Category Archives: Opinion

In Praise of Disorder


I’m that variety of mug known as ‘a collector’. I’ve mostly collected music, in the form of records, tapes , CDs and sheet music. There are thousands of these artefacts all around the apartment. The collecting started in my teens and has continued unabated for some 50 years. My golden period was the 90s when Wellington Record Shops owned by such people as Colin Morris and Dennis O’Brien had a large photograph of me in their shop window bearing the legend, ‘If you see this man, please usher him in.’
I like to own what I hear and like. That is, rather than just call it up on the PC. Why? Firstly because I have a fabulous, and hugely expensive so it needs justifying, 2-channel stereo. Secondly because I’m compelled to. Not by Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. Oh no. But by the gene pool. My parents were collectors. Of anything and everything. Making my way from one side of their living room to the other was like a game of Twister, such was the care needed with placement of limbs, lest I disturb a ten bob resin ashtray adorned by a macaw or a 100 squid oil of a Kentish sunset by someone from the Royal Academy.
There was, of course, music growing up in South London; Fats Waller, Jelly Roll Morton, Benny Goodman, Miles Davis, Stan Freberg, Mahler, Beethoven, Pete Seeger. And The Goons. It was all there. Everything.  Everything except Rock and Roll. That I had to get for myself and listen to by myself. The first record I bought with my own money was ‘Hit and Miss’ by The John Barry Seven – the theme song for TV’s Juke Box Jury. The latest arrivals, today, are by BRMC and Tangerine Dream. The beat goes on – as Sonny and Cher once sang, although I do love Patricia Barber’s take on that song. Where was I?
Oh yes. So. Where to put all this stuff. And how to order it? You can go onto websites that will tell you. And I do mean tell, They’re quite didactic about things like sub-genres, chronology, alpha and artist order. When I read the monomaniacal ravings of the nutters that proliferate these places, I can get a little puckish. I like to ask if John Fahey’s ‘Blind Joe Death’ should be considered for filing under American Traditional, Folk, Folk Blues, Guitar or just, you know, John Fahey. ‘Ah. But under J or F?’ I hear you ask. Such fun. And I haven’t even started on Portuguese Fado and whether or not it still counts as Fado if a man is singing.
Then there’s always Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity character, Rob Fleming, who has his music collection arranged to reflect his romantic liaisons. I could do that and have, like, about 120 sections – which would be great to explain to visitors. Then when the visitors leave, rearrange them back into the original 3 sections
So here’s how I do it. I have lots of wooden CD cases all around the place. Over the years, I’ve played at storing discs by genre/sub-genre/alpha or by amalgamating all the sub-genres into one homogenous lump. The trick is never to finish anything I’ve started. That way, there may be two or three partially organised cases where, say, a Muddy Waters disc may be located. The prospects of finding anything within 10 minutes or so are significantly diminished if I have utterly forgotten  exactly where the genres or amalgamations are in the apartment.  This lack of certainty is greatly compounded by not having bothered at all over the last three years to introduce any semblance of order to recent additions. New arrivals are left in piles on, or by, the stereo, on the bed in the spare room or in places that only The Dark One and his minions know about.
But this chaos is positive. Creating danger out of certainty meets a creative need. I am fatigued – bored by order and safety. The joy of finding something cherished but lost, far outweighs the smug, slight satisfaction of knowing where to find that same thing without let or hindrance. And the pleasure is doubled, maybe trebled, enhanced by relief, when the disc finally goes on the turntable or in the player. I am recreating the first time.
And so I spit on your filing system. It is prosaic. I thumb my nose at your indexing cards. They smack of grey ennui. I pour scorn on your efficiency. It has no soul. Leaving nothing to chance removes the element of surprise. Duplications are evidence of life.

