…and that’s when I realised I was being tailed by security

This was originally written for Confession Booth at the World Bar, April 2012. I presented it again at the Sydney Film Festival’s ‘True Lies’ in 2013.

The site that used to house the old Confession Booth has expired, and I particularly like this piece so I decided to give it a permanent home here.

I was once a very, very talented shoplifter.

I should add that I didn’t shoplift because it gave me a thrill, or to be cool or to fit in or to get back at my parents. Initially, I shoplifted because it was lucrative and it funded my nascent musical obsessions during my high school years, once I realised that I could steal porn mags from Flagstaff Hill Newsagent and sell them to the boarders at my high school, and use those proceeds to fund my record collection.

True Lies, June 2013

True Lies, June 2013

It became doubly lucrative when it eventually dawned on me that I could also just steal the records themselves, and exponentially more so once I realised these same skills could get me other things that I might find useful. For anyone planning to steal three-packs of TDK blank cassettes in 1986, might I suggest putting them in your armpit under a jacket: they fit snugly in there, and your arms retain almost complete range of unsuspicious movement. That’s a tip for the discerning time-travelling kleptomaniac with a passion for audio fidelity.

Anyway: my point is that I was nimble of finger and deft of hand, which was good because it meant that I had plenty of Smiths and Cure records by April 1987, which was when my beloved father died of cancer and when I needed those records more than I needed anything on Earth. It’s no great exaggeration to say that my well-thrashed cassettes of The World Won’t Listen, particularly Asleep, and The Head on the Door, especially A Night Like This, made all the difference between me being here now and perhaps not being here at all.

Incidentally, that’s the somewhat mawkish reason why I’ve used my middle initial for well over half my life: it’s a living tribute to the late Peter William Street, who was only a few months older than I am now when he died and who would have been amazed at the way the next quarter century turned out, if not necessarily been all that impressed with some of the academic and career decisions of his first born.

In mid-1989 my mother married a Cowra-district farmer named Lance Hocking, who had moved to Adelaide with his three children following a year long correspondence. He was a widower: his wife Gaye – an old school friend of my mother’s – had been killed in a terrible car accident not long after my father’s death, and Mum had written to Lance to offer her condolences, support and – this being Roslyn Street – some practical advice about what a suddenly single parent with three children should do in these sorts of terrible circumstances. So in the course of three years I went from being in a family of five to a family of four to a family of eight, and while the transition was unusually smooth – as anyone who has experienced the ear-splitting joy of a Street-Hocking family celebration can attest – it was not without some bumpiness.

I was fine with Lance, for the most part. He seemed like a good man, he didn’t muscle in on my position, at age 17, as the male head of the house, and – importantly – he immediately backed down when his suggestion that we would start attending church as a family was immediately dismissed and roundly mocked by my sisters and I. From the outset he knew to tread carefully with me, and I knew that he was making life easier for my mother, so I returned the courtesy. In any case, it now 1990, I was in first year of uni and not far off turning 18, so I knew my days of having to remain in the family home were numbered regardless.

What transformed Lance from being The Guy That Married My Mum into being the person I refer to as my Dad was the following:

I had not long embarked on my first serious relationship and was therefore heading towards fucking up my first serious relationship, because I was 17, had now had sex and was obviously completely incapable of working out what happened from here. My poor girlfriend, who was beautiful and smart and funny and absolutely didn’t deserve to be dumped via the briefest of phone calls a week after the events of this story, thought that everything was fine and that of course guys got weird and distant after they took your virginity, and was to verbally unload her subsequent confusion and fury regarding her fuckwit of a first love onto my eldest sister when they bumped into each other in a London pub some years later.

But that was to come. At this point I was still trying to work out how to extricate myself from a perfectly good relationship and so it was that I found myself in the ghastly architectural mistake that was Westfield Shoppingtown Marion, feeling the sort of self-righteous anger that only an entitled middle class 17 year old can, and I thought I’d channel my seething self-pity into a spot of shoplifting. First I nicked some tapes from Myers, then ambled over to Brashes and rifled through their discs-in-the-cases-bargain-bin easy pickings for a few more, then to Big W for some more cassettes and a couple of Far Side books, and finally up to John Martins to see if I couldn’t heft some actual vinyl.

And that’s when I realised I was being tailed by security.

A smart kid would have dumped the contraband and run, or would have tried brazening it out, but that’s not what I did. I slowly, deliberately, and in plain view of both of the casually-dressed men furiously ignoring me, lifted a handful of singles, a couple of books – Catch 22 was one, if I recall correctly – and, for reasons that still remain obscure to me, a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figure.

Obviously, it was Raphael.

Then I walked out of the shopping centre doors, sat down on a bench, and waited.

