30 for 30: Alcohol

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.

19. ALCOHOL

Don Draper knows how to have a drink

Alcohol. Even without it, it’s played a big part in my life.

I did not drink from until I was 25. I had the odd sip here and there since I was 15, but up until that point I was lucky to have had more than two standard drinks through my system.

(This of course excludes dickheads I know who made it their mission in life to spike my drinks. More on this later, but god, as the years go by those people look so small.)

I drink now, and enjoyed drinking with all my friends in Europe and America. I don’t make a big deal of my sober years – sometimes it’s mentioned and people probably think it’s a joke. That’s ok, that’s kind of the point.

Throughout my life, especially in my early 20s, people would ask me why I didn’t drink.

Anyway, I thought I’d address it

So – why don’t you drink?

The easy answer is that there was no easy answer. I bowled into not drinking by accident – there was no single moment where the red sea parted. I find it strange that people look for one.

I have to say, people asking me why I didn’t drink was more often than not annoying as fuck. Not everyone, but the people who look for that easy answer, and would try and drill it out of me, are fucking idiots. The same kind of idiots who need plotlines spelt out for them, and like police procedural dramas. Facts facts facts.

I assume they do this to understand my choice, but they also do it to belittle it. Oh, if Danny’s Dad didn’t drink, he would be on my level. Oh if Danny didn’t have a health problem, he’d be on my level. Health was the worse one. What the fuck? Was I that skinny that I looked like I belonged in a hospital? The point here is I don’t understand how people can’t see there are millions of reasons to not drink. And someone might just simply not want to.

(Health? Really. I always wanted to respond with, “why doesn’t your brain work? Health?”)

The other really important thing I learnt really early is there is a type of person who took personal offence at me not drinking. I never, ever took a high horse about not-drinking. I never discouraged anyone from drinking – EVER. It’s a personal choice. I’m not vegetarian about it – I didn’t set myself up as an example for my friends or the people I knew. I never went to, say, any anti-drinking meetings or joined any official club.

But just by being different, it made me a target. The line, I think you know it, is –

“You think you’re better than me?”

A drunken hipster slurring this at me and poking his finger in my chest saying this to me, I have to say I do think I’m better than you. Dealing with this in the last year of high school was ok – I was smart enough to know that we were just dumb kids acting like we knew anything. But dealing with it in my mid-20s was depressing. I saw the world doesn’t change.

On a related note, it annoyed me when someone downing a beer would tell me not to smoke. Not that the two things are interchangeable – but come on! I don’t tell you what to or what not to put in your system. We’re all adults. And it’s an indefensible position – but I know more people who died from over drinking (3) than smoking (0).

(Again that is not an easy answer, CSI fans. People are more complicated than that.)

One of the important things in my life around this time (and massively related) was a love of hardcore punk. And throughout my life I’ve never forgotten this quote from Henry RollinsIf you’re pissing someone off, you must be doing something right.

If anyone wonders if it was hard to not drink for so long, I think of that quote, and the dickheads I met, and really…no. It was the easiest thing in the world.

Anyway, you didn’t answer the question. You just went on about people you didn’t like. So why didn’t you drink?

It was a number of reasons, that all added up. I am a self aware bastard, and it just seemed at any point, not drinking was the right life choice to make.

Firstly, alcohol never seemed dangerous to me. There was always alcohol in the house. Dad drank. Uncles drank. Having such an awesome Dad, he was pretty happy for me to have a sip if I wanted to. Thing was, I didn’t. Maybe there is an iota of rebellion – my Dad drank so I didn’t. But I wanted to be my Dad my whole life. Probably closer to the truth was my childhood was such a delight of food that why would I drink that sour stuff. Pass me a chocolate milk.

So when booze made it’s way into parties at age 15, it seemed really uncool to drink. It was almost like when porn mags got passed around at school, and you wanted to act casual. Oh boobs – I’ve seen so many of them. I don’t know why I felt this way, but I just had this reaction of “I don’t need that”. That was coupled with trying to talk to girls, and I kind of wanted my wits about me.

This was another reason. I have such a chip on my shoulder about being smart – or appearing smart. I didn’t speak English for so long, and drinking would seem to turn me back into a dumb kid. And I was a small kid – I didn’t trust the bigger blokes to not beat the shit out of me at a whim. So I wanted to keep my head, and my bones, intact.

Then there was music. In my teens, I loved the Ramones. Their song, Teenage Lobotomy, really hit me (“D-U-M-B, everyone’s accusing me”). I wanted to do the smart thing. Then came hardcore punk – Rollins Band, Minor Threat, Fugazi etc. And many of those bands didn’t drink. I didn’t follow those bands to the end of the world – but not knowing that much about music, it seemed like half the bands I liked didn’t drink. It made the decision less weird.

