30 for 30: Newtown

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.

20. NEWTOWN

"I have a dream" mural, King St, Newtown.

I lived in Newtown, a suburb in Sydney, for many years.

It was the best part of Sydney, for me, when I lived there. Bands, pubs, cafes, gigs, Thai food, coffees, record shops, video shops and more. It was the alternative hub of Sydney. I was a Newtown kid through and through, having grown up close by and having hung out there after school for years.

Newtown is divided by a big upside down “Y”, forming the three main streets – King Street, South King Street and Enmore Road. At the place where all three meet is Newtown train station.

I really wish I could show you Newtown. I could show you around.

Coming out of the train station we’d turn right down King Street, the main street of Newtown.

– past where there used to be a great Vietnamese bakery where I used to get Vietnamese pork rolls for a couple of dollars.

– then Bank Hotel, where Claire slapped me one rainy night and I had a dinner with all my cousins once.

Tree of Life where a friend worked, that new gelato place, and round the corner from Egg Records, where I found Wilco’s AM on vinyl and bought old Mojo mags. I can still see Jason outside, smoking.

– The sex shop I went into once on a very awkward first date.

Civic Video where I learnt so much – whether it was Sopranos or Truffaut. Being Newtown, it was a chain video store with the best arthouse section you’ve ever seen.

– Across from that weird courtyard with the big mural of the Aboriginal flag and the words “I have a dream”.

Thai Pothong, which won awards for food but I refused to go to out of loyalty to Doy Tao.

The Post Office where Amy and I shared a PO box when we dreamt of changing the world with acoustic music nights.

Jester’s, which was once Shakespeare’s Pies and before that McDonalds – still the only McDonalds in Australia to close due to lack of business. Go Newtown!

Café C, my favourite. I would order a country breakfast with some extras, and called it the alt-country breakfast.

HUM, where Baz worked, and the newsagent where I bought all my travelcards and other bits.

Better Read Than Dead, where I would devour the music section, buying so many books.

– The cute café, which had great soups, that was part of the Dendy Cinema, where I saw billions of movies.

Fish Records, where Casey and Jo met and fell in love, while I was browsing Randy Newman records.

– the cramped small IGA supermarket, where they kept moving the bread and eggs and the whole layout all the time, but the carpark was good for making u-turns down a one way street.

Happy Chef, my favourite eatery ever. Get the Spicy Beef Noodle Soup. I did, three times a week for around 7 years.

– Followed by my bank, the Westpac, near the Old Fish Shop, a café that was always full because it had about 5 seats.

Mitre 10, where I would try and be a tough guy and buy home hardware, and where Saul bought a chain for a Halloween costume.

– So many more bakeries and second hand clothes shops, including the one where I found my pointy brown stage shoes that I still love.

– The pawn shop that always had cool stuff because even Newtown cast offs were interesting.

– Across from Twelve, which used to be called something different, where I would sit with friends after gigs at age 18, dreaming of moving to Newtown.

– Brown Street, where I remember sitting in the passenger side with Saul driving, and me trying to practise drumming on his dashboard.

Elizabeth’s Bookshop which never seemed to close, which was so cool, buying a book at 1am, like in NYC. Except they never had much that was good.

St Vincent De Paul’s charity shop, and the similar ones on the other side of the road, where I bought most of my clothes.

So Music. My actual favourite new record store in Newtown, because of it’s huge Americana and Soundtracks section. And they would always recommend classic albums. They ordered in all those Sam Cooke SACDs I wanted.

– The bizarre gay bar that was Newtown Hotel, and Alicia’s house right on the corner there.

Kuletos, that shitty cocktail bar. If I was there, something had gone wrong with my night.

The Marlborough Hotel, where we sat out the back and tried to make bad jokes the night Jon died.

Hi Fi Trader, where Adrian and I would look in the window, planning to buy that awesome stereo system one day but never did.

Ice and Slice, the superior ice cream joint in Newtown.

– Past my old real estate agent, who were such nice people that when clients sent me bottles of wine for Xmas, I gave a bottle to them. They knew I was dumb kid trying to live on my own and helped me out a lot.

– Then we are in North Newtown, where Adrian lived and it was his part of the world. They had their own Thai food, supermarkets and all. It’s nice (especially the Vanguard) but lets turn around.

Left out of the station, down South King Street.

The Town Hall Hotel (or the Townie). The whole suburb’s local. A million memories, being hit in the face by some dude because I was set up by a so called friend in a jealousy trap. Jono telling me about his fight with cancer. Many nights of trivia.

Café Newtown on the corner, which Bruno always put me off. He saw me there once and asked if I was just eating car exhaust. I was.

– The strange small mall with a much better supermarket. Not sure the people there spoke English, which for some reason made it easier to buy condoms.

– The street where Shell and Ray lived. And I saw that girl from my morning train with short hair and red lips once, and I imagined she lived there too. I saw her once whilst on the way to a rehearsal, lugging a guitar and though “yes! She’s seen me with a guitar. She might think I’m cool.”

– My second flat in Newtown is here, above the tattoo place. Nigel, drunk and wandering home from the Townie would buzz me in the middle of the night for no reason. It was small but it was mine and I loved that little flat.

