You Am I interview

First published in Time Out Sydney, April 2013

You Am IIt seems astonishing, but this year Sydney’s You Am I are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the release of their debut album, Sound as Ever. Hence three quarters of the band – frontman Tim Rogers, drummer Russell Hopkinson and guitarist Davey Lane (absent is bassist Andy Kent) – are sitting in a café discussing their exciting new project.

It’s not the deluxe reissues of their first three discs. It’s not their nearly sold-out tour performing albums two and three (the beloved Hi Fi Way and Hourly, Daily). It’s the release of their first ever beer, naturally called Brew Am I, which is the obvious next step for a band who legendarily know their way around a tipple.

“Oh yeah,” Hopkinson laughs. “We’re beer barons now, man.”

“It’s to make up for our losses on the terrible ticket sales so far,” deadpans Rogers.

“Yeah, it’s awful,” Lane chuckles.

“Actually, the response [to the tour] has really taken us by surprise,” Rogers says, with surprising sincerity. “It’s just the right time to do it. It wasn’t someone asking us to do it – it came from the four of us.”

Each of the albums is being re-released with a bonus disc of rarities from each period, which has involved a lot of going through the archives for material from the band’s formation in 1989 through to 1996.

“Not that I was there,” Lane, who joined in 1999, points out.

“You were spiritually there, though,” Hopkinson retorts.

Well, the story goes that Lane was busily writing up You Am I guitar chords for the internet and obsessing over the band, wasn’t he?

Lane looks affronted. “No!”

Well, that’s what Wikipedia reckons.

Hopkinson laughs. “That’s because he wrote it.”

“I was just doing the guitar tabs for something to do in the school holidays because I had no friends,” Lane counters. “I was just uploading them for my friend who ran the website…”

“Hey, you just said you had no friends!” Rogers interjects.

There’s some work to be done ahead of the tour. Despite the first three albums’ position as bona-die Australian classics, Rogers may be the only person unfamiliar with them. “I was listening to those records on the drive up to Sydney and I was alarmed at how much I had forgotten. I’d forgotten how great my guitar skills were back then.”

“There are all these parts and harmonies that we do differently these days,” Hopkinson nods.

It’s luckily all the tabs have gotten online somehow, then.

“Exactly!” Lane says, laughing.

The band are now completely independent: no record company, no external management, nothing beyond the members themselves. “We felt that with Andy’s experience with management, Russ’s experience releasing records, and my and Davey’s experience with Class As, we could handle everything ourselves,” Rogers smirks. “Everything that we do now, it’s just asking: will this be fun for us? There’s no talk about ‘trajectory’ or ‘momentum’…”

“It’s not like we’re going ‘OK, let’s crack this market or that market’,” Hopkinson nods.

“We’re cracking the beer market instead!” Rogers says. “It’s the natural progression from our music.”

Talk turns to the tour, and what they plan to get up to. “I think it’s Andy’s turn for a-prankin’,” says Rogers, to wide approval. Although it sounds like the laconic bassist is a hard man to unsettle.

“We were on tour in Wolverhampton [England] in this quaint little hotel, all in beds next to each other, and the fire alarm goes off,” Rogers recalls. “So Russ and I jump up and go, ‘Struth! Andy, get up!’ And he rolls over, puts his hand on the floor, goes ‘it’s not hot’, and goes back to sleep.”

Could the fire have not been in the ceiling, though?

They all stare for a second, before Hopkinson breaks the moment. “We’re not physicists, right?”

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David Lee Roth interview

First published in Time Out Sydney 28 Mar 2013.

David Lee Roth – and I say this in the most affectionate way – is mad.

That probably comes as little surprise to anyone familiar with the man known as Diamond Dave, but it’s worth making explicit from the outset. Barely has the call connected before there’s a bellowed “Call me David Lee, that’s my family name. If you have to yell my name across a crowded concourse yell ‘D-Ro!’ – that usually gets the job done!”

Well, since we’re finally getting you down here there will be a potential necessity to be yelling your name out across concourses.
Hopefully! I’m coming a week in advance. And of course I have an agenda but tell me, Andrew: what should I be looking forward to doing if I’m there a week before the show?