Music took over my life, and there was another very important non drinking musician I discovered. Chris Murphy from the Canadian band Sloan. I could not love that band any more than I do. And when my world view was more balanced and saw alcohol was all over the rock world, Chris Murphy stayed sober. And he didn’t make a deal about it. I wanted to be Chris Murphy. I play the bass he plays.

He has a line that I used often – I can do anything you can do, and without a crutch. Which was THE WHOLE POINT. Just because I didn’t drink didn’t mean I couldn’t stay up til 4am talking music. I can get up and speak to a big crowd. I could talk to and hold meaningful conversations with women. I didn’t need to drink to work up my confidence. I learnt to be confident.

But it wasn’t just Sloan – it was grunge as a whole. You remember the early 90s, where it seemed like we were this broken generation? Hurt by our parents, born to a greedy world, full of sadness? (God I loved grunge). It seemed like as a grunge kid, I should be standing against frat thugs. I’m not sure I knew any frat thugs other than on TV. But we were the weirdos – we smoked, we didn’t drink.

The other thing music did to my drinking was it made it hard for me to afford alcohol. Or anything else. I bought so many records. Think of how much money you spent on booze til you were 25. And I managed to get a decent job quite early too. And I threw all that into music. Which is why I have the best CD collection in Australia for my age group (I take this as a fact – if there was someone close we would know).

But by this time, I was just not used to drinking. The idea of including beer in my grocery budget just seemed weird. And I was used to my diet cokes and smokes.

This upbringing also brought with it all the stereotypes of ignorance. I didn’t like the smell of beer. I didn’t like having beer spilt on me at gigs, and over my shoes. I certainly didn’t like looking after people as they threw up.

Then there was drugs. Drugs starting entering my life around 22/23, living in Newtown, ending up in folks houses. I didn’t really want to be around that, and having the reputation of being a non drinker, it was really easy to get away. Nothing more annoying than a drunk saying “Come on man, stay! Stay!”. Drugs really made me feel my decision to not drink was the right one (as I walked home smoking).

I had some great friends who treated me no different. In fact almost everyone did – but I guess the ones who didn’t, didn’t want to be around me. In our little Newtown scene at the time, I can think of only one other person who didn’t drink – Craig. And I love Craig, one of the most charming people I’ve ever met. And again, it just made me feel like my choice was right.

It was also nice shorthand to deal with scenester dickheads. Basically around the scene there was two things people knew about me – 1) I loved the band You Am I and 2) I didn’t drink. (I guess 3) I’m Asian). And I was pretty happy to just let people think that of me, and have dozens of 2 minute conversations a night about Hourly, Daily, and why I didn’t drink (no, not ever)…blah blah blah. And then they could go away.

I realise now that I was incorrect with one thing – drinking turned people into dickheads. That’s not true at all. Drinking highlights pre-existing dickheads. Some people give drinking a really bad name. But I love the company of so many of my friends when they are drunk. To this day if someone rubs me the wrong way drunk, then I have nothing to do with them sober.

You get to the point that I call ‘Fox News’ – where you only look at things to re-enforce your beliefs. I hated the idea that as a musician, I was a glorified beer seller. I knew the facts about alcohol and violence. I had this weird sci-fi idea in my head about us being a drunk planet. All of that didn’t mean anything in the end.

So that was my life. Living in Newtown, a tolerant but boozy suburb, but surrounded by great friends who understood me. Not drinking allowed me to check out of the parts I didn’t want to be a part of, and I had no trouble doing all the things I did want to do.

Truth be told, not drinking never seemed like a big deal to me. I don’t know what I don’t know and I simply did not know what the big deal was. I was too busy buying albums anyway.

So why do you drink now?

I started drinking when I decided to leave for overseas.

This was a bigger decision than not-drinking. The reasons are easier to define.

I wont have my friends around, and the idea of having the same 5 minute conversation every hour about why I didn’t drink seemed horrible.

It was all about new experiences.

I didn’t want to stand out.

So nowadays, I drink.

And right now, I am thinking about stopping again. Hangovers are not fun. God knows I could use the money.

Something a bit more balanced? Just stick to the nice stuff, whiskeys and wines.

I’m not sure yet.

Whatever I do, it’s not a big deal.

ODD BONUS BLOG!  When I was 24, I wrote this imaginary interview with myself about this subject.

You can find it here.

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30 for 30: Bill Hicks

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.

18. BILL HICKS

Bill Hicks

I love the comedy of the late Bill Hicks, the politics he stood for, the way he tried to live his life, and his awesome array of dick jokes.

