Fan Mail!

Sunday 11 October 2009

In the early days of the internet, I used to get email every now and then from deluded fanboys who had mistaken me for a different Ben Harper. Of course, I always replied. That hasn’t happened for years, but last week I got fan mail from none other than the King of the Delta Blues, Robert Johnson. Apparently the afterlife now has email, but not Google.

Mr Johnson’s remarks were apposite, albeit misdirected:

Who did you have to blow to get to the level of semi-fame you have been handed? In your entire career there has not been one original moment. Your vocals and guitar playing, not to mention your lyrics, are dull, and the worst thing is your deep sense of self-importance. You seem humorless and totally self-involved. And you are just generally so AVERAGE. If it weren’t for your connections,you would be playing in a bar somewhere in the Inland Empire on a Sunday Jam night.

I know that your career was handed to you, so that’s nice for you. Since you have a soapbox on which to stand and pontificate, why not take just a minute and write something catchy? Be a pop star and a star-fucker (you already are), and stop with the fake social consciousness.

PS congratulations on those tattoos. They are about as original as your music.

Rolling over in my grave,
Robert Johnson

PS please stop playing my music. It’s embarassing.

As I said, I always reply to fan mail, regardless of whether it’s meant for me or not:

Dear Mr Johnson,

Thank you for your email. In reply to your question, I had to blow an old gypsy at the age of 12 to attain my present day success. Funnily enough, it took place at a crossroads. Ain’t that a kick in the pants? Thought you might find it amusing.

I know I got a pretty sweet deal going here so I have no intention of shitting where I eat and showing up my lack of talent by trying and failing to write something fun and tuneful. As for the fake social consciousness, well as you are aware I have next to no mojo so it’s the next best way to get laid. Sure, they’re those liberal arts student chicks who don’t shave in the right places but they’re hella uninhibited and besides when you’re almost drowning in pussy you don’t want to make waves, you get me? Same goes for the tattoos, they’re a real leg-spreader for the sheltered neurotic type that tend to hang out at my gigs.

To be honest, I have been working on some new material, its uploaded on my new website at I call it Klezska, its like a combination of klezmer, ska, and polka all wrapped up into one. I hardly need to keep typing cos I know you’re already downloading it, who can resist such an amazing blend of rockin styles. It’s pretty fucking awesome, though I say so myself.

Also, Eric Clapton and I have been talking about issuing a sort of customer loyalty/credit account card with your picture on it. You know, as a tribute. Is that cool?

You’re my idol,

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine

Tuesday 6 October 2009

The Taxi Driver Looks At The Seine was written in 1993 when I was at a loose end in Brisbane and wishing I was somewhere else. It was published in the first issue of the literary journal pook, the official organ of the Adelaide chapter of The Political Party For Modest Progress Within The Confines Of The Law (Australia). In 1996 the text was performed in a reading at Grey Area Art Space in Melbourne, and has since lain dormant until finding a new home on the web, with added multimedia content (i.e. illustrations).

The illustrative photographs are randomly selected from all public photographs on Flickr tagged with the word ‘Paris’. How they appear on your screen may depend on the type of browser you’re using.

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Five

Wednesday 30 September 2009

Do you believe in God? Stephane had tried to understand. The parish priest and the mayor often get angry at each other. Which is the best informed? The church is on the right. Come drink to the health of the priest. Let’s drink to your health. I am your mayor. Don’t get mad at me. We’re going to discuss it. I shall pay for your chicken, because it was yours.
Just as you always say no, she always says yes. The revolutionaries had 200 killed or wounded. The mass of the people took the Bastille after four hours of fighting. The fortress was the symbol of arbitrary power. This revolution produced a great impression. You could change profession if you wanted to. I would have liked to study biology. I would like to know how to sew. Why don’t we toss for it? You wanted to understand it. Everything is relative. In that case buy yourself a map and a guidebook. Buy a different paper every day. Remain objective!
I managed to buy a typewriter. Tell your story! Tell your life! I liked nature and open air. I love bicycle riding. I wanted to be a lawyer. In fact, I was good in philosophy. I’ve never gone to Africa. I don’t like racking my brain very much. If you could see my new tie! Let’s say that the style is very literary.
We were in the process of discussing taxes. No one likes to pay any, but it is necessary to pay them. Do you have a car and a washing machine? Incidentally, it is interesting to see why people protest. We’ve made the same mistakes. You refuse to let your trees be cut down. They are right not to give in. Life must have a meaning.

