Thursday, August 27, 2009

Died Dancin'

This is the best.

When this week's threethousand newsletter, which is probably properly termed something more technical, or at least technical-sounding, such as ' e-letter', although 'e' is a letter, therefore making me confused if I get lost thinking about it, arrived, I saw the words "Dancing Plague" and thought: "YES".

The skinny: in 1518 in Strasbourg (a city I only know about due to its very admirable astrological clock and automata) a woman began dancing madly in the street. She danced for four to six days. People soon joined her and within a month there were around 400 dancers. Most of them keeled over due to the stress your body probably feels if you've been dancing for a week straight. These days I can hardly struggle through a single song, even if I dance like an old Italian man swaying to "Volare" at a distant family member's wedding. Which is in most other respects how I usually view myself.

So these people were dancing until they died and as expected this became a bit of a concern. What did the authorities prescribe?


Actually, since I'm just paraphrasing (or downright plagiarising) the wikipedia page here, I might as well just copy and paste the whole paragraph on this point:

"As the dancing plague worsened, concerned nobles sought the advice of local physicians, who ruled out astrological and supernatural causes, instead announcing that the plague was a "natural disease" caused by "hot blood". However, instead of prescribing bleeding authorities encouraged more dancing, in part by opening two guildhalls and a grain market, and even constructing a wooden stage. The authorities did this because they believed that the dancers would only recover if they danced continually night and day. To increase the effectiveness of the cure, authorities even paid for musicians to keep the afflicted moving."

There's so much goodness in that para.

Firstly, I like the physicians "ruling out" supernatural causes.
Secondly, I like that "hot blood" was once a more reasonable sounding diagnosis than "devils" or "restless goat spirits" or whatever.
Thirdly, I like that Diana Ross' Upside Down came on as I was reading the section.
Fourthly, they're dancing themselves to death so we need MORE DANCING.
Fifthly, they built a stage and hired a band? And converted three public buildings into discos?

What an awesome story, by which I mean tragic loss of life, by which I really mean awesome story (if anyone reading lost a distant ancestor in this event, you have my sincere condolences and also: you are clearly of awesome genetic stock).

Anyway, it wasn't just Strasbourg.

Between the 14th and 18th centuries, all over Europe, there was swingin', there was swayin', there were municipally-appointed musicians playin', and there was dancin' in the streets. "Dancing mania" affected populations in what's now Germany, France and the Netherlands.

What kind of dancing were they doing? In all instances chronicles asserted that it was dancing, not epileptic spasms or just jumping around. If my eighth-grade understanding of history (which mostly consisted of teachers putting on Hollywood movies depicting whatever period we were supposed to be studying) is reliable, most of the 'dancing' of this period involved people playing slow-motion patty-cake while walking in circles.

An aside: The 'tarantella' supposedly developed in a similar way. People who had been bitten by a tarantula were ordered to dance hard and fast in order to sweat the poison out.


What can we learn from all of this? I think the lessons here are obscure and convoluted, much like the gnarly sentence at the top of this post with its nested clauses and grammatically correct but horrible-to-parse employment of parataxis.

That is all.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009


I was in a taxi a while back and BBC World was on the radio. A report came on discussing the ban on minarets in Switzerland. I was incredulous. So was the taxi driver. Neither of us could believe a country could put a ban on minarets. Minarets?!

The taxi driver and I spoke at the same time – I said “you can’t ban an architectural style!” He said “They’re just puppets for god’s sake!”


B. Fleischmann is a lovely Austrian electronic music maker, and I was listening to his song 24.12. when I was writing the above lines. It's a beautiful song - the vocals especially. I was surprised when I brought up the clip for the track and found the following words scrawled across the top:

"When the marionettes started to pull the strings, they noticed that stoking fear helps to keep the strings hold tight. But I think: Angst is not a Weltanschauung!"


Angst is not a Weltanschauung.


Fleischmann puts the elan back into melancholy. Or melancholie.


On Sunday I caught Slava’s Snowshow. I wasn’t sure about going, as I had a sneaking suspicion that I’d actually seen it before. I get that with some of the Big International Shows – P. Genty’s stuff always brings on debilitating déjà vu, for instance. Turns out I hadn’t seen Snowshow.