Good evening, my name is Bill Hicks. I’ve been on the road now doing comedy for 12 years, so, uh, bear with me while I plaster on a fake smile and plow through this shit one more time.

I discovered Bill Hicks the same way all my friends discovered Bill Hicks – the Tool album Aenima. Everyone had that record and in the booklet was this guy – Bill Hicks.

There was no other way he would have come into my life if not for that album. I never spent any time in the ‘comedy’ section of the record shop. There was no YouTube, and there was no way to see him on Australian TV. So thank you Tool for scaring the shit out of me with your film clips and introducing me to Bill Hicks.

My relationship with Hicks, made up of many nights with my discman on in my teenage bed, was with his 5 Rykodisc albums. One best of – ‘Philosophy’, and 4 albums. They cover his career arc; bratty, shocking upstart to confident preacher to fiery nihilist.

I listened to those albums a lot, and so did many of my friends. I learnt all the lines. My interest, as usual, spiraled into obsession – bootleg DVDs, website downloads, several biographies, more albums, anything and everything.

The nice thing about this obsession was the world grew with me. Hick’s humour seemed more relevant in the GWB years. He is more famous now than when he was alive, or when I discovered him. There was always new stuff coming out. That legendary Letterman footage would emerge. Someone would find a tape of a new show in Oxford. A new box set and theatrically released doco came out ths year. His stature is still growing.

I want to see a well-laid Ted Turner newscast: “Hey, it’s all going to work out. Here’s sports.”

His best of on Ryko is called ‘Philosophy’. It’s a word that has lost it’s meaning in popular culture, but Hicks definitely has a philosophy. He has a strong world view, and would scream about it.

Poor Bill. I wonder what he would think of the world today. If anything, that celebrity culture he hated so much has covered the world. Fashion beat art. War has never stopped. Censorship and the right wing continues to grow. Pot is still illegal. Handguns are still legal. People are still stupid. I am sort of glad he’s not here to see it. And this was 20 years ago.

20 years ago!! I look at the world and see all the shit I hate, and I think Hicks would hate it too. And it’s the culmination of 20 years of bullshit. And no one’s doing anything about it now.

I can imagine what Hicks would say about Glee and crap like that. IT IS SHIT. Why be nice about it? Why be forgiving about it? The people behind that show should be killed for lowering our standards.

Did Hicks fail? Or did his audience just do what Richard Linklater call “withdrawal in digust”? Because there is a lot of us. And we’re growing. One day we will rise up and rip Lady Gaga’s arms off and beat her to death with them.

For me, I see it as my civic duty to play Bill Hicks to anyone under 20 that I meet. If not earlier. I hope kids are trading his mp3s all around the net. You gotta hear this stuff.

People pay lip service to saving the planet, but they don’t – they fail to make the big leap that if you want to save the planet, kill your-fucking-self. The planet will be saved without you. And what a delightful place it’ll be. Welcome. It’s a new thing I’m working on, called “The Comedy of Hate”. Join in.

Bill Hick’s influence is everywhere. Frankie Boyle calls him his favourite comedian. Dennis Leary pretty much stole his act. There’d be no South Park or Family Guy without him. Every comedian, really, loves him.

And he was a true comedian. He wasn’t in it for a TV pilot or a slot on a game show. His hated Jay Leno and the like, who sold themselves out.

It might seem odd now, in an era where nothing is taboo. But it was Hicks that knocked that wall down. Heck, people steal his jokes wholesale.

I don’t listen to him too much these days. He only really had variations of 4 or 5 shows – and I really do know the jokes too well. It is exciting to see others discover him, but I think at my age, I’m worried about repeating myself, and trying to find new things. I put Hicks solidly in a box called Early 20s.

If you have not heard Bill Hicks, then just start with ‘Philosophy’. Or look him up on youtube. So much to fall in love with.

People often ask me where I stand politically. It’s not that I disagree with Bush’s economic policy or his foreign policy, it’s that I believe he was a child of Satan sent here to destroy the planet Earth. Little to the left.

I agree with most of Hick’s philosophy. His view on politics (don’t vote with your wallets) etc. Some of my views have softened – especially when it comes to children.

I went through a pretty intense period of listening and worshipping Bill Hicks when I was around 23. I would smoke too much and get angry at things. But there was this beautiful postivity to what he was trying to say.

He wasn’t an atheist – he went on about Jesus and Satan in every show. But he believed in a world bigger than our own, a universe that is able to humble us, if we care to notice it. It is an idea that is at the core of how I feel about life, the universe and everything.

