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Sunday, December 22, 2013

Little Aches and Pains (Paul Kelly)

This is my first go at sharing some of my covers online. This is a cover of a beautiful song by Paul Kelly called Little Aches and Pains. Hope you likey.

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Shrinking Women

On Beauty and Being Just

Two quotes from Elaine Scarry in her book 'On Beauty and Being Just'.  With thanks to Kate Brennan


The beautiful, almost without any effort of our own, acquaints us with the mental event of conviction, and so pleasurable a mental state is this that ever afterward one is willing to labor, struggle, wrestle with the world to locate enduring sources of conviction— to locate what is true. 


Homer sings of the beauty of particular things. Odysseus, washed up on shore, covered with brine, having nearly drowned, comes upon a human community and one person in particular, Nausicaa, whose beauty simply astonishes him. He has never any- where seen a face so lovely; he has never anywhere seen any thing so lovely. “No, wait,” he says, oddly interrupting himself. Some- thing has suddenly entered his mind. Here are the lines:
But if you’re one of the mortals living here on earth, three times blest are your father, your queenly mother, three times over your brothers too. How often their hearts must warm with joy to see you striding into the dances— such a bloom of beauty. . . . I have never laid eyes on anyone like you, neither man nor woman . . . I look at you and a sense of wonder takes me.
Wait, once I saw the like—in Delos, beside Apollo’s altar—
the young slip of a palm-tree springing into the light. There I’d sailed, you see, with a great army in my wake, out on the long campaign that doomed my life to hardship. That vision! Just as I stood there gazing, rapt, for hours . . . no shaft like that had ever risen up from the earth— so now I marvel at you, my lady: rapt, enthralled,
too struck with awe to grasp you by the knees
though pain has ground me down.
Odysseus’s speech makes visible the structure of perception at the moment one stands in the presence of beauty. The beautiful thing seems—is—incomparable, unprecedented; and that sense of be- ing without precedent conveys a sense of the “newness” or “new- bornness” of the entire world. Nausicaa’s childlike form, playing ball on the beach with her playmates, reinforces this sense. But now something odd and delicately funny happens. Usually when the “unprecedented” suddenly comes before one, and when one has made a proclamation about the state of affairs—“There is no one like you, nothing like this, anywhere”—the mind, despite the conŠdently announced mimesis of carrying out a search, does not actually enter into any such search, for it is too exclusively Šlled with the beautiful object that stands in its presence. It is the very way the beautiful thing Šlls the mind and breaks all frames that gives the “never before in the history of the world” feeling.

Odysseus startles us by actually searching for and Šnding a pre- cedent; then startles us again by managing through that precedent to magnify, rather than diminish, his statement of regard for Nau- sicaa, letting the “young slip of a palm-tree springing into the light” clarify and verify her beauty. The passage continually re- starts and refreshes itself. Three key features of beauty return in the new, but chronologically prior, object of beauty. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

This small photo strip...

Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Malaysia

I have been meaning to post these photos for a while now. A few quick snaps from a trip to Malaysia from earlier this year. Two orphaned orang-utans in rehab and some night market shots.

Washington - NYC - Salt Lake City

Hey y'all,

Some quick shots from a recent work trip to the States. Managed to catch up with some good friends in Washington and NYC - (Antonia - thanks for taking me out on U street. Lucie La Gentille - Merci de m'avoir hebergé et mercy à Camille aussi d'avoir supporté mes renflements!).

It was a fly-by visit. But it was great to get out of Australia for a little while and remember that there's a big old world out there and that, everywhere, there's someone getting on with the business of living.

Things learned on this trip:
  1. It's scary how similar Washington feels to Canberra. It's a public service town with interesting work that attracts a certain type of person. There's a desolation to the streets after 8pm that reminded me of home. People ride bikes everywhere and people say things like, "I like New York as a place to go on weekends, but I'm not sure I could live there you know? I mean... I canoe on weekends now!" 
  2. Tap beer in Salt Lake City is legally required to be less than 4% alcohol. It's like a town with only light beer on tap. The horror. 
  3. Americans come in for a fair amount of external criticism. Stereotypes abound that they are stupid, vain, lacking culture, fat, lacking in any sort of global perspective and shallow. As with all stereotypes, if you spend more than five minutes with someone, they turn out not to be true. Although I did have a few interesting experiences, (like when someone asked me if I was irish (what?), there were many times where I thought that we (Australians) might do well to learn from the American stereotype. For example, I met a  man who literally exploded with excitement at how cool he thought Washington was and how lucky Washingtonites were to live in a city with so many great culinary delights. I tried hard to imagine an Australian showing a foreigner around Sydney Harbour and being as excited about the beauty of Sydney. I doubt it would happen. Instead I think an Australian would probably wait for the foreigner to say, "this is  amazing" and then reply, "yeah… it's alright I guess", which is a little sad.  I mean, why not be excited? Being apathetic might mean you never risk being vulnerable, but there was something endearing about this overly-excited American man. He loved his city. Sure, there may be better places in the world, but he loved it nonetheless. He put his opinion out there and was proud. 
  4. New York - I don't get it. Everywhere is a line, nothing is discovered for the first time, everyone has done it before you, people work long hours, apartments are expensive and small, there's a constant sense of needing to prove your better than everyone else you meet, and yet, when it came time to go, I was not ready. 
  5. Australian print media is shithouse. I worry about the breadth and depth of news that is available to the average Australian. Every morning I read the paper: The Wall Street Journal, THe Washington Post or the New York Times. It wasn't just the selection of stories that was broader - raining from stories on the nuclear weapons deal with Iran to in depth analysis of the anniversary of the Gettysburg address - the writing was vastly superior too. On arrival back in Australia I did a quick check of the front page of the Daily Telegraph. The headlines read: Dr Harry's tragic loss; Dannii v Kylie - Talent Show Sister Act; Mauled - Australia Zoo Attack; and a small story titled Grins of the Father, about a Bishop who smiled during the royal commission hearing into child sex abuse. Over on page 18, the world news section included two stories about how a bikini removal caused a car crash in New York, and a story on a Parisian couple who had carried out a suicide love-pact.


