Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Sean Hughes changed comedy for my generation and he can't be dead, it's beyond stupid


A friend posted a link on the "Very Long thread" on Monday. This is a Facebook thread on my wall that has been going since September 20, 2013 and has generated more than 230,000 comments since, hence its name.

Friends comment on it about all sorts of things, with the sole aim to increase the comment count so we can eventually win some sort of prize. I mean, surely someone out there offers prizes for this kind of thing.

This link was a news article whose headline said Irish comic Sean Hughes had died, aged 51.

It is rare a headline that genuinely causes me to double take, then stare in shock. I am the fucking international editor of Green Left Weekly and we specialise in presenting the worst, most depressing news to the world, which, surprisingly, is largely indifferent.

I didn't even open the link. I did obvious thing and checked Twitter. Sure enough, people were tweeting that Sean Hughes was dead at just 51. Complications due to cirrhosis of the liver. I thought Hughes had quit drinking, but it seems he did for a bit, but went back on it.

Jesus, I looked hard at my beer reading that. Hell, I'm looking at the beer I'm drinking right now, thinking: "You bastard... your kind killed Sean Hughes!" (Still drinking it though, I mean it is already open and booze aint cheap.)

These are my two favourite Sean Hughes' jokes:
"I read that they've just arrested six Muslim men in Birmingham under the terror laws. Is this ringing ANY bells? I don't want to alarm anyone, but if you're Muslim and live in Guildford, don't hang out in fours."
And
"I had very liberal parents, they insisted I call them Bob and Marge. I don't know why, it wasn't their names or anything."
The first joke is paraphrased from when I saw Hughes' in Sydney in about 2006, and refers to the Birmingham Six and Guildford Four — Irish people tortured, then framed up and jailed for years for bombings they had nothing to do with, of which the current treatment of Muslims bears more than a passing resemblance. The second was part of his stand up in the early 90s and features in an episode on Sean's Show.

They represent the two extremes of Hughes' comedy, combining his capacity for biting social commentary with silliness —a stupid joke made funny by the cheeky, almost innocent way he'd deliver it.

It is difficult to describe what Sean Hughes meant to a certain section of people, people who were young in the early 90s and whose introduction to comedy that was raised almost to an art form came through the likes of Sean's Show, Hughes' groundbreaking anti-sitcom whose two series in 1992/93 was almost hypnotically hilarious. (A kind soul has just uploaded season 1 on youtube and Hughes himself uploaded season 2.)

Australia was blessed to have it shown latish at night on ABC TV. In my house, we somehow managed to record on VHS the final episode of season one, which to this day I rate as among the funniest half hours of comedy I've ever seen. Me and my sister watched it endlessly, over and over. I can still recall many lines.

(Sadly, one I remember is his repeated declarations, in the face of things going wrong: "I'm only 26!" In hindsight, that was already past the halfway mark of his life.)

For season 2, we were better prepared, and more was captured. He had a running joke that every time the phone rang, of quickly putting jazz on his stereo, then picking up the (toy) phone and waving it in front on the speakers before saying into it "Sorry, I'll just turn down the jazz!" As is his follow up in episode two of "What, God? I told you to stop calling!"

And there was his way of ending a phone call, seen in season one: "Bye-bye, bye-bye" offered cheerfully into his plastic toy phone.

Sean Hughes holds a slightly odd place in comedy. He exploded onto the British scene as a young Irishman, winning the much-vaunted Perrier award for his debut stand up show at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1990 — at 24, he is the youngest comic ever to win it. He broke ground for Irish comics. This predates Father Ted, much less Black Books and Dylan Moran, among others who followed.

His show was different to most stand up of his day -- more conversational, with an arc. That approach is common, even the norm, these days.

Also, he made a point of bringing things outside the mainstream into his TV show, at a time when it wasn't normal. It doesn't seem unusual now that his TV show talked a lot about The Smiths (including the immortal line, "Everyone gets over their Morrissey phase... well, except Morrissey"), or that he wore a Nick Cave T-shirt in one episode, or had The Cure appear or had Pulp play in the background in a nother episode (in 1993, a full two years before "Common People" made them well-known).

This is why it can be hard to evaluate genuine trailblazers years after the fact -- looking back, what they did seems unexceptional and, without knowing the history, an observer thinks "well, that's not bad, but what is so special about it?"

Hughes was a transitional comic -- his impact was tied to a transition in comedy and he marks a sort of part-way point. He also played that role for me personally, and no doubt many others, opening the door to a different way of understanding and appreciating comedy. (He also, for better or worse, introduced me to The Smiths.)

Although it wasn't the first to do it, Sean's Show broke the rules of sitcoms, tore down the fourth wall and turned the fact that it was a sitcom into a joke itself. Playing a version of himself, Hughes would acknowledge the audience directly -- in the first episode, he is shocked to discover a crowd of more than 400 people in his living room.

But what made it work was the sheer joy of it, the way Hughes revelled in the silliness of the show, interspersing his stand up with running gags (in the first series, a sock never dried, in the second, he waged a constant war against scrabbled eggs stuck to a saucepan) and his self-deprecating commentary on life.

The books he put out in the 90s of his writings, 1993's Sean's Book and 1995's The Grey Area, stand alone as distinct works. There is the cheeky, lovable character from Sean's Show and his stand up in there, but he includes serious poems and heartfelt commentary, too.

Reading them at the time, you could feel Hughes' attempts to break out of attempts to pigeonhole him within the persona he played on TV. I remember it often felt a little too self-conscious, almost forced. But it was hard not to admire his determined refusal to be turned into a commercialised "easy-to-sell" product. It also revealed a dark side to his character, and a sensitivity that has been widely commented on (most comments in the media after his death refer to him as "gentle" and "kind").

He deliberately chose to express all aspects of his creativity and humanity -- no doubt against publishers and agents advice to stick to the grinning, floppy haired, cardigan wearing lovable loser as-seen-on-telly.

This dual nature, being in the public eye, but refusing the constraints of celebrity, marked his subsequent career. He was a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks from 1996-2002, but walked away from what was no doubt a lucrative gig because he was bored with its formulaic format. Around that time, he also quit stand up. He wrote well-received novels and took acting gigs, like his criminally underrated role as "Mod" in The Last Detective series with Peter Davison. Yes, he played another lovable loser, but an even gentler one, marked by developing middle-age.

He returned to stand up again, on his own terms. He didn't earn the commercial success or operate in the public eye like in the 90s, but he did what he wanted. And he never wanted to be Michael McIntyre or tour stadiums.

A great moment from Hughes' later career that I'd never seen until now was an appearance he made on Celebrity Come Dine With Me -- in which he chose to serve stew to the judges for all three courses. With, as Hughes defiantly insisted when criticised, actual variations! But still, as the judges kept noting, nonetheless the same stew.

A stung Hughes defended his culinary creations by declaring: "With Da Vinci did they go, ‘I really like that painting, but it’s really like the other one you did with Jesus in it'? Jesus is in them all! It’s just disrespectful to a craftsman like myself."