– Across from Newtown Theatre. 4 nights of You Am I and the Strokes changed everything I ever thought about music. I didn’t listen to anything new for several years. If the Strokes where what rock music was about, I wanted no part of it.

– That empty lot which was there as long as I remember. And the telegraph pole where I posed for a photo, next to a poster promoting a gig by our old band.

– That coffee shop where I’d get coffees for Craig before he’d pick me up in his car to go to work.

Newtown School of Performing Arts. If only I got in. Life would be different.

– The café which was actually the Globe back in the day, where I saw Glide a few days before their singer ended his life, and where I’d be dragged to see a million Sidewinder shows.

The Sandringham Hotel, or the Sando. So legendary. I missed the heyday, but it wasn’t too bad when I was there. I played a Gram Parsons tribute and someone told me I was the best act of the night – for some reason that compliment stuck with me. Paul and I promised to form a Jon Sebastian covers band here. A night drinking with Perry Keyes after the Born to Run reissue came out, and we talked about pianos for around 4 hours.

– the bike shop, the café that Chrissie’s husband owned, the laundrette that Dave used for decades before he bought my washing machine off me.

– That shop that just sold buttons, along with an array of antique furniture places. I would save just to buy a coffee table or a lamp.

– That big furniture warehouse where, for sake of time, I can’t explain why Alex and I lost a tennis ball there once.

– Near where Nigel and Lindsay lived. Nigel had the weirdest shower and a nice courtyard, but our relationship was really built on swapping DVDs.

Pete’s Musician Market, pretty much the only guitar shop left, and it never had anything good. God knows I spent enough time there.

– Corner of Alice street. My first apartment. Jules waiting at the front door for me to come home. Jeff falling drunk on my sofa after playing Sloan songs all night for Sophie. My piano.

– Around the corner is where Andy lived, and Saul lived.

Doy Tao, the best Thai food in Newtown. I had my birthday there, every year, without fail.

The New Theatre, where I first saw Darren Hanlon, still the only time I’ve been in there.

– The second hand store where Amber and I found a vest for me to wear for a gig.

The Union, where I had a drink with Kate before I left, where there used to be decent trivia. We’re now heading to St Peters so lets turn around again.

Finally, if we head kind of straight out of the station, is Enmore Rd

The Hub, the big beautiful abandoned theatre. It’s supposedly owned by some woman who just wants nothing to do with it, yet wont rent it out. Such a waste.

– scary punk and heavy metal shop where I’d leave my pop fanzine and run out before I was killed.

– best shop name ever, the chiropractor called “Back Together”.

Oportos. Portuguese chicken. Yum.

– The Turkish kebab place. You could smell it from my flat. Wasn’t all that bad.

– That film shop where I planned to buy around a million awesome posters but never did.

Newtown RSL, or @Newtown, or Goldmans, or whatever they are calling it now. A million great gigs and moments. A million frustrating moments with the staff. I still have my Goldman’s card somewhere.

– The somewhat awful Blockbuster across from the brothel. Casey told me that you can spot a brothel because they always have the street number as the biggest sign, not the place name. People are looking for the address.

– Turning left at the place that just sells rock t-shirts is my last house in Newtown. A great place, and too much to go into here.

– Some truly strange shops. The Cat Protection Society, and that awesome 50s hairdresser that is used in so many photos it’s turning into a landmark.

– The bus stop where Paul drove past me once, alarmed to see me wearing shorts.

The Enmore Theatre. Where I got up and played a song to a sold out room at age 16. Where I saw so many great bands. My favourite venue, probably.

– The furniture store, that proclaimed Urban Living. It closed down and the sign stayed, suggesting Urban Living was very minimalist.

The Duke. The kitchen stayed open til 1am. You could see a band and get a proper steak before bed. Where I saw a pretty girl, who I was trying to get the nerves to talk to, suddenly started talking to me.

– Another Civic Video, this one wasn’t too bad. Conveniently, it was across the road from the only decent Indian place in Newtown. Curry and a movie, that happened a lot.

– Things repeat again. Another IGA, more cafes, more real estate agents. The only thing left to note is Scrambled, the lovely café where I made myself a home for several years. And the Warren View where Tim won a local Scrabble comp.

The question is – am I done with Newtown?

Last time I was there it was still similar, but not the same. A few too many trendy sneaker shops. And most of my friends have left there anyway. I’m not 20 anymore – should I leave Newtown for the next bunch of optimistic indie hippie hopefuls? Do I start something new, somewhere else? Or will I just find myself in Newtown all the time anyway?

Sense of place is so important. I am so much happier when I have that ‘home’ feeling.

It’s on my mind.

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.

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.

30 for 30: The Late Show

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.

14. THE LATE SHOW

The Late Show cast (from l-r): back row - Tom Gleisner, Rob Sitch, Mick Molloy, Tony Martin. front row - Judith Lucy, Jason Stephens, Santo Cilauro, Jane Kennedy

In Australia in the early 90s, there was a Saturday night sketch comedy show called The Late Show, on ABC. 10pm every Saturday, without fail, I would sit my ass down and watch it. It lasted only two years. And, like Monty Python, I have followed the careers of everyone involved in that show.

