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Monday, October 31, 2011

First Aid Kit - The Lion's Roar

Loving this song by Swedish sister-duo First Aid Kit. (There's something in the water in Sweden at the moment. Some sort of musical elixir).

I had a quick look around at their other stuff. It seems like they are making the transition from acoustic guitar to full band. Good on 'em. I have to say, I sort of feel like these guys would be a bit disappointing live. That's not a very nice thing to say, I know. There's just something summery, epic and very "studio'd" about this song. I'm not sure they'd be able to capture it live. Anyway, if you're interested, they're going to be out in Australia in 2012, playing Golden Plains Festival and Womad, along with a bunch of side shows. Maybe they'll prove me wrong.


Thursday, October 27, 2011


This is so good.

Great acting. Great writing. And a style all of its own.

Best of all, in under 2 minutes, it manages to tell a genuine story with 3-dimensional characters that you actually care about, something most films fail to achieve in 2 hours.

The very matter of fact description of their relationship: "On couche ensemble, épuis elle s'en va..." is beautifully juxtaposed against the ever-so-slightly rueful line at the cat's funeral: "J'avais jamais demandé si elle avait d'autres amis."

Nice one.

You can check out other videos in this series at the Canal + website.

Veuillez installer Flash Player pour lire la vidéo

Friday, October 21, 2011

The last Silver Cinder burns out

It's with some sadness that I must report the end of a significant chapter in my life.

Last night, Tamara and I decided to put our little musical project Silver Cinder to bed. It's been quite a journey. From our first performance in small café in Nowra, with an overly loud and slightly out-of-tune acoustic guitar, to the addition of violins and bass and performances at The Basement and The Vanguard in Sydney. It's been a wild ride.

In many ways, much of who I am and what I'm about has been tied up in Silver Cinder over the last two years. I was so invested in it. So it's a strange feeling to now let it go. It feels a bit like something important has slipped away. The memories can never be taken away - sure - but they have also now moved into a past that can never be recreated. Those memories are at there most vivid now. But from this point onwards, their only journey is to become progressively distant. And there's something sad in that. That said, it's also exciting. Who knows what may come out of the ashes (sorry!).

So much energy goes into being in a band. You deliberate over every lyric, every chord, every venue, every crowd reaction, every seeming open door, and you mourn every missed opportunity, every bung note, every regret and every set back. It's perhaps for this reason that it's both the most rewarding and the most frustrating thing that I've ever done in my life.

Anyway, I had so much fun playing. Our goal was to make beautiful music that moved people. And I think that more often than not, we managed to do that.  Thank you to every one of you who ever came to see us, or gave us encouragement. You helped to keep us going!

In his Letters To A Young Poet, Rainer Maria Rilke writes:
"This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity."
For me, I know that when it comes to music, I must. The only question now, is "what". Time to live those questions into answers.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Frederick Buechner is not a religious writer

"The term gives me the creeps," the novelist-essayist-poet-theologian said this week from his home in Vermont. "It means to me obvious, preachy, unrealistic. I don't think I'm a religious writer at all in that sense." Instead, he has aimed in a six-decade writing career "to see the world as it is, to be as honest as possible with the representation of life as I've known it all these years."

For Buechner, the world is all flesh and spirit, humanness and holiness he has richly portrayed in an assortment of characters. There's Leo Bebb, an unctuous preacher who turns out to be something of a redeeming figure, a surprising stage on which God performs. There's Godric, a pirate turned priest from the 11th century, a real-life monk who was eventually named a saint. As imagined by Buechner in a novel nominated for the Pulitzer Prize, Godric is racked with lust and doubts, but no less longing for God.

"In everything I write, I try to give a doubt a voice," Buechner said. "There's always a question mark, a shadow. I never pretended faith was easy. It's not so much a conscious effort to decide whether it's true or not, but the task of living in this world raises the question." Saints and sinners are not opposites in Buechner's stories, essays and memoirs. They are the same people. They are like real humans, that is, and Buechner is comfortable being human.

"Lucky is he who is flawed and recognizes he's flawed," he said. "There's a better chance to see things the way things really are, including themselves. They're not living on automatic pilot."

Buechner, now 85, grew up in a family "without any religious sensibility," but came to belief just as his writing star was rising in 1950s New York. He earned a degree from Union Theological Seminary and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister. He never held a pulpit, but he taught religion at Philips Exeter Academy of New Hampshire before returning to full-time writing in the early 1960s.

