Monday, January 31, 2005

"I know, it's only rock n' roll but I like it..." (The Rolling Stones)

Remember those fine and fabulous things that happen when you least expect them? I mentioned them in my ode to New Year's Eve post. Well, they've started. My first cosmic surprise for 2005 came in the form of a late nite text message from a friend who works in PR, and the offer of free tickets to the sold-out Melbourne Big Day Out.

Big Day Out is Australia's -- and New Zealand's, for that matter -- biggest mainstream rock festival. My last one was five years ago; the day before my final year of high school. It's one of those glorious, big, messy, one ticket, over-sixty-bands-on-eight-stages, sweet-corn-on-stick, ride the Catapault until you're sick affairs and it makes appearances across Australia and NZ throughout January and February.

At my last Big Day Out I saw the Red Hot Chilli Peppers on the mainstage.

At my last Big Day Out I rode the Kamikaze as the sun set over the Showgrounds.

At my last Big Day Out I bumped into Tim Wheeler from Ash and had a sweaty photo taken with him before he escaped to the VIP lounge.

At my last Big Day Out I left my friends to see Sydney band The Cruel Sea on one of the smaller stages and discovered how great musicianship can transform a mere skinny mortal into a sex god.

At my last Big Day Out my entire face got sunburned, except for the part the sunglasses covered, and I turned up for my first day of year 12 looking like a bug and still radiating heat, but blissfully happy.

After a five year hiatus, this year is the first in several that I even considered going. I don't know what was different this year, maybe it was nostalgia brought on by an early quarter-life crisis. Maybe it was the line-up which, this year, included the Beastie Boys and The Streets. At any rate, I wasn't going to pay the $110 plus booking fee on my paltry salary. Enter Claire, my fairy rock-mother. With a wave of her VIP Pass she declared, "Cassy, you shall go to the ball..."

First-up on our itinerary was The Donnas on the mainstage. The Donnas, for the uninitiated, hail from the U.S and have been performing together since they were fourteen. They like The Ramones and long walks on the beach, and they brought a welcome shot of oestrogen to the traditionally male-dominated phenomenon that is the rock festival.

Next we scattered. Some of us stuck it out near the mainstage for the slick, polished three-piece that WA band Eskimo Joe has become. Some of us went to the Hothouse in search of beats from RJD2. I made my way to the Essential Stage -- a cattle-shed during Melbourne Show-time -- for Wolfmother (their entrance was heralded by a man wearing a Native American headdress who incited to crowd to howl like, well, wolves) before returning to the mainstage to catch the end of Eskimo Joe. (I still remember the Sweater Song, boys, even if you wish you didn't.)

Apart from the odd tune on my radio, I didn't know much of Swedish rockers, The Hives. They wear retro-lookin suits and are possessed of some fine 70s rock moves, I learned, as well as an endearing -- or at the very least, entertaining -- arrogance which makes their live shows fun. The frontman introduced one song saying, this: "This song is for all those people who hate The Hives. You come here with a closed mind and a tiny brain saying, 'I only like one band at this festival.' You'll wake up one day when you're fifty and realise, 'Man, The Hives were the best thing I ever saw. I should have applauded when I had the chance.'" You go, boy.

The next few hours passed in a blur of rainbow-coloured slurpees that went down like liquid sugar, over-priced souvlakis, reapplications of sunscreen, Little Birdy, The John Butler Trio, Le Tigre (a retro-punk 3-piece from New York that had everybody dancing) and the tail-end of a set by the Blues Explosion.

Then things really got kicking. This year's festival highlight -- for me, anyway, was The Streets. They had the audience in the pocket of their baggy hip hop pants from the moment the engaging Mike Skinner stepped onstage. They sound sensational live and Skinner is every inch the friendly Brummie lad telling you tales over a pint. Whether there's beats in the background or not, its all the same, and "seriously, right? Is everyone 'avin' a good day?"

Regurgitator performed a solid, energetic set of old and new material. If there was one band that best captures my misspent youth of Saturday morning music telly, rock festivals and listening to the tail-end of my fave brekky radio show on my walkman in first period English Lit, then I guess The Gurge are it. They're rock, pop, metal and hip hop. They've won industry awards, but are still laid-back slackers at heart; just one (or 3) of the boys. They're also the only Aussie band I can think of who could record an entire album in a glass bubble in Federation Square and still come out of the experience looking healthily ironic.

Then it was dusk, and time for the Beasties. The Beastie Boys. Maybe it was the hype, maybe it was my seat -- a wimp's seat in the stadium opposite the stage, a hundred metres from the action -- but I didn't dig it. I didn't dig the pre-recorded filler more suitable for concert gigs, than a festival, nor did I go for the long-winded instrumental stuff from an earlier album. Sitting there in the growing twilight, witness to what the grandfathers of white hip hop had to offer, I couldn't help but wish I was on the other side of the Showgrounds at the smaller, Triple R-sponsored Green Stage munching on a jam donut and bathing in the lush orchestral sounds of the Polyphonic Spree who I gave up to see the Beasties.

But you can't have everything, right? As night fell and revellers picked themselves up off the grass I had to be content with that jam donut, a long walk back to the car, ringing ears and a brief but blissful revisitation of one of the better parts of being a teenager.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

nostalgia tastes like chicken...

You'll forgive me for that cliche if you read on, I promise, because it really is relevant. Today I lunched with mate from work in my new fave cafe: the rustic, pint-sized Babble On Babylon in Elwood. I had the jerk chicken. It was delicious.

The last time I had jerk was over two years ago in Negril on Jamaica's West Coast. It was, frankly, average. But the time before that was in a sleepy fishing village called Billy's Bay on Jamaica's South Coast. We'd only been in the island a few days and were still stunned daily by the culinary skills of Irie Rest's resident chef Pauline. Her jerk chicken was one of the best meals I've ever had.

