‘Listen now to the wind, babe: listen now to the rain….’

I wandered down along the river last night
Call me romantic? I say I couldn’t sleep
Until the first-light struck me down,,,

I remember Jimmy Barnes coming to New Zealand in the early 1990s – I think he might have appeared on Telethon or something similar.

And hearing a few folk who had met him, backstage, who had expected him to be this wild arrogant Ocker rocker…and who came back somewhat blown away. He was, yes, a wild Ocker rocker, but he hadn’t been the arrogant prick they’d expected. In fact, they’d come away gushing at how much they’d liked the guy.

He was interviewed by Wallace Chapman on NatRad, here.

The best Cold Chisel songs…well, ok, *some* of the best Cold Chisel songs..featured dual vocals by Ian Moss and Jimmy Barnes.

This was particularly so live.

This is perhaps not as well known as some of their bigger hits, but it is a great blues, off of their first album, and it was a live staple, and great crowd pleaser, for much of their career.

Ian Moss’s caramel smooth vocals are followed by a guitar solo which is as fluid and mellow as a Miles Davis muted trumpet piece.

According to band legend, this song served a major commercial purpose when played live: Barnes, who, as well as the main lead singer was also the band’s enforcer, didn’t have to be onstage for the first five minutes.

So it was when he went and collected the money the band was owed from the promoter, with his fists if necessary.

Just so long as he made it back to stage in time to add his sandpaper-voice soul to the song’s climax.

More well known was this one…Bow River.

One week, two weeks, maybe even more
A-pissing all my money up against the damn wall..

This version of Bow River is, to my mind, better than the studio version on ‘Circus Animals’, the album – Chisel’s best, for my money – it came off.

And that is not to knock the studio version, either. It’s pretty good.

But the live version takes flight higher.

It is, mostly, a bloody fantastic band playing their heart and guts and balls out. And it was recorded when they were breaking up, at one of their farewell concerts in Sydney at the end of 1983.

It is one of my few personal regrets  – I have things I am remorseful about, as should everyone who has a conscience, but I think regrets are usually pointless and I try to avoid them.

But…one of those few regrets is missing them on the New Zealand leg of their farewell tour. I was, at the time, sitting in Whakatane with concussion, having written off my first car.

Pranging into a Holden, as it turned out. Colliding with the Aussies in a different way, I guess.

 

 

‘And another thing, I’ve been wondering laayte-lee’ ….

Ok, finishing the weekend with another Aussie outfit – the Hoodoo Gurus from 1987. Great year.

Introduced by Suzi Quatro wearing the most awesome mullet of all time.

Superb, surging powerpop/rock, this number.

‘Oh where oh where can my scene be….?’

‘Shouting out across an empty station…’ Don Walker, Jimmy Barnes, and Cold Chisel

Shots by Don Walker (Penguin) 2010
 Well some of us are driven to ambition
Some of us are trapped behind the wheel
Some of us will break away,
Build a marble yesterday
And live for every moment we can steal
Conversations, 
Conversations
Shouting out across an empty station...

‘Conversations’,   the opening track of Cold Chisel’s second album, Breakfast at Sweethearts, is the sort of song which critics call ‘full tilt’, but it isn’t so much full-tilt as almost overbalancing itself with its own speed. Fast and frantic, it captures the band’s own desperate ambition.

Not so long back, interviewing the man who wrote it and most of Cold Chisel’s songs, keyboard player Don Walker, Kim Hill suggested that people had a lot of fun to his songs, but they’re mostly quite sad songs.

Walker sounded somewhat nonplussed.

“I might have to go and have a look at meself”, was his response.

Difficult to tell if he was being serious. He sounded serious, certainly, but Walker has that dry Aussie humour which can be taking the piss when it is sounding most serious.

It is a brand of humour which often serves as a guard, especially when confronted with that kind of sharp personal insight Hill delivered during the exchange.

I found myself recalling that interview as Hill interviewed Jimmy Barnes, the lead singer of that band, Cold Chisel, last weekend.

Barnes’ memoir has just come out and it’s a lot about surviving what was basically an abusive childhood and adult alcoholism.

Barnes writes in that autobiography that despite their very different backgrounds, that it was as if Walker had read his mail.

