An Amazing Sequins of Events

Like Leif Garrett, I too was made for dancing.  It is for this reason that at social events I have often claimed to be a professional dancer.  When asked ‘what kind?’ my response is always the same: I let the music tell me.  Sadly, opportunities to get my ‘groove thing’ well and truly on have been limited.  Sure, there have weddings and nights at the pub that have descended into disco hell, but these are really social events with dancing tacked on.  If you don’t get to wear a costume with sequins sewn into the front, it’s not really dancing.

    Our family has a proud tradition when it comes to burning up the dance-floor.  My grandparents met at a dance.  Both my sisters pursued jazz ballet with commitment, dedication and fervour; suffice to say that they had a near endless supply of leg warmers and their efforts culminated each year in a concert at the Frankston Tafe Chisholm Hall.  Whilst this extravaganza was the result of an entire year’s graft for my sisters, my brothers and I saw it in a very different light.  

    As we walked through the car park and towards the venue, dozens of mothers fussed at open car boots, making last minute adjustments to hair, makeup and costumes.  And, if time allowed, they would adjust the hair, makeup and costumes of their daughters also. There were sparkles and hair buns and lacquer as far as the eye could see.  There was, it seems, an unwritten law in jazz ballet that required hair to be pulled back with all the ferocity of a discount facelift.  Little girls with their eyebrows arched surrounded us.

    As a kid, I found it near impossible to summon up the necessary generosity of spirit.  For some reason attending these concerts felt like travelling deep, deep into enemy territory.  Perhaps I was jealous.  For in Tyabb, boys who liked jazz ballet were not referred to as ‘dancers’; but something altogether more pointed.  And whilst someone of a more determined character would have cast aside such slings and arrows, I figured playing the piano was already a strike against my name as far as my peers were concerned and that dancing would be a bridge too far.

    There it may have ended if not for my niece, Matilda.  I guess it was inevitable that she, too, would one day feel the irresistible lure of the dance.  She started lessons this year and yesterday was her end of year concert.  We were keen to be supportive.  Kate sewed a bunch of sequins into Matilda’s costume and has, apparently, sewn the leftovers onto some of my suits.  I provided support of a different nature.  Just as Mr Miyagi instructed a young Daniel LaRusso how to wear a bathrobe and not look like a total dipstick, so too did I try and pass to Matilda all that I knew about dancing.  We stopped, however, after three or four minutes.  I say it’s because Matilda refused to address me in the manner required by dance instructors down through the ages.  I’m not saying she should call me ‘sensai’ all the time, but once or twice to know that she’s listening would have been nice.  Matilda, however, would probably suggest that we stopped after three of four minutes because that’s all it took for me to pass on everything I have ever learned about dancing.  She may have a point.

    In spite of her decision to decline the offer of my tutelage, I attended her concert at the Warragul Arts Centre.  When the lights went down and the audience fell into an expectant hush, I found myself keenly anticipating my first dance concert in nearly thirty years.  There were pulsing lights and music and a tonne of hair lacquer – the concert was an assault on the senses.  I loved every second of it.

    They covered all the classics, including ‘Singin’ In the Rain’, ‘Carwash’ and ‘You Spin Me Right Round’ (performed by Alvin and the Chipmunks, mind, rather than the somewhat scarier Dead or Alive).  They even danced to the song that I had taught myself to play on the piano to impress my classmates and was the anthem of my adolescence: ‘Theme From Ghostbusters’.  As the last notes of Ray Parker Junior echoed around the auditorium, the audience descended into a frenzy of applause.  And then I saw Matilda.

    With her sequins sewn tight, Matilda had a look of concentration stitched across her four year old face.  She was covered in so much glitter that, technically speaking, she may have been more glitter ball than little girl.  As she started to bust a move, it was clear to me that she had learned more from her uncle than either of us had realised.  For reasons I can’t fully explain, the experience was oddly emotional.  As Alvin and the Chipmunks did their worst to the song ‘Shake Your Groove Thing’, I watched as Matilda threw herself wholly into her routine.  It was more than merely impressive; it was inspiring.

