Sunday, December 18, 2011

These Are The Days - My Christmas Message.

This will be my last post for 2011. A couple of weeks ago I managed to catch the second part of a documentary about the legendary rock band Queen called "These Are The Days". One of the most poignant images/footage from this doco was some rare video footage shot of Freddie Mercury during the music video recording of the song "These Are The Days Of Our Lives". By early 1991 Mercury was critically ill as the result of the AIDS virus and rarely had he been seen publicly.

In what I regard as one of the most courageous performances committed to camera, Mercury pulled himself out of bed and shot the video for the song against fairly incredible odds and the result is perhaps one of the most emotional I can think of that I've seen - perhaps ever.

I struggle with Christmas. I don't enjoy it and I usually find that it is a time of considerable stress - mainly due to the nature of my work, which tends to quieten down this time of year. But Christmas to me, was long ago hijacked by commercial interests hell bent on shoving it's - actually their - meaning down our throats. So much so that the real meaning has been lost. I find little to like about Christmas to be honest.

Recently however, I have resolved to observe Christmas more through the eyes of my children and both I and my serioso have constructed a Christmas that is less about the rampant consumerism and vapid commercialism and instead have focused more upon the importance of us as a family unit. We've observed the Christmas story as per the Bible because that's what the core of Christmas is - but it is the importance of love, of remembering the times in your life in which love shone through and nourished you and imparting that love onto your children that is, in my mind the most essential ingredient. 

I have to say that, I am more at peace this Christmas than I have been in the past. 

But it's to the words of "These Are The Days Of Our Lives" that I have drawn the most meaning in the past couple of weeks and I have found the most comfort in those. The song talks of life and love on their most basic terms and with Mercury's impassioned delivery in his dying days - they say more about what should be at the heart of times like these than any other message could. 

Watch the music video below (you may get a message asking you to click through to youtube itself - sorry about that) and just allow yourself to accept the simple message contained therein. It is delivered with an honesty and a full heart and I challenge you not to be moved. 

To all of you, I wish you a safe and happy Christmas among those you love the most and I hope the new year brings you serendipity and peace. And, in the words of Dave Allen - 

"May your God go with you".


Thursday, December 8, 2011

Dave Grohl Saved My Life.

Rarely, if ever, have I considered people of celebrity to have anything useful to say. Other than promoting their product - their film, T.V. show or their album - I usually find anything they utter beyond that is just hot air, filler, bullshit. Unless of course they've put in an appearance on the now defunct British T.V. institution 'Parkinson' then I kinda think 'Well, yeah...if they're intelligent enough to submit to an hour being quizzed by, arguably, the finest interviewer in the world then I'll take notice. 

Otherwise their only requirement as an entertainer is to entertain me, not give me a running commentary on the geopolitical ramifications of climate change, or the morality of government commitments to foreign aid or whether I should eat meat or not. Go make an album, let the appropriate people handle those other issues.

There are few people who I admire in this world because I'm not really into the kind of vacuous hero worship of celebrity, movie stars, performers or sports people. I think it stems from a couple of instances where I was disappointed as a kid. Like, I met some character from a kid's show from the 1980's - I think it was the kangaroo from Shirl's Neighbourhood' - who, none of you outside of Australia will have any idea of what I'm talking about. But anyway, he turned out to be a complete arse and I do remember being brought to tears - I was 6 years old remember.

And most sports people then, as they are now, are just plain dumb - unable to converse much beyond delivering stupid cliche's during interviews - and that's when they're not busy putting their foot in it.

But I do and have made particular exceptions.

Early in 2005 I was going through a pretty awful time. My marriage had fallen apart after seven years, of which most of the years - I thought - were happy. In the months leading up to the separation, I had been diagnosed with severe depression and I was being treated for it.  Up until that point, I had placed a supreme amount of importance on marriage and I valued it greatly - even though I will admit, that there were times where I totally sucked at it. There was a weight of expectation that I'd place upon myself to succeed and when it all fell apart - my castle, the structure that I had built to house all those expectations collapsed spectacularly. My life, in the first few days and weeks after my wife ended our marriage, spun out of control in a predictable fashion. 

The tranquil life that I had known for the past seven years was suddenly gone, I became withdrawn. I locked myself away from everybody. I indulged in far more red wine than I ever did before and then I discovered brandy so I hit that pretty hard too. I live in a different state to my family so I apart from the phone, there was no one I could talk to face to face which was really isolating. I was essentially alone in the beginning. 