Thirty seconds or so later – longer than I’d expected, and probably long enough to have run had I had any sense of self-preservation, the security guys appeared, came over to me, asked me to open my bag, and told me to come with them.

Once I got into the back room and dumped my haul in a state of complete numbness (except the Far Side books, which I insisted I had brought with me), they explained that since this was my first offence they would normally give me a warning, take my name down and tell me never to come back, but because I’d actually left the building they were obliged to take it to next level and call the police. Which, since I was 17, meant that I had to call my parents.

I sat at the desk, picked up their phone, and called home. Lance answered. I burst into tears.

He was there inside of 15 minutes, said all the right things to the cops about how I was still mourning my father, that it had been an unsettled time and that he was going to sort me out when we got home, while I snuffled and sobbed behind him. I got a warning, we were free to go, and we didn’t say a word to each other the entire way home.

He never brought it up again.

My mother, on the other hand, had a great deal to say, particularly about my shortcomings as a worthwhile human being in civilised society. It was a subject about which my first girlfriend was also to have a lot to say, as I discovered during an international phone conversation with my still-giggling sister circa Xmas 1997.

But that was the moment when Lance first became my Dad.

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May as well do a little update on Things What I’ve Written Lately

Morning, internet. You’re looking spiffy.

So, I’m into my final week before going 100% freelance and feeling inexplicably good about it. I’m getting very suspicious about it – like maybe I know something I don’t.

This is what Google Images came up with when I searched for "optimism". Way to go, Google Images

This is what Google Images came up with when I searched for “optimism”. Way to go, Google Images!

I’ve been at Time Out Sydney since 2008 and much as I love the place, I’m feeling like it’s time to do some different stuff. Which, thankfully, includes still writing for Time Out.

In fact, in the next issues I’ve got an interview with former PM Malcolm Fraser, for which I’ll put the full transcribe here because it is genuinely fascinating, an interview with Angus & Julia Stone, a history of Redfern’s The Block and various bits in our Redfern cover feature, and a run down of new comedy rooms. So, y’know, there’s still plenty of me in the thing.

I’ve also done a couple of Time Out blog things, like being snarky about Robin Thicke and being snarky about Monty Python. Sorry.

optimism-640x492

This was #2. Might be a little more accurate.

Aside from that I’m doing more and more at the SMH, including this piece on apps to act as your external late-night consciencean interview with Angie Milliken, and a thing on Giant Dwarf. And a bunch of reviews of The Voice, but those probably don’t need to be captured for posterity.

I’m a bit proud of my first piece for the King’s Tribune: Scott Morrison and the Conveniently Comforting Doctrine of Predestination, aka “how can our immigration minister possibly live with himself?”

For the Guardian I’ve explained why ‘Don’t Change’ is INXS’s first knock-down classic single, and why politicians always wear RM Williams boots.

At Fasterlouder I talked with Rob Hirst about a possible Midnight Oil reunion, and done a run down on the most underrated Australian songs ever.

And, of course, there’s 10 Things at the Vine, which look like this:

…and there’s print-only stuff in Australian Guitar and a film review for Rio 2 floating around somewhere in the News Ltd-o-sphere. So yeah, it’s been a busy little July so far. Hopefully it’ll keep being busy because heck, I’m going to need it to be.

Yours ever,

APS

Is Morrissey’s new album the worst thing he’s ever done, or just the worst thing ever?

NOTE: As so often happens in my day to day life, I started a conversation that ended in a 900 word article. Uncharacteristically, though, I couldn’t find someone to buy the thing and so instead I present it to you, friends, in its non-profitable entirety. Enjoy!

Morrissey – World Peace is None of Your Business

Harvest Records

No stars

Summary: Despite a chequered solo career, World Peace is None of Your Business is something genuinely amazing: the objectively worst thing Morrissey has ever done.

By Andrew P Street

You know that old adage that you can’t judge a book by its cover? I’ve been looking at books for four decades now and I’ve learned that the cover is actually a consistently excellent predictor of the quality of the book inside.

Albums are like that too. I’ve bought many records on the basis of the artwork alone. Scritti Politti’s Cupid & Psyche 85, Death Cab For Cuties’ We Have The Facts And We’re Voting Yes, Aimee Mann’s Lost in Space, Absentee’s Schmotime, Okkervil River’s Black Sheep Boy and the Weakerthans’ Reconstruction Site are all discs that I would have initially have missed had I not gone “hey, that looks interesting, I should give this a listen.”

So World Peace is None of Your Business immediately gives one pause because the cover is – and I’ll use a technical term here – shit.

Look at it. Seriously: JUST FUCKING LOOK AT IT.

Look at it. Seriously: JUST FUCKING LOOK AT IT.

