Being 'forced' to get back into Lightroom recently to dig up some photos for work made me realise that there some photos that I took, but never did a lot with shortly before I put my camera down for its current extended hiatus. Perhaps in an attempt to get that creativity simmering ever so quietly in the back blocks of my brain, I'll start looking at them again, and occasionally, putting some here. It's as good as anywhere else. A story or two about the image might be nice as well.
In amongst all the science and what not. All in good time.
Big Sur, October 2010.Tweet
I'm down on my hands and knees,
Every time I hear a doorbell ring.
I shake like a toothache,
Every time I hear myself sing.
All my lies are only wishes,
I know I would die if I could come back new.
I would like to salute;
The ashes of American flags,
And all the fallen leaves,
Filling up shopping bags.
Crazy rides rockets,
Who has a magic wand?
Empty out your pockets,
Words without a song.
I, myself have found, a real, rival, in myself
I, am hoping for, a re-arrival, of my health.
I dreamt about you again last night. Seems to be more frequently lately. I thought in some way we were going to stop that, but, maybe it's just of my own creation. Every few nights you waltz effortlessly into my mind and it seems to frolic on the notion. It's shimmering and warm, and it feels real and vibrant. It's soft and tranquil, and I bask in it like I once did. Once before I got sick. I wish I had the words to explain to you then what it was. I wish I had the peace of mind to actually understand it myself. Mostly I still don't, but I do know a lot more than I did.
Words. Mostly they were all we ever had. But I lost mine. I lost a lot of things at that time, including you. Even to this date I haven't really been able to find them all again. I can't even begin to fathom what it must have done to you. What I did to you. That's mine to keep, to hold onto, like I should.
I'm not one to want to change the past mostly, but with every fibre of my being I wish that I had it in me to have given you a proper goodbye. To wish you on your way. To give you hope even in dark times. Like I once did.
Words swirl in my mind. This is the first time in forever that I've felt compelled to write. Especially about you.Tweet
It’s 9:20pm on a Friday evening and I’m sitting in an abandoned corner of Beijing Airport’s terminal three. I’m certain that the reasons for abandoning it for most people are the incessant blaring of advertisements from televisions placed every twenty metres along the concourse. I guess it could also be to do with the fact that there are no flights leaving this part of the airport. At least not for now. It’s useful for me, because there’s a handy source of electricity in the floor.
Frequent travellers become hunter/gatherers on long haul flights. In some respects the wide eyed wonder with which we embrace airports with for the first time is attenuated, replaced by the understanding that a certain disconnection of self from the physical world is necessary to carry the sum of one’s parts through the journey. The hunting and gathering comes to the fore because you seek out supplies to keep you vital and aware and nurtured. Things like power outlets on poles, or in floors. Locations of water fountains, toilets, quiet places to mull over things as you await the screen at your gate to list your flight number and departure time.
To confirm transition.
There’s a loud pop and suddenly the music in my ears ceases. Replacing Liz Phair is the sound of a crowd cheering for a goal scored on the soccer highlights package playing on the TV. In the background, Kenny G wafts through the Beijing airport. Whilst I’ve only been here three times, I can vouch for the fact that Kenny G always wafts through the Beijing airport. Another roar, this time a plane full of people, some of them no doubt wide eyed at their first journey, breaks the bonds of earth and lurches into the sky. In the soupy Beijing night, distant fireworks erupt into the sky with the impact of camera flashes at a fully lit sports oval.
Having found a freshly charged battery and placed it into my giant noise cancelling headphones, I restart Shatter by Liz Phair and the TV fades out of my consciousness. Two people wander past, heading to an even further abandoned part the airport to await a different flight. There’s no plane here yet, but then, it’s not due to leave for four hours.
I recently finished reading ‘Timequake’ by Kurt Vonnegut. He has certainly become a favourite author in the last few years and as is my obsessive nature, I’m slowly working through the canon of his works. There seems to be a lot of divided opinion on the book, but for what it’s worth, I thoroughly enjoyed it and thought it a classic Vonnegut book. Perhaps even post-Vonnegut, to coin a music analogy, that is, a deconstruction and reinterpreting of what is a Vonnegut novel, but in this instance, the author is reinterpreting, or perhaps even distilling his very essence. Such a clever man.