I’m not the only one. This show truly touched a generation of Australians. Everyone who was around at the time knows it. It was groundbreaking, taboo smashing, mind bending stuff. And it made me laugh my ass of.

Amazing to think The Late Show only lasted two years, but I guess the Office and Fawlty Towers were even less than that. The Late Show team consisted of Tony Martin, Mick Molloy, Rob Sitch, Santo Cilauro, Tom Gleisner, Jane Kennedy, Jason Stephens and in the second year, Judith Lucy.

Based in Melbourne, this crew all had radio backgrounds. Again like Monty Python, it was the coming together of various writing teams. After the Late Show, those teams broke up again, to do amazing things in other fields.

But let’s talk The Late Show.

On the whole of it, it’s a pretty standard sketch comedy show. If anything, there was an overload of them on Australian TV at the time – Fast Forward, Full Frontal, The Comedy Company. But it was just – better. It made fun of itself. Maybe it helped that it was on the ABC.

So many great sketches. Shitscared. Graham And the Colonel. Pissweak World. Most of that probably means nothing to many of you. At the end of this post there are some clips. It’s a very Australian sense of humour.

Everyone at school watched it. Every Monday was always a game of ‘did you watch the late show?’, and some of the more talented smartasses amongst us would re-enact the scenes. We knew the classic ones by heart, and some forward thinking kids also taped the show and traded them.

It wasn’t just the kids at my school either. Everyone cool I know loved it. Isabelle loved them, and from memory, had a crush on Tony Martin. She even saw them once doing a vox pop but was too shy to talk to them.

They did one precious episode in Sydney, and everyone was keeping an eye out for them. These guys might just be on the street I walk home on! It was really quite a phenomenon.

I would still kill for a The Late Show t-shirt. They made them when the show was on air and I was far too young to buy stuff like that. I see one around and I almost want to offer money right there and then to strangers in the street. The ABC finally released two volumes on video, which I memorised every word.

Finally, a nice DVD was released, but it’s only 3 hours in many. Your heart would break the first time you watched it, as you realised they didn’t include your favourite sketches. To this day, it’s the only official relic of this magnificent show that we have.

I carried around the newspaper article declaring the Late Show break-up in my wallet for months. I didn’t get it. Why would they end. I decided in my head it wasn’t true, but a new series never came.

The writing teams split off. Tony and Mick ended up (back) on radio with the Martin/Molloy Show. It was on after school on the dreadful 2Day Fm network, but I still listened everyday, putting up with bad pop music. By now I was already discovering obscure music. But I would never miss Martin/Molloy.

I called up one of their competitions once and actually won some CDs, Soul Asylum’s second album and a Brownstone one.

Rob, Tommy G, Jane and Santo formed Working Dog Productions, pretty much the best TV production team in Australian history.

The first was Frontline – a no-laugh-track mockumentary of Current Affairs shows – with a bumbling host, a cynical network and the dangers of broad appeal journalism. Oh, and laughs.. Airing when I was 14-16, it did a lot to form my views on politics and the media.

One episode, the Shadow We Cast, was a defining piece of television for me, one I think about almost everyday. Anchor Mike Moore wants to reverse the damage done to minorities by Current Affairs shows. He is oblivious to his own hypocrisy, attacking Pauline Hanson, then following with stories about foreign investors. He makes a list of all the minorities he wants to help.

Prowsie, his boss, in a moment of anger, writes on a whiteboard what Current Affairs is really about. Stereotypes. Chinese are Triads. Vietnamese are drug dealers. Aborigines are drunks. And so on. Mike almost discovers this, and is pushed away and led out of the room. The camera hangs onto the whiteboard for a second before the episode ends.

You can watch the end of the episode here.

Working Dog’s best work was, of course, The Castle (1997). Their first movie, it’s the story about an Australian family who is ordered by the government to move to make way for a new airport. But the eccentric family refuses and fights the government for the right to live in their homes. It was an allegory for Aboriginal Land Rights. And the funniest Australian movie you will ever see.

Working Dog only made one more movie – the very good The Dish (2000). But they concentrated on TV instead. The talk show The Panel, the game show Thank God You’re Here and the recent, extremely good The Hollowmen. The latter follows the work lives of a fictional Australian government department – it’s a lot like the UK’s The Thick Of It.

Mick and Tony flirted with movies too. After a hosting his own failed talk show, Mick played lead, wrote and produced Crackerjack (2002), and BoyTown (2006). Tony wrote and directed Bad Eggs (2003), also starring Mick. All those movies were met with only minor success.

Mick is now a host for hire. Tony had a second day in the sun with the Get This radio show on Triple M. Running for three years, it really showed off his voice and writing talents. A runaway ratings and critical success, it’s little wonder Triple M always hated it and dumped it.

I am still excited about any project by any member of the D-Generation. I only just discovered Santo, Sam and Ed’s World Cup Fever, which brought back the news and sports of the Late Show with some fantastic sketch comedy.

I don’t know if the idea of a reunion has ever been floated around. I guess everyone is older, and all have healthy careers to some degree. But to see all of them on screen together again, playing some of these classic characters, would be a dream come true.

