30 for 30: Mojo Magazine

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Mojo Magazine - I won all these ones

Mojo Magazine (The Music Magazine) celebrates it’s 200th issue this month (Tom Waits cover). It is the only magazine that I collect. That is, I buy them AND I keep them. I’ve been buying them for almost 13 years now.

I am not going to write about music in this 30 for 30 column specifically. But I am going to touch on some related issues, like this one. It’s more about collecting a magazine for years on end.

I still see, all the time, people with the National Geographic in their living rooms. Dozens if not hundreds of them, with that yellow spine. What is with that magazine? Were subscriptions super cheap? And people keep them – how often do they re-read them?

I’m not even sure if I’ve ever read one article in National Geographic in my entire life.

But there is something I really love about seeing magazines on a shelf. Metres of shelf space. The matching spines. The OCD part of me goes wild about it.

I think it’s a dying culture – the magazine you keep. The National Geographic. The New Yorker. Mojo. Major, timeless journalism vs contemporary events. I really think that people of my age will be the last generation to do this.

First Mojo I ever bought was issue 46. Funnily enough, Radiohead were on the cover. It was Campsie Centre, and in Australia we get Mojo Magazine about two months later than the UK, so it would have been November 1997.

I was buying anything and everything to do with music. And I remember seeing this magazine with Achtung Baby written across it, and a photo of four weird looking guys. Now, I know Achtung Baby is a U2 album, but those guys on the cover were not U2. What the hell? What is this Mojo?

So that cover stuck with me (it was issue 41). Years later I discovered it was Kraftwerk. The next month the newsagent had another weird one. John Lennon – looking uncool and almost dead. It was so different from Rolling Stone, Juice, Recovery Magazine and all that.

So finally by 46, I caved and bought the issue. Everyone was talking about Radiohead. It was a way into this magazine. And I’ll be honest, I didn’t understand half of it. I knew  very little of the bands discussed. But as usual, I saw it as a challenge.

I bought the occasional Mojo from then on, but didn’t get it month to month until around 65. By then I was all across the Nick Drakes and the Zombies of the world.

You can see the covers discussed here

Doug Thomas was the first person I ever met with a complete collection of Mojo Magazines. Doug is a legend in the Australian indie records scene, having worked behind the counter at some of the best record shops Adelaide and Perth had to offer.

I was friends with his daughter, the talented Stina Thomas (now a solo artist in Perth). Anyway, that first trip to Perth, visiting friends, was great and not relevant to this other than seeing Doug’s complete set of Mojos. I don’t know what about me sees stuff like that and decides I want it too. Something about conspicuous consumption speaks to my heart. I can still see it now – the bottom row of this shelf in the Thomas household.

So that’s always been the aim. The complete set. I have managed to find old Mojo magazines in various thrift stores, second book shops, Oxfams and dusty record shops. I am still a fair way off a complete set.

The oldest Mojo I have is 9. The Clash are on the cover.

Is it odd that I hunt down old magazines? Maybe. I do have a problem with stuff like this. Collecting weird stuff.  I do read them though. And hey, people collect stamps. So I can do this.

Why Mojo? Why not National Geographic?

The obvious answer is music. Mojo was the music magazine and nothing else. But there is something timeless about it. Or maybe more accurately – the consistently dated quality.

It just set the scene for me, regardless of what trends were going on. Take for example, issue 75. The lead article (really, like the LEAD ARTICLE and COVER) was a profile on four bands.

1) The Velvet Underground in their least popular period

2) The then-unknown Big Star

3) Fred Neil. I mean do you, even today, know who Fred Neil is?

4) The La’s. Yes, the weird one hit wonders that were the La’s.

Before the internet, Wikipedia, Allmusic and all that, this was my education into weird, old music.

That issue was over ten years ago and I still know what I learnt from that issue. If that gives you an indication of how good the writing is.

I guess it was around this time Michael Lock, a great music journalist, introduced me to Lester Bangs and other great rock writers. I started to appreciate Rock Journalism as a thing of it’s own. Michael never wrote album reviews, but he wrote profiles on bands. I know writers who do the reverse. The art of music writing was studied here, by me.