The premise for the book (and I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum) is that in 2001, the Universe undergoes a timequake, essentially a jostling of time where everything is sent back ten years. This is all well and good, except that in doing so, everyone is the forced to relive life exactly as it was for those ten years. There was no choice, there was no chance to make amends. It was effectively a rerun of life as it had been. Free will was lost and in its place was helplessly rewatching ten years of your life unfold before you, helpless to make any changes. Kind of scary really.
I’ve relocated spots in the airport. Hunger and comfort got the better of me. I’ve moved to a bar that appears to be one of only two places open 24 hours. It’s moved on to 10:16pm, still a full three hours before departure to Singapore. Two guys, one Australian, walk into the bar and the Australian does a double take and says he recognises me. Never forgets a face he reckons. We exchange some banter. I’ve never seen him before in my life. He says he will remember by Tuesday. I offer that I hope he doesn’t lose any sleep over it.
The concept of a timequake kind of grabbed me in a personal way. In some ways I feel like I’ve been living my own little timequake for the past two years. Ever since I agreed to a new role for work that I wasn’t sure of, but which I felt was necessary to affect change, I’ve felt like I’ve been relieving portions of my life over and over again.
Far from the routine of the daily commute or weekend ritual of finding coffee and washing clothes, it’s been more the mundane parts of work; biding time until something came along that I could be passionate about again. It was only recently that I began to appreciate just how pervasive a lack of passion in one predominant facet of your life can permeate every other part of it. It is overwhelming. Everything is coloured grey, given its own sense of banality that makes it difficult to push on and into other things. It was only in becoming conscious of it that I was able to at least ward off some of its insidiousness.
I’ve been listening to “Brighten the Corners” by Pavement a lot on this trip and in particular whilst I was finishing Timequake. It’s not entirely clear what brought that album to mind, but it was certainly conjured up frequently whilst in Ulaanbaatar. My hotel was a block away from a street called “Embassy Road” which analogues nicely to the 7th track from Brighten the Corners, ‘Embassy Row’. You can’t help but think of that song when you see that road name, and it’s compounded further for myself after a blissful trip to Canberra one rainy day.
The last three tracks of the album fall into a category of songs I dub my holy trinity; i.e. where three consecutive songs on an album are brilliant, complement each other in an extraordinary way, or are the finest songs in an artist’s catalogue. I won’t espouse the virtues of this trinity just now, saving that for its own entry one day, but rather will focus on the last track, ‘Fin’.
It is without a doubt one of my favourite Pavement songs and indeed, one of my favourite songs of all time. It is in fact my favourite song of all time at certain times. It is a sublime haunting track that in the usual Malkmus way is underpinned by fuzzy lyrics which sit on the periphery of understanding but which retain the ability for inference. One line from that song has become a mantra of sorts for my life, nestled amongst my own little Timequake, which is where Malkmus refrains ‘no more absolutes, no more absolutes’.
What’s in a name? Well to me, it’s a declaration of impermanence, and acceptance of the way of things, in particular that to expect a particular outcome, regardless of pretext, is somewhat shrouded in folly, because everything is subject to change. It may be one thing, it may be everything, but almost certainly things do not and will not play out to how you expected.
It’s not to say it will be bad. On the contrary, it could be delightfully good. It’s from that refrain that we can take comfort in variability and that it is okay to hedge our bets, move our eggs to different baskets and to know that we haven’t failed completely when that one thing we were banking on turns to jelly.
On that day in 2001 when the world awakes from its Timequake, Kilgour Trout, Vonnegut’s alter ego, is heard to proclaim to passers-by ‘wake up, you have free will again’ which fails to grab their attention. Rather, he utters ‘You were sick, but now you are well again. And there's work to be done' which is much more successful.
I feel like my Timequake is about to come in the end. In fact, I’m almost certain it ended the day I hopped on a plane to Mongolia to work there for four weeks. It didn’t have to be Mongolia, it could have been anywhere really. But that time away allows for the resetting of my context. And I know that when I step off that plane tomorrow morning, I’m going to have work to do, but that I will be well again.
I was sick for a very long time.