And not just in the sense that it looks indifferently slapped together, which it does, but that the colour palate is principally based around shades of brown. As a design tip, if you’re looking to entice the casual eye it’s best not to go with an art scheme that evokes feces and vomit.

And it’s not just casual Moz-comers who are right to pause at first sight. If you’re the sort of person that’s spent far too much money collecting Morrissey records the drab cover evokes the artwork from the Southpaw Grammar era (specifically, the 7” sleeve of ‘The Boy Racer’). You know how when people talk about classic Morrissey solo albums no-one ever mentions Southpaw Grammar? That’s not an oversight.

Yet it may as well have been Pet Sounds, because World Peace is None of Your Business is one of those rare terrible albums whose awfulness is so epic that makes all the artists’ previous work worse purely by association.

Ninety seconds in to the title track and already Moz is crooning about how the police will “stun you with their stun guns / Or they’ll disable you with tasers / That’s what government’s for / Oh, you poor little fools”. That comes after railing against paying tax, complaining about how the rich get richer (a problem that’s only ever been successfully addressed by the redistributive power of tax, incidentally) and then sneering “Each time you vote, you support the process”. And look, lots of us went to Socialist Alternative poetry slams when we were 15, but this is clumsy, even by late period Morrissey standards.

He’s had similar hissy fits about how terribly unfair things are in the past – a lot of the same targets cropped up in ‘The World is Full of Crashing Bores’, for example – but the music has never been this limp.

Amazingly, it’s also the album’s best tune. Many of the other songs sound as though a title was knocked up and then the rest of the lyrics were hastily improvised on the spot – ‘Earth is the Loneliest Planet’, ‘Smiler with Knife’, ‘Neal Cassady Drops Dead’ – without a sharp line or memorable melody between them.

Not that it’s much better elsewhere. ‘I’m Not A Man’ is the sort of damp fart of a song that in better times wouldn’t have passed muster as a b-side. “Wolf down, wolf down T-bone steak / wolf down, wolf down cancer of the prostate” is briefly amusing, but the rest of is charmless hectoring over indifferent chords – a theme he returns to in the clumsy, scansion-free ‘The Bullfighter Dies’ (“…and nobody cries.Zing!).

Elsewhere ‘Kiss Me A Lot’ asks the subject to “kiss me all over my face”, which he promptly rhymes with “kiss me all over the place”. Remember, this is the same person who wrote ‘Hand in Glove’.

Women have an especially bad time of it on this album: ‘Staircase at the University’ has a girl failing to get “three As” to please her father and boyfriend and therefore commits suicide (“She threw herself down / And her head split three ways”). However, it’s a positively uplifting message compared with the odious ‘Kick the Bride Down the Aisle’, the latest in Morrissey’s career-long exploration of how women are all lazy, grasping harpies looking to tie a man down.

“She just wants a slave” he sneers, “to break his back in pursuit of a living wage / So that she can laze and graze for the rest of her days”. At least ‘William, It Was Really Nothing’ had a sweet chorus.

But the biggest difference this time around is that Moz has never been this lyrically and musically dull. Kill Uncle and Maladjusted are train wrecks, certainly, but at least they had ‘Sing Your Life’ and ‘Alma Matters’, respectively. World Peace is None of Your Business is a unique entry into the Morrissey canon: an album with exactly zero memorable songs.

Fans, you can stop begging for that Smiths reunion – not because Morrissey’s still got a viable solo career, but because Johnny Marr would be mad to willingly spend time with such a witless and tiresome person.

Then again, as someone once accurately pointed out, the world is full of crashing bores.

Scott Morrison and the Conveniently Comforting Doctrine of Predestination

Originally published in the Kings Tribune July 14, 2014

How can a Christian be complicit in incarceration, torture, and murder? With discomfiting ease, it turns out.

Australia’s Minister for Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison is, as he regularly makes clear, a devout Christian.

Dignity. Quiet dignity.

Dignity. Quiet dignity.

Whenever this subject is raised people point out, not unreasonably, that he is therefore in for a heck of a time in the afterlife, since the Bible is chock-full of instructions about how Jesus Christ felt people should treat each other:

Galatians 6:2 – Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Deuteronomy 15:11- For the poor shall never cease out of the land: therefore I command thee, saying, Thou shalt open thine hand wide unto thy brother, to thy poor, and to thy needy, in thy land.

Matthew 25: 34-40 – Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherits the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”

Mark 12:31- And the second [is] like, [namely] this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.

…and so on. It’s fair to say that Jesus was pretty unambiguous about how he felt about helping those in need (summation: he was fiercely pro) and also how he felt about those who harm and oppress others (spoiler: anti).

Thus people like to ask rhetorical questions like “how can Morrison reconcile his faith with his actions regarding asylum seekers? You know, who have broken no law, are asking for our help, and are locked away in subhuman conditions to rot until they beg to be returned to the tender mercies of those they fled in the first place?”