You strike me as a man who would enjoy climbing the Harbour Bridge…
Well beyond that, what about house music? What’s happening on the dance floor in Sydney? Start there, that’s always an interesting place just in terms of human beings at their most extreme, you know? They have uncertain algorithms, the dance floor always delivers, all the best art work is on the bottom of a skateboard somewhere. So: start with the floor.

You’ll want to kick around Oxford St and Kings Cross – oh, and GoodGod, in the middle of the city. It’s also got a great diner inside, which is a genius idea and I don’t know why everybody doesn’t do it.
Of course building a kitchen makes all the symmetric sense in the world because everybody’s burning calories at 120 beats a minute. You could even register it on a graph at the DJ booth. “How fast are they burning calories, sir?” “126 a minute.” “Are you sure?” “Oh, I’m very sure.” [laughs]  You can meter that out.

So, you make an effort to get out and about when you’re in town then, it’s not just turn up, sit in the hotel, do the gig and turn back?
Well a good writer writes, a good musician listens to a lot more than he actually composes, and if you’re going to do lyrics – well, there’s a Freudian slip. That’s not even a slip, that’s a Freudian move: I said going to do lyrics. If you really want it to ring true, you’ll live it first. Go really get your heart broken! Go really find something that will happen to you, something that you celebrate! Go, you know, find the tragedy of something, the thrill of something. And I’m a fan of testing the deep end with both big toes. I think that’s the ambulance description of what I just did. I can’t really write that, but everybody on the floor knows what you mean! [laughs madly]

[laughs uproariously]

[laughs uproariously]

You’ve not slowed down at all, then?
No I enjoy people, even the people I hate. Do you speak to your television set, Andrew? I do, I speak to my television. “Are you kind and supportive? I’m not either.” [laughs] And I’m a book reader, you know: printed word, reins supreme for me still, whether it’s in courier font on the Internet, or whether it’s emblazoned on the Daily Tribune. It’s still the printed word for me, I even speak to books! [laughs more] I do enjoy people watching. and I don’t mean just from a distance. I mean let’s break some bread, or whatever it is that you guys are eating. “Are you eating this or is this the tablecloth?”. Have the translator ask him if I just ate the tablecloth, I think I just did. I mean I’ve been places like that. You know, “I think I just drank the finger bowl. Well, they make a good finger!” [laughs uproariously]. I’ve been places like that, and you just have to keep your sense of humour and use your smile like a ray gun. I’ve been living in Tokyo for the last year, in fact, and even going shopping for dental floss is an adventure in the Tokyo back streets.

So you’re actually getting some Australia-time in ahead of the tour?
Oh yeah. See, travelling through when you’re actually performing, I prefer to do it racehorse style. I really don’t pay attention to my surroundings at all. It’s eat, sleep, race, win. And uh, that’s generally the pace that you pay for. Because you know, nobody really cares about the BBQ day before yesterday Dave. It’s more “uh hey, I just paid $100 American to watch you do your thing, now do it.” And although a lot of musicians travel extensively, they see the world through the window, and when they try to describe it, it usually ends up being a one adjective trip:  everything was great. “How do you like Australia?” “Ahh it’s great.” “How do you like Australian people?” “Ahh they’re just great.” “Have you done anything since you were here?” “Oh we had some Australian food, it was great.” “How are you guys getting along?” “Great.” [laughs]

Well there’s a question for you: how are you guys [in Van Halen] getting along?
I see a split of great/great. [laughs] I see a split screen, right, and you’re falling asleep, feeding the cat. Studying a recipe book. [laughs] Totally dressed, standing up, “Ohh it’s just great mate, just great.” You’ve taken shorthand!

Dave, what the hell are you talking about?
You know, the travels before and after the tour are what add up to what you’re doing. You are really called into service – and it’s the service industry man, it’s blue collar man, I’m sweating by the second song. It’s construction work from that second song on. And Alex [Van Halen, drummer] and I we you know laugh routinely, we laugh like pirates, and the first half of the show, we give you that for free. That’s like the first seven minutes of any Broadway show, or pornography: no matter what, it’s just great!

