To All The Bands I’ve Loved Before

I’ve seen plenty of bands in my time.  Some great, some not so great.  (And, truth told, I’ve been in bands that fit both those descriptions.)  I’ve been sunburned, sodden, too hot, too cold, too tall and too short.  Sometimes I’ve been moved to sing along at the top of my lungs (only to be reminded by others that it wasn’t me they’d paid good money to hear.)  I’ve sacrificed sneakers and, possibly, my hearing, all for the pleasure of live music.  It was worth it.  Even now, the distinctive squelching sound of a shoe stepping on a beer-laden strip of Axminster sends a sense of nostalgia surging through my veins.  As interactions go, there’s nothing quite like a live musical performance.

My first encounter with live music was – if I’m being honest – probably at church.  That said, whilst it was undoubtedly live music, it was far from lively.  In fact, if I’m being completely honest, it was probably far closer to death than life.  Driven either by piano or organ, the congregation emitted a tuneless, joyless droning sound that swallowed whole anything resembling a melody.  Those who could sing didn’t stand a chance.  But despite its general tunelessness (definitely a word), at least singing was encouraged.  Given the results, though, that encouragement would have been better directed towards getting singing lessons.

Most of the congregants considered singing an unnatural act performed on Sundays as a form of cosmic punishment.  Atonement, if you will.  Mostly, they didn’t sing during the week and it really showed.  The hymn numbers were listed on a board beside the pulpit like lotto results and I would check the hymnal as soon as we were seated, hoping to be surprised or delighted.  It rarely happened.

The first live music performance that blew my mind clear off my shoulders occurred when I was about four years old.  Daryl Somers made an appearance at the Mornington Shopping Centre and it was pure awesomeness.  From a grand entrance that involved running down the up escalator, to throwing out chewing gum to an adoring audience; his explosive energy could have powered a village.  I’m not sure if I even knew who he was then.  I doubt very much that Daryl Somers remembers appearing at the Mornington Shopping Centre, but I, for one, will never forget it.

It’s awkward when you’re a teenager.  Not only do you have to suffer through a tidal wave of hormones, pimples and other hideous changes, it’s the moment that you develop a passion for live music, only to discover the bands you like only play in pubs.  I have friends who claim that from their early teens, they’d sneak out at night and manage to get into licensed venues to see the musical groups they loved, but that was never me.  Growing up in Tyabb meant it’d be a three-day hike just to get to a licensed venue.  Even when I was eighteen, I rarely got past the bouncer.  Something about my shoes not being up to scratch…

As seeing music in a licensed venue was out of the question, it meant that live music could only be experienced at all ages gigs.  Granted, the history of music is full of legendary bands who’d go out of their way to put on ‘all ages’ shows to ensure their loyal fans didn’t miss out, but I can’t recall any of them getting down to the Mornington Peninsula.  The only all-ages gigs available to me were connected to the local church youth group.  These bands – often American, always wholesome – played big venues like Festival Hall and it was the first time I’d experience that kind of volume.  To hear music is one thing.  To feel it is something different altogether.

There’s something powerful about a shared experience.  It’s a communion, if you will, not just between band and audience but between members of the audience.  It’s an amazing thing.  I’ve seen The Flaming Lips walk across an audience in a giant space bubble.  I’ve barely seen Damien Rice at all because he likes to keep the lighting to a minimum, presumably to keep costs down.  And I’ve seen You Am I more times than I can count in venues big and small.

I especially love an intimate gig.  I remember watching, spellbound, as Rufus Wainwright played to a small group of people in a basement.  And, earlier this year, we went to see Canadian folk-rock legends, ‘The Burning Hell’ play in a tiny venue in Northcote.  We were so close that we were practically sitting in with the band.  Which was all well and good until we ordered dessert and the only way the waitress could deliver it was walk through a saxophone solo.  It’s awkward, I think, when a band dedicates the next song to your Affogato.

Then there’s the experience of playing live music to an audience.  Two weeks ago, we played at the local folk club.  It was a theme night with the theme being ‘heavenly bodies’.  We decided to write our own song, which we called ‘The Lonely Planet’ about the seventh planet from the son, Uranus.  We’d never played to an audience before and the audience had never heard it before.  But they laughed.  And at the end they cheered.  And we felt a sense of exhilaration that’s almost impossible to describe.  Music is, without doubt, the food of love.  Probably an Affogato.

Call Me Email (Emoji Wizz This Is Awkward)

Uh oh.  This has trouble, if not written all over it, then at least in the form of a small symbol.  They look so friendly.  Harmless even.  But nothing could be further from the truth.  One slip of the mouse and you might as well start packing your personal belongings into a small cardboard box.  The difference between triumph and catastrophic disaster has never been so fine.  So precarious.  So colourful.  I speak, of course, of the ‘emoji’ function on the emails at work.

I’ll admit I’m something of a novice when it comes to the emoji.  As best as I can tell, it’s a mysterious subculture that outsiders like myself struggle to make sense of.  On one level, it’s very simple – an emoji smile means you’re happy, just like a regular smile.  An emoji thumbs up is indistinguishable from any other thumbs up, save for the Simpsonesque colour and it has the same basic meaning.  But there’s another, more disturbing level where nothing is as it seems.  This is especially the case when it comes to fruit and vegetables.  An eggplant is no mere aubergine.  Which is disappointing if you’re a fan of eggplant moussaka (and, let’s be honest, who isn’t?).  And that’s just the tip of the iceberg lettuce.