Because, 17 years after it went off the air, I’m still the same kid hoping for that 3rd season.

Some clips! Not just boring text!

My favourite recurring sketch is ‘Shitscared’. About Rob and Mick, this terrible Evil Knievel types, always interviewed by Tom.

Here’s the very first one

Movie world

A car stunt

Pissweak World! This is not too far from the truth in Australia.

Marine World.

Airworld

Guides. Here’s Christmas Parties and one of the three Dinner Parties.

Songs

What’s All That About

REM Song

Billy Joel

Mick and Tony Vox Pops

Shirty The Slightly Aggressive Bear

Charlie the Wonderdog

Random sketches

Still Number Four, a comment on rival Channel 9’s tagline of “Still Number One”

20 Inappropriate Love Songs

30 for 30: iPods

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.

13. IPODS

The "photo" iPod

Like everyone else, I got an iPod. It changed the way I listened to music.

I was planning this blog for later in the series but circumstances dictated otherwise. My iPod died. Gone. Just wiped to zero. 5 years of play counts, artwork, playlists etc – no more.

It was a 160GB silver ‘classic’ – which made it sound dated as soon as it came out. It’s travelled with me everywhere, and I used it for around 5-6 hours a day – at least. In the last week, it’s battery life was down to about half an hour, and it would turn itself off for no reason. Until today, when it decided to give up the ghost for good.

So, goodbye iPod. 24,000 songs, all gone. It was fun.

I was late to the iPod. Most of my friends had one by the time I did. I even bought one for a girlfriend before I got one for myself. I only really decided to get one when I decided to do some travelling. So I bought a 60GB one, in 2005.

Oddly, I did get an early mp3 player as a present. It was very hard to use. It made me resist “going digital” for a while.

I prepared by ripping some music to my computer before I even got one. In an ill made decision, I decided to start with Elvis Costello. Not just ALL his albums (up to Delivery Man, 21 of them), but all the Rhino bonus discs. Get Happy itself was 50 tracks. My iTunes had 20 versions of Watching the Detectives, what with all the demos and live versions. When I finally got the iPod, it was basically an Elvis Costello iPod.

So I wiped all that and started again. I tried to be more democratic about it the second time around. Basically, I would put one album on by every artist I really loved. Live with that for a bit. Then choose another album by them, and spread the net wider to artists that I liked. Then again, another round. It was like the nerdiest NBA draft picks.

I managed to hit 24,000 songs on my iPod, including several thousand I deleted over the years, before she died. I think by the end of it, every Elvis Costello album was back on there.

I wasn’t that excited by the iPod to begin with. I remember looking at it, on my sofa, in my house, thinking, I kind of just want to put these albums on my stereo. But I figured it might be handy.

The click-wheel was clever though. That alone got me past the gate. Much like the iPhone later, the iPod wasn’t only easy to use – it was kind of fun to use. Looks at me scroll!

I quickly took to it. I could listen to music in the garden! I could listen to music when I go for a smoke! I could listen to music on that walk from the train station to home. I could even listen on the train.

In fact, the biggest negative is that when I got an iPod, it killed my reading. My reading has still never recovered. Maybe it might now.

I got the first ‘Photo iPod’. Hilarious to think of it now. I remember how Tom, an early iPod owner, had this two colour one, with buttons across the top. We used to listen to stuff in his car. And that geeky pleasure of thinking ‘mine is cooler’.

The best thing about this new iPod was that you could load colour album covers on there and it would come up on the screen. This was exciting at the time! And it wasn’t that long ago. It was the same year the FOURTH Harry Potter film came out. Yet it was exciting to get colour on the iPod.

I remember showing my friends who were musicians their own albums, with artwork, on this iPod. So wanky. But we were all fascinated.

This first iPod travelled with me overseas. I have hundreds of memories of walking through Europe, listening to music. Maybe I missed some of the sounds of a city, but as a music nutter, I couldn’t be happier.

60 GB turned out to be not enough. I had to keep deleting things. Finally, I had a car accident and found myself in a wheelchair for months. I got an iPod and meticulously imported all the info across to a new, 160GB monster. It took weeks.

I keep breaking headphones. Glasses and headphones. Geez, I have spent so much money on those things. And I approach headphones the same as glasses – buy something cheap because it will break or you will lose them.

I bought a really expensive pair once – Seinnheiser somethings. It had a case. A very complicated folding motion would collapse the headphones and you would twirl the lead around it’s body. It was as fun as folding a map. I had it for two weeks before I left it in a cab.

So I usually go for the second cheapest pair there is. I use James’ theory on this. If you buy the cheapest one, everything about it is bad. But if you buy the second cheapest, it means at someone thought about these headphones on some level (could have just been the price).

No wonder they keep breaking all the time though. Usually the bit near the pin, that goes into the iPod, goes first. But sometimes the headphone itself falls apart. But dozens of pairs of those is still cheaper than that expensive pair.

In recent years, I’ve discovered (cheap) in-ear headphones. Odd at first, now I’m used to shoving rubber things in my ears. Sure it blocks out a bit of noise and sounds stronger, but it just stays in the ear and bit better.