A clip from the show can be seen here, featuring the judge's reactions, with a highlight being Hughes' contribution to "Christmas cheer" (for it was a Christmas special) being getting in a Smiths cover band to perform "Meat is Murder" and the ever OTT-sad "There Is a Light That Never Goes Out".

It is a cliche to say "we'll never see the likes of him again", but fucking honestly.

I saw Sean Hughes in Australia three times -- from my rather loose memory, in Perth twice in 1996 and 98 and in Sydney in about 2006. I was too young to have seen him when he came out in the early 90s, but short of that, I took all the opportunities to see him live I've had and there is no other comic I can say that about. If he'd toured again, I'd have seen him again. Now I won't.

In recent years, I have only thought sporadically about Sean Hughes, occasionally checking out what he was up to and enjoying what meagre offerings the Internet threw my way. Richard Herring's live podcast with Sean Hughes from 2015 is great.

Since 2011, I've been performing stand up, to varying degrees of constancy. Thinking about it, I realise now that in my performances, there are some distinct mannerisms or ways of delivering a joke that are... well, let's be polite and say "inspired" by Sean Hughes. That were clearly borrowed from him. It's never been conscious, but it's real.

The simple fact is I wouldn't be doing stand up comedy if not for Sean Hughes. I love sketch comedy and that love has obvious sources -- Monty Python, Fry and Laurie, even Australia's Full Frontal, among others. But stand up, and that style of gag telling... Sean Hughes made me think it was worth doing. Whether that's to his credit or not... others can be the judge. Feel free to go to his funeral and heckle over this point.

Here are some lovely offerings from comics who knew and loved Sean Hughes:

Mark Steel and Rhona Cameron remember a friend who was a 'gentle soul, a proper comic'

Richard Herring's blog pays a wonderful tribute.

Matt Lucas interrupting an interview to pay respects to 'an icon of my generation'

And my personal favourite, this beautiful, heartwarming tweet from his Never Mind the Bollocks co-star Phil Jupitus about finding Hughes' Grey Area in a bookstore and the teller refusing to charge him for it.... I'm not crying, you're crying and somehow your tears have projected themselves onto my eyes, you fucking bastard!

(That story was actually quite appropriate, seeing as the introduction to Sean's Book includes a detailed guide on "How to steal this book", or otherwise get away with reading it for free -- and Jupitus came up with the ultimate trick, have him die unexpectedly.)

There are many more, from fellow comics and others, that can be read from Twitter or just googling. They all combine shock with respect and awe for a man who blazed a path so many others followed, and whose influence was far greater than he probably ever know. The only way to end this is with Sean Hughes himself:





Thursday, October 12, 2017

A Poem! (three poems)



Here are three poems that form part of a... well a "trilogy", as I believe the kids call it. They are very important and I present them to you for your intellectual gratification and, most importantly, development.


A Poem!

This is a poem!
May it give you strength!
Although some say it is not very good!
Because it uses exclamation marks too often!
And awkwardly!
But exclamation marks!
Are AWESOME!!!

*
A Poem! (II)

A poem! 
Again! 
With marks of exclamation! 
For they indicate great points!
Are being made! 
Here! 
In this great poem!
IT IS AWESOME!!!

*

A Poem! (III)

A poem but
This time 
Without explanation marks 
As 
The point 
Speaks for itself 
Without Them 
Ah fuck it
 I love exclamation marks!
A lot!!!
THEY ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
YAR!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
BUY ME A BEER!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

*

(Copyright Carlo Sands 2017 like seriously do not even THINK of trying to steal these poems for your own commercial gain coz I I will fucking hunt you down.)

There they are! All three! About a topic very close to my heart! The exclamation mark! I know right? The Nobel Prize for LIterature is fucking rigged

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

It's not all bad, well OK a lot of it is, but still here is audio of me ranting on a stage


Well, a lot sure seems to be happening in the world.

I am sure like me, when you saw Donald Trump in Puerto Rico cheerfully lobbing paper towels at a crowd of people in that devastated Caribbean island, your first thought was: "Holy fuck, I'm also out of paper towels, what kinda natural disaster worsened into an extreme humanitarian crisis by a combination of climate change and extreme ongoing colonial exploitation do I have to organise to get the US commander in chief to chuck a few of them my way?"

Looking into the matter, it turns out the answer is "a pretty fucking bad one". Like we are talking a Category Five Hurricane so bad it caused Trump to stop golfing and actually visit after just two weeks, which is the highest level of severity meteorologists recognise.

Of course, Trump did more than that in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. He also wagged his finger at the Puerto Ricans, largely without electricity, clean drinking water ad with a gutted health care system already weakened by the savage austerity forced on the island by their US colonial masters that is unable to deal with potential disease outbreaks, and declared, as only Trump could:
“I hate to tell you, Puerto Rico, but you’ve thrown our budget a little out of whack ..."
This is a bit like if you've been stabbed by some random bloke, and your mate, who is driving you to the emergency department before the last of your life leaks out into the growing bloody pool on the passenger's seat, points out that the cost of the petrol for this trip is really stretching his fortnightly pay check, despite you knowing for a fact he has more than half-trillion worth of high-tech weaponry in his backyard.

Say what you will about Trump, but he has a brutal honesty that is almost refreshing. No hypocritical tears for the dead or pretence that the US state and or its corporate masters give a flying fuck for the half-drowned, already-screwed people of the US's "I Can't Believe It's Not a Colony" colony of Puerto Rico, which has been a "not-colony" colony since the US won control over the Caribbean island from the Spanish in the 1898 Spanish-American War.

In all-too-predictable news, almost two weeks after Puerto Rico was hit by the super-storm, the US was hit by another mass shooting, one of the deadliest in recent decades (though not in US history, as the Lakota could point out).

Such a tragedy has many repercussions, one of which is Australians enter a new round of smug self-congratulation about how, unlike those nutty Yanks, we solved our gun problem after the 1996 Port Arthur Massacre when automatic and semiautomatic weapons were banned and we've not see a repeat of that horrific event.

No doubt this is to Australia's credit, so perhaps while we are on a roll having successfully managed one single positive  reform of note since 1996 about we may take some pride, perhaps we might, I don't know, consider not torturing innocent people in isolated prison camps, then abandoning them to their fate in impoverished Third World countries that cannot deal with them?

I know sometimes change is slow, and we're all a bit exhausted from spending the past 21 years patting ourselves on the back for the unprecedented (if you exclude large chunks of the world) wisdom in not letting nutcases have access to major weapons of death except when they serve in the SAS in Afghanistan,

But in the act of congratulating ourselves, we by-and-large missed yet another Black Death in Custody. Tan Chatfield, a 22-year-old Aboriginal man, died in custody at the Tamworth Correctional Centre on September 20 under what may politely be called "suspicious circumstances". This is only one of hundreds since the 1991 Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody laid down more than 300 recommendations to stop more Black Deaths in Custody — which have gone ignored and unimplemented.  In 2013, a review of deaths in custody by the Australian Institute of Criminology found that the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody had increased over the previous five years.

Still, how wacky are hose Yanks with their automatic rifles and paper-towel throwing presidents eh?