< NYC >


Sunday, November 10, 2013

Eleanor Dunlop - Disguise

Heard this song on the radio this afternoon and could have sworn it was Juanita Stein from Waikiki. Surreal similarity in the voices.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Arcade Fire - Here Comes the Night Time

We learn two things in this video:

  1. Arcade Fire are totally fine with taking the piss out of themselves.
  2. Michael Cera is just as funny in Spanish as he is in English. 

Monday, October 21, 2013

Friday, October 04, 2013

Choral Music Friday

Just to get you all pumped for the weekend, it's time to get into some choral music! What's that? I know! Oh yeah baby!

Here are a few of my favourite pieces. I've tried to seek out the best standard of singing for each piece. Unfortunately the standard of video doesn't always correlate.

If you're new to choral music and have an overwhelming desire to click back to facebook right now, just let's take a risk together. How to explain why listening to a good choir is exciting?

Imagine a sound guy at the mixing desk at your local pub. The band are rocking away on stay. The guitarist has his amp up as loud as it will go. The drumming is smashing away up the back. The bassist is thumbing away trying not to be seen. And the singer is gyrating into the microphone stand as he screams away into the mic. Individually, they are playing a different gig to the one you hear. That's because what you hear is what the sound guy lets you hear. That's because it is the sound guy's job to make sure all the 'levels' are correct. He can make the drums cut through, or make them 'sit underneath' the bass so that the it comes out of the speakers as a unit that gets your feet moving. He can make the vocals louder so that they're not drowned out by that distorted guitar. He can even monitor the levels during a song to make sure any vigorous playing doesn't stick out too much. The point is, one person has control over what you hear.

With a choir, what you hear is dependent on 30 people, reacting in real-time to create a unified sound. Each member has to be listening and singing in unison, not only with the other people in their part (ie soprano, alto, tenor, bass), but also as part of the whole. It's a constant process of 'mixing' by each chorister. As you can imagine, when thirty people are trying to do this at the same time, there's a lot of scope for error. One person out of time, one person giving slightly more emphasis to a note or a word in the wrong place, and what you hear will sound impure. It's like a human pyramid. When one member goes down, the whole thing falls over.

So when you hear a choir sing and it sounds like one living organism, rather than a collection of parts, you can be sure of two things: it is superior singing and it has probably taken about 5 years to get the choir to sing like that.

Take a moment to listen out for the way some of these choirs treat the words in these pieces. For example, listen for the word 'drown' in the first video 'weep o mine eyes'. Can you hear the way they accentuate the 'd' and fall away from the rest of the word, so that the '-rown' is swallowed by the acoustics. Does it not sound exactly like someone slipping below the surface of the water?

Similarly, listen to the way the choir plays with tempo in the second video, a version of Ubi Caritas by King's College Cambridge. Listen to the way they slow down ever so slightly to savour the resolutions of the phrases, particularly the one 'et ex corde diligamus nos sincero' (May we love each other with a sincere heart'). It's not so much a change in tempo as the choir allowing the music to breath. hm-hmmmm.

Monday, September 30, 2013

'...for the world is filled with wonders.'

I often wonder why so much of children's literature contains messages encouraging the reader to maintain faith in the impossible. I'm thinking of Alice in Wonderland (believing in five impossible things before breakfast), The Chronicles of Narnia (believing in the magic from before the dawn of time), Peter Pan (believing in fairies), just to name a few. Perhaps the adults that write these books are trying to remind adults of the things they used to believe in, and how easy it used to be, before the veil the separates the child in all of us from our adult selves came down.

In L. Frank Baum's Rinkitink in Oz there is a wonderful exchange between King Kitticut, the ruler of the Island of Pingaree, and his son Prince Inga. King Kitticut has decided to confide in his son and reveal to his heir the great secret of his rule:
THIS BAG HE proceeded to open, showing Inga that it contained three great pearls, each one as big around as a marble. One had a blue tint and one was of a delicate rose color, but the third was pure white. 
"These three pearls," said the King, speaking in a solemn, impressive voice, "are the most wonderful the world has ever known. They were gifts to one of my ancestors from the Mermaid Queen, a powerful fairy whom he once had the good fortune to rescue from her enemies. In gratitude for this favor she presented him with these pearls. Each of the three possesses an astonishing power, and whoever is their owner may count himself a fortunate man. This one having the blue tint will give to the person who carries it a strength so great that no power can resist him. The one with the pink glow will protect its owner from all dangers that may threaten him, no matter from what source they may come. The third pearl -- this one of pure white -- can speak, and its words are always wise and helpful." 
"What is this, my father!" exclaimed the Prince, amazed; "do you tell me that a pearl can speak? It sounds impossible." 
"Your doubt is due to your ignorance of fairy powers," returned the King, gravely. "Listen, my son, and you will know that I speak the truth." 
He held the white pearl to Inga's ear and the Prince heard a small voice say distinctly: 
"Your father is right. Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders."
It is good wisdom. 

I recently watched the below sermon by Frederick Buechner, delivered some thirteen years ago now, when Buechner was 74. I encourage you to take twenty minutes out of your lives to watch it. And if you do decide to watch it, maybe you could write down your reflections on it. 