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Four

Tuesday 29 September 2009

She managed to get in. He noticed that she was the first. Note that he is very clever. He also produces amazing gadgets. Did he tell you about his trip to Europe? He would have wanted to be a doctor. She is very original and very much of a poet. She didn’t like the factory at all. She prefers the unmarried life. Good for her. It’s better that he does the cooking. She comes from Great Britain. She just made herself a new dress. He is an absent-minded student who is a tragic hero. He’s happy that I’m getting married. What about going to see him? She is arriving in a taxi. Did you talk to her? They still live at the same address. They live on the fourth floor.
My old car has had it. How come? It should have lasted longer. Did you have an accident? Not serious, I hope! Just the same I had to have my nose redone. There was a lot of fog. I was driving too fast. I didn’t watch out for the curve. I’ve never been lucky on Friday the 13th.
The taxi driver is very kind; he is a Frenchman. The French gesticulate so much that we understand them anyway. I’m learning a lot about French life. The taxi driver looks at the Seine. Over there! I see a police officer. I don’t know if he is old or young. I would say that he’s about fifty. I know that he is hungry, I can see it. You are cruel in your description. I often tell myself that they are an anachronism.
The left and the right are traditionally opposed to each other. There are also many communists. The bourgeois are usually on the right. Do you have any in the centre? The farmers want to go to the city. That doesn’t surprise me. Those who have faith are convinced. In any case, I don’t know how to play cards. In mathematics, one needs imagination.

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Three

Monday 28 September 2009

When I was a child, I always heard the same story. All men are alike. One had to find a husband. All men are skirt chasers before getting married. Women had to be flirtatious before marriage. Good cooking was the means of keeping the husband home. They had to feed their husband and take care of the children. They didn’t know how to do anything else! Poor women! I am sorry. I don’t like all the clichÈs people use. My friends won’t take long explaining this to you. They are less happy than they believe.
You’re getting married. That’s an important event. I thought you were a confirmed bachelor. But the young optician was very pretty. So you fell head over heels in love. You’re a bit romantic. But love and reason are very different. You are still in the clouds. You’ll get married and you’ll have many children. You are going to sing and dance. With pleasure.
You are a good housewife. You are very happy. You do not have a bird brain. No woman had ever been a great painter. Do you have the time? Men have lots of faults too. One had to marry young. If people don’t get along they divorce. The family has become more fragile. Are men and women faithful. Your dress is very becoming. I like it. Your boyfriend is a flatterer and a liar. I hate that. Did you see Marie? She has a very pretty face with blue eyes. We have heard a great deal about you. I respect you a lot and she likes you well enough.
I have just been introduced to two young people. They are coming to the house tonight. They look as smart as your mother. I am going to pick them up in town. They detest working. Today one chooses one’s religion. Life is easier in the city.

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: Two

Sunday 27 September 2009

Can you tell me what time it is? I don’t have my watch. It is a quarter to five. We are watching television. That is easy. Sometimes cartoons are crazy. Commercials are like an intermission. The people are happy. You too? The hotel room is very comfortable. I think I’ll come back one day.
What’s new since yesterday? I want you to tour the factory. We’re going there right away. Otherwise what one learns remains theoretical. One ought to work more. You shave fast. You have Napoleon’s profile. I find that you look like my sister.
I’d like to introduce you to my best friend. Very happy to meet you, Miss. Alice is quite inquisitive. She does not put on makeup. That saves time. She is an American. Americans like to play baseball and to box. What does she do the rest of the time? I prefer playing chess and draughts.
You did not like to stay at the same place for long. One day you decided to leave. Where did you go? Did you go by bicycle? No, I did not look for you. What did your parents think about it? What did you do yesterday? You couldn’t get me on the phone? Did you write your parents?

The Taxi Driver Looks at the Seine: One

Saturday 26 September 2009

Where are my parents? Here they are. I am early. He is very kind. She is very happy. Delighted to meet you. I know everybody, don’t I? My name’s day is on September 6th. I am hungry and thirsty! I don’t like the hotel room; I like the streets and the stores. Come with me and I’ll take you there.
One day I left. I wrote them a long letter. I took my bicycle and a knapsack. First, I am going to the beach. Is it too far away? When the weather was nice, it was wonderful. Since I love fishing, I’ll live on the seashore. If you go there, you will no longer forget where it is. Let’s say that if it rains I’ll stay here. Since it was raining, I did not go back home. Did you look for me?
I caught a severe cold. I am cold and sleepy. I have no change. We have no more bread. We have no luck today. Let us go for a walk and talk for a bit. To be or not to be. That is the question. We did not fear anything. He is very talkative and so am I. Everything is perfect, because I like to talk.
What do you want me to do? I doubt that you will find anything. I did not find any. You have to give me a map. No, you are wrong. It’s better that we take a rest. I want you to get a rest. You were cold while you were walking. What are you doing today? Are you going for a walk? What are you doing right now? You don’t understand very well. You don’t listen to what I am saying. Are you satisfied here? What don’t you like? Can’t you answer like everybody else? Don’t get angry! Open your mouth and articulate clearly!