But everyone cool I know bought Mojo. Musicians. Record shop people. Scenesters. It was our bible. I remember Michael telling me about a t-shirt that Evan Dando had, that Gram Parsons wore once. And he just went to my shelf, picked out the right Mojo issue (56, Massive Attack) and showed it to me.

So Mojo was my ticket into that old man rock world. In my life, I’ve never had a problem meeting older men who can tell me about unreleased David Bowie tracks.

I buy Mojo anywhere and everywhere. Mostly I bought them for an extra $5 in record shops, to get them around the same time as the UK. For many years, the ritual was to buy it at Egg Records in Newtown, then walk over to café for a big breakfast, or dinner at Happy Chef.

Pretty much every Mojo I have has a few oil splatters, or tomato sauce specks. My memories of reading Mojo Magazine is tied to food, and eating out and by myself.

With this week’s, 200th issue, I did what I normally do. Instead of heading home, I deliberately stopped for food (a cheap and excellent laksa from Tuk Tuk, Baywater). Just on my own, read the magazine as I ate.

In fact, I clearly remember eating at the Happy Chef for the 100th issue. It was one of the few issues where the cover wrapped around, so I was being extra careful. But usually my copies are a bit battered around.

The second hand old ones I buy almost always has a blank crossword. Who is leaving these blank? I always do the crosswords and usually underline and write all over other bits as well.

I buy Mojo anywhere I am. I’ve bought one in Copenhagen (157). And recently in Oxford (199). I have never missed an issue this decade, no matter where I am and what I’m doing.

I have 70 or so issues here in London, and 100 or so in Australia. I can’t wait to unite the collection.

Other magazines have come and gone. No Depression ceased publication in 2008, calling an end to a 7 year relationship. I loved Chunklet magazine, but they put out an issue every two years – if you’re lucky.

Magazines like Q, Empire and Rolling Stone got too bogged down in current trends for me. I liked them for years, but they are more for current news than to keep for the ages. I’ve flirted with Record Collector. Dated Classic Rock. Performing Songwriter. Word. But I keep coming back to Mojo. I don’t even question the quality of it anymore. It’s become part of my life.

I would LOVE to find a film magazine that has the quality of journalism like Mojo.

So the aim in life now is to be a writer. And that could well mean writing about music.

I wrote about music in a Sydney street press column for years. I produced radio. I love talking about music. And Mojo definitely fueled that fire. It would be amazing to write for Mojo. It’s like when I played in a band and hosting Rage was the goal. Or maybe just have a letter published.

But that will probably never happen and it doesn’t matter. I will still be reading it. Hopefully the decline of magazines will be kind to Mojo, and I will be having a laksa, sitting down with the 300th issue in September 2018.

Food World Cup 2010 – 1. FRANCE


Chez Kristof
111 Hammersmith Grove
London W6 0NQ

So begins Food World Cup 2010!

It wasn’t actually supposed to start just yet, but I some time yesterday doing research and organising company for food adventures. And that night, I happened to be going to a nice restaurant with my work colleagues – both from my team and internationally. It was a great meal, and so why not kick off?

The place is Chez Kristof on Hammersmith Grove, in Hammersmith. The road is a little hidden away from the hustle and bustle of Hammersmith. It’s one of those pretty, leafy streets that I love about West London. The cuisine is French.

In London, we are spoilt for French food. They are everywhere. Most trendy restaurant areas have a Cote, a chain of French restaurants. There’s actually one right outside my office building, and we frequent it a lot. There’s Bloody French in Westbourne Grove and my favourite Bar Du Marche in Soho. Of course, most people just catch the train to Paris.

Which is a long way for me to say I skipped the French delicacies like Steak Tartare over other things, because I was quite hungry.

Crab Linguini

For starters, I ordered the Crab Linguini. Not particularly French, but it was lovely. Some of us ordered the Steak Tartare – which I normally LOVE.

Steak Tartare with cool egg

Steak Tartare with cool egg

Everyone who had it thought the Steak Tartare was lovely. It looked very fine – I’m used to it being a bit more chunky. What I really loved though, was the egg that came with it, actually presented in half an egg shell.