Oh, that’s beautiful.
You’re paying for the second half. [laughs] It’s like getting married: the first half is always great. You’re paying for the second half, that’s the heavy lifting. [laughs]

So you and Alex laugh, but how are things in the band beside that? And you can’t use “great” as a response, by the way.
Your honour, can we please define great? [laughs] OK, here we go, your honour…because if we can define the word [laughs]… Van Halen is constantly in some sort of fraternal conflict. It’s like a great rugby team. I played that sport for a short period of time as a kid. And it was a great combination of team, spirit and individuals competing with each other, just as I imagine the best rock bands are. When everyone gets along just fine, that’s a vacation, that’s decoration. It’s when there’s sparks, and questions and innuendo and doubt… now that sounds like a career. [laughs] It sounds like a real football movie. How do you wanna live? Do you want your life to be like a real epic football movie or do you want it to be a fake one? Because fake is: we got together, we all got along, everything was wonderful. We won, we won again then we won, then we all got married and had kids who turned out to be Presidents and Senators…

OK, and…
[interrupts] Boring, boring! No: you want your football movie to be more like “four guys are recruited from four different places who’ve never played football in their life by an alcoholic coach whose on his last legs and can only work in a small rural school…” oh, this is great so far, you writing this down?

Absolutely, I’m going to pitch this film the second the interview’s done.
OK: and the main guy can’t throw with his left arm because nobody knows it but he needs glasses – oh this is good, this is good! – and the only doctor who can give him the glasses hates him because he slept with his daughter. Perfect! Just get it down, we’ll write the rest later. [laughs delightedly]

Man, I want to see this film.
Exactly, and we haven’t even gotten to the first game yet! And in the end, in the end of the end, this is the type of movie you want your life to be. You want your kids to remember it as a celebration. It might be painful to live through at times, but the most valuable medals are the most deadly, the heaviest. And uh, with that in mind, the conflicts in Van Halen are both myriad and legendary.

This is true.
Look, Van Halen doesn’t really get along. Alex and I do, like I said, we laugh like pirates every other morning. When I wake up in Tokyo, I wake up at 3AM, I have permanent jetlag and uh we start the day together, I call him in Los Angeles and the day is just kickin’ in for him. And we go through the whole bit at least every other day. So there is a mutual celebration, but like on all big teams, there is a, uh, a chemical reaction, certainly between Edward [guitarist Eddie Van Halen] and myself. We love our team, and we still compete with each other individually, as well as, as a team. I think you need that. And unfortunately a lot of folks grow out of it, or they have a therapist beat it out of them for $200 an hour. It’s kind of like somebody comes back after you haven’t seen them for a while, have you gone to any high school reunions? You know, you come back and somebody goes, wow, “yeah man I’m a doctor now”. Another one goes, “yeah, I’m a girl now.” What? [laughs] Really? Well we always knew, you were always too good at softball.

So is that what happened with Michael [Anthony, original bassist sacked under mysterious circumstances and replaced with Eddie’s 20 year old son Wolfgang]?
[laughs, dodges question] See, sometimes you get your colleagues or friends to come back and say “yeah man, I just finished seven years of therapy,” and it turns out you like the rage better. [laughs] “I like the damaged goods better – you were more popular, more fun, when you were ruined!” And you know, you can run into that. So that has not happened with Van Halen: you hear it in the music, you see it in the stage show.

So there’s not gonna be a Metallica-in-Some Kind of Monster-style Van Halen therapy session any time soon?
No, but at least we have the channel, that music and the stage show, which is wildly therapeutic. And all of our carefully, self-generated bad publicity is an art form, and most of our bad publicity is self-generated, that’s why it’s always accompanied with a great photo, if you were wondering. [laughs]. I’m kinda like the Wizard of Oz, but with a little reefer, you see? [howls with mad laughter]

Word on the P Street: Getting back to the true meaning(s) of Easter

First published in Time Out Sydney on 27 Mar 2013.

Eggs, yesterday.

Eggs, yesterday.

Dear readers, our most sacred traditions are under threat by the grubby forces of commerce. These days it seems like barely have the Xmas decorations been taken down when our supermarkets are filled with garish Easter paraphernalia. Anthropomorphic rabbits (or, among our more progressive and/or pro-marsupial retailers, bilbies) and garishly-coloured eggs are on display – as though Easter is nothing more than a heavily commercialised festival of chocolate.