Walker wrote most of Chisel’s songs, and I’ve thought for a long time that those songs – certainly his most famous ones, the ones he did with Cold Chisel, are about having a good time while you’re having a lousy time.

Back when they were in their heyday, I can remember having one of those intense conversations about music which you often have at that age, and distinguishing between the two big Aussie bands of the day, Australian Crawl and Cold Chisel.

Aussie Crawl were about pure hedonism, having a good time: Cold Chisel was about having a good time even though you’re having a lousy time, I vaguely remember proclaiming, probably while waving my arms around and just before falling off my chair.

This is kind of a definition of soul music (the having a good time while having a bad time thing, I mean: not so much the waving arms around/falling off chair thing), I think: if you listen to classic soul, by which I mostly mean the Stax-Volt Memphis brand but also the best Motown stuff, it is about dancing while feeling lousy about your life.

There’s a whole lot of socio-economic and political reasons for that aspect of soul music, most of which should be fairly obvious to anyone with who knows a bit about history and retains a bit of empathy.

It applies, perhaps less politically than in the music made by American blacks,  to other rock music: the Who’s Pete Townshend, when his band was trying to pretend to be Mods, suggested the Mod ethos not so much about solving young people’s problems as allowing them to dance all over those problems. (although dancing to the Who’s music, is, I think, a bit problematic).

Walker’s memoir, ‘Shots’ only seldom alludes to influences such as this. His own early influences were jazz and country, while Cold Chisel has been more associated with pub/hard rock.

That said, there are enough jazz and country, as well as blues, influences, on Chisel, especially their earlier work.

This number – which closed their first album – shows singer Jimmy Barnes wasn’t just a shrieker: it is a song of summer regret and has a torch-like, almost jazzy flavour:

Lovers see the world through an old red wine

All the sounds of the blues, well

They just disappear

With a light like yours beside me

It’s been an old, old, red wine year.’

Soul, definitely: Chisel’s second vocalist, guitar player Ian Moss, consciously modelled his singing style on Sam Cooke and although Moss isn’t as good as that (unless your name is Al Green or Aretha Franklin or Ray Charles you’re not even gonna come in the same league) you can hear the influence. (Moss used to sing Charles’ ‘Georgia’ at Chisel concerts and he carries it off respectably).

Walker’s ‘Shots’ is, as he has said himself, not so much a memoir as a highly impressionistic travelogue of his time before and after, as well as during, Cold Chisel’s heyday from 1978-93.

It reaches a climax, and a crisis, at the time Chisel release their breakthrough album, East. The opening track from that, like ‘Conversations’ has a desperate headlong rush to it, especially when played live.

Lyrically,  ‘Standing on the Outside’  is more linear than ‘Conversations’ – it has a similar mood to the earlier track and both were used to open concerts, but it tells a story as well. This live clip is from their final concert, and it shows them going out at their peak.

They’re playing their hearts, and guts, out here:

 

‘I wonder if other lives have a fulcrum, a few days or weeks that gather everything from decades before and fire it though into a trajectory pre-drawn for decades after…’

 

Walker ponders in ‘Shots’, referring to this period.

Just after East was recorded, and just before it was released, two friends of the band were killed in a road accident: one knocked out when it went into a tree and the other, conscious but struggling and insisting they get his mate out first when the vehicle caught fire and they both died.

‘Why that should have been the end of anything I do not know, maybe it just coincided with other things, but the end it was’, Walker wrote, years later, in the notes to the ‘Teenage Love” album. The final couple of years – including that farewell concert, the opening of which is that above clip, was, he wrote, a ‘long slow ugly vicious death… like clubbing a dearly beloved while they cling to your leg.’

It is a strange, jaundiced and in some ways odd read. Walker has a rare gift for a phrase: ‘someone whose dreams have strangled their common sense…’ he describes the funder of a concert in some bush backwater; ‘like trying to fuck through a tennis racquet’ sums up a particularly bad gig; young female concertgoers from the posh Victorian squattocracy, ‘rich girls who want to play out their hatred of any plans at all from anywhere up the ancestral chain’; or, visiting old haunts, ‘It’s like visiting your baby playground after you’ve sold your soul’.