Sitting behind me and one seat to my right was a kid of about 10. He really, really loved the show. I got the feeling he’d never been to The Theatre before. He was shrieking with pleasure (so were other kids around the auditorium) and would imitate the clownish nonsense-talking that occurred on stage. You could basically tell he’d be spending the next few weeks recalling his favourite bits and reenacting them at school for all his friends.

Maybe he doesn’t have any friends. I shouldn’t assume that.

His excitement was only matched by his parents’ (or guardians’) insistence that he sit down and shut up. They were volubly annoyed that he wasn’t acting like a proper audience member but was getting too involved, physically. They scolded him, repeatedly, almost incessantly.

At the end of the show, when the famous giant balloons flew out across the audience, he was exactly one row away from being able to touch them. They bounced off the balcony above him and he kept trying in vain to stretch out and bat one away. I left and gave him my seat, and he went nuts.


It is a theatre which escapes definition and the unequivocal understanding of its actions, as from attempts to usurp its freedom.

From “What Is My Kind of Theatre?” By Slava Polunin


The child in any audience is a minaret. The audience is not a weltanschauung!


I could continue this directionless ambling but I am one of those marionettes too and my strings only reach so far.

I guess I’ll

have to switch to Plan B which was to go shopping

and text a bunch of friends for no reason.


The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.


Friday, August 14, 2009

5pm Friday

0.01 We open with a young and nigh on unrecognisable Magda Szubanski on the skins – really hammering away to somehow produce what sounds like someone tapping a few plastic pens on their desk. Throughout the rest of the clip, Magda will continue this earnest style of playing, which can charitably be described as ‘workmanlike’.

0.04 A panning shot gives us a tantalising glimpse of a handsome orange pirate shirted bass-player, and the next cut almost provides us with his identity – but alas, a fine curtain of oily locks prevents us from instantly recognising his chiselled features.

0.08 Aaaah: tracking down a bank of keyboards, we can already tell that they are arranged in descending order of smoothness, and for this track we’re going to reach way down to the smoooooth smooth bottom.

0.14 The keyboard player himself, Mr Wayne Cook of Steppenwolf, certainly merits that satisfied grin he’s wearing. Sure, he’s knocking some super smooth keys here and know he has a hit, but here’s a spoiler: he also knows that he’s about to pull out one of Rock’s Finest Moments of Ultimate Power in about two minutes time.

0.16 And here he is, the Moses of Rock, our gently-mulleted guide through the wastelands, lead singer Peter Beckett whose real name is probably Derek, I think we can all agree.

You can tell that Derek is British from the outset as his expression seems permanently set to “resentful”. In fact the whole clip can be read as a struggle between his innate annoyance at his basic lot in life and the commercial need to appear sexy and cool with his rock god status.

0.24 I don’t know who this guy is. He looks like he’s uncomfortable being in shot. Sort of like he once committed a crime and was positively identified but managed to flee across state lines and start up a new life. But the thought that someone who knew him back west may one day turn on the tube and see him, and pick up the phone and start in effect a chain-reaction that could only end with him doing twenty to life with a cellmate name Bearclaw, well, no wonder he’s trembling slightly.

0.25-0.36 The guys look like they’re essentially taking a break here, which is a pretty bold move twenty-five seconds into the song. Magda probably isn’t too happy up the back since her solid protestant work ethic at least demands that every put in a bit of effort until this thing is properly moving, but she’s silent on the issue. And we haven’t even had a good look at our orange pirate yet.

0.37 There we go, Derek’s soon-to-be trademark look of petty injustice. “What do you mean there’s no more orange juice in the green room? SOD THIS.”

0.43 Cook’s jaunty keyboard work definitely suggests he has something wicked up his sleeve. “Oh, the guys are gonna LOVE this,” he smiles to himself.

0.48 “I was parked there for maybe a minute,” thinks Derek, “and it wasn’t even marked as a towaway zone. And what’s that bloody Steppenwolf session guy up to back there? He better not try any cheap rock theatrics. This is MY clip.”

0.52 More sneery Derek- WAIT A MINUTE! The orange pirate is none other than Ridge Forrester from the Bold and the Beautiful! What the dickens?

0.59 Magda’s not one to lose focus in the presence of daytime soap royalty, and continues her steadfast work with all of the polish of an afterschool lollipop lady.

1.22 Our first really good look at Ridge, and my word that pirate shirt is even more impressive than we’d at first realised.