I’ve barely used an emoji in my life.  Put simply, brevity is not my strong suit.  I’d much rather write a small essay than send someone a little yellow face (or a not so yellow eggplant) to communicate my thoughts.  I’m most comfortable when I am showered in words.  The more the merrier.  But things are now moving beyond mere language.  As a species we’ve evolved from rudimentary cave paintings to language and back to rudimentary graphics, albeit on our phones rather than slapped onto a random piece of granite.  Emojis are the way of the future and it’s time to get on board. 

There’s no point resisting.  It won’t be like that time in 1990 when I declared that personal computers were a ‘fad’, that we’d all soon come to our senses and go back to using typewriters.   Not at all.  (And, if you’re curious, this piece was written on a Smith Corona SL 470 – I’m so glad that I purchase typewriter ribbon in bulk!)  Symbols are here to stay.  In fact, at some point I suspect they’ll replace words altogether.  Which would make for a shorter article.  Or, for that matter, a far more succinct novel.  Imagine Herman Melville’s ‘Moby Dick’ as an emoji.  Libraries could downsize to something more like a pantry.   

But the real problem with being able to send work colleagues an emoji is the risk that you might send them the wrong emoji.  That’s because they ‘smiley face’ emoji – which would absolutely be my emoji of choice in a work setting – has been placed right next to the ‘love heart’ emoji.  There is, I feel, a world of difference between a smiley face emoji and a love heart.  They’re not different points of the same scale.  But despite this world of difference, on the email system they’re right next to each other which means that you only have to sneeze at the wrong moment and, suddenly, HR’s involved.

I don’t care how much colleagues like my email reminding them to use the recycle bins, it won’t deserve a love heart emoji.  And I’d be horrified if, in responding, I missed the smiley face and hit the love heart instead.  By any measure, it would be an odd response to a spreadsheet with last quarter’s sale figures.

To be fair, I should have seen it coming.  For a while now, some of the platforms have allowed the use of ‘gifs’ – small pieces of footage that convey some kind of point, usually by appropriating a piece of pop culture ephemera that either delights or mystifies the people you work with.  Despite my lack of experience in the world of emojis, I am black belt at sending gifs. 

Selecting the right gif is harder than you think.  You’ve got to keep in light hearted without going so far as to insult anyone.  Typically, I like to find something from an old movie or television show to get my point across.  Sometimes it works.  Other times it proves that I’m older than many of those with whom I work and they have no idea what it is I’m talking about. 

When my gifs hit the mark, I receive a ton of ‘thumbs up’ emojis.  When they don’t, I receive nothing but silence and a wide-berth in the corridor.  There’s nothing quite like silence to age-shame you at work.

Change is the only constant.  It’s better to embrace it.  Already, I’ve deployed the emoji function in responding to emails.  To date, there have been no incidents of the love-heart variety.  That’s because of instead of flicking off a quick emoji, I approach emoji selection with all the dutiful care and preparation of a shuttle launch.  I’m sure that whoever decided to include emojis in emails thought they would save time, but I am determined to prove them wrong.

Frankly, it’s hard to keep up with rapidly changing social expectations.  It leaves me feeling fascinated but slightly apprehensive as to what the future may hold.  I don’t how else to describe that feeling, but I’ll bet there’s an emoji for it. 

Eurodud and the Collapse of Western Civilisation As We Know It

In a word: disappointed.  For better or worse (and it was definitely for the worse) I sat through the whole thing in a feat of endurance rivalled only by the ascent of Everest.  Possibly.  It was not a pleasant experience.  For whole chunks I was tied to a chair with my eyelids forcibly open like Malcolm MacDowell in ‘A Clockwork Orange’.  In short, it was tough going.  In long, I am yet to recover.

I’ve always loved Eurovision.  I like the colour, the culture, the fashion, the movement and the positivity.  Granted, I have mixed feelings about the music, which generally covers the full spectrum from ‘inspired’ (albeit in a fairly polite kind of way) through to a disaster on par with the Hindenburg, if the Hindenburg involved choreography and a rapped bridge section.  But this year’s Eurovision was sheer drudgery.  Even those involved looked bored beyond belief.

What used to be great about Eurovision was its pace.  If one entry coughed up a song that made your ears want to escape from your head and hide under the couch, they’d be replaced by another entry in moments.  You barely had time to make a cup of tea before the next act was on stage and (hopefully) producing something approximating music rather than inflicting a full-frontal assault on your ears.

The venue wasn’t ideal.  In a perfect world, the competition would have been held in Ukraine, given they won it last year, but as the world remains stubbornly imperfect it had to be relocated to Britain.  It’s a compromise, for sure, and one that’s understandable in the circumstances.  It’s ironic, though, that a competition designed to promote peace and harmony in Europe was transplanted to accommodate a war.  But of all the locations in Britain, why did they hold it in Westminster Abbey?

As venues go, Westminster Abbey isn’t very festive.  Whether it’s the seating, the lighting or the architecture, it’s not the kind of place that welcomes a glow-in-the-dark headband.  It’s too solemn.  I suspect any attempt to start a conga-line would be immediately shot down with a withering glance.  And the chairs are pointing the wrong way!  To have the seating turned in on itself is a rookie error of Titanic proportions.  Then there’s the matter of the host.

Graham Norton looks entirely different.  I don’t know what kind of work he’s had done, but he should definitely consider switching surgeons.  And his decision to wear a Jedi-inspired robe may have been a well-intentioned tribute to last year’s runner up, ‘Space Man’ by the amazing Sam Ryder, but it looked ridiculous.  And, if I’m honest, he was really flat the whole way.  No energy. 