My second iPod, the 160GB monster, lasted me until this week. It recorded 5 years of my listening habits. I got quite obsessed with looking at it statistically.

For example:

Most played song was Thunder Road by Bruce Springsteen. 78 plays.

Of 24,000 songs, only 1000 had never gotten at least one play.

However, half that collection was 4 plays or less. So there’s a lot of junk on there.

Poor ‘Sunday Girl’ by Blondie, was added to my iPod 4 years ago, and I never listened to it once.

I would add roughly 20GB of music to my iPod every year.

It was fun, looking at listening habits through maths. Well, fun for me anyway. I’ve lost all that now.

For the last few years, every morning, I listen to five songs that have zero plays. I get a lot of albums, and I still buy plenty of them. It’s one of many tricks I had to explore my collection.

And it’s great to have all those songs in your pocket. Whatever thought tickles your fancy can be there. God knows there have been times when the sun is shining and the only thing that could make me feel better is to hear Make Me Lose Control by Eric Carmen. And before the iPod, how would you ever hear that song?

Mainly though, I would just shuffle. Thousands of songs, what will fate dial up? Whether I’m on the a crowded train on the Circle Line, or walking around Berlin, lets see what song I can pin this memory to.

Trish mentioned today that I was taking the death of my iPod well. For some reason, it didn’t really matter to me all that much. I did try for an hour to save the thing, but in the end it was easy to let go of. I think, maybe, I was in need of a change.

The iPod death was always the biggest worry. I remember Jon, with an early iPod, losing everything, and paying big money to computer experts to no avail. I have almost lost my iPod many times, and those were scary moments.

I’ve put Born to Run (the album with Thunder Road on it) on my new 160 GB iPod. I’m going to put some records I’ve loved from this year. And start the draft again. Five years ago, the first Velvet Underground album I reached for was The Velvet Underground & Nico. I’m thinking now it’s got to be Loaded. But even part of me thinks maybe it’s a mistake. Maybe it’s time to find another new path altogether.

Maybe the shuffle thing should go too. Maybe, like many of my friends, I should just rotate my collection. Who knows. Without music being my job, I don’t need half of that stuff in my pocket. Hell, having gone through cassettes the CDs, I’m not even sure iPods will last that much longer.

So, It’s kind of exciting to start again. I get to rediscover all my music. Or maybe I will finally get some reading done again.

30 for 30: Yum Cha

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.

12. YUM CHA

Some Yum Cha dishes - l-r: Spinach & Nuts Dumpling, Spare Ribs, Siu Mai, Har Gau and some Cheung Phun up front

I am a big fan of Yum Cha – it’s my favourite type of food. In the US and the UK it’s known as Dim Sum.

Why the two terms? I have no idea either – but I can tell you what each one means.

Yum Cha” literally means “Drink Tea”. Tea being a big part of this kind of eating. Basically, Chinese (or specifically Cantonese) people will say “let’s drink tea” and it will mean let’s go to a Yum Cha.

Dim Sum” means the dumpling things that make up a bulk of the meal. Har Gau, Siu Mai etc.

If I have to hazard a guess, Yum Cha is tied to the experience. In Hong Kong, Yum Cha places are used like cafes. People will meet up over a tea, a small amount of dishes, and carry on with their day. Even teenagers after school might stop in for a snack. Which is why outside of the US and UK, Yum Cha is used. The whole dining experience is where you can get this kind of food.

In the US and UK however, there is an abundance of choice. And if people wanted those types of dumplings and things, they would ask for Dim Sum, and maybe at places other than Yum Cha places. Also, the lack of trolleys, the way the cost is worked out, all differs from the traditional Hong Kong experience.

That is just a guess, anyway.

For my purposes, I’m calling it Yum Cha. So many things are not technically Dim Sum, and it’s the whole dining, and this whole Chinese Food subculture, that interests me.

It is fun for me to see how places spell Yum Cha foods. I’ve seen various variations. It is confusing for me, and confusing for my friends who don’t speak Chinese. I’ll use the ones I see the most often.

Here are my favourite things to eat at Yum Cha.

Siu Mai (Wikipedia calls it Shumai – sounds nothing like the actual words.) and Har Gau. Siu Mai is the pork dumpling in a yellow wrap. Har Gau is the prawn dumpling in the white, almost clear skin. It is pretty much essential to have these fantastic dishes at every Yum Cha experience.

Har Gau and Siu Mai must have actually gotten married at some point. They are always tied together. They are sold together. Always in the same trolley. The ladies yell out “Har Gau, Siu Mai” even if there’s other things in the trolley. If they yell out more, these two still get top billing. They are the Lennon and McCartney of Yum Cha. I’m not quite sure why they go together, but they do. They are delicious. I love them.

Then there’s Cheung Phun (literally, “sausage noodle”). Three strips of soft wide noodle, wrapped around beef, prawns or pork. There are other variations and they are stupid. Dollop on a lot of soy sauce and you are off. You know you have gotten chopsticks down when you can chop these babies in half. There is a lightly fried version too.

