The new book is done! DONE! It has a title! It’ll be out for Xmas!

Dear The Internet,

I learned a very valuable lesson this year, and it is this: don’t pick the first six months of your debut child’s life as the perfect time to write a new book.

My son is many things: cute as a button, utterly hilarious, filled with a variety of fluids, destined to rule this planet and so on, but he’s also proved remarkably time consuming. To be clear, this is something which people did mention to me before he turned up, and I correctly figured there’d probably be a steep learning curve that started literally the second he turned up, but I had a cavalier faith in my ability to manage my time and multitask because I am a fool.

Pictured: the things that informed the book, and the thing that was enormously and marvellously distracting during the writing of it.

However, the book is done – I just went through the final edits and was genuinely chuffed with how well it read. I’ll say this for writing 80k words in the throes of sleep deprivation: it meant I read the finished product with fresh eyes, since I had zero recollection of writing most of it.

I’ll be doing a revamp of this site once I have a release date and cover art and so on, but the short version is:

  • It’s called The Long And Winding Way To The Top: 50 (or so) Songs That Made Australia
  • As with my previous two books, it will be published by the good people of Allen & Unwin
  • It’s the story of 50 (or so) songs that shaped Australian culture, either by capturing a moment in our history or by changing the national conversation in some way
  • Almost all of the songs are brilliant, much loved favourites that are part of our shared cultural heritage
  • At least one of the songs is genuinely, irredeemably ghastly
  • I tried like hell to ram several of my favourite songs into it and failed because I have a noble dedication to critical objectivity, but I’m hoping that I’ll find some other way to go on and on and on about why Models are and were such a pivotal Australian band who have never gotten their due. Also the Hummingbirds. Also the Falling Joys. Also [goes on like this for some time]
  • It’ll be out for Xmas and it’s exactly what you should buy your parents/colleagues/neighbours/sibling/other person you’re obliged to get something for if you can’t think of anything else to buy them
  • At the very, very least it’ll make one hell of a playlist of great Australian tunes that will play in your head unbidden simply by reading the contents
  • Every chapter is about a standard toilet visit long
  • I’m obviously biased, but I’m really proud of it

Hopefully it’s something that a very casual music listener can flip through and still enjoy, and if you’re a fan of the artist in question you’ll still find something out that you didn’t know.

There’ll probably be events launching it around the place, about which I shall endeavour to post. But just a reminder: you’re welcome to follow me on Facebook and Twitter if you want to know what’s happening generally.

And now, to get back into normal day-to-day writing again. Say, anything interesting happened in politics lately?

Yours ever,

APS

 

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What’s the most significant Australian song?

Dear the Internet,

So it’s been a long, long while since I updated this site. And that reason for the silence is fairly straightforward. He looks like this:

My phone more or less exists entirely as a daily archive of JPS photos these days.

James Peter Street turned up on New Years Eve and has been busy being the best thing in the entire universe. And being awfully distracting from the many, many things his father has to do.

So, if you haven’t been following me on Twitter or Facebook – and you totally can do those things – you might assume that I’ve not been spending the fleeting hours when James is briefly asleep madly writing columns (such as the View from the Street column at the Sydney Morning Herald) and/or doing podcasts. But rest assured: that’s what’s been going on.

(Speaking of which: the next live recording of the Double Disillusionists podcast with m’self and the charming and erudite Dom Knight is at Redfern’s Giant Dwarf on Tuesday 2 May, with special guests Mark Humphries of SBS’s The Feed and the former premier of NSW, Kristina Kenneally! Tickets are on sale now, and if we do say so ourselves it’s going to be a great one.)

But on the subject of writing: I’m working on a book at the moment about Australian music – yes, the one that got mentioned about a year ago, before I got completely sidetracked by The Curious Story of Malcolm Turnbull – and I was wondering… what would you say was the most culturally significant Australian song ever?

Not necessarily your favourite, you understand – but the one that you think either changed things or signified a significant moment in our culture. ‘Treaty’? ‘Khe Sahn’? ‘Friday On My Mind’? ‘Cattle & Cane’? ‘Man Overboard’? ‘Down Under’? ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’? ‘Shaddap You Face’?

The book, y’see, will be the 50(ish) songs that shaped Australia, and I’ve got a long, long list which I’m still winnowing down. And you, beloved reader, could be part of that process, either by making me feel better about my choices and/or reminding me of something I completely, bafflingly overlooked.

The comments are yours: what are the songs that shaped our nation?

Cheers,

APS

RIP Big Day Out: 1992-2014

Originally published at Time Out Sydney, 26 June 2014

aps-deathbigdayout

It is with great sadness that we announce the passing of the Big Day Out after a protracted illness.

