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Vampire Weekend’s Hannah Hunt

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It’s an enthralling, alliterative name. Say it aloud. Hannah Hunt. It’s easy to pronounce. There’s an affable rhythm, and linguists suggest the repetition of “H” creates romantic introspection.

See, it’s started already.

That autumnal afternoon Hannah was the girl you noticed strolling across the uni lawns, smiling and chatting, smiling and chatting. Not having seen her before, suddenly you looked for her everywhere.

She had an irresistible laugh; a laugh that promised unexpected fun, and every time you heard it you fell further. She wasn’t routinely beautiful, although Hannah was deeply attractive. You’d pinch a peek at her and she’d be unaware; unaffected; completely at ease with herself, and her moment. You loved this too.

vw 1

But Hannah was maddening. She was dangerously spontaneous and you kept tumbling. You never felt more alive. You always forgave her.

And then, that was it.

How many of us have fallen in love with a Hannah Hunt? I have.

*
Discovering Vampire Weekend a decade ago, I grew to love their sunny, literate pop. I’d often listen on my phone to their second album, Contra, as I moved beneath Singapore’s concrete towers and jungle heat.

I then enjoyed their third release, Modern Vampires of the City, but it was years before track six, at the record’s heart, stirred something significant in me.

Hannah Hunt opens in a seascape. A gentle, pretty song, it initially glides in that ethereal space between sleeping and waking. There’s a quietness, an almost meditative quality to the music that maybe mirrors our narrator’s quest for peace.

vw4

We first meet the couple when their world is bright and astonishing and they share those daily discoveries, as all new lovers do.

A gardener told me some plants move
But I could not believe it
Till me and Hannah Hunt
Saw crawling vines and weeping willows

Lead singer Ezra Koenig’s voice is hopeful yet haunted, and harmonises with Rostam Batmanglij’s murmur in a pristine fragility. It’s almost acapella, so sparse is the instrumentation.

The narrator and Hannah are on their road trip and such is the cinematic scope the song feels like a four-minute film. They travel from Providence to Phoenix (in America two especially symbolic names) and Waverley to Lincoln before their westward wanderings end, as they must, among scenes of desperation, on the bitter Californian coast.

In Santa Barbara, Hannah cried
I miss those freezing beaches
And I walked into town
To buy some kindling for the fire
Hannah tore the New York Times up into pieces

Like the best stories there’s an atom of doubt in how it concludes. Seemingly a break-up song, but in Dylanesque style we remain unsure.

If I can’t trust you then damn it Hannah
There’s no future, there’s no answer
Though we live on the US dollar
You and me, we got our own sense of time

But he’ll forever remain in her orbit, no matter how wide the galaxy.

vw3

Following the second verse there’s a gorgeous explosion when the drums, bass and that detuned piano burst into aching life. This is among my favourite ever melodic instants. With Gatsby-like uproar, and swelling anguish, it’s a flowering. Like Hannah, the piano sounds broken yet still attractive, while the drums are as insistent as the pounding heart of her protagonist.

Finally, we have Rostam Batmanglij’s guitar solo. It’s the perfect coda. Played with a soaring slide effect it provides the listener with release, wailing and crying like the human hurt that inspired it.

I love the joy and transportive passion. It’s aural splendor.

I’m going to listen to it now.

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Paul Kelly’s “How to Make Gravy” and me

 

songs from the south

My favourite Christmas song is twenty-two. But it seems as though it’s been around forever. Like Love Actually, which premiered in 2003, they’re both part of the festive furniture, and signal the season’s arrival.

It’s the 21st of December and our protagonist Joe, freshly imprisoned and hotly anxious, reaches out to his brother. But is “How to Make Gravy” a letter or a phone call? Initially, the form seems spoken- “Hello Dan, it’s Joe here,” but then moves to a written mode- “I hope you’re keeping well.” Which is it? I don’t know.

Over four and a half minutes, this mystery of the medium continues while we meet the brothers; Angus; parents Frank and Dolly; Joe’s wife Rita; his kids; sisters Stella and Mary; Mary’s former boyfriend, the olfactorily-offensive one (just a little too much cologne) and, of course, the almost missable Roger.

Although most are only mentioned once they’re Australia’s first family of Christmas song. We feel like we know them. Despite these skeletal sketches, they’re writ large. Dolly’s the uncrossable matriarch. I can imagine having a beer with Angus, and if he were alive surely Bill Hunter would play Frank in the film version, all gruff wisdom and barbeque tongs.

