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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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Billy the Mountain

FZ

I sing best when by a washing machine.

Half way across Australia. The farming hamlet of Kimba. Late on a Tuesday. It often was. At that time, no night was safe. Bazz, Hen and I wedged into the laundry, and warbling along with Frank Zappa.

A mountain is something
You don’t wanna fuck with
You don’t wanna fuck with
Don’t fuck around

Stripping precious bushels from the wheat, our voices pranged out across the paddocks. The adult in charge was Coopers Sparkling Ale. Of course, Bazz, Hen and I have been mates ever since.

I first heard Zappa at Bushy Martin’s one summer down at Sellicks Beach. It was Joe’s Garage on vinyl, exhilarating and just a bit dangerous. Here was sophisticated, funny music coupled with contagious lyrics, especially on “Why Does It Hurt When I Pee?”

Much of my pop culture schooling came on Sunday nights through The Coodabeen Champions. During one episode the best Frank Zappa song was debated. They agreed.

I raced into Rundle Mall, and bought Just Another Band From LA. Inspecting the cartoonish cover, I see “Billy the Mountain” runs for roughly thirty minutes. Epic songs have always bewitched me with their wide landscapes. Empty roads, awaiting traffic.

The storytelling and amusing arrangements make it a masterpiece. Part travelogue and romantic comedy, it opens in Los Angeles, tumbles through Playa Del Rey, Santa Monica, and Canoga Park, before lurching across the Mojave Desert, to The Strip

It’s off to Las Vegas
To check out the lounges
Pull a few handles,
And drink a few beers.

It also functions as an opera and a radio play, with Zappa and cult vocal duo Flo and Eddie alternating as narrators. On a vacation paid for by postcard royalties, our mobile mountain Billy, and his wooden wife Ethell are heading, seismically, to New York.

The heroic pair travel west to east, annihilating various human environments, in a deviant Manifest Destiny. Edwards Air Force Base is an early, delicious target

TEST STAND #1 and THE ROCKET SLED ITSELF… (We have ignition!)… got LUNCHED! I said LUNCHED!

When I lived just north of London in the old Roman city of St Albans, it was a Zappa-free zone for two years. Mammoth in charisma and personal impact, I missed this song. So, in 2005 I had a mate home in Adelaide copy my CD, and send it to me.

Driving down to New Forest’s heathland, the wife and I listened to it one Friday. It provided happy escape from the cheerlessness of the M25 and M3. A universe distant from soggy Hampshire

He was born next to the beef pies,
Underneath Joni Mitchell’s autographed picture,
Right beside Elliot Roberts’ big Bank Book,
Next to the boat
Where Crosby flushed away all his stash.

Mentioning American emblems such as Jack-In-The-Box and Howard Johnsons, this magnum opus inspires me to drive an El Dorado Cadillac and shop at Ralph’s. Just like The Dude in the beginning sequence of The Big Lebowski. To a country boy from South Australia, it’s profoundly panoramic.

Remember the soaring coda of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young’s “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes?” It’s parodied on “Billy the Mountain.” A key sonic motif is the stab from The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and the structure reminds me of “Peter and the Wolf.”

It’s eclectic, as Toto (the dog, mercifully, and not the band) and the tornado from The Wizard of Oz, are juxtaposed with Jerry Lewis samples. Remarkably, all recorded live at UCLA!

Satirising the antihero, a blundering Studebacher Hoch, Zappa’s darts are sharpest on overzealousness, and fawning ignorance, especially in Hoch’s introductory monologue

and, ah, how’s your wife’s haemorrhoids? Oh, that’s too bad… Listen… so you’ve got a mountain, with a tree, listen, causing… oh, my! Well, let me write this down . . . sorta take a few notes here… yeah… ?

The song’s Dadaist, its anarchistic storyline urging anti-war sentiment during its elongated loopiness. But, it’s also debauched, ridiculous, and hilarious.

And, of course, it takes a brutal intellect to invent such fun.

We don’t live in a global village. Mostly, we reside in a culturally identical village, repeated globally. Zappa fought this, and “Billy the Mountain” is musical theatre of prodigious ambition, and equal achievement. It’s among the most engrossing, most weird half hours you can spend.

I often think of being by that washing machine, in its tiny laundry, when three friends squawked out into the undeserving Tuesday dark, with America’s wittiest commentator, Frank Zappa.

A mountain is something
You don’t wanna fuck with
You don’t wanna fuck with
Don’t fuck around