There’s a cynicism, perhaps – a lyrical cynicism, certainly, but cynicism it is. Is Walker trying too hard here, perhaps? There’s what seems to be a deliberate, emotional guardedness, something which comes through in that response to Kim Hill’s question.

There’s a bizarre traveling the Aussie outback fantasy involving escaped Laundromat washing machines going rogue, roaming the badlands,  breeding and ‘sometimes ending a decoy out on the highway in ambush, if you stop they kidnap you off  and just wash the fuck out of you…’

The book is a neat, if offbeat, read. He comes at his subject – that subject being his own life, mostly – obliquely and from a skew-whiff angle. There’s a longer interview with him on ABC Radio here…

 

 

 

 

Paul Kelly: Connecting with the shy goths


How to Make Gravy by Paul Kelly [Hamish Hamilton, 2010]
One of the times I saw Paul Kelly in Wellington, someone down the front kept yelling out for some particular song [I think it may have been ‘Darling It Hurts’]. Kelly ignored him but the guy got louder, drunker, angrier, till eventually Kelly looked down in his general direction and muttered, ‘A man is not a juke box’.

It was a marvellously witty but firm and above all dignified riposte.


I thought of it today, listening to Wallace Chapman interview Kelly on National Radio.

The thing is, Kelly is a jukebox, of a kind. His autobiography, which came out a few years back and which I re-read last year as part of my post-election de-tox, is a music fan and music philosophers’ book: a fan not just of Kelly’s music but his own, and other’s influences.

There are pointers about music, how it works and how it does not  – on his own ‘Before Too Long’ a demi-hit off the ‘Gossip’ album in 1987 – he notes it the chords move quickly from one to another and serving to “lock” the song.

Gossip was the first album of Kelly’s I bought and like the Lucinda Williams one referred to a few posts back, was a rare purchase made on the strength of one song – in this case, ‘Maralinga’.

The thing about How to Make Gravy is how much it is about other people’s songs. Kelly is generous in giving tribute to other influences, both recorded and in life (other musicians who encouraged him included Cold Chisel’s Don Walker and New Zealand ‘s own songwriter of Dragon, the late Paul Hewson.

A chapter named after his own ‘Don’t Start Me Talking– a personal favourite of mine – delves off into great first lines in songs.

 ‘Dante, Dickens, Tolstoy and Morrissey knew how to begin. In the middle of the journey of my life I found myself in a dark wood. It was the best of times; it was the worst of times.  All happy families are all alike, all unhappy families are unhappy in their own way. Sweetness, sweetness I was only joking why I said by right you should be bludgeoned in your bed.

 “Nearly every first line of The Smiths songs is a killer.”

He also cites lyricist Hal David and  laments David doesn’t get the same kudos as collaborator Bert Bacharach.

Or  Aretha Franklin’s  ‘the moment I wake up, before I put on my make up, I saya little prayer for you’ – and he comments how it is difficult to imagine a man wrote those lines.

Closer to his home: Dave Faulkner, lead singer of the Hoodoo Gurus, gets a nod for What’s My Scenewhich starts with ‘And another thing I’ve been wondering lately…”

It’s a technique which, as Kelly shows, grabs the listener by the elbow –  “You can’t help but lean forward on your seat to catch up with what you’ve missed and what will happen next”. 

He does the same with his own ‘Don’t Start Me Talking’ – title taken from bluesman Sonny Boy Williamson, with an acknowledged debt to Elvis Costello’s  Oliver’s Army’.

“As Homer well knew, a good steal is worth stealing again,” he comments, with a mix of honesty and cheek.

There are nods to Australian bands he learned from, and he writes about these magnificently:  the Triffids and their ‘great cathedral of a record’  ‘Born Sandy Devotional’ – the description captures ‘Wide Open Road’ the best song off that album, perfectly. 

Or the Go Betweens ’Cattle and Cane which he first heard on a car radio and had to pull over to the side of the road: And having to pull over to the side of the road.

A schoolboy coming home through fields of cane

To a house of tin and timber

And in the sky

A rain of falling cinders…


 “I could smellthat song…When did the Stranglers go to northern Queensland and get all arty?”

He writes of what he calls ‘circle songs’ – “the melody of the chorus changes but the chords don’t. 

