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Finally, a beer review

 

sparko

Good art is evocative. It jumps on the individual and transports them elsewhere. Gee, even bad art can have you skipping across the planet.

Can beer be art too? Of course. It functions like a frothy time machine. Or something like this.

One afternoon I went on a little holiday, while sitting on our modest patio. Here’s my travel diary courtesy of the following fun refreshments.

Chang

On Boxing Day 2005 we arrived in Bangkok from London. Having survived part or whole of three shadowy English winters meant the Thai heat was monstrous. Like the black monolith in Kubrick’s 2001, it governs the landscape (and the moonscape).

Late morning, we took a boat along the Chao Phraya river, pausing at various Buddhist sites, and marvelling at the coconuts, bobbling in the brown water. When thirst conquered tourism we moored at a floating restaurant for a drink, and such was the hotness and absurd humidity that we demolished a squadron of large Chang bottles.

It’s a pale lager with a straw hue, and while it’s not bursting with personality and stories, it’s crisp and refreshing in a functional way, like an old Casio calculator. It’ll never MC your best mate’s wedding.

Our session was brisk and energetic, and soon there was a phalanx of green bottles on the table, in silent evidence of our stern tropical application. De-camping to Singapore a few years later I learnt that a handful of tinkling ice cubes in a frosty beer glass is no gastronomic crime, in fact it’s medically necessary.

With the sun slipping into the Andaman Sea and your green chicken curry steaming on the Ko Lanta table, a Chang is gorgeously contextualised. Don’t forget. Chang means elephant.

Tsingtao Beer

Gee, we’re all now situated within an Asian century and like Roy and HG, I find it tremendously exciting. This pilsner was originally brewed under the mythical German Purity Laws in a joint Chinese/ Bavarian operation. These enigmatic ideals are now abandoned and rice is an ingredient, but it works in a happy, meaningless pre-season fixture fashion.

Like an episode of Have You Been Paying Attention? it’s fun and compelling at the time, but in the morning, you’ll recollect little of it. However, this is fine. Live a little and ignore the cultural import.

Tsingtao attends to its easy drinking brief with a casual nod to the grandstand as the chestnut conveyance strides past the post in an early spring Group 3 race over, say, 1600 metres. It’s pale, golden in the glass and unlikely to inspire a revolution, cultural or military. While I enjoyed it, at no stage did I hear Communism barking in my ear as I supped. I should’ve listened to Little Feat’s “A Apolitical Blues” to allow beer and art to mingle in that deathless, exotic exchange-

Well my telephone was ringing

And they told me it was chairman Mao

 

Well my telephone was ringing

And they told me it was chairman Mao

Coopers Sparkling Ale

At the end of a holiday, even a lager-themed trip, it’s good to come home. And so, we look at the mighty CSA, as I’m confident it’s not known in the trade. In my coterie, it’s a Sparko although this familiar, friendly nomenclature disguises a dark truth.

Kids: this is not a session beer. The graveyard is clunking with the skeletons of those who fought it, and lost.

Sparkling ale speaks with preternatural eloquence. I tell you, every bottle bursts with Jack Nicholson, the Velvet Underground and ultimately, Hemingway from his tiny Spanish bar. As an aspirational product, it’s looking down fondly upon us all from its Nepalese retreat.

It presents with citrus, cereal, ferment, danger, sex, death. It can be eaten with a fork. Avoid it at breakfast, especially if you’ve booked a duel with a mortal enemy. But taken moderately, in the late autumnal sun, it’s invigorating and celebratory.

After three circumspect sips, you’ll possess the wit of former Australian PM, Paul Keating who once described the performance of a parliamentary foe as “like being flogged with a warm lettuce.”

Coopers Sparkling Ale is huge like Merv Hughes in his twilight, but under the hum and roar of a party, it leans in and whispers conspiratorially, “Can you believe our good fortune to live where we do?”

And you smile in that reflective way while sort of staring into the middle distance and think yep, that’s fecking true.

bangkok

 

 

 

 

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On Sunday we went to a lovely lunchtime wedding in a park

bee gees

I reckon for many of us it’s about a decade. It begins in your mid-twenties and drops away as forty looms like a stop sign. I speak, of course, of weddings.

I attended lots of great ones in little country churches surrounded by paddocks of waving wheat, on golf courses, by the beach in Victor Harbor, at large suburban places of worship.

The receptions have been in country footy clubs with the catering done by the matronly pillars of the community, no nonsense women. Pubs, backyards, function centres and more than I can count have been at Ayers House, in the middle of Adelaide which I think is somewhat compulsory if you live here.