1.26 Magda can see the song’s half-way mark coming up soon and is looking forward to finishing up so she can get home to a nice pie and some steamed vegies, and perhaps something nice will be on the box. It’s nice to unwind after a long day like that, isn’t it?

1.32 “All day long,” sings Derek, “wearing a mask of false bravado… trying to keep up a smile and hide the tears…” Well, you’re not REALLY, are you Derek? I mean, I’d say you’re less trying to keep up a smile and more wearing a mask that speaks volumes about the venue’s poor plumbing.

2.04 I can’t properly see here but it looks as if they are either playing on a white floor (not good commercial sense as it would surely get scuffed) or else they have the smog machine cranked up to create a foot mist, as if these man-gods were actually on some heavenly plane itself, and not the cheap studio that charges $40 an hour if you bring your own PA. Or it could just be a refraction from all the hairspray floating around.

2.11 It’s obvious why Ridge has been so forcibly absented from this clip. His apollonian cheekbones, like the mountainous ranges from which he draws his name, along with his darkly glittering eyes, flexible morals and outstanding ability to rock a four-string make him the group’s only real contender for proper Rock Star Status.
2.18 The hairspray thesis has been confirmed.

Not much going on for the next 15 seconds, so just take a minute to ready yourself for what’s coming up at 2.34.

2.34 Which would be Rock’s Finest Moment of Ultimate Power. Accompanied with a little shoulder roll flourish at the end.

2.41 Derek sneaks in an urgent gesture to the Mysterious Guy, which says “did you SEE that arsehole? Did you SEE it? He’s a freakin’ session musician!” Mysterious Guy tries not to draw attention to himself.

2.45 Derek continues his rage – his movements scream “I’M the star here. ME.”

2.47 Ridge half-pulls off another awesome rock moment, possibly just to enrage Derek further. Oh you coy fox, Ridge.

2.50 Derek is now all “Look, I don’t care anymore, I really don’t. I’m over it. OVER. IT.”

2.59 Ridge just keeps amping up the jolly rock antics, and the group’s cohesion continues to suffer. It looks like they might not even be able to keep it together until the end of the song. This will be a shame.

3.14 This super smooth vocal breakdown and fade proves it – this whole thing was a shambles and the guys aren’t going to finish it. They were wrong. Better to just trail off now and get their deposit back.

3.17 OH NO YOU DON’T! NOT ON MAGDA’S WATCH! Her expression is 100% “GET BACK TO WORK, BOYS”.

3.15 And work they do! You can see the steely determination with which they round out the song; the only thing holding them back now is Derek’s surly, outraged schoolboy prefect look, which stubbornly refuses to go away.

3.28 Ridge is perhaps getting a little too enthusiastic with is bass here. He may be trying to arouse Derek, however, by discussing past conquests in graphic detail.

3.36 Derek returns a look to Ridge that says “Fuck OFF, I know how to be sexy!”

3.39 Always the morale-booster, Magda bangs the drums while howling “Do it, Derek, do it!”

3.45 And our lead singer FINALLY brings sexy back, or at least has an ice cube dropped down his back in order to do a passable imitation.


In the comments on YouTube, a number of people recall it as the ‘mop song’ – it was used in a commercial for mops in the US, apparently. I can only imagine how it feels when your manager sits you down to break the big news that your No. 1 hit track is up for some filthy lucre: an advertising deal! Let’s buy a 747! Hold on lads, it’s… it’s for mops.

The silence that followed that announcement must have been profound. These bright young men offered to sell their souls to the devil and the highest bid came from a mop company. And they said yes.
This may explain Derek’s expression, actually.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Shut Up and Dance

T’ other night I was in the audience for NYID’s Strangeland and was sitting right behind the dozen-odd teens from Belgian company Ontroerend Goed’s Once and for all we’re gonna tell you who we are so shut up and listen. Boy, were they acting up. They were chattering away and clambering over each other and one boy started scrolling through photos on his iPhone for the second half of the performance and I’m pretty sure one girl actually climbed down under her seat and dropped down behind the seating bank so she could run off.

Not proper Melbourne theatre behaviour at all, and when the lights came up afterwards someone to my left remarked that they’d “wanted to punch them in the head”. Corporeal punishment clearly isn’t dead.