‘How to Make Gravy’ begins with opening chords similar to Thunderclap Newman’s ‘Something in the Air’ but its guitar riff by the recently-departed Spencer P. Jones almost nods in homage to the British band’s late-sixties hit song. This might be partly why Kelly’s tour de force seems like it’s been around longer than 1996. It’s deep in our musical tectonics.

Willunga

Across the top and also underneath is that doleful slide guitar, foreshadowing the anguish to come. Exhilarating, it’s suggestive of outback space and tropical heat and melancholic veranda conversations.

The next surge is when Peter “Lucky” Luscombe’s drums kick in with an electrifying jolt at, “I guess the brothers are driving down from Queensland and Stella’s flying in from the coast”. Although I was drawn to the song upon its release, and taught it (and Radiohead’s “Karma Police”) to year 10 classes, it was our move to England early this century when it took a profounder hold.

Kerry and I each took ten CD’s with us and Paul Kelly’s Greatest Hits- Songs from the South was the first I packed along with Jeff Buckley’s Grace and The Beatles’ Revolver. Settling happily into a village rhythm I’d cycle home on Fridays post-pub, and put it on in our townhouse after the dark had already stolen through our patio windows.

At this moment I’d then fly homeward, down across the land and ocean. Its melodic panorama contrasted with the claustrophobic British winter and the unforgivable 4pm nightfall. We spent a first European Christmas in Madrid, freezing under a pale sun far, far from Australia’s burnt dirt.

I’d only considered it as a stand-alone song until I read this from the singer: “I’m sort of aware where certain songs are written a few years apart from each other – ‘To Her Door,’ then ‘Love Never Runs on Time’ and ‘How to Make Gravy’ – I’ve got a feeling it’s the same guy. He keeps coming back.”

Here Kelly’s created a fictional universe, or at least some intertextuality, especially as the line, “Tell ’em all I’m sorry, I screwed up this time” indicates a wider backstory, an extended narrative, featuring our central character and his wife Rita.

Hay Plains

And what of that famous recipe for gravy?

“It’s a real recipe of my first father in law, which he used and which I still use. When I make gravy for my family, that’s the recipe that I use, and now they always make me, make the gravy. It’s my job now (laughs). When I made up the song it wasn’t my job but it is now. Sometimes art influences life or the other way around.”

I love how the song’s acknowledged with today, December 21, declared national Gravy Day. There’s even a hashtag- #GravyDay.

A portrait of timeless Australia, it’s as evocative as the timber pylons of the Port Willunga jetty; a backyard cricket match; the ribbon of road unrolling across the Hay Plains.

As our boys splash about in the twinkling pool on Christmas morning, and I sneak my first piece of ham I anticipate that plaintive strumming and forlorn slide guitar and hearing, yet again, Joe’s confessional.

 

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In 1994 Bobby Bowden and I did a Contiki tour of New Zealand

canterbury

In early 1994 old Kapunda mate, Bob Bowden and I went to New Zealand. Of course it was illegal back then to not undertake a Contiki tour so you could travel to exciting, distant lands, meet fellow Australians, and spend your evenings in exotic pubs arguing about footy, cricket and which state made the best pies.

In a shameless attempt to impress the locals I took a range of Canterbury clothing with me, including this, the timelessly stylish top known as an “Ugly.”

RFB in Auckland

Here’s Bob on a windy hill overlooking Auckland in his Kapunda Bombers- themed red and black outfit proving again that the 1990’s is not as hideous, fashionistically, as the 1980’s. If it were Brownlow night a reporter would ask Bob, “And who are you wearing?”

If you peer at the cricket ground in the middle distance you’ll see Sir Richard Hadlee, smirking up at us, for no good reason.

place name

Upon returning to Kimba my Year 9 English class was decidedly unimpressed when I included this Kiwi place name in their first spelling test for 1994.

glacier

A highlight was ascending and then descending, perilously, the South Island’s Fox Glacier. Although my GS Chappell floppy cricket hat came in useful that day, there is no truth that a sudden hail storm gave it its first and last wash in over thirty years.

This hat is now tragically banned from all overseas travel. It can not be issued a visa.

backyard

I’m forever indebted to David, the English bloke on the left, who pointed at the grim base of Fox Glacier and quoting a classic British comedy said to me, “See that freezing death trap over there? That’s your backyard in summer, that is.”

toga!

What trip to the hotspot of Queenstown is complete without a toga party? Toga! Toga!