During the very worst of it all I seriously considered suicide numerous times - even got to the point of actually preparing to go through with it. I had a plan - a way out and I had come to a strange kind of peace with it. When your entire world crumbles around you and you feel as though you're left with nothing at all, not being here anymore becomes an attractive option.

So there I was, sitting in the lounge room of the home I was about to lose, half wiped out after a dozen or so brandy and drys, a bottle of pills on the table before me and then Andrew Denton comes on. 

Andrew Denton is Australia's equivalent to Michael Parkinson. For an hour or so on a Monday night Andrew Denton would conduct one on one interviews with anybody of note in a style that really does pull back the layers of the onion and delves into the person before him in a really satisfying way. Denton's list of interviewees over the years have included the likes of Bill Clinton, Helen Mirren, Sir David Attenborough, Jerry Seinfeld and Rudy Giuliani.

He has also interviewed Dave Grohl.

I've always liked The Foo Fighters though my love from them...(their music I mean)... really solidified around the album 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose'. Personally, I don't think the Foo Fighters have ever released a bad album. And I think that they have only improved with age. Aside from being one of the most disciplined outfits going around, the band also has a sense of humor about them; they've never taken themselves too seriously in the way alot of bands do. It comes through in the many interviews they have done - including their most recent documentary "Back & Forth" - as well as a handful of their music videos, which are basically huge piss takes on the notion of rock stardom. It's totally refreshing.

So yeah, there I was, sitting on the couch in my three day old boxer shot, clutching a bottle of brandy, my mind as black as the night outside and I was kinda half listening to the interview. And the the interview turned a sudden and unexpected corner. Andrew and Dave started talking about Kurt Cobain, the circumstances surrounding his suicide and the impact that it had on Dave Grohl. Through the fog of my grief there was a sudden clarity as my mind switched to the conversation on screen. I knew that Dave had avoided talking a lot about Cobain's suicide in the past, so it was significant that he would begin opening up about it here. 

Dave Grohl at one point said to Andrew Denton "OK, life is so delicate, so short that you really have to take advantage of every day...I am lucky enough to wake up this morning, even if it's the worst day of my life, I still get to be..."

For some reason - those words cut through to my very core. They weren't especially ground breaking words, I mean you hear stuff like that all the time. But, I guess, at that moment it was what I needed to hear.

Grohl went further, "It has a lot to do with why I started this band, because I wasn't done yet. I might die tomorrow, but as long as I spend every day like it's a gift, then I will be fine". I was struck by the quiet intelligence behind those words and the sincerity of the emotion that betrayed Dave's eyes at that moment. For me, he had moved beyond being a fun kinda guy, a cool muso with a sense of humor and had become one of those rare people who a in touch with their own psyche, are aware of their own human condition and have tried to understand it. It is a quality that is common to many creative people and one that resonated with me. For years, I had struggled with trying to become a writer and during those months in 2005 I had all but abandoned it.

There is a moment, a point in the cycle of a negative seismic event like the one I went through where you can either go one way or you can go another. Upon hearing those words from Dave, I decided to choose a path that would be long and hard, filled with set backs and pauses. But, somehow, I knew I had to try and rediscover the best of myself because I sensed, even then that it would ultimately be rewarding.

I began to clean myself up, gradually and I abandoned any notions of leaving this mortal coil. My creative love took a little while to recapture but I did begin to contemplate it again, some I hadn't done for several years.
Depression, deep depression is an affliction that can take years to come out of. I don't know why that is. I'm not sure anybody does. Even now, some six years after I was first diagnosed I still suffer from bouts of deep depression. I don't know where it comes from, it is overwhelming and can often take weeks to come out of. 

But there are certain words that stick in my mind that help me to overcome the dark times that threaten my well being. Dave Grohl's chat with Andrew Denton back in May 2005 was a critical moment in the journey that enabled me to go forward. 

And though I will probably never get the opportunity, I want to say here and now that in a small way Dave Grohl saved my life. And for that I guess I’ll always be thankful...


Tuesday, December 6, 2011

12 - 5 - 2011 The Day Of The Foos.