One Saturday we had four weddings and as we’d both been given a duty, I went to the one in the Barossa and Kerry, another in the city. She was a bridesmaid and I was asked to do a reading from Corinthians 13. You know the one-

I may be able to speak the languages of men and even of angels, but if I have no love, my speech is no more than a noisy gong or a clanging bell.

Sunday’s affair was special. The boys were invited, and it was their first. The last wedding we’d been to was in Singapore over three years ago at the Fullarton overlooking the harbour and the heat.

It was in a park along the Torrens with the reception in a community hall. It was one of those great days where the sun shines and everyone enjoys it knowing it could be the last time before winter’s rain and cruel wind forces us inside.

The ceremony was lovely and people smiled and took photos on their phones but also held hands and cried when the groom choked up as he said his vows and I paused and thought of the many things for which I should be grateful.

Max sat on the grass right at the front listening intently and drinking in the language, and his special treat of a can of lemonade while Alex sat on the nearby wooden fence looking about the trees and sky but also concentrating.

After the knot was tied the new bride sang along with Tina Turner’s “Simply The Best” which will weld these two together whenever I hear this song. This is the job of a song.

Central to the catering was that most 2017 of experiences, the food truck. Parked on the fresh bitumen behind the hall, folks lined up and ordered Argentinian burgers. We had the steak, the chorizo and the chicken. They were great. Alex had some pumpkin soup, but it wasn’t as good as Nanny’s.

People sat inside or out in the sun on plastic chairs. There was music, mostly from the sixties. I’d finished my lunch and was talking with the celebrant about St Albans and London. On her second glass of Bird In Hand bubbles, from across the table my wife winked at me. They then played one of my favourite all time songs, the Bee Gees, “To Love Somebody.” I wiped a tear from the corner of my eye.

There were other kids and pregnant women and older folks too. A widower got in my ear with lots of detail about the vans and dogs he’s owned, but I didn’t mind. There were reminders everywhere of the richness of life. Max and I went for a walk along the linear path. Alex flopped his gangly self about the playground. For the last hour we sat in the sun on an ornamental rock with old friends who’d visited us when we lived in England.

Around mid-afternoon we drove home through the lazy Sunday traffic and I took the dogs down to the Old Gum Tree where there were two or three gently swirling groups also enjoying life’s landmarks.

It was a wedding. A gentle, affirming wedding.

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Iconic Instants in Rock Music

 

guitar

No, not Elvis gets his guitar, or Mick and Keef meet at the Dartford train station, but snippets of sound from within songs, that punters sometimes scramble to identify at quiz nights.

A Hard Day’s Night- the Mighty Opening Chord

Revealing a curious etymology, there was both a film and an album ready to go, but the Fab Four were told that it’d be incongruous for there to not also be a song.

With the title originating in a Ringo malapropism, Lennon composed the track in an evening, and the following day, refined the lyrics with help in a taxi on the way to the studio. The song was recorded in three hours. It starts with untouchable majesty.

George Harrison’s Rickenbacker generates most of the moment, but each Beatle contributes to its revered musicology. As with much art there’s a secretive, unknowable complexity behind it. Instantaneously recognisable, but also mysterious in its alchemy, one academic, Dominic Pedler, dedicates a sizable chunk of his 800-page volume, The Song Writing Secrets of The Beatles, to the chord, and lists twenty-one compositional possibilities.

In one theory Pedler deploys a process called a Fourier transformation: the decomposition of a sound wave into its constitute pure tones- as modelled by sine and cosine curves- to come up with a scientific solution.

But, for me, the tale of this thrilling chord is its cultural potent. It’s both a daring announcement and a promise. Innocent and eager, it exemplifies the Beatles’ giddily evolving confidence in both their music and social power.

That the guitars are slightly out of tune only magnifies the charisma, and suggests a bouncing mid-summer walk along London’s Oxford Street, in the bright, blossoming city.

It’s an aural intoxicant.

Paradise City- Whistle Blower

When Elvis first gyrated his hips on TV, I’m sure that in countless homes the first rock obsessions were also born. A few decades later, in the unspeakable 1980’s, a particular Guns ‘N’ Roses fan from Lafayette, Indiana- Axl Rose’s home, too- began investing time and not inconsiderable money touring the world to claim an elusive plastic whistle.

Of course, he’s seeking a concert souvenir: the whistle blown and nightly thrown into the crowd at the 1:21 mark of “Paradise City” from Appetite for Destruction, the album so beloved by aging leather jackets and Triple M music directors. So far, our trophy-hunter’s been unsuccessful. His cabinet remains bare.