“There is no ‘new bit’ no change up via a bridge to a middle eight, no modulation”.

His own, emotionally confessional  ‘Careless’  does this, and he points out the chorus used the same now notes as the’ Further, Longer higher longer’ the closing refrain from ‘Cattle and Cane 
There is a tendency, often, to write more of the imaginative world of other people’s songs than Kelly’s own, at times – he often borrowed titles of famous songs by other people and given them a while new twist – – Etta James ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ is one: Billy Holiday’s ‘Don’t Explain’ is another.

In a parallel universe I dream of sometimes, Billie Holliday finds a good man, gets off the grog, and the gear, regains her health and …continues to make greater records into her 70s.  IN this universe I’m born a little earlier and get to see her play one night in New York City…”

That’s a paragraph which captures the whole mood of the book: appreciative of others’ talent and explaining his own works, with both on a bedrock of sheer generosity of spirit. 

There is a comment, somewhere, about making mixed tapes for other people, and how it means more than making a mixed CD because you have to listen to the songs as you put it together.

That is this book: it is the written equivalent of a mixed tape.

He has tips, too for rising musicians: he and his band, the Coloured Girls, toured the US in the 1980s, with the thankless job of opening for much better known acts.

‘Sing to the shy Goths’ in the audience, he advises: they usually write the reviews for the local paper.

There is bemusement that, these days, schools now study his lyrics and he gets invited along to talk about them, recalling Irish poet W B Yeats’ late poem about similar experiences as a “a public smiling man” and feeling out of place in the role.

 “I know some of them want little packaged answers they can serve up in exams – the themes of the work, the making of the songs all that guff. I ramble, I digress, I I loop-around. Offering expansion, not reduction. I want to set off little bombs in their brains.

“Life begins when strange things connect“ – a chromosome. Or musically “Two New York Jewish kids, Jerry Lieber and Mike Stoller, write a song for Big Mama Thornton that gets heard a couple of years later by a shy truck driving teenager in Memphis, who sings I differently creates his own storm…

“…Connect. That’s what I want to say to the mixed rows of young faces in front of me, some earnest, some giggling, some bored. …..

“Connect…connect, only connect.”

Eternity – Don Walker

There isn’t, unfortunately, a clip of Don Walker’s epic song about trying, and failing, to hitch a lift out of Queensland mining town Mt Isa.

With an oblique nod to the Aldous Huxley’s mystical novel ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ (or perhaps to John Milton’s poem Samson Agonistes, in which that phrase first appeared) Walker’s song is called ‘Carless in Isa’.  Love it.

If anyone has done any hitching, he captures a sense of the waiting, the longueurs, drawling out the sense of an approaching car as it, and hope of a lift, arrives and then passes.. “I’ve been heeerrre………….fr’ever.”

This one, though, delves even deeper. It has been nearly 20 years since I have been hitch hiking: most of it was done at a time of inward as well as outward searching.

And ‘Eternity’ catches this feeling so accurately it hurts:

The withered skin on my hand was lined
 Like a map of the land I´d left behind alone  
A drifter and a pharisee 

On a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity.”

The song goes on to talk of being picked up by a driver of “a long black car” who calls his name…and the narrator recognises the driver, and his diseases, and how, “ you ate up the seed corn
All this side of the Sambatyon River,
How the cattle died
How the pain o’ your fever
Spread across the moon like a thunderhead
Like a lost will,
A hole in the law,

Split the stone o’ the cathedral floor.”

It is eerie and evocative – and for those who do not know, the Sambatyon is the legendary river over which 10 of the 12 tribes of Israel disappeared.


It then becomes hallucinatory, spinning out the images like a Biblical Yeats….


“I’m hookin my thumb
Round a well sucked bottle of Inner Circle rum
And I’m handin it over
He’s whackin it down
His old man’s Adam’s apple’s jumpin around
Kickin at a rope-burn under his chin
And I’m lookin at the sky like a sheeta hot tin
And I’m feeling so sick in the head
An’ I fall to one knee,Then another
An’ all that I can see
Is a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity…

Long ago, and far away
I opened my eyes and attempted to pray
I opened my eyes on a land as frozen
Cold as the hole where Jesus rose
And I layAnd wondered if he died for me

On a highway straighter than the barrel of eternity…”

I still often dream I am out on a road, somewhere, nothing happening: just the tarmac’s flat upward radiating heat and smell, the white noise of the approaching vehicles and the vast flatness of notorious hitchers traps like Sanson, Murchison or PioPio.