The guitar solo at the end of Fin makes me cry, mostly from joy, but it is truly bittersweet. It sounds like the end of the world and the big bang all at once. There is so much matter exploding and vibrating that a single person cannot hope to take it all in, not from a hundred or a thousand or ten thousand listens. It is nuanced in ways that one cannot consciously interpret a portion of it without missing out on another part of it. But there is nothing sad in that loss, rather it is the acceptance that there are things bigger than us as there are smaller in this world. What matters is finding our place and placing ourselves there.
I feel like I’m swinging back in that arc again, back towards the centre, towards that place that I should be. It’s not a physical space, I’m certain of that, though a physical place is a point of reference. It’s not a person, because lord knows I’ve tried to find such solace, but there is joy and nourishment and pleasure in people. It’s not a vocation, or a hobby or a passing interest. It’s none of those things yet it’s all of them. It’s no more absolutes, but it’s infinite possibilities.
This upcoming change is one I am facilitating, that I am transitioning into, that I want. And yet, when I get there, I know I won’t be satisfied. I may never be satisfied.
But I know that if I’m better than I was, then I’m in a greater position to find that next thing.
And that in itself is satisfaction enough.
Seeing an artist live for the first time holds expectations of exactly how they will perform. The persona that you craft in your mind of the performer is nuanced by the way they commit themselves to record. The image is shaped and honed by years of repeat listening intermingled with personal experience and interpretation and whilst it's perhaps trite to extrapolate a whole personality from a single moment, or moments, recorded in time, it so often hits the mark. Shy, withdrawn artists are invariably shy and withdrawn, softly spoken bands with lilting arrangements fill a room, but don't blow you away. Loud, brash frontmen are generally charismatic and everywhere at once.
On occasion, though, that image you've formed is completely shattered by the enigmatic presence that arrives on stage. On this cool, blustery summer's night in Perth, that presence was Will Oldham, in this guise as Bonnie 'Prince' Billy with the Cairo Gang. In Australia to play a series of festival shows (Perth) as well as a handful of more intimate gigs, this was my first time seeing the man that has been away from our shores for six years.
The image I'd formed, for the record, was to be a night of beautiful, literate music, played by a group of musicians lost in the world of melodies and harmonies that they craft. I didn't expect much audience interaction and expected to be gently simmered in the dark, brooding joy of their music. What I found though, both blew away this expectations and me on the night. Here was a man who is both brilliantly talented but also in possession of a wry, razor wit and a few enamouring quirks. He hiked up the legs of his trousers to the knee, he stood on one leg to sing, he danced and lilted across the stage in instrumental interludes, he engaged the audience and regaled us with stories of his native Kentucky, cracking informed jokes about seeing Republican candidates in hell. In short, he was captivating, and this was even before one considers the music.
A lot of the gamut of Oldham's music is about constructs of contrast. Be it light and shade, space and sound, much is about what is not there as much as what is laid down to record. The sparse release of late last year, Wolfroy Goes to Town, gives a sense of foreboding that is implied, rather than explicitly labelled. To that end, one expects a close, intimate style live performance that perhaps replicates that recorded experience. A brilliant experience, yes, but perhaps one that feels slightly removed, as though some walls may not be seen through.
The night's set list swayed and heaved across much of his recorded output. We were treated to songs from many of the back catalogue as well as from the most recent record and songs recorded with the Cairo Gang, the able backing band of the evening. It's worth pausing here to regard the Cairo Gang, far more than a mere backing band, they are a significant group of accomplished musicians and their harmonies with Oldham alone were worth the price of entry, let alone the lead guitar playing of Emmett Kelly, the resounding percussion of Van Campbell, or the strong rousing vocal leads of Angel Olsen. One would probably expect such a prolific artist like Oldham to choose an excellent accompanying band, but they were certainly a stand out part of the evening.
Even so, nothing could overshadow the main man. As enigmatic as he is talented, the first couple of songs were played without speaking and I thought perhaps this would be the theme for the evening as is often the case for touring artists. Instead, he acknowledge the crowd on the third song and around every second song stopped to discuss the tour, muse about his homeland and even ask questions of the crowd. He was funny, poignant and thoroughly entertaining. This, as a backdrop though, to the music.
I've been a long time fan of Oldham and his various monikers but had not had the chance to see him live. Having now done so, I can safely say that his songs simply leap from the stage, taking on a life of their own. I'm sure it would be a different story if it were just him and his guitar, something I still would love to see. However, the embellishments of a strong backing band, harmonising and laying a solid substrate to support Oldham's unique, and surprisingly powerful, vocals, enhanced every moment of the evening. At times it felt revivalist, evangelical, almost holy in its inception. Playing for almost two hours, it was a treat and an honour to witness this show.