I fear the wheels on the Eurovision dune buggy have fallen off – I watched for three hours during which time the only contestant I saw perform was from the United Kingdom.  Who’s in charge?  I hadn’t read much about Britain’s representative.  At first I assumed that the powers that be had finally surrendered and allowed Morrissey to perform.  But no, this was somebody named Charlie W.

Although I’m highly critical of this year’s Eurovision as a whole, credit where credit is due – his costume was pretty good, even if faintly ridiculous.  Whilst his performance can generously be described as glacial in nature, he did bring a bit of bling to the occasion.  Which, as any viewer of Eurovision knows, is essential.  Not that I entirely understood it.

Firstly, there was the bit where he wore a gigantic glove.  The commentators referred to it by name, but I’m going to call it the ‘Oven Glove of Destiny’.  White around the hand with a golden sleeve that tickled the elbow, it looked ideal for plucking a tray of chicken wings out of the oven.  It’s not what I’d choose to wear when singing, but each to their own.

After the Oven Glove of Destiny, Graham Norton handed the contestant a massive Ferrero Rocher and, unbelievably, Charlie W held it for a bit rather than peel away the golden wrapping to get to the chocolate within.  Maybe he didn’t want to share it.  But what could have been a show-stopping moment of chocolate-fuelled anarchy was, instead, a total letdown. 

Costume changes are a big part of Eurovision. Think of the epic performance of ‘Making Your Mind Up’ by Bucks Fizz in 1981 as just one example.  This year, Britain tried to take it further.  Part way through, the world’s most decrepit looking back up dancers shuffled onto stage with screens so the singer could undertake a costume change.  Put simply, it was lethargic.  The singer then emerged wearing a spectacular golden cape.  It wasn’t enough.

In the end, even a magical golden cape couldn’t save Britain.  Ultimately, it finished second last on a measly twenty-five points.  Only Germany fared worse.  I’m not entirely sure how.  Given I didn’t see them, I very much doubt Germany performed at all.  Better luck next year. 

I’m not sure what can be done to save Eurovision from itself.  Come back, Bucks Fizz.  All is forgiven.

The Marvin Gaye Karaoke Hellscape Revenge Plot

Sometimes you’ve got to commit yourself.  Granted, there’s a time for caution and a time for introspection, when keeping a low profile is, by far, the best course of action.  But at other times, caution should be a treated like a kite, thrown to the wind. Dignity and composure be damned.  Once in a while you’ve got to rise to the occasion like a phoenix from the ashtray.  For me, that moment came last Saturday night.  And it’s all thanks to Marvin Gaye.

 I’ve never been good at parties.  When it comes to myself, I’ve generally avoided them since I turned twelve and some friends and I went to see ‘ET: The Extra Terrestrial’.  I decided that night there was no way I could possibly top it and should retire.  Fact is, there’s not been a better birthday movie since.  I’m not sure I’m that great when it comes to other people’s birthdays either.  For some reason, I struggle to let myself go and surrender to the moment.  Instead, I try to attend without drawing too much attention to myself and leave (hopefully) without incident.  Until last week.

My girlfriend Katrina has twins who recently turned eighteen.  Finding a venue proved a challenge.  This was because a lot of places refuse to host an eighteenth birthday party.  We claimed that, because they’re twins, it was technically a thirty-sixth birthday party. This was unsuccessful.  Eventually, the local pub offered up a function room. 

Ryan and Conor are as funny and interesting and entertaining as you’d hope a pair of eighteen year olds could be.  Albeit they’ve lately taken to playing the music of Nickelback at every opportunity after becoming aware of my intense and passionate hatred for them (Nickelback, that is.  Not the twins).  Suffice to say, I can’t open the fridge without copping a blast of Nickelback for my troubles.  But this aside, they’re great company and they deserved to have this momentous milestone celebrated.  But they’re not the kind of guys who seek the limelight.  Accordingly, we’d need to bring the limelight to them.

We decided on karaoke.  I’m not sure if any other options were fully considered – it was always going to end up at karaoke.  I knew sitting quietly on the sidelines wasn’t going to be an option.  Despite my better judgment and a long history of feedback from others, I would need to commit myself to karaoke, for better or for worse.  But before tackling the weighty issue of song selection, there was even weightier issue of what to wear.

In normal circumstances, ‘what to wear’ would be a minor consideration.  By far and away, my main priority is to make sure each type of clothing – pants, shirt, socks, shoes etc – are represented in some form.  But parties are a different matter.  And, beyond that, karaoke is a law unto itself.  There’s a reason why contestants in the Eurovision Song Contest don’t just turn up in tracksuit pants and a pair of Ugg boots.  Songs are all well and good.  But it’s the presentation that really sells it.  You’ve got to dress for the occasion.

There’s only one thing to do when attending a karaoke-themed eighteenth birthday party – wear a tuxedo.  Luckily, I have a tuxedo and by dent of a minor miracle that ranks somewhere above turning water into wine but a notch below helping the blind to see, it still fit.  I was dressed to impress.  Although it soon became apparent that the suit had other effects.

When the ten year old spotted me after turning a corner in the hallway, he fell to the floor, clutching his sides with laughter whilst shouting ‘you look stupid’ by way of encouragement.  When we arrived at the venue, I was surprised how often guests told me their drink order, expecting I would fetch it for them.  As people handed me their soiled plates and napkins, it became clear people had mistaken me for a waiter.  There was only way one to disabuse them of that notion – sing.