As Doug Neidermeyer declares in Animal House, “And most recently of all, a “Roman Toga Party” was held from which we have received more than two dozen reports of individual acts of perversion SO profound and disgusting that decorum prohibits listing them here.”

NB- my boatshoes as worn in Rome 34BC.

sheep dog statue

While we didn’t see any sheep statues- no, seriously- we did spot this bronzed sheep dog who refused to fetch the stuck stick I threw.

spoofy

Our tour finished in Christchurch by which time Bob and I had introduced our travel mates to the ancient art of Spoofy. A game of chance using three coins the loser has to buy all the participants a beer. The UN should use it as a diplomatic strategy to resolve international tensions.

In fact , I think Bob Hawke once did.

This was a quarter of a century ago. Time to return methinks.

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Pub Review: the Magpie and Stump, Clare Valley

 

front of pub
Geometrically, I think the lawn’s a trapezium but I might be wrong.

Either way, it’s a Clare Valley garden, which just happens to come with its own pub!

There’s slate tables on the grass; umbrellas on bases- although the spring breeze means these are tethered lest they launch toward an unsuspecting vineyard or throbbing Harley; and two fire buckets embedded in imposing circular structures as if they’ve come from a 1970’s playground, or a Texan mechanic’s barbeque.

fire bucket

We’re at one of my favourite places on the planet: the Magpie and Stump.

Last year we sulked pub-ward suffering afresh from the Crows’ grand final defeat, hoping schnitzel might sooth our spirits. Spooked, Mozz uttered, “It’s quiet. Too quiet.”

The pub was shut.

And had been for some months.

But in 2018 new owners have flung open the doors- this sudden change in fortune is called peripeteia by the Greeks- and I’m thrilled. Shaking mine host Paul’s hand, he explains he’s expecting seventy for lunch. He adds that, “We did 700 meals over the June long weekend.” I peek in the kitchen en route to the bar and see four chefs: all busier than a one-legged man in an arse-kicking competition.

Our entourage takes up residence at a generous garden table. Having consulted the pub’s website, I know $15 jugs of Coopers Session Ale are waiting. At my urgings Bazz and Mozz enlist. “Go on,” I say, “it’ll be funny.”

lawn

The bar-keep seems unimpressed by my digital espionage but honours the offer. There’s wine and cider for the others and raspberry for the young fellas so we sit in the sun and speak of many people and places.

It’s perfect.

Most opt for the Stump burger, a challenging treat with meaty patties the size of small, beefy UFOs. The chips are crisp and tasty- this isn’t always a given- and come in those miniature wire baskets that could’ve been hocked from a Lilliputian fish shop.

Kath has salt ‘n’ pepper squid but it needs additional NaCl dusting. Flopping about with their iPods and assorted devices our male progeny orders nuggets. These are breathed in, instantly.

table 2

Post-lunch, the entertainment’s on under the veranda: a guitar and keyboard duo. Looking like an older Jack White the vocalist announces, “I’m Paul and this is Andy. Together, we’re known as Paul and Andy.”

They provide an afternoon of agreeable covers including our request for “Sweet Caroline.” Given the comprehensive demographic of the audience they ignore our plea for Frank Zappa and his 25-minute magnus opus, “Billy the Mountain.”

The pub staff are also congenial, even when one of our crew, Bazz attempting to assist, drops five glasses onto the table’s unforgiving slate. Disappointingly, only four break but the employee with upturned trouser cuffs laughs throughout his dustpan deed.

table 1

As the sun dips in the western sky we each get out three coins to engage in a few rounds of spoofy- known by my old mate Whitey as, “the free beer game.” Your correspondent enjoys complimentary cups.

We leave with some newly-minted stubby holders. However, these look better on display behind the bar as rolling them about in our mits, they’re, as Ian Chappell used to say, a bit thin. The cover of an old National Geographic would provide similar beverage insulation.

But it’d been a terrific Sunday on this fetching lawn and despite intermittent outages over the decades, the Magpie and Stump again powers on.

I urge you to enjoy its lawn soon.

stubby holder

 

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Pub Review: The Crown, Victor Harbor

 

chernobyl ferris wheel

If petite bread rolls deliver doughy joy then the frisson when these are also hot from the oven is seismic. Surely a clear sign of a caring god, or at least, reliable electricity.

This unexpected bliss began our Friday night meal at the Crown Hotel. Driving into Victor Harbor as the wide bay swims into happy view I wondered how our boys hadn’t been here previously for an extended visit yet had holidayed to the Bavarian Alps, artistic Left Bank in Paris and Murray Bridge’s world-class Bunyip.