I’ve included some of mine below. I am loathe to pigeon hole them as ‘Christian reflections’ because I feel like what Buechner says in this video is so much bigger than just the Christian story. It’s so much more universal than that. It's as if to speak of it through a Christian lens is to marginalise the message somehow, to make it too easy to shoot down. And for that reason, I wish I could take Jesus out of the book, so to speak. To free the story from the connotations of religion so that it can rightly be what it is, a story about us, rather than 'the story' out of 'The Bible’.  But I also understand that to the objective observer, these thoughts below must seem very biblical. 

So how do I separate them from the heaviness of the church?  Or from the heaviness of religion? Not mention them at all here or anywhere?  Trust me, I've thought about doing that. But then I thought, this blog is meant to be about sharing in a fragile hope of connection - that the same bird might echo through both of us. And then I thought, maybe I don't need to understand why I'm writing this here for now. Maybe I should simply accept the wisdom of King Kitticut's pure white pearl. 'Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.' And maybe understanding that is enough for now. 

So here is what I thought about after watching Buechner's sermon. 

'Truth as seen by the heart' 

That is the phrase that has stuck with me. It seems to me the very centre of faith.  The faith I have (maybe not a churchly faith perhaps but I believe a faith nonetheless) is one that believes in the 'holiness' of the world that I see with my heart and the hidden 'holiness' at the centre of every person in it as they go about their daily business of seraching for someone to be, someone to love and work to do. 

The holiness of Jerry the disabled program-seller at Eastwood Rugby Club, who turns up with such excitement each Saturday, immaculately dressed in his gifted blue and white pin stripe suit – his prize possession. I wonder what he does with his weeks: the in-between times. There’s holiness in his story.  

Or the holiness of my Mum and her steady struggle to create moments of value around her, despite her parents never having really seen the true value in her and as a result her becoming deaf and blind to her own value. There’s holiness in that struggle.  

And even the holiness at the centre of the struggle of the people that call up to agree with Alan Jones or Andrew Bolt, and in doing so, perpetuate such inhuman ugliness. What makes a person that way? There's something to understand there. Something about their fear maybe?

The thing is, this faith that I have is almost always in spite of the shadows and doubts and unholiness that I see with my eyes.  It’s in spite of what I see. It is a faith in things unseen. It is I believe, as Shakespeare writes, the dream that we wake from, only to cry to dream again. 

In his book, The Sacred Journey, Buechner reminisces about a phone call he received just as he was sitting down to a dinner one night with his mother. It was a from a friend in distress. His friend's family had been involved in a serious car accident and he asks Buechner to come and sit with him at the airport until his plane leaves to go see them. 
Buechner writes:
THERE ARE MANY people in this world — I suspect they may even be in the majority — who in face of such a cry for help as that would have seen right away that, humanly speaking, there was no alternative but to say that they would be at the airport as soon as a taxi would take them
there. I have known many such people in my day and can explain them only on the grounds that they are strong, compassionate, and at least in that sense, Christian by instinct. My instinct, on the other hand, was to be nothing so much as afraid. I was afraid of my friend's fear and of his tears. I was afraid of his faith that I could somehow be a comfort and help to him and afraid that I was not friend enough to be able to be. Dating perhaps from that November morning of my childhood when I opened the door of Jamie's and my bedroom on a tragic and terrifying world that I had no resources for dealing with, I was afraid of opening the door into his pain or anybody's pain. So although I knew as well as anybody that I had no choice but to say that I would come, what I said instead, Heaven help me, was that I would come if I possibly could but there were things I had to take care of first and would he phone me back in about ten minutes.
Buechner's mother's reaction was also to shut out this cry for help, although for different reasons:
THE WHOLE THING was absurd, she said. My friend was a grown man. He had no business carrying on like a hysterical child. What earthly good could I do anyway? It was outrageous to think of spoiling an evening together that we had both been looking forward to for days.
Buechner recalls that everything his mother said was precisely what at some level of his being he had already been saying to himself, and that was of course what made it so appalling. It was only when he heard it on someone else's lips that he heard it for what it was, and as much out of revulsion at himself as out of pity for his friend, he resolved that as soon as he called again, he would tell him that he would come immediately.
This decision turns out to be one of the watershed moments in Buechner's life:
MY MOTHER'S APARTMENT by candlelight was haven and home and shelter from everything in the world that seemed dangerous and a threat to my peace. And my friend's broken voice on the phone was a voice calling me out into that dangerous world not simply for his sake, as I suddenly saw it, but also for my sake. The shattering revelation of that moment was that true peace, the high and bidding peace that passeth all understanding, is to be had not in retreat from the battle, but only in the thick of the battle. To journey for the sake of saving our own lives is little by little to cease to live in any sense that really matters, even to ourselves, because it is only by journeying for the world's sake—even when the world bores and sickens and scares you half to death—that little by little we start to come alive. It was not a conclusion that I came to in time. It was a conclusion from beyond time that came to me. God knows I have never been any good at following the road it pointed me to, but at least, by grace, I glimpsed the road and saw that it is the only one worth traveling. 

I think 'The Battle' that Buechner calls us to necessarily takes place in the shadows of our faith. It takes place in the moments of doubts. In those waking, crying moments. The time we are let down by a friend. Or by our work. Or by the world! Or, and this is by far the most common for me, the time we let ourselves down. That is where the battle takes place. Because it's in these moments that our faith in things unseen is challenged. And it's in these moments that we have to choose either to fight for the truth of that faith, even when every worldly thing points to our being wrong, or accept that wrongness as the actual reality of our existence.

For me, the ultimate answer to our doubt in those moments - those moments where we might start to believe in the wrongness of things - lies in the other phrase that stood out for me in Buechner’s sermon: 'To see with the heart, is to know that, in the long run, his kind of life is the only kind of life worth living. It's a simple as that.'

I love this phrase, 'in the long run'.  It implies a span of time over which mistakes can be made. It implies a span of time throughout which we have, at different points and for different lengths of time, doubted whether his kind of life really is the only kind of life worth living! And finally it implies an inevitability to the truth of the conclusion that yes, while we will doubt, we will all eventually end up at the same point, at the same conclusion: because ultimately, it’s the only conclusion we can any of us come to.