And it’s a fair question, and most of the time the response is of the flavour “because he is presumably a monstrous hypocrite”. However, it’s a mistake to think that Morrison’s beliefs are at odds with his actions. In fact, according to the precepts of his church, Morrison’s more on the side of God than that busybody do-gooder Jesus.

Morrison belongs to Shirelive, a giant Pentecostal church in the Sydney suburb of Sutherland. It’s an evangelical Protestant church of the clapping-and-waving variety and falls under the charismatic umbrella of what is somewhat dismissively called “prosperity theology” – the idea that material success is a sign from God that you’re doing His work.

The flipside of this doctrine is that those who are not doing well are clearly not in God’s good graces. Such as, for instance, the poor, or the sick, or those fleeing persecution from repressive regimes by buying passage for their family with people smugglers and being intercepted on the high seas by Australian Customs Vessels.

You may justifiably ask how this can possibly work theologically, given everything that Jesus said about camels and the Kingdom of Heaven and needing to liquefy the rich to get them through the eye of a needle. And the answer is that it’s via a handy bit of doctrinal sleight of hand.

Morrison’s church believe in Predestination, the notion that God knows absolutely everything about everything from the moment of creation until the end of the world. Long before you were born He knew everything about you – what you’d do, what you’d think, who you’d meet, the very specific types of pornography you’d enjoy, everything – including whether or not you were going to Heaven or Hell.

The guts of the idea is in this passage:

Ephesians 1:4-6, 11-12 – For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves… In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory.

The Calvinist branch of the Protestant church took this particularly to heart, coming up with a series of precepts known by the acronym “TULIP”, with each point backed up by carefully cherry-picked bits of scripture.

TULIP stands for:

Total Depravity
Unconditional Election
Limited Atonement
Irresistible Grace
Perseverance of the Saints

Before you get too excited, total depravity is recognition that people are completely affected by sin and thus your opinion on what’s right and wrong is irrelevant – after all, you’re just a big old sack of sin!

Mark said “man’s heart is evil” (Mark 7:21-23), Ephesians declared that we are “at enmity with God” (Eph. 2:15), Corinthians says we can’t understand spiritual things (1 Cor. 2:14).

You still think people shouldn’t be locked in prison camps for asking for help? You reckon you know better than God, do you? Ba-bom: wrong! You just don’t get it, because you’re a sinner.

Unconditional election refers to the above idea in Ephesians that God nominates people for salvation and damnation without condition: in other words, your eternal fate is not decided by your behaviour in this life. You could murder your way through your days or dedicate your life to charity and it’ll make zero difference to God since He’s already decided where you’re headed. Romans makes clear that some are chosen and some are not (Rom. 9:15, 21), so: boom.

Seem weird to you? How’s about you just shut your sin-hole?

Limited atonement gets around that whole “Jesus died for your sins” thing: turns out he only died for the sins of those already chosen. Matthew said Jesus died for the “many”, you know, not the all (Matt. 26:28), and there was that whole separating-the-sheep-and-the-goats thing (Matt. 25:32-33). So don’t go looking to the J-dog for moral authority there, Sinny McSinnington.

Irresistible Grace and Perseverance of the Saints reaffirm that only God gives grace and once given you can’t exchange it for grace for others, de-gracify yourself, or return it for the cash equivalent. I’m paraphrasing, admittedly.

What’s the upshot of this? Basically, it doesn’t matter what you do in life, your fate is already sealed. Only God can judge whether that’s fair and since it’s God then yes, it is.

Calvinist ideals proved remarkably influential in the United States. Some of the Pentecostal churches have a particularly strong Calvinist influence and are predictably very big on the idea of Predestination, as befits a church that is focussed on one’s individual, personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

According to the church, not only can you not possibly understand how God works because you’re neck-deep in sin, the mere act of questioning the reasoning is in itself morally dubious. As Romans 3:10-12 helpfully puts it: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

So what does this all mean for Morrison?

Well, he knows that those who come across the seas are all doomed to damnation – after all, God wouldn’t have plonked them in the middle of the civil war in Syria if He didn’t want to punish them for their unchangeable wickedness – and therefore locking them up indefinitely to self-harm in disease-riddled camps is perfectly fine. He’s not going to examine his conscience on the subject, because the act of doing so would be an affront to God.

Meanwhile, he’s on a sweet parliamentary salary with a high-profile government portfolio, a wife and kids and a lovely house in a quiet Sydney suburb. God’s clearly giving him a tangible version of a spiritual high-five.

So to answer the original question: how can Scott Morrison be responsible for overseeing all these human rights atrocities and call himself a Christian? With absolute ease. And he probably sleeps better than you do.

After all, it was predestined.