travelling and discovered that most cultures don’t have such a robust give and take. They’re gentler, with affection expressed You take it for granted until it becomes second nature. That’s why an Australian giving it, and receiving it, is so different to other cultures.

It says a lot about the Australian character I guess, and particularly Australian masculinity, a subject oft debated. That’s a discussion for another time, but fair to say this history of behaviour has informed so much of what we do and how we act – some of it positive, and a lot more not.

I suspect it’s not nearly as pronounced as it once was, but still for someone coming to compete against Aussies on the field this is something that must be adapted to. By the time an Australian cricketer dons the baggy green he’s endured years of ruthless sledging coming up through the ranks. He’s seasoned and hardy and tough, and most of it comes natural.

I think that’s one of the problems the English are having this tour, and past tours. They have made a focus of sledging, and have tried to compete in that area. The problem is that it’s not natural for most of them (Jimmy Anderson and Broad go okay) and so it is forced and mostly ineffective. Ultimately it’s become a distraction, and as an Aussie watching I reckon they would go better ignoring it and concentrated on the cricket. It’s our comfort zone, not theirs.

That’s something that gets lost in the cultural haze. I know the Indians in particular would get upset at the sledging they received. Because they had no cultural understanding of it they misunderstood the intent. I admit, as an outsider the nuances are easily overlooked. In my time at least, you’d go hard on the field and be best mates off it. Something might be said on the field, but it was never intended personally. The sole purpose was to upset the game. With the game done for the day it was time for a beer. It’s that mentality than means that Aussies are also more likely to shrug off sledging, until it crosses the line.

That’s where it has occasionally erupted over the years. Though it’s unregulated, sledging in Australian cultural mores has unspoken rules, primary among them that it’s not personal, and that after play all is forgotten. The problem is that cultures unused to sledging when confronted by it don’t have an understanding of those mores – and the boundaries they draw. Without those unspoken rules they will react to what they feel are unwarranted insinuations and lash out, sometimes crossing those lines – which is when the Aussies will become genuinely upset. It’s not playing the game after all.

All of this is pretty confusing if you’re not an Aussie, and fair enough to. There is something occasionally hypocritical in Australians complaining in those moments because the line they see so clearly appears so arbitrary to others. I know it because I was born to it, but I understand it may bewilder others not born here.

There’s a larger question about sledging. I’m not fussed about it, but that’s probably because a) I’m an Aussie, and b) I’m a pretty rugged character. I understand for the purist they may see it as being neither sporting or fair. As long as it doesn’t ‘cross the line’ I don’t mind it – in fact I think it’s just another element of the game. It adds an interesting edge, and another challenge to overcome.

In any case it’s another area the Australians are handsome winners in this series. What teams need to understand is that as soon as you react, you lose. It seems a truism, but it is so often forgotten. If it is seen to be getting to you then the Australians, far from backing off, will go harder. If you show vulnerability then we’ll be on you like a pack of dogs. And that’s what England have shown.

It’s a cliché, but England would do better by not engaging, and doing their talking with bat and ball.

Approaching the bridge


Tonight is the company Christmas party at some glitzy venue down Docklands way. I thought twice about attending, but allowed myself to be persuaded. Like I keep telling myself, a free feed and booze is nothing to be sneezed at.

It’s funny because in the barren years I lived through one of the things I missed was the company Christmas party. It was not that I yearned for the event itself so much, rather it became a kind of symbol and reference point. I went about five years without an invitation – or opportunity – for any such parties, and it was a symbol of the situation I was in. I knew in myself that the day I had a party I could go to was the day I knew I was on the up again.

Last year was the first for many that I received an invitation in my inbox. I didn’t go because I had something else on, but it was enough that I had an invitation I could turn down. This year, though there are no such calendar conflicts, I was reluctant to accept once more.

I don’t think highly of the company I work for. I hate admitting that, but think they have dubious ethics, and pay lip service towards their employees. There are good people here, and there are some sincere and looking to change things. I hope they succeed, but they are coming from a long way back. I’m happy to support and add my shoulder to that – I’ll suspend my disbelief. But then of the people I like or am close to in the business there’s a few that have recently departed, and others not going tonight. I’m going for two other reasons.

The lazy reason is that I didn’t fight it when I was urged to accept, and went along with it when they put me on their table. Like I said, a few laughs, a good meal, a few glasses of vino is no bad thing – and may be a lot better than that, who knows.

There’s another reason why I can’t miss the party tonight.

On general principles I’m not sure if this is the right or wrong thing, and don’t feel comfortable sharing it here, but… There’s a girl. Just that, no more. We get on well, we like each other. There’s nothing more than that as yet, a budding possibility that maybe we’re both open to. It’s hard at work to get that going. You need to get away from the formal environment and to somewhere looser and free form. That’s why I think I must go tonight – because if I don’t I doubt it would ever get off the ground, but if I do it might take me somewhere altogether different.