In this moment, there’s juxtaposition at work as the song transitions from its opening section and momentum builds. The anthemic tropes are present, but exhilaratingly assembled: pounding drums, driving guitars, and wailing vocals married to shameless subtexts.

Suddenly climbing above this grind and growl is the simplest addition: a lone whistle blast that invests the song with a military discipline, demanding both band and listener focus and follow. It also evokes the urgent start to a football match when the warm-up is done, and we’re in the huddle together, and it’s just us and them.

It’s a riotous call to arms.

The Tourist- The Mourning Bell

Radiohead’s OK Computer is an album of luxurious, sparkling gloom, best listened to through headphones at midnight. Its themes of nagging horror and emptiness are expressed with pristine melodies that seem to bend out through a Kubrick-like universe.

Once described as possessing “… soaring, operatic choruses, and a towering bridge,” the record is closed by “The Tourist.” Its dramatic context is a pending car crash, and over Jonny Greenwood’s guitar Thom York pleads for the driver, possibly himself, to “slow down” and as we wince against the grim inevitability, the roaring doom, instead we hear a tiny bell. What happened? Was there even an accident? And, if yes, of what ultimate consequence?

Again, TS Eliot is right.

What does this bell denote? Some suggest it’s the ding of a microwave, that millennial symbol of mundane gnawing consumerism; for others, it conjures an ancient typewriter in a nameless attic, signalling how this musical story, and our fragile human story is indeed, finished.

Irrespective, it’s a sonic conclusion of poignancy and uncommon beauty, befitting the preceding 53 minutes of searing maelstrom.

It’s a punctuation mark, but also a prayer.

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I Believe in Milk Cows: You Sexy Thing

cow

I negotiated the semi-circle of Adelaide’s most notorious roundabout by the Britannia Hotel, before slipping onto tree-lined and genteel Kensington Road. It was just after eight in the morning when the opening chords rushed into my tiny car.

It was a revelation, and happy reminder of the excellence that had come before. Yet again, Triple J would provide instruction, although on this occasion it was Mikey, the Sandman and guest presenter Rosie Beaton’s weekly segment during which a much-loved song was played.

I believe in miracles

Where you from?

You sexy thing

London funk and soul outfit Hot Chocolate’s greatest song is firmly anchored in 1975, but also transcends this frightfully disco epoch, and to my ears is still as irresistible now as it was when it was cruelly denied rising to the top of the charts by Queen and their “Bohemian Rhapsody” juggernaut. Testament to the affection for “You Sexy Thing” is its rare achievement of charting in the 1970’s, 80’s and 90’s. Spare him his life from this monstrosity, indeed.

There’s orgasmic violins- listen carefully, and tell me this is not the case- which soar across the arc of the melody, absurdly catchy vibrato guitars and (late) lead singer Errol Brown, whose voice is perfect, with a soulful performance that is almost a gleeful shout, especially in this unexpected, but joyous couplet-

Yesterday I was one of the lonely people

Now you’re lying close to me, making love to me

However, the opening lyrics continue to confuse listeners, with the following declared among the catalogue of the misheard

       Are you bleeding mental

Where’s your car, you sexy thing?

And then this, a pre-Trump assertion

I believe I’m American!

Not ignoring the geek-driven, Family Matters option

I believe in Urkel

The esoteric-

        I believe in Malcolm

Wear your bra

You sexy thing

A piscatorial tribute-

        I believe in mackerels

And finally, attributed to a German gent, allegedly hard of hearing-

               I believe in milk cows.

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“You Sexy Thing” is ageless, disco genius; a song that elevates mood, and our capacity for joy, instantly.

Go on, stick it on! Now.

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Adelaide’s Widest Variety of Pink

J and D

Autumn in Adelaide. It’s magnificent, and probably better than Baghdad in summer or Vladivostok in winter. The days are warm and still and the evenings are great for all manner of alfresco activity such as the Fringe Festival, centred upon the Garden of Unearthly Delights.

I was there with two dear old friends, Poof[1] and Trish[2] and we took in Judith Lucy and Denise Scott and their show Disappointments. In the football match of our lives it’s after half time and we’re, hopefully, into the Premiership Quarter[3] so the themes of dealing with aging,  bodily degeneration and the like are targeted at our demographic. It was fun, well as much fun as this comedy of cruelty could be.