Middlewhite Pork

For mains, I went for the Middlewhite Pork. It came in a lovely Prune sauce, and a side of spring greens. The pork had a whole inch of fat on it – Fabian who ordered the same had to skip it. It’s pretty full on. The crackling was like metal. Which is actually how like pork belly.

I really don’t know how French the meal I had was. But it is what French dining in London is like. It’s quite a posh dining experience, and they use British produce. I don’t know if I’ll ever go to Chez Kristof again – it’s expensive and has that generic posh dining atmosphere. Not really my thing if I had a choice. But lovely regardless.

This is the first time I’ve really tried blogging about food, having been reading food blogs for a long time. I need to take better photos, and keep a better eye on the menu. I don’t know what the red wine we had was – and maybe that tells you how good it was. I mean, can you really go wrong with a French Red?

One down, 31 to go.

Food World Cup 2010 – Introduction


I am trying to make the most of London. Coming up with silly challenges seems to be the goal. So I am stealing an idea my cousin had for Sydney, but doing it in London. It’s a Food World Cup.

Basically, during the course of the FIFA World Cup, I am going to try and eat food from all 32 countries that have qualified.

A few thoughts going into it:

1) I am probably not going to get all 32, but I will try. Some cheating (diving?) might have to be done. Both Korean nations will get grouped together.

2) You’d be surprised how many of the obscure countries have a food presence in London. Ghana, South Africa, Brazilian, Argentinean, Swiss… all these are sorted. Add to that the wonderful food markets in London, and it’s going to make for a fun little exercise.

3) It’s not all going to be in London. There are a few trips already planned in the UK, and I will be looking for good food in those places.

4) It’s not all going to be restaurants either. Food stalls, fun snacks, maybe even some cooking on my part? Who knows.

5) I am going to play it pretty loose with the dates. In fact, I’ve got a two week head start. It is a summer project. And many poor friends have been dragged into this as well.

6) I wish the nation of Dim Sumnia made the World Cup.

Bon apetite!

30 for 30: Podcasts

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


Fresh Air's Terry Gross, hosting the show in 1987. Still the greatest interviewer we've ever had.

Something different for this entry.

Podcasts are awesome. They have been a big part of my life for the last 5 years. Every week, I spend hours listening to podcasts – which is more time than I spend on eating probably.

So it’s odd how little we talk about podcasts.

I’ve learnt so much about the world from them. They are such a rich source of interviews, entertainment, education, comedy – everything. All the things I loved about community radio and talk radio has now become podcasts. By subscribing to dozens of them, I have my own custom radio station, with just shows I like.

And it still seems like a secret world. It seems like most people I know don’t follow podcasts.

There’s also no discussion on great podcasts. Ones that help define the medium. I guess because it comes from all places – slick professional radio stations to one guy rambling into a macbook. Still, there is no critical council for podcasts – no reviews, no Oscars, etc.

It’s also hard to say what is best as there are just so many podcasts. It’s an utterly fragmented world.

So with that said, here are some podcasts I love. And some reasons why.

(Namesource/topics covered/format/frequency)

Fresh Airpublic radio/general interest/interviews/daily

This the place to start with podcasts.

Running since 1975, it’s one of the most highly regarded shows in public broadcasting in the US. Hosted by Terry Gross, it covers the gamut of life – from presidential candidates to obscure singer songwriters. Soldiers, actors, scientists, historians – they are all here, completely engaging. Gross is probably the best interviewer in the world – she has a casual air that draws in the listening and disarms her guests.

I have lived with Fresh Air for about 5 years and it’s the perfect daily podcast. Mainly because I can skip past the repeat shows and the topics that don’t interest me. But In any given week, there are 3 if not more shows I want to hear.

Sometimes I think Gross knows everything in the world ever. She can quote Vic Chesnutt lyrics in front of Michael Stipe and she can explain the global financial situation.

Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Mepublic radio/news/game show/weekly

The best produced podcasts on the web. It’s a game show about the week’s news, with a panel of always funny contestants, hosted by Peter Sagal (and sidekick Carl Kasell).