“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star.”
Friedrich Nietzsche


Meet, discuss, rehearse
Meet, discuss, rehearse
No margins
Keep it inside the box

Meet, discuss, rehearse
The sets
The line-up
The keys
The tempi

Meet, rehearse, discuss
The venue
The audience
The expectation
The performance

Meet, rehearse, discuss
The road trip
The gear
The timing
The outfits

Meet and rehearse
Do it all
So it will be all right on the night

Do it all again
Know the music
Listen to each other
Stay inside the box
So you can step outside on the night

Imagine yourself there
The venue
The audience
The expectation
The performance

Arrive in hope
Set up
Sound check
Set lists

Be afraid
Remember your first time
Feel that way now
The audience
The expectation

The performance
The intro
House lights

This is how it’s meant to be
It wasn’t
Not for them
And so
Not for me

Historic Town Hall and Court House, Martinborough, Wairarapa, North Island, New Zealand

Billy Joel’s Greatest Hits

If you search for saccharine
It isn’t hard to find
I have enough you’ll need a sieve
But if you look for ruefulness
You might as well be blind
I’ve always found it really hard to give

Irony is such an obtuse word
It’s easier to just be blue
Irony is never never heard
Mostly ‘cos I haven’t got a clue

I can try to gull someone
To feel I harmonise
If I pretend to suffer as I grieve
But I haven’t got an honest face
And cannot hide the lies
And in the end it’s just best that I leave

Irony is such an obtuse word
It’s easier to just be blue
Irony is never never heard
Mostly ‘cos I haven’t got a clue

I tried to find a lyric
Tried hard not to offend
All I got was platitudes until the bitter end
Nobody can comfort me
With royalties again
I know I know

There’s nothing deep inside of me
But I’ve never been concerned
There’ll still be nothin’ when I’m gone
I tried to fake sincerity
It wasn’t hard to learn
And so I put it in this song

Irony is such an obtuse word
It’s easier to just be blue
Irony is never never heard
Mostly ‘cos I haven’t got a clue








Class Act


I’ve been watching a few movies at home just recently. A bit of a mixed bag but amongst them, ‘Carlito’s Way’.  (Brian De Palma 1993) I like to think that most people would agree that this is a very fine piece of film making. Al Pacino and Sean Penn play the leads, Carlito Brigante and Dave Kleinfeld. The action takes place in New York’s Spanish Harlem during 1975. Brigante has been released from prison after 5 years of a 30 year term because Kleinfeld, his lawyer, has discovered some technical deficiencies in the original case against him. As we are shown the film’s conclusion right at the beginning of the narrative, we are left in no doubt how it will all end for Carlito.

There’s much skill required from the director and scriptwriter to tell a story this way and still keep the audience wholly involved throughout the film – which is nearly 2 and a half hours by the way. And the direction and script are brilliant. But there’s more to it than that.
What Pacino and Penn bring to the screen is a sense of their characters’ history – their ontological existence if you like. Brigante and Kleinfeld existed before you sat down to watch the movie. What is happening to them now has its origins in the past and the way they have led their lives –  the decisions they have made. These actors have to find a way to convey the full extent of that past and how it impacts on the present in order for us, the audience, to agree to the compact with the film’s makers and suspend disbelief while the story unfolds. Pacino and Penn achieve this brilliantly. Their characters are transparent to us. The actors place nothing between themselves and the audience. Nothing is told but all is revealed. There is art but no artifice.
So we are in safe hands here. We can allow our critical faculties to take a break and use them later to engage with what we’ve seen and heard.

When I see acting of this quality, though, it brings into sharp relief, for me at least, the different types – or styles – of contributions that are made up there on the screen. Not everyone’s an actor. Not everyone can act. And quite often it’s not really necessary that they do. Some perform. And some just do impersonations or impressions of the characters they’ve been asked to play.

For instance, I think that Arnold Schwarzenegger is a performer, not an actor. And that’s okay. The films that he makes are vehicles for his particular talents and his on-screen presence. Hard to imagine ‘The Terminator’ being anyone but Arnie, isn’t it? It’s a matter of degree with performing though. Arnie’s right at the top of that list but there are hundreds of performers who tilt their lance at the windmill of acting. Amongst these notables I count Laurence Olivier, who never, in my experience, was able to impart a sense of an inner life to any of his characters. He seemed to me always to be an empty vessel perpetually in character but with no personal stake in the role. The Peter Sellers of tragedians, far exceeded in talent and capability by Gielgud, Richardson and Scofield from that generation.