So most people like those, easy to eat things. My next favourites are a bit weirder. Steamed Spare Ribs and Fung Jiao (i.e. Chicken feet). So they might look scary to some – and they take a bit of effort, but are so worth it. Essentially, you strip the meat off the bone in your mouth, then spit of the bones. Not something to do on a date, then. But the steamed meat falls off the bones, and the sauces are delicious. Having lots of friends who don’t like these dishes mean more for me.

Lucky for my British friends that I have not been able to find the Mixed Cow Tripe Stew. The most disgusting looking bits of cow stomach, liver, intestine, in the best sauce. A favourite of my Dad’s and mine, many Sundays have been spent stuffing our faces whilst my Mum looks on, slightly disapprovingly.

With those standards out of the way, the rest is usually what tickles my fancy on the day. Steamed Meatballs are a great, simple dish. The Sticky Rice that comes wrapped in leaves is great when you’re really hungry. In London, there is usually other dumplings to try.

I usually ignore anything that is deep fried. I’ve never been a big fan of Congee, which I guess can be called a savoury rice porridge. The popular Char Siu Bao – roast pork buns – are great, but I usually don’t bother with them either. This is mainly because all kids love them, and I want to feel like I’ve grown up and eating the more complicated stuff. It’s the shadow of my Dad there.

Don’t forget the Tea, too. There are lots of different types of tea – and I know none of them. My Mum has somehow taken the role of tea chooser in our family. The waiter asks, and we all look to Mum. I’ve asked her why she chooses certain ones (“I wanted something sweeter”, “I don’t feel like something strong”), but for me, tea is just something to wash down the chili sauce. My tongue at Yum Cha doesn’t really deal with subtleties.

Deserts are an uncommon treat for me. I almost never have them. But who doesn’t love a good Egg Tart? Kylie loved these Pastry Balls In Cinnamon. The various jellies on offer look, even at the best places, shit. Why would you go to Yum Cha to have Jelly?

Growing up, you would wait for Sundays because more often than not, those were Yum Cha days. Sometimes just my family, sometimes with another family and heck, sometimes just me and Dad. We would travel far and wide for the best places, driving for hours. We’d get there early, get our ticket number and wait.

It strikes me that Yum Cha is a lot about waiting. It is, really, one of the least efficient ways to eat. For those who have never seen it, the real way to Yum Cha is to have ladies with trolleys of food running around the tables. So the food is sitting around getting a bit cold. It takes ages for the food to actually get to you, and as an impatient kid you’d be looking around for that damn Cheung Phun lady to come around already. And imagine how many more tables they could fit in without needing those trolley lanes.

That said, having had eaten at places when you order, it’s no fun having no trolleys. It just feels like a meal. You want to marvel at what is in those trolleys. It’s almost like a strip bar – you wave a lady down and ask her to show you what she’s got.

Yum Cha ladies are either horrifically unattractive or look like a 15 year old girl in a Manga. There’s no middle ground. It’s completely sexist. In thirty years I have never, ever, seen a male Yum Cha Trolley Attendant. I thought at one point I would like to be the first – a pioneer –  and maybe Sean Penn can play me in the movie of my life.

James and I suspected as kids that the men who worked in Yum Cha places were actually Ninjas. The way they set a table is pretty amazing. Take a 3 metre wide circular table, and one guy can lay out all the cups and bowls, thrown from one spot. Seeing a group of them working as a team is like watching the London Philharmonic just fucking nailing it. It also makes sense that Ninjas would need a day job and it would be a decent cover. I am still waiting for that Jackie Chan movie where he crashes a Yum Cha place, and the waiters turn into Ninjas. Called Yum Cha Ninja. This shit writes itself.

Tash made a very good point about Yum Cha a couple of years ago that has stuck with me. She never knows how much she is paying. Payment is a piece of paper with Chinese words, and a whole bunch of stamps. There’s no correlation between what you ate and what is on the sheet. There is no indication of how much each dish costs. My Dad knows a lot of cooks and manages to wrangle a discount. The discount is in the form of some dude scribbling his name on the form. I looked at one once and thought – yeah, never paying full price here again. He just wrote a fancy letter ‘S’.

(UPDATE: James points out that discounts are always free tea, not an actual percentage discount.)

Sydney Yum Cha is so great, it’s hard to pick a favourite based on food. There are some famous ones – Marigold on Sussex Street, the one above Market City. But my favourite one is one I don’t know the name of. It’s at the north end of Dixon Street in Chinatown. There is a Chinese Pagoda, and you have to walk through it and up the escalator.

It’s a Yum Cha restaurant that lives next to pokies. It looks like an RSL. It has the cheapest décor you can imagine. But I like it’s simplicity. There are very few non Chinese people around, or tourist rabble. Just genuine, proper Yum Cha. And yes, we should definitely go one day.

London seems to have given up on trolley service, mainly. The one place that still has it is New World in Chinatown. I am there every second or third Sunday.

But most places, you have to order from the menu. The food is alright. They’ve also introduced some fancy cooking – chef’s special dumplings etc. I try to care, but it’s hard. Then there’s Yau-At-Cha, renowned chef Alan Yau’s deluxe Yum Cha restaurant. (This) Yau invented Wagamamas. Yau-At-Cha is the only Michelin star place I’ve ever been too that didn’t involve work (and I only went twice with work). It cost Jo and I around £80 each and it wasn’t that great.