I enjoyed
Once and For All a lot more than Strangeland. The performers were pretty much acting the way they had in the audience, except on a stage. They were sometimes irritating in the way the youth of today and every day are and that was what made it enjoyable. We in the audience were the oldies and that was the soul of the piece. It was stupid and pointless and yet totally relevant theatre that didn’t seem to be trying to mythologise adolescence or make these people’s lives anything other than what they were.

More importantly, though, it featured a short sequence in which the kids began dancing and, being Belgian, they danced jumpstyle! Long-time readers here will obviously know what I thought of that.

It’s been a while since I posted something on Geographically Specific Youth Dance Trends, but here’s an interesting article on Jerkin’. Jerkin’ is an LA thing that’s been around for a year or more; it’s like a lot of other dance styles except that its proponents blend hip-hop with skinny jeans and tatts and mohawks and other things more closely associated with dorky white indie rock and Euro street dance. It’s like tektonik if tektonik was actually cool or krumping if krumpers were lanky fashionistas who weren’t that great at dancing.

But even though it’s kind of lame and probably became popular because it’s easy and has its roots in a whole pile of earlier dance styles that jerkers wouldn’t even know about, the article above makes a good point about how dancing in public, for a lot of teens, is something to be regretted afterwards, when you’re old and realise what a fool you looked.

“With Pavlovian response, the students form a makeshift dance floor and do the Pin Drop, the Reject, the Sponge Bob, the Dip ... jerkin’. This might be sponsored by the BSA, but the spontaneous locomotion has kids of varying ethnicities and dance abilities covalently bonded by their love of dancing, incandescent color and constrictive denim. Only teen culture could birth something imbued with such unselfconscious, unironic joy. Who in their right mind wouldn’t jerk? This is

Me? I’m old, like Beckett. And like Beckett, all I want to do is sit on my arse and fart and think of Dante.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Inherent Voice

My favourite author Thomas Pynchon's new book Inherent Vice is due out in Oz mid-September (Shhh, I have a couple of proof copies) but it's released in the US today.

Penguin has put together a promotional video.

This wouldn't be much news if it weren't for the fact that it's probably Pynchon's voice narrating the clip. And Pynchon doesn't do publicity. No confirmed photos of him for 40-50 years; no interviews; nothing really, apart from the two bizarre appearances he made on the Simpsons (with a paper bag over his head).

Watch the clip here.

The book is an easy read but it's also curiously autobiographical. The setting is a thinly fictionalised Manhattan Beach in LA in 1970 - where Pynchon lived while writing Gravity's Rainbow - and if you're a Pynchonomane you'll also notice that the house he lived in at that point is in the clip above.

Anyway, if nothing else the book has switched me on to some amazing surf rock of the 60s/70s. Check out "Mongoose" by Elephant's Memory and after a few listens the chorus will be firmly lodged in your skull.

In other news:

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Dominic Philip's Book Habit
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorTasers

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

A Painted Ship Upon a Painted Ocean


Hey dudes, much obliged you could front up at such short notice, dig. Let’s get quorum, hey?

Allow me to laugh scornfully before jumping off this barrel. Ha HA!
Also: ‘present’.






From hell's heart I stab at thee; for hate's sake I spit my last breath at thee!

Y- I’ll count that as ‘present’. So I wanna discuss your, uh, critical methods here, today?

Our what?

Is what I mean is, is how you deal with the whole ocean-faring and stuff? Oceans and ships being, maybe, a metaphor? For like…?

All visible objects, man, are but as pasteboard masks! If a man will strike, strike through the mask! How can the prisoner reach outside except by thrusting through the wall? To me, the white whale is that wall, shoved near to me. He tasks me; he heaps me, I see in him outrageous strength, with an inscrutable malice sinewing it. That inscrutable thing is chiefly what I hate; and be the white whale agent, or be the white whale principle, I will wreak that hate upon him.

Wait… dude… so you’re saying the, uh, whale is, like, art? And you’re like, hunting the art to – uh, I’m losing my wave here… cos I thought the ocean was… uh… and our vessels were like the art…

Ah! Avast, as someone once said. So if your vessel is the art, then I board your vessel and commandeer all that I find to my liking, leaving the rest ravaged and afire. My aerobic displays may be fearsome but I accomplish them as if engaging in some kind of fun obstacle course. I take all of worth and leave you with nothing save the invaluable lessons that trail in my wake. My comments all the way are sharp and unmerciful, though none can fault my dextrousness and firm thighs. My truth is unsparing, for I am beholden to no one. This is my critical method.