It’s an endless longing… for home.

‘Blessed are those that have not seen, and yet believe.’

Louis CK - Jizanthepus

This is amazing.

I don't know how you are this offensive and then come out somehow having made some really pertinent universal human observation.

For all its chaos, it's perfectly measured, with the punchline sneaking right up on you just as you've about had enough. You can see in his eyes as he takes a drink of water that he knows he's right on the brink. Then he saves it with this:

'You gotta protect your kids. A lot of people talk the talk, "I would throw myself under a bus." Oh yeah?! Would you fuck another kid's dad and confuse him sexually and yourself sexually in the process, and use homophobia that you hate against another person just because some kid shoved your kid for a second?'

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday morning in South Turramurra

I'm writing from my parent's house in South Turramurra. It's a long weekend in Canberra, so I thought I'd come up and take advantage of the house being empty.

I went to the shops to buy breakfast this morning. The walk is about 4 minutes in total, through bushland and across a field where growing up I spent hours kicking a football, imagining myself into any number of scenarios which involved me winning whatever game it was I was playing in my head with the final kick of the game. 

There was an old lady on her daily walk to get a coffee this morning. She moved slowly along the path in front of me, stopping at the foot of the steps of the asian bakery where I was getting breakfast, unable to go any further with her stick. She just stood there at the base of the steps, the very outer limit of the world her body now let her travel to, and thus, I suspect, the very outer limit of her world, and waited.  Dutifully, the shop assistant came out from behind the counter and walked down the steps to her.  Without saying anything, the old lady held open her purse. The shop assistant reached in and took out $3.60 and showed it to the woman as if to verify it was the correct amount. But the woman didn't look and the shop assistant disappeared back up the steps and behind the coffee machine. 

I watched the old lady as kids and dogs and parents bound in and out of the shop about her. They bought bread, and cheese and bacon rolls and milk and coffee scrolls and sweet smelling custard tea cakes with cinnamon icing. And the coffee machine whirred as the kids squealed with stories of netball and swimming lessons and the parents squealed with stories of driving to netball and watching swimming lessons. A small girl, about 5 years old, was scared of a dog and had to be coaxed by her grandmother to walk past it and into the shop, only for the dog to cower in the corner at all the attention and the owner to explain that in fact it was the dog that was scared of people. 

An old man dressed smartly in tailored shorts with his tshirt tucked in at the belt, his hair proudly combed the way old men's hair is and his face still glistening with water from the morning's fresh shave, stepped backwards from the counter, bumping into a small boy who was standing behind him. 'Sorry mate!' beamed the man, his face all kindness, as the boy cowered away into the safety of his mother's skirt. And as he moved to the back of the shop to wait for his order to be ready, I thought I saw a flicker of something alive in the old man's face. As if, at the very least, something in that honest interaction with the boy had made this morning's shave worthwhile. 

And in the midst of all this, or out of it, the old lady stood there, like a rock weathering the storm taking place around her. She was a rock, and yet at the same time, standing there, her right arm quivering as she balanced it on her stick, and dependent on the shop assistant even for so menial a task as counting out the money from her purse, she was also the most fragile thing there.

What does any of it mean? 

Buechner says that if God speaks, it is into and out of the thick of our lives. And when he speaks, he speaks incarnate words. Words made flesh through the lives of people. 

I'm not yet sure how I feel about the word God, but words made flesh is something I identify with. Not least because it seems possible to see those words in flesh if you listen for them. Sometimes I wish I could stop listening. But it is all so palpable. 

As I write this, I'm sitting in the backyard enjoying the sunshine. It's 29 degrees. The wind is rustling the leaves of the trees above me. Jacqueline Du Pres just started playing Elgar's cello concerto. The sounds of that cello. Gosh! What Elgar must have felt when he wrote that down!  I've been swooped by a magpie. Again. That makes twice. Time to retreat inside. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Ani Difranco - School Night

Woah - do not know how I have never heard this song before. The lyrics are... well.... amazing (and below).  Get your ears around it.  This is approaching late night red wine looking out over the roofs of paris territory.

she went over to his apartment
clutching her decision
and he said, did you come here to tell me goodbye?
so she built a skyscraper of procrastination
and then she leaned out the twenty-fifth floor window
of her reply
and she felt like an actress
just reading her lines
when she finally said
yes. it's really goodbye this time
and far below was the blacktop
and the tiny toy cars
and it all fell so fast
and it all fell so far

and she said:
you are a miracle but that is not all
you are also a stiff drink and i am on call
you are a party and i am a school night
and i'm lookin' for my door key
but you are my porch light

and you'll never know, dear
just how much i loved you
you'll probably think this was
just my big excuse
but i stand committed
to a love that came before you
and the fact that i adore you
is but one of my truths

what of the mother
whose house is in flames
and both of her children
are in their beds crying
and she loves them both
with the whole of her heart
but she knows she can only
carry one at a time?
she's choking on the smoke
of unthinkable choices
she is haunted by the voices
of so many desires
she's bent over from the business
of begging forgiveness
while frantically running around
putting out fires

but then what kind of scale
compares the weight of two beauties
the gravity of duties
or the ground speed of joy?
tell me what kind of gauge
can quantify elation?
what kind of equation
could i possibly employ?
and you'll never know, dear
just how much i loved you
you probably think this was
just my big excuse
but i stand committed
to a love that came before you
and the fact that i adore you
is just one of my truths

so i
i'm goin' home
to please the one i so love pleasing
and i don't expect
he'll have much sympathy for my grieving
but i guess that this is the price
that we pay for the privilege
of living for even a day
in a world with so many things
worth believing

Jon Hopkins - Breathe This Air

The Trouble with Templeton - You Are New

Saw these guys the other night in Canberra. They nailed a set in front a crowd of small but vocal fans. Having read a couple of reviews of their album Rookie, it's clear that this sort of sweet-voiced-guitar-ballad-music is seen as the past, with synth-infused jingly-jangly-shouty-chorused-bop-pop the present.

