Monday, 28 December 2009

Tuesday, 22 December 2009

Sunday, 13 December 2009

karaoke nationalism

One of the things I love about the country of my birth is that hardly anyone knows the words of our national anthem. This was brought home in true karaoke style at the Menzies Centre's Christmas party last week. The device shown here projected the words of the anthem onto a screen while the (belaureled) head of our former Prime Minister chose to look the other way (he would have much preferred 'God Save the Queen').

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Monday, 7 December 2009


When I was in my early to mid teens it wasn’t hard for my parents to choose my birthday and Christmas presents. The Beatles in those years brought out two albums a year in synchronicity, more or less, with these two occasions. All of the Beatles albums I owned, up to and including Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, were in mono. I didn’t realise it at the time (I owned a small portable record player and mono was what it did) but the Beatles themselves only paid attention to the mono pressings, leaving the stereo mixes to the EMI boffins in their white lab coats. I sold my albums in the late 1980s, replacing them with CDs which were, of course, stereo mixes. Not that I listened to these all that much. Partly this was because when the music originally appeared I had listened to it with the attention only someone of that age can bring to things. I knew every note of every song and if I had the vocal cords of a Petra Haden I could probably have duplicated a lot of the musical parts. Partly also, as I now realise, the sound on these CDs simply lacked the immediacy of the old mono (and later stereo) albums. So I investigated the new Apple pressings of the works and, to my surprise, I found myself listening with the excitement I had originally felt for much of this work. The sound now jumps out of the speakers (or the cans) as it once did and the stereo mixing has been done with care. I can hear small parts in some of the songs that I swear I had never heard before. The only problem is that the mono/stereo choice has already been made for all but the most fanatical (and salaried) discophiles. The mono mixes will only be available as a complete set, the lame excuse for this being that too many different versions of the disks would cause confusion and clutter in the stores. This just doesn’t wash with me. The band and the record company have made a lot of money out of us punters over the years. The simple answer to the problem is one that has been used before for other sixties bands: put both mono and stereo mixes on the one disk (and sacrifice the DVD moments).

I’m interested too in the shift of critical consensus over the relative worth of these albums. In the wake of progressive rock, Sgt Pepper was long thought of as the Beatles’ ‘masterpiece’ but from the late seventies on (roughly speaking) Revolver became the more highly regarded album. In the 2000s I sense that the honour has passed to the ‘White Album’, though there’s always a few who’ll differ with this (like Billy Childish, a true maverick, who figures it was downhill all the way after the unofficial recordings from the Star Club). What had once seemed a weakness (the overly eclectic nature of the material) now, in the MP3 era, seems a virtue. Two of the best critical pieces on these disks are from Ian MacDonald (author of the wonderful Revolution in the Head) and Charles Shaar Murray. MacDonald’s book goes into detail about all of the Beatles official recordings and while there’s much to differ with I tend to find his comments mostly on the money. He notes that the ‘White Album’ was originally to have been entitled 'A Doll’s House' but that the Leicester band, Family, brought out their first album with a close enough title for the Fabs to have to change tack. MacDonald ruminates on what a possible cover illustration together with the slightly seedy, crepuscular feel of the work within might have done for the album. While he doesn’t consider it their best work by a long shot he details the long studio session when the track order was worked out and calls the album ‘a masterpiece of sequencing’. Murray noticed astutely that while the people he spoke to were almost all in agreement that the album would have been better as one record rather than two it was hard for them to reach any agreement about which tracks were to be retained.

A personal footnote: When I was at Monash University in the late 1960s the Labor Club, while preferring the official music of various Marxist regimes alongside the work of tedious ‘folk’ artists, begrudgingly countenanced some current rock and pop, presumably to lure in those youngsters like myself who knew no better. In 1968 however, a ban was placed on all Beatles records not long after ‘Revolution’ hit the airwaves.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

the lovemakers

Alan Wearne read last week at the Menzies Centre and again last night in the Shearsman series. He presented very different work at the two readings. The Menzies reading showcased poems from his recent Giramondo book containing shorter poems while the Shearsman event focussed on The Lovemakers, his most recent verse novel. This volume has had a tortuous history. Penguin Books (Australia) agreed to publish the work but then decided to break it into two volumes. Then, despite the critical success of Volume 1, they chose not to publish the second half of the work. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation came along some years later and published Volume 2 in a form approximating to the Penguin design. But Penguin had already pulped the first book and not all that long afterwards the ABC did the same. At last, thanks to Tony Frazer and the University of Wollongong (who partly funded the project), the work is available as a single volume (and with Shearsman’s POD approach, it will remain available as long as the author wishes it to). This was something to celebrate. In introducing the author, Tony Frazer called the book the ‘War & Peace’ of verse novels, referring here to more than just its size. Wearne began writing verse novels some time ago; long before the form became fashionable again (his two previous verse novels are Out Here and The Nightmarkets: both worth seeking out). There have been many less than satisfactory attempts in the genre in recent years and some of these have garnered more publicity than Wearne’s work. Unlike many of the other verse novelists, Wearne is a master of form. I remember reading The Nightmarkets and discovering a complex rhyme scheme in a passage so subtly put together that the fact hadn’t obtruded immediately. These works are no more and no less difficult than Browning: you just have to pay attention. And Wearne’s models are by no means nineteenth-century authors only. The New Yorkers have their place in the origins of these books too.