For a man so cynical, when I hear him spouting his gospel, I feel like we are going to be ok. It’s the power (and dangers) or preachers. But if I have to have one, I choose Bill Hicks.

I wrote a song for Hicks. It’s called “Carlights, Like Fireflies”, and I lifted a couple of his lines – especially the idea that life is just a ride.

Today, a young man on acid realized that all matter is merely energy condensed to a slow vibration – that we are all one consciousness experiencing itself subjectively. There’s no such thing as death, life is only a dream, and we’re the imagination of ourselves. Here’s Tom with the weather.

30 for 30: Stephen Sondheim

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.

17. STEPHEN SONDHEIM

Stephen Sondheim

My current obsession is the works of Stephen Sondheim.

This 30 for 30 column has a rule – no musicians, albums or songs. I’ve written enough about those in my life. Sondheim, however, straddles a line into theatre. He’s not a songwriter, more a composer. He doesn’t sing or perform his own pieces. So he’s not in the same world as any of the musicians I like from the rock/pop world.

More importantly, discovering Sondheim brought together a lot of things I liked about musical theatre. And it’s my new and growing passion for that world that makes me love Sondheim.

So, straight at it then. Sondheim’s musicals are not fucking camp.

There. I said it.

Sondheim himself only started liking musicals when he realised they didn’t have to be showboat-y, big costume, jazz hands bullshit.

In fact, Sondheim is the opposite of shit like Glee. Not camp, not cheesy, not mass market, not re-appropriating familiar songs.

The reverse is true. Sondheim can be very dark, very confronting, very challenging and completely original.

Music can be used to tell or enhance a story. It can be used with such sophistication and finesse. In Glee, the people stop, sing, dance and fuck off, with no thought. I look at Glee and it makes me want to kill people.

So put your 2010 notions of musical theatre, as summed up by Glee, at the door. There is no common ground between the two.

Did I mention I fucking hate Glee?

Sondheim started work in the theatre in the 50s, and is still, to some degree, active today. He celebrated his 80th birthday earlier this year, and the tributes came thick and fast. A new show on Broadway (Sondheim on Sondheim), a BBC Proms and more.

His most famous work is probably the lyrics for West Side Story – also the first major production he ever worked on. And West Side Story is probably when I first heard Sondheim too. Songs like America and Somewhere have become standards.

I always liked musicals, especially as a kid. Grease, My Fair Lady, Sound Of Music, Mary Poppins etc. The big ones everyone knows. And I grew out of them, but never stopped liking them. But without even trying to connect with Sondheim, I connected with Sondheim for years.

Comedy Tonight was taught to us at school. It was a shortened version, but what a melody and what a lyric. The song saved the play, Something Happened On the Way To the Forum.

Then there’s the million versions of Send In the Clowns. And Madonna’s songs in Dick Tracy. And the songs used in the film version of The Bird Cage. He’s a cult artist, but he’s not invisible.

What made me really take the leap though was a renewed interest in 40s and 50s American song. The Johnny Mercers of the world. Those songs sung by Chet Baker. I’d heard about Sondheim for years now. I decided to do the thing I sometimes do with a new musical interest. I bought the most expensive multi disc box set I could find and made my way through it.

From early demos to the troubled Road Show in the last few years, his career is amazing. Around a dozen flawless classics, hundreds of great songs, thousands of memorable moments.

Mandy Patinkin calls him the Shakespeare of our times and he’s not far off. He does farce (like …Forum) and he does dark, dark tragedy (Assassins – a play about killing the President – it did badly), and the full range of human emotion in between. He comments on love, on youth, on art, on revenge, on the nature of stories and more, over the course of his many years.

Let me talk about my favourite 5.

A Little Night Music

This is probably my favourite. Hard to say. When I write about the others they will probably my faves.

This musical is about a bunch of star crossed romantics, several couples and their entanglements that ends with a wonderful act in the forest, under the stars. It is romantic, fun and fanciful.

All the music is written in 3/4 – waltzes mainly. It opens with one of my favourite opening themes, as memorable as any movie credits by John Williams or Danny Elfman. Then it hits the show stopping Now/Soon/Later. Three characters sing their tales, seemingly one after eachother, before they sing their songs altogether, the music and melodies dancing together.

Send In the Clowns comes from this show. But the best song is A Weekend In the Country. The massive end of Act 1, every character comes together for a weekend in the country, where everything comes to an end.

What a masterwork. It encapsulates what made Sondheim great. No more musicals where a person feels a way, stops to sings about it, then moves on. This multi layered, multi vocals 8 minute piece actually traces the characters changing their minds and is part of the plot. And it’s pretty funny as well.