The quintessential rock band of my generation, the Foo Fighters, landed in Adelaide on December 5th for a one off show at the Adelaide Oval as part of their Wasting Light World Tour. This was an event that I have waited months for - well, to be honest, it's been a three year wait. I have mentioned to a couple of people already that, for me, the show was nigh on a religious experience last night and one that I won't soon forget. My love for the Foo Fighters is no secret and I have talked about the influence that Dave Grohl, in particular, had on me during a difficult period in my life a few years ago

Dave, Chris, Nate, Pat and Taylor were in superb form and delivered a two hour main set that went non stop - repeat NON STOP! Their stamina was just incredible. The show itself was balls to the wall rock, in contrast to their 2008 tour, where their show incorporated a smaller acoustic set. This isn't to say that last night's show was any lesser without that contrast - far from it. 

Highlights for me was their performance of "These Days" which Dave hinted that footage from their Australian tour would be used in an upcoming music video for that song. "Stacked Actors" was another standout - one of my favorite Foo's tracks and "The Pretender" was delivered with enough voltage to light up a small country. They also blew everyone away with Queen's "Tie Your Mother Down" which was really poignant as I just watched a doco on that band on TV earlier this week. There were also moments of comedy during the show including a kind of guitar high noon standoff between Dave and Chris that brought the house down. They were engaging, interactive and enthusiastic to the Adelaide crowd. Hands down, The Foo Fighters are the consummate rock band and are the gold standard that all who call themselves rock musicians should aspire to.

I'm pleased to present a little video compilation of my concert experience. Excuse the audio on the video footage as it pops a little but you'll get the idea.


Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Near Infinite Possibility - There Need Be No Other Title.

My exploration of superb indepedent music has continued unabated over the past few months and I was excited to discover yet another singer/song writer to add to my 'There Need Be No Other Title' series. 

Sarah Fimm is an American song-smith and lyricist who has been around the scene since 2001 producing an increasingly varied and impressive body of work. Her music has found wide appeal despite skirting the edges of the mainstream in terms of exposure, but in this day and age of quality indie artists, this is most certainly a plus factor. I'll admit to having arrived at Sarah Fimm's work quite last in the piece, through her free EP release 'Near Infinite Possibility', which she has shared generously through the Frostwire network. This EP is essentially a shortened version of her latest studio release of the same name and I must say it has quickly risen to the top of my preferred playlist.

Sarah Fimm has been described as a dark, chaotic mixture of rock and pop with alternative influences. These characteristics are clearly on display in the 5 track EP. Her sound is colored with a smoky melodic rock fused with a euro-electronic foundation. It has been said of Sarahs previous work that it tends towards a sharply electronic focus with her voice lending the only human element to her music. If that is the case, then 'Near Infinite Possibility' marks a somewhat stark departure from what has come before.

Across the 5 tracks of this EP, gutsy guitar riffs are paired seamlessy with polished vocal harmonies on tracks like 'Soul Let Swim' and 'Yellow' while vocally, Fimm presents an ability to range from the hard edges of her heavier rock compositions to her uplifting and quite delicate acoustic numbers such as 'Sing'. I was initially reminded of Evanescence's Amy Lee when listening to the opening track of 'Near Infinite Possibility' but, whereas Lee seems limited to the overtly dark and brooding trademark of the Evanescence brand, Fimm displays much more versatility in her vocal style. There shades of Suzi deMarchi as well - an attractive malevolence that is best exemplified on the track 'Invisible Satellites'. Fimm moves her voice really nicely within the harmonies of her backing vocalists and she can carry it deftly on her own. It is a strong and feminine voice.

As a lyricist, Fimm has penned songs on the EP that suggest a dark introspection, depression and isolation but there are hints of hope there too, of love and standing tall. Fimm has stepped outside of her comfort zone here in order to showcase her ability to perform, stylistically quite different compositions. She succeeds amply.

Sarah's music has been featured in some eclectic corners of the media landscape. She has paired with the likes of Iggy Pop, Peter Murphy (of Bauhaus) and in 2008 she supported Canadian outfit Delirium.Songs from both her 2001 debut album Cocooned and her 2002 follow up A Perfect Dream have appeared extensively in MTV's Real World and Road Rules series, Miramax Productions' Comic Book: The Movie (directed by Mark Hamill), the feature documentary A Space for Peace and the Lifetime television series 1-800-Missing.

One of the most interesting projects Sarah has helmed is the Karma Phala Project. Released in October 2010, Karma Phala (or "fruits of action), is a combined music and art project that showcases Sarah's talents in depth. The project comprises 31 music tracks and 4 albums of artworks and photographs composed and compiled by Sarah herself. She is distributing freely to those who request it. It is an important body of work that typifies the ingenuity and  passion of artists who are not restrained by commercial shackles and it really is something quite beautiful.