Then there are the impersonators. Those who have a trick bag full of affectations, ticks, twitches, half-smiles and phony accents to gull the movie-going audience into believing the sincerity of their impersonation of a character. Meryl Streep is top of that list. From Lindy Chamberlain to Margaret Thatcher, Streep has cobbled together a battery of mannerisms and expressions that have made her utterly unwatchable for me since ‘Kramer vs Kramer’. John Malkovich and Philip Seymour Hoffman are equally as annoying and tiresome. All of these simply cannot stop acting. Their presence is eternally informed by their duty to acting. If they say one thing to me it is, ‘Look at me, Look at me. I’m an actor. I’m acting now.’ They make me want to reach for something with Gene Hackman or Vanessa Redgrave, Jessica Lange or Brendan Gleeson. Something like ‘Carlito’s Way’.




Boom Baby, Boom!

I was born in 1946
20% more babies were born in 1946 than in 1945
In schools, the pass mark for exams to achieve higher education was set higher than previously
I started work in 1964, aged 18
It was easy to get a well-paid job with prospects

We told people that we had a work ethic
People tell us we have a sense of entitlement

We were revolutionists
We were profligate conservatives

We tell the world that we were making history
History was making us

We invented Rock and Roll
Record companies and promoters invented Rock and Roll

We tore up the old rules, created new ones
Richard Nixon tore up the old rules, the traders did the rest

We created gender equality
The scientists employed by pharmaceutical companies created gender equality

We crashed through the class barrier
Wealth replaced class as the instrument of status

We liberated fashion, art, science  as well as fuck and cunt
The world is dying and it will cost you a million dollars to buy a house in Auckland

It’s 2015 and all the votes I’ve cast have counted for nothing
The class of ’46 has lived through important times
And has been beguiled by them
Boom baby, Boom!


Original Sin

I’ve been in and around music for a hell of a long time – certainly most of my adult life. Over the years, I’ve developed some ideas about quality, permanence, ability and relevance. I’ve tried to be discriminating you might say. But above all, I do love music. And I love musicians and what they give to the world. That’s why, mostly, I don’t buy into the bagging of musicians when they’ve aged and no longer have much to say, much that’s worth hearing. I guess most of these old boys and girls have only ever had one job and that’s the only one they know. Whatever. I don’t have to buy their new albums, not even for old time’s sake. I did write an earlier blog on this subject which focused on Rod Stewart.

So, that’s one bugbear. There is one other and it’s about covers. A few months back I got into a discussion with friends about Jimmy Barnes and his recording of ‘When a Man Loves a Woman’. This great song was first recorded by Percy Sledge in 1966. It was written by Calvin Lewis and Andrew Wright who were part of The Esquires, Sledge’s band at the time. The majority opinion in the room was that Barnes’ version was better than Sledge’s original. I took issue with that for two good reasons, as I saw it. Firstly, Jimmy Barnes cannot sing and he slaughtered this fine ballad like only a character from one of Billy Connolly’s Glasgow pub stories could. Secondly, accepting that my opinion in the matter of talent may not be universal, no cover can ever be ‘better’ than the original. You can prefer it – but it can never be better. There can be no besting of being first, being original, having uncompromised integrity. I can admire a good forgery, perhaps be taken in by it – but it is still just a forgery. Something that exists only by dint of an earlier original that inspired or provoked imitators. Having got that off my chest, I’ll happily admit to admiring many cover versions of great songs. And I’m happy for them to co-exist alongside the originals. It doesn’t need to be an ‘either/or’ decision. Al Green’s ‘Take Me to the River’, for instance is a fine example of Green’s coy juxtaposition of sensuality and spirituality. But when David Byrne and Talking Heads took the song on, lust and religion were thrust together in one pounding, insistent punk-fuelled rhythm. Genius. But not better.

There are also many examples of cover versions that have superseded the original to the point where the original is all but forgotten. The cruel irony for some of these songs is that, often, the original is infinitely superior to the cover. I’m not going to make a list but if you’ve got this far you may like to check out Gloria Jones’ 1964 recording of ‘Tainted Love’ which ought to obliterate all memory of Soft Cell’s 1981 cover. An even better choice would be Bessie Banks’ 1964 recording of ‘Go Now’ which is several light years distant from the 1965 version which became a hit for the Moody Blues – a band whose music, I might add, should have been consigned to the Atlantic’s Puerto Rico Trench years ago.

In closing, I need to pay tribute to my all-time favourite cover of a great original. ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ is one of Paul McCartney’s greatest songs and covered by The Faces on ‘Long Player’.  Macca has acknowledged that his own live performance of this great ballad was influenced by how Rod and the Faces performed it. Not better. Not either/or. Just great.