Meanwhile, Tony Abbott, the ex-and-wannabe prime minister of the nation one of the highest per capita carbon emissions in the world,  gave an absurd speech in Britain, questioning whether climate change was real before suggesting that possibly it might be a good thing regardless, because more people die in cold than heatwaves (yes he fucking said that).

Abbott clearly sees himself as "Australia's Trump", so it is just as well he's not, I dunno, heading a government in Queensland greenlighting and providing taxpayer funds for a large corporation's planned mega-coal mine that will condemn the great Barrier Reef to death and drastically worsen the global warming crisis, which, just to prove I know how to shoe in a callback, contributed to the strength of Hurricane Maria that devastated Puerto Rico.

No, that would be Queensland's Labor government, a government of a party that actually accepts global warming, but presumably just figures this planet is screwed so let Adani hasten our fate.

But it is not all bad! Not only is their push back on protests on these things (such as the growing campaign against Adani), no, even better! Here is some dodgy audio of me ranting on a stage, recorded on the first night of my solo show Inspired? at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival! (Warning: it starts abruptly, as I had forgotten to turn it on, so just begins with me yelling about something...)

https://theunaustraliandotnet.files.wordpress.com/2017/09/carlos-show.mp3

I am very kindly providing this to you all for free, coz that is the kinda guy I am. Just a decent guy and not at all desperate to get my angry voice out there for some sort of deeply disturbed personal reasons I have never investigated for fear of what might surface. However, the show was a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly, so if you wish you can make a donation to the publication, which relies entirely on supporter donations to survive.






Friday, October 06, 2017

If there is anything more beautifully moving than Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing Guy Clark, I don't think I want to know



I'd rather sleep in a box like a bum on the street
Than a fine feather bed without your little ol' cold feet
I'd rather be deaf, dumb, and stone blind
Than to know that your mornings will never be mine

I'd rather die young than to live without you
I'd rather go hungry than eat lonesome stew
It's once in a lifetime and it won't come again
It's here and it's gone on a magnolia wind

I'd rather not walk through the garden again
If I can't catch your scent on a magnolia wind

If it ever comes time that it comes time to go
Sis just pack up your fiddle Sis pack up your bow
If I can't dance with you then I won't dance at all
I'll just sit this one out with my back to the wall

I'd rather not hear pretty music again
If I can't hear your fiddle on a magnolia wind


There is a lot wrong with this world, but there are some compensations, at least, for the seemingly never-ending horror show. Emmylou Harris and John Prine singing this beautiful song by Guy Clark is one of the best.

Clark's original is great, but this version —from a Guy Clark tribute album — raises it to new heights. The song works brilliantly as a duet, with the melodic voice of Harris contrasting with Prine's soft gruff-yet-breaking voice, which is close in its effect to Clark's original vocal.  This contrast draws out the interplay between the sweet romance and melancholy at the song's heart — where the beauty of a genuine love is contrasted with the prospect of its inevitable end.

Country music can get a bad wrap, but it is a serious form and, like all genres of popular music, it can be  done well, badly and everything in between. The likes of Clark (who died last year aged 74), Harris and Prine are, without question, among its finest exponents.

From the same generation (Harris and Prine are both 70), all three were leading figures in the serious and artistic wing of country music, operating in the grey area between general "folk" music and country, committed to the craft of storytelling.

And if any of the three were to start their careers now, they would no doubt be labelled, not as "country", but "alt-country" or the ever-vague "americana". And maybe that doesn't really matter — labels are just words and can never capture any artists contribution, and does more the box them in than anything,.

But still... I cannot help feel sad that so much unspeakable shit gets to take the label of "country" these days, when the stuff that comes from the heart, from the roots, gets shunted off to some other, sidelined genre or subgenre.

BONUS TRACK: Clark's friend and talented country singer and songwriter Rodney Crowell, on the same tribute album, sings Clark's extraordinarily poetic song "Old time Feeling".



And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.

And that old time feelin' draws circles around the block,
Like old women with no children, holdin' hands with the clock.
And that old time feelin' fall on it's face in the park,
Like and old wino prayin' he can make it 'till it's dark.

And that old time feelin' comes and goes in the rain,
Like an old man with his checkers, dyin' to find a game.
And that old time feelin' plays for beer in bars,
Like and old blues-time picker who don't recall who you are.

And that old time feelin' limps through the night on a crutch,
Like an old soldier wonderin' if he's paid too much.
And that old time feelin' rocks and spits and cries,
Like and old lover rememberin' the girl with the clear blue eyes.

And that old time feelin' goes sneakin' down the hall,
Like an old gray cat in winter, keepin' close to the wall.
And that old time feelin' comes stumblin' up the street,
Like an old salesman kickin' the papers from his feet.


Monday, September 25, 2017

Sexuality is complicated, but homophobia is very simple


(content warning: homophobic violence, suicide)

I try not to talk too seriously on this blog -- except on the life-and-death matters of country music or Tom Waits, because some things are just profound spiritual matters about which no joking can be allowed.

But I’ll admit I’ve been taken aback by the sheer ferocity of the homophobic attacks reported as part of the "non-binding postal survey" we are having in Australia on whether to allow marriage equality. Much as been heard of Tony Abbott not being hurt by a headbut unrelated to marriage equality, far less is reported about a trans teen being bashed in the same area of Hobart

I probably shouldn’t be so shocked. It is clearly there, but as a heterosexual man, I guess I have the privilege not to see it. (I sometimes find privilege a strange concept, there is little privilege for most people in this society, just a series of different fucked up shit people are subjected to that gets worse the more intersecting oppressions you are hit with, but if not fearing violence because of who you are is a privilege, I definitely have it).

It has made me think about something I don’t really make a point of talking about -- which I think is in itself a privilege. I simply don't have to and so, as it is very personal and I don't generally talk about personal things, I simply don't.

I don't doubt my sexuality, I know I am straight. I know this clearly not despite, but because, my first ever romantic and (some forgettable fumbling notwithstanding) sexual relationship was with another man.

The first person I ever feel in love with, at about 18 or so, was another young man. And it was an intense relationship, romantically and physically. And I was very physically attracted to him.

And so you can imagine that for an 18 or 19 year old to go through this, it poses some big questions about sexuality that had never really been posed to me until then. I was pretty sure I was attracted to women. And yet I was also in love with a guy.

This young man then proceeded, the fucking prick, to break my heart by breaking up with me after an intense six month or so period. He was right to do so, of course. He was about 17 at that point and really didn't need to be weighed down by the sort of ultra-intense relationship I was determined to offer.

We remained best friends, and our physical relationship continued on and off for years — essentially, as long as neither of us were in serious relationships, it was "on" whenever we saw each other, which became less frequent once we started living in different cities.

This experience obviously caused me to ask serious questions about my sexuality. If I was attracted to this guy, then obviously, why not others?

But it didn’t take too many further experiences to figure out it didn’t translate in general. Other experiences with men just didn’t really leave me feeling anything at all. I just didn’t particularly enjoy them.

The conclusion for me was clear: I am heterosexual with the capacity for exceptions. My subsequent relationships have all been hetersexual. While there is no rule to say this will always be the case, I imagine it is pretty likely to remain so and I say this as result of experiences that make me confident on the question of my own personal “preferences”.