Loving child of parents Kenneth West and Vivian Lees, the Big Day Out was born in Sydney in 1992 but soon called most mainland capital cities home, even travelling on occasion to New Zealand.

For over two (almost) unbroken decades she brought music, laughter, camaraderie and targeted demographic advertising to a generation of punters, bands, and youth-focussed marketing teams. However, rumours of ill health began in 2012, when she began to lose sensation in her Auckland leg.

The wasting decline soon spread, and by 2013 she was surviving only on expensive injections from C3 in the United States, applied under the local supervision of AJ Maddah, who had full custody after first one and then both parents tragically abandoned her.

However, this week it was announced that Maddah has also abandoned the bedside and treatment has been discontinued. It’s been confirmed that all engagements for 2015 have been cancelled, while C3 are putting on brave smiles in the face of their loss, they have admitted that resurrection is uncertain.

Beedio, as she was affectionally known, is survived by an estimated $15 million in debt and a generation of tinnitus sufferers.

In lieu of flowers, go see a local gig.

The relative value of band members, featuring Queen

First published at Time Out Sydney, 30 May 2014. Art by Robert Polmear.

Andrew P Street explains that band members are not equal. Not even a bit

queen-tour-2014

A certain amount of Queen is coming to Australia later this year, and people are excited about it for reasons that I can’t entirely fathom. Then again, Queen fandom was always slightly out of my reach: I was just a bit too young to love them at the time, and just a bit too old to relive them through a dad’s car best-of, so I was right in their contemporary-with-their-late-period terrible-era sweet spot.

However, let’s be honest: the corpse of Freddie Mercury is more Queen than the rest of Queen – even if bassist John Deacon came back. And the reason for this is simple: regardless of what they say in interviews, no band is a partnership of equals.

In fact, the ranked importance of each member of almost any band in history can be illustrated thusly:

1. Singer
2. Lead guitarist
3. Rhythm guitarist
4. Drummer
5. Bassist
6. Keyboard player/saxophonist/percussionist/whatever

And here is that ranking as a pie chart, because I am very smart and talented:

(“Ringo” is the base unit of musical necessity. Ten Ringos is called a DecaRingo, or one Lennon.)

Note that the lead singer is only slightly less replaceable than all of the members combined. Note also that this is an approximation and does not apply to INXS.

This ranking, incidentally, applies only to bands that play instruments. The rules for boy bands are different: that ranking typically goes Androgynous Hottie, Masculine Hottie, Member With Most Mixed Ethnicity, One You Just Know Will Get Fat, The One Who Writes The Songs.

But back to rock bands: the lead singer is the thing that makes you connect with a band. Instruments are standardised: E major played on a Les Paul through a Marshall stack sounds much the same whether it’s Pete Townshend or your cousin Rebecca. Also, Beccy will take better care of the equipment involved.

However, voices are unique. That’s why bands who replace their singers almost always fail.

Sure, you get the odd AC/DC or Van Halen who keep on having hits, but be honest with yourself: has anyone ever sincerely expressed the sentiment “you know, they really hit their stride with Brian Johnson: Bon Scott was totally holding Acca Dacca back(a)”?

Let me answer that rhetorical-sounding question for you: No. No, they have not.

So let’s go through this one by one.

1. Singer
This is the only person in the band that 90% of fans can identify by name. They stand at the front in photos and have first pick of anyone who wishes to have sex with the band. They might write the songs, but it doesn’t matter, since that voice is the reason why anyone gives a shit. May reform the band after a split and be the only original member, because who honestly cares?
Examples: John Lennon, Paul McCartney, Freddie Mercury, Bono, Chris Martin, Lou Reed, Mick Jagger, Courtney Love, Damon Albarn, Bryan Ferry, Morrissey, Karen O, Tim Rogers, Billy Corgan, Simon Le Bon, Bernard Fanning, Siouxsie, Michael Stipe, Thom Yorke, Grace Slick, Doc Neeson, Alex Turner, Eddie Vedder, Michael Hutchence…

2. Lead Guitarist
Second pick of the sex, gets near the front in photos, and is the member most likely to be referred to as “the architect of the band”. Statistically, this is the member most likely to either write the songs or co-write with the singer. Is legally obliged to have a largely-ignored solo career and/or do soundtracks.
Examples: Johnny Marr, Jonny Greenwood, Keith Richards, The Edge, Noel Gallagher, Eddie Van Halen, George Harrison, Pete Townshend, Pete Buck, Jimmy Page, Angus Young, Slash, Graham Coxon… all the people you know that are in bands but aren’t singers.