Well, I say we need to take Easter back and get back to the actual reason for the season: marking the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox with rituals enacting the symbolic murder of a god.

Today’s young people are so concerned with their Twitters and their video games that they don’t even properly celebrate the descent of Attis, consort of the Phrygian fertility goddess Cybele, into the underworld. Today’s defiant young women are happy to listen to their hip-hops and sext to each other’s smartphones, but precious few are out there performing the rituals celebrating the Anglo-Saxon lunar goddess Ēostre by lighting bonfires, clothing themselves in white and marking the incarnation of the goddess by revealing themselves in clefts of rock. And I for one think this is a crying shame.

It’s indicative of a society in decline when noble traditions are cast aside in favour of crude gimcracks and gaudy trifles. Everyone’s prepared to have a barbecue and scramble about looking for chocolate eggs, but are they giving three tradition-proscribed joyful leaps at the moment of sunrise or performing funerary rites for Ishtar, Astarte and/or Isis? Are they incorporating any or all of the many Indo-European traditions marking the worship of the pan-cultural dawn goddess Hausōs and the change of season marked by her heroic rescue from an enslaving dragon, most notably in the example of the Hindu goddess Uṣas in the Rigveda? Like fuck they are.

But it’s not just the young people that are the problem here: even our so-called community leaders are shamefully neglectful of the rich traditions upon which the festival is based. When was the last time you saw a politician – supposedly a representative of the people – passionately gathering flowers of the season to mark Ostara’s mating with the Sun God to produce the Yule child that will mark the winter solstice? This sort of intolerant ignorance is unacceptable in a so-called civilised society, and I say it stops here.

It’s almost as though our increasingly secular lifestyle means that these sorts of holidays are becoming less about observing arcane rituals based around mystical stories about magical figures, and becoming mere excuses to spend precious time with the people we love most. And I for one think this is a huge insult to the collected wisdom and piety of the nameless ancient clerics and seers who originally made these stories up for principally political reasons – and that’s why I, for one, will be assiduously joy-leaping, flower-gathering, cleft-wedging and dragon-thwarting this weekend.

Oh, and I’ll also be buying a couple of cases of beer ahead of Friday. Seriously, closing bottleshops on a long weekend? That makes the least sense of all.

Should relationships last ’til death do us part?

First published in Daily Life, January 14, 2013

“I wasn’t looking to get into a relationship at all,” she said, as we gently agreed that we were no longer seeing one another, “but when someone like you comes along, you can’t not at least try.”

It was the single sweetest thing anyone has ever said to me, and it was the perfect end to a short but lovely relationship.

Yeah, enjoy it while you can, stock photo models.

Yeah, enjoy it while you can, stock photo models.

Tania* and I had been seeing each other for a couple of months and it had been superb – not least because she is an incredible cook and had a spectacular habit of making us dinner before we went out. We saw bands; we watched DVDs; we propped up bars, stayed at each other’s places, and even had a little weekend away with her best friends. And it was around then that we realised that it wasn’t to be a love for the ages.

It was predictable, really: both of us were not far out of long-term relationships, neither had envisaged getting into anything serious, and it became clear that, much as we liked each other, this was not It.

And so we transitioned into being friends instead (in fact, I’m writing this before attending a picnic she’s throwing). She’s still one of my favourite people and I’m proud to have introduced her to the awesomeness that is Party Down – and delighted to have learnt how to pan fry peaches in brandy.

It’s easy enough to look at a short-lived relationship and feel relatively sanguine about it; but it’s harder when it’s a long term thing that you honestly thought would end in holiday dinners surrounded by grandkids and a tearful eulogy at your partner’s funeral. Sure, we all know that most relationships end – cue the appearance of the oft-cited a-third-of-Australian-marriages-end-in-divorce statistic – but I believe that that US sex and relationship advice columnist Dan Savage put it best in a recent podcast: “Every relationship ends until you find one that doesn’t,” he said to a fresh dumpee, “and you only know which one that is once you’re dead.”