Having checked-in at our caravan park digs and positively appraised the bunk beds, bouncy pillow and decidedly unappealing pool we drove to Warland Reserve with its twin pubs standing sentinel over the foreshore.

Upon presenting our boisterous trio at the bistro, the pub staff now appraised us silently and then did what I’d do which is to quarantine us in a marginalised corner away from the quiet, undeserving diners. In hospitality circles I’m sure this is some form of pre-emptive damage control. There was an American college football game on TV, but disappointingly it didn’t feature Purdue. It was Boise, Idaho’s finest.

bouncy pillow

Our boys were drawn instantly and they assured me, ravenously, to the salad and vegetable bar. It would’ve been easier to stop an aspiring reality television star (read: talentless, vacuous twit) from taking a selfie.

Pleasingly, their lemonades were served in sturdy plastic cups. You know, the coloured models that you used at your cousins’ place for cordial after you’d been running about or chucking rocks at your footy, now stuck at the top of a eucalypt.  

As a fan of haute cuisine Max chose the Italian Hawaiian Irish fusion. Unfortunately, when his ham and pineapple pizza and chips arrived, despite his father’s sobbing implorations, he was chock-a-block with hot bread rolls. I had the pizza on Saturday, save for the solitary bite Max had taken.

Boise was constantly handing the ball back to their opponents as they couldn’t get their passing or running games to fire. Out the window, and across the reserve I could see the lights of the amusements and the Ferris wheel.

I trusted that the compulsory mangy dog would be there, wandering and weeing and roaming about in a vaguely menacing way when we visited in the morning and like a drunk bookie, I forked over wads of cash to a carnie.

dinosaur

As a ten-year-old Alex is on the cusp of moving from kid’s meals to adult portions, and this causes me emotional if not fiscal despair. But tonight, he’s happy to tackle the nuggets and chips.

When served they’re not the traditional ones shaped as rectangles or ovals: these are in the form of dinosaurs confirming what archaeologists having been telling us forever which is that if we visit Jurassic Park, take down a T-Rex, and cook it, it will, of course, taste like chicken. He inhales them as if he’ll soon need the energy to outrun a velociraptor.

Continuing our involuntary theme of transmogrified chicken my Kiev arrives. It’s been a while and my excitement had risen, like that of a rooster when sunrise is imminent over the henhouse.

chernboyl

While the Ukrainian geography of my chook was nebulously accurate I think its origins were not in Kiev but more precisely 142 kilometres to the north of the capital in Chernobyl.

I suspect the meal may have come directly from reactor number 4 itself. How else to explain the impossibly dry and disastrously crunchy properties, other than thermonuclear accident?

I felt especially sorry for the cold garlic butter that had presumably been once trapped in this poor poultry, all trace now gone, doubtless a victim of irradiation’s cruel physics. I may have been better off with the amusement park hound.

Luckily, I hadn’t downloaded a Geiger counter app to my phone or it would’ve now been clicking away like a barn full of tap-dancers, attempting a world record.  

Still, we all survived and retired to our cabin. The footy was about to start and the weekend was upon us. We were in front.

Afterall, we’d had hot bread rolls.

crown-hotel-victor-harbor-SA-5211

 

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Finally, some Japanese poetry honouring the beer fridge

BF 2

Haiku is a noble yet tiny poetic form. It combines natural imagery, brevity and ancient timelessness, and was made famous by the seventeenth-century master, Matsuo Bashō.

Here’s his finest-

Flower
Under harvest sun- stranger
To bird, butterfly

Blowing stones
Along the road to Mount Asama,
The autumn wind.

Moon-daubed bush-clover-
Ssh. In the next room
Snoring prostitutes.

nature

See. Gorgeous natural imagery including the flower, butterfly, autumn wind and snoring prostitutes.

*

We’re the same, you and me. While there’s lots to celebrate in this fine, bursting world, big gaps have opened up.

Time to plug these, for everyone’s sake.

As I see it a dangerous cultural chasm exists with the shameful lack of ancient Japanese poetry promoting the unreconstructed joy that is the humble beer fridge.

BF 1

Thanks to them internets old mate Greg and I ended this tragic chapter last night while in different parts of our nation, watching distinguished haiku inspiration, Animal House.

Thinking haiku: think toga party and Bluto Blutarsky.

I suggest you print the following and put ‘em up on your beer fridge, alongside the kids’ finger-paintings. The sense of peace and artistic bliss will be all yours.

And then crack open a Kirin lager and toast our old mate, Matsuo Bashō.