Company

Released in 1970, it was a ground breaking work, but also a product of it’s time. The end of the swinging sixties, a man, Bobby, visits 4 married couples he knows in New York City. A very modern look at love, marriage and relationships, it also featured the music most closely associated with pop/rock.

It was another breakthrough work for Sondheim. He was such an American legend that this point that DA Pennebaker followed up his Don’t Look Back doco on Bob Dylan with one about the making of Company.

The “problem” with Sondheim is that he’s a chameleon – like Bowie. None of his works sound the same. He uses more guitars and accented New York voices, adds in some doo wop and blew away audiences.

I wish I could bury you with songs with this one. But I will post just two.

Another Hundred People – an ode to New York, sang to pieces by Pamela Myers. The clip from the Pennebaker doco is also great. Utterly modern. When I hear this song, I think Brian Wilson was making his West Coast masterpieces, and Sondheim was taking care of the East. There’s also great footage of Sondheim getting right in there and making changes.

The Little Things You Do Together. Company is fun. So here is one of the hilarious numbers. Before Company, Sondheim’s reputation rested on his wordplay. He worked hard on his music, but his wordplay never left him. This is the second song and when it breaks into that bossanova bit, I melt.

(How great are the New York voices. Jack Donaghy’s mum from 30 Rock, Elaine Strich, is the lead of sorts)

Sunday In the Park With George

The second half of Sondheim’s career is marked by James Lapine, a young avant garde stage producer. Even though Sondheim had decades under his belt, Lapine breathed new cool into Sondheim’s name. The staging and the ideas were like little anyone had ever seen.

Sunday In the Park With George is a surrealist fantasy about the characters in the George Seurat painting “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte” (stay with me, people). The story then travels to the future, finding the descendents of our heroes, dealing with the same issues.

But basically, it’s a story about Art. George, the painter, struggles. His lover Dot struggles to understand him and leaves. The story is replayed in the future, with some lessons learnt.

The songs. Sondheim could do no wrong at this point. He abandoned any thought of writing standalone songs and smashed out stuff like the opening track which Elvis Costello would struggle to fit all the words in.

The heart of the musical is Finishing the Hat. The oblique metaphor comes from George painting a characters hat. And how creating a hat is what his life is about – what ultimately tears him and Dot apart.

Many see George as a stand in for Sondheim himself. The things said about art his this musical certainly reflects what Sondheim has said in interviews.

Into The Woods

This musical is a wonderful mash up of various fairy tales – Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood and more. They all find themselves in the woods at the same time and work together to defeat a giant and all sorts of fun things.

It’s one of Sondheim’s most popular pieces, because it’s his most ‘family’ work. I saw a production in London recently, and saw little kids running around afterwards, trying to remember the lyrics, singing “into the woods! To grandmother’s house!”

And it’s all about Children. The musical has an excellent, ambitious 9 minute opening number. The hilarious Agony. The loving It Takes Two. But the song that gets the kudos is Children Will Listen.

The line – “Children may not obey, but children will listen” – kills me. And Sondheim has no children of his own. He just nailed it.

Here’s Bernadette Peters, who originated the role of the Witch, and was the first and most famous performer of this song.

Sweeney Todd

Romantic waltzes, sophisticated trysts, surrealism, fairy tales. If Sondheim’s range is not clear yet, lets look at his last work to hit the cinema – Sweeney Todd.

It may seem like nothing now, but having horror on Broadway was groundbreaking at the time. The blood, the chair, the gory subject matter…. people thought the producers have gone mad.

Some people think that Sweeney Todd is Sondheim’s masterpiece. It’s certainly great. The bizarre and memorable plot, and some of his best songs. The hilarious Pirelli’s Miracle Elixir (smells like piss), the holiday fantasy of By the Sea and long pieces tying in plot and storytelling.

Then, there’s A Little Priest. Who the hell can even come close to writing a song this great. It amazes me that this song could even be conceived.

That bit where Depp goes “Ah”, and Carter sings “Good you’ve got it!” is written into the song. How great is that? If only it was the full 7 minute version but they cut it down in the film. But the film version looks great.

Actually, I have to throw in Pretty Women.

I guess I don’t know that much about Sondheim, the man. I’ve listened to a lot of interviews, but he is pretty reclusive. And I love me a recluse. He seems like a grumpy man.

I can’t download musical theatre. I can’t pirate it. Most of them I can’t buy on DVD, or find the albums. Wikipedia plot summaries are woeful. So basically, I have to go see it. So I rearrange my whole life to do this.

I have tickets to see Passion next month, the main reason I’m staying in London so long. I am making plans now to see West Side Story in Brisbane. Coming back to London next year to see Sondheim on Sondheim.