3. Rhythm Guitarist
If there are two guitarists, this is the one that stands slightly toward the back and mainly plays chords. If this member is not the main songwriter, they will be fired during the making of the second album and replaced on tour by a hired guitar/keys person. If you’re the second guitarist, you’d better have formed the band, written the biggest hit, or have some amazing dirt on the rest of the band and the steely fearlessness to use it when the time comes.
Examples: Malcolm Young. That’s literally it.

4. Drummer
The member most likely to be called “the heart of the band”. Also the member most likely to keep using drugs when everyone else has cleaned up, have the largest amount of visible tatts, and keep wearing a baseball cap well into middle age. Gets third pick of the sex; second if the band are in their heroin phase. Also is almost always the first member to die.
Examples: Chad Smith, Tommy Lee, Ringo Starr, Keith Moon, John Bonham

5. Bassist
Most likely the housemate of the lead singer, or the friend who bought a van. Still there because they came up with the group’s name. The member most likely to be referred to as “who?” All bassists wake from dreams in which they are Flea, and are momentarily filled with hope and joy. Then they remember they’re actually in Weezer or Coldplay or Jane’s Addiction and that if they died on stage their tech would slot in after four bars and not a soul in the room would notice. In band photos, theirs is the face least in focus.
Note: if the bassist is female in an otherwise male band, she is immediately promoted to #2.
Examples: Kim Deal, Kim Gordon, Stephanie Ashworth, Tina Weymouth, some dudes.

6. Any other player whatsoever
The Fauves gave the world’s most eloquent statement on the importance of other players in their definitive rock’n’roll thesis, 1995’s ‘Everybody’s Getting A 3 Piece Together’: “Everyone’s trimming the fat,” Andy Cox powerfully opined. “Keyboards, percussion? Fuck that.”
Examples: none.

7. The audience
Bands sometimes say their audience are a member of the group. Those bands are patronising you. You are not a member of the group, otherwise you’d have got in for free. On the plus side: you will still get more sex than the bassist.

It’ll probably be with the drummer, though.

Kris Kristofferson interview

First published in Time Out, February 2014

The country and cinema legend looks back at his legacy

Let’s not mince words: Kris Kristofferson is an honest-to-god legend. The man is one of the great American country songwriters – ‘Sunday Mornin’ Coming Down’, ‘Me and Bobby McGee’, ‘For the Good Times’ – and was one quarter of the outlaw country supergroup the Highwaymen, standing tall alongside Johnny Cash, Waylon Jennings and Willie Nelson.

He’s also an accomplished actor, probably best known for starring roles in A Star Is Born and Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore. He also has the peculiar honour of having starred in one of the most disastrous films of all time, the studio-killing 1980 Michael Cimino film Heaven’s Gate.

kris-kristoffersonIn 2013 he released his 21st album, Feeling Mortal: a typically wry album reflecting on his 77th year on the planet, and he’s coming to Australia for over twenty shows all over the country, including such non-traditional touring destinations as Rockhampton, Lismore and Renmark.

“I’m looking forward to the tour,” he chuckles in that immediately-familiar rasp. “I’ve been doing a film up here and I’m tired of it. I feel pretty lucky to make my living like this, but I really like the music part better than the movies.”

Most performers half Kristofferson’s age don’t do Autralian tour schedules this long, much less this extensive. “Well, I’m glad to be doing it!” he laughs. “I’ve always enjoyed playing in Australia: I’ve always felt a good connection with the audience for some reason.”

Feeling Mortal follows 2009’s equally strong Close to the Bone, and the recurring motifs of loss, mortality and experience make them seem almost of a piece.

“Well, ever since the first albums that I cut, I feel like it’s represented what I was going through at the time, and I think that’s why. I mean, I certainly feel mortal – if you don’t feel mortal when you’re 77, there’s something wrong.”

That being the case, what sort of person makes an entire album about feeling one’ s age, and then goes “…and so now for an extensive world tour where I perform night after night after night?”

“Yeah, but there are a lot worse ways to have to make a living, you know? It’s definitely the thing that comes the most natural to me.”

The sets naturally include his old classics, and Kristofferson feels absoutely fine about performing songs he wrote forty-odd years ago.

“I guess it’s kinda like your kids: once it’s yours, it’s yours,” he shrugs. “Songs like ‘…Bobby MaGee’ and ‘Help Me Make It Through the Night’ will always feel like my own.”

Sure, but every parent still has moments of feeling like “I love you, but I really don’t want to hang out with you right now”?