Rilly? OMG.


I’ve got my boatswain and my chain-gang keeping all the daily crap running smoothly while I kick back and enjoy the ride. There’s totally a thing to put my feet on and all. I’m the one you all wanna be, am I right? My sails got rims, I got an aft spoiler and I when I pull a rope and kick in the hydraulics I can make this thing jump like a mofo.

I just do it to eat. I should look into that.

A contract, flake-man, that’s what you need.

I have no vessel to call my own, but can always find a place stowed in someone else’s pile of unused rigging, scrounging my meals from whatever crumbs are dropped by passing passengers. Nobody knows me and my voice is all but unheard. Thus, I take up the only arms available to me: silence, cunning and exile. From beneath a cot in a dark stern quarter I simply watch them come and go, talking of, oh, what have you, noting down the players and their conversations while avoiding detection. Only rarely do I dare venture to the foc’sle-


In striving not to intrude, I maintain an invisible purity. Like god or mouse, you will never see me; merely the traces I leave behind. Sorry about that time I forgot to flush, by the way.

TRIFLES! You must split your lungs with blood and thunder when you see the white whale! Break your backs and crack your oars, men, if you wish to prevail! This ivory leg is what propels me –

I was going to ask about the whole peg-leg deal –

I don’t think past injuries should play a part in this line of work and this obsession with elusive white whales representing a deeper reality doesn’t sound at all healthy. In my own practice I value consistency and transparency. My motivations are clear from the outset, being a shark, and my methods are informed by a long genetic tradition of shark-like behaviour.

I have a variety of fascinating scars and will discuss their origins at length in some iniquitous gin-house if you would care to stand me a drink. This one here, well, see, I was swinging from a grappling hook with a cutlass clenched between my teeth and you know what? It’s harder than it looks. Those things are hell sharp and the pirate gig doesn’t actually promote healthy dental hygiene –

Tell me about it. But I do believe it’s my white-whale-given right as a shark to take a bite out of pretty much anything I see, and if we’re being brutally honest here I’ll admit that it’s not always for sustenance. The faces of your surfie types when I do my “Here’s Johnny!” routine are priceless.

Harpoons thrust in the sky!
Aim directly for his crooked brow,
And look him straight – in – the – eye!!!

You want a take a hit from one of these bad boys, mah man? Looks like you could use a little R&R in the cabana.

The ocean itself is the medium in which I move. Without it I do not – could not – exist. It is the answer to an unaskable question. Otherwise, I’m pretty much a ‘go-with-the-flow’ kinda shark, y’know.



Righteous, man. I gotta ‘fess that my only experience with art is along the lines of the criminally underrated The Ghost In The Invisible Bikini (1966) and half of the 1937 thriller Sh! The Octopus. I dunno how I should be striking through those masks or how inscrutable they were…

What was their profit margin?

Who knows? And man, what is surfing but a connection to something beyond our understanding? Can’t catch the same swell twice, ‘k. It’s always on the move. But when you’ve got a 20-foot meat-grinder bearing down on your ass, you ken?, that rush, that moment’s what reminds you that you’re alive, right?

To be alive is anathema to my practice. If I attract attention to myself it’ll be the end of me. Aren’t we all just stowaways in this business? Peering between the cracks and scurrying in the shadows? If we’re caught the whole venture will be compromised. Best to become as small and silent as possible and let the ship take its rightful course.

Word! Plus I get PAID!

That’s chicken-shit talk, Stowaway. If I may quote Bertrand Russell’s law of the excluded middle: “Everything must either be or not be”. Our task is simply to determine whether something is or is not – and, ergo, is it good? Or is it not?

You can’t be a very good critic, shark.

Tell that to the gent on the mast.

Turn home, the sun goes down; swimmer, turn home.
Last leaf of gold vanishes from the sea-curve.
Take the big roller’s shoulder, speed and serve;
come to the long beach home like a gull diving.

For on the sand the grey-wolf sea lies, snarling,
cold twilight wind splits the waves’ hair and shows
the bones they worry in their wolf-teeth. O, wind blows
and sea crouches on sand, fawning and mouthing;
drops there and snatches again, drops and again snatches
its broken toys, its whitened pebbles and shells.