There’s no shortage of superstars walking through either – from ZZ Top to George Stephanopoulos to Leonard Nimoy. Once you get to know the format and the hosts, the show is hugely rewarding.

This is the first podcast I listen to on a Monday. It starts the week in a good way – informed and amused. Who else does one deal with life?

Sunday Night Safranpublic radio/religon, ethnicity/talk/weekly

There is no one else like John Safran. Shameless, fearless and tactless, he tackles the toughest subjects in modern life – religion and race. And he tears it apart, laughing the whole time.

Safran is joined by Father Bob, the 75 year old Priest who is a personality all of his own. Together they tackle the spiritial and racial threads in a variety of topics. Be it an art exhibition about a minority in Australia to interviewing Richard Dawkins.

I’m making it sound more serious than it is. It does make you think though, as Safran and Bob take things apart very cleverly (if they aren’t fighting).

It’s one of the few podcasts I follow from Australia, as most of the ones I loved has now stopped (top of the pile was Andrew Denton’s Enough Rope).

The Onion News Networkoriginal content/humour/news parody/daily
websiteiTunes (audio)iTunes (video)

The Onion has been lampooning news since 1988. Their service offers two podcasts – audio news and video news.

Audio news sounds like a radio station news break. Short and sharp – the stories are usually under a minute (and always hosted by the awesome Doyle Redman). Some headlines include ‘God Cites Mysterious Ways As Motive For Killing’. It’s definitely out there.

The real treasure though, is the video stuff. Made like a 24 hour news network would look, with it’s own branded shows, the Onion News Network is some of the funniest things you’ll ever see.

Some of my all time faves

‘Iron Man 2’ Buzz Heats Up Over Rumors Gwyneth Paltrow Gets Punched In Face

Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop With No Keyboard

Google Opt Out Feature Lets Users Protect Privacy By Moving To Remote Village

Those are a few of many, many excellent videos. The Onion Sports Network is a spot on parody of ESPN, to the point where it’s been comissioned for a weekly TV show. I also love Today Now!, the morning magazine program. But really I love it all.

So the point is this. Some of the best comedy virals from the last decade have come from a podcast! Why aren’t we talking about it?

Popdoseoriginal content/pop music and culture/talk/monthly

One of my favourite blogs is popdose.com. A few months ago they started a podcast – three of the writers sit around and discuss music, life, and make terrible jokes.

This could be the best and worse of what podcasts have to offer. The three guys – Jason Hare, Dave Lifton, Jeff Giles – are pretty average pop music nerds. But that’s what makes it so great. It’s like talking to people who share your interests. I have never, ever, had a conversation about how much I think John Mayer or Daryl Hall are assholes. But I feel like I have with these guys.

It’s amateurish, but charming. Great stings. This is what homemade podcasting can be. I have big plans to ape this format.

Mark Kermode & Simon Mayo Film Reviewsradio/film/talk/weekly

This is the opposite of popdose. This is a proper BBC radio show – probably THE BBC film show. Simon Mayo is the best interviewer Britain has to offer. Mark Kermode is a fantastic film head too. Together they make quite a team.

The show goes out on a Friday afternoon. But I don’t have to worry about that. For the last year or so, it’s been my Saturday morning listening. I don’t even have to get up at the same time each week to catch it. It’s just there. I don’t miss a second of it.

Even if you’re a casual film fan, you must download this.

Coffee Break Frenchoriginal content/language/educational/monthly

I’ve spent the last few years trying to get my French up to a conversational level. I take classes here, read books and of course, any excuse to visit France itslf is taken.

But part of it is Coffee Break French, the best of several French podcasts out there.

The advantage of the podcast is I can follow the lessons at my own pace. I can relisten at my leisure. There’s 80 lessons up there now, and I just make my way through them. It has helped me a lot. Just don’t ask me any questions in French.

Sound Opinionspublic radio/music/talk/weekly

“The world’s only rock ‘n’ roll talk show.”