Then there’s Ping Pong, a chain Dim Sum place. Not even close to the Yum Cha experience. On Sundays that have Dim Sumdays – £16.50 for all you can eat. Dan Ryan reckons he was once in a table of 8 and destroyed 83 dishes. We tried to repeat it and got to 79. Although I blame Lou for ordering vegetables and was too busy actually talking and being nice.

Like I said earlier, Yum Cha is a family thing. I’m amazed how many of my friends love it though. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t. And I love taking people and showing them how it’s done. It’s amazing how they see it though. For some people, it’s their hangover cure. And it works.

Lately, I go on my own. Must be weird for the people at New World on a busy Sunday. Me, a book, table for one, thanks. It’s always the dream. No filler, no sharing. Just the dishes I want, and not only being able to have one of each thing. It takes up so much time so it’s perfect reading time.

Hopefully by the time I’m 60, and I revisit these blogs, I will have introduced my own family to this stuff. Trolley culture has not died off completely. I’m still able to have the odd meal on my own. And maybe, if we as a planet are really lucky, they will finally settle on a name and just call in Yum Cha all over the world.

Dim Sum my arse.

30 for 30: Guitars

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.

11. GUITARS

Kurt Cobain with a Fender Mustang guitar

I play guitar, and have done so for fifteen years. I have owned several over the course of my life.

My first guitar was a Fernandes Les Paul. Now, Les Paul guitars are usually made by GibsonFernandes was some knock-off company.

I only got the guitar because Neil Finn played a similar one. It broke down a lot, and it was very heavy. At this point, I thought all guitars were this heavy. Trying to do jumps and rock moves were very hard. I didn’t realise Pete Townshend’s Rickenbackers were a lot lighter.

I did my first ever gigs, in high school, with it. In my first ever band – Parker. But the guitar was just a pain. I don’t think I ever even sold it, and it’s likely at the bottom of the stairs at my parent’s home.

My second guitar was my first acoustic. It’s a lot easier to practise on an acoustic as you don’t need an amp. My poor parents put up with me and my amp for long enough.

I don’t even remember the brand of this guitar (maybe Takamine). The cool thing about it was it was black – not like ordinary wood colour – a la Johnny Cash.

It was an ok guitar. It did the job. But by then I was playing around Sydney a bit and needed a decent guitar. I was also about to meet Casey, who knew more about guitars than anyone I ever met. I sold this nameless acoustic to the drummer of some band I was in that went nowhere.

And I never bought another bad guitar again.

The Maton EB808

My first proper guitar is still my favourite guitar. Maybe there is something in that – maybe she’s affected how I feel about guitars. She’s a Maton EB808 – with no cutaway or pickup.

I was never a great guitar player, but I loved playing this guitar. I know a lot friends who learnt guitar in their teens and 20s and have given up save the occasional strum. And they always have average guitars. A cheap Yamaha or something.

This guitar cost me almost every cent I ever saved up to that point. I never bought ANYTHING even a quarter of the price. And she was totally worth it.

Again, I decided to buy it because Neil Finn uses it. It’s slightly smaller than a normal guitar (three-quarter size) but it sounds rich and full. There’s no strap bolt where the neck of the guitar meets the body, so you need to strap it to the headstock – old school 60s Dylan style.

I think every musically hearted person just needs to find their right instrument. This Maton EB808 is mine. I learnt everything cool on her. Finger picking, Travis picking, harmonics, odd tunings and more. My guitar playing got a lot better very quickly. I wrote my first ever songs with her.

It’s with her that I started my practise of putting stickers on guitars. I know some people who think this is horrific. For me – I figure I’m never going to sell them. I liked customizing my guitars. So this Maton EB808 is covered in stickers of bands that I’ve collected from many years. And it’s something I did to all my guitars.

I also had to get a pickup installed (A pick-up is the bit of electronics that’s added to this essentially wooden box, so you can plug it into an amp). Jeff worked at Maton at the time so it was sent to the proper factory for a proper Maton pickup system. It’s a little thing, but it now means you can’t find one in a shop quite like mine – no cutaway AND a pick-up.

This will be my last possession on earth. The one thing I would save in a fire. Please bury me with this guitar. It is, in short, the most important physical item I have in the entire world. What else would it be if not a guitar?

A '69 Thinline Telecaster

My first decent electric was a reissue of the ’69 Fender Thinline Telecaster. Small, thin – it’s like a spear or a machine gun. It’s a very sexy guitar.

As usual, these were bought because heroes had it. This time, both Sloan and the Posies played 69 Teles in photos. I had no real idea about electric guitars at the time, but I was learning. And I knew I wanted to sound like Sloan and the Posies.

(Photos are, of course, misleading. Who knows why they are playing a guitar live, and if it has anything to do with their recordings. Annoying case in point was the Zombies, where the front of their box set Zombie Heaven, has Chris White holding a Gibson SG bass. But that amazing bassline in Care Of Cell 44 was played on a Fender P-bass. False advertising, I say)

I still have this electric guitar and it’s the electric I’ve used the most. Telecasters are such well used guitars – they are work horses. They are tough to break – and tough to sound shit. They were light and I battered mine around, sometimes hitting it on things to make sounds.