    It’s never too late.  What I abandoned due to fear of embarrassment as a child I should now embrace.  All I need is a costume and a bucket full of glitter.  Luckily, I always keep a supply of costumes and glitter on hand.  I’ll just sew in a few of the spare sequins and I’ll be set.

Cue the music.  My time has finally come.

The Theory of Armed Deterrent and Cricket Whites

No one was more surprised than I at my recent selection in the 17-man Ashes squad. Whilst my grandfather was fond of declaring ‘better never than late’ there are, I think, exceptions to the rule. Whilst your late thirties may seem an odd time to start your career as an elite sportsman, there’s no good reason for this. Whilst I accept that some options are no longer available to me – it’s too late to be a member of the Young Talent Team and my application for Junior MasterChef was not so much resisted as it was flat out rejected – my inclusion into the Australian Cricket Team is simply well overdue. It is a moment for which I have been waiting my entire life.

Cricket is a funny game. For decades, we have taken for granted our ability to beat all-comers. That time, of course, is now over. As a result, our nation has been reduced to naming a squad so unfathomably large and populated with complete strangers that it may have been quicker and more efficient to name which of our citizens were to be left out. Not that I will let this take the gloss off my selection.

We had our own cricket pitch. In truth, it was not so much a pitch as it was a piece of strategically placed concrete. Inspired both by the poultry shed and a desire not to have to go trawling through the paddock for lost balls, my father constructed a tall wire fence around the pitch. Whilst we referred to this structure as ‘the nets’, a more suitable term could well have been ‘the chicken coup.’

I was decidedly average at every aspect of the game, whether it was batting, fielding or bowling. Even at reasonably straight-forward elements such as appealing to the umpire, I was extraordinarily ordinary. Whilst some of my classmates at primary school would make their appeals with all the enthusiasm of winning ‘the lot’ on Sale of the Century, the best I could manage was a half hearted shrug of the shoulders. None of this deterred my father.

Nobody took a game of back yard cricket as seriously as Pete. Not for him the compromise inherent in using a tennis ball – only the real thing would do. He believed that without the very real risk of injury or mild disfigurement, cricket was just about getting sunburned. In truth, cricket is not a sport to be measured in wickets or runs so much as it is in giant welts that take a week or more to subside.

To be a decent fast bowler, you need a good run up. My father’s run up was such that he needed several marathon style drinking stations positioned en route to ensure that he made the distance. As he thundered in like a runaway truck, your thoughts turned not so much to defending your wicket as to something much more personal and private in nature. That’s the great misconception about cricket. It’s got precious little to do with protecting your stumps as it does preventing the family jewellery from being shattered into a thousand tiny pieces. Were this anything other than a so-called sport, all kinds of precautions would be taken. Instead, cricket offers only the protection of a ‘box’ when, in the circumstances, a missile defence system would be more appropriate.

When I was growing up, cricketers were a pretty butch lot. In the 1970s and 80s, to be a professional cricketer, you needed only two things: access to a near-unlimited supply of Sard Wonder Soap to remove stubborn grass stains and a moustache big enough to entangle an antelope. It was, dare I say it, a very macho kind of sport. Australian Cricketers didn’t bother much with buttons – they’d be happy to have their shirts more than half open, exposing to all the world the kind of chest hair that can only be groomed by a whipper – snipper. Even the most cursory of glances at the current Australian Cricket team makes it plain that there’s not a decent moustache amongst them, despite the fact that it’s ‘Movember’, to say nothing of a chronic shortage of chest hair.