That’s how they bill themselves and I have to agree. Made out of Chicago, and hosted by esteemed music critics Jim DeRogatis and Greg Kot, Sound Opinions is the one must-have music show in the podcast world.

It skewers to the critics world – new indie, and old Mojo mag stuff – but they will dig out big names, modern heroes and underground treasures – often in the same show. Mixed with music news, desert island discs, live performances, new album reviews, classic album dissections – there is nothing else like it for music buffs.

There are dozens, if not hundreds more. This American Life. A Prairie Home Companion. Comic book ones. Doctor Who ones. The famous Ricky Gervais one. The almost as famous Stephen Fry one. The legendary BBC Desert Island Discs. And dozens of other music ones. Lots of great cooking ones.

Anything and everything under the sun.

So – let’s start a conversation about podcasts. What do you listen to? What do you like about them? What doesn’t work?

I’d love to know. Because I think podcasts are cool. And it’s time I started telling people.

30 for 30: JD Salinger

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


One of the very few photos of JD Salinger

I love the works of JD Salinger. He is best known for writing The Catcher In the Rye, but also a series of short stories, many of which used the same characters. He died earlier this year, prompting me to revisit his work. It hasn’t lost any of it’s power on me.

I can’t remember her name.

But I can remember what happened. Clearly, like it was yesterday.

It was in the last years of high school, and I attended an all-boy’s school. But, thanks to lack of funding in the public school system, the music class for our school was merged with the music class from the local all-girl’s school.

It was cancelled entirely in my year (I mean, schools cancelling music. No wonder I’m such a left winger)…but the year below me was the first to take this new merged class. And Tristan, the bass player in our first band, was in that class. So thanks to rock ‘n’ roll, we got to visit the girl’s school.

O, that weird place known as the girl’s school! Such wonders. Such promise. Such mystery. We would exit those gates, watched by other jealous boys. And be greeted by suspicious looks of other girls, wondering what we were doing there.

Girls with guitars are so sexy, and there was one really excellent band from the girl’s school. They played late 90s radio rock – Hole, Blur etc. They’d play at, you know, school fetes and stuff. As would our band. But, we never really hung out with them. Thanks to Trist, there was another bunch of girls we hung out with. But those girls – they were the BAND.

Being in a band in a school in Nowhere, Sydney wasn’t actually very cool. And it didn’t help break down the gender boundary. Seeing a girl from the BAND at the train platform – they would be surrounded by their friends anyway. Even though we shared this bond of both playing in bands, I was not making it easier to go up to them and chat.

So one afternoon, I was visiting mum at her work, which was close to school. I got distracted and so it was about 5pm that I finally got to that train platform, to head home. The platform that is usually full of teenagers in uniforms mucking about – that exact thing that I can’t stand now.

Of course at 5pm, there was no one there. Regular life had set it, and those trains that are full of students had well and truly passed. In fact, the platform was pretty much abandoned, except for one girl.

The singer from the BAND.

It was the one and only time we ever spoke, alone. She was cute as a button and, of course, I had a massive crush on her. She was the singer and guitar player – just like me. I always figured we’d get along. In my mind, there was no one cooler than us two. Maybe if we got together, we’d be like the Damon Albarn and Justine Frischmann of our schools. That was the thought anyway.

She was reading a book when I got there – The Catcher In the Rye.

I’m not sure if we have ever been properly introduced but we knew who eachother were. And we talked; we talked about mutual friends. Some guitar stuff (like reaching those troublesome 14th and over frets). And we talked about Catcher In the Rye.

My clearest memory is saying how I thought it was such a boy’s book. It’s about a teenage boy, and all those silly boy-feelings of being a teenager. I asked her what she got out of it, and she said it was good to see how boys think.

By all this, our train had come and we reached my stop. I said goodbye, and saw eachother around, but we never really spoke again. I have no idea what happened to that girl. She was smart, confident, musical and cute. I still remember her, and I remember what she said about The Catcher In the Rye.

And I can’t even remember her name.

The Catcher In the Rye was given to us to read in high school. It takes the honour of being the only book I ever finished in high school. And English was my best subject.

So how did I get through school without finishing a book? It was easy. And once I figured out the trick, I never looked back.