It’s my favourite electric guitar. I’ve flirted with other things, but this is the meat-and-potatoes of electric guitars for me. I’ve bought other guitars for strange or particular sounds. But 99% of what I like can be used on this fantastic guitar.

Before I got pickups in my Maton EB808, I needed to get an acoustic guitar I could use to play live. For reasons unknown, I decided to buy a whole new guitar. A Maton 325.

The Maton 325 is the guitar that everyone in Australia has. Maton being an Australian company, and the 325 being the entry level model. It’s a very good guitar, but nothing special. It’s good to have a spare but I could live without it.

I have no idea why Maton calls their guitars crap things like 325. How good are names like Stratocaster and Mustang? I have the same problem with companies like Nokia and their 4410s, 5510s, 8847s and crap like that. Just idiotic.

Chris Murphy of Sloan with a Mustang Bass (cherry red with racing stripes)

At some point, I realised I was never going to be a great guitar player, so I decided to go wide. I bought a piano, a drum kit, and even cooler – a Fender Mustang Bass.

Again, it’s a small body bass – bass guitars are usually big and cumbersome. But I found the Mustang to be very playable, and it sounded great.

I chose the Mustang bass because, again, Sloan used one. The Rolling Stones also had one – but both had these cherry red coloured ones with two yellow racing stripes. I couldn’t find one of those, so I bought a simple white one, and used it for years.

My band always had problems finding bassplayers and there was times I’d play bass. Then Lazy Susan needed a bass player and I took it up very seriously. I often think that I am actually a bass player – I love everything about bass.

Playing bass opened up my musicianship as well. I got to play for a variety of bands that needed a fill-in guy. From the blissful Australian rock of Modern Giant, the clever indie of Arbuckle, punk bar band Free Beer, the fiddly and melodic songwriting of Bryan Estepa, and the weird tunings but stunning songs of Josh Pyke. With guitar I have a style (I call it Teenage Fanclub), but with bass I’m a confident soloist and versatile.

I did eventually find a cherry red one with those all important racing stripes – and I sold my white one to Joel. After my Maton EB808, this is my favourite musical instrument. I can not wait to get back to Australia and become a bass player properly. Who wants me?

I was gigging so much at one point, I decided I needed a spare electric guitar. Because I was in love my with Mustang bass, I got a Fender Mustang guitar. Bright blue and has racing stripes. Mustang guitars are the sexiest guitars in my book.

It’s kind of a weird guitar. It’s got a particular, jagged sound. Similar guitars are favoured by Elvis Costello and Kurt Cobain. It’s an attack guitar – and I wrote some very nasty songs on her.

Unlike the Tele, this guitar is odd. That oddness led to an amazing moment for me. My friends, Red Riders, supported the Shins, and they let me guitar tech so I could meet them. I got my records signed and they noticed my guitar, and asked if they could try it. So there I was, Sydney’s Metro theatre, wacthing the Shins play amazingly with my guitar.

I must have been earning too much money at one point. I went guitar crazy. I ended up buying a 12 string Rickenbacker 330 off eBay. It’s what George Harrison uses in A Hard Day’s Night, the Byrds on Mr Tambourine Man and so many more. This was a weird colour too – cherry red with black details.

This was a mistake. I never used the thing. I spent more time tuning it than playing it. 12 string guitars are a pain. The sounds it makes don’t interest me – but I had to learn that. I sold it when I left Australia. It was a cool guitar to own, but it was not a guitar I loved.

I also acquired a Fender Lap Steel. Why? No idea. I thought I’d learn. I can make sounds on it, but I know nothing about playing it. It’s very cool though – it came in a very cool case. I thought about selling it, but now I think I will spend some time learning this instrument. It might take, it might not. We’ll see.

My Art & Lutherie Ami guitar, with stickers

When I decided to stay in London, I bought a guitar. I went down to the legendary Denmark Street and played around on several guitars. In the end I decided on an Art & Lutherie Ami. It is again quite small – the size of an old fashion parlour guitar – and blue. Again, no pick-up and I am looking at getting one installed.

It’s covered with stickers now – when I travel, I buy a sticker from a souvenir shop and put it on this guitar. Paris, New York, Morella, Rye – wherever I am. It’s now the souvenir of my travels. I have played it live in London pub open nights and written some songs on it. It sounds great.

It’s a weird shape so I’m looking at options of how to get her home. I might need to pay for a custom guitar case. We’ll see.

I went one step further than a sticker with this guitar. I superglued a music box to the frame. It plays La Vie En Rose and the body of the guitar amplifies the sound quite nicely.

There’s no guitars I have my eyes on at the moment. Maybe one day – but right now I’ve lost the dream of owning a fuckload of guitars. I don’t go to guitar stores all the time anymore. I don’t use all my spare change on guitar strings.

God, there’s even a good chance I will never buy another guitar again. Is there a better sign that I’ve found my instrument?