The end result of my discovery of Sarah Fimm is that I have already sought out more of her work. She is an artist of particular beauty and integrity and she represents the kind of quality that is so lacking in the vacuous wasteland of mainstream music today. I totally encourage you to spend some time getting to know her for yourself.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

The Hambledown Dream by Dean Mayes

The Hambledown Dream

by Dean Mayes

Giveaway ends November 17, 2011.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Satisfying Shades of Disturbing - A Look At Crude Sunlight by Philip Tucker.

Crude SunlightCrude Sunlight by Philip Tucker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Buffalo State Asylum for the Insane is a grand and terrible building. Abandoned over forty years ago, there now  sound,  in rooms and halls where tortured screams once rung, only the tread of urban explorers as they marvel at its ruined grandeur.

Yet something still resides in its ancient depths.

When his younger brother goes missing Thomas Verkraft takes the opportunity to escape his imploding life in New York City and come to Buffalo to find him. Following a trail of black and white photographs, home made exploration videos, legends and rumors, he tracks Henry down to the doors of the State Asylum.

It's the last building Henry entered before he disappeared.

Accompanied by Julia, his younger brother's tormented ex-girlfriend, Thomas forces himself to walk the same downward spiral that claimed Henry.

But the hunger that Henry awoke has broken stronger men than Thomas, shattered their minds and consumed them whole in the darkness. What hope does Thomas have in the face of such ravening despair?

My Take:

There is something satisfying in finding an author who can tap into the psyche of their protagonists and antagonists in such a way that you find yourself descending into the very realms of those characters minds. You experience their journey in a way that is visceral and satisfyingly so. In such a moodily dark setting as the one that author Philip Tucker has created for his debut novel, it becomes essential to experience rather than simply read.

In Crude Sunlight, Tucker's deliciously disturbing psychological thriller, there is a sense of dread and foreboding that draws you in right away. There is little to comfort you in the complex tableaux that unfolds and this is definitely one of the novels strengths. Tucker succeeds in the horror that he suggests rather than the horror he explicitly portrays. It makes for a more immersive reading experience because we will inevitably find our own imaginations fired by what we deduce from the plot points.

Comparisons to the likes of Silent Hill and The Ring have been made and I think Crude Sunlight stands well alongside those works in as much as Tucker has crafted a similar sort of texture in his writing style. Crude Sunlight is visually stimulating. There are descriptions of black and white, sound and light and texture that instantly remind one of the imagery inherent in those other works - yet Tuckers voice is resoundingly original and fresh.

Tucker's characters too, are well drawn and intriguing. The protagonist, Thomas, is a flawed anti-hero in the beginning, but he is also dogged and as his journey progresses he evolves into a subtle hero who realizes his purpose and becomes determined as a result. I was reminded a little of Rick Deckard - a similar sort of anti-hero from the movie Bladerunner. Like Deckard, Thomas is not immediately likeable, he is plagued by doubts and he flirts with failure often. Julia, the ex-girlfriend of Thomas' missing brother Henry, is also exceedingly well drawn as a conflicted and ambivalent counterpart who possesses a darkness that is revealed gradually.

Crude Sunlight is also a well crafted mystery using clues and red herrings well in keeping the reader guessing as well as invested. So much of what makes the novel work can be derived from this component. The pacing is tight, drawing upon tension and fear and propelling the story forward without laboring too long.

Crude Sunlight is a work that is satisfyingly disturbing and Philip Tucker has every reason to be proud of his debut.

About The Author:

Philip Tucker ascribes his love of writing to a teacher who once told his class, "Don't be a writer if you can stand to be anything else. Go be a carpenter, a business man, a firefighter, whatever. Get out of this gig while you still can".

Philip thought at the time that she was being overly harsh, but ten years down the road and hundreds of thousands of words later, he says that he realizes she was right.

The only reason Tucker writes today is because, in his words, nothing else has worked for him. Not being a mortgage broker on South Beach or a factory worker in Sydney. Brazilian born and British raised, Tucker says that he's since lost his accent, gained a unique world view due to his peripatetic upbringing, and has found that the only thing that regularly ignites his passion is sitting down at his laptop to write.

Philip has a portal at Facebook and you can also read about his exploits at his Amazon page.


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