Early in the evening, my name was called.  As I strode onto stage and clutched the microphone, it suddenly dawned on me that my choice of song – ‘Let’s Get it On’ by Marvin Gaye – was probably not what a group of reasonably shy eighteen year olds wanted to hear from an adult.  The same was true of our extended families, who looked on with the kind of horror usually reserved for a car accident.  To be fair, it was a song I chose only because my preferred choice – ‘Straight Outta Compton’ by N.W.A. – wasn’t available in karaoke form.

The boys resisted the urge to heckle and, ultimately, it fell to their mother to yell things at me as I did my best to do justice to an all-time soul classic.  They got their revenge a little later.  Without my knowledge, they put my name down to perform the song ‘Photograph’ by Nickelback.  I could hardly say no.  It suddenly dawned on me that I’d never heard more than the first six seconds because that’s about how long it takes me to turn off the stereo when it comes on.  I struggled through.  The results were a complete schmozzle.  Well played, Ryan and Conor.  Happy birthday.

Growing Up In Republic

In the end, I didn’t go.  Not for want of being invited but for a devastating lack of interest.  To quote Evan Dando of indie-rock cuddle toys, ‘The Lemonheads’, ‘what if something’s on TV and it’s never shown again?’  Ultimately, I didn’t need the hassle of travelling to Britain and back all for the sake of being bored witless.  It’s been said that the winter solstice is the longest night of the year, but anyone who thinks that has never seen a coronation.  Sorry, your Majesty, I simply can’t be bothered.

Luckily, I’m not the only one.  In fact, I join a fairly salubrious list of people to issue a polite but firm ‘no’ to the King.  Singers are steering clear, considering the event to be the poor cousin of the MET Gala.  Ed Sheeran, Adele, the Wiggles and what’s left of the Bay City Rollers have all decided to ‘fresh air’ the Monarchy.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Ted Nugent was the only one left. 

I can imagine Ted, bare-chest glistening in the sun and standing astride the steeple of Westminster Abbey whilst performing a thirty minute rendition of ‘Rule Britannia’ at maximum volume, having moments earlier hunted down a wild boar in Hyde Park with nothing but his hands and teeth.  It would, I feel, set the tone for the event.  Probably F-sharp.  But you never can tell with Ted – he’s unpredictable.   

The Palace was desperate for me to play.  So desperate, in fact, they said I could play anything I wanted for however long I liked.  I’ll admit I was incredulous.  To test their enthusiasm, I proposed a selection of Nickelback songs, starting with a rendition of ‘Photograph’ performed on nothing but coconut husks and an empty jam jar and they agreed with such unbridled eagerness that I thought I’d been misheard.  Only when I repeated myself and their fervour was wholly undiminished did I realize how much trouble they were in.

Whilst I’m sure I was at the top of their list, the cavalcade of refusals means they’ve had to invite people who’d otherwise never get a look in.  Still, it was a surprise to learn that our Prime Minister was invited.  Perhaps less surprisingly, he accepted.  Given that he’d just taken up an invite to attend Kyle Sandilands’ wedding, it’s clear that his threshold for accepting a free feed is not especially high.  That said, I believe our Prime Minister has been denied the opportunity to perform a ceremonial role, despite his generous offer to oversee the valet parking service and drive one of the complimentary shuttle buses.

I, on the other hand, had been pegged to play a far more significant role.  The job of official ‘Crown- cobbler’ is pivotal.  Although the title sounds a lot like a potential dessert, the ‘Crown-cobbler’ is solely responsible for making sure the King’s shoes are in good working order with fresh laces.  It was a job created following the disastrous crowning of George the Third after he turned up for his big day wearing a pair of Velcro Hush Puppies.

But I had to let Charles (or, as I call him, ‘Chuckles’) down.  Truth be told, I wasn’t just disinterested; I was hurt.  We’d been pals ever since ‘Rocking with the Royals’ at Hamer Hall in 1985.  He and his then-wife attended as honoured guests and I was there in my capacity as choirboy back up singer for ‘Kids in the Kitchen’.  It was inevitable that we’d bump into each other.  Although I was only a teenager at the time, I found his Majesty crying in a bathroom cubicle trying to figure out how to get the Velcro on his Hush Puppies to stick.  In that moment of crisis, I came to his aid and we’d been fast-friends ever since.

But sometimes, in the best interests of everyone, a friendship must come to an end.  Ours unraveled when I told Chuckles that I’d be wearing my gold coronation cape.  I’ve had it forever and I only wear for special events like the coronation of a major monarch or the Hastings Day Parade.  When Charles told me that he too was wearing a gold coronation cape and that I’d be shot on sight if I wore mine, I instantly decided that the time had come to cut him loose.

But it wasn’t just the cape that soured things.  He mumbled something about ‘swearing allegiance’ that I mistook as a reference to a guy in my under-11s football team, Lee Gent, whose entire vocabulary seemed to consist of profanities and is now a vacuum salesman living in the western suburbs of Melbourne.  Why the King of England was interested in swearing Lee Gent’s Hoover Caroline Springs was beyond me.  But then it hit me – with all the force of gold coronation cape – he wanted me to swear allegiance to the King.  After all we’d been through together, I felt insulted.

I refused to watch the telecast.  More than that, I’ve vowed to avoid using cash ever again in the hope of not having to set eyes on that cape-wearing, thunder-stealing, Hush Puppy-loving ingrate.  Now that I think about it, the entire thing seems kind of, well, faintly ridiculous.  The very idea of a king of anything is an outrageous notion from another age.  Enough is enough.  Monarch my words, if this doesn’t propel us headlong towards a Republic, nothing will.   