So why am I only ‘maybe’ open to it. Like I say every time, I don’t want to get involved with someone at work. It’s messy, it’s awkward, and everyone has an opinion. I say it every time, and a good dozen times later I’m still saying it. It really gives me pause, but not sure it’s enough to veto.

The other reason is that I still feel a bit gun-shy about my circumstances. There’s a lot of embarrassing explaining to do, which I know I must, and part of me wants to – needs to – but it’s scary as well and I don’t know what to think. Making it worse in way is that I project a certain image. People have an idea of me which is very different from the reality. I probably exaggerate the importance of that, imagining the disappointment of someone who thinks I’m one thing and finds another. At the end of the day I’m me, aren’t I? independent of circumstances.

This is a bridge I have to cross, if not tonight, with this woman, then at a future date, with someone else perhaps. I have to move on, and maybe that starts tonight – and that’s why I’m going to the party.

Fascist extremes


The very notorious Milo Yiannopolous visited Melbourne the other day, and very predictably there were demonstrations and conflict at his appearance*. I rolled my eyes and sighed when I saw it on the news, knowing it was inevitable, but hoping for a more meaningful response.

Milo passes for a highbrow among the lowbrow right. In reality he’s just a bunch of re-hashed slogans and reactionary posing – posing it what he does best. It’s enough to excite and incite the easily excitable and often combustible right wing loonies. It does much the same for the left.

More than anything else Milo is an agent provocateur. I suspect nothing delights him more than riling up the ‘snowflakes’ and soft edge of the left. He targets soft options such as feminism, and Islam, using extravagant language and often extravagant gestures. It’s enough to give his hangers-on a leery hard-on, and to whip the left to a frenzy.

This is the pity of it really. Milo is best ignored. He’s not an intellectual. He has no original thoughts. He is a persona. He is a poster child for a position, a provocative and slightly outrageous character designed to stir the pot. That he does very well, and unfortunately, as we saw this week, it’s rare that the left he so despises doesn’t fall for it.

Being of liberal disposition I’m disappointed that so many of similar disposition are so gullible. Starve Milo of oxygen and his message goes no further than a few grubby types. Turn up waving placards and chanting slogans and dead-set that will draw out the fascist element only too eager for confrontation. Once that happens it becomes news, and Milo’s poisonous little message gains traction. It’s dumb, and he aint worth it.

There’s something else about it which troubles me. We live in an age of extremism. Outrage comes easy. Those sort of things are generally dumb, and it’s no different now. One lot yells yes. The other yells no. That’s pretty well it. There’s no intelligence in it, no reason.

So okay, maybe reason is a bit much to ask for, and while I understand and support there are occasions when a stand must be made, when a demonstration is necessary, the best that can be hoped for from it is that a point is made. I wonder what the point was the other night.

In this case I find myself agreeing with something Milo said: that this was an attack on free speech. Unlike others, I don’t believe that free speech should be unfettered – there are limits, and boundaries that should not be crossed. Though I have varying faith in the application of such ambiguous laws, I’d rather rely on them than the skewed perspective of those for and against.

I think Milo is a fool, and his followers worse than fools. I think most of what he spouts bigoted claptrap. As a general principle, however – like Voltaire – I support his right to espouse his views as long as he doesn’t cross those lines. This is what we call democracy. The moment we deny him that right and try and shut him down we become the fascists we’re so busy deploring.

It is a time of extremes, and so often the extremes join at the end of the loop. It’s all reaction and outrage, all personal offence, and no intelligence.

There was an interesting survey the other day about the government we want. People are sour on politics, no surprise there. The surprise was that 20% of respondents were open to a dictatorship – benevolent, I presume. That was a shock to me, though I imagine many have no real conception of what it means. But then, I presume, those who responded like that are open to a dictatorship that accords with their political leanings, either left or right. As long as we’re running the show it’s all good.

This marries up to the behaviour we see at these events, the lowbrow left battling the lowbrow right, the socialists doing battle with the brownshirts, chanting slogans and throwing rocks. There’s nothing democratic in it, and little sense.

* This was a pretty lame event, as are so many events like it. It only ever becomes something more when the drama begins to seethe. In this case the drama of left wing anarchists confronting right wing idiots was elevated by the presence of a large (riot) police contingent, guaranteeing good air time on the nightly news. Not worth reporting, but, how much ‘news’ these days is really worthy of the term? But that’s a rant for another day.

It’s pretty ordinary and depressing, even banal, which is fine until it hits our TV screens and becomes a thing.