Upon being named, I sprang into action. I began by hitting a golf ball against a water tank using a stump just as Don Bradman had done all those years ago. After several minutes of losing golf balls, I then upgraded to one of those posture balls you sit on. I also spent many hours in my laboratory, installing a laser-based missile defence system to my cricket trousers. Granted, there were some early teething problems in which my new pants mistook next door’s cat for a cricket ball and nearly blew it to pieces, but I had almost ironed all the kinks out before receiving the bad news.

When they named the starting line up, my name was conspicuously absent. As I slowly removed my gold necklace, buttoned up my shirt and shaved off my moustache, it occurred to me that perhaps it was time to let go of some of those childish ambitions. Folding them neatly, I packed away my cricket whites, perhaps this time for good. Standing in the old wire nets, I can only rue my cruel elimination from the squad. It’s a pity. To have been included could have been quite a chicken coup.

Musical Ghosts and Other ABBAritions

For a moment, I feared the worst.  Last week my birthday came and went without any sign that I’d get my wish.  Perhaps I’d been too subtle.  Even though I’d distributed a list that catalogued my preferred gifts in order of preference, it was largely without result.  Whilst publishing it in billboard form on Punt Road seemed inspired at the time, it has since occurred to me that my family rarely has cause to travel to town.  I don’t mean to be petulant.  Certainly, I received some of the things I’d longed for, just not the big-ticket item I had sitting at numero uno.  Until now.

When news broke that ABBA’s record label had issued cease and desist letters to ABBA tribute bands, it was as though all my Christmases, at least three of my Easters and a couple of flexi-time days had all come at once. The apparently irony free monikered ‘Polar Music International’ has declared that it wished to ‘create clarity’ in the names of ABBA Tribute Bands.  In short, they want to stop people using the name ABBA in their tribute band or a variation thereof.  The reason?  The record company insists it received complaints from people who had assumed a connection between the real ABBA and the tribute bands.

But as the manager for the group ABBAlanche noted, they were yet to have a single audience member confuse them for the real thing, especially since they were paying $8.50 to get in.  He has a point.  If you genuinely believe that one of the most successful bands of the Twentieth Century has reformed after nearly thirty years in order to pick up a Thursday night residency at the Chelsea Heights Hotel for an eight buck cover fee, notwithstanding its strict ‘no denim’ policy, you may well have bigger problems. Granted, the lure of a twelve dollar parma and pot would tempt the best of us, but it doesn’t seem enough to lure them from Sweden.

Bands such as FABBA have already received such a threat.  Abba’s Back are, apparently, seeking legal advice.  The fate of ABBAration remains unclear.  And as for ABBAracadabra – an ensemble that renders the Swedish supergroup’s tunes in the style of The Steve Miller Band – it’s anybody’s guess.  Should this prove successful, it might devastate the tribute band industry and alter forever the on-board entertainment of many of our finest cruise liners.

This has particular connotations for Australia, which has been identified (or, if you prefer, blamed) in Britain as the source of the tribute band industry.  Whilst I have long campaigned for the removal of ABBA tribute bands, albeit not for reasons of potential infringement of intellectual property rights as much a sense of pure musical decency, it occurs to me that other, more noble tribute acts might get caught up in the mayhem.

I, for one, struggle to come to terms with the idea of world in which Mini Kiss – a KISS tribute band comprised entirely of midgets – is no longer able to go about its business.  Or what of that very special category of tribute bands who subvert the traditional rock and roll machismo by forming an all female tribute?  The Iron Maidens, AC/ Dshe and Lez Zepplin are so much more than mere pastiche.  They have a powerful point to make.  So too, for that matter, does Mandonna – the all male Madonna tribute.

    Consider this.  In 2005, a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band called The Saturday Night Special Band contained in its ranks more original members of Lynyrd Skynyrd that the actual Lynyrd Skynyrd.  (Beyond ‘Sweet Home Alabama’, I must profess a stunning lack of knowledge and, indeed, interest in Lynyrd Skynyrd.  Surely the key attraction of forming a Lynyrd Skynyrd tribute band is the promise of an early night.)  Even the recently immortalised Little River Band (if, indeed, having your music appear in a Will Ferrell film can be considered ‘immortalised’) had their troubles when three founding members were prevented from using the name.  As Glen Shorrock put it at the time, ‘We’re not the Little River Band but we sure sound like them.’