Lawn Free: Whipper Snippers for Beginners

Finally.  After decades of fitful perseverance and multiple failed attempts, I am happy to confirm that I have now, officially, completed my evolutionary journey.  Whereas a short time ago I was still struggling to grow a pair of metaphorical back legs, I am now up and running.  I am whole.  I am complete.  I am evolved.  More to the point, I am now the owner of a whipper snipper.

 This achievement requires context.  To fully appreciate the Himalayan scale of this accomplishment, you need to know that my family have previously forbidden me from owning a whipper snipper (and, for that matter, a robot vacuum and a chainsaw – honestly, you threaten to juggle a chainsaw once and, suddenly, you’re banned for life).  This is both an outrage because it impinges on my absolute right to own the whipper snipper of my choice; as well as being best for all concerned for health and safety reasons.  It’s not as though I don’t have form.

I blame my father.  Not just on this particular issue, but generally.  But amongst the menagerie of tools that are stuffed inside his shed, there’s not a whipper snipper to be seen.  In that sense, he was both whipperless and snipperless.  Not that we allowed the grass to do as it pleased.  Instead, it was kept under control by the type of ride-on lawnmower that Mad Max would be proud to call his own.  The yard was enormous – it took several days of mowing around the clock to get the job done, by which point the idea of moving on to the whipper snipper probably seemed intensely unappealing.  When you’re dealing with that kind of acreage, that level of precision seems kind of redundant.

So whilst I’m a dab-hand with a ride on lawnmower, I’ve never ever laid so much as a finger on a whipper snipper.  Until now.  With a change of circumstances and a new address, it quickly became clear that it was time to launch myself into, if not the abyss, then my local Bunnings.

Let me make this clear – I have a lawn mower.  It’s battery powered and – there’s no easy way to say this – I absolutely love it.  I adore the fact that there’s no need to carry a little petrol can to the service station.  I am relieved that it doesn’t require a spark plug, grease or anything else you might associate with an internal combustion engine.  It’s one of my all-time favourite appliances, right up there with the microwave and the silicon oven gloves I bought at Spotlight (mock me if you will, but until you’ve known the security and comfort of a silicon oven glove, you best keep your thoughts to yourself).

It was because I love my lawnmower so much that I decided to get a matching whipper snipper.  It was good idea.  Or, at least, it was a good idea in theory.

The first thing I learned about whipper snippers is that they’re not called whipper snippers anymore.  Rather, they’re called ‘line-trimmers’.  This is a sad turn of events.  A ‘whipper snipper’ sounds like something that sorts out your garden before giving you a soft serve ice-cream.  Whereas a ‘line trimmer’ sounds like a grooming device you deploy before a trip to the beach.  Or, worse still, like a pair of scissors you take to a line-dancing event. 

In a practical sense, it meant I had to stand around for ages with my phone trying to figure out if I was buying the right thing.  After several hours of research whilst in aisle seventeen, I eventually concluded that the terms ‘whipper snipper’ and ‘line trimmer’ were interchangeable.  What was somewhat less interchangeable, however, was the battery.

I had determined to buy the same brand as my mower.  Not only would the colours match, it’d also be more efficient as I could use the same battery.  Or so I thought.  Having brought my new ‘line trimmer’ home, I unpacked the box and assembled the contents after only thirty-seven hours of continuous labour.  This, for me, constituted a new record.  Then I attempted to connect the battery, before discovering that it was the wrong size.

Batteries, as it turns out, come in different sizes.  As the owner of no fewer than sixty-eight remote controls, I’m acutely aware of this generally, but it never occurred to me these rules applied to lawn care.  It is impossible to describe the level of frustration I felt at that moment.  Had I owned a small tin of petrol I would, doubtless, have splashed the contents over the line trimmer and set it on fire.  Just to teach it a lesson.  Instead, I had to slink back to the hardware store and ask for a battery.  I suspect they felt sorry for me.

In possession of the right-sized battery, I charged it before attaching it to the line trimmer / whipper snipper.  As I pulled the trigger, the thin nylon line began to whir as the engine roared to life.  I was then asked by girlfriend, Katrina, whether I would mind taking it outside.  Being a cooperative person, I reluctantly obliged.

Nothing can describe the pure exhilaration I felt as I wielded the line trimmer like Arthur’s Excalibur, subduing the unruly edges of my front lawn.  I may well add ‘whipper snippering’ to my resume.   Right under ‘fully evolved’.

The Big Bendigo Crock of Ages Quest

It was an epic weekend, one that tested my patience, my sanity and my navigational skills.  Over the course of two days, I was pushed to the absolute limit, before being dangled over the precipice for an extended period as my knuckles turned white.  Looking back, I’m not sure how I survived.  Having seen ‘The Sixth Sense’ several times, I’m not entirely sure if I survived.  That’s because I spent a whole weekend watching sport.  In Bendigo.

I’m not really a sports fan.  I realize that’s an odd thing to say, but I’m profoundly averse to investing emotionally in something over which I have absolutely no control.  Plus, as a kid I went to the football with my father and witnessed firsthand the kind of emotional mayhem that comes with supporting the Essendon Football Club and it put me off the idea for life.  But some are born to sport.  Others have sport thrust open them.  That’s how I ended up in Bendigo.

I realize that some people will be drawn to speculate as to which sport I devoted my entire weekend.  Darts?  Polo?  Or some kind of revolutionary combination of both darts and polo that sees riders hurl small metal missives at each other as they canter from one end of the paddock to the other?  Unfortunately not.  Instead, I went to watch soccer.  Played by ten year olds.