The young man I feel in love with and had such a romantic and physical attraction too, however, was gay.

Like me in reverse, he also had some sexual and even romantic experiences with the opposite sex, but at the end of the day, he wasn’t any more bisexual than I am. He was a gay man who had some experiences with the opposite sex that didn’t really stick.

That young man is also dead. He committed suicide in 2005.

It would be reductionist and wrong to suggest his suicide could be directly connected to his sexuality. It is very hard to prove what role any of the various aspects of his life ultimately led him to his grave at just 24.

What is known is the far higher suicide rate among LGBTI people. LGBTI people, especially youth, are killing themselves at unacceptable levels because of the sort of homophobia this campaign has encouraged to express itself publicly and often violently.

He was my best friend and, whatever role his sexuality directly played in his death, it is true that he was subjected to pressures I have been able to avoid by the pure chance of me being heterosexual and him not. 

So it is hard to take the homophobia rampant right now and not be reminded of him and his fate.

I honestly feel that most people with violently homophobic feelings are either hiding something (from themselves as much as anyone) in regard to their feelings towards the opposite sex or to gender in general, even the simple fact of being capable of finding romantic or physical pleasure in the same sex. I am not even saying they are necessarily gay or bisexual. Just that sexuality is not straightforward and sexual preference means just that -- preference. Not a 100% iron clad rule.

And the sooner our society comes to view sexuality as nothing more than a personal preference, with none more valid than any other -- and therefore all relationships being entirely equal -- the sooner we can end the violence and its consequences on the human psyche.

I hereby promise, and this is a promise you can absolutely trust, I will never, ever refer to my sex life on this blog ever again.

To ensure I keep this promise... for fuck's sake, vote yes and fight to end homophobia.

'So you say it's not ok to be gay, well I think you're just evil...'

Thursday, September 21, 2017

'This world's been shaved by a drunken barber's hand' -- a playlist for my stand up show 'Inspired?'

Slaid Cleaves.
Now, I've been pretty quiet about it, I know, but I actually do have a solo stand up show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival next week, in fact on Wednesday and Friday at 7pm and Sunday at 6pm. Just in case if you are interested at all.

I don't care. I don't care if you attend any of the shows at are at the Container room at The Factory theatre, to which you can book tickets here for the cheap, affordable price of $15/$10, which frankly is a fucking bargin. 

It is also a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly, so I guess it depends, like, if you want the planet to survive or not. I mean I'm not saying it literally hinges on this show, I'm just saying you'd have to be some sort of Donald Trump-loving prick to consciously not come. That's all. The choice is yours. Fascism or humanity. Choose wisely. I mean, I don't care myself...

The point is, faced with a show next week, some performers might try to focus on last minute building, or even working on refining the material by going to various comedy rooms to test things or just agonising in front of their laptop over exact wording, pacing and structure.

That is because they are hacks. The key question is to spend your time developing a musical playlist to accompany the show.

And by "accompany", I don't mean literally. I don't mean the songs have any role in the show. Don't worry, you can turn up to the show without country music ruining your night. Or the Hobart-originated Nation Blue screaming about corporate destruction of a small town in rural Australia with lines like "THESE STREETS ARE SCREAMING HELP ME!!!"

They are just songs that I like and happen to relate loosely to the theme. The type of songs I think about when I think about the shit I talk about in my show.

They describe the sort of topics that get discussed, but as is self-evident, they don't as a rule contain jokes and let me tell you... that's one thing my show has! Jokes! Oh yeah! It is sort of the point!

(Of course, the Hayes Carll and John Prine tracks have a couple of witty lines, as they are witty chaps, but still not the same as trying to come up with a 50-minute stand-up show.)

So, my show is called "Inspired?" and it is about the hilarious topic, which is the fact it is fucking hard to be inspired about the world and the prospects for positive change when everything is SO FUCKING SHIT and seemingly getting worse.

This is dealt with by these songs in various ways. It runs through the shit we deal with, the fact life is hard, the fact our politicians are pricks, the fact climate change is terrifying, the fact this is hard to deal with, and then runs through to the crucial question of hope in the face of darkness.

To be honest, with that in mind, the two key songs are the first, Texas folk/country/Americana singer songwriter Slaid Cleaves' "Drunken Barber's Hand", and the last, South Carolina folk/country/Americana husband-and-wife duo Shovels and Rope's glorious rendition of Nick Lowe's "What's So Funny About Peace Love and Understanding".

I feel those two tracks form a great start and end point, and the rest fills the gaps, from Celtic punk band Flogging Molly's self-explanatory "The Worst Day Since Yesterday" to Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit's "Hope The High Road" about combatting despair with hope.

The list includes incredible acts like Tom Waits, Lucinda Williams, John Prine, Jason Isbell ... and more! Some aren't even country/folk/Americana!

Well you can hear it below and my show will be like this, only with jokes. So like if you like these songs... come along! And if you hate them... then fear not, they play no role in my show at all, and forget this post ever existed!

Just... come along if you are in Sydney. You will not regret it. Here's the fucking playlist:





Yar:




I don't need to read the papers
Or the tea leaves to understand
This world's been shaved
By a drunken barber's hand





Well, I know, I miss more than hit
With a face that was launched to sink
And I seldom feel, the bright relief
It's been the worst day since yesterday




Everybody knows it's a hard time
Livin' on the minimum wage
Ah, some people just gonna sneak on through
Others gotta rattle that cage
One of these days, I'm gonna find my way
Or else just disappear
I'm out here in the filth and squalor
And all I wanna do is stomp and holler




Well over the sea, and far away,
Our kids die in deserts, they been sent that way...




Well Hell doesn't want you
And Heaven is full...



Some humans ain't human
Though they walk like we do
They live and they breathe
Just to turn the old screw
They screw you when you're sleeping
They try to screw you blind
Some humans ain't human
Some people ain't kind




From the cradle to the grave
You will always be a slave
To the quiet darkness of your memories
And that's the truth, my friend
The ugly truth, my friend
I've got proof, my friend
And that's the truth




These streets are screaming help me
Burn the town down
Burn the fucking thing down!!!





There can't be more of them than us
There can't be more

I know you're tired
And you ain't sleeping well
Uninspired
And likely mad as hell
But wherever you are
I hope the high road leads you home again
To a world you want to live in




As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I want to know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

Wednesday, September 06, 2017

'Go on back to Greenville': Lucinda Williams and the art of a 'fuck you' song


Songs telling people who deserved to be told to get fucked to "get fucked" has a long and proud tradition in popular music, from Dylan's "Positively Fourth Street" (dripping in venom, with its sneered opening line "You gotta lot of nerve to say you are my friend", before really laying into the unnamed backbiter), Carly Simon's "You're So Vain", as devastating a sustained put down as it is an insanely catchy song, to English pop singer Lily Allen's entire 2006 debut album Alright, Still.

One with more than a few songs on arseholes is US bluesy country singer Lucinda Williams, and like with Simon and Allen's savaging of fuckboys who had it coming, she clearly speaks from experience of having known her share.