As one of my friends once said about singersongwriters, 'get a fucking drum kit'.

That said, this song is sweet and anthemic.

And it has a drum kit.

So fuck you.

Friday, September 20, 2013

The sweet birds' return

I recently read another of Frederick Buechner’s books, called The Yellow Leaves. This is the forward that the  82 year old Buechner launches the book with. I thought it was rather beautiful. Full of longing and acceptance. Side by side.

"The time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those bough which shake against the cold,
Bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang
-          William Shakespeare

I can still write sentences and paragraphs, but for some five or six years now I haven’t been able to write books. Maybe after more than thirty of them the well has at last run dry. Maybe, age eighty, I no longer have the right kind of energy. Maybe the time has simply come to stop. Whatever the reason, at least for the moment the sweet birds no longer sing.

On the other hand, during this unproductive time I started a number of things which for one reason or another I decided to leave unfinished but which, on rereading, I decided maybe had enough life in them to warrant inclusion in a volume like this. A story, some reminiscences, a handful of poems about my family, a scene form a novel – they are the yell leaves that hang upon these boughs that are not so bare and ruined but that they still dream from time to time of the sweet birds’ return."

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Friday, August 09, 2013

31 Tomorrow

Stories. I've been thinking a lot about stories recently. Personal stories. Family stories. National stories. Stories of hope. Stories of love. Stories of connection. Stories of language. Stories of loss. Untold stories. Forgotten stories. Stories in time, and stories beyond time.

The art of telling out our stories, or story telling, is something I would like to get better at. Because telling our stories seems to me the most basic way that we, each of us, can communicate to each other who we are and where we have travelled so far. And to me, that seems an important task.  It seems important because I believe that it's out of the weaving of our individual stories that we perhaps get a glimpse, each of us, into who we want to be.

'At my back I always here, time's winged chariot hurrying near', wrote Alexander Pope. As another year rolls around, and with it another birthday, I realise the pages of my story are swiftly turning. They're banking up. The pages left to write seem thinner today than the pages already written. And there's a sense in which the main character of my story should by now be fully formed.  Fully fleshed out in words and deeds. And with that sense, there's a stricken fear that I am not at all any of those things. And there's excitement in that too.

So we journey on. And the story continues.

My dad sent me a piece of writing yesterday. It was a piece he had written about his father for a biography course he's currently studying. It began like this:
'I don't have friends, I only have acquaintances', he said of himself.  
This was one of a number of relationship defining criteria for John L Pender, my father.  
'Don’t expect praise, do expect criticism and advice.'  
There is another.
What follows is a snap shot of a man who rose from storeman to national executive for warehousing of the largest retail chain in Australasia. A deeply conflicted man. Full of love. But hardened with... what? Fear? A man who was always the last to suggest a family gathering, but also the last to leave and the first to accuse you of piking if you tried to before he was ready. He's also the same man who fed me alcohol for the first time. Gin and icecream. I was thirteen. 'If you revealed you voted Labour he would argue as a Liberal. On the other hand if you presented for the Liberal cause he would be the party paid up Labour member', my Dad wrote in his piece. He was a gifted artist too, but only on one occasion did he consent to it being made public. When an exhibition of his paintings was arranged by a son, he attended and quietly soaked up the admiration of the viewers, but never thanked the son for coaxing him out of his garage full of paints, or spoke of the event again. He was true to his word I guess. Don't expect praise. Do expect criticism and advice.

There were so many unexplored windows in my Dad's writing. It was such a factual remembering. A stone thrown across the span of a lifetime, briefly kissing the raw emotion of a memory without exploring what lay below, before quickly moving on the the next. It made me wonder many things about this man, my grandfather. How did he carry the burden of his work in warehousing and his yearning to be an artist? What scared him so much about letting the people who loved him know that he loved them back? Was it something he learnt from his father?

And out of this brief story of my grandfather's life, I gleaned so much more meaningfully an intense sense of admiration for the story my own father has carved out for himself: a life driven at all times and in every way by three things. Compassion. Hope. And Love.

And I wondered if I could live up to his example.

And so the story continues.

Last night I watched a documentary on the life of Paul Kelly called Stories of Me. Here is a man who's lived a story. Dux of his school. A childhood sporting champion. A dead father at 10. A twenty five year heroin addiction. Poverty. A single-minded bullish commitment to write music with integrity. And a constant sense, at the expense of two marriages, of not having achieved that goal.

This song (below) ends the documentary. It's the story of a man in jail at Christmas time, writing a letter home to his family. As Kelly explains, the song is about being in one place, and longing to be in another. As you'll see, it's something that people can easily relate to. I surely can.

Funnily enough, this mashed-up-clip of How To Make Gravy is also playing as part of the National Portrait Gallery's 'Portraits of Paul Kelly' exhibition, which I recently found myself wandering through one lunchtime here in Canberra. I did not know then that the most striking thing in that exhibition, this song, would lead me to watch the documentary.  Or that that documentary would cause me to question what I am doing with my life.

So you see. The exhibition. The documentary. My father's writing. This song. They're already working together.

And so the story continues.

So where to next?

Monday, August 05, 2013

Volcano Choir - Byegone

Love this video.

"He's a legend. I'm a legend."

It's safe to say, I will happily buy anything that Justin Vernon is associated with.

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Diary of a disaster?

Came across this wonderful blog entry by David Walsh, creator and founder of Tasmania's seriously impressive Museum of Old and New Art. Check it out here.