You see, they don’t TEST you on the ending. They test you on the themes, the characters, etc. And any book worth studying, well the characters make themselves known at the start and the middle. As for what happens at the end – the teacher will always tell you about it in class. Or someone else will.

Take Great Expectations. I still don’t like that book, and I’ve never finished it. But I know about the rich vs. poor thing, how Ms Haversham’s wedding dress is a symbol, blah blah blah. Pull out a few quotes, that were probably discussed in class anyway, and you are off.

And Great Expectations sux in the exact way that The Catcher In the Rye doesn’t. It isn’t obvious. The author isn’t trying to say “look at how smart I am”.

I was pretty hooked from the beginning and finished the thing easily. So it was kind of crap that the mark for my Catcher essay was worse than my Great Expectations one.

Guess you can’t explain love.

One last story about Catcher from my teenage years. There was another girl – a girl I deliberately wont name. I knew her from around.

It was a different sort of crush. And she was a very different sort of girl. She was my age but she wasn’t in school. Problems in her family meant she was living with some guy. But she slept around, did drugs, and got through life a day at a time.

She loved music though. She loved Oasis. She loved Supergrass. And like all girls that age, she loved Ash. She dreamt of moving to London, as most music fans did in 1997. And I was that music guy in her life. I would make her tapes, lend her NMEs and Q mags, and we would listen to records and smoke. Sometimes, we would kiss, but it was mainly me trying, and her forgetting to not let me.

It occurred to me, even then, that her dreams were so unrealistic. I wanted to probably draw comic books or play in a band – and I had plans on how to do both. Impossible plans, but plans none the less. But her – she just sat there, in this guy’s apartment, occasionally having sex with him, smoking her years away.

I thought she was beautiful. I can still see her face. I can still see it as it was sad, and then I’d tell her something like I have the new Blur single in my bag, and her whole face would smile. Not just her mouth, but her face – eyes lit up, eyebrows stretched high. Maybe those smile muscles had been waiting for a reason to come to life for a while.

My copy of The Catcher In the Rye at this time was stolen from the local library. It was a nice old, almost pocket sized hardcover. Battered to bits. Light blue cover with only writing on the spine. It looked so cool I had to have it.

She had never read a proper fiction book, and I guess I was raving about it. I figured it was the perfect book for a beautiful, broken teenager. So that copy of Catcher I had, I lent it to her. I’d ask her if she’d read it every time we saw eachother, but she never did.

She disappeared sometimes for weeks on end, but she vanished altogether shortly after that. What mutual friends we had never saw her again either. I was too scared to go to her place on my own, and by the time I thought I should, months had passed. I figured she’d moved on to a new life, and to leave her too it.

She took that copy of The Catcher In the Rye with her, and I wonder where it is. Is it in a police lock up somewhere? Or a bin? Or did she finally meet some guy, one who took her to London?

Maybe she read it on the plane there, and loved every word.

So I haven’t even talked about Salinger yet – but girls is one of the many things I love about JD Salinger. He wrote some of the best female characters.

There is kind of a stock female character that Salinger writes about, and it’s the pollyanna. The bright, sunshiney, curious gal. And so many of his stories are about what happens when someone who hates life meets someone who loves it.

In ‘For Esme, In Love And Squalor’, it’s a young soldier who meets a girl, before he goes into war. He promises to write to her. Then, in the second part, he writes to her, after having been through the most terrible experience in his life. The contrast between the two shows us what war has done to this young man.

But there is also women as a destructive force. It’s most powerful in the “The Laughing Man”. The Laughing Man is a fictional some superhero type, and his story is being told to some kids by Chief, the head of this boy scouts kind of thing. The boys love the story, and they love Chief. Chief meets a woman and the stories get more exciting. Chief’s girl comes and meets the boys – but one day she isn’t there. Laughing Man’s adventures dwindle, and Chief…Chief is never the same again.

That’s just two of many stories he wrote. And these amazing stories and characters I still know by heart.

I wish they would finally publish all his short stories properly.