I think I breathed it in before I knew what it was. It was dark and humid when we arrived in Jamaica. Lennie, our host, tour guide, chaffeur and dealer for our first week in Jamaica, picked us up from the airport. Through the window I breathed in warm, damp air, the spicy scent of jerk chicken cooking on pimento logs and the sweet heady scent of reefer smoke.

Jamaica is still one of the best things I've ever done. It's probably the first dream I've had come true (and how I know I'm hooked on that feeling). But travel intensifies everything: tastes, smells, colours, sounds, friendships, insecurities and homesickness. So my warped memories are all I have of that trip. But then, objectivity is highly overrated.

Friday, January 21, 2005

some cartoon wisdom

These days its something of a trend in pop culture for the ostensibly wizened older characters to tell meandering anecdotes that have no point to them, or else directly contradict the point they're trying to make. I'm thinking the father in the brilliant British series The Kumars at no. 42. I'm thinking Arnold's grandfather in Hey, Arnold! and the Jim Morrison dream sequence in Wayne's World 2. And today I'm thinking especially of one of my fave lines from one of The Cartoon Network's more oddball cartoons: Yvonn of The Yukon. For neophytes, Yvon is an eighteenth century Frenchman despatched by Louis XVI on a exploratory mission. Somehow he gets lost at sea, frozen and is defrosted in the modern-day Yukon. In the episode in question, Yvon is nowhere to be seen. Our "hero" is a young boy who, spurned by love, is deciding to turn his back on it. The dispenser of wisdom offers these words to our protagonist:

"I knew a guy who thought he could live without love. He spent all his time workin' and hangin' out. Thirty, forty years he never had a meaningful relationship. And you know what happened to him?"


"Nothing! Happiest guy you ever met. Turned out he didn't need *anyone*..."

Whaddya think? Can you live without love? I'm not asking if you'd choose to, mind, but if you *could* live a full and happy life without it?

Saturday, January 08, 2005

On loving the people you work with

It helps, it really does.

On themes within films

I've racked up a lot of hours in front of my brand spanking new DVD player in the last couple of weeks.

There's a few reasons for this: its Summer but its wet out, miserable in fact. Plus I'm mostly working nites and thus have become something of a zombie, a quasi-nocturnal beast who rises after noon each day to eat cereal, eventually leaving the house at about 6pm, just when most people are arriving home amidst a quiet cacophany of sound: car keys jangling, the TV in the background and one long exhalation that says, "the day is done and I'm home" but also "I have to go back tomorrow".

But enough with the excuses, what have I been watching?

In the last few days I've seen three relatively old flicks, that were new to my eyes. All three used mental illness in their narratives and two dealt with time travel.

When it first came out, I was disinclined to see Fight Club, imagining that it would be little more than two hours of macho gratuitous violence. I've never had much of a stomach for violent flicks (or for Brad Pitt, for that matter, despite the countless attempts of others to explain his appeal to me). But in Fight Club I was pleasantly surprised. Seduced by the notion of a man who is disenfranchised from his own magazine-style life (a cliche, perhaps), but who chooses unique ways to escape it, joining support groups to cry with strangers just so he can feel something. Edward Norton's character seeks out increasingly dangerous and subversive ways to break out of his monotonous existence and the twist is killer. I'm still not sold on the ending tho. Something else I discovered? Its the psychological aspects of violence, rather than the physical, that get to me. Domination and assertions of superiority, like racial violence or violence against women. Like Norton's chilling but brilliant portrayal of a neo-Nazi in American History X. The act of violence which lands his character in jail makes me sick to my stomach, just thinking about it. In Fight Club, tho, the violence was dealt and received by consenting adults. There were rules. It was not about domination, etc. It was about waking up, breaking out. It actually got me thinking -- maybe oddly -- of Garden State; a completely different film but another in which the main character emerges as if from a coma to and wakes up to life -- its pleasure and pain.

Hm. I saw (and loved) Donnie Darko and endured Ashton Kucher in The Butterfly Effect, too. But they'll have to wait for another day. Dusk will fall soon and it will be time for the undead to walk the earth (trans: for me to go to work)...

Monday, January 03, 2005

Raise your hand if you've ever slept with a rock star...

...and keep 'em up while I count.

No, sadly this isn't a segue-way to a sordid tale of my own, I was just wonderin'. Leave your tales at the end of this blog.

I saw Klinger on the last Tuesday of 2004. They played Melbourne's Ding Dong Lounge in a one-off reunion gig. It was the first time I caught them in the flesh, after many attempts to do so during their short but sparkly career. The boys are probably best known for the bouncy, rockin' love song 'Hello Cruel World' which was, frontman Ben Birchell informed us, "the 86th best song of 1999", as ruled by Triple J's Hottest 100 in that year. Birchell is comfortable onstage, energetic, engagingly self-deprecating and possessed with one of the best smiles in rock n' roll. Apart from helping out with guitar and backing vocals for The Well Wishers -- a spin-off band fronted by Klinger's guitarist -- and some solo dabbling I have no idea what Birchell has planned next, but I'm looking forward to it, and to seeing his experience catch up to his energy and charisma.

Speakin' of rockin', I hope your New Year's was. I saw 2005 in from a friend's backyard. We BBQ'd beef and prawns, drank rum and champers, took our shoes off and danced to the Beastie Boys on the lawn. It was one of the more enjoyable New Years' I've had, maybe because I determinedly threw away any expectations I had of it. And if I have any resolutions for this year, then that would be it: to relax into life and let it happen, and stop deciding I've failed if it doesn't somehow stack up.

So, no, I haven't slept with any rock stars. Not yet, but the year is young and who knows what it might hold...