Song from the Dark Times.
I don’t think I’m the only person who, when this came out, thought they were singing about Janet Frame.
That, though, would have been a bit too direct for Don McGlashan.
Someone once defined the Muttonbirds as being like the a Kiwi version of the Kinks with a touch of Twin Peaks’ undefined menace to them.
That to me is almost right. The band – and Don McGlashan’s other work, with Front Lawn and Blam Blam Blam and elsewhere – certainly get, and convey, New Zealand culture in a way the Kinks, at their peak, were able to do for the English.
But Twin Peaks? Hmm. You can see it a bit in this video clip, I suppose. But really, you don’t need to go offshore to seek influcneces. The band is like a rock muso version of Maurice Gee’s novels, or of some of our infamous ‘Cinema of Unease’.
If peoeple still bothered to market music compilations, someone could do a very good ‘Music of Unease’ of Kiwi Music.
In fact, of course, you could probably make one of your own.
The late, great John Clarke/Fred Dagg on the meaning of life. An excerpt therefrom.
“Of course, in the 20th century, we have produced a fair array of theories about what life’s actually about and probably the existentialists take the buttered confection for getting closest to thinking they had it all worked out. They used to hang about in the Paris area, which is in what we used to call Gaul, and talk about how terrible life was and how they didn’t know if they’d really get to the weekend. They reckoned life was a pretty dreadful business and was filled with a thing called ennui.
“Now, ennui is a terrible thing, and seems to have roughly the same effect as terminal boredom. Ennui actually is a French word meaning Henry. And the story goes that once you get a touch of the Henry’s, it’s all downhill and the only way to relive the symptoms is to whip down the harbour and pull a wave over your bonce and call it a day.”
The full piece is here.
Rest in Peace. Reports through from Sydney this morning he’s died, aged 68.
Clarke was the closest New Zealand has come to a genuine comic genius. An original, one who, mostly, based his humour on the way New Zealanders talk rather than by just adapting a sketch from Monty Python or Stan Freberg or the Frost Report to local conditions.
He first appeared to a wider audience on Country Calendar in the mid-1970s, just as the country’s economic reliance on pastoral products and the Brits was being pulverised.
He was a breath of fresh air, in so many ways: mostly because of how he talked.
It was very buttoned down Kiwi, but with an ornate side to it: “It’s a wee bit horrendous, this towngoing,” a diffident Dagg mutters in a voice over as he is seen parking his Landrover in Wellington’s Harris Street.
He laughed at the way we talked, but it was a laughter without jeers.
Clarke had the true comic’s gift of being able to show what was funny about New Zealanders but in a way which, somehow, celebrated rather than sneered at it.
There was always a sense of heart, a generosity of spirit, as he laughed – or rather, as he showed us what was funny.
Murray Ball, RIP. Got a huge collection of Footrot Flats books. You didn’t have to have grown up on a farm to have got the humour of them, but by crikey it helped.
One of my favourites: just a one frame shot of Wal and Cooch, cleaning out either the shed or a pigsty, in the pouring rain. Wal is looking particularly grim and determined, and an air of resigned misery hangs over the entire picture.
Dog is looking out at the viewer, and is saying, ‘Well, it was either this or do the accounts.’
Ball was a junior All Black and perhaps could have gone further but, having spent some formative years in South Africa was particularly vehemently opposed to apartheid. I recall a story of his being on one of the early protests against the 1981 tour – it may even have been the Hamilton riot – and being appalled when fellow protestors starting pulling down the fence to the ground.
When a tour to South Africa was planned in 1985, he withdrew Dog from being the All Black mascot, in an open letter to the Rugby Union.
I clipped it and its selotaped on the inside of one of the collections of Footrot Flat cartoons [see pic]. It captured the turmoil a lot of us felt about rugby contacts with apartheid, at the time: his drawing of Dog taking off his black and white scarf and walking away in sorrow was eloquent and sad and so, so bang on.
Happier was the film of the cartoons strip the following year: it brilliantly caught the entire New Zealand farming world at a time it was changing forever.
Saw the film at Mission Bay cinema: it was thrilling to see something so New Zild on the screen, so recognisable; hilarious in bits and I remember even shedding a tear at one point.
A favourite spot, over the past summer, has been the hills above Makara. The bottom left-hand corner of the North Island, the area is wild, open, and glorious. The daughter loves it there, I’m pretty fond of it myself.
There’s a high tensile toughness, as it looks out at the world. The plant life is not tall – under constant pressure from howling seaward winds, it sticks close to the ground, even though the ground itself is not the most fertile you would find. It’s scrabbly, rocky, and gives up its nutrients grudgingly.
Remnants of how New Zealand faced past threats are there: concrete gun emplacements built at the start of World War Two glower out at the sea.