Below, an excerpt to whet your appetite:
"Grace is now excitedly shaving the head of Jemma’s boyfriend, Matt (who is agreeing to be shorn out of solidarity, since Grace has had some hair removed). Thus the world revolves. And as I already knew but now my knowing is renewed, my world revolves around my children. Through Grace’s misfortune, and through her fortune, I feel pain and I feel joy. And I feel her travails and triumphs more bitterly, and more exultantly, than I feel my own. That’s what love is."

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Sunday, July 28, 2013

john clarke and bryan dawe at it again

Their timing is so spot on.

Favourite bit:

Bryan: Do you think you've got better policies?
John: ... Pardon?

Thursday, July 04, 2013

Thursday Tunes

Here's some music that found me this week. First up, Australian Bon Iver lover Dustin Tebbutt is from New England New South Wales. How he managed to maintain this sound growing up in country music, er, country is beyond me. But this song gets an overly-reverbed falsetto 'Hell's yeah!' from me.

Next up - and changing the mood slightly - is Pro Era hip hop collective member and 18-year-old Brookly-nite Joey Bada$$ (even his name be blinging) with some very laid back loops overlaid with some swearing.

Take that Thursday and pump it.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Kotki Dwa - The Wolf

Check out this song by UK band Kotki Dwa.

Weird name. Amazing beat drop.

Listen here

Journalist proceeds with stock standard leadership aspiration questions after failing to realise Rudd has been made PM

Well, things have moved very fast this week in politics. Sometimes as a journalist, it can be hard to keep up with the Labor Party. Australian journalist Brian Dunstan had managed to secure an interview with Kevin Rudd the morning after the leadership coup. It appears poor old Brian might have gone to bed early the night before and missed the whole leadership tilt. Here's the amazing transcript from Brian's interview with the newly elected PM the morning after.
Brian Dunstan: Mr Rudd, thank you for joining us on 2AHfm breakfast.

Rudd: Prime Minister Rudd, yes.

Brian Dunstan: Prime Minster Rudd?… ha, yeah. Mr Rudd, there have been rumours all this week that you’re going to run against Julia Gillard. Can you confirm here and now for us that Julia Gillard will lead Labor to the next election?

Rudd: Well… um. No, I don’t think that's going to happen now.

Brian Dunstan: Well, will you– … No?! Ha! You probably shouldn’t be telling me that Kevin!  Ok. Well, I’ll ask you this. Will you challenge the Prime Minister for leadership of the labor party before the election?

Rudd: Ah… yes. Brian, not sure if you heard what happened last night.

Brian Dunstan: What?

Rudd: Yeah, I sort of got made PM already.

Brian Dunstan: When?

Rudd: Last night. It was kind of a big deal. I'm surprised you didn't hear about it.

Brian Dunstan: Right… well, to be honest with you, that sort of fingerbangs this interview for me.

Rudd: ... I’m sorry about that.

Brian Dunstan: I had a bunch of questions written down here, which were essentially five different ways of asking you if you were going to challenge Julia Gillard? I was going to machine gun them at you, like a hard hitting journalist. It would have made me look really good! The senior  management guys here at 2AH would have loved it. But you’ve sort of buggered that now, haven’t you Kevin?

Rudd: It appears so. I'm sorry.

Brian Dunstan:  Yeah... well...  Look, maybe we should just go through the questions quickly anyway and then call it a day?

Rudd: Sure.

Brian Dunstan: Ok. Kevin let me ask you directly, do you want your old job back?
Rudd: Um-
Brian Dunstan: -I’ll just put ‘Yes’ to that one. Ok… Second question. Are there any circumstances under which you will return to the leadership of the Labor party?
Rudd: …Yes.
Brian Dunstan: Yep. 'Yes' for that one too. Are you destabilising Julia Gillard's Government by leaking information to the press?
Rudd: Well- 
Brian Dunstan: Let's say 'yes'… Although you failed to give me a heads up on this one, didn’t you Kev?!
Rudd: ...
Brian Dunstan: Ok, finally, do you still harbour any ill-feelings towards Julia Gillard for the way in which she deposed you as Prime Minister in 2010?
Rudd: None at all Brian. Julia Gillard is an exceptional-

Brian Dunstan: -yeah, don't. Just, don't do that... Alright that's it. Kevin Rudd thanks for your time…
Rudd: It's been a pleasure.
(Off air) Brian Dunstan: Well...  that went well.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Howard Sattler a Hero for Hairdressers Everywhere

There’s been a positive twist to comments made by Howard Sattler last week inferring that Prime Minister’s husband is gay because he is hairdresser, with hairdressers all over the country finally getting the courage to question their own sexuality. James Pender reports.

David Weeks has been cutting hair for thirty years. Up until he listened to Howard Sattler’s interview with the PM, he was happily married to his wife of 15 years, Jennifer. Together, they have two small children, Tom and Lucy. David describes how listening to Sattler’s interview changed his life.

"Howard really opened my eyes to how gay I am. I remember the exact moment Howard said, ‘He’s a hairdresser, he must be gay’ and I thought… you know what? Never was a bloody truer word spoken. Cutting someone’s hair, sweeping it up and putting it in the bin and then charging the person for that service is incredibly gay. In fact, there's nothing gayer. I’m just ashamed it’s taken me so long to realise."

David is just one of many Australians who this week has heeded Howard Sattler’s call to action. Sydney hairdresser Simon Denstal broke up with his boyfriend when he discovered that he was moonlighting as a builder.

"I always suspected he wasn’t really a hairdresser. He used to come home at night covered in dirt. Or you know, I’d find work gloves in the back of his car. So I finally confronted him. I said, ‘are you even a hairdresser or not?’ And he broke down. He said he loved me but that he just really enjoyed building."

And what did you do?

