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Wherein I describe recent, joyous photographs of personal note

Now many of you are looking forward to spring but let me remind you that it begins on September 21 or at a pinch, 22. It is ridiculous that here in Australia our media treats us as if we’re so moronic that we need the seasons to change on the first day of the relevant month. It’s as if the words ‘solstice’ and ‘equinox’ are deemed too difficult for our antipodean bonces.

At the end of this month you’ll be subjected to a newsreader saying to the weather presenter, ‘And so Kylie/Jane/Blonde Chicka what’s the forecast looking like for the first day of spring?’ At this you must holler back at the screen like a deranged, mad as hell type, ‘Please, spare me this continuing nonsensical attack! I deserve better!’

Of course, this introduction bears no relationship to the celebratory theme of my post, but never mind.

Josh Pyke is our best poet/singer. Calm down, Paul Kelly is great but he’s our premier storyteller. I would argue that Josh anchors a song in a central metaphor with subtle, unequalled skill (‘The Lighthouse Song’ and ‘Sew My Name’ top this lengthy list). Claire and I saw him at The Gov one Friday and it was exquisite. We sat by the fireplace. Listen to ‘A Town That You’ve Never Been To.’ Go on.
Needing fresh air and unbroken dialogue, the boys and I tramped about Belair. An empty sky winter afternoon is among this life’s great invigorations. Especially when you have a large stick. Of course, we followed this hike with servo pies for all.
On a mystery excursion my lovely wife Claire took me through Magill Road’s murky nooks where we spied these. No, we didn’t buy one, as the use-by date was late 1976. But what a childhood treat when a man would drop a crate of these at the front door of our Kapunda house.
The Smiling Samoyed Brewery in Myponga. It was a luxuriating, diverting hour during our annual (sometimes bi-annual) Carrackalinga escape and from across the reservoir the sun bent at us through the windows.
I saw this on the wall at the Smiling Samoyed Brewery. I question the inclusiveness of the pronoun ‘our’ and trust you do too. A housemate put a ‘Joh for PM’ sticker on the bumper of my HQ Holden when I was at uni. I drove about for nearly a week before I noticed. My shame remains.
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Gough and The Whitlams: we’ll play chess and drink claret

I liked The Whitlams before I ever heard them.

How could I not enjoy a band named for this iconic leader, a man whose disgraceful 1975 dismissal interrupted Singing and Listening one Tuesday afternoon at Kapunda Primary School? The man whose perfect photo with Percy Jones hangs in the North Fitzroy Arms. I always bow at its altar.

“Gough” is my favourite Whitlams’ song and we played it at our wedding reception. It captures the wide-eyed awe I always felt about the man. I would’ve loved for Gough to, “Come over have dinner with me, we’ll play chess and drink claret.”

I’ve been wondering about other Australian Prime Ministers and how they might connect to music. It follows from a game I like to play when someone says something – generally a snappy, domestic phrase that could, with minor adjustment, be the title of a country music album. For example, Claire might yell out from the shower, “We’ve run out of shampoo!” That’s my cue and I’ll yell back in my terrible American accent,

And the nominations for best Country Album are: (dramatic pause and then I lean into the microphone) Running Out of Shampoo by Claire and The Cactus Girls!

Or I’ll remember that most vital chore as I scramble about Friday morning. The bins! Again, I then put on my imaginary black Stetson and announce to the imaginary music awards auditorium,

And the winner is: (another dramatic pause) Putting Out The Bins by Chester Pink and the Garbage Trucks. 

But which other PM moonlights in music?

John Howard and the Horrible Bowling Action for their (unlistenable) record A Dead Ball in Pakistan. We’ve all watched the video of JH harpooning one into the pitch just beyond his (doubtless) sensible fecking shoelaces.

Defending himself he later explained, “They had a ball that was basically the inside of a tennis ball with some white tape around it.” What? Sorry, Little Johnnie but that’s just backyard cricket as millions of us know it! It’s how I spent half a dozen summers with my mate Nick down at his Port Willunga beach shack.

(Bob) Hawkey and Singo – A Beer with Belle du Jour. I’m anticipating a Dolly and Kenny style duet here. The story goes that, back in 2000, Singo hadn’t bought Bob a gift for his 70th so gave him a share in his racehorse, Belle du Jour. The filly then won the Golden Slipper. To celebrate Singo famously shouted the bar at Rosehill. A karaoke hit.

Paul Keating (performs solo; no backing band tolerated) – Flogged with a Warm Lettuce, the follow-up to All Tip and No Iceberg. Its first single is the surprise indie smash, “I Wanna Do You Slowly.”

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The Whitlams’ leader is Tim Freedman and his sweetly sung songs of gentle optimism and suburban irony are Sunday barbeque joyous. Their best tunes also include ‘Melbourne’, ‘No Aphrodisiac’ and ‘You Sound Like Louis Burdett’ which was modified among my peers to honour the cult Adelaide oval curator Les Burdett.

At uni I once caught a bit of the Midday Show (probably having just arisen) when the preposterously coifed Ray Martin asked, “Who’s Australia’s greatest living politician?” His guest was Gough and he waited with faultless theatrical effect before replying with his very E. G. Whitlam vowels, “Well, Ray, I can tell you who the second greatest is.”

We’re going to see The Whitlams tonight at The Gov’s early show. They’re on stage at 6.30 so we’ll be home just after sundown for hot chocolate and a (shared) digestive biscuit. As we slide into the weekend I’ll be humming,

It’s for you Gough, you Gough, you Gough

Edward Gough Whitlam

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Friday’s for funerals, Saturday’s for brides: Tex, Don and Charlie

tex

As an unreconstructed country boy, I love a stubby holder. So, last night at Adelaide’s premier live music pub, the Gov, my pace accelerated as I approached the merchandise table.