Our after-show conversation was especially provoked by a rapid-fire monologue in which Judith catalogued how unspeakably awful pop music of the 1980’s is. Poof[4] and Trish[5] disagreed, coming to an enthusiastic, but ultimately incorrect defence of this cursed decade! Our friendship enjoys robust debate. The centre point of Judith’s argument was Rick Springfield’s “Jessie’s Girl” whose only redeeming quality is surely the correct use of the possessive apostrophe within its title.[6]

You know I feel so dirty when they start talking cute

I wanna tell her that I love her but the point is probably moot

See? ‘Tis a nonsense. Imagine a radio station dedicated to this swill? If you’d really like to wallow in colossal disappointment and have every joyful atom sucked from your being, I recommend listening to Mix 102.3, lurking poisonously on the FM band and doubtless streaming right now across an undeserving galaxy. Love the more putrid songs of the 1980’s? Here’s five in a row! Love those crappy INXS ballads that should never have been on their otherwise great albums[7]? We’ll play one an hour. Up for those rubbish Bowie tunes, from the time when he’d truly lost his way and we thought he’d never return? I’ve got one right after the news! It’ll make you tense, if not physically and spiritually sick.

When Mix 102.3 is not undertaking 1980’s aural terrorism[8] it’s playing Pink. Astonishingly, it’s slogan is “Adelaide’s Widest Variety of Music” but if there’s any truth in radio sloganeering, it should be “Adelaide’s Widest Variety of Pink.” Delusion dictates that it must play Pink multiple times within each freaking hour of their godless day. Listen for any length and you will certainly wish you were trapped in a CIA black site, and about to be folded into a dark cupboard for a fortnight. If you were bound by rope to a chair, listening through bleeding ears, and somehow decided to drink a shot of Bundy[9] every time you heard her banshee gibberish shrieking from the radio speakers, you’d turn into Sir Les Paterson[10] or Elizabeth Taylor[11] within about fifteen minutes.

I love the 1990’s. In among the grunge of Nirvana and Pearl Jam, who I also like, there were lots of sunny songs with great melodies and fetching harmonies. The Sundays and Weezer spring to mind. Then there’s Teenage Fanclub and their signature tune, “Sparky’s Dream.”[12]

It opens with gangly guitars and this great lyric

If she lived in space, man

I’d build a plane

Aside from the aeronautical impossibility it’s a song of optimism and joy.

I reckon Judith Lucy would like it. You’ll never hear it on Mix 102.3.

 

[1] Not her given name, but certainly her real name

[2] Not Patsy, under any circumstances

[3] Australian Rules football metaphor indicating the most crucial section of a grand final

[4] Not her given name, but certainly her real name

[5] Not Patsy, under any circumstances

[6] See previous two blog entries for more on this

[7] Shabooh Shoobah from 1982 being one

[8] As developed by the CIA, ASIO and Stock, Aitken and Waterman

[9] Dark rum from Queensland, another act of war

[10] Hideous but hugely funny cultural icon

[11] Apparently enjoyed an aperitif

[12] Note correct use of possessive apostrophe here too. See, it’s not so hard, people

 

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Fun and Feasting at the Beggars Banquet

devil

Who forgot the apostrophe? Mick or Keith? Should it be Beggar’s Banquet or Beggars’ Banquet? I prefer the later, imagining a mythical party hosted by the Rolling Stones somewhere like, say, Tangier in Morocco.

Punctuation marks denoting possession aside, this 1968 release is the most fun of their career with sitars, LA’s Watts Street Gospel Choir and a polite devil all prominent. Forgetting the psychedelic swill of Their Satanic Majesties Request, this album’s ambitious but also homage to their American influences.

The music of Satan is not, as many might attest, heavy metal or any of its more ridiculously camp variants. His accompaniment, of course, is something much more seductive. Opening Beggars Banquet is “Sympathy for the Devil” which is narrated by Lucifer himself.

Underpinned by congas the music is a samba: hypnotic, sexual, inescapably charismatic. And there’s the Devil, resplendent in a sharp suit, drawing you in over a cocktail with his allure, but also his invisible menace. Indeed, the opening to this dramatic monologue is a deferential “Please allow me to introduce myself…”

In the days after its release, I imagine God-fearing folk from places like Lynchburg, Virginia quivering at Mick’s vocals, but I reckon it’s now fanciful fun, fetching theatre.

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In Keith Richards’ autobiography Life my favourite vignette centres upon the young author and his grandfather in Soho, during the austere 1950’s. Upon seeing a poor urchin, the elder asks, “Keith, have you got a shilling?”

“Yes.”

“Good. Now go and give it to that boy. He needs it more than you.” Keith does.

“Well done,” praised granddad, “That’s very kind.” He pressed his fist into Keith’s paw.

Keith opened his hand. In it were two shillings.

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“Dear Doctor” is the third track and takes us musically and narratively to the American south with the mawkish tale of a doomed boy, trapped to his betrothed.