Yet it’s nearly impossible to see a relationship as anything but a failure once it ends. Why is it so difficult to accept these things might have a use-by date and yet that our lives are still the richer for having experienced them – even taking into account the pain and loss that involves?

After all, a marriage that ends in divorce is invariably described as a “failed marriage” – and I have one of those myself. My divorce was the hardest thing I ever went through, and by the standards of most splits I’ve seen happen it was relatively amicable. However, I had to let go of a 16 year relationship, pretty much my entire adult life, and recalibrate my expectations for everything from having a family to my financial security to my own self-image as A Husband.

And it hurt. It hurt impossibly. And I wasn’t the same man after it as I was going in.

These days, however, I keep in regular (if not especially frequent) email contact with my ex-wife, who now lives in Montreal with our cat, and we’re continually recommending books and records and films to one another. I’ll explain why she needs to hear Melodie Nelson, say, and she’ll send a long nerdy rant about things Prometheus got horribly, horribly wrong knowing that I’ll violently agree with every point. It’s easier for things to be convivial since we’re separated by an entire planet, sure – but regardless of our current status, her influence on my life has been immeasurable. For all of the agony of losing her, I wouldn’t be who I am if it wasn’t for our time together – and even at this remove, I’m glad she’s still part of my life.

Conversely, I’m not on speaking terms with my last serious girlfriend and may well never be again. However, the Moon globe marked with the Apollo landing sites that she bought me for my birthday still has pride of place in my kitchen, and those memories remain precious. We may never want to be in the same room again if either of us can help it, but I don’t regret our time together. And I never want to be the sort of person who would.

Because ultimately, every union ends one way or another – until, as Savage says, we’re in one that doesn’t. We get our hearts knocked about, and all of us end up marked by the relationships we’ve had. We love and we lose; and when we lose we cry and we drink and we fuck and we bitch and we promise that we’re absolutely never going to do this again, and then we notice that the bruises have adequately faded, brace ourselves, take a deep breath, and plunge back into the fray.

By the time most of us are in our thirties we’re covered in smudges of old loves and while they fade with time, they never vanish entirely. And while that process can be exquisitely painful – and it is, dear god it really is – who wants to see out their days unspoilt and pristine? Like a good pair of boots, you want your life to be properly lived-in before giving it up.

I would hate to feel that any of the people I’ve loved represented time wasted, because – for better and worse – they’ve been strongly responsible for most of the best parts of the person I’ve become.

Every love leaves its mark and, for all of the pain it’s involved along the way, I hope to be well-mottled by the time I get to the grave. Some loves aren’t meant to last forever, and you know what? That’s actually OK. Because when someone like that comes along, you can’t not at least try.

*Names have been changed.

Loving someone with depression

Originally published in Daily Life, December 21 2012

Depression, to use an official medical term, is arse.

While other recognised health conditions have the good grace to do flare up, do their illness-related business and then go away, depression lingers around sapping energy and ruining everything it touches. It’s pervasive and it’s nasty, a relentless time thief that drains the colour out of everything good. Beyondblue estimate 20 percent of Australians suffer from depression at some point in their lives, which means that almost everyone I don’t know personally must be getting along fine.

Almost everyone I know has had treatment for depression at one time or another, and I’m no exception. I’m a pretty relentlessly busy fellow partially because I like doing stuff, but principally because I know that the abyss isn’t ever that far away and there have been times where the pressure of external responsibilities is the only thing forcing me to get out of bed.

A person in bed, yesterday.

A person in bed, yesterday.

During those times I am, typically, not a barrel of laughs. Depression is hard. However: it’s also hard on the people who care about me most. And it took me an inexcusably long time to realise this.

Loving someone with depression is a lot of work. They’re suffering and obviously you want to help them out of the hole. Depression is generally linked with low self-esteem and hence some severely depressed people have limited motivation to help themselves, since they don’t think they’re worth it.

And, obviously, we want to help the people we care about.

And that’s part of the problem: the act of giving people that attention and love can just as easily motivate someone to wallow exactly because it gets them so much wonderful attention and love.

Worse still: person with low self-esteem is given love and support by partner; person feels unworthy of said love because of aforementioned low self-esteem; person then throws said love and support back in partner’s face, thereby confirming unworthiness, because what sort of person would be so unkind? An unworthy one is what. And boom: the circular argument is complete.