"WWHD. What would Howard do! I broke up with him on the spot."

While Sattler’s comments have been liberating for some, it hasn’t been good news for everyone. Melbourne man Brian Dunston’s love of hairdressing led him to break up with his wife of twenty-two years.
"When I heard Howard’s interview with the PM, I was in the salon at the time. As soon as the interview finished, I knew there was only one thing for it. I called up the missus, and told her, you know, that I was a hairdresser, and she said, ‘yeah I know that,’ and I said, ‘no, love, I mean... I’m a hairdresser. I like to cut hair and have sex with men.’"

And what did she say?

"She said, ‘No, that’s flawless logic. Thanks for letting me know.’ And she hung up."

And how did that make you feel?

"Sad obviously, because I love her a lot."

Brian says while he’s relieved to no longer be living a lie, being a hairdresser is not always easy.

"Yeah, sometimes I wish I wasn’t a hairdresser. I wish I could be, you know, maybe an accountant or something, just for the sake of the kids. But deep down, I know I’m a hairdresser. And Howard has really helped me to realise that dressing hair comes with certain responsibilities."

And what are they?

"Well, be gay."

Inspiring stuff. This is James Pender reporting for Jamison Inc

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Seeing your musical destination

I've decided that I like music that breaks into a bit of background conversation noise. This is a good example - from about 3:45 onwards.

Without getting too over-analytical (What? You james?! Over-analytical) it's like the musician puts himself in the destination of his music. ie - where will people be when they hear this? What will they be doing? How will they be feeling? And in so doing, the musician brings the destination of his/her music into the studio. It can make the music sounds so much more alive. What can I call it? Synthetic live listening? Musical time travel? Emotional projection?

Anyways. Check it.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

The Lucky Country

This week, the leader of our nation had to sit through media interviews about her 'small breasts', 'huge thighs' and 'red box'. She then had to answer repeated questioning about her 'gay hairdressing husband'. Meanwhile, the Defence Force discovered that its officers were demeaning women... Again.

A few weeks back, Adam Goodes had to explain to Australians why being called 'an ape' was hurtful. Eddie McGuire needed it explained twice. Some people still didn't see what the fuss was about.

Meanwhile, Beale, Warner and Gallen set the example for our next generation of young men by punching their way to sporting success.

And tonight on The Project, Steve Price said that we needed to stop talking about these side issues and get back to the issues people care about: border security and asylum seekers.

Somewhere in the middle of all this, Australia was found by the OECD to be the happiest nation on Earth.

Somehow, I don't feel like celebrating.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Paper Kites take a walk

Lub this song. Lub this video. A simple one shot. A horizontal lanscape. A vertical man. Paper Kites. Get behind me.

Friday, May 31, 2013

Buechner - yellow leaves

“Remember too that life is very good,
And that to live is better than to die,”
And all in all I’d say so still, though sixty-
Six is not so sure as sweet sixteen
What life and death are all about.
We lose less, dying, than we find.
Who knows?
Life’s good, for sure, but would we choose to live
Forever if we could? Or might that seem
Like twilight never deepening into dark,
Like never calling it a day, and letting
Go, and lying down to sleep.
“Life should
Be wondered at,” I said, “not understood,”
As if I thought there was a choice, then said,
“Remember love,” as if we might forget.

The National - Fireproof

You keep a lot of secrets.
And I keep none.
Wish I could go back.
And keep some.

You're Fireproof
Nothing breaks your heart
You're Fireproof
It's just the way you are


Thursday, May 30, 2013


You never know what may cause tears. 

The sight of the Atlantic ocean can do it sometimes: or a piece of music; or a face you’ve never even seen before; a pair of somebody’s old shoes can do it; almost any movie made before the great sadness that came over the world after the second world war; a horse cantering across a meadow; the high school basketball team running out onto the gym floor at the start of a game.

You can never be sure, but of this you can be sure: whenever you find tears in your eyes, especially unexpected tears, it is well to pay the closest attention.

They are not only telling you something about the secret of who you are, but more often than not, God* is speaking to you through them of the mystery of where you’ve come from, and is summoning to where, if your soul is to be saved, you should perhaps go to next.
 - Frederick Buechner
*For the record, I don't believe in God in the sense of a man (or woman) in the sky.  I think that throughout history, humans have used religion to explain the seemingly unexplainable.  River gods make the water run. Sun Gods make the crops grow. And finally, a God that gives us hope of life after death to take away our fear that this life of ours has no meaning beyond the years that we live it. But I am open to God as a symbol of the concept of the mystery we yearn to understand.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Ane Brun - Lamento della Ninfa

Ane Brun creates a new genre : Baroque and roll.

Thursday, May 02, 2013

Bitch - don't kill my vibe

Jamison Inc just entered the club, tooth pick in mouth, cocktail in hand, fur coat and sunglasses on. If you need me, I'll be up the back near the dance floor, slouched in my booth, nodding along.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Bombay Bicycle Club - Leaving Blues

The harmonies on 'Leavinnnnnnnnnn' - just yum.

Saturday, April 27, 2013

The National - I Need My Girl

The National performed another of the songs off their new album on Jimmy Fallon.

i'm under the gun again i know 
i was a 45 percenter then 
i know i was a lot of things 
but i am good and i am grounded 
davy says that i look taller
i can't get my head around it 
i keep feeling smaller and smaller

The National: I Need My Girl from respectator on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Living up to who we were

You may remember Mr Little Jeans from her beautiful cover of Arcade Fire's The Suburbs.

Here is the Norwegian singer's new single, off her forthcoming album, called Oh Sailor.

It's a perfectly standard pop song, but there's something mesmorising about that child choir.  The collective voices give this chorus a sincerity.

When you feel like you're out there on your own.
Know there is someone watching over you.