Indeed, tribute bands have long been bullied in the musical playground.  Sony Music threatened legal action in 2005 against tribute band Beatallica, a band that play songs by The Beatles in the style of Metallica.  Whilst the idea of going up against a massive musical conglomerate must have seemed terrifying, Beatallica managed to prevail, in part thanks to the assistance of fan Lars Ulrich from Metallica.  Bless him.

There’s an old saying, ‘be careful what you wish for’.  Like Dan Ackroyd in Ghostbusters conjuring up the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man, so too have I unintentionally opened a Pandora’s worm.  As ABBA tribute bands begin to fall like bewigged satin-coated dominos, the time has come to make something of a stand.  Back off Polar Music International.  If people want to attend a dodgy nightclub, drink their own body weight in bourbon and coke and kid themselves that ABBAsolutley Fabulous are the genuine article, what harm does it do?  Having called up this firestorm, I recognize that I must now do my bit to get things back on track. As for ABBA tribute bands, let me say that I’ll gladly lend my support to GABBA, who perform ABBA songs in the style of The Ramones.  Now that’s something I can respect.  I may even hire them to play my next birthday.

The Dirt Unit and the Fantastical Muck Machine

The Premier’s dirt unit was a very lovely place
Stacked with sparkly people, full of charm and style and grace
But in spite of their appearance, the task was none too subtle
All they did was dig up dirt with their gigantic shovel
And add a dash of water, to the dirt that they just dug
To create a steaming pile of stinking sour mud
Mud as dark as night, dark as pitch and dark as coal
It’s the muck that’s meant to fill each corner of your soul

With no issue out of bounds, no orifice too dark
The unit’s sole objective is to try and leave a mark
Or perhaps, if not a mark, at least some sort of stain
For nothing sticks as good as mud upon a person’s brain
And so the little diggers kept on shoveling the dirt
All the while confusing it for actual proper work
They stacked it up on tabletops, floors boards and on shelves
Forgetting for a moment that the mud can’t throw itself

Shocked at such an oversight, the unit lost its spark
As one amongst their number then did casually remark
‘What a shame that all this mud will simply go to waste
And that the general public never got to have a taste’
For no one in the unit dared to touch the mud themselves
It’s widely recognized the stuff is fatal to your health
Until it finally struck them, and so relieved the tension
What they really needed was a mud-flinging invention

They considered everything on which they laid they hands
But struggled to find anything that suited their demands
So they pulled apart a tumble dryer marked ‘Fisher Pykel’
And strapped the bits onto the front of the election cycle
With handlebars of chrome and a basket up the front
The election bike was solid but was never meant for stunts
With bits of string and sweat and spit, they soldered and they beat
Until there sat a catapult upon the cycle’s seat

It needed some adjustments and they slaved the whole night long
And the more they beat it up, the more that it looked wrong
But then as dawn awoke they felt a sense of satisfaction
And gazed upon the fiercest looking mud-throwing contraption
To get the best results you had to place it in the gutter
Made of steel and chrome, it stank like rancid butter
It was a thing to envy and make anyone turn green
The unit had invented the first full-on muck machine

They wheeled it through the office and the corridors of power
Where to operate it cost a thousand bucks an hour
But it was worth each cent just to watch it throw some slime
At anyone who might forget to duck their head in time
The muck machine could smear a target from one hundred paces
It got mud on their feet and hands but mostly on their faces
The unit cheered and clapped – it seemed the thing to do
Never really noticing the mud was on them too

The Premier’s dirt unit are a very special breed
They serve to give us something that we didn’t really need
Dressed in long white coats and other scientists’ apparel
They search to find what lies beyond the bottom of the barrel