One of her finest examples is "Greenville", off her 1998 classic Car Wheels on a Gravel Road, which contains more great songs than any album has a natural right to include.

The song lacks the bombast of many other examples of the genre. It feels understated  — but the impression is superficial. It is quiet, stripped back and builds slowly, but in its poetic simplicity, it finds its mark just as surely. Each verse further strips away the layers of the man in question's pretensions, revealing an intolerable arrogance that spreads pain in its wake. 

By the end, without any sneering just a strong sense of how sadly pathetic he is, Williams offers up the observation "Looking for someone to save you. Looking for someone to rave about you. To rave about you oh to rave about you..."

The man, and there is no doubt it is a man any more than it is a real man Williams had the misfortune to become entangled with, is told repeatedly to go back to Greenville. This is the name of towns in several US states, and it could be any of them, but it is one of them. 

Bellow is the album version, with Emmy Lou Harris providing backing vocals, followed by Williams singing the song on the BBC TV music show Later... With Jools back in 1999.



Don't want to see you again or hold your hand
Cause you don't really love me you're not my man
You're not my man oh you're not my man
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville


You scream and shout and you make a scene
When you open your mouth you never say what you mean
Say what you mean oh say what you mean
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
You drink hard liquor you come on strong

You lose your temper someone looks at you wrong
Looks at you wrong oh looks at you wrong
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Out all night playin in a band

Looking for a fight with a guitar in your hand
A guitar in your hand oh a guitar in your hand
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Empty bottles and broken glass

Busted down doors and borrowed cash
Borrowed cash oh the borrowed cash
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville
Looking for someone to save you
Looking for someone to rave about you
To rave about you oh to rave about you
Go back to Greenville just go on back to Greenville


Now, I know what you are thinking. After everything in this post so far and with no obvious segue, can I still force in a plug for my solo show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival, "Inspired?" on at the Factory in Marrickville on September 27 & 29 and October 1?

The answer is no. Obviously I cannot actually elbow in a reference to my show, which attempts to grapple with how to stay inspired in a world so horrific while also telling amusing jokes and is a fundraiser for Green Left Weekly and at which you can book tickets here

It would ridiculous! Worse, to even try might be seen as an example of the sort of arrogant men that Lucinda and others slay in their songs!

Sorry, but I just won't do it. However, if you are desperate for details, I guess you could click on the ad on the right hand side of this blog. If you want to. 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017

Waiting for the last train after midnight on an isolated Monday night....



I caught the last train at Redfern on a quiet Monday night after midnight and the atmosphere was spooky. I stood near the far end of the platform waiting for my train and a young woman's voice: "Let's just HUNT FOR EVER!", followed by the laugh of another young person.

I drew the obvious conclusion: "Fuck. It's vampires."

My blood ran ice cold as I gathered up the courage to risk a glance in their direction... And I see two young women hugging each other tightly, and I realised -- one of them had actually said: "Let's just HUG FOREVER!" And sure enough they they looked like they might try, so enrapt in each other were they... But the train came and the two young lovers reluctantly separated and as I also got on the last train home I thought... I still hope she's not a vampire or I am fucked coz we just got in the same isolated late night carriage.

Suffice to say, I made it home alive and without being transformed into one of the Undead, doomed to roam the world at night feeding off the blood of mortals.... Or did I?

Yes I did. And as such you can still see my solo show at the Sydney Fringe Comedy festival, "Inspired?" on at the Factory in Marrickville on September 27 & 29 and October 1. You should book now

In the show, I employ segues as brilliant as that one just then to grapple with questions of how to be inspired and positive in a world so horrific, and I absolutely will not drink the blood of audience members, having been turned into a vampire on a dark and lonely Monday night just after midnight at Redfern train station... 

Or will I? No, I won't. It would violate the festival's OH&S policies.

Having got my plug out of the way, you can enjoy a song from Jason Isbell that combines the crucial topics of lovers and vampires and how lovers might wish to be vampires so they could indeed hug forever. 

Isbell is a disturbingly talented singer-songwriter from  Alabama whose latest album, The Nashville Sound, hit number one on the US Country, Folk, Rock and Indie Billboard charts coz he is better than a human has any right to be, and the song is about his wife Amanda Shires, a fellow singer-songwriter who is also in his band and sings backing vocals on this track.


If we were vampires and death was a joke
We'd go out on the sidewalk and smoke
Laugh at all the lovers and their plans
I wouldn't feel the need to hold your hand
Maybe time running out is a gift
I'll work hard 'til the end of my shift
And give you every second I can find
And hope it isn't me who's left behind


Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Guy Clark Tuesday: 'I'd cried for every lesser thing — whiskey, pain and beauty...'


Far be it for me to ramble on about the genius poetry of Guy Clark, coz I already did that last year when the Texas country/folk legend had the sheer gall to die in the Great Artist Cull of 2016.

I don't know why the prick thought he had some sort of right to just fuck off, but the occasion brought forth some very wise words from the smarter of us still left alive. In particular, the observation: "It is like Clark's songs were carved from granite and he delivered them with the dirt still on."

I think I grasp what these lines are getting at, and only partly coz I wrote them. There is no better example of the point than "Randall Knife", released on Clark's 1983 Better Days album. Clark wrote it about his father's death.

Something else strikes me about this -- so much of popular music is aimed at the young. It is of, by and for young people, which is fine in and of itself. But as people age, rather than move on to new music, with new stories, emotions, experiences to express... people look back, preferring nostalgia over their own youth — and noting, invariably, how much better music was "in our day" compared to the muck that today's idiot kids think passes for music.

It is such a cliche and has only ever been true if we compare today's muck to the music of the mid-90s, when I was young.

But life does not stop at 25. It goes on, and all of life's experiences are there for all artistic forms to capture, including song. Life doesn't stop and nor should our music.

This song was written when Clark was 40 and it details an experience many go through at about that age — losing a parent. Clark captures the loss, grief and nostalgia with typical simplicity. The imagery is vivid, but not a word is wasted — a mark of the best country songs.

There is a remarkable stoicism in this song that is never cold or aloof. It is simply a backdrop that never falters. This approach enables the quite serious emotions of the song to come through without ever overwhelming the song, of making it soppy, or even damp, with sentimentality.

I am nearly 40, and both my parents are alive, fit and healthy. But nothing lasts forever. I expect I will grow to love this song even more when experience enable me to understand it better — hopefully not for a long time.