And make no mistake, there’s a sneaking contempt in there of the form “I clearly suck, so if you love me you’re some sort of idiot and therefore not worthy of my respect.” This is one way that people use their depression against their partner – and it’s an insidious trick, because the victim feels guilty for accusing the abuser of their abuse.

Thus depression creates victims that are not themselves depressed, and it’s as much a challenge for the person suffering to moderate their own behaviour – to seek help, to actively fight their condition – as it is for those trying to support to know when they need to get out for their own sanity and happiness.

Now, let me be clear: this isn’t about blaming people with depression. Depression is a nightmare: the pit, the darkness, the black dog. What it’s definitely not, however, is some sort of mystical Get Out Of Jail Free card for cruel behaviour.

“Sorry, I’m really depressed at the moment,” might be adequate for not attending an acquaintance’s picnic; it’s definitely doesn’t cut it for reducing your partner to tears as you meticulously explain why every suggestion they’re making as to how you might feel better is completely stupid. It’s an explanation, perhaps, but it’s sure as hell not an excuse.

And while depression isn’t specifically a gender issue, depression within a straight relationship so easily can be: the cliché of the tortured artist and the accommodating muse provides a potent model for women who are already socialised to be carers to continually prop up their oh-so-suffering man at the expense of their own happiness.

To take an excitingly astronomical sidetrack here: stars that are between a certain size range end their life in an enormous, destructive explosion called a supernova. However, there’s a very specific type called a type 1A supernova that astronomers are very fond of as they are all identical in brightness (and therefore great for working out distances between galaxies).

In such a case there are two stars orbiting one another, neither large enough to become a supernova by itself. However, they’re so close that the larger one actually pulls mass from the surface of the smaller until it finally ticks over the size threshold for a supernova (about 1.38 times as big as the Sun, fact fans) and promptly explodes, destroying both stars and everything else nearby.

A relationship with a depressive can be just like this, with one partner dragging love and energy from the other until finally the whole relationship explodes messily, taking out everyone involved.

It took me a long, long time to realise that my moods were neither the fault nor the responsibility of the people who cared about me. And lovely people were unnecessarily hurt.

So: if you’re a sufferer, take a moment to ask yourself, “Am I using the love and support of the people I’m relying upon to help get me through this difficult time, or am taking some sort of weird pleasure in having all of my beliefs about how much I suck reaffirmed by my sucky behaviour?”

And if you love someone with depression, take a moment to ask if they genuinely appreciate your support, or just enjoy dragging you into the pit.

Dancing About Architecture: the slow death of music journalism

First published in Pan Magazine, September 2012

For context: at the time of writing this I had just been promoted from Music Editor of Time Out Sydney to a more generalist Associate Editor position, marking the final time that I was to predominantly be a music writer.  A number of music-focussed magazines had either closed or gone online-only at this point, a situation which has only gotten worse in the intervening years.  

Music writing chose me.

Or, more accurately, Alex Wheaton chose me to write about music, and he did so for three reasons: one, that it was 1992 and the relatively-young Adelaide street mag dB Magazine needed writers; two, that he’d spoken to me when I’d dropped my band’s demo in a few weeks earlier (which he reviewed, accurately and bluntly, if not unkindly) and had therefore established that I was both fairly literate and a bit of a smartarse; and three, because he did so during a Robyn Hitchcock gig in the basement of the now-defunct Big Star Records on Rundle Street, and Alex knew that I worked at Big Star’s equally-vanished Marion store a couple of days a week. “You didn’t pay to get in,” he said, economically summing up the greatest perk inherent in being a music writer, “so write me a review.”

I did. And so began my career as a music journalist, which has lasted for two decades and is now, in its own quiet manner, fading gently away.

Music: I still like it.

Music: I still like it.

It’s not because I don’t still adore music, I should add. I’ve yet to become one of those tiresome people who insist that music was amazing when they were 14, or 22, or 31, and that every year since has been a slow downhill slide into mediocrity. I still listen to dozens of new records a week and have yet to find more than a couple of days go by that I don’t hear something that I’ll thrust into a friend’s hands or inbox with evangelical zeal, breathlessly insisting “you’ve got to hear this, it’s amazing.”