The melodramatic context is clunky, but it’s one of the record’s fine acoustic songs that could be dismissed as irreverent; making fun of the genre. However, this would misjudge the band’s deep admiration for this music, as they deliver us to their beloved blues and country destinations. Worship, and not cheap parody is driving the pick-up. Such is the authenticity of Mick’s vocal characterisation that the finale is a relief for us all

It read, “Darlin’, I’m sorry to hurt you.

But I have no courage to speak to your face.

But I’m down in Virginia with your cousin Lou

There be no wedding today.

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In February 1965, my Mum and Dad saw the Rolling Stones at Centennial Hall. It was part of the Showgrounds, but the building is now demolished. A short Par 4 from where I work, and commuting past, I envisage flickering black and white footage and screaming. Shrill, teenaged, screaming.

Roy Orbison took the stage beforehand and with his voice like “the cry of an angel falling backward through an open window” the crowd adored him. But then, Mum and Dad both remember the Stones being booed and jeered. What? They played eight songs with competent energy, but it was too late. Adelaide loved the Big O, and gave the boys from Dartford the Big A.

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The Rolling Stones are now popularly connected to the electric guitar, but on Beggars Banquet the acoustic songs generate much of the fun. “Prodigal Son” is a country blues, Bible-infused number that on the record’s early pressings was wrongly attributed to Jagger and Richards. It was by the Rev. Robert Wilkins, a Memphis gospel singer and herb medicine specialist whose first recording was “Rolling Stone Blues, Parts I & II.” It dates from 1928.

It’s a reminder that they still loved the blues and regarded themselves as belonging to Memphis as much as London. “Prodigal Son” is a terrific driving song, and the Mississippi swims into widescreen view as Mick’s harmonica eddies and swirls across the speakers.

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The album is colonized by rich characters and the richest here is the “Factory Girl.” It’s a curious amalgam with violins, South Asian congas or tablas giving it a Hindustani feel and Mick’s mid-Western vowels providing a pilgrimage too. The girl is irrepressible: catching buses, sporting “curlers in her hair” and loving a weekend fight. Even with the “stains all down her dress” she’s attractive. It’s my pet track.

Opening the batting for the band’s astonishing run of form which witnessed consecutive centuries through Beggars Banquet, Let It Bleed, Sticky Fingers and Exile on Main St, it’s a whirling, boisterous set. While it doesn’t gather the acclaim of its successors, it’s their most fun record.

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And I’m not sure that the title’s absent apostrophe is rock’s greatest grammatical crime. This surely belongs to Paul McCartney’s “Live and Let Die” for its maddeningly redundant preposition, which if you’re not vigilant, sticks in your head like a rusty nail

But if this ever changin’ world

In which we live in.

Ladies and gentlemen, Beggars Banquet!

stones

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Jeans On- Not on Triple J’s Hottest 100 but Massively Cool

dd

Born in Oxford to the 3rd Marquess of Zetland and his wife Penelope Pike, and schooled at Harrow. Not what you’d necessarily expect of the man singing the world’s catchiest tune. Ladies and gentlemen, Lord David Dundas!

At least it was in 1977 when I first heard it on Countdown on a Sunday night. I recall my cousin Boogly was a fan of the song too. We first heard it one wintry evening after a Kapunda Footy Club function (piss up) when we repaired to his house. No doubt having toasted ham and cheese sandwiches. We ate these often. His mum, my Aunty Claire, makes a wicked toasted sandwich.

ts

If the song sounds like a jingle that’s because it originally was, having come to life to promote Brutus jeans, a company started by two London brothers in their teens. The jeans were popular among mods, sharpies and scooter boys.

With a laid-back melody underpinned by a memorable keyboard the lyrics commence

When I wake up in the morning light
I pull on my jeans and I feel all right
I pull my blue jeans on, I pull my old blue jeans on (ch-ch)
I pull my blue jeans on, I pull my old blue jeans on (ch-ch)

Back about a year we entertained friends from Kimba and Kentucky- as you do; these should be twinned communities- and this song came up. With sufficient sparkling beverages onboard (Ale and Shiraz) we located the song on YouTube and played it on repeat, sitting on our patio as we (Bazz and I) yodelled out into the undeserving night sky with the “ch-ch” bits being an aural highlight. Neighbourhood dogs still growl when I pass.

sa

Happily, the song is now also on Spotify with nearly three-hundred thousand plays while other songs by David Dundas have only attracted meagre listens making him, I think, a one-hit wonder. But, Fatboy Slim liked it so much he sampled it on his song “Sho Nuff.”

It will be another vital plank in the musical education of Alex and Max and I’ll play it for (at) them when an opportunity arises (imprisoned in my car). You should listen to it too.

On Australia Day, what could be more appropriate?