To the north, you can see Mana & Kapiti Islands. Wheel your view around to the south-west and there’s the South Island. You’ll often see at least one of the Cook Strait ferries, possibly more than one.
‘Silver blue, the sea like sheets on a bed
At the edge of the world a ferry boat crawls away like a snail…’
…as Don McGlashan wrote in the great Mutton Birds song, ‘Along the Boundary’. I don’t think the song is actually about this spot – I remember McGlashan saying, somewhere, it was about a specific place and memory, but I suspect that place is on the other side of the strait.
But anyway. It’s off an album which came out in 1995, around the time I moved to Wellington. It’s always had a special place in my heart and I think of this particular song almost every time I go up to this place.
It’s about a child climbing a tree, and struggling to keep up with a bigger child – a friend or, more likely, a sibling or a cousin – who is ‘much older’.
The song tells of a child discovering he/she could keep up with the ‘much older’ person.
‘You never thought I could get such a long way up, but I looked straight ahead…’
And there’s the evocative memory…
‘I feel the branches move around me
I see the thistles along the boundary
Up along the boundary…’
And, from up there, the child’s feeling of, if not omnipotence, then certainly strength and potential:
‘I move patches of wind round the bay of glass
I move shadows of clouds over the grass
I’m at the controls, there isn’t a shelf or a rock on the beach
That I couldn’t reach…
The sun pulls the hills the way the tide pulls on the sea
Waves and waves of grass are breaking, rolling over to me
And the sky’s like a wheel
Like a wheel…’
It’s sheer poetry. McGlashan’s one of our best songwriters: he is certainly our best at evoking the New Zealand space – both headspace and physical space.
He’s kind of a rock muso version of Maurice Gee.
Today the threats those concrete blockhouses were built to face are gone. Behind them, the flat area dug out to house soldiers’ barracks is partly overgrown with lupins.
Sheep may safely graze there. Children play noisily and happily in the old buildings once built by khaki-clad soldiers in deadly, fear-filled earnestness of an overwhelming threat.
Just over the hills, the Makara wind farms whirl, while under them, a stream of mountain bikers, all sweaty and multicoloured exuberance, whirl their pedals in a kind of mock tribute.
So: here’s the Mutton Birds, doing ‘Along The Boundary’, live. Bit rough, but its still a great song.
Kaikoura is a favourite region. I’ve had numerous escape long weekends there in recent years: it’s pretty much perfect because there are plenty of walks.
And I love that Coast Road.
The coast road.
If you have a writerly urge is part of the way you cope with life and that includes events like this one.
It can seem a bit self-indulgent, but what the hey. If you can’t be a bit self-indulgent on a blog, where the hell can you be a bit self-indulgent?
(Genuine question. As a slightly uptight, culturally Presbyterian, Kiwi farmboy, this is an area I probably do need some tips about).
…..Yes, *slightly* uptight. Don’t want to get too carried away about this or anything).
It’s included, in younger and fitter days, some great tramping trips, including climbing the magnificent Mt Tapaonuku back in the late ’90s, and several trips over the Kowhai Saddle, up Hapuku Valley and down through the other side.
Second time on that saddle was a landmark in a different way – going down towards the hut in the dry riverbed, I had one of those ‘hmm..will that collection of rocks hold my foot…yeah should be all right’ moments of hesitation.
And, seconds later a more dramatic moment involving turning a 180 degree turn as the rocks gave way and I struggled to hold my balance. One of the blokes in the group, who was ahead and below me, rekkined afterwards I’d hovered for several seconds and he thought I was going to be ok, before tumbling down the rock slope.
Looked magnificent, he said. Poetry in motion, or something.
Perhaps one of Ezra Pounds more deranged Cantos’, maybe.
The left knee has never been the same since.
Much more sedate visits since, including an immensely productive writing week in an old farm cottage last January.
But it’s a great part of the country: a mix of relatively sedate dairy land, the dramatic Mt Fyffe and the Seaward Kaikouras generally, and that magnificent, and now closed, road.
When I looked onto my digital photo file, I found nearly 200 photos of the region, about half from that road.
First visit was 1990, hitching through from Christchurch with a German marine biology student who had come out to see the whales. I hadn’t heard of Whale Watch at that point – it had been going a couple of years, if that – but word had spread and it was going to be the high point of her trip.
I’ve since done the Whale Watch thing myself: it’s great, though I found the dolphins we encountered more spectacular. About 500 of them, on the port side of the boat, and with the ones furthest away jumping higher, in great spirals, as if to say ‘Wee!! Look at us!!’
The same trip, we did the ultimate Kaikoura meal – crays from Nins Bin, and fried chips. Washed down with some Marlborough Chardonnay (Grove Mill, from memory).