The reason they don’t is because Salinger – the man – was a recluse. Most biographies conjecture that he was also a racist, a health freak, a Mormon and god knows what else. We don’t know what’s true and what’s lies – but we do know that shortly after The Catcher In the Rye came out, his first and only novel, he moved his family out of New York and was barely seen or heard from again.

He did make himself known in the control over his work. He had strict rules for everything – from book jackets to people wanting write books about him. A lot of the work he had done for journals like New Yorker, have never been collected.

I found all this out and did some hunting around. I discovered the wonderful Bananafish website. And all those unreleased or under-published works were all online anyway. I printed out several hundred pages on A4 and started to make my way through this hidden stuff. I got a nice folder for it and I still have these print outs.

It’s a bit like hearing a band’s demos actually.

He’s probably the most famous recluse in the world – up to his death earlier this year. There is something about recluses that fascinates me, and adds to my Salinger fandom. There are almost no photos of him. In this world of over information, a mystery is so seductive.

But now that he’s dead, I figure the flood will come. All the stuff that was around but trapped from before Catcher, to almost 50 years of writing since. I’m excited but scared at the same time. I hope it’s good.

So what does The Catcher In the Rye mean to me?

If I ever fell in love with language, it was here. Holden’s voice was so engaging – “all that David Copperfield crap”, “phonies”, “swear to god” etc. It wasn’t a story being told AT you. It was a kid telling you his story, and sounding like he doesn’t want to be there at all.

It’s the doom and gloom too. Holden feels trapped. He sees the worse in everything, but people around him are actually awful. The teacher who tells him he has to conform. The prostitutes, the phoney jazz musician, and people clapping at all the wrong times.

It helped define how I saw the world. How I treated people. Made me realise that adults can be idiots and to look out for that. And if people can be idiots, then maybe I’m not wrong about the world, and screw everyone else. I’ll be me then, not them.

But the most important lesson for me is the one that Mr Antolini tells Holden. To write things down. Because someday someone might find it, and it might help them. Part of the reason this bit of writing exists is because of that advice.

Although my fandom has died down, it still simmers lightly all the time. I bought yet another copy of Nine Stories when in France (because “For Esme” is set in France). I am always delighted to meet someone named Zooey because it’s likely from Franny And Zooey. My first stop in New York was Central Park – I wanted to see where the ducks go.

I made Karen see Finding Forrester, a kind of terrible film but was a homage to Salinger. She hated it. (Next time, on her choice, we saw Jurassic Park 3). Karen’s favourite Old 97’s song was Roller-Skate Skinny – a term that comes from Catcher.

I finally found a nice edition – a hardcover reprint with a replica of the original dust jacket – a few years back. When I saw it, I knew it was the way I wanted to own that book. Problem solved.

I’m still excited to meet people who love his work. And I still meet people who I think could be helped by reading Catcher. I haven’t read it in years but maybe it’s time again.

If you’ve never read one of those ‘classic’ novels, this is the place to start. If you have and don’t know anything else, I recommend Nine Stories. You’ll love it. I swear to god.

30 for 30: Chess

30 for 30 – as I reach my fourth decade of being, I’m writing about some of the things that made the three that came before what they were. 30 – mostly trivial – things that have been a part of 30 – mostly trivial – years.


The men at the giant chess board in Sydney's Hyde Park

I play chess.

I learnt chess in year 6, from my teacher Mr Creek. He was very good, and could play 6 of us kids at the same time. Sure we were amateurs, but that’s still pretty cool.

After that, I found some books from the library and read further. I picked up some strategies and learnt to read notation. For a while, I was hooked. Yes, I was that Chinese kid who played chess at lunch times. I blame school for encouraging this. And Nirvana were still a year away from kicking everyone’s ass.

I don’t really play anymore – only the occasional game with a friend. In my early 20s I flirted with online chess. Macs come with chess so sometimes I play chess as I’m watching some movie that I’m forcing myself to sit through.

I’m also nowhere near as good as I used to be. It’s that thinking-5-steps-ahead thing. It’s hard to think about one thing over and over in this era of information overload.

You see, here’s the thing I like about chess.