This is vital, exceptional music that your life will be enhanced by hearing. It will restore your faith in humanity, your passion for creativity and your want to do right by yourself and those that you love. On this night, Bonnie Prince Billy delivered the very essense of what it is to be alive, to feel, to be human. It was humbling, restorative, grand and beautiful.
Master And Everyone
A Beast For Thee
You Want That Picture
I Don't Belong to Anyone
The Sounds Are Always Begging
Another Day Full of Dread
Love Comes to Me
I Called You Back
Ohio River Boat Song
(Sometimes I Feel Like) Fletcher Christian (Mekons Cover)
Southside of the World
Time to be Clear
Go Folks, Go
Ease Down the Road
Quail and Dumplings
I See a Darkness
A King at Night
With Cornstalks or Among Them
The closing line to The Dismemberment Plans’ landmark 1999 album, “Emergency & I”, lilts Back and Forth (as the title of the song) through my mind. The vista laid before me is a mixture of the inner workings of a café stall and the outer workings of an airport freight terminal. A grey, gloomy day in Melbourne flitters between moments of clear sky and persistent drizzle. Small support vehicles dart to and fro across the apron in the periphery of my sight, whilst inside the airport the scene is more sedate. Low chatter from security staff is dinned out by the noise cancellation and enveloping of the cups upon my ears.
It’s a repeat, in ways, of the story of this year; in transit, thoughtful and reflective. Life is etched so non-permanently on me at the moment that in some ways, days seem to overlap weeks and months. It seems like a perpetual logjam of waiting, of possibility, of nothing concrete. Nothing to actually hang your hat on and call your own. Only ghosts of the past and smoky wisps of a future too blurry or distant to bring into focus.
In the track “Spider in the Snow” from the same D-Plan album, the following stanza leaps out at me like a wet, meaty slap across the face:
“Now you find the very pit still yawns,
Deep down within the very same gut
The very same ghosts still seem to haunt you down
Down those lines you always tried to cut
You thought you just might need a little change
And now you find you got nothing but
How can a body move the speed of light
And still find itself in such a rut?”
How can it indeed?
I’m truly a Dismemberment Plan acolyte. To anyone that will listen I will rabidly and passionately extol the virtues of a band that are well within my top five musicians of all time. They’re one of the few bands that I love so passionately that no one I know on a personal level ‘get’. Or for that matter have even heard of. Mostly, it’s that usual nod and uneasy smile I receive so often when my exuberance for something froths out of the container that I restrict my being to for the sake of normalcy. I’m okay with this, but sometimes you can’t just help and hope that someone will ‘get that’. I shouldn’t complain, though, because I have a lot of very musically wisened friends whom I can wax lyrically with about music until the cows come home. It’s just one of those things that not everyone will get everything.
At least, not everything that you get.
There are numerous reasons I love D-Plan, and I guess I won’t use this as another pulpit to preach their virtues from (though technically it is my blog, so I can do what I wish). Rather, I’ll focus solely on one of them, which is also something that translates to many musical groups, almost universally. That aspect is the transition within the group, the dynamism that comes from the passage of time or the shift in personnel. The legacy of this is the recorded output of the band, the subtle differences from one album to the next.
In 1999 when “Emergency & I” came out, the world seemed to be a mix of hope and cataclysm. On the one hand, the 2000s were just around the corner and that was, for anyone that had grown up in the last 20 years, the future. It was tomorrow, when anything was possible. The internet was just starting to enter mainstream consciousness, though was still far from ubiquitous. The world was also apparently about to end, due to satellites falling out of the sky, bank accounts going backwards and some sort of Terminatoresque judgement day imminent due to Y2K.
The album in many ways reflects that. It’s a frantic mix of broad textured guitar, jazz drumming, synth pop and indie dance that seems, even to this day, light years ahead of anything. It is still, for me, one of the most unique sounding albums in my entire collection and I’m not sure that there will ever be something that can match it. I make this large and broad statement simply because I feel the album not only possess the certain energy of the players coupled with an eclectic mix of instrumentation, but it is a sonic Polaroid of that time in humanity. And there’s a pretty good chance I won’t see another turn of the century, let alone millennium.