The reason that my career is in its twilight is because, in 2012, being a great music writer is much like being a great masturbator: it’s a skill that’s a genuine pleasure to deploy, but the internet’s full of people doing it for free; and no-one’s going to be comfortable about paying you to do it in an office five days a week.

We are a dying breed, full-time music journalists, reflecting the death of the music industry – or, more accurately, reflecting the death of the bit of the music industry that bought enough advertising to make magazines find music a viable thing for which to dedicate page space and staff budgets.

The savvier of us have transitioned into “entertainment editors”, with music making up a steadily diminishing percentage of the television, film, video games and Tinseltown gossip that keeps a roof over their heads. Others of us got out of music writing altogether, moving into copywriting or publicity; and in the case of one particularly excellent writer, becoming label manager for an indie about which she used to write so entertainingly. In most cases we still freelance around the magazines and websites that still employ writers, or have bitten the bullet and started the sort of blogs about which we once snorted so derisively (ahem, http://www.andrewpstreet.com).

So, since this might be the last time I get to do so from a position of any sort of authority, I would like to speak out in defence of the near-extinct music journalist, even as we raise our unblinking eyes to the sky and watch the asteroid streak across the horizon.

Because you know what we did, at our best? We acted as gatekeepers, telling people who also cared about music about what was good and interesting and exciting, and either warning you off (or, more often, diligently ignoring) the music that was dreck. We were the culture’s spam filters, and like a spam filter we could occasionally block something that would, on closer inspection, turn out to be important – but far more often we would keep your exposure to music down to a manageable, high-quality amount whilst quietly disposing of the 98% of it that was the equivalent of YOU NEED V1AGRA? CANADIAN PHARMACY SECRETS!

Now, when I talk about filtering I’m not talking about eliminating music that’s not to my taste. A good reviewer can generally accept something on its own merits. For my part, there are certain genres for which I genuinely can’t distinguish quality from garbage (I can’t even imagine what would qualify as a good Hard House record, other than that it would be quiet, short and self-destruct mid-way through, killing everybody involved) but it’s not difficult to assess an objectively good pop record, say, from a terrible one.

But as a professional music journo, I’ve listened to 30-odd albums a week for over 20 years. That’s over 31,000 albums, give or take. In comparison, my home iTunes library has just over 4,000 albums on it, meaning that I’ve bothered keeping around 13% of the stuff I’ve heard. That’s just maths.

And I’m amazed it’s that much, to be honest. A good chunk of those years were when I lived in Adelaide, during which I was a tireless advocate of the local scene. I sought out local music assiduously. I was in bands and played on all-local bills often. I created compilations of Adelaide music for MISA, dB’s annual industry directory publication. I was active in the state government’s Contemporary Music Grants Program. I listened to literally hundreds of cassettes, demos, CDs, singles and albums. I bought my first Adelaide record at age 17 (Exploding White Mice’s ‘A Nest of Vipers’ EP, for the record) and was accumulating exclusive-to-A-town stuff right up until I moved to Sydney 18 years later.

Sitting in my apartment tonight, I can tell you exactly how many of those Adelaide artists are still represented in my collection: 15.

Do you know why music journos get so damn excited about local bands doing something great? You might have put it down to some sort of arrogant marking of territory, the journalistic version of pissing on a band and declaring you were there first. But it’s much, much more innocent than that: it’s that all local bands are awful, except for the ones that are amazing. And it is those few stars that shine like lighthouses in a vast ocean of shit and make one almost weep with pure, joyful relief.

That’s why every Sydney music writer lost their head over Royal Headache last year: not only are they objectively great (‘Pity’ is probably my favourite song of the last 12 months) but they’re contrasted against the hundreds of similar bands playing their shitty, shitty music to handfuls of indulgent friends in warehouses and front bars all over the country.

A great band – or a great record – is something to be cherished and celebrated and shared, to be pored over and gotten obsessed about. Music journalists, at our best, are trying to get you to share our excitement for that very reason – and also because we know that if you had to listen to half a dozen self-funded bedroom metal EPs or collections of suburban hip hop jams, you’d go “hey, music: fuck you” and go waterskiing instead.