My father had a Randall knife
My mother gave it to him
When he went off to WWII
To save us all from ruin

If you've ever held a Randall knife
Then you know my father well
If a better blade was ever made
It was probably forged in hell


My father was a good man
A lawyer by his trade
And only once did I ever see
Him misuse the blade
It almost cut his thumb off
When he took it for a tool
The knife was made for darker things
And you could not bend the rules

He let me take it camping once
On a Boy Scout jamboree
And I broke a half an inch off
Trying to stick it in a tree
I hid it from him for a while
But the knife and he were one
He put it in his bottom drawer
Without a hard word won

There it slept and there it stayed
For twenty some odd years
Sort of like Excalibur
Except waiting for a tear

My father died when I was forty
And I couldn't find a way to cry
Not because I didn't love him
Not because he didn't try
I'd cried for every lesser thing
Whiskey, pain and beauty
But he deserved a better tear
And I was not quite ready

So we took his ashes out to sea
And poured `em off the stern
And threw the roses in the wake
Of everything we'd learned
When we got back to the house
They asked me what I wanted
Not the lawbooks not the watch
I need the things he's haunted

My hand burned for the Randall knife
There in the bottom drawer
And I found a tear for my father's life
And all that it stood for

Friday, July 07, 2017

Steve Earle's beautiful ode to Guy Clark (is almost enough to forgive his ugly attack on Hayes Carll)

Without much doubt, the highlight of Steve Earle's latest record, the enthusiastically, unashamedly country So You Wanna Be An Outlaw, is "Goodbye Michelangelo" -- his moving ode to his friend and mentor, the late Texan singer-songwriter Guy Clark who died in the Great Artist Cull of 2016.



Clark was the godfather of the "country folk/singer songwriter" tradition that developed in Texas in the 70s, out of which the younger Earle emerged. The Texas scene in the mid 70s was captured well in the Heartworn Highways doco, at which a young Steve Earle can be seen among the acolytes gathered at Clark's house.

Townes Van Zandt was that movement's guiding spirit, but Clark was its craftsman and the mentor to generations of future songwriters. Clark was more than a country singer, he was a poet and an artist, as I went on about after his death. Earle fucking means it when he sings:

Is this goodbye 'till it comes my time?
I won't have to travel blind
Cause you taught me everything I know
Goodbye Michelangelo


The track makes an interesting counter-point, as the album is dedicated to a different Texan country singer, Waylon Jennings. It is that "outlaw" hard-edged country with rock'n'roll rhythms tradition the album largely draws from.

It is true that, in the 70s, both Waylon Jennings and Guy Clark were associated with "Outlaw country", a rawer, less polished genre off the beaten track from the commercialised, polished Nashville mainstream. But they existed at opposite ends of the "Outlaw" spectrum.

Waylon was a bona fide star, with or without the endorsement of the suits in Nashville. He played big, loud, electrified songs with his up-tempo rock influenced sound.

Clark, by contrast, was the poet, playing carefully crafted tracks with a folk singer's sensibilities, all stripped down to essentials on an acoustic guitar. Not that there was no cross over -- Jennings joined Clark to sing harmony on Clark's 1976 song "Last Gun Fighter's Ballad". The Highwaymen, the country supergroup with Jennings, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, also made Clark's signature tune, "Desperadoes Waiting for a Train", their own.

In general, So You Wanna Be An Outlaw is entertaining and enjoyable, and even touching in places as it pays homage to the style of rough-hewed country developed by the likes of Jennings and Merle Haggard, but... I am sorry to say... it is just isn't as good as Hayes Carll's critically acclaimed and award-winning album last year, Lovers and Leavers.

That comparison may not seem superficially obvious. They are very different albums -- Lovers and Leavers found Carll in a quieter, introspective mood, with deeply personal tracks compared to Earle's homage to often-loud Outlaw country.

But Earle brought this comparison on himself.

In the lead up to its release, he shot his mouth off in classic Steve Earle fashion. He slagged off Oasis and Noel Gallagher as a shit songwriter (he was in Camp Blur). He slammed much of what passes for modern country music as "hip-hop for people who are afraid of black people" (if you think that is an exaggeration, try, if you can, listening to "bro-country" darlings Florida Georgia Line) .

That is all well and good, but especially eye-catching was his comment in a high-profile Guardian interview that his last wife, fellow country singer Allison Moorer, with whom he separated in 2014, had left him for a "younger, skinnier, less talented singer-songwriter".

Now, Earle did not mention Hayes Carll by name, but he did not need to. It is no secret that, both emerging from failed marriages, Carll and Moorer have embarked on a relation both personal and professional (often at the same time, as the many clips of them performing heartbeakingly beautiful ballads together testifies).



Really, all any of us can hope for in this life is to find someone who'll look at us the way Allison Moorer looks at Hayes Carll while they sing a duet.

Of course, Steve Earle's credit as a songwriter goes well beyond his latest album. It is not even that he has written such classics as "Guitar Town" or "Copperhead Road" (as good a song in its genre as anyone can ever hope to write). It is also that his career, while uneven, has been constantly bold and boundary pushing.

For instance, "John Walker Blues" is the most radically humanist song I've ever heard. Released in 2002, just after 9/11, it is a song written from the perspective of a young American man, John Walker Lindh, who was fighting with the Taliban.

Earle, a left-wing socialist, has no personal sympathy for the religious fundamentalist vision that inspired Walker to fight with the Taliban, but, as hysteria took over the US, he released this song empathising with Walker, who was captured and tortured by US forces.



The song's fucking chorus is "A shadu la ilaha illa Allah. There is no God but God." Released just after 9/11. That is courage. That is using your songwriting skills to fucking do something of note. No surprise that the shit hit the fan.

I take nothing away from Earle. He has earned his stripes over a career with 16 full-length releases from the mid-80s on. His legacy is beyond dispute.

But a straight up comparison with Hayes Carll is obviously unfair simply because Earle has been around for much longer. To judge Hayes Carll, you have to look at the impact he has had within the shorter frame of his career, and it is hard to knock.

Carll is very widely respected as one of the best of the younger generation of songwriters and performers, with five quality albums under his belt and many fans built up by constant touring. Plus he has written with, and earned the respect of, many of the greats (including Guy Clark, with whom Carll wrote "Rivertown").

I'm not sure I've ever heard a bad song from Hayes Carll. His reputation is justly huge. Of all the people to pick on... well it is blindly obvious that Earle chose Hayes for very personal, and very bitter, reasons.

But when you look at the comments closer, you see something even uglier. It is not actually Hayes Carll who is the main target of Earle's attack. It is actually Allison Moorer, who he proceeds to basically slander. Hayes is just roadkill.

Earle pretty much suggests she cynically "traded him in" for a younger, skinnier, but "less talented" model. Even worse is his implication that Moorer resents being in New York, despite the fact, Earle says, it is best for their severely autistic son.

This seems a low blow to go with in a public interview. Judging someone from social media and media comments is hard, admittedly, but any brief perusal of Moorer's comments on either strongly suggest someone who deeply loves their son.

And as to their break-up, obviously no one knows exactly what happens in other people's relationships, but it ultimately doesn't matter -- life and relationships are complicated and messy and trying to slag an ex in public is a dog act, no matter your legacy in the biz.

In fact, a man with a powerful legacy in the biz slagging off a woman in the biz coz they broke up with them is really pretty screwed up.

To be honest, it casts a bit of a pall over the second track on Earle's new record, "Looking for a Woman", where Earle is "looking for a woman won't do me like you". Sure, I think the track is not meant to be taken too literally or seriously, it is just a solid mid-tempo "dealing with heartbreak" song, but country music has a less-than-glorious tradition of men blaming women for relationship shit (which Kitty Wells famously responded to in her "answer song" to Hank Thompson way back in the early 50s). I find it hard not to think of Earle's unfair public comments towards Moorer when I hear him sing that song.