BF 3

Under moonlit night
Stubby holder on white shelf
Beer fridge

Beer fridge empty
Actually not so empty
Carlton Cold

Full fridge
Thirsty as buggery
All XXXX

Beer fridge dies
Ale warming
Within and without, light’s off.

MB

2

Galveston and me

 

postcard

In New York City I thought about two novels. I was eager to explore Central Park and within its savannah we took in the summery games on Heckscher Ballfields and weaved around the picnickers sprawling in the sultry heat.

Of interest was The Pond given the fascination this held for Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye. He was inquisitive as to where the ducks went during the frozen winter, and like many teenagers was troubled about his future and our shared vulnerabilities. I could picture Holden watching his sister Phoebe on a carousel, tears streaming at the happiness he’d finally found.

Nearby on 5th Avenue is The Plaza Hotel. Hosting the toxic quarrel between Gatsby and Tom in Scott Fitzgerald’s famous savaging of selfishness, The Plaza’s a grand building in this swirling city. Seeing it amplified the novel for me, and I could almost hear Daisy protest from up in one of the elegant suites, “You want too much!”

However, there’s an ignored American town in which I’d love to immerse myself while contemplating another significant work. My favourite intertextuality: locale and music.

Galveston.

The opening line is as euphoric as any sung. At, “Galveston, oh Galveston” we’re elevated by the combination of soaring string-section, guitar and Glen Campbell’s impossibly-honeyed voice. This proclamation is so joyous, so devout; it’s an irresistible invitation but also a prologue and an epilogue. Then, of course, there’s darkness to follow.

Galveston picture

Jimmy Webb’s genius presents as achingly exquisite simplicity. In three lines he engrosses us with evocative place, love and foreshadowed dread. And this is it: an entire story, captured haiku-like with all the fictive elements required for a comprehensive saga, or epic cinema.

I still hear your sea winds blowing
I still see her dark eyes glowing
She was twenty-one, when I left Galveston

The lyrics are almost deceptive with their innocent rhyme and sparse vocabulary. Here the repetition of the adverb still conveys the protagonist’s endless torture and hauntedness. We wonder if he’ll ever return. His torment is ours, too.

Galveston record

Debate centres on the historical context. Is Webb referencing the American Civil War, the Vietnam War, or the Spanish-American war?

while I watch the cannons flashin’

While of interest to those with a military bent, the superior reading is that it’s any war, and indeed, every war.

“Galveston” is an anti-war declaration, but there’s a deeper premise at play. Ultimately, it’s pro-love, pro-life and celebratory. Our main character is a soldier, so hopeful, so eager to re-embrace his former world’s vitality that this amplifies his terror. He misses his girl, home town and old life. As we all would. He wants to live well.

The sonic qualities intensify this triumph with strings by the Wrecking Crew that are majestic; stirring; elemental. These lift the song ever-skywards, investing it with golden light. Tellingly, they’re only silent in the instrumentation when Campbell sings, “I am so afraid of dying” and their omission here bequeaths the necessary desolation.

sea bird

Then there’s the remarkable vocal performance. With perfect phrasing it’s Sinatra-like, while displaying an enveloping, earthy warmth, and a weighty authenticity. Campbell is both the central figure and also each of us, and like a Sampras backhand, a Richard Ford sentence, or a Barossa Shiraz, there’s an outward effortlessness that leaves you sunny, but also gasping at the beauty within.

Along with “Wichita Lineman” and “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” Webb set these in decidedly unregarded parts of America, for he considered it best to lyrically escape the famed metropolises. The world agreed. While this particular tune uses an inconsequential resort town it speaks timelessly. The cycle’s other towns in Kansas and Arizona are now invested with an imaginative, cultural gravity. These owe Webb and Campbell.

Common across these is dislocation. They feature a man who’s someplace else; jettisoned and in disequilibrium. Briefly but profoundly, we’ve glimpsed the characters’ lives at a nexus. Do we dare guess at how they turned out? Did he get back to Galveston? Did he again experience those sea winds?

How is all this achieved in one hundred and eleven words? When the vocals are done in two minutes? It seems a bigger song: more Guernica than minimal art.

Our youngest, partly primed for his musical voyage by his Dad’s captaincy, has, in the bath and while getting dressed for school, started singing snippets of “Galveston.” In time, I reckon he’ll also want to come on our literary tour to this minor Texan town.

Locale and music.

We’ll stand on that windswept shore by the Gulf of Mexico and imagine lives other than our own.

Galveston music