The Kekerengu Store, ideally situated as it is between Kaikoura and Blenheim, is a compulsory stop-off point – the staff and owners are great hosts, the coffee packs the requisite punch and I’ve sat there, written up a journal or edited stuff I’ve been working on.
The shingle beaches – too dangerous to swim off, but wonderfully rugged and desolate. You look out, east, and feel you are on the edge of the world. Somewhere out there, half a hemisphere away, is South America.
It’s a great place to go, to gather your thoughts, and in that isolation locate and settle yourself.
Here’s hoping the geology can also settle itself.
Matthew Hooton is visiting the Americas, I gather from the Twitter, to make a close study of the current nervous breakdown convulsing the United States’ body politic.
Personally, I rekkin Prozac is at the heart of the problem. Around 15% of Americans are on some form of anti-depressant and I think they’ve been overdosing.
Lead pipes were blamed for the fall of the Roman Empire. The elites all got lead poisoning and went bonkers, started making their horses into zodiacs, masturbating while the city burned, that sort of thing.
In centuries to come, I suspect, historians will recall anti-depressants had a similar role in the collapse of the American hegemony. Certainly, according to legend, the water supply over there is full of the stuff.
All that is by way of aside.
The immediate issue is that Matthew’s departure to the heart, and spleen, of the 21st Century Roman Empire has left a gap in National Radio’s programming.
So it was that late last week, from deep within the labyrinth of Radio New Zealand House , the call rang out, ‘Send for Hosking NO NOT THAT ONE.’
Anyway, I shall be on Nine to Noon this morning, shortly after 11am, discussing the state of the political world.
If anyone wants to hear me more regularly, I’m at NBR Radio here.
UPDATE: you can hear the audio here. http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201821190/political-commentators-stephen-mills-and-rob-hosking
#mhawnz It’s been Mental Health Awareness…umm. Well… its been going for more than a week but I’m not sure it’s lasting a full month.
There was a challenge, with the hashtag #mhawnz, where you posted a different type of photo from the outdoors every day to mark the period.
The idea is, from what I can gather, to highlight the general benefits of getting out into nature.
I seem to know a lot of people going through mental health issues at the moment. And – in what now seems like a different life – I was, for five years, a volunteer on Youthline’s crisis line, which gave me a bit of insight into all this.
Personally? I’m not unacquainted with the black dog sniffing around the room at 3am, or waking with what I call the Boulder of Dread on my chest.
Anyone, I’ve learned, can hit overload. It’s not something I dwell on or go on about. I can hyper-intellectualise this by saying self-dramatisation is one of the ills of our age – and that is true, I think.
The other, probably more important reason is that I’m just, culturally and emotionally, a bit of an uptight Presbyterian about these things.
I’m okay with that, by the way. I love and accept my attitude problem.
Anyway, I started doing the photo challenge and then got sidetracked by combination of work and a viral chest infection.
But here’s two pics from the McKenzie area – Lake Benmore, from June a few years back, and just up the road at Omarama, snowing, last year.
More generally, I’ve written about how walking is kind of beaut, last year.
The old mental appetite is certainly stimulated – and fed – by books, as well as by conversations, chats over coffee, shouting matches over the Shiraz, gesticulating over the Glenmorangie.
But it is digested by walking. This is about balance, and the interaction between walking, thinking and feeling.
The full piece, which is a review of a really great book called ‘A Philosophy of Walking’ by Frederic Gros, is here.
It rained, usually.
Nothing so ambitious this weekend, just wombling around the Wellington hills. But I’m kind of happy with that.
Very few New Zealand hits by New Zealand bands were in fact New Zealand songs in the late ’60s. The general idea was find a catchy but obscure number published overseas, perhaps a hit in some country other than the UK or the US, and have a local group record it.
This lot were an exception. This isn’t as famous as their big one, ‘Nature‘ but I like it just as much.
Wayne Mason, the bloke who wrote this (as well as ‘Nature’) used the line ‘the horizon is much closer than it seems’ in a mid-’90s song of his as well.
It’s a line which calls out for the #spockDissectsLyrics treatment – if something looks a certain way, it pretty much certainly seems that way as well.
Style wise, its half Brit invasion, half psychedelia.
I was about four when it came out – yes, I do remember hearing it on the wireless, when staying at relatives.
This, much later, song from the Chills, which came out the first year I was out of home, seems to me to have a similar vibe to it and I can’t help but wonder if Martin Phillips was influenced by the earlier New Zild outfit.
Both are about going to other worlds, somehow, in a dreamy rather than a dystopian sense.
It only occurred to me, many many years later, that perhaps ‘Kaleidoscope World’ was about drugs. At the time, I simply assumed it was about using the imagination to go to another place, at least internally.
Ah, well. I was never very good at picking up on these things.