Perhaps we each of us can sometimes sense our childhood watching over us.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Putting love first, and fear second

This is what happens when a society chooses to put love first, and fear second. Absolutely awesome. A real reminder of what we have the potential to be when we choose not to let our decisions be ruled by fear, hate and insecurity. Thanks New Zealand.

And here's one of the speeches that got them there.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

James Yorkston - Woozy with Cider

Um..... This is juuuuuuust yum.

You know the drill. Glass of red. Headphones. Comfy chair. Lights off.

Monday, April 15, 2013

max cooper - soundscaping madness

According to Wikipedia, Max Cooper is a London-based electronica and techno producer, but from a quick listen to his music on soundcloud he is so much more than that. It seems to me he's as much a soundscaper as he is a doof doof man.

In any event, have a listen to his hour long mix entitled Synesthetes Museum. Cooper was asked by Magnetic Magazine to make a mix to reflect an architectural space. Cooper chose the British Museum. In Cooper's own words:
When I was doing my Post-Doc at UCL I used to go to the British Museum to relax, and work in the beautiful library there, so I chose the space for the mix. I wanted to capture the ambient atmosphere in the central courtyard, so I did some binaural recording to include in the mix. I also wanted to make the mix something of an exploration through history and ideas in line with the contents of the museum, so I brought in lots of disparate music spanning the centuries and continents. I also mixed it in a way to be like a journey though the museum, turning corners and regularly coming across something totally different and unexpected, with each track being like a different exhibit. Hence the name of the mix, in that, each piece of music almost has a visual content.
I encourage you to check out more about the project here. It's fascinating.

What's that? He's playing in Canberra soon? Oh, ok, don't go on about it James.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Interview with Phoenix

Check out this little video of Phoenix talking about their new album 'Bankrupt!'

Love the little story about how in choosing the album title, they fell in love with the sound of the word 'Bankrupt' and how the exclamation mark made all the difference. Also love the description of the album art (which is a Warhol-esque illustration of a peach) as being 'under art' and having 'a beauty, but with no artistic purpose'.

So esoteric.

Tuesday, April 09, 2013

Maribou State & Pedestrian - Mask

Cool video. The old guy eating his steak... great.

The National - Demons

New song by The National. Thoughts?

When I think of you in the city,
The sight of you among the sites.
I get this sudden sinking feeling,Of a man about to fly.Never kept me up before,Now I’ve been awake for days.I can’t fight it anymore,I’m going through an awkward phase.I am secretly in love with,Everyone that I grew up with.Do my crying underwater,I can’t get down any farther.All my drowning friends can see,Now there is no running from it.It’s become the crux of me,I wish that I could rise above it.

But I stay down,With my demons.But I stay down,With my demons

Passing buzzards in the sky,Alligators in the sewers.I don’t even wonder why,Hide among the under views.Huddle with them all night long,The worried talk to god goes on.I sincerely tried to love it,Wish that I could rise above it.

But I stay down,With my demons.I stay down,With my demonsI stay down,With my demons.I stay down,With my demonsI stay down,With my demons

Can I stay here? I can sleepon the floorpaint the blood and hang the palms,On the door.Do not think I’m going places anymore,Wanna see the sun come up above New York.Oh, everyday I start so great,Then the sunlight dips.Less I’ve learned,The more I see the pythons and the limbs.Do not know what’s wrong with me,Sours in the cup.When I walk into a room,I do not light it up.Fuck.

So I stay down,With my demonsI stay down,With my demonsI stay down,With my demonsI stay down,With my demons

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Ben Quilty - After Afghanistan

Last Thursday I managed to get in to see Ben Quilty's exhibition After Afghanistan. Housed in Sydney's old Darlinghurst gaol, (operational from 1841 - 1921 and at one stage home to Australian poet Henry Lawson), the exhibition is a result of Quilty's experience as the official war artist, commissioned by the Australian War Memorial and attached to the Australian Defence Force. In October 2011, Quilty spent a month with Australian soldiers in Afghanistan. His task was to record and interpret the experiences of Australians deployed as part of Operation Slipper in Kabul, Kandahar, and Tarin Kot in Afghanistan and at Al Minhad Airbase in the United Arab Emirates.
For his official war artist commission, Quilty has created large-scale portraits that focus on the intense physicality of these soldiers and on the emotional and psychological consequences of their service. Part of the exhibition includes a looping video of the episode of Australian Story that covered Quilty's trip to Afghanistan. The episode includes interviews with many of the subjects of Quilty's portraits. Seeing these men and women speak about their experiences in Afghanistan and about the process of visiting Quilty's art studio to pose for paintings increases the sense of both connection and familiarity that one feels with the portraits when you go through the exhibition.

As the name of the exhibition suggests, Quilty's portraits focus on the human consequences of Australia's military engagement in Afghanistan. In doing so, he does not shy away from suggesting that the major consequence is one of confusion, doubt, loss and brokenness. There is no glorification of the modern soldier, or even any concessionary nod to the necessity of war. The major theme I found myself looking at was one of 'damage'. And upon reflection, the fact that the Australian Government or Defence Force has not sought to bury these images is refreshing - and should be applauded. (In the exhibition, Quilty himself reveals his concern that, in showing these soldiers as he sees them, he might be putting the 'official war artist' position at risk). Far from being buried however, Quilty's paintings are on public display, and are free of charge. What's more, they will travel around the country as part of a national tour. One wonders whether such honest depictions of men returning from Lone Pine would have been so readily (and officially) championed.

- [If the suspense generated by that last rhetorical statement is just too much for you to handle, a quick scan of the work of the official war artists for the First World War on the Australian War Memorial's website reveals that the answer is most probably 'no'.  In contrast to Quilty's work, there is a distinct focus on 'duty' and 'sacrifice' rather than 'damage' and 'futility'.] -