The Giant Adenoid that Ate St James’s takes a step closer to reality

Thursday 2 April 2009

Now it turns out that this light bulb over the colonel’s head here is the same identical Osram light bulb that Franz Pokler used to sleep next to in his bunk at the underground rocket works at Nordhausen. Statistically (so Their story goes), every n-thousandth bulb is gonna be perfect, all the delta-q’s piling up just right, so we shouldn’t be surprised that his one’s still around, burning brightly. But the truth is even more stupendous. This bulb is immortal! It’s been around, in fact, since the twenties, has that old-timery point at the tip and is less pear-shaped than more contemporary bulbs….

Thomas Pynchon, Gravity’s Rainbow, pp.647.

Welcome to the homepage devoted to the Longest burning Light Bulb in history. Now in its 108th year of illumination.

Livermore’s Centennial Light.

First Meggezones, now this.

Sarsaparilla Lite

Tuesday 10 March 2009

Where did Sarsaparilla go? The group blog I sometimes contribute to has been down for a while now.
What started as a simple redesign and overhaul for the new year has become a bit complicated. Our web hosting service suddenly got shirty about having to host us. Apparently, a small blog with no audio, video, or other multimedia is a huge drain on its bandwidth.
So, while we’re looking for a new host to get the spiffy new blog up and running, please enjoy the temporary delights of Sarsaparilla Lite.

“you can’t be a dickhead here, not for a moment!”

Wednesday 7 January 2009

… died at the age of 47, apparently worn down by the excesses of alcohol and other substances, in particular, his favourite codeine-based cough syrup.

The Childermass, p.97

Monday 24 November 2008

…”I shouldn’t be surprised if one day I met my mother, I hope I shall; but I should if I met my father.”
He presses fiercely forward, his neat white teeth with their graceful absence of set or spread ambushed beneath the bristles of the squalid cavalier moustache, as the father-son motif crops up, with savage appeals from its stage-tomtoms.
“I consider the father a side-show a mere bagatelle – they are like the reason, overrated and not essential at all, that is the fathers – the male at all if it comes to that.”
He laughs, clearing up the atmosphere. Exit Fathers like a cohort of witches, turning tail at sight of the bristling righteous phalanx of incestuous masculine matrons, with hittite profiles, hanging out like hatchets just clear of the chest, Eton-cropped, short stout necks firmly anchored in asthmatic lungs, with single eyeglasses, and ten diamond corking-pins representing the decaceraphorous beast of the deliverance. They guard the child-herds. Revolutionary cockades bouquet’d with spatulate fig-leaves, symbolic of absolute divorce anti-family son-love and purple passion, dissimulate their abdominal nudity. Pullman barks fiercely: he is the gelded herd-dog. He barks at the heels of the Fathers, bearded despotic but now despatched.
“You don’t find it slightly intoxicating?”
Enter unobserved at the other extremity of the stage a small select chorus of stealthy matronly papas. They applaud as one man, community-singing the national anthem of the New Babel jazzed. They take up their position in the nursery modestly as regards The Average, with caressing eyes like head-lights of Santa Claus doing his rounds. Sweetly handwashing they stand aside, retiring Big Businessmen. Featuring as their spokesman, a super-shopwalker offers meat-pale sunkist fleshings of celanese silk stuffed with chocolates, crossword-puzzles, tombola-tickets for crystal-sets, and free-passes for war-films, to the million-headed herd of tiny tots of all ages but one size.
“I think it’s perfectly splendid discipline. I’m never quite certain myself, if it’s a pukka White Man’s policy. There’s the other fellow to be considered even if he’s a mere pawn or peon.”

A Certain Space in my Undermind

Saturday 22 November 2008

Kipper, who is currently traipsing wading around Indochina, briefly stayed at my house last year. She started reading my copy of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, then slipped it into her bag one day to take to work, forgetting that it was her last day and she was heading straight from the office to Heathrow to catch a flight to Australia.
I never, ever lend books to people, no matter how good a friend they might be. Good intentions cut no ice with me. Therefore, I consider it nothing short of a miracle that I got the book back, some months later. On its journey halfway round the world in a handbag it did, however, suffer a little wear and tear.