T-shirts. CDs. Vinyl. Yes, yes. What’s this? Coffee mugs. Fair enough, but where’s the stubby holders? Then I saw it. A linen rectangle. A Tex, Don and Charlie tea towel. Ah, my first ironic tea towel. I considered. I could, I guess, use it to dry my Wagga Wagga souvenir spoon (ironically purchased too).

Tex Perkins has a massive voice, an instrument of booming sonics and attack. Doubtless, others could tell me if it’s a baritone or bass, but I do know the timbre is entrancing. If human voices can possess a narrative then this one plots panther danger, underworld trickery and tropical heat. It reminds me of Captain Beefheart, and those monochrome images of Bikini Atoll or Maralinga nuclear blasts. When singing, he doesn’t adopt the central personas so much as become possessed by them.

Fittingly, we’re in a pub for these are pub tales, and my only regret is we’re not suspended on stools, in a wobbly circle, and nodding over beers at our sage raconteurs. The songs of Tex, Don and Charlie have incontestable gravity and lonely geographies. The music slinks through inner-city grime, but mostly slouches in the dust and dusk north of the Tropic of Capricorn, and owes a debt to the 1950’s and our cheerful beginnings of despair.

Don Walker sits at his keyboard, his silver mane flopping in time, while his voice is a diverse instrument. At its most intimate it absorbs and pacifies, but in the upper register, it can fall into Willie Nelson parody. His gifts are his words and his stories, and in these rests an unrushed economy, and a vernacular deep with hot tears, smiles and snug hearts. Beyond “Flame Trees” he wrote “Harry Was A Bad Bugger.” Don’s an icon.

Phantasms drift about the Gov, and I think of Tom Waits and his tunes, all swarthy menace and ragged swagger. I think of Bruce Dawe and his depictions of rural lives, wrecked. Spinifex and scrub. Lyrical and parched places; ferocious light, sky. There’s landscapes in the soundscape. I think of romping observation, but also agedness and its introspection, prowling upon me.

Into this evening, I imagined Charlie Owen’s guitars. Plaintive acoustic, spiralling lap steel, his elegiac electric. Barely speaking, but with boyish enthusiasm, he paints our stage. With splashes of surf, we move along his removed beach. As if to counter these sparse yarns, and our collective flouting down at the dread, his strings urge the joy of the quiet minutes.

I come away into the windy midnight troubled and exhilarated by cold grey Saturdays; brokenness; Tex’s denim jacket bouncing like a St Kilda uniform; the black and white tableau of a double bassist; mosquito nets; sharks at funerals; Elvis; deliciously tired and unfussy drumming; eulogies; paychecks and gratitude.

spinifex

 

 

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The Dude and Dinosaur Jr.

 

been

In my pocket my phone buzzed. A message. Trev.

I’m up front watching J. Mascis…His left hand up the neck of his telecaster is like a bionic crab!

On a stormy Thursday evening the weather is Singaporean heavy and portentous. Trev, Matty and I are at The Gov, Adelaide’s best live music pub. American indie band Dinosaur Jr. is playing. We’re at the back of the room and we’re feeling the fuzzy guitar.

Like a 1990’s disaster film- doubtless featuring a frowning Tommy Lee Jones- we’re pummelled by cataclysmic forces. However, it’s not an indiscriminate assassin, it’s a benevolent god: a ’63 Fender Jazzmaster. It’s the star of the show.

Later, I squeeze my way up the front too. I’m only a few feet from the stage. With his long hair- Trev calls him the “Grey Ghost”- eyes closed and expressionless dial, he reminds me of the Dude from The Big Lebowski.

dude

And here’s a key. He appears utterly uninterested; he’s not even in the room with us. He’s home in Massachusetts thinking of making a cuppa tea, yet he’s generating that unique sound- soaring yet distorted, joyfully immaculate and also hovering just above swirling noise. It’s a magic carpet. It’s why we’re here.

A highlight is “Start Choppin’” from their breakthrough set Where You Been. It remains among my favourite album art. I didn’t know the band when in 1993 I first saw the CD in Big Star Records on Rundle Street, but it spoke of a weird world: all misshapen darkness and bizarre humour. It looked fun.

And here’s another key to their appeal. Mascis sings with a whining, drawling, nasal voice. A bit Neil Young, but without any commitment. He’s telling you a story, but doesn’t think you can be bothered to listen. He expects you to walk off as he’s mid-story. Maybe to make a cuppa tea. Again he reminds me of The Dude.

The Dude: Mr. Treehorn treats objects like women, man.

Malibu Police Chief: Mr. Treehorn draws a lot of water in this town. You don’t draw shit, Lebowski. Now we got a nice, quiet little beach community here, and I aim to keep it nice and quiet. So let me make something plain. I don’t like you sucking around, bothering our citizens, Lebowski. I don’t like your jerk-off name. I don’t like your jerk-off face. I don’t like your jerk-off behaviour, and I don’t like you, jerk-off. Do I make myself clear?

The Dude: [after a pause] I’m sorry, I wasn’t listening.

Dinosaur Jr. perform melodic, simple songs that pioneered the loud/quiet dynamic that’d become the sonic signature of grunge. “Feel The Pain” and “Out There” elevate the crowd too, and the last song of the encore “Gargoyle” closes with a meandering, enthralling guitar solo that’s at once cosmic, searing and euphoric.

And there’s J. Mascis, barely aware of his battered axe, more relaxed than the Dude. He saunters off-stage. He’s mumbled about five words all night.

Walking to my car a fellow Dinosaur Jr. fan passes me. He’s in the middle of the road. He’s riding a Malvern Star bike. It’s a tick after midnight. No helmet, no lights, no hands.

Superb.

j