I know.  The first thing about watching soccer in the company of other people who really, really like soccer is that you mustn’t, under any circumstance, call it ‘soccer’.  In fact, calling it ‘soccer’ – even if only by accident – is the quickest way to reveal that you’re a total and utter fraud.  Rather, the beautiful game must at all times be referred to as ‘football’. 

We were attending a soccer / football tournament somewhere north of Bendigo.  As we travelled, Liam celebrated his tenth birthday in the backseat of the car by confiscating my phone and selecting a playlist.  The results were not so much musical as they were harrowing.  Before our trip, I’d heard the name ‘Bo Burnham’ in passing.  Now I hope never to hear it again.  Ever.

We drove through town whilst being tailgated by a large, white Mercedes driven by a lady with massive sunglasses and even bigger hair.  Clearly, she’d travelled up from Melbourne.  According to Katrina, who was navigating, we were nearing our destination.  Then, without warning, I saw the words: ‘Bendigo Pottery’.  It was a sign.  Albeit one that just said ‘Bendigo Pottery’ but a sign nevertheless.  Finally, I could redeem myself.

My parents owned a bread crock from Bendigo Pottery.  I’ve no idea why.  A ‘bread crock’ is, as names go, about half right.  In essence, it was a giant ceramic jar with a lid in which you stored your bread.  Occasionally, bread would go into the bread crock and return in a state I can only describe as ‘green and furry’.  The only thing worse than owning a bread crock, though, is owning a slate floor.

I was ten at the time.  Instead of playing soccer (I mean ‘football’) I was playing ‘Charlie’ in the Tyabb Primary School production of ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’.  During our sold-out run of two shows, I tapped into Charlie Bucket’s heart of darkness and delivered an acclaimed performance for the ages.  But it left me exhausted.  It was whilst in this fugue state that I dropped the lid of the bread crock at which point it fractured into a million pieces on the slate floor.  Now, four decades on, I had a chance to get a new bread crock.

That idea lasted about five seconds, with five seconds being roughly the amount of time it took for me to mention that I’d really like to go to Bendigo Pottery and for Liam to remind me it was his birthday and there was no chance in hell he’d be spending it looking at pottery.  He smashed my dreams as surely as I had smashed the lid to the bread crock.

The tournament was a big deal.  There were cars everywhere and you could tell how uncomfortable some were to drive on gravel.  Others were shocked at the distance required to reach the nearest comfort station.  One parent decided to take matters and possibly something else into his own hands and wandered off into the long grass to answer a call of nature.  It seemed an unnecessary risk.  They probably don’t get many snakes in his part of Melbourne.

On the first day of the tournament, I watched four football games.  Which doubled my lifetime total.  Liam’s team won all four matches.  On the second day, there were two more matches, the first of which they won, the second of which they lost in a penalty shootout.  There was crying.  There was wailing and the gnashing of teeth.  Some of the children were also upset.  Eventually, I pulled myself together.

I may not know much about soccer / football, but I know I felt extremely proud that day as we drove back to Melbourne, a giant white Mercedes tail-gaiting as we went.  It was an epic and wonderful weekend.  Even if losing on penalties is a complete (bread ) crock.  Happy birthday, Liam.

When Memory Lane Is An Eight-lane Freeway

Getting older is a strange business.  Last month, I tripped over whilst jogging and crashed into the footpath with all the grace of the Hindenburg.  As I lay there, writhing in a mix of embarrassment and pain, I realized it was the first time I’d fallen without being able to get up.  It’s one of many less attractive aspects of ageing.  Hair disappears from the places you want it and sprouts from previously unexpected locations.  The idea of waiting to see a band whose gig starts at eleven o’clock (at night!) is not so much an inconvenience as it is unbridled insanity.

Worst of all, I regularly forget my age.  By which I don’t mean that I’m incapable of answering the question ‘how old are you?’ but that when spending time with younger people, I think of myself as their peer as opposed to their elder.  It’s a tragic case of self-deception.  One that disintegrates the moment I mention anything that happened before 1990 and I am left staring into a sea of blank faces.  When you make a reference to ‘Holiday’ by Madonna and no one else knows what you’re talking about, you know you’ve reached a turning point. 

It saddens me to think that there’s an entire generation who’ve no idea who Hector the Safety Cat is.  Last week, we spent a night in Guilford and our cabin had a cassette deck.  The ten year old was, in turns, bewildered and fascinated.  I found myself explaining the art of rewinding a tape to an enraptured audience who then proceeded to rewind every cassette he could find.  As I bathed in the whirring sound of a TDK C-90, I was flooded with thoughts of demo tapes and afternoons spent in cramped rehearsal rooms.  And then it came to me in a rush: Cam Rogers had died.

Twenty-four hours earlier, I’d been at a memorial service.  The room was a mix of lost friends and strangers with a picture of Cam looking over all of us.  The message had come as a shock.  It had been a simple email with the heading ‘About Cam (Maybe read after work)’.  Of course, I couldn’t wait and read the message almost immediately, but I struggled to understand what it was saying.  Maybe I was in shock.  Perhaps the truth of it seemed impossible for me.

I’d met Cam Rogers at Uni.  He was older, cooler and effortless.  In stark contrast, I was clueless, naïve and trying far too hard.  We didn’t have much to do with each other that first year but, inevitably, we fell into playing music together.  At first it was covers, playing other people’s songs for anyone willing to pay us to do so.  Some songs we performed with gusto.  Others we butchered.  But it was enormous fun.  After a time, the band started writing it’s own music.