In 2001, The Dismemberment Plan released "Change", whose name was a clear metaphor for a lot of things around it and the band. The world had, the band had, the music, well, perhaps not changed, but it had shifted appreciably. At times I’m torn as to whether this is a better album than Emergency & I and at times it is, but at others it’s not. I guess it’s the transient nature of music as it relates to my life that means this will always be a battle.
The songs on Change are more reflective in some ways; they look a little deeper at lost or cloudy loves, lost direction and loss in general. They deal with wanting back what you had, of trying to grab hold of control of something. There is also hope, affirmation and declaration of intent, of drawing a line in the sand and not being willing to yield any further. Analogue back to the world at large and this makes sense; the world didn’t end at the turn of the century and the future didn’t arrive. Instead, we were forced to get back on with life; we had to face our failed relationships, or failed aspirations. We had to scramble for a plan because we had figured one way or another, things were going to change without our input.
And yet they didn’t, at least, not of their own accord.
The change had to come from within and perhaps it always does, even when the circumstances seem to shift markedly. It still relies on us to determine just how we’re going to react. Whether we capitalise or capitulate.
"Spider in The Snow" opens with one of the greatest lines in any song, ever. “The only thing worse than bad memories, is no memories at all”. To live and to have experienced is better than to have hid, wondering. Yes, trying can lead to failure but is not trying a guarantee of failure? Perhaps so.
The transition between the two albums is subtle, but striking. Where "Emergency & I" appears to approach life with wild abandonment, "Change" is cautious. I wouldn’t use the word reserved here, because "Change" is still confident in some ways, still passionate. But "Change" knows that things don’t always go the way you want, and that letting it run its course isn’t always going to give you the best outcome.
Am I using my creative license to anthropomorphise these albums as an analogy of my own experience? Sure. But I also genuinely believe that these traits are in part what were, whether intentionally or not, ingrained in the recordings when they were made. I’d be happy to discuss this with Travis Morrisonif that’s not the case.
Transition through time fascinates me. The subtle differences that come from successive iterations of a group of people recording music for example are some of the most attractive parts of the whole creative process. Too often as fans we seem to chastise artists for changing too much, or ‘not recording an album like that one’, and I’m sure it’s something I’m guilty of as well. But in saying that, aren’t we saying it’s not okay for them to be human?
Change; be it from time to time or from one person to the next, is the very thing that defines us. And who am I to deny anyone that?Tweet
…probably just hungry.
Transit delirium. I’m sure it’s some sort of medical classification for that state of sleep deprivation that comes during the middle leg of long haul flights. I find myself at what my laptop tells me is 7:16am at what the large signs in various languages on the walls assure me is Changai International Airport in Singapore. I do know that some time before it got light again, back before when it stopped being light, I was in Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia. According to the thin sliver of paper with a barcode on it slipped into my passport, I should be back in Perth sometime today which, if I recall correctly, is where my bed and things are. (Thank you HS).
What I find incredibly interesting in these situations is the body’s resilience. I’m not a transport sleeper. At all. I think it stems from suffering from motion sickness as a child. To that end, I still suffer from it if I choose to try and read while in motion. The exception is once an aeroplane has taken flight, though I can feel queasy if I read whilst taxiing. It’s all to do with points of reference and your body’s centre of balance being tricked by moving stuff. If I sit back and sprawl out in the luxurious comfort of my seat , my head will loll about somewhat for a period of about 30 minutes where I will close my eyes, but not actually sleep. This plethora of microsleeps, however, seems to be sufficient at 3am to assist me in staying awake for the best part of 36 hours as I transit hemispheres and tropic lines from North to South.
I think maybe it’s a function of the kinetic energy attributed to being in motion. Sure, energy is conserved always, but I feel in some ways the body can sense, perhaps not consciously, that it is hurtling along at close to the speed of sound in a silvered, desiccated projectile. And through the wonders of friction or other such things, however small, we feed on a little of that energy hurtling by us and are able to sustain ourselves just a little longer. We are destination orientated and therefore count the hours between the next meal, between the next stop, between the next boarding, until the destination.