And now, as I gird myself for my new life as an itinerant freelancer and part-time Contributing Editor, I look back on the above with a grim smile and think two things:

1. Our resources may be meagre and our spirits broken with press releases, but music deserves better than barely-literate bloggers and the expanding armies of youth oriented cross-platform marketing strategists rising to target them, and

2. “Canadian Pharmacy Secrets” would be a killer band name.

Tom Hiddleston on Thor: The Dark World

First published in Time Out Sydney on 11 Oct 2013. 
Maybe it’s what he wants me to think, but at first blush Tom Hiddleston seems nothing like Loki.
For one thing, he’s just too damn nice: without his lank, black wig, lurid green cloak and golden helmet he’s just an unusually good-looking fellow, in a tidy casual suit and sporting stubble and short, sandy brown hair, welcoming me into a hotel suite overlooking Sydney harbour (“And honestly, what a view – and you get to live with it?”).
loki-face-the-dark-world-2013For another, Loki would definitely not have missed out on the opportunity to deck star Chris Hemsworth at some point during the filming of Thor: The Dark World, the forthcoming entry in Marvel’s sprawling superhero franchise and sequel to 2011’s Thor.
“The thing is, it wouldn’t be fair anyway because every time he’s hit me, I’ve asked him to. Because I’m insane.”
It’d be payback, though – after all, Tom legendarily got a pasting from Chris during the filming of The Avengers.
“What it was that Chris and I were filming the Thor-Loki fight on Stark Tower and Joss [Whedon, Avengers writer-director] came up after a few takes and said ‘It just doesn’t look like you’re hitting him that hard,’ and Chris said ‘Well, I’m not.’ And I was wearing that big helmet, so I said ‘look, I’m protected, just go for it.’”
And it worked? “Well, it begins with that moment when he piledrives into my chest,” he smiles. “It only took one take after that. Which was good – I don’t think I could have taken more.”
He pauses. “It was so funny, though: he did it and I went down – like, straight down – and Joss called cut and immediately turned to Mitch Dubin, the camera operator, and said ‘Mitch, mate, you saw him, you heard him tell me to do that’ and he was like ‘Oh yeah, I saw, Tom brought it on himself…’” He chuckles to himself. “Good times.”
The filming of The Dark World wasn’t any easier, it seems. “There was one point where Loi takes a hit and I had to fall back on the surface of a volcano – we’ve all been there – and there was no mat and no padding, and I just ran up to the mark and did a sort of Fosbury Flop, like a high jumper, onto the hard, rocky surface of an Icelandic volcano.”
It’s a glamorous business, this acting lark. “Oh, it is! It’s fun, though. I do enjoy it.”
Of course, most of the filming didn’t involve falling onto volcanos – or, indeed, anything at all. In fact, most of the sets and props used in the film exist only inside the design team’s computers, which must provide a challenge for someone who grew up on the rather more physically tangible environment of the British stage.
“Indeed. But when I was in drama school we had this amazing class in mime. The teacher was a very, very playful person. He’d ban notepads from the room – he’s say ‘write down what you want to forget, this is not about taking notes, this is about your imagination’ – and he’d make us do stuff, just like you’d see on Paris pavements. You know, with clowns pretending that it’s raining and then they’re walking down the street and taking their umbrella and shivering. And green screen is really no different: it’s about building the fiction of what you’re responding to in your imagination.
“So there’s this whole scene where Chris, Natalie [Portman] and I are in a spaceship and Thor, Loki and Jane have to get somewhere very urgently, and the set we’re actually in is just this grey shape, absolutely stationary just outside the M25 in London. We are not actually sailing through space between the stars of Asgard…”
Hold on: so this wasn’t filmed on location?
“I hate to break it to you, man: we were not actually up there in the Nine Realms. Is the illusion coming crashing down?”
Give me a minute. This is a shock.
“It feels like The Wizard of Oz, doesn’t it? You’ve just seen behind the curtain.”
Next you’ll be saying The Wizard of Oz wasn’t filmed on location.
“Oh god.” His hand goes to his mouth, his eyes well with false sincerity. “I’m so, so sorry. Do you need a moment?”
Actually, maybe he is Loki after all.