There were five of us.  Having met at Uni, we ended up living together in a gigantic share house in St Kilda.  We thought we were bohemian and hip.  We were sorely mistaken.  Our house had seven bedrooms and psychedelic wallpaper and it was there that we wrote our songs.  Cam Rogers played bass.  When we started, his playing was rudimentary.  By the time it ended, he was extraordinary.

Being in a band may sounds trivial but it’s a big deal.  You experience a lot of highs and lows together with a group of people.  No matter how difficult things were, I don’t think I ever saw him lose his composure.  To say that about a housemate, much less a band-mate, is nothing short of remarkable.

There are plenty of things I could tell you about Cameron Rogers.  Such as the time that he stayed up too late drinking beer but decided that the best way to ensure he wasn’t late for work the next day was to connect his alarm clock to a one hundred watt bass amplifier.  The resulting din the next morning sent everyone within an eight hundred-metre radius shooting bolt upright, except for Cam who remained stubbornly asleep.  He was rarely rattled.

There was a consensus at the memorial – that as young men in our twenties we’d been (for want of a better term) idiots.  To some degree, that’s what being young is about.  For a brief period of time, you get to try and fail before moving on.  And, eventually, that’s what we all did.  Now we were all in the same room, dressed in suits like a long-forgotten boy-band making some last ditched-attempt at credibility. 

Eventually, the band broke up.  Which is exactly what most bands do.  Not long after, we all vacated that big, rambling share house in St Kilda.  I didn’t know it then, but it was the end of an era.  The other band members kept working together and, over time, I lost touch.  The last time I saw Cam, he’d performed at the Melbourne Comedy Festival as ‘Alexander Downer’ in a production called ‘Keating’.  The show and Cam’s performance were a total sensation.  It was a moment of exultant triumph.  That’s how I’ll remember him.

The worst thing about getting older is that people start to leave you.  At the front of the room was a table of memorabilia including photos.  Of him at school, at work and, of course, in the band.  It’s strange that you don’t see someone for years and then miss them when they’re gone.  But I do.  I’m grateful that I knew Cameron Rogers.  Rest in peace.

Et Tu, Mike Brady?  Football’s Greatest Hit

At fourteen years of age, my partner Katrina relocated from Dublin to Melbourne.  It was difficult.  Finding herself in Diamond Creek, she experienced a full-blown culture shock exacerbated by incessant sunlight, the threat of reptiles and, of course, Mike Brady.  The first time Katrina heard ‘Up There Cazaly’, she’d no idea what a ‘cazaly’ was.  As best as she could tell, ‘Up There Cazaly’ was a uniquely Australian way of saying, if not ‘up your jumper’, then up somewhere else located a short distance away.  She didn’t know the half of it.

Some disputes are interminable.  They endure long past the point of common sense and exhaust everyone involved.  But whilst geo-political tugs of war get all the limelight, there are lesser-known rivalries that simmer way for decades almost without anyone noticing.  Then, without warning, some small shift sees all hell, if not break loose, then ruffle its feathers and puff out its chest.  I’m speaking of ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’ by (somewhat unsurprisingly) Mike Brady.

Until recently, I had no quarrel with Mike Brady.  Instead, my conflict was with my brother, Cameron, and our dispute centered on ownership of the Mike’s classic album ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’.  More than just a piece of vinyl with a collection of highly hummable but deeply specific tunes about football players, the album is the centerpiece of our shared childhood.  If I’m honest, it’s possibly the album we listened to most when we were growing up.

Our father brought it home from work.  He did that sometimes.  When you least expected it, he’d arrive with something amazing.  I can still remember the day he appeared with ‘The Smurf Song’ as a single.  We played it for hours.  I may have painted one of my brothers blue just to see what would happen.  It was a hugely transformative moment.  Indeed, I thought that was the greatest day of my life.  Until, that is, Mike Brady turned up.

If I’m being honest, I’d never heard of most of the players Mike decided to honour in song.  Kevin Murray, Keith Greg, Graeme ‘Polly’ Farmer and Peter Hudson were each sung about with great gusto and although I was unfamiliar with their work as footballers, Mike’s songs transformed them into grand mythical figures.  These were not men anymore but gods and heroes.  The songs had high-drama, tragedy and success against the odds.  The album made most operas seem as pedestrian as a trip down to the shops.  It was a triumph.

We played the record often.  At some point, my brother upped the ante, finding a microphone and plugging it in to the stereo, wailing along to ‘Flying High To Glory’ – a tune celebrating John Coleman – in a way that was so profoundly tuneless that our chickens stopped laying eggs for a time.

We loved the record as kids.  It’s fair to say that in the history of recorded music, there’s been no other like it.  Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band is all well and good, but none of the songs mention Mr. Football, Teddy Whitten.  Granted, Led Zeppelin rocks like a three-legged chair but they never wrote a song called ‘Bobby Dazzler’ about South Melbourne’s three-time Brownlow medalist, Bob Skilton.  More’s the pity.

In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that an album about footballers peaked at a relatively modest forty-four on the charts, especially when ‘Baby Shark’ is the world’s most-watched YouTube video.  It makes no sense.  But as much fun as we had, we (eventually) grew up and put Mike Brady’s masterpiece quietly to one side.  There it might have remained, had Mike Brady himself not intervened.

The record belongs to my father but, for some time, my brother has been positioning himself as the rightful heir.  These manoeuvres can only be described as ‘Machiavellian’ in nature and make ‘Succession’ look like a veritable tea party by comparison.  For the most part, I have suffered this with good grace, until I received a message on my phone.  From Mike Brady.

