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.