(Left, before; right, after.)
I hate losing books. I know it’s easy enough to find another cheap secondhand paperback of the Stein novel, but I had a particular soft spot for this copy because a previous owner had left a letter between the pages. In this case, I was less anxious to get the book than the letter returned, because it’s a beauty.
It was bought at Lloyd’s in Brisbane (stamped with the bookshop’s name on the flyleaf) and had been previously owned by a Cathy Daly. She presumably owned it before Gerard Lee, because her name’s on the flyleaf while his rather passive-aggressive claim to ownership is tucked away on page six. This G. Lee is evidently the Gerard who authored the enclosed letter, when he passed it on to a friend called Lynne. I think this just beats another favourite find for best piece of found writing I’ve discovered to date.

Dear Lynne,
Here’s Alice. Not bad but it palls in part; when the war’s on.
I’m nervous again, leaving today for the big place.
(I suppose you want to know my latest emotional response – I think about you sometimes, tenderly and I think you occupy a certain space in my undermind as I go busily about)
I’m feeling better.
Went to some dirty movies yesterday, (knew the box office girl) they weren’t very nice. This is the end of the page. Gerard X
It’ll be good to get back. Take care of your body and Stephens too!

Google vs Death

Saturday 11 October 2008

(Originally posted at Sarsaparilla, as a much expanded version of an earlier post.)

Has anyone else been wasting their life looking at Google’s street view photographs of Australia? I only found out about it by accident last weekend (I’ve been waiting for London to come online, not realising they’ve been working on Australia all this time) and have spent hours since then poring over the maps.
It seems to be a universal quirk that everyone first goes to look at somewhere they already know quite well, to compare the images with the reality of their memories. I looked up the suburb of Adelaide I grew up in, to find that Google captured the area in the midst of that great Australian tradition, Hard Rubbish Day.

My grandma’s old house, in a tiny town off the highway in an obscure backwater of New South Wales, is now visible to the world online. On the other hand, my girlfriend looked up her mother’s house in Caulfield only to find her section of street replaced by a black screen and the ominous legend “This image is not available.” She called home that night.
I don’t think it was the block on which that unfortunate man conked out after a night on the turps, after attending his best friend’s funeral (as the whole world now knows). That image, now removed, seems to be the only Australian one so far to have joined the likes of the fence climber and the burning house amongst the American street views.
Incidentally, the block on which that house burned down has also been blacked out, even though the hoses and smoke can still be clearly seen from further down the street; and of course, the images Google removed can still be seen on dozens of web sites around the world. The images persist after reality, even Google’s version of it, has moved on.
In my childhood neighbourhood, every day is bin day. Tied to its maps and aerial photographs, Street View gives an illusion of a perpetual present moment, when in fact it depicts a past world growing less true to the world by the second. A woman in Sydney observed, “Both my parents were pictured outside their house, but my dad passed away a month ago.”
Google would like to show the world in Street View, but remain invisible itself. The camera car is never seen, but on the dirt roads in remote parts of Australia, it reveals its presence as a cloud of dust stretching out along the road. (By this stage, the name “Street View” is becoming less and less appropriate.) The presence of the camera and the people who control it is also reflected in the choices the drivers have made.
For me, their most peculiar decision was to drive in and around the town of Wittenoom. If you clicked that last link for the map you’ll have seen that the sponsored link at the bottom of the page, instead of the usual advertisements for tourism services in the area, is a government warning headed “Do not travel to Wittenoom.”

Officially, Wittenoom no longer exists: the state government degazetted it as a town last year. All public services, including electricity, have been withdrawn. Only eight people still live in what remains of the town. Of its 20,000 former residents, over a thousand have died from exposure to the blue asbestos that was the town’s sole reason to exist. The government strongly advises against tourists from visiting: “Travelling to Wittenoom is not worth risking your life. The existence of tiny asbestos fibres on the ground and in the air which are a product of past asbestos mining present a deadly risk.”
I’d like to know what made the Google people decide to make a detour through Wittenoom. Were they following instructions or defying them? Acting out of ignorance or out of curiosity? Perhaps it was a desire to witness and preserve, in some way, what was left of the town before it was completely erased from the face of the earth, regardless of the potential risk to their health. I hope they drove around with the vents and windows shut.
What is there to see in Wittenoom? Empty blocks and crumbling streets, a few scattered houses, some still occupied. A mysterious truck with “Sound Production” painted on the sides is parked outside one home. The townsfolk apparently still offer accomodation for backpackers, at six bucks a night. One of the residents still holding out against the government’s plans to relocate her has set up a website, but it hasn’t been updated for several months. Not surprising I suppose, being without access to the internet, phones, or mains power.