Moorer, for her part, dealt with the collapse of her relationship with Earle on her 2015 album Down To Believing. The title track is a heartfelt, deeply moving take on the end of intense relationships -- as beautiful, thoughtful, and sorrowful a song on how relationships end as I have ever heard. You can hear it here -- but a spoiler, it doesn't say "Steve was alright, but then I met this younger, thinner singer-songwriter and sure he's not as talented but he is hotter". Not exactly.



Some might even say Moorer's track is all class... in stark contrast to Earle's comments.

Neither Moorer or Carll have publicly commented on Earle's comments... at least not explicitly.

However, in recent days, social media and the music press has been alight with reports that at Willie Nelson's annual July 4 festival, at which both Hayes Carll and Steve Earle performed (on different stages at different times), Carll used his performance to debut a new song, which apparently included the key line: "I think she left you because you wouldn't shut your mouth."

Not very hard to interpret, that one.

I am grateful for Earle's moving ode to Guy Clark. Steve Earle is the man to write such a song and I am glad he has.

But I also see no reason to forgive his slagging off of Hayes Carll, not only because I am a Hayes Carll obsessive but because it is cover for him slagging of Allison Moorer for the simple reason they are no longer together.

And while I get the bitterness, for a proudly progressive man to use his public media profile to do this, frankly it fucking sucks.

Your favourite bucket hat-wearing blogger with Hayes Carll when he played Sydney last year.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

'Nobody knows when she started her skid' -- country songs as small lives writ large

One thing they don't tell you about the blues
When you got them
You keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom
And there ain't no end, least not for Lillian
Nobody knows when she started her skid
She was only 27 and she had five kids
Could-a been the whiskey, could-a been the pills
Could-a been the dream she was trying to kill
But there won't be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Named Lillian
Who never got any farther
Across the line than Meridian

(full lyrics)


Fuck country music. I don't know how to listen to song a like this, by veteran country singer Emmylou Harris, feeling moved to tears. It must be a special skill some people have, like their own personal super power.

Of course, you say "country music" and people turn off, thinking walking cliches in stupid hats singing cliched songs... or worse... these days they think it means rich white frat boys in the horrific "bro-country" subgenre, with its "party on dudes... but on a truck" shtick and its intense objectification of women.

(Steve Earle recently called bro-country "hip hop for people who are afraid of black people" and if you think that was exaggerating, try listening to this fine example of the genre from Florida George Line featuring Luke Bryan.

To be honest, bro-country does not even deserve to be called a musical genre, any more than I should be considered a marine biologist because I can identify a goat. It's connection to country music is up there with the connection between Mexican fighting fish and the wombat. In fact, goats, the study of marine biology, Mexican fighting fish and wombats all have more in common with, say, Hank Williams Sr than "bro-country" does.)

But country music of the sort associated with what is sometimes called the "singer-songwriter" tradition, or possibly "folk" (tho that is an abused term too...) is as deeply moving and poetic a form of popular music as I have come across. Or at least as deeply moving and poetic as any other. It is an art form. And "Red Dirt Girl", from Emmylou Harris's 2000 album of the same name, is a great example of the genre. It is small lives writ large. Ordinary people's live turned into poetry. Fuck yeah.


Red Dirt Girl


Me and my best friend Lillian
And her blue tick hound dog Gideon,
Sittin on the front porch cooling in the shade
Singin every song the radio played
Waitin for the Alabama sun to go down
Two red dirt girls in a red dirt town
Me and Lillian
Just across the line and a little southeast of Meridian.

She loved her brother I remember back when
He was fixin up a '49 Indian
He told her 'Little sister, gonna ride the wind
Up around the moon and back again"
He never got farther than Vietnam,
I was standin there with her when the telegram come
For Lillian.
Now he's lyin somewhere about a million miles from Meridian.

She said there's not much hope for a red dirt girl
Somewhere out there is a great big world
That's where I'm bound
And the stars might fall on Alabama
But one of these days I'm gonna swing
My hammer down
Away from this red dirt town
I'm gonna make a joyful sound

She grew up tall and she grew up thin
Buried that old dog Gideon
By a crepe myrtle bush in the back of the yard,
Her daddy turned mean and her mama leaned hard
Got in trouble with a boy from town
Figured that she might as well settle down
So she dug right in
Across a red dirt line just a little south east from Meridian

She tried hard to love him but it never did take
It was just another way for the heart to break
So she dug right in.
But one thing they don't tell you about the blues
When you got em
You keep on falling cause there ain't no bottom
There ain't know end.
At least not for Lillian

Nobody knows when she started her skid,
She was only twenty seven and she had five kids.
Coulda been the whiskey,
Coulda been the pills,
Coulda been the dream she was trying to kill.
But there won't be a mention in the news of the world
About the life and the death of a red dirt girl
Named Lillian
Who never got any farther across the line than Meridian.

Now the stars still fall on Alabama
Tonight she finally laid
That hammer down
Without a sound
In the red dirt ground

BONUS!!! Swedish country sister-duo First Aid Kit play the song "Emmylou" dedicated to Emmylou Harris and other country singers at an awards night with Emmylou in the crowd and she cries!!!


I'M NOT CRYING, YOUR FACE IS CRYING!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Bastards: A rumination on the state of Australian politics



Bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards bastards Lee Rhainnon seems alright, she has my solidarity.



Terrorists dressed in uniform
Under the protection of their law
Terrorise blacks in dawns of fear
They come smashin' through your door
You're not safe out there on freedom street
You're not safe inside the "can"
For their shotguns and their stunt gas
They're licenced to drop you where you stand
We say oh oh oh oh oooooh
Sad river of tears
Two hundred years in the river of fear

Friday, June 23, 2017

You can never hold back spring... Tom Waits on Jeremy Corbyn. Sort of.



You can never hold back spring
You can be sure that I will never
Stop believing
The blushing rose will climb
Spring ahead or fall behind
Winter dreams the same dream
Every time

You can never hold back spring
Even though you've lost your way
The world keeps dreaming of spring

So close your eyes
Open you heart
To one who's dreaming of you
You can never hold back spring
Baby

Remember everything that spring
Can bring
You can never hold back spring


We could fucking use some spring in Australia, and not just coz it is really fucking cold right now.

Flogging Molly Friday: 'They're only paddies just paddies, don't dig them too deep...'

'...you need all your strength boys and they're replaced easily.'