1) There are rules. Pieces can only move a certain way. There is a finite number of possibilities of what the next move can be. There may be many possibilities, but they are finite.

2) Next, each move leads to MORE possibilities.

3) For me, good chess is about limiting your opponents possibilities. Create places they can’t move. Pin pieces down. My moves should limit your moves.

So it’s almost like a video game. This wave of possibilities coming at you, and getting rid of them, almost like some first person shooter. That’s how I visualise it anyway.

Maybe that’s why I find chess so much more exciting than most people. It’s like a shoot-em-up video game in my mind.

I have a style. I have certain moves and a certain way I like to play.

A find this akin to playing guitar. I can hear some guitar players and think – hey, they play like me. Not that I watch many chess games, but I have a style and I could spot another player’s style as being different to mine.

For example – I will always go for a Queen’s sacrifice. I will take your Queen if it means losing my Queen. Because, I hate the Queen. Too many possibilities – it’s too powerful.

The rest you will find out when you play me.

I love the big chess set in Sydney’s Hyde Park. If you’ve never been, it’s a big public chess board near the fountain in the north end of the park. The pieces are maybe a metre high, and it’s always old men challenging eachother. (There are smaller chess boards nearby)

It’s so close to everything, and you could just sit there with some takeaway after a day of wandering around town. I’ve been to other public chess places – Union Square in NY is one of the more famous. Another cool one in Amsterdam near the start of Vondelpark. I like the vibe of these places. There is something old fashioned about it.

(Who goes to Amsterdam and finds the chess? I do. Loser.)

Nigel used to work for the city council, and was responsible for bringing the giant pieces to the Sydney chessboard every morning, and picking them up at 4:30 in the afternoon. I imagine this dude, with a ute full of chess pieces, driving around the busiest part of Sydney. What happens when the pieces get damaged or stolen? I need ask Nigel that one day.

I wonder if these places are dying out. You don’t see many young people in these places. Mostly old men. And, quite cool, mostly strangers. All they have in common in the game.

Like in most places I guess, Sydney had a bunch of regulars. And they were hilarious. There is one guy – a tall, Dutch looking guy – who was obviously the Cartman of the group. The Regulars would heckle him, and laugh at his bad moves. In a joking way – it was friendly heckling. But taking the piss out of your mates in public – that will never die out.

I tend to think of chess as a thing done in cold countries. I guess most of them, back when I was learning, were Russian with names like Karpov and Kasparov. I guess that’s why Bobby Fischer caused such a storm, being American and becoming world champion.

I played in a band that even had a song about Bobby Fischer. It was one of the most successful songs we had. I read a book about him once – he was a crazy bitter racist.

But chess is everywhere, right? Just in the last couple of years, I’ve seen it played in Lost, West Wing, Frasier, Flashforward etc. There’s Seventh Seal – where the Knight plays chess with Death. And then Bill and Ted ripped it off. There’s that scene in Charlie Wilson’s War where the weapon’s expert plays chess against several people. Or History of the World Part 1, where the King uses real people.

There are many famous chess players as well. Stanley Kubrick. Woody Allen. Bob Dylan. Schwarzenegger. It’s not just dorky young kids with thick glasses. Madonna does it too.

It’s everywhere. Catcher In the Rye. Harry Potter. I see one of those Twilight books has a chess piece on the cover. I know a lot of people who don’t play chess. I wonder why they never learnt? It’s fun – more fun than I’m making it out to be.

I don’t have any desire to see the musical Chess though. That looks shit.

The large Dymocks book store on George St has a basement full of games. Amongst them were chess boards. Some really nice, really expensive ones. I’ve always wanted to buy a proper one. I would walk past them all the time, see the price, then move on!

I have a little magnetic travel chess set. It does the job. Also, most computers come with chess these days, and I’ve even bought a decent chess game for my phone.

I’d like to get a proper one though. One day. And keep it out, all set up. Always in the middle of a game with someone from the other side of the world. Like I’m some sort of James Bond villain.

I just need someone to play with. I guess it’s something to bank when I’m old. I have many good friends who play. Maybe I’ll be writing about chess again when I’m 60.