“No!” he laughs heartily. “But I tell you, my kids and I get along real good. I got eight of them and they are really easy to be around. When they’re together all I hear it laughter. It’s a blessing. And they’re all smarter than I am.”

That’s no small claim: Kristofferson was a Rhodes Scholar, before rising rapidly through the military as a pilot before music and acting caught his attention. The man has a brain on him.

“Yeah? Well, that’s kinda hard for me to believe too,” he laughs. “But I got no complaints.”

He’s pleased at the suggestion that Feeling Mortal is less a dark reflection on the proximity of the reaper and more of a wry celebration of a life well lived.

“I’m glad you feel that way, because that’s the way I feel. I really don’t think anything negative about gettin’ old. It happens to everybody,” he says, “and I’d rather get old than not.”

Which is a rare sort of attitude for someone in youth-obsessed industries like music and movies, but Kristofferson doesn’t sound like a man that gives much time to doubts.

“You know, I was never worried about whether I was like the other people or not. I’ve never felt any pressure to be as good as Johnny Cash, or Waylon or Willie – I used to just stand up there amazed to be on stage with them. And I feel that way about the films as well, and I have no idea why I didn’t have more doubt about whether I could do it. But it’s all worked out.”

Well, it appears that if it didn’t work out, there;d have been no hesitation in trying something else.

“Yeah, it’s true. Looking back, I was into football and boxing when I was at school, and that was what I could really lose myself in. And I don’t know how I could have been audacious enough to do either one: I wasn’t big and I wasn’t fast, but I still got to play and I think it was just – like the music – that my heart was in it. It’s like songwriting: I’m sure many people in the world thought I was crazy to go from being an army officer to being a studio janitor trying to be a songwriter, but I never questioned myself – and I’m glad I didn’t.”

Not even when making Heaven’s Gate?

“Well, I always thought it was a good film, but it didn’t last a week in the theatres. The critics gave it unfair reviews,” he shrugs. But look back at it now: great actors, great director. What an opportunity!”

Custard interview

First published in Time Out Sydney, February 2014 

The Brisvegas 90s legends make a long-overdue return

Dave McCormack, dear reader, is a very conversational person. He’s effusive, chatty and extremely charming, although even he has found doing press for the upcoming shows by Custard, the Brisbane-born band he fronted from 1990 to 1999, has been a bit odd.

“I’ve been doing interviews and it’s hard because I don’t really have much to promote or sell,” he explains. “Most bands, they’ve got a new record out and they’re doing this and that, they’re gonna tour America and they’re doing a video clip – I don’t have any of those fallback points.”

They never aged. FACT.

They never aged. FACT.

See, Custard’s reunions – like much of Custard’s career, really – have been quite casual affairs. “Absolutely! We just go with the vibe and see what happens, and if it seems like a good thing to do, we do it. You could write this whole article without talking to me, really – you know what’s going on.”

Custard did a few shows around the place last year, including Meredith Music Festival last year and their first Sydney shows in 12 years – which seems a long time given that all the members live, for the most part, in Sydney.

“It’s good to have the old gang back together,” he grins. “It’s very lovely. We hadn’t done a gig together for ten years, until 2009 [when they played in Brisbane for Queensland’s sesquicentenary], for a lot of reasons, and the whole subject of getting back together seemed impossible and then we did bite the bullet and got in a room together, and from the very first chord in rehearsal it just seemed to come together. I think it was a lot of muscle memory: after doing so many gigs for so many years we did sort of gel like an organic beast.”

Did the existence of those aforementioned reasons mean that the first rehearsal involved clearing the air at all?

“Not really, no. I think there probably is a lot of undiscussed and unresolved tension, but we see each other so briefly and it’s mainly getting on stage for gigs, that we’re all pretty happy with the way things are going,” he shrugs. “I mean, everyone’s really nice to each other and we’re all enjoy each other’s company. We spent a lot of time together for ten years, so there is a brotherly thing there. There are things that you just don’t have to discuss.”

He’s quick to point out that the band haven’t exactly laboured over the set for these shows either. “It’s just a matter of booking a rehearsal room for an hour, running through the set for 45 minutes, having 15 minutes of free time, and then off you go.”

Well, a well-drilled Custard would be a strange thing…

“It would defeat the purpose!” he declares. “I’ve always been a fan of the happy accidents. And I like to think that the people who come along do so for the accidents as much as the parts we play right. It’s the greatest hits played in the same versions as the recordings, played to the best of our abilities. Any changes are due to ineptness rather than anything else.”

He’s also pleased that 2011’s seen the return of a number of their contemporaries.