Walker is most famous as the guy who wrote most of Aussie band Cold Chisel’s songs: – ‘Flame Trees’, ‘Khe Sanh’ ‘Cheap Wine’, and a personal favourite (also about hitch hiking) ‘Houndog’ are all his.

A few years back he wrote a great, if idiosyncratic, memoir, ‘Shots’.  I’ll return to that another time: all I’ll say now is it takes a chapter or two to get the rhythm of the writing (Walker is very stream-of-conscious at times) but its worth the effort.

Don Walker appeared last night in Auckland and is appearing tomorrow night in Leigh. I can’t make it there, to my deep regret.

There is some ill a-brewing towards my rest

John Birmingham has a post about how the economics of home brewing are well and truly rooted.  He’s right.  Personally I have never trusted any home brew.

I recall little of my own first experience of home brew but I do recall the next day, waking, whimpering and clinging to the carpet, ripping my eyelids open and having a vicious little pixie with a pick-axe rise up and smite me between the eyes, and go on smiting for the next two days.

God help me, I was only 17.

A few years later, at uni,  a bloke I knew produced some lovely homebrew at a party:  tasted like a particularly light and refreshing cider. It slipped down easy and was about 12% proof. To the unititiated, it said ‘drink lots of me, I’m easy’.

To wiser heads, it screamed BEWARE.  I had half a glass and kept steady while the rest of the room degenerated into mayhem, wreckage, and debauchery.

The bloke who made the home brew now heads up one of the country’s more prominent and successful  fund managers.  Read into this what you will.

The spiritual home of the Home Brew kit is of course the all male flat, something which Mr Birmingham alludes to….there is a reference back to his meisterwerk, ‘He Died With A Felafel In His Hand’, where he notes all male flats tend to bring out The Beast.

I am still friends with the blokes I knew in my last all-male flat.  Wonderful chaps, who have gone on to  become sober and upright….well, upright-ish… citizens and family men.

But the day a couple of them decided to make home brew in the new wheelie bin the council had thoughtfully provided was the day I decided to move out.  I could see where this was heading.

War with Australia – repost from 2008

With the Australian/NZ relationship back in the news, I thought I’d repost a piece I wrote in 2008 after John Birmingham, an Aussie whose works I revere, wrote a piece advocating invading New Zealand. I wrote this response, outlining the differences between our two great nations.  Some of it has dated a bit:   most of it, not. 

John Birmingham, a man mostly famous for killing flatmates with felafels, has responded to Australian cities doing rather badly, compared to New Zealand,  in an international survey of good places to live.

His solution: Australia should invade New Zealand.

At the outset, I think we need to note the Australian enthusiasm for invading countries is clear evidence they’ve been hanging out with the wrong crowd lately. But more importantly, Mr Birmingham makes a number of factual and strategic errors, as I’ve outlined in an open letter.

JB,

We appreciate you had a choice of countries to invade, so thank you for choosing New Zealand.

There are a few things you should have considered though.

Firstly, you’re wrong about us abolishing the New Zealand Defence Force. 


OK, we scaled it back a bit. Got rid of the RNZAF Strike Wing. We still have the aircraft though: you would think someone would want to buy a dozen Skyhawks but so far people have missed this opportunity of a lifetime. Even that bloke who came looking wearing an old nightshirt and a really overdone three-day-growth.

The Skyhawks are currently at one of our many secret air force bases, under tarpaulins. We can get them out again, you know, and it would please the New Zealand Army no end, because they’d get their tents back.

And the sheep jokes….bit behind the times there mate. We’ve still got a few sheep farmers, but most of them converted to dairy over the past decade.  They saw too many cow cockies installing new swimming pools to pay less tax.  


Pools, or as you Aussies quaintly call them ‘Poo-ee-walls’ (honestly, how does anyone get three syllables out of a five letter word?) are tax deductible if you claim they’re for irrigation purposes.   And as is well known, Kiwi Ingenuity can do anything with a piece of number-eight fence wire and a tax break. 