"Words are my ministry," he has said.

Among his literary parishioners is Dale Brown, a professor of English at King College in Bristol, Tenn. Before moving there last year, Brown taught at Calvin College in Michigan for 20 years, where he directed the annual Festival of Faith and Writing. He had struck up a long-distance friendship with Buechner, and had come to regard Buechner as a mentor.

Three years ago, Brown visited King College for a sabbatical, researching and writing a book about Buechner. Along the way, he planted a seed for what is now called the Buechner Institute. The institute will be inaugurated on Monday at the college, with a program that includes three seminars, a concert by Christian singer-songwriter Michael Card, and an evening interview featuring Buechner and theologian Walter Brueggemann.

"I admire (Buechner's) work not just because he's a really great artist, but has a deep understanding of faith," Brown said this week. "He kind of fills the space between secularism and sectarianism. In our area, I hope the institute can be a place that invites people from a lot of different perspectives. We want to encourage a conversation that does not involve setting up walls." Brown is planning monthly events and a future research center where scholars and artists can explore "the intersection of faith and culture," to echo Buechner's work.

"I'm touched by the honor they do me," Buechner said. This is his first contact with the college. "I'd love to see (the institute) explore other writers who work the same territory I do," the author said, naming the late Flannery O'Connor and Cormac McCarthy, author of "No Country for Old Men," among them. This territory, as he calls it, "pays attention to the thin places," those moments when the boundaries between heaven and earth, between physical and spiritual almost evaporate, when "an event that seems very unimportant becomes transparent to mystery, to holiness."

Paying attention: that's not only Buechner's calling card. That's his advice. "Henry James said writers are those on whom nothing is lost," he said. "Try to be someone on whom nothing is lost. Watch where you go, watch what memories see you through."

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Swell Season

I can't wait to see this film, a documentary following the The Swell Season as they deal with the fame and success that came their way thanks to the Academy Award winning film Once. The film also follows the relationship between Markéta Irglová and Glen Hansard. The couple's art-imitating-life relationship has been much publicised, if not by the press, then by the couple's second album, Strict Joy, which followed their relationship and subsequent break up, and included lyrics such as:

"Ok, we're not what I'd promised you we would become. But maybe it's a question of how much you'd really want. Have you had enough? There's plenty more where that came from now." 
Check out the trailer.

The reviews so far have described the film as being "raw", "honest", "truthful". I'm not surprised. Having seen The Swell Season perform at the Sydney Opera House, I have witnessed the almost religious power of Glen Hansard's charisma first hand. I suspect you could just leave a camera on Glen all day and it would make a pretty watchable film.

I distinctly remember the way in which Glen dealt with a particularly vocal audience member who was shouting out during one of Glen's inter-song stories. In the midst of that concert the interjection seemed so... vulgar. Like someone calling out in church for the minister to get on with it. Glen simply stopped what he was doing, turned to face the man, looked at him and said, "C'mon now". Then he went back into his story. It was so great. There was no confrontation or anger. No security required. And it wasn't patronising. The way he said it, it was more like he had said, "What are you doing there? Just relax. It's all going to be ok. I know you're there. But I'm here now. So just relax."

Hansard is intensely watchable. His skill lies in his ability to lay himself completely bare before this audience. There isn't an ounce of pretence in what he is doing. And in today's world, that's rare. Audiences recognise it when they see it. They recognise that rareness in him. And they flock to it. Just to be in its presence for a while. That's special enough.

That's why I can't wait to see this film.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Like shooting fish in a barrel...

I feel slightly bad about posting this. It's not exactly the sort of seriously high-brow high-IQ life-reflection commentary that you're all used to, I know. But it made me laugh out loud. I don't think it's genuine, but the premise is great.

"Where do I get a barrel? This is 2011 now..."

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Dear Friends - Elbow

I am completely and utterly in love with this song at the moment. The final track off Elbow's newish album Build a Rocket Boys, it again takes as its theme the loss of Bryan Glancy, a Manchester singer-songwriter and a great friend of the band, whose death also inspired many of the songs on their breakthrough album The Seldom Seen Kid.

I was travelling back to Canberra from Kiama this weekend, navigating the hairpin roads that cross the mountains that lie either side of the Kangaroo Valley. This song was playing in the car as the wind took thousands of petals from the white cherry blossom trees that lined the road, and tossing them up into the sky, brought them back to earth in a fragrant snow storm around the car. I was the only one there. It was a  special gift for one.