The Obsolete Guitar

Thursday 21 August 2008

It is time to question whether a bipedal, breathing musician with binocular vision and a 1400cc brain is an adequate biological form. Musicians’ survival parameters are very slim: they can survive only weeks without food, days without alcohol and minutes without nicotine. Technologies are better life-support systems for our image than for our guitars: IMAGES ARE IMMORTAL, GUITARS ARE EPHEMERAL. The guitar finds it increasingly difficult to match the expectations of its images. In the realm of images, the physical guitar’s impotence is apparent. THE GUITAR NOW PERFORMS BEST AS ITS IMAGE. The guitar becomes situated beyond its lacquer. The guitar is neither a very efficient nor very durable structure. It malfunctions often and fatigues quickly; its performance is determined by its age. It is susceptible to muzak and is doomed to a certain and early death. Musicians mostly operate with Absent Guitars: what it means to become-guitar is no longer the state of being immersed in musical memory but rather in being reconfigured IN THE REALM OF THE IMAGE. The musician’s absence is augmented by the fact that the guitar functions habitually and automatically. AWARENESS IS OFTEN THAT WHICH OCCURS WHEN THE GUITAR MALFUNCTIONS. It is only when the guitar becomes aware of its present position that it can map its post-evolutionary strategies. AS SUPPOSED FREE AGENTS, THE CAPABILITIES OF BEING A GUITAR ARE CONSTRAINED BY HAVING A GUITAR. THE GUITAR IS OBSOLETE.

“We stopped at the IKEA café, where the coffee was cheap and the service friendly, but we didn’t see anyone writing poetry”

Wednesday 6 August 2008

Having just remarked that Australia doesn’t get much attention in the British press, a few articles have just surfaced in the papers about Starbucks closing most of its Australian stores. I don’t know if anyone has bothered to point out that Australian Starbucks was at least one of the lesser failures to be associated with Natasha Stott Despoja’s political career, which coincidentally ended about the same time as the coffee chain’s attempt to dominate the Antipodean market.
There has been some tentative speculation about whether this business decision has more to do with the credit crunch, heroic localised resistance to encroaching globalisation, or just the realisation that Starbucks coffee isn’t very good. British chin-stroking on the subject has been clouded by the difficulty most Brits have in distinguishing a macchiato from Marmite.
It is a truism that the British don’t know how to make coffee – a defining cultural trait, centuries in the making, which still holds sway even in modern-day London. The symptom of this deficiency most immediately visible to the London visitor is the large number of Starbucks, all full to capacity, with queues to the counter sometimes stretching to 20 people. It is an eye-opening contrast to the typical Australian Starbucks experience of a faintly caffeinated morgue, empty save for a small scattering of listless tourists.
Worse still, the majority of British, virtually alone among the Europeans, think it’s what good coffee is supposed to taste like:

Like every other UK coffee geek I’ve conveniently airbrushed from my memory the debt I owe Starbucks; how, before they arrived, coffee was a throat-rasping, lip-puckering laxative tar dispensed in caffs that couldn’t give a toss; how we delighted in our first taste of a cafe culture and how we sucked down the enticing new mixtures.

Sadly, Starbucks was probably a true advancement for the British appreciation of coffee. For coffee lovers, London is a Bizarro city where the small, independent café will generally serve an inferior coffee to that offered by the multinational chains. On my way to work each morning I stop off at the nearby branch of a coffee franchise (not Starbucks) for my long black. Just up the street is a stylish independent café where the bright young things congregate. It has excellent pastries, and weak, milky coffee that costs half as much again, which is all too typical. The swill served at the (overrated) traditional “caffs” doesn’t bear thinking about.
If the girl behind the counter warns you it might be too strong, the coffee will be almost acceptable. After two years in London, my girlfriend made the mistake of ordering a “strong latte” out of habit on her first visit back home to Melbourne, and had the jitters for an hour afterwards.
The trouble in London is that Starbucks has set a standard of burnt, watery mediocrity to which many have risen, but so few aspire to exceed. We probably get the evil multinational conglomerates we deserve. Starbucks coffee may be bad, but badness hasn’t stopped other franchises from spreading around the world – look at McDonald’s. But then again, look at the local variations McDonald’s has made to its menu in Australia, and in other countries all around the world (British Maccas even serve porridge for breakfast). It seems that, when confronted with a particular café culture in Australia, Starbucks could not or would not adapt to survive in it.
Of course, our former colonial masters scoff good-naturedly at the idea of Australians being “too sophisticated” for Starbucks – this light-hearted derision coming from a country where packets of pasta are printed with recommended cooking times giving a minute or two leeway, and the baristas ask if you want ice in your long black. A country in blissful ignorance of an entire continent of excellent coffee that lies just across the Channel.

(Crossposted at Sarsaparilla.)