Yes, we have a few luxuries denied to Australians.

Things like water. We’ve got tonnes of it the stuff, pretty much everywhere, with the notable current exception of our hydro lakes – a mere temporary shortfall, I assure you.

And where you have the world’s biggest, flattest, driest sand dune, we’ve got bush. Yes, I know you Aussies talk about your ‘bush’ but when you do we just smile quietly to ourselves.

That’s the Kiwi Way, JB.

We’ve got real bush:   tall, thick, slimy stuff which covers a third of the country. It’s good stuff to hide in, JB, real good for launching guerrilla raids on invading forces, particularly invading forces who are not used to (a) real trees (b) real rain and (c) real hills.

But that’s minor stuff. You are overlooking a couple of crucial differences between our two brothers-in-Anzac.

Your mob got started when the Poms shoved their undesirables (I’m sorry, but it’s true)…their undesirables onto leaky, unsafe, disease-ridden barges and sent them across storm-tossed oceans to the other side of the world.

Notice the difference?  

NZ got started by a bunch of people who voluntarily got into leaky, unsafe, disease-ridden barges and voyaged across storm-tossed oceans even further than Australia.

Just to prove a point.

And when they got here they found the locals had voluntarily rowed here from Asia some centuries previously, around the time Marco Polo was looking for a publisher for the first edition of Lonely Planet.

Unless memory is pulling a foot fault, when your guys first arrived they had a big piss up.

When the first mob got to New Zealand to sign a treaty with the locals (yep, we did that too: we’re FAIR. OK, the small print left a bit to be desired, but caveat your own empties and all that)


…Anyway, when that lot arrived they had a prayer meeting. They then signed the Treaty.

THEN they got pissed.

This is why your little Antipodean Operation Sea Lion wouldn’t work. Yes, you’ve got the numbers. You’ve probably got the firepower, if Dubya lets you bring it all home from Mesopotamia (see, that’s another difference. We kept out of that little dust up, even though Dubya asked us real nicely. We might be a bit slow and bloody-minded at times, but we’re not DUMB. Unlike some countries we could name).

The Kiwi is a dowdy, rather dour bird, JB, but be warned. A country which chooses rugby as its national game and all-consuming passion – a game which involves blood, mud,  and the total impossibility of winning unless you break the rules and  – this is the important bit – not get caught, is not to be under-estimated.

And once we’ve sent our version of the press gang around the P labs to hoover up all the psychopathic nutters, and we’ve given them some bayonets, told them about Galatos and Minqar Qaim and Chunuk Bair and them loose…well, I wouldn’t want to be in your imitation Doc Martens.

Ever read the Winnie the Pooh stories as a kid, JB? It was an analogy of the British Empire, as it then was. You guys were Tigger.

We were Eeyore.

So take note and be warned, JB. Yes, you’d probably win, initially. But your hedonistic, happy-go-lucky natures would not enjoy the experience. We would de-bounce your Tigger-ish nature and send you home a sadder and – OK this is a bit of a stretch – wiser Tigger.

We’d hate it too, of course. But we’re used to that. 

You would hate hating it.

We’d get a sort of grim satisfaction out of it.

So stay where you are, JB. And in a few years, when that all-enveloping sand dune you call ‘the bush’ has reached downtown Brisbane, we’ll see if we can get you a ‘mates rates’ deal on water.

Leaps and Bounds

http://youtube.com/v/nXgTCg4HAOI

Australia Day.

Scanning my CD collection recnelty I noticed there’s a disproportionate number of Aussie artists: Cold Chisel, the Cruel Sea, Hunters and Collectors and Paul Kelly being the main ones, but also a few outriders like the Black Sorrows and Tex Don and Charlie.

Paul Kelly captures my mood best today, so here’s “Leaps and Bounds”, off the ‘Gossip’ Album.

There used to be an actual clip of this, filmed on the top of the MCG, but its been taken down.

Pity.

The song has a fantastic warmth and a love of place. Especially that bit that goes ‘down past the river, and across the playing fields….’

While we’re at it: off the same album, a live version of the much blacker ‘Adelaide’.

Great opening line:

‘The wisteria on the back verandah are still blooming
And all the great aunts are either insane or dead.’

The man’s a poet.