I Am The Waitress

I am she and you are Key as you touch me and we are all together
See how they prank like blokes having fun, see how they lie
I’m crying

Serving up the corn flakes, waiting for The Man to come
Combination tea break, photo opportunity
Love, you’ve been a naughty girl, you let your hair grow long
I’ll egg you on man, you are the leg man
I am the waitress, goo goo g’job

The DPS policeman sitting
Protection Squad policemen in a row
Working on the meter like Lovely Rita this isn’t fun
He’s lying, I’m crying
He’s lying, I’m crying

Yellow Herald bastards, writing up a dead man’s lie
Shallow blogger fishwife, pornographic priestess
Boy you been a naughty girl you let your readers down
Ill egg you on man, you are the leg man
I am the waitress, goo goo g’job

Sitting in a Parnell garden, waiting for The Man
If The Man don’t come, no need to run
From standing with my back to him
I’ll egg you on man, you are the leg man
I am the waitress, goo goo g’job
Goo goo g’job, goo goo g’job


I Am Not Convinced

If you say we’ll meet at 2 o’clock under the station clock
Then I expect us both to be there at 2
There is a question about how long to wait if you’re not there on time
But I’m not here to answer questions
It’s said that some people work to a different meaning of time
But I only like to read about metaphysics
I don’t want to have them keep my social diary
So get here in time for us to see the kick-off
I am not convinced by explanations for lateness
Especially when you tug your ear lobe whilst making them

It is true that there is a gap, possibly a chasm, between law and justice
Probably the same gap represented by the amount of money I have
And the amount of money I need to receive justice from the law
Some lawyers will tell you that, for them, the Law (notice the Capital L)
Is even more than an Estate. That it is a creed. A way of life
I admire their nerve. A sang-froid arisen from the certainty of fees
Accrued from the uncertainty of due process and overdue outcomes
Over the years, I have received more pats of approbation from arch lawyers
Than plaudits from elderly musicians seeking reciprocity
But I am not convinced by their supplications – as empty as my coffers

The red and white poles outside a barber’s shop are a visual metaphor
They represent the blood and bandages that proliferated on a battlefield
Or a ship of the line when the Barber Surgeon was about his business
Letting blood, amputating limbs or administering a more quotidian shave
It’s probably where Sweeney Todd got his ideas from
Back then, physicians were stand- offish academics who left the cutting to the Barber Surgeons – base born, unqualified and known as mister, not doctor
Which is why today, a doctor qualifying as a surgeon is accorded the title mister
And explains why a surgeon likes to cut as much as a lawyer likes to litigate –
Explains why I am not convinced by their remedies dangling from a barber’s pole

Our dollar will soon be equal in value to the one across the ditch
The Christchurch recovery is an unparalleled success
There is no housing crisis
There are no starving children. And if there are – it’s a lifestyle choice
We are not being spied on
Hagar, Snowden and the rest are wrong
The dolphins are safe
We are green, really we are
I do love this country
But I am not convinced


A Song for Lorde (Rap the Critics)

I think I fit my age, I think I fit my name
If I was 17 or more –  then it wouldn’t be the same
I’ll keep Ella in the cellar – I’d rather run with Lorde
I’m suspicious of the major, prefer a minor chord

The thing about the music is it’s got its here and now
It can’t be there, it can’t be then and only knows the how
So when I write it next year, it just won’t be the same
But I think I’ll fit my age, I think I’ll fit my name

Wipe away the tears. Wipe away the tears
Wipe away the years. Wipe away the years
Not yet a woman nor a girl
The sort to give old men a thrill
You say. You say

And it’s still about the music, it’s still about how much
That less is more and just enough is better than too much
But if you’re dead against it and need someone to blame
Then here I am. I fit my age and by now you know my name

Wipe away the tears. Wipe away the fears
Wipe away the years. Wipe away the fears
Not yet a woman nor a girl
The sort to give old men a thrill
You say. You say. You say. You say

61 – 59

Here lies the body politic
Left murdered in a ditch
Stabbed by Key’s pimp
Dismembered by his bitch

Author’s note
The New Zealand International Convention Centre Bill
received its first reading in the House today. The Speaker had ruled that the first reading would be the subject of a conscience vote. The Prime Minister ordered his members to be subject to the whip and ACT and Peter Dunne (Independent) fell into line thus carrying the day for the government.