Well, I worked on a railroad, for tuppins a day
I drank down one penny, the other I'd save
I hammered my hammer, for God knows how long
Well, into madness, with each setting sun
I put my hair down, and I dreamt you were here
With me by the old tree, where no one could care
Far away boys, far away boys, away from you now 


I'm lying with my sweetheart, in her arm's I'll be found
T
hen the sun belched upon me, you were no longer here
Lying in you place was my hammer and my gear
So I stamped out the fire that kept us both warm
The ashes were falling, like the snowdrops of old
We came to a mountain, dynamite and she'll blow
A big hole in that rock, like the one in my soul

We buried four workmen, they dug themselves well
From four empty coffins, to four early graves
"They're only paddies just paddies, don't dig them too deep
You'll need all your strength boys, they're replaced easily"
With the heat I was melting into your sweet lips
Ah, your kiss takes me back, takes me back from all this
Far away boys, far away boys, away from you now
I'm lying with my sweetheart, in her arm's I'll be found


Someone said it was Christmas, not a tree was in sight
The only thing growing was my will to die
'Till the gaffer said "Men, your work here is done"
He said "I'll see you in hell, on that train we died for"
Never again, will I smell your sweet drink
But a piss-stained old gutter where, your lips used to be


Far away boys, far away boys, away from you now
I'm lying with my sweetheart, in her arm's I'll be found
Far away boys, far away boys, away from you now
I'm lying with my sweetheart, in her arm's I'll be found


"Far Away Boys", but Irish-American Celtic punk band Flogging Molly off their 2000 debut album Swagger. About Irish labourers, subjected to super-exploitation in horrendous and frequently deadly conditions, to build railways in England or possibly America (both featured cheap, disposable Irish labour, but the phrase "tuppence" in the first verse suggests the song is set in England).

This horrific exploitation of migrant workers is not just a thing from past centuries -- as the frequently deadly conditions for migrants workers preparing for the World Cup in Qatar shows. 

Thursday, June 15, 2017

'There is hope where you can't see it, there is a light after the storm...' Corbyn, neoliberalism and Shovels & Rope



The British elections certainly didn't go according to plan.

A humiliated Theresa May looks to form a decidedly unstable government via some agreement with a bunch of fanatical Presbyterians from Ireland who are convinced they are British, despite all available evidence suggesting they are actually definitely from Ireland, and whose social views have not advanced since 1690, and whose agreement to prop up the Tories is based on reinstating government programs of Catholic burning or something.

But a bigger story is the scale of the successful campaign by Jeremy Corbyn, his team and left activists around a popular Manifesto that breaks with austerity and neoliberalism. This campaign's success defied predictions of almost all pundits and polls.

Is this important? I'd say that depends how bothered you are by the horrific catastrophe of the Grenfell Tower inferno in London, where repeat warnings by residents were ignored by the cost cutting privatised company running council housing in dangerous conditions that are repeated in tower blocks the poor live in across the country.



If you think a further kicking of the poor to worsen such conditions is neither here nor there, then maybe the success of Corbyn's campaign can be viewed on grounds of "well that was surprising, that is interesting isn't it, an election manifesto about NOT kicking the shit out of ordinary people prove quite popular with ordinary people? I guess this crazy ol' world will never fail to surprise us, eh?"

But for those strongly opposed to a society that sacrifices the majority to ever worsening conditions amid growing inequality, while the poorest and weakest are sacrificed, literally, in bonfires... the fact that Corbyn was so successful, and consolidated the hold of "Corbynism" on Labour's leadership, and has helped energise a mass movement, led by youth who were inspired to turn out in huge numbers to vote for an alternative FOR FUCKING ONCE... well it means something more.

I mean, everyone told young people Corbyn was a no-hoper, at best a decent bloke with nice ideas but who'll never get anywhere. But it didn't work, they turned out in the largest numbers for years because the people telling them this have done nothing but spit in their faces. Meanwhile, the Manifesto Corbyn has touting actually promised them something when no one had ever offered them anything before. Not really.

And their response?



Within Labour, which is now the largest left-of-centre party across Europe with as many as 800,000 members, the Great Neoliberal Orthodoxy has been overturned. There is the growth of a mass, youthful movement around the politics of solidarity and hope.

The fact that, while Corbyn has failed to form a government this time, he is very well positioned to do so sooner rather than later around a Manifesto that says "For the Many, Not The Few" on its cover and actually fucking means it ... is not just stunning, it is heartrendingly, beautifully hopeful.

Derek Wall, an ecosocialist and activist involved in Green politics since 1979, which is a fucking long time ago, and who is the joint international coordinator for the Green Party of England and Wales, put it simply an article on Green Left Weekly:

For the first time in my lifetime, the left in Britain are making dramatic gains.

We have lived through, and are still living through, a dark neoliberal nightmare where people and planet are sacrificed.

The rise of Corbyn (and similar left political breakthrough in other countries) is not The End of it, not by a long way. Hell, here in Australia, we haven't gotten close to even looking like seeing this type of political breakthrough.

That is without even getting to the challenged a Corbyn-led government would face if it won government from powerful entrenched interests, notwithstanding his platform actually being little more than reasonable. For a taste, you could just look the intense financial blackmail applied to Greece when they elected Syriza on a perfectly reasonable platform of not letting Greece be strangled to death. Syriza finally capitulated and abandoned its democratic mandate with the banks threatened with total collapse -- all done to send a strong message to ordinary people across Europe that they should STOP asking for FUCKING REASONABLE THINGS if they know what's good for them.

And that is not even discussing the fact a Corbyn government would formally head an imperial state whose actual democratic content is not quite as strong as it claims on the label, and would need to be countered by strong mobilisations from below.

But the Corbyn movement is a serious challenge to all this that brings hope of a struggle that may end the neoliberal nightmare, for the sake of the many and fuck the few.

It is hard to know how to fully put this into words, so I will do what I love to do, which is a) use a song and b) make that song by the glorious country folk husband-and-wife duo from South Carolina, Shovels and Rope, from their 2014 album Swimming Time.


Said I thought it would be colder
You put your head upon my shoulder
Ain’t it funny
How time just seems to run
What the hell have you been doin'
Not too sure, guess mostly movin'
I’ve been spinnin' for so long
Now I guess I’m spun 
Like the widest river
Like the brightest morn
There is hope where you can’t see it
There is a light after the storm
But won’t you help me to get through it
I’ve been flailing like a child
My mistakes, they are so many
For my lovin heart is wild 
Not quite old
But far from young
Body bold
With a youthful tongue
Like a kiss held out of context
I can’t separate my mind
We can set this boat on fire
We can leave it all behind 
Like the widest river
Like the brightest morn
There is hope just up ahead
There is a shelter safe and warm

 I am NOT crying! Fuck you. You don't deserve another Shovels and Rope song, but I'll give you one any way.



...I’m going down a long road, maybe it's the wrong road
But either way I gotta find my way back home again
It's too late to turn back now, gotta get the lead on out
Gotta find some way to make it right on

And nobody knows it like you do babe, nobody knows it like you do
Nobody knows it like you do babe, the lengths we will go to

There must be some other way, I just don't know
Gotta get myself back up on that high road
 
But nobody knows that like you do...

What is that??? MORE??? Fucking Jesus, OK in the spirit of sharing I offer this... Shovels and Rope covering Nick Lowe's classic "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace Love and Understanding




As I walk through
This wicked world
Searchin' for light in the darkness of insanity.
I ask myself
Is all hope lost?
Is there only pain and hatred, and misery?
And each time I feel like this inside,
There's one thing I want to know:
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

...And as I walked on
Through troubled times
My spirit gets so downhearted sometimes
So where are the strong
And who are the trusted?
And where is the harmony?
Sweet harmony.
'Cause each time I feel it slippin' away, just makes me want to cry.
What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding?

Alright now fuck off.