“I’m so glad that the Hummingbirds are back! They’re vastly underrated band. I loved the Hummingbirds – when did ‘Alimony’ come out, ’88? ’87? They were blazing a trail for guitar pop. Simon Holmes, great songwriter. ‘Two Weeks with a Good Man in Niagara Falls’ – what a great song,” he gushes. “He’s a guitar hero.”

Well, as YouTube attests, McCormack was quite the player in his day too – barking out ‘Apartment’ while playing those fiddly riffs…

“I’ve matured into doing one thing at a time now: I can’t do fiddly guitar and sing at the same time. But where we came from was this bumbling, not-really-that-good-at-our-instruments thing. None of us are that good, but when we get together with the right songs, we can play the tasty little bits – which is nice, I think. If any of us were hired as session musicians, I think we’d fail spectacularly.”

Except Glenn Thompson, of course – the band’s multi-instrumentalist drummer, recruited for the reunited Go Betweens, no less. Not only could he be hired as a sessioneer, he actually has.

“True, Glenn has. He’s the exception to the rule. He’s a very talented musician, and a great songwriter. His album [Beachfield’s Brighton Bothways] is unbelievable. Unbelievable.”

Neko Case interview

Neko Case, it’s fair to say, has had a couple of godawful years. The loss of family members, including both her parents, helped kickstart a battle with crippling depression which laid her out for a good long while. Yet the album that it inspired – The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight, The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You – is both gloriously dynamic and also often laugh-out-loud funny (current favourite line: “If I puked up some sonnets, would you call me a miracle?” from ‘Night Still Comes’).

“Well, if you’re gonna express that kind of bummed-outness, it doesn’t really work coming from my mouth unless I admit to the embarrassing parts,” a gleeful Case declares. “Depression isn’t like some Russian novel. It’s not this grand, sleek beast ruining your life. It’s a poop-in-you-pants-while-sitting-in-jail sort of a thing.”

That’s probably the best description of depression I’ve ever heard. “Well, you’ve got to admit to the funny parts. And there are some parts that are pretty funny. Like they’re not, but theyare,” she laughs.

“They’re human parts – those are the things that are good to laugh at. Like, ‘that’s right! I’m an animal! I’m not a Victorian Englishperson – and neither were they!’” she declares, laughing even as she tangles herself in her metaphor. “It’s never worked!”

The occasionally grim subject matter doesn’t make for a depressing listen, mind. In fact, the jubilant ‘City Swans’ sounds tailor-made for Neko’s other major gig, as member of genius Canadian power-pop collective the New Pornographers.

“Well, that is definitely a true observation. Just before I made this record the New Pornographers toured for our last record, and those big choruses just feel so good to sing all together, and I’m like ‘god, I can do that on my recording too – why not? Hell yeah!’ And definitely going to A major in one spot: it’s like ‘yeah, that’s a total pop song thing that would happen’.”

In fact, if there’s a theme running through the album it’s that being human is a messy business, and that the messiness is actually a feature rather than a bug.

“I mean, if you look at something excellent and gorgeous like a tiger, they go off and poop and pee too. They get ticks! They get lice! Sometimes they’ve gotta eat rotten meat out of a sluice! And that doesn’t mean you can’t still be an awesome tiger.”

Last time around Case’s band was pretty goddamn killer. This time around, it’s even more so.

“Eric Bachman from Crooked Fingers and Archers of Loaf is with us now, singing in hisdisgustingly beautiful voice and playing his disgustingly beautiful guitar,” she mock-spits. “You’re having a fanboy moment? It happens a lot.

“I tell him ‘Eric, look: I got in a band to be cool, and boys never talk to me but two thirds of the audience are indie rock dudes salivating over you. And he’s like ‘yep! I got that special sumthin’ that guys like.’” She sighs. “He’s adorable. And amazing. And talented.”

Thankfully it’s not all new: her vocal and onstage-banter foil Kelly Hogan will be by her side.

“It isn’t right to do it without Kelly. Sometimes I have to do it without Kelly, because – and this is the only reason I can live with it – because Kelly Hogan makes her own music also, which has inspired me for so many years, and it would be so lame to deny the rest of the world of Kelly Hogan doing Kelly Hogan music live or making a Kelly Hogan record, because it doesn’t happen often.”

This is true. It took her eleven years to release I Like To Keep Myself In Pain.

“Exactly! But: that’s up to her, she has to do at her own pace. And you know, I think she just likes to tease us. She’s power hungry, and she knows she has this over us. It’s pretty fucking mean really, if you think about it. But that’s her game.”

You should slap her next you see her.

There’s a long pause.

“I might,” she finally responds. “You know, I might just do that.”