Anyway, this version of Dear Friends was performed and recorded for a Dutch radio station. There are definitely arty-er, more vimeo-esque clean-cut videos of this song out there, but I feel like this is a great performance. Something special happens in the room about halfway through. You can sense it in the look Guy gives at 3.01. The drummer starts moving his shoulders slightly more. Guy Garvey gets more animated. The violinists can't stop smiling. I feel like Guy may have been hung over, and dreading the early morning performance - a promotional pit stop on a long tour across Europe. It's almost as if they didn't expect it to be magical.

But then they just couldn't help it. The music was stronger.

ps. The Dutch radio host also brought a nostalgic smile to my face. "They did it."
pps. Sorry about the ads. Close them as quickly as possible. The video replays without ads.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Steve Jobs 1955 - 2011

“I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” 
- Steve Jobs, 2005.

Don't settle. Stay Hungry. Stay Foolish.

Thanks to Eric Demay.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

A first love...

I don't think I have ever read a more beautiful or truthful description of the experience of falling in love for the very first time than this one.

It is, of course, Frederick Buechner.

"It was towards the end of that second year in Bermuda that I received what may have been the greatest of the gifts the island gave, without any clear idea of what it was I was receiving, or that anybody had ever received the likes of it before.

She was a girl my age [11], with a mouth that turned up at the corners. If we ever spoke about anything of consequence, I have long since forgotten it. I have forgotten the colour of her eyes. I have forgotten the sound of her voice. But one day at dusk, we were sitting side by side on a crumbling stone wall watching the ferries go by, when no less innocently than the time I'd reached up to the bust of Venus [de Milo] under my grandfather's rattish gaze, our bare knees happened to touch for a moment. And in that moment I was filled with such a sweet panic and anguish, of longing for I wasn't sure what, that I knew my life could never be complete until I found it.

'Difference of sex no more we knew than our guardian angels do', as John Donne wrote. And in the ordinary sense of the word no love could have been less erotic. But it was the heavenly eros, in all its glory none the less, there's no question about that. The upward reaching and fathomlessly hungering, heart-breaking love. For the beauty of face formed flesh, for the beauty of earth and sky, for the beauty of the world at its most beautiful - and beyond that. For that beauty east of the sun and west of the moon, which is passed the reach of all but our most distant desiring. And its finally the beauty of beauty itself - of being itself - and of what lies at the heart of being.

Like all children, I had been brought up till then primarily on the receiving end of love. My parents loved me, as did my grandparents, and a handful of others maybe. And I had accepted their love the way a child does, as part of the givenness of things, and responded to it the way a cat purrs when you pat it. But now for the first time I was myself the source and giver of love so full and rich that I couldn't possibly have expressed it to that girl whose mouth turned up at the corners, even if I'd had the courage to try.

And let anyone who dismisses such feelings as puppy love, silly love be set straight. Because I suspect that rarely if ever again in our lives does Eros touch us in such a distilled and potent form as when we are children and have so little in the way of experience, wisdom, prudence to dilute it. I loved her more than I knew how to say, even to myself. Whether in any way she loved me in return I neither knew, nor as far as I can remember was particularly concerned to discover. Just to love her was all I asked. Eros itself, even pinged with the sadness of knowing that I could never fully find on sea or earth or sky whatever it was I longed for, was gift enough.

And then, as unforeseeably as it had begun, it ended. On the first of September, Hitler's armies invaded Poland. On the third, England and France declared war on Germany. The rumour soon spread that the Germans had plans to capture Bermuda for a submarine base and all Americans were asked to leave. It happened very suddenly. And in the haste and confusion of it, I never knew when she left or had a chance to say goodbye. The Monarch and the Queen [boats] were painted grey for camouflage, and on one or the other of them, with the portals blacked out with no one allowed so much as to smoke a cigarette on deck after dark, we set sail for a reality that we were forced with the rest of the world to face at last. Whatever reality is.


In that never never land, that 'Oz' of an island, where we had no roots, I found for the first time a sense of being rooted. In that land where as a foreigner we could never belong, I found a sense of belonging. In that most frivolous place, which travel brochures billed as a vacationer's paradise, I made what was perhaps the least frivolous discovery up till then, which was that Love is not merely a warmth to bask in, like the boatloads of honeymooners who basked on the warmth of Coral Beach, but a grave, fierce yearning and reaching out for paradise itself - a losing and finding of the self in the paradise of another."