This things is a part of my life now, and Sondheim is my door into this world. These writings have been about aging, and maybe it’s the path I’m supposed to take now. Nirvana at 10, Dylan at 20, Sondheim at 30…seems like the path a lot of people take. I’m happy to be on it.

I had to post this one. Sondheim is great, but he had some fantastic singers to prop him up. Watch how great Pamela Myers, Susan Browning and Donna McKenchie nail this complicated song, strutting their hips and looking like characters in Mad Men.

30 for 30: Filing

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.

16. FILING

My collection looks a bit like this, but I have better shelves and more stuff.

I have a complicated music filing system that has taken me years to develop, and I have spent years maintaining it.

Actually, I don’t right now. Most of my stuff is in storage (in order). There is some stuff in my current house. Then there are 8 boxes in the hands of the people at Anglo Pacific of books, CDs, records, DVDs and more. Oh God I hope that stuff is ok.

(A quick shipment track tells me it’s in Antwerp. Yes, that £60 copy of the first Left Banke album I found is in Antwerp)

I am excited about being home and joining my collection together. Yes, it’s nerdy. Yes, some people will find it creepy. But it’s the thing about music, books and stuff for me. I love that stuff, and one of the many things it does to me is bring out my inner librarian. I could spend a whole day just looking through my records. Scary.

Most big music fans have a filing system. Now, you might think you have a system. And you might have a small beginnings of one. But I have met some of the filing greats. People who have been collecting for decades, and/or owned record shops. Where knowing exactly where something is in 10K+ records is a very special skill.

I have a clear memory of Rusty looking for an record once. It was just as I was developing my interest in vinyl. We were looking for something at his house. He found the spot it should be in and pulled the record out. I could barely make sense of the thin record spines. I asked him how he found it so fast.

“You develop the eyes for it after a while.”

Now some kids see sportsmen, or action heroes, or James Dean, and say I want to be like that. I wanted to be the guy who could see records from across the room.

Here are the basics of the filing system. I think it is pretty close to a standard. Most music nerds I’ve found have come to similar conclusions.

Before we begin, one thing that has come up when people have come over and seen my collection. They say, you’ve got your CDs backwards.

What they see is this – if I was listing CDs named 1 to 10 in order, they would appear on my shelf thus:

10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.

Now the reason for this is CDs face right when you stand them up, spine facing right. This is the logical way of doing it for me, although I have seen people go “forwards”. I go with the way my records go.

Now, they could still face right and go 1,2,3,4, etc. But then the last part of the sequence faces out, and the first part has it’s cover buried and the back showing. That doesn’t look right.

Now – I have argued with two people about this in my life. I would like to state that I am right. That’s what a blog is for.

The rules

Firstly – Alphabetical.

Easy, sure.

Alphabetical by Surname.

So, Hendrix is in “h”.

Band Name Trumps Surname.

This is controversial. But it needs to be brought up early. Ben Folds Five lives in “B”, where Ben Folds’ solo output lives in “F”.

Yes. I’ve heard it all. Fuck off. I have good reasons for this and we will get to them in a second.

This also means Sonny & Cher goes under “S”, being a rare case of a duo who uses their first names.

Band Name follows Surname

So Paul Simon comes after Simon and Garfunkel. Carly Simon comes in between the two.

It feels wrong when you get to David Crosby (all things do). Crosby Stills and Nash just looks better before David Crosby’s solo album. But, alas, rules are rules.

Numbers last

Sorry 78 Saab and 4 Non Blondes. And no, I don’t use the words for the numbers.

I have been meaning to buy that best of by ? & the Mysterians for about ten years but never have. I would file them right at the very end if I did.

So we have artists sorted. Lets explore the inner world of the artists.

Albums first, in release order.

This includes live albums.

So, for Blur, I have their 7 albums in the order they were released (Leisure to Think Tank), plus the (wonderful) Live At Budokan record from 1996 (a Japanese only release no less, bonus nerd points). On the shelf it would look like

TT, 13, B, L@B, GE, PL, ML, L.

Best of compilations next

If there is more than one, then the order for which they appeared. I don’t own that new Blur compilation ‘Midlife’, but I do own the 2000 collection ‘Best Of’. If I had ‘Midlife’, Blur would look like this.

ML, BO, TT, 13, B, L@B, GE, PL, ML, L.

(you know I am having so much fun writing this)

Other compilations next

This is where it gets a bit complicated. So many types of records fall into this category that it all gets a bit funny. Let’s continue with the Blur example. They have two other compilations I own. The Japanese ‘Special Collectors Edition’ – a collection of early b-sides – and Bustin & Dronin’ – a weird collection of remixes and live tracks. What records fall into this world are in order.