And yet, if I were just sitting around on a Friday night wanting to stay up until 6pm the next day, my body would laugh at me uproariously and promptly bang my head against my desk in some manner of ‘go to sleep you fool’ suggestion.
Reclining on one of the more comfortable seats I’ve ever found in an airport, I can’t help but feel that some of the delirium or maybe disconnection/out of body type experience is caused by my choice of ear adornment. Last year some time I purchased a set of noise cancelling headphones and to this day I argue they are quite possibly the single greatest accessory, not even travel accessory, but accessory to my life that I’ve ever handed over money for. Even now as I clack away on my keyboard, I cannot hear the tactile response of the keys, nor the couple one seat over chatting, or the throngs of people streaming back and forth past Duty Free Shops, heading towards the departures board to see when their connecting flight is leaving and what gate it’s on (which reminds me, I too should probably do that at some stage). Music is all I can hear, and it’s not even that roaring loudness that you usually need in public situations that leave you ringing and numb after hours of listening whilst travelling. The cancelling reduces the noise to a imperceptible background hum, leaving the music to gently cascade its way into your brain.
I spent some time and thought on this trip as to what I would listen to whilst in transit. It’s odd, when I’m away, I don’t tend to listen to music much, preferring to read, explore, or watch local TV for the kicks. This is in contrast with my usual habits where I will listen to music for almost all of my waking hours. But the time in transit is most important, because honestly if you’re going to look silly with a couple of big cups wrapped around your head, you may as well enjoy it.
When I say that I ‘…spent some time and thought…’ it meant perhaps a change in my habits for selecting music. Usually my procedure is ‘crap, my flight’s in three hours and I forgot to put tunes on my iPod’. And so then I spend the next two hours trying to frantically drag tunes and remember ‘what’s good’ from my rather large (read 42k tracks) library, all the while packing my suitcase and cursing iTunes for loading one song everything 22 minutes for some reason. No, this time I actually started loading my iPod days in advance.
This actually afforded me some variety and so I’ve ended up with about 9k of songs to choose from. It also provides the luxury of choosing tunes that will match the time of day and my general mood, something that I’m associating more with music. In recent months on last.fm I’ve felt the need to start categorising some of my most favourite songs into general buckets; in a way it’s how I visualise music, the way that I perceive and respond to it, both mentally and physically. This selection then, of songs for appropriate times of the day, is an extension of that. An entire album can ‘feel’ like night time, or it can feel like a new day dawning.
This trip just now for example, I was listening to 'Painful' by Yo La Tengo prior to having one of those microsleeps; to rouse myself from it when I felt energy returning, it was 'Hourly, Daily' by You Am I, followed by 'Good News for People Who Love Bad News' by Modest Mouse. Each have their own energies, though the later also shares some songs which I consider ‘driving at night’ type tunes. Sum of its parts and all that.
One album in particular that I’ve latched on this year, but also on this trip, is 'Ladies and Gentlemen We Are Floating in Space' by Spiritualized. There are a few schools of thought about the album; some have written it off as a ‘drug album’ while others see it as a tale of love lost (which given the circumstances are pretty easy to understand). For me though, there’s something that encapsulates all of that, but also gives the album a certain sense of collapse, introspection and rebirth. Sure, it’s probably simply reflecting the steps of heroin sensation, but it also analogues very easily to the cycle of the day, the circadian rhythm of the body, even the flow of life itself. It helps too that the music is deliciously melodic and something you can sink into it like, well, this comfortable airline lounge chair. Caught somewhere between indie rock and shoegaze, the sound is palpable, nourishing and tactile.
On the way over to UB, the timing of my songs meant that ‘I Think I’m In Love’ from the same album played just as the sun broke the horizon as we descended into Singapore. The song, ever before then, sounded like day dawning and now it will be eternally scratched into my soul (thank you Craig Finn) as that moment. And well, I’m okay with that.
And now as I proof this piece whilst watching the natural light wash in through windows and start to take over from the globes dotted across the ceiling, I start to feel more in tune with the rush and flow of people around me. I begin to yearn for the next leg, knowing full well that all of this inconvenience, this discomfort, is but temporary. I also realise too that in my heightened state, where the sympathetic starts to take over from the parasympathetic nervous system, I can more easily connect with the music I listen to and will ultimately have a greater experience with those songs.
And isn’t a greater experience what we’re all seeking?Tweet