It was a video.  In it, Mike addressed me directly, telling me that my brother, not I, should inherit his album and that I should come to terms with this reality.  I was incensed.  In a futile attempt to calm down, I immediately played ‘The Smurf Song’ at full volume but it was no use.  How dare he!  Mike Brady’s decision to interfere with the internal affairs of the broader McCullough family was nothing short of an outrage.  I’d half a mind to tell him to take his opinions and shove them fair up his Cazaly.

Cam, on the other hand, is cock-a-hoop.  He believes that enlisting Mike Brady to adjudicate our petty squabble is the ultimate power move.  He may be right.  But although he may one day have possession of ‘Mike Brady Presents: The Songs of Football’s Greatest Sons’, there’s one thing he doesn’t have – a turntable on which to play it.  I’ll only say that if it stops him from singing along, it’s for the best.  I’m sure Mike would agree with that much.

Baby Shark – A Journey Into Madness

Even now, I can’t tell you how I did it.  By the grace of God, I managed to exist for five decades on this planet without ever hearing ‘Baby Shark’ from start to finish.  Granted, I’d heard people complain about it, describing how it’d taken over and, ultimately, ruined their lives.  I couldn’t understand their anguish or even imagine a world as hellish as the one they described.  That has now changed.

When you’re in a car, there’s nowhere to go.  This is ironic, because the whole point of a car is to go somewhere unless, of course, you’re stuck in traffic or trying to park.  But, in truth, what I mean is that in a car there’s nowhere to which you can escape.  You’re stuck, listening to whatever ear-melting musical demon the person in control of the stereo sees fit to conjure up.

We’ve developed a tradition whereby I surrender my phone and everyone else takes turns adding their song of choice to the queue.  That way, you’re all guaranteed to hear a tune you like at least once every six songs.  It sounds simple, but it’s not.  Sometimes, there are delightful surprises.  Sometimes, however, things take a darker turn and someone selects something they know is truly and irredeemably evil.

When it began, I had no idea what was happening.  Ignorance is not just bliss, but a form of self-deception that lets you wallow in a false sense of security when, by rights, you ought to be exiting the vehicle and running with your hands in the air, screaming.  In retrospect, I wish someone had invented airbags for ears that could be programmed to deploy whenever it senses the opening bars of ‘Baby Shark’.

The video for the Pinkfong version of ‘Baby Shark’ is the most watched video on YouTube of all time with some twelve billion views.  It is, I feel, definitive evidence that the Internet is fundamentally broken and should be abolished.  Upon learning this, I was both impressed with myself at avoiding it for so long and vaguely disappointed at how colossally out of touch I am.

For those of you who’ve assumed ‘Baby Shark’ is a relatively recent assault on the senses, it’s origins stretch right back to the movie ‘Jaws’.  It’s believed that in response to the Steven Spielberg munch-a-thon ‘Jaws’, camp counselors invented an early version of the song ‘Baby Shark’.  At that time, the song was reasonably gruesome and involved sailors being devoured and going to heaven where, presumably, the inhabitants get to spend eternity in perpetual bliss, never having to hear ‘Baby Shark’ ever again.

But when ‘Jaws’ was released, the Internet was yet to be invented.  Which, once again, goes to prove what a dead-set genius Spielberg is in anticipating viral marketing decades ahead of time.  It’s debatable as to whether ‘Jaws’ would have been more or less terrifying had it featured the song ‘Baby Shark’ rather than the score by John Williams.

Had ‘Baby Shark’ remained a campfire tune used to frighten city kids whilst away from their parents, most of us would never have heard of it and, I dare say, the world would be a better place.  But some people weren’t content to allow cat videos to run the Internet and tried to intervene by rolling out various versions of ‘Baby Shark’.  There was a 2007 edition by an artist called ‘Alemuel’.  It’s in German and is so darkly horrifying that it’s enough to make you avoid water for the rest of your life. 

A guy from upstate New York did his take on ‘Baby Shark’ way back in 2011.  It sounds a lot like the current version but the accompanying video features a middle-aged dude called ‘Johnny Only’ instead of cute children and, as a result, is nowhere near being the most watched YouTube video of all time.  This is a complete travesty.

The Pinkfong version – which is now regarded as definitive – was released in 2015.  It has now been viewed more than twelve billion times.  Which, by any measure, is a lot.  Originally, I made the mistake of thinking ‘Pinkfong’ was a band, but according to Wikipedia it’s an ‘education brand’.  In other words, it’s a company.  Frankly, I’m not sure how I feel about corporate entities releasing songs, as it’s a role traditionally filled by musicians.  It’s not as though rock bands try and teach children to count.  Or, if they do, they rarely go beyond ‘one-two-three-four!’

It made me wonder – which video did ‘Baby Shark’ overtake when it was crowned the ‘most streamed video all time?’  I’m glad you asked.  It was ‘Despacito’ by Luis Fonsi.  Despite racking up a respectable eight billion or so views, I’d never heard of it.  The video clip was okay, but Fonsi looked different than he used to when he lived in the room above the Cunningham’s garage.

When I hear ‘Baby Shark’, I am bewildered.  It’s as though everything I know about music is meaningless.  Worse still, I’ve started to feel sorry for sharks, generally.  Having gone so long without every being subjected to the aural atrocity that is ‘Baby Shark’, I can only hope that I can avoid it for another fifty years.  Here’s hoping.  Do do do do do do do.