So for Blur

BD, SC, ML, BO, TT, 13, B, L@B, GE, PL, ML, L.

Where it gets weird is for someone like Bob Dylan. The guy has his 7 volume Bootleg Series, and a number of strange compilations on top of that, released within the years of that Bootleg series. So Bootleg Series goes next for Dylan, then things like Biograph and that strange (again Japanese only) compilation of live albums.

The other thing I do with Dylan is some weird things like early demos have been released as promo discs. They live in this ‘other compilations section” (after Bootleg Series) – but I put it chronological.

…now this might sound like nitpicking, but I am a collector and this is part of the fun of collecting for me.

Singles AND EPs next

Again in chronological order. This includes EPs that may have come out before a band started recording albums, or in between albums.

Some people put EPs in with albums, but I like keeping the albums on their own. I am a big fan of the album being the major works of an artist. So for a band like Even, who released an EP after their first album, that EP is relegated to singles.

Giveaways/promos etc.

These are officially released and pressed CDs. Single artist newspaper giveaways, bonus discs with a purchase from a certain shop, etc. I have a Blur sampler from the paper when that last live record came out. It would live here. That Elvis Costello promo interview disc I have. And so on.

Bootlegs

There are two types of bootlegs really. Live, and not live. Not live goes first – bootlegged Go-Betweens demos, 2 whole CDs of outtakes for Good Vibrations – in order or recording date. New stuff is being found all the time, it’s impossible to find bootleg release dates. They also get repackaged all the time.

Then live stuff, in concert date order. Wilco and Dylan sections of my record collection have 50 albums that fall into this category. Mostly doubles too.

CDRs

Finally, CDRs. Friend recorded radio sessions, my own b-side compilations, demos given to me by friends. These are roughly filed in the order of when the CDRs were made.

So each artist has their own internal logic. Which is the problem with Ben Folds. I see his solo career as a separate story in his career. And Going through Ben Folds Five then Ben Folds album, then going back to BF5 singles then BF singles – that makes no sense to me.

That’s only the artist side. It makes up a bulk of my music collection, but by no means all. Here are the cut-outs.

Comedy

I have quite a few comedy records, and they live in their own world. Filed by surname.

See, this is where

Soundtracks

In title order. This includes musicals.

Compilations.

This is a big section, all filed by title.

I have often thought about splitting this out further. I definitely tried pulling out Label compilations out (that is, compilations that showcase a certain label) and file them in label name order. Regardless of what they are called, it would be that Bloodshot Records comp, then the Creation Records one, then the Tommy Boy one etc.

I might still do this, because it’s a bit hard to keep track of those Label comp names. It’s just “That Creation Records compilation”.

But this section is mainly one big A-Z. Any better ideas, please let me know.

Mix CDs

I keep many of the Mix CDs people give me, and some people make me works of art. Not just the music on the disc, but some great homemade packaging as well. Alphabetical by title.

Deluxe Editions

I have plenty of deluxe versions of albums, and many are similar to DVD box size. Some are the size of a 7” single. These are filed together on a separate shelf – alphabetical by artist, then chronological from release date.

Box Sets

For space considerations, Box Sets live elsewhere. They have an artist section, chronological from release. Then a compilations section, by name. Some of the odder shaped ones, like Rhino’s Girl Group Box Set, or the deluxe edition of Joni Mitchell’s Both Sides Now, live wherever I find space for them. The Simpsons TV show album deluxe edition, the only soundtrack box set I have, also lives on it’s own.

Vinyl follows the same rules, except box sets are usually the same size as single albums, so they just slot right into the artist logic.

I’ve got two shoe boxes of various cassettes of things I don’t want to throw out. There’s only one commercial cassette I look after – a cigarette case style package for the You Am I single ‘Good Mornin’. It lives with Deluxe packaging.

It all makes sense to me, and there is a home for every type of record there is, or at least I have. I know where everything is, and where it should be. It keeps me from drowning under tens of thousands of CDs.

Which is perhaps the best reason I do it. If I didn’t allocate a place for thinsg to be put away, then I would never do it. And my collection, and my houses, would be a mess.

So there you have it. Easily the second nerdiest thing I’ve ever written.

The nerdiest is the spreadsheet I have that logs all this stuff. Yes, it’s mammoth, and I have to input it manually because the excel sort doesn’t follow my logic. I’ve been a bit slack with it of late but I do intend to get back into it.

The odd thing I’m running into is what do I do about digital albums? It’s something to consider.

A friend saw the spreadsheet once and she asked me if I kept that for insurance reasons.

I totally said yes. Even though it’s not true.

(I was going to write something about shelving but this has already been too long. If you got to here, let me know. Lets grab a beer and talk shelving)

30 for 30: Swimming

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.

15. SWIMMING

I’ve had a troubled, but ultimately rewarding, relationship with swimming.

I have the dubious honour of being the only Sports Captain at my primary school to not actually compete in a swimming carnival. The reason was simple – I could not swim.

How the hell did I grow up in Australia and not learn to swim? I’m not really sure either.

I changed primary schools at one point, and suddenly found myself a year behind in everything, swimming included. So I was thrown into the shallow end – the tadpoles. I was essentially held back in swimming. And I just never got out of the bottom class.

For a long time, when explaining it to people, I had a standard line.

“I can’t swim, but I know how to not die.”

Looking back, I’m not sure even that is true.

Some of my cousins had pools and like all kids, I loved the pool. It’s Australia, pools are everywhere. But I generally stayed in the shallow end. Until my teens, I was still pretty afraid of not having my toes on the ground. I never did any dives or anything clever. I would watch as friends and cousins did all sorts of cool stuff.

There was a time my Dad took up swimming and we would go together. The man smoked and drank all his life. My Dad is a lot of things, but he doesn’t look healthy. You’ve never seen more helpless men in a pool.

James and his family lived by the beach, and even though we would see them every weekend, we rarely went to the beach. The older I got, the more I left sports in favour of comic books and guitars. Around the years of 1999 to 2003 I’m not sure I ever set foot in a pool or a beach.

I really can’t recall where or why, but at one point I was at some sort of art camp. And one of the teachers pulled out this weird Buddhist (she claimed) relaxation, free association hippie prayer thing on us.

Basically, we had to lie down, close our eyes, and take the words she said and think of images. Scented candles were involved. I felt very out of place.

(I was drawing my own comics at this point and was often sent to such camps. Once I spent a day on real pirate ship and was encouraged to use charcoal to shade the texture of the ropes. What any of this had to do with drawing a perfect Batman logo freehand, I don’t know)

It was meditative image association and it was actually wonderful. I still use this technique every so often. You imagine a house, a wall, a key and you do sorts of mind tricks with it. It’s the only new age-y thing I know. But it does help ground me every couple of years or so.

Anyway, I bring it up because it has a lot to do with water, and quite a bit about the body and sex. It’s something about swimming that has stayed in my mind.

The other thing about swimming that stuck in my mind come from an old choose-your-own-adventure fantasy book. Somehow swimming healed a character, and a big deal was made of the mysterious and healing properties of water.

This is, clearly, how I see the world.

Back to reality.

Like smokers and non drivers, non swimmers eventually find eachother. I know a few and they have decided that they will just avoid it. Thank god for Alicia then. With her encouragement, we both went and enrolled into adult swimming classes. Every Saturday for several weeks. It was a blast.

Firstly, we were actually pretty young and fit compared to the rest of the class. So the encouragement I never had in school – have all but 8 kids in the school above me – existed here. We excelled quite quickly.

Secondly, the teacher was great. If there’s one thing I’ve learnt in life that I wish for anyone is I hope you had good teachers. It means the world.

Thirdly, I was there with a friend. Saturday mornings knocking on her door, walking down to the pool, and a big well deserved meal afterwards. It was a perfect Newtown Saturday. One I recreated many times without Alicia years later.

I also realised I knew almost nothing about swimming. Kind of shit that school gave up on me in this regard. Someone could have just taught me to do a crocodile. It would have helped.

I also retract my statement of “I know how to not die.” I would have totally died without some basic training. Might not sound amazing to many people, but you can throw me into the ocean and I can swim without a kick off.

It’s a bit like playing music. I think you’ve really ‘got’ an instrument once you can improvise – the idea being you can now go anywhere you want. Same with swimming – I can now go anywhere I want.

And I did. I used to walk past the park at Sydney’s Victoria Pool all the time. So I started going on my own. $3, and just swim. And relax. It’s odd because the pool is surrounded by two very busy traffic streets, and you can hear the trucks and buses. People caught in their cars while I’m doing flips 100 metres away.

I’m still not a very outdoors person, but I love swimming now. What it says about the New Age Buddhist in me, or the mystical healing effects it has on me, I don’t know. But swimming for me, it borders closely to a spiritual thing for me.

I love it, more than anything, on a beach. I find nothing more relaxing. The ocean, the sky an the quiet. That there is no beaches in London kills me. I spend the whole summer not feeling right. It is one of many reasons why I am wrapping up my time here.

Right now, I’m making plans to move to the beach for the first time in my life. I’m looking at Bronte. Yes, I have some friends there. But